There were quite a few of these occult detective stories. Algernon Blackwood wrote some fine atmospheric stories about his “psychic doctor,” Dr. John Silence. Seabury Quinn, who had the perfect Weird Tales day job as a specialist in mortuary law, kept readers of that magazine enthralled with the exploits of ze verry French doctor Jules de Grandin. Manly Wade Wellman, arguably the best of the lot, had no fewer than three characters in the genre: Silver John, the Appalachian balladeer; John Thunstone, an engaging blend of occult adept and two-fisted adventure-story hero; and Lee Cobbett, an Everyman with a knack for blundering into and out of an assortment of occult scrapes. It’s an irony of literary history that contributions of actual occultists to the genre, such as Dion Fortune’s Adventures of Doctor Taverner, were decidedly second-rate by comparison.
These days? Compared to much of what passes for magical fiction nowadays, even Aleister Crowley’s pompous and derivative The Scrutinies of Simon Iff looks pretty good. The problem, at least from my perspective, is that very few of the people who think they’re writing magical fiction these days know much about magic, and what they do know is generally derived from books of Neopaganism and pop-culture occultism written by people who generally don’t know much about magic either. The Harry Potter novels were about par for the course here; despite the smattering of occult lore J.K. Rowling used for local color in the first book of the series, her “wizarding world” has precisely nothing to do with any kind of magic anyone has ever or will ever actually practice.
Does that matter? Clearly not to Rowling’s many readers. Still, it’s worth thinking about what would have happened to science fiction if SF writers had decided to stop using actual science in their stories, and then compare that to what’s happened to fantasy fiction in recent decades. Back in the day, to an extent that very few people are willing to talk about, authors of fantasy knew their way around magic, even if they didn’t practice it—and a great many of them did. How many people these days know, for example, that L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, was an occultist—a full member of the Theosophical Society at a time when that required serious study and commitment—who wove quite a bit of occult philosophy into The Wizard and its sequels? (Here’s a hint: consider how the members of the party that followed the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City relate to the five elements of occult theory, and you may just catch Baum’s far from subtle wink.)
A revival of magical fiction worth the name might be a worthwhile project one of these days. Still, that’s a discussion for another time. The point I want to raise here has to do with one of the common tropes of modern fictional pseudomagic: the notion that the author needs to come up with some exotic and original way to explain where magical power comes from.
It’s understandable that this should be a concern. The worldview of contemporary scientism—that is, the materialist ideology that claims that only those phenomena are real that can be proved to the satisfaction of The Amazing Randi—systematically excludes any force or phenomenon that would be capable of explaining the results that operative mages routinely get from their work. People raised in a culture dominated by scientism, who nonetheless want to write about magic, thus need to find a gimmick to explain why something they believe is impossible still manages to work anyway. That’s where you get the phoenix feather in Harry Potter’s wand, the handwavings toward quantum uncertainty, and all the other gimmicks that get trotted out like trick ponies in fantasy fiction.
We can put the trick ponies out to pasture with those telepathic horsies with big blue eyes that played so large and saccharine a role in one wildly popular series of pseudomagical fantasies a while back. Still, inquiring minds—whether they belong to mages or not—might be wondering: so where does magical power come from? What is it that gives operative mages the ability to do what they do?
Thereby, as the authors of an earlier generation might have put it, hangs a tale.
The sources credited by operative mages and occult philosophers for the powers on which they draw in magical workings have varied significantly over time, and the changed closely track certain cultural transformations well documented by historians of ideas. A survey of all the different places from which mages have drawn power around the world and across the millennia would be better suited to a book than a blog post, so we’ll limit the focus of this discussion to Europe and the European diaspora over the last two and a half millennia or so. As it is, that’s going to take more than one post to cover.
As the curtain comes up, the goetes and magoi of ancient Greece and their equivalents elsewhere in ancient Europe are busy chanting spells, fashioning amulets, and doing all the other things that operative mages do. Goetes, by the way—the singular is goes—practiced a homegrown Greek form of magic, while magoi claimed imported wisdom: magos had almost exactly the same connotation in fifth-century Greece that “swami” had in 20th-century America. We know a fair amount about what the goetes were up to, at least, because one of their main practices involved writing incantations on pieces of lead and dropping them into open graves and shrines of underworld deities, where they’ve been nicely preserved for today’s archeologists.
Thus it’s no secret where the goetes believed magical power came from: it came from the deities of the Greek underworld, who could be induced to put a whammy on somebody if you made the right offerings. With appropriate apologies to Pluto, Persephone, et al., I tend to think of this as the Marlon Brando theory of magic: you ask the Godfather, and in this case the Godmother as well, and if you ask nicely and do something to make it worth their while, they send a couple of toughs to have a little talk with the guy who’s been giving you trouble. It’s a very widespread theory of magic in polytheistic societies, and tends to be the default option until philosophers get into the act.
In ancient Greece, that started happening shortly after the curtain went up, as intellectuals started having trouble making sense of traditional Greek religion. That’s a common difficulty faced by intellectuals in every literate society at one point or another in its history, but the ancient Greek examples of the species found an ingenious way around it. It so happened that just then, the starlore of the ancient societies of Mesopotamia was in the process of mutating into something close to the kind of astrology we practice today; astrology in those days was simply the practical side of astronomy, and so had no shortage of intellectual respectability. Thus it was easy, even inevitable, for Greek intellectuals to end up thinking of astrological influences as a—or more precisely, the—source of magical power.
For the next two thousand years, that was the answer that mattered. There was, by the way, nothing supernatural about magic at all, in the minds of those who practiced astrological magic: everything in the world of the four elements—yes, that would be the one we inhabit—happens because of influences descending through the planetary spheres from the primum mobile, which was the source of all change and motion and was to be found on the far side of the stars. Magic is just a matter of knowing what those influences are, how they’re affected by the movements and relative positions of the planets, and knowing what substances down here on Earth will absorb and hold any influence you happen to want. Notice that this implies that people don’t have magical power; the universe has the power, and doing magic is purely a matter of knowing how to tap into the power as it flows from heaven to earth.
That makes it sound simple. In point of fact, it became enormously complex as the tradition matured and flourished. There were, broadly speaking, three ways you could tap into the flow. You could simply gather together material substances that naturally stored and radiated an influence you wanted; that was called natural magic. You could fashion an object so that its form and the symbols on it would resonate with the influence you wanted, and make it at the right moment, when that influence was particularly strong and unhindered by contrary forces; that was called mathematical magic (in Roman times, the word mathematicus meant “astrologer”). You could also use ceremonies and incantations to get into contact with the intelligences of the planets, who were vast, cool, but by no means unsympathetic, and would work with you under certain conditions; that was called ceremonial magic.
You could also combine any two of these, or all three of them. What’s more, the planetary intelligences weren’t the only options, not by a long shot. Each sign of the zodiac had its own spiritual influence; so did each of the 28 mansions of the Moon, which were the stations through which the Moon moves night by night against the stars; so, ultimately, did every star in the heavens. All this was based on the same principles as the physics taught at every ancient and medieval institution of learning in the western world; the idea of an opposition between magic and science would have been laughed out of court by everyone at the time. Christian churches objected to magic’s morality, not its scientific basis.
Those same churches had even more strenuous objections to another kind of magic, which was going on in a hole-and-corner fashion at the same time. Remember the Marlon Brando magic of the ancient Greeks? There were versions of that all through ancient Europe, and cutting deals with the underworld stayed an option even when the powers of the underworld were redefined, dressed in red, and made to wear a set of horns surreptitiously borrowed from the great god Pan. Some of what later got defined as witchcraft had its roots in those practices, but they also moved in a different direction, thanks to the Catholic Church’s enthusiastic practice of exorcism.
There were, as the middle ages ripened, manuals of practice for exorcists, teaching them how to command demons to depart by means of the holy names of God. There were also Jewish manuals that had similar material in them, some of which ended up in the hands of the church through various more or less brutal means, and over time, material from those books found its way into the exorcist’s manuals. There was also the Marlon Brando folk magic just mentioned—and in due time, you inevitably got exorcists who decided that, since they could command demons, maybe it would be worth seeing if they could get the demons to do something other than depart.
That’s where the magic of the grimoires came from: a fusion of Christian exorcism, Jewish lore about demons and the names of God, and native medieval folk magic, in which the symbolism of Jewish and Christian faith was put to use extorting favors from the minions of Satan. (The word grimoire, by the way, is an old French version of “grammar;” these were presented as introductory books, or as we’d say now, ABCs of the art of magic.) The writers and users of the grimoires had no doubt where magical power came from; it consisted of what demons could do for you, whether by commanding them using the mighty names of God, or signing one of those friendly little contracts with them—the latter was considered the easier approach, though everyone knew about its eventual drawbacks.
The grimoire tradition might have remained a footnote in the history of magic, except for Nicolaus Copernicus. Even among those who use Copernicus as an icon for the greater glory of science, not many realize just now much of a shock it was when the heliocentric position elbowed the old, elegant Ptolemaic geocentric system out of the way. The disproof of some scientific theory today wouldn’t begin to have the same effect—by this time, most people are used to hearing that this or that theory has been disproved. If astrophysicists announced tomorrow that the Big Bang never happened, there would be some fluttering in intellectual dovecotes, but even among the scientifically literate, most people would read the article, chat about it with colleagues, and go on with their lives.
Imagine instead that something kicks down the foundations of science as a whole—for example, it turns out that the Sun and the planets are actually intelligent beings, as the Greeks thought. Imagine that there are no laws of astrophysics, just whatever the heavenly bodies happen to feel like doing on any given day, and all the other apparent laws of nature are equally extrapolations from what various beings embodied in supposedly inanimate nature happened to be doing when we were watching them. That’s the kind of vertigo-inducing jolt the Copernican revolution imposed on the European world, except in the other direction. Everyone had been used to living in a world full of intelligent, purposive beings; suddenly they were tossed into an unfamiliar universe that was mostly composed of black silent emptiness, and found themselves precariously perched on a lump of rock in the void.
The heliocentric theory of the solar system was a shock to everybody, but it was a body blow to the old astrological magic, since the whole theory of that end of magic depended on the belief that everything that happens on Earth is controlled by what happens in the heavens. Once the Earth was yanked out of its position just above the bottom of creation and exalted to the third heaven, the entire scheme fell apart. Mind you, the magic still worked, and there were people who kept on practicing it straight through the Copernican revolution and out the other side, but the sense of intellectual respectability that had once justified the tradition in the popular imagination went right out the window.
That cleared the way for an explosion of interest in the grimoire tradition. Disbelief in the planetary spheres and their intelligences didn’t require disbelief in God, Satan, and their respective servants—quite the contrary, the absence of the familiar spheres made people cling all the more tightly to the Bible and the teachings of religion. While the location of Heaven was a matter of some perplexity after Copernicus, furthermore, no one doubted that Hell was where it always had been. (Go into a mine—late medieval Europe had no shortage of deep mines—and the further down you go, the hotter it gets; this was considered evidence for the probable location of Beelzebub and his pals.) The invention of movable-type printing also helped feed interest in the grimoires, as printers found they could reliably rake in money hand over fist by churning out manuals of demon-summoning for fun and profit.
Grimoires duly appeared on the shelves of booksellers. Some of them were authentic magical manuals; others were pretty clearly cooked up for sale by enterprising promoters. When the legend of Johann Faust became popular in Germany, for example, boatloads of books hit the stands claiming to be the authentic manual Faust had used to summon up Mephistopheles, and nearly all of them were focused with the exactness of a well-tuned laser on the fantasy of getting rich quickly by metaphysical means—Rhonda Byrne’s heavily marketed opus The Secret is part of a long tradition, though she somehow didn’t get around to telling her readers how to sell their souls to Satan. (I think she assumed they’d just go ahead and donate them without additional encouragement.)
Like The Secret, the published grimoires of the early modern period were a mass market phenomenon. Like most mass market phenomena, they were dismissed by the cognoscenti as vulgar impostures, and to be quite honest, most of them deserved the accolade. Still, their understanding of the nature of magic and the sources of its power became standard in popular culture all through Europe and the European diaspora. From then on until quite recently, magic was by definition the art and science of getting spiritual beings to do things for you.
Not all the beings in question were evil ones. I’ve mentioned here before that there’s been a rich tradition of Christian magic in the western world down through the centuries, and the age of grimoire magic saw no shortage of that. An example that comes to mind is The Long Lost Friend, one of the few very widely used American grimoires. It was written and published in 1840 by Johann Georg Hohmann, a braucher or folk magician of Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e., Pennsylvania Deutsch, a descendant of German immigrants) extraction. It’s a collection of charms, spells, and household hints, just the kind of thing you want if you’re a small town farmer in 1840s Pennsylvania.
The charms and spells in The Long Lost Friend are resolutely Christian, both in symbolism and in intention. What hoodoo doctors call “bad work” does not feature there, nor does any trafficking with devils. The good Christian wizards of 19th century America wrote charms on paper invoking the blessings of Christ and the saints, recited specific Psalms to heal this disease or protect against that evil influence. Where their opposite numbers were taking copies of The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses out to the crossroads at midnight to command the obedience of Mephistopheles—yes, he’s one of the spirits in there—those who followed the counsel of The Long Lost Friend weren’t commanding anybody; like their more conventionally devout neighbors, they were counting on the blessings promised by the Bible to those who love God and pray to him.
Despite the theological and moral differences separating them, these forms of magic had a crucial point in common: they started from the presupposition that human beings didn’t have magical powers. Only spiritual beings, whether good or evil, had such powers, and the only way human beings could arrange for magic to be used on their behalf was to make some kind of arrangement with spiritual beings of one kind or another. That’s still a common belief among many people today, and it was all but universal until the modern era of magic began; we’ll discuss that next month, in the next part of this post.
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This post is of particular interest to me since I'm researching occidental astrology in East Asia. Like Europe, traditions which were ultimately rooted in Babylon were transmitted into the Sinosphere and there's a lot of parallels with what you're talking about here. It was mostly Buddhists who brought over the tradition from India and Central Asia, but Nestorian authors also had a role to play during the Tang dynasty. Around 800 CE an astrology manual summarizing Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos was translated into Chinese. Shingon in Japan made good use of it.
What's really interesting is how both European and Asian traditions developed magical traditions based on astrological mechanics. The texts I'm working with provide mantras, mudras (hand gestures) and schedules with which to divert or amplify varying planetary influences. This influenced the art record. Tang poets also start using the material in their work too. Some of these practices are still preserved in living traditions like Shingon.
If you're interested, I've got a brief rundown of the topic on my blog:
Thanks for this insightful article, Archdruid. I look forward to next month's! *palms together*
Thanks for your posts and systematic approach to organizing these topics. It provides the curious, such as myself, a good grounding and point of contact with otherwise (largely) unfamiliar terrain.
JMG, how might you reply to those who claim that, for example, modern supply chains (and their technological components/antecedents) are indeed a form of magic– a form of (not-so-)subtle influence (including symbols, ceremonies, incantations) on the arrangement of matter such that our needs and desires are born out in material reality? A magic that derives purely from our own intelligence and cleverness? (I'm looking here toward Arthur C. Clarke's third “law” and its variants)
I’m a web engineer. One day, with utmost confidence, I modified some code to change the functionality of a particular application.
My modifications worked and the client I’d made the changes for was satisfied.
Later that day I came across information that led me to doubt the validity of the code I’d written.
After a few minutes of debate I decided to double check the changes I’d made.
Minutes (less than 5) after that decision I got a call from that satisfied client who was now less than satisfied.
The client informed me that my changes had disappeared and then asked me, “What did you just do?”
I’ve spent the last four years trying to answer that question. More time than I care to admit has gone into reverse engineering the phenomenon but all told I don’t think it has been wasted.
I’ve had quite a bit of success but the most convincing experiences by far have been things that most would consider mistakes.
Lets just say I’ve learned the hard way that these tools we use are quite sharp.
It is that set of lessons that leads me to question whether the word, “source,” is appropriate for use in describing magic.
When something has as many feedback loops as I believe most magical phenomena do the idea of a, “source,” becomes increasingly meaningless.
What is the source of the magic of a bowl? The space it takes up or the space it doesn’t?
I’m excited for the light next month’s post may shine on the subject.
Funny the Big Bang should be mentioned, they have already came out and said that it did not happen.
Essentially saying the universe had no beginning.
So, in your view JMG, humans have no inherent magical power of their own?
Kutamun, fascinating. An uncommon sort of theurgic path, but not at all unprecedented.
Indrajala, hmm! I had no idea that Western astrology had gotten into Shingon — though it shouldn't come as any surprise; the great esoteric Buddhist sects were all, or so I've read, marvelous warehouses of borrowed and original material. I'll certainly check out your blog post.
Shaun, magic is the art and science of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will. The supply chains of a modern industrial society do that, in an assortment of clumsy and roundabout ways, so yes, they count as magic. The crucial point that materialists miss is that magic is not a way of making matter and energy do things — if you want to do that, talk to a craftsperson or an engineer. It's a way of making consciousness do things — including our consciousness of matter and energy, and the values, concepts, and emotional loadings we pile onto matter and energy by way of our consciousness of them. More on this as we proceed.
Shawn, granted — when we talk about the sources of magical power, it's simply a convenient shorthand for the purpose of communication and training. Since consciousness is central to the magical process, though, how we conceptualize magic then turns around (via another of those feedback loops) and shapes how and what we do with magic.
DM, I saw that. As for whether human beings have magical power of their own, er, did I say that any of the theories discussed in this month's post were my own view? Stay tuned…
Long story short, there was a tradition in Japan called the Sukuyō-dō 宿曜道 (the 'Way of Constellations and Planets'), which was a community of astrologer Shingon monks that catered primarily to the aristocracy in the Heian and Kamakura periods. Their art was based primarily on a text compiled by a Vajrayāna master Amoghavajra (705–774) entitled the Xiuyao jing 宿曜經, which was translated (actually compiled) in 759 with an annotated revision in 764.
This work is primarily made up of Indian and perhaps a degree of Indo-Sogdian astrology, much of which has its roots in Babylonian traditions which were transmitted to India around the 5th century BCE and then developed (much like how the Greeks received Babylonian astrology and developed it from there).
The other manual they used was translated around 800 CE into Chinese and was probably Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos. This isn't extant, but a summary manual of it is and reveals a complete system of Hellenistic astrology (including geometric aspect, which wasn't originally in Indo-Babylonian astrology).
The Chinese, both clerics and literati, made good use of this manual. Elements of it ended up in Daoist works too (Ptolemy in Daoism, pretty cool eh!). Buddhists recognized it as mundane, but still found it quite useful. There are fragments of the text preserved in a Japanese horoscope from 1152.
The first mention of the Sukuyō-dō is from the 11th century, and they competed with the Onmyō-dō 陰陽道 (the 'Way of Yin and Yang') for patronage. The Onmyō-dō primarily employed native Chinese astrology and geomancy, whereas the Sukuyō-dō relied primarily on Buddhist works. By the Kamakura period Sukuyō-dō was less about horoscopes and more about astral magic (diverting unwanted influences and amplifying desired influences). The Shingon ritual manuals also have really complex rites for star worship. Not many scholars even in Japan today know anything about this (astrology is somewhat taboo in Japanese academia, though not like in the west).
Fortunately, Sukuyō-dō survived until the present day. In the Meiji period the primary text was printed with annotations and thereafter following WWII the living tradition presented itself and made the system available to the public. Japan has seen an 'occult boom' and Sukuyō-dō astrology is part of it. If you visit a big bookshop in Japan, you can find Sukuyō-dō books right next to western astrology works.
I'm translating the main text and hopefully will have it done in a few years.
Through reading this blog I've realised that the Vedic chants and rituals I've been doing since I was a child and what you describe are very similar things.
In Hinduism there is a distinction between two types of magic – mantra (the sort that appears in the Long Lost Friend) and tantra (summoning Mephistopheles sort). Over tantra attracted the same level of stigma as it's western counterpart. What I was taught was that mantra might be weaker, but it only attracted positive spiritual beings and energy – like herbal medicine. Tantra is often a quick fix, but with drastic consequences (like western medicine).
What interests me is that in the east, detailed heliocentric models were already the norm at the time. In fact, that was the basis of usually putting the Sun God as chief deity of the celestial bodies. Just because the planets move in a predictable fashion, doesn't necessarily mean that their effects on you will be consistent, only predictable. Basically some level of predictability was a slight assurance and precaution, not a reason to imagine that the planets are all dead. In fact I still hear from time to time “this year Shani (saturn) is in my _____ house, this is going to result in instability”.
Hope to read more on this topic!
Maybe I’m being pedantic, but I feel like Crowley’s definition of magic is missing something. His version is basically psychological manipulation (“metapsychology”? “metanoetics”? “psychotechnics”?) Doesn’t magic usually imply an element of the metaphysical, of invoking powers outside ourselves like the ones you mention, and a certain numinous, non-repeatable quality to the experience? By Crowley’s definition, almost anything can be magic – taking a sleeping pill, smoking a cigarette, self-torture, meditation, masturbation, video games, jogging, etc. – no matter how mundane or mechanical. Doesn’t something distinguish these activities from that of a magician?
Well, when I noted the cartoonish spotty young lad with a wand on the front cover of those books, I knew then and there they were not for me. No disrespect to their author who has a clear talent for writing and made a heap of mad cash in the process too. Never saw the films either and have fended off many recommendations over the years as to their worth. I always felt that those who would dare hold a wand of true power can have it simply taken away from them – and then what are they left with?
You wove some very amusing humour into this months blog too.
As an interesting story, my single mother who was clearly – from hindsight – something of a sociopath always used to tell me that: “I (meaning me) should be able to get along with everyone if I just tried hard enough.” Now such an assertion is clearly false and not backed by the facts on the ground and yet it is a good technique to keep someone very young on the back foot and a bit off balance by misrepresenting the world. Anyway, the point of the story is that once I resolved the puzzle and understood the mantra for what it was, I was actually a bit lost on what to do about it.
So as a youngster I prayed long and hard, but not to the Christian God, but more or less to whomever was out there receiving the message: for the gift to be able to see into the hearts of men to divine their intentions. This request was made on the basis of a sort of self defence strategy. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I never really offered anything in return. Silly me.
Still, it was chilling for me reading Sun Tzu's parallel thought processes recently (and many decades after the request) about the nature of the human condition as perceived from so many long years in the past – and across different cultures.
Hints and thoughts pop into my mind about people and circumstances now. And whilst sometimes it requires long concentration and meditation to gain an insight other times it is instantaneous – such as the mess with the local council last year (which was resolved in my favour). Those insights guide my actions here and rarely let me down.
I never know if those insights into the hearts of men are correct though and sometimes it is unpleasant to be able to get a sense of what a person really thinks and other times it is hard to shut them out and just go on smiling. Other times I can tell that some people are just plain murky and to be avoided – they look to me as if they're a bubbling quagmire of swamp goo.
Still, had I the choice to live a completely different life, I would not choose otherwise as it has been something of a very interesting adventure.
I'm just hoping that my works here with the natural environment is payment enough – it seems like a fair bargain, but who really knows?
With the solstice rituals, all I know is that with the increase and diversity of life this area may well become a place of power (not in the sense that people may think though). It is not my natural inclination to write that last bit, but an example of the sort of thoughts that pop unbidden into my head.
It all sounds a bit loopy upon re-reading it. Oh well.
All the best for the solstice celebrations up your way.
I certainly agree with you about representations of magic in fiction (a previous ADR about a scientist version of Harry Potter comes to mind). At the same time I think that real magic sometimes gets hidden in other places in fiction. Take the patronus in Harry Potter for example. It seems like a way of banishing the negative thoughts represented by the dementors. Like the story of Nicholas Flamel, sometimes these things have an allegorical quality and Harry's story can be seen as such at times.
Some of the symbolism is interesting too. The four houses at hogwarts correspond to the four phrases and the first four cards of the tarot.
Griffindor: To dare. The house known for daring. The magician card is often associated with this quality as well.
Ravenclaw: To know. This house is known for learning. The High Priestess wears a diadem like the Ravenclaw character I can't recall.
Slithern: To will. The house most associated with ambition, so the negative side of will but still.
Hufflepuff: To be silent. We don't hear a lot from those in Hufflepuff.
Our local paper ran a front page story this past Friday about a local 'charmer' of Pennsylvania Dutch extraction who died in 1920. The sepia-toned image shows a bearded old man with deep, haunted eyes, surrounded by friends and family. Apparently he was quite famous and sought-after as a healer. He lived just around the corner from me on Mill Street, where I walk when I want to listen to the creek and the birds, still carrying on their lives in what is now the downtown core of a growing city.
The Pennsylvania Dutch folks (German-speaking Mennonites) were the first white settlers in our part of Canada, arriving by wagon early in the nineteenth century. At that time the apartment building I'm typing from would have stood in a forest on the edge of a swamp frequented by Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee hunters. Mennonite settlers, pacifist by creed, pushed them out by selling them cheap liquor and calling in the colonial government thugs- I mean police.
I'd heard of this Menno folk healer before, but it's very curious to realize how near- and yet so far- magical practice stands in my own heritage. (I come from another branch of Mennonites, who came to the New World later via a century's sojourn in Russia. It makes a difference to us).
@Kutamun, it strikes me that both my home and yours have experienced the ravages of settlement, and that becoming spiritually aware in either land could involve encountering a great deal of anger and distrust from the spirit world. First Peoples of Australia and North America continue to keep alive very complex systems of spiritual practice, not easy when white people are still working to steal your land, water, children, etc.
This magical business gets messy when I wrestle with the fact that not every tradition is mine for the plundering. Some have experienced too much of that already. As I explore these matters I try to keep in mind where I and my ancestors fit into the story of the land, because that plays a role in how I relate to the land and its protectors.
I've long wondered since my exploration of operative magic began after you mentioned it on the ADR how it would look like in fantasy role playing games if the popular misconception of magic hadn't taken hold. Instead of dedicated spell casting classes with gee-wizz lighting effects and fairy dust for instance, would we see magic dispersed amongst them with warriors meditating monk style to refine and repair a mind for battle, rangers seeking out seclusion in nature for rituals, rogues and priests using thaumaturgical mind tricks, and wizards as inexhaustibly handy and resourceful mentats? Seems like rich soil for an enterprising type to come up with an “original” spin on the somewhat tired tropes!
There's an interesting point in demon magic within a christian environment. Actually, christian religion claims that Jahve is almighty, and the only way to “get” something isn't offerings or so, it's just the mercy of Jahve. Sounds pretty straightforward and easy to apply.
But in this regard, the “drawback” of organised religion is its social component which gives stability to the society. This implies that however almighty Jahve is, if you are a poor peasant, then Jahve's mercy will somehow never stretch that far as to make anything else than a poor peasant out of you. Talk of a class system.
That might explain the otherwise somewhat strange approach of bypassing the allegedly mightiest being and instead dealing with the allegedly less powerful other side of the team.
@ JMG: “It's a way of making consciousness do things — including our consciousness of matter and energy, and the values, concepts, and emotional loadings we pile onto matter and energy by way of our consciousness of them.”
Advertising and propaganda pretty much draw on this, don't they?
“Still, it’s worth thinking about what would have happened to science fiction if SF writers had decided to stop using actual science in their stories”
You'd get Star Wars! Of course, that's just an adventure story, just as is Harry Potter, and neither ever really intended to have anything to do with science or magic other than as plot devices.
I have followed with interest the debates about “dark matter”, and I note that now the opinion is that it may make up 80% of the mass of the universe. I find this fascinating – science is saying that we understand something about maybe 20% of the universe. The rest we can not even detect directly, let alone understand anything about its characteristics.
Given that, why must we continue to pretend that every phenomenon be explainable by modern scientific theories? Obviously we're nowhere near far enough along in our comprehension to expect that – and those that have been looking at it from a magical perspective have been at it a lot longer.
A while ago I had the idea of writing an occult detective novel in which the main protagonist was a police inspector who was going to be a barely-disguised Gurdjieff, who would solve crimes by tapping into the auto-compulsive behaviours of his suspects.
However, I quickly realised he would be spending more time being fascinated/repulsed by the bizarre labyrinthine bureaucratic structures of the organisation he was in, and the unconscious automatisms of his his system-driven colleagues.
I believe alchemy was also quite important in medieval and Renaissance magic from the 12th century on.
I spotted the 4 temperaments in the Emerald City band a while back: the Lion is Fire, the Scarecrow is Air, the Tin Man is Water, and Dorothy is certainly Earth. She's a very practical little girl, and she wants to go home; as a double Capricorn, I recognize the pattern. So who represents the 5th element? Glinda the Good? (Cotton Candy as Spirit?)
As magical novels go, I am going to suggest you have a look at Diana Paxson's WESTRIA series, which I found impressive. If you find them to be hopelessly neo-pagan-fluffy-bunny, say on.
And I wonder if NESFA Press has a collection of the old Weird Tales stories?
@JMG: Based on what I can extrapolate about the source of magic used in the rituals of The Druid Magic Handbook I can say with certainty that quite a few of the most important Role-playing game systems had serious occultists behind them, even D&D with its well-worn ruleset. Wizards studied long hours to cast their spells and Sorcerers had the power on their own blood, clerics, paladins, rangers and druids from their connections to their gods or aspects of the world. But for all of them the real source was their will. And there are more recent games with better reflections of that magic source. I wonder how good a game would be if mastered by a serious occultist.
On another note, I performed my first full Sphere of Protection yesterday, and since the heat wave affecting my city during march coincidentally ended on the first day of autumn, I was finally able to cut the wood disks from the log I found to make a few talismans. With a stannum soldier I was able to improvise a rune-marking tool. Would the wand enchanting ritual, slightly modified, serve well to enchant the talismans?
Greetings, Mr. Greer…
I find it interesting how your two blogs relate, and, specifically, the comments for one being applicable to the other. To wit: D.M.'s comment about the Big Bang: “…they have already come out and said that it didn't happen.” As if “They” (a.k.a. “The Scientists”) had gotten together to make An Announcement. No, what happened is a particular team published a couple of papers in which they presented a model that addresses some of the failings of the current most-widely-accepted paradigm(s). Then a journalist (or two) picked up the story and ballyhooed it about as a “fact”. If you follow research in this area, you know that new models like this are introduced all the time, in an attempt to bridge the annoying gap left between the two dominant models of relativity and quantum mechanics. (Personally, and this is just personal opinion, I find the idea of “gravitons” revolting. The idea of gravity as a pseudo-force resulting from actual multi-dimensional geometry is much more pleasing to my intuitive sense of the world. And I am fully aware that my intuition may be totally wrong and the actual explanation may be something else altogether) And before a bunch of quantum physisicts get their feathers ruffled: yes, I know q.m. “works” that is, you can apply the equations to get actual, testable, repeatable results. Of course general relativity “works” too, as far as it goes (further confession: I have made no attempt whatsoever to seriously study string theory. I'm leaving that game to people more mathematically gifted). Full disclosure: not a one of my degrees is in physics. But most of my upper-level and graduate electives were – problem is they are scattered over so many years and so many schools I'll never get the piece of paper that makes me a “professional physicist” so, officially, my thoughts on the matter are irrelevant – I'm an “outsider”/”amateur”/”dilettante”. Oh, well…
Switching gears slightly(!) my personal magic practice has been coming in fits and starts. It started so well I was beginning to wonder if I was in a manic phase of an undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Then the “logical scientist” brain got back in control, and I find myself saying things like “this is silly” and wondering why I spent so much on these goofy books and hokey cards that I really can't afford on my pathetic tutoring salary. And the right brain points out “Remember all that stuff that went down in high school? Remember the ghost that couldn't possibly have been a hallucination (too many witnesses)? Remember [insert any one of a multitude of all-too-convenient 'coincidences' here]?” And left brain stuffs its little rabbit paws in its floppy ears and squeals “I CAN'T HEAR YOU” at the top of its little lagomorph voice. And everything comes to a screeching halt and I'm right back to thinking maybe skeptical atheism was the right approach after all. If I joined AODA or some other organization, would I get a mentor or someone to talk to? (this open forum doesn't seem like the best place to address some of my questions/experiences), and my friends are either (1) atheists or (2) into “the Secret”/”New Thought” church – neither group interested in deeper studies of this “stuff”. Help?
On the subject of making offerings to beings in an attempt to influence their behavior, a hypothetical question:
If a bunch of readers of a particular archdruid's blog were to put tips of a certain amount in said archdruid's tip jar, would that have an impact such as inducing the archdruid to publish his blog more than once a month? Or would the archdruid in question be angered at the implied attitude that his actions can be bought? I wonder about this sometimes when people talk about making offerings…how do the “meatless” feel about this attempted bribery in general, or does it vary from entity to entity?
Thank you for this!
I wonder whether the heliocentrist flip to an empty universe was quite as conceptually abrupt as your thought experiment portrays. I recall, dustily, knowing that there was an intermediary phase of theory between the Ptolemaic world of influences and the Newtonian world of lawful forces: it was clear that *something* moved the planets, and if that something wasn't the ordered motion of the spheres, the ready alternative was to suppose that each had a demon whose job it was to move it. It seems to me this is less an overthrow than a re-imagining of what a planetary intelligence might be and do.
Does that comport with your understanding of the period? My recollection is misty enough to be uncertain. As you say, it's sort of part and parcel with the expansion of goetia and ultimately also of science, in the sense that on each view the world is full of force-demons who a) have independent, non-divine agency, and b) can/must be commanded by Man (our old friend the culture-hero), maybe with God's help but not by God's nature; Calvinist ideas about the divine/providential/cosmic value of “work” may come in here too.
I guess I'm trying to make sense of the fact that the Copernican revolution, the brief advent of semi-respectable goetia and angel magic, and the Faustian “birth of science” leading to the blood-of-the-earth scenario (a “source of power” if ever there was one), all happen around the same time or in quick succession. Maybe I'm jumping the gun?
Also, a quibble on Harry Potter: while Rowling's use of lore is mostly pastiche, and certainly what she has wizards do with their wands is technological, there is a magic of subcreation at work in the series. Basically Harry is meant to be Christian Rosenkreutz for a present-day audience (with some cosmic-shuttle style neoplatonism thrown in)– some people have done the reference-chasing at http://www.harrypotterforseekers.com/index.php.
I won't comment on the success of Rowling's effort, but she is at least up on her alchemy if less so on other branches of magic.
Thanks for the good essay. I look forward to reading next months. I have just about finished reading Morris Berman's The Reenchantment of the World and I take it as another view of “magic” in the world and how we were suckered out of it by the scientific revolution.
Will you be discussing Heka and Maat?
I have quite a good jyotish(indian astrology) book which has for each planet a yantra(symbol for concentration), a mantra for repetition and reccomends getting an amulet, sanctified by the author. My planet would be I believe, ruler of my ascendant. Remember jyotish uses actual star positions, about 23 degrees out from western horoscope. I am not pisces but aquarius sun in this system but ascendant is more important. Moon houses I have a whole book on. Asterisms rule these. This indian attitude to continually correcting horoscope is more in keeping with astronomical realitythan western astrology. Moon houses are older than 12 house system with asterisms ruling. Also indian astrology mathematically complicated systems for predicting individual future. Not like in West about psycobabble, but like traditional job, marriage expectations.
Regarding own magic I recall chinese fantasy films throwing flaming ki balls. Similar nonsense in star wars films. Prayer would count in godly intercession magic. Siddhic magic includes using inner senses to see, hear at distance. Jesus transformation of loaves, fishes, walking on water, healing is 'magical'.
If you read, 'Autobiography of a yogi' lots of magical occurences there. Also Ramakrishna did some strange stuff. Ultimately you suffer, in next life if you abuse such powers though or wasting energy away from enlightenment to other ends considered a waste of time.
I hear phrases you guys use and feel outsider, then you discuss basics and I see I have learned a bit elsewhere.
I got stuck on the Wizard of Oz comment. I mean, everything else was a great read, but without going back to pull the book off the shelf, and off the top of my head—I'll take a guess at the elements along the way—I recall Dorothy (earth), Tin Man (water), Scarecrow (air), and Lion (fire). So who was the fifth companion along the way? Are you considering Glenda (spirit) as a companion of impetus? Or maybe Toto? Or the Wizard at the end? I realize this isn't the focus of your article, but as an amateur mythologist, I'm genuinely curious now as to what I missed.
Archdruid, I read both your blogs eagerly each week, and I am grateful. Thank you. I wish to ask you a question about your reply to Shaun: “Shaun, magic is the art and science of causing changes in consciousness . . . . The crucial point that materialists miss is that magic is not a way of making matter and energy do things — if you want to do that, talk to a craftsperson or an engineer. It's a way of making consciousness do things –” Do you ever believe that the craftsperson or engineer or artist, through incredible focus and attention and dedication and long hours, ever comes to work magic through his or her materials? Who ever at last works with the consciousness, one might say, of those materials– and the materials come to share with the craftsperson such a delight that what the two forms do together might be called magic? Say, for example, a painting by Van Gogh? I was watching a program on PBS called American Masters–it was about a stage magician called Ricky Jay. The show was called Deceptive Practices. And I was struck by the thought, that although we use a stage magician as an example of phony magic, what Ricky Jay had done, through incredible monastic devotion, was enter into a realm approaching pure magic. . . . .here is a link (I hope!) to the video, should anyone be interested. Again, thank you for this space.http://video.pbs.org/video/2365408470/
Well, if I do have truck with magic at present it is of the natural kind – mainly to do with transformations in compost, in various fermentation cultures, in growing plants and reproducing animals, in soil fertility. I'm now tentatively sticking a toe into the ceremonial side in venturing to address the intelligences associated with such transformations via rituals, etc.
In fictional terms, tho he uses the “gimmick” of the disc world and its naturally magical field, I find Terry Pratchett's depictions of magic work for me. I have long found inspiration for some of my work from among his characters, and their magical educations, journeys, and quests.
For example Granny Weatherwax, and her perennial stress on “getting your mind right”.
Pratchett was an avowed atheist, and never, to my knowledge, associated with occultism, but was also the kind of voracious reader that just may have picked up some sound information here and there.
It also seems to me his logicsplaining “gimmick” played less of a role in his later fiction, which was also much better developed – the four volumes comprising the magical education of Tiffany Aching are ones I often reread.
So, while I have no idea whether his stories would pass the Archdruidical sniffer test, they will forever colour my own experience of and feeling for magic and its uses… no matter what other influences come after.
I am interested to see where you're going with this, though I tend toward the spiritual hypothesis you outline here. I'd add (in response to an earlier question) that this does not necessarily mean that humans lack inherent magical abilities, though, as we have spirits just as much as there exist disembodied ones.
Indrajala, many thanks for this! Does the text you're translating cover the astral-magic end of the tradition? If so, I know some astrological mages who would be most interested in buying copies. For that matter, I'd be interested in seeing how much of the material comes from the same tradition that gave rise to Picatrix and related documents in the western world.
YCS, fascinating! It's entirely possible to practice astrology and astrological magic in a heliocentric worldview, and in fact we'll be discussing some of the ways that's done a bit later on — the problem at the end of the Renaissance was that everything was tied up with a specific interpretation of the geocentric cosmology, and the proponents of the heliocentric system were pushing a specific version of heliocentrism in which prana (in Renaissance Latin, that was called spiritus) was entirely absent. More on this as we proceed.
Sean of the many labels, I didn't reference Crowley's definition, so why are you dragging it in here?
Cherokee, hmm! Given the theme of this month's post, I'm reminded of a very famous character from the pulp era who also had the power to see into the human heart. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” All joking aside, that's got to be an unwelcome gift from time to time — and no, it doesn't sound particularly loopy, at least not to this archdruid.
Greg, well, to each their own. I read the first two and a half books of the series and gave up.
Dylan, there was a lot of that sort of thing in Pennsylvania, among the plain and fancy Dutch alike, back in the day — and a fair bit of it still goes on now, or so I'm told.
Sanguinesophrosyne — now there's a tonguetwister of an online handle! — that would be a lot of fun to play.
Daelach, a lot of magic in Christian countries takes its starting point from the fact that God may be omnipotent but he's also got an entire universe to take care of, and powers closer to your level might be more accessible. If you're having a problem with municipal regulations, do you go to the mayor, or do you go to your friend in the city manager's office who knows the person who can help you? The logic is the same.
As for advertising, exactly — it's a debased but effective form of evil sorcery, meant to convince you that your value as a human being depends on whether you drink the right brand of fizzy brown sugar water. That's a spell straight out of the Brothers Grimm, and should be regarded as such!
Twilight, okay, that's fair — I've long suspected that the popularity of Star Wars, with “The Force” and all, played a large role in launching the current skeptic movement. As for dark matter, my best guess at this point — as a moderately educated layperson — is that it's precisely as real as the epicycles and other gimmickry that were used to jerry-rig the Ptolemaic system to fit observed facts, and will go away in a hurry when the current paradigm of physics comes crashing down.
Phil, that would be a fascinating series! Move your character out of the police department, so he can concentrate on the automatisms of the bad guys, and you're good.
Patricia, who represents the fifth element? Well, who is it that reveals the little man behind the curtain? Whose name means, in good Latin, “from the whole” or “by means of the whole?” Toto, of course.
John Michael, I was responding to your comment from Shaun about magic being “the art and science of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will.” Apologies, I confused Crowley's definition with yours. But my question still stands: doesn't magic require some metaphysical element or external power to differentiate it from mundane psychological manipulation?
Nicolas, we'll be discussing the idea that magic is a function of will in next month's post. The magic system in the original version of D&D was taken whole from Jack Vance's The Dying Earth stories — I have no idea how much of the old system still remains in current D&D — and Vance was inspired by an older generation of pulp fantasy authors, who knew their way around occult literature — thus the similarities.
As for the Druid Magic Handbook, any of the rituals in the chapter on enchantments, including the wand ritual, can be adapted for making talismans, so by all means go ye forth and enchant.
Mirela, it's always a challenge for someone raised in the worldview of materialist atheism to find that point of balance between dogmatic belief in the conventional wisdom and dogmatic belief in some other ideology, such as “New” Thought (which was, as I'm sure you know, old before your grandmothers were born). AODA doesn't offer one-on-one mentoring, simply because there are so many people who want it and so few who are qualified to provide it! I do what I can with personal students, but I don't take many of those, and by and large it's only among those who have already worked through the basic training on their own and so have demonstrated that they've got the initiative and self-discipline to master the Great Art.
With regard to the archdruid's response to tips in the tip jar, no, I won't get offended, but at this point I'm investing as much time in blogs as I can afford to — I do have to put some time into writing books, and right now, The Archdruid Report has around fifteen times the readership of this blog, so it gets the majority of my blogging time. I don't know that that will help you with the question of offerings to other, non-archdruidical beings, though.
Stuart, of course it was a more complex matter; I was writing a blog post, not a book. Still, read literature from the period when the transition was hitting popular culture and you'll see that the impact was a pretty solid body blow. Think of the famous John Donne poem:
“And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The Sun is lost, and th' earth, and no man's wit,
Can well direct him where to look for it.”
As for the birth of modern science, good — yes, that's part of the same process, though it would require a long historical digression to explain how that happened, and how the Faustian drive for limitless power got redirected from sorcery to technology, with disastrous results. More on this as we proceed.
Kayr, thank you!
Raven, no, that's one of the million and one other ways of thinking about magic that I noted I wasn't going to have space to discuss.
Ed, there's a substantial movement in western astrology away from the psychobabble and back to real-world predictions about actual situations. The psychobabble only really came in with the 1960s.
Bishop H., as I noted to Patricia above, Toto is the representative of spirit — who else reveals what's actually going on in the Wizard's palace?
Willow, craftspeople and artists practice magic all the time. It doesn't take anything incredible; a good cook, who puts her delight in cooking into the food she prepares, is practicing a potent and very valuable form of magic. It's simply that the craftsperson, the artist, and the cook are using material substances as an anchoring point for their magic, and usually have a fair degree of skill with the material substances themselves; operative mages of other kinds may not deal with magic in the same practical way.
Scotlyn, that I can't tell you. I found the early Discworld books, the ones that were basically parodies of sword and sorcery fantasy, mildly funny, but never got into the later ones. No criticism of the late Terry Pratchett implied or intended — there are plenty of good writers whose works don't happen to be to my taste, and he was one.
Faoladh, exactly. We'll be covering a number of other options as we proceed, so stay tuned.
Sean of the assorted monikers, that depends on your definition of magic and the sources of magical power. Some ways of thinking about magic include a metaphysical dimension, others don't — and exactly how the definition I quoted (which is Dion Fortune's, by the way) relates to metaphysics is going to depend, of course, on the role that consciousness plays in your metaphysics. More on this as we proceed.
@JMG: up until the 3rd edition of D&D Vancian Magic was the rule. The current owners of the franchise began to experiment with alternatives during the last years of that version's publishing (around 2006). 4th edition was a fiasco, too badly mangled to be called D&D and there were other similar systems who did a better job, so off I went to unexplored lands, or returned to the older editions. I have no idea how the 5th edition works, as I've not spent time on it yet (4th was launched on 2007, right on time to be pummeled by the economic crisis on top of the money-grabbing thing it was).
Of all the other gaming systems I've played with these years, the New World of Darkness games would be a good fit to the occult literature you reference on this thread. WoD happens in a slightly skewed version of our world where all the urban legends and the ancient myths are alive, the governments are more corrupt and the common man is completely apathetic (there is a reason for this, revealed in the Mage: the Awakening portion of the setting). Vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, spirits and stranger beings share the streets with regular folk, hidden from them in plain sight. And unlike the pop versions of them (both old and new), these supernatural beings rarely conform to their stereotypes. I've read practically all the source books for the setting, and with my meager knowledge of the occult I can say the writers know their stuff quite well. Just the core book for Mage, in the hands of a serious occultist, could easily be used to build a magic system that probably works (I don't feel qualified to decidedly affirm it's possibility). Mages pass through an initiation (the Awakening) that allows them to do Magic (using visualizations, Mudras and what remains of the Magic Language) by imposing the Higher Laws of the Supernal over the Lower Laws of the Fallen World (called that because in ancient times a battle of ideas nearly broke the world).
When it comes to cooking, as somebody who thoroughly enjoys the Alchemical Art of making good food I can definitely say that, if you put two people to make the same recipe, and both follow it to the T, but one of them doesn't has the love of cooking, then the results will be different.
I'll go with the wand ritual then, will be easier to adapt, especially since I'm enchanting wand and talismans next Samhuinn here in the Global South. I've been practicing the Grove Opening Ritual today and I'm able to do it from memory after just a few hours of repetitions (without visualizations or applications of will since I don't want to leave an uncontrolled open space until I know how to close the Grove, something that one of my RPG characters did with something similar, let's just say it didn't end well and I learned my lesson back then), just need to polish a few phrases that I'm getting mixed from time to time. One thing I did have to change was the position of the chair, and the direction I'm facing, here we sit in the southern quadrant of the altar and salute the Sun to the North.
As for occult or esoteric fiction (and this is an aside, at best), I would recommend looking into several of the small presses which have appeared over the last decade or two. Both Ex Occidente Press and Tartarus Press have printed several volumes in which the esoteric is treated in an erudite way. I would especially recommend looking into the work of Ron Weighell, Stephen J. Clark, or Mark Valentine (among several other authors featured on those presses).
I think Weighell's latest collection is still obtainable from Sarob Press, Stephen J. Clark has a book still in print on Egaeus Press, and several of Valentine's books can still be purchased from Tartarus (including a few volumes in the occult detective genre), Swan River Press, and others.
Many of these authors write “occult” material in the tradition of Gustav Meyrink, often (though not always) avoiding blatant occult tropes, rarely beating the reader over the head with the mysteries, but rather weaving them into the story in such a way that they're allowed to reveal themselves at a depth which does justice to their subtleties.
“Most of the diseases that the physical body suffers from at present have their roots in the etheric body. There are few, if any, purely physical diseases. Disease has its source in astral and etheric conditions.” A Treatise on White Magic, p. 372, by Alice A. Bailey, Lucis Trust
I had given this same link on your other blog, related to dr.Motoyama interview about ki measuring device, theories regarding healing, physics, psyche and was surprised to find this quote from Alice Bailey's book on white magic at the bootom. Interesting interview. I learn a lot by research to make sensible comments like earlier reading spengler and toynbee. Now I am reading Mommsen's 8 vol. history of rome.
Yes, i rather agree with some of the commenters here that the Harry Potter Tales are not to be so lightly dismissed . As an alchemical tale , as a magical layman i found it invaluable and was able to spot and identify with many Jungian archetypes , Tarot figures and elchemical symbols . If we all had as much success as acknowledging and assimililating the shadow as young Mr Potter then the world would indeed be a better place . Like Tolkien and Lewis , much of the energy and impetus comes from the internal journey of JK Rowling herself . Like those other Mages , she was able to tie her own inner journey in with some large outward collective currents , milllions of adoring fans cant all be mistaken ! . If Tolkien and Lewis were dealing with the horrors of war , materialism and biocide , then what idps Rowling highlighting to us ? I rather suspect the answer may be tied up with the Horcruxes , the arxhetypal seven fold splitting of ones soul , the pursuit of technological immortality ??? … Deep rabbit hole , only just started thinking about it …
For reasons that escape me – quite a lot do all the time – I posted the following comment yesterday on last month’s W of G blog.
I decided to re-post here today even though it is rather a long riff linking ‘money as magic’, and it could sound ‘off-topic’. But many acts of will make money and there has been much rival sorcery, while trading has a long and valuable history. Culture adapts to change & time and hands on our notions in curious ways. I am still btw pondering the ‘big problem’ for ‘science’ down the slope of Hubbert’s curve that JMG writes about on ADR.
I value the magic that can be brought down to cooking and family care, and the gods who combine precise thermodynamics with our use of fire.
JMG & All
I feel much better informed having read this month’s post. Thank you.
A couple of thoughts popped up after your (and Indrajala ) linking theory and practice (in consciousness) with historical transmission and transformation of ideas and methods.
In the everyday world it is very difficult to do exactly the same thing more than once (I liked Shawn’s wonderful computer program example). That applies btw just as much in scientific experiment, or did so in my experience. It was even more obvious when others needed to repeat what had become a reliable enough experience in my laboratory.
In a roundabout way, I am reminded of the history of money.
I rely on Zarlenga’s The Lost Science of Money, 2002; a treatise given some credibility back in 2012 by Benes & Kumhof, researchers at IMF. Actual tools were traded way back [exchange and payment], and Zarlenga illustrates the change then to tokenism, using for example the find of a non-functional copper ‘axe’ alongside the 5000 year old body of the Iceman. Often enough ‘trading’ involves unexpected largesse – by invoking specialist skills or resources beyond any immediate cultural or individual competence or local experience. Zarlenga discusses a central role for Temples, for example in Greece [in the West], in the transition from a ‘cattle standard’ to a gold standard’, and thereby the monetisation of gold (creating token value). These Temples apparently accumulated gold – not originally as ‘money’, and there has long been a separation between bullion and coinage. But ‘monetisation’ can encourage and control trade. Zarlenga suggests that ”money is a question of power more than economics”. More than gold [or ‘goods’] flowed along trade routes. Somebody invented coinage, perhaps it seems (again Zarlenga’s suggestion) as a compromise between token metal-by-weight in the orient and the more abstract ‘tool money’ forms of the West. Such coinage probably was invented under political authority of city states for high-value trading or inter-City deals crossing borders. The amount of such ‘legal’ money in circulation was controlled.
For my interest in ‘consciousness’ I see the repetition of material form in coins, with emblems first stamped on one side and then on both sides. Then there is the matter of the attribution of value. Greek Temples it seems at times acted like banks, and their international cults during the Pelopenesian War united to call themselves the “Treasurers of the Gods”, but there is a potential for rivalry between religious and secular control of value, and thereby between rival controlling actions/decisions in the present acting on the future, and between perceptions of the (very real) abstractions lying in thought behind daily events. It does not seem odd to me that history records changes in the way ‘consciousness’ is accessed and controlled, both individually and socially.
Will you only be considering individual efforts for personal desires, or also economic,political and social actions? It seems that much of the everyday materialistic activity of tv, advertising, social activism and politics could be regarded as successful black magic.
I won't belabour the Pratchett point (too much) because I quite accept that individual taste plays such a powerful role here. 🙂
But, since the will is such a central feature of magic, and that inevitably touches on morality, there is one point I'd like to make, before leaving him.
When I tried to read the Harry Potter books to my children, what I found there was essentially a tale of two tribes, told from the point of view of one of the tribes, who naturally see themselves as incorruptibly good, and the other as irredeemably bad*. Little scope is given to nuances like how a good person might do a bad thing, how a bad person might do a good thing, how an intention might result in unpleasantly unforeseen outcome what are the complex motivations that bring humans and other beings into collision with one another.
These, and more, are the moral themes explored at length and in depth in Pratchett's fiction. His characters are neither incorruptible nor irredeemable, and their moral dilemmas do not have obvious solutions but must get worked out through the unfolding of the action and its challenges. The same goes for magical beings as for people.
Then of course, there is the simple fact that there are few writers who give girls and women such nuanced moral processes to work out, together with such well rounded powers and skillsets to work it out with, as well as Pratchett does. (Certainly Rowling didn't
Sorry, but my comment got “entered” before I was quite finished. There was a footnote:
*This feature is also IMO a problem with Tolkien. Though the hobbits are quite ordinary, morally nuanced and rounded characters, they operate against a backdrop of irredeemably bad Orcs v incorruptibly good elves, for example, that I find hard to buy into. Though, because of the hobbits, I managed to ignore it. Also, of course, Tolkien's women are ciphers, not people.
And now I shall let the subject of Pratchett drop, though I shall be interested in the subject of the will, intention, motivation, accomplishment and their moral dimensions in the practice of magic as in other endeavours.
I do think there's one counter-current underneath all this, one that's distinctly relevant to our times – among many Gnostic sects, human beings were the most explicitly magical beings in the entire physical universe. Human beings were viewed as broken fragments, or children, of that ultimate in transgressive witchery, Sophia.
I think this is worth a mention because our times seem to be very similar to the time that gave birth to the Gnostics. Much of Hellenistic intelligentsia was explicitly atheist and posited a solely mechanical universe. The great mobs of people were prone to all sorts of cults and superstitions and saw themselves as helpless playthings in the hands of largely useless gods, much like many Christians seem to implicitly feel today despite the decibel level of their protestations to the contrary. And the whole thing was neatly wrapped up beneath the malevolent gaze of an Evil Empire which stretched to the limits of what most people of that day knew to exist.
Nicolas, the original AD&D was the last version I played, so it's not surprising my view would be out of date! As for “Mage: The Awakening,” is that any relation to “Magic: The Gathering”? I used to field a lot of queries from prospective students who took that latter far too seriously as a guide to magic, and let's not even talk about the ones who dragged in “Werewolf: The Apocalypse,” etc. I considered at one point inventing a game of my own called “Gimmick: The Exploitation,” but thought better of it. 😉
Damian, thanks for the recommendation. As an operative mage, I'm perfectly fine with blatant occult tropes — do science fiction readers object to spacecraft? — but I'll check those authors out as time and circumstances permit.
Ed, the two-part comment on Motoyama you tried to post on the Archdruid Report did not get put through, as it was off topic. Please remember that neither blog is a suitable place for stream of consciousness comments on whatever you happen to be reading; if you keep this up I'm going to have to ask you to leave.
Kutamun, whatever floats your boat.
Phil, we could spend a good long time talking about the magical dimensions of money. I may have to put together a post on that one of these days.
Raven, hmm. I take it you've forgotten the half dozen or so posts I wrote about that on the other blog?
Scotlyn, de gustibus and all that. Doubtless it's just me — the absurd delights me but the comic tends to leave me cold.
Dammerung, that's a fascinating point, and one that was discussed in several articles in the late and much-lamented magazine Gnosis: the political subtext of Gnosticism. If people derive their worldview from their own experience, the experience of living in a vast, corrupt, and fundamentally dishonest civilization could certainly inspire the dualist-Gnostic sense of living in a vast, corrupt, and fundamentally dishonest universe.
@ JMG: Well, if the “mayor” allegedly listens to every citizen, of course I'd take him by the word. But obviously, a lot of christians have found out the hard way that their three assumptions about their god (knows everything, is almighty and merciful to everyone) don't work out in practice. The funny thing is that they made a big fuss out of it, calling it “theodicy” – instead of just acknowledging that they put at least one attribute too many in their god, which is the most elegant solution to the “problem”.
But actually, as you already hinted to, the very same problem concerns every kind of magic that depends on the will of other beings who just don't happen to be wish-machines. It's just that other religions don't have a fundamental problem with that because e.g. in polytheism, gods are mostly not almighty, and what one god wants can be overridden by another one (cf. Ares wounding Aphrodite in the Battle of Troy).
Hmm.. the illusion of total control reflected in the christian faith might have a relation to the same kind of wishful thinking with our “science” and “technology”, right? The non-god “Progress”, after all, was supposed to solve every problem (almighty), based upon science that would end up with omnisience, and of course that would benefit humanity and each of us (mercy). Theodicy reloaded, I'd say.
And obviously, if this impossible requirement gets pushed onto magic, such magic will fail – so dropping it along with the control illusion seems to be a good idea.
Since I am still very early in my study and practice of magic, I did not realize that The Wizard Of Oz had occult symbolism woven in. I've seen the film enough times that I got the four elements as Patricia and others got them. I thought Toto might be Spirit but wasn't sure why I thought that so I cannot take credit for it.
Thinking more, then, it seems to me that the journey that Dorothy took might have a correspondence to initiation and training in the occult arts. It seems that much that befell her, and the order in which it occurred, could be interpreted in that way. Do you see that in it as well?
@JMG: no relation at all with Magic: the Gathering (this one is a card game and it's owned by the same company that has the rights for D&D). Werewolf: the Apocalypse is one of the games for the Old World of Darkness. The whole set of games had interesting concepts but poorly executed in all the game lines. The New World of Darkness setting is far more flexible and polished, less stuck in hard stereotypes that spawned numberless jokes on them. Mage borrows from many different magical traditions of our world (the default setting is a Gnostic tale). The magic rules don't have fixed spell lists, as long as you have enough knowledge on the Arcana (the ten aspects of the Tapestry of Reality) you can invent your own effects on the fly. The system of course allows the Hollywood side of Magic, but that is usually as a last resort, because Vulgar spells can have a lot of backlash for the Mage. 99% of the time you rely on quick spells and rituals that are actual magic (opening your senses to it's flows, to the resonance left behind by emotions and thoughts), so Mages in that game are occult detectives for quite a good portion of the game, even when you get access to the most advanced powers (I'm talking from experience, I've played the same Mage for six years and counting, and even with all the Hollywood things I can do, I rarely see the need).
I could talk for days about this subject, so let me know when you heard enough.
If I may ask a question that is relevant more to the broader topics than the specific post:
How does one raise a child in such a way as to maximize their potential in matters of will and consciousness? I am currently reading your book “Paths of Wisdom” and, following the instructions from “Learning Ritual Magic,” I am focusing on a sentence per day. Today my focus is: “Thus, while mind and heart, the thinking and feeling processes, are more or less functional in most people, true imagination, will and memory are not.”
I have a 16 month old son, and I would like him to have access to his full potential in imagination, will, and memory. I am currently following general attachment parenting principles and plan to homeschool following Rudolph Steiner's indications (Waldorf-inspired), since he is the only esoteric scholar I know of who focused on childrearing or early education.
Are there others? I know you declined to advise regarding parenting recently on your other blog, but I hoped that you or other readers here might know of sources. I will avidly read anything that comes well recommended, and will take advice seriously.
I also need to know if there are any precautions I should take regarding my magical practice. I have been beginning the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and doing the practices prescribed in “Learning Ritual Magic”. I do the exercises during naptime, and the living room/his play space is the space I have available. What kind of influence, if any, will that have on him? Should I continue to take precautions to practice out of his presence (now it is just because I can't focus with him there)?
Some mis-thinking on my part per my last comment, happens after working a 22-hour shift the pervious day and into the next.
Anyhow, Indrajala, I as well am interested in reading your finished translation. Sounds like a very interesting project.
The shift from spirits to planetary influences and back to spirits did tease out another observation for me: reading the writings of late Roman philosophers, as classical polytheism gave way to rationalism the old gods and spirits actually began to be identified as the planetary bodies themselves. One of the responses late Roman polytheists tended to have when addressing their era’s version of atheist skeptics was rooting their polytheism within the astronomy/logy of their day by pointing out the fact that the heavenly bodies are right there and clearly influence our lives in powerful ways as evidence that their religion is more than just plain superstition (Book 12 of Aurelius’ meditations is a good example). In a way, one of the sciences of the late classical world absorbed classical religion as it was dying and preserved it. The spirits of the old gods moved to the heavenly bodies and continued to be seen as powerful influences on human affairs, and became the core of the magical traditions of both late antiquity and the Middle Ages up through the Renaissance. This applies a bit more to next month, but you see almost the exact same thing happening now. The sciences of modern civilization have driven the spirits, demons, and gods of this civilizations religion (and it’s spirit-based grimoire magic) inside. Just as the gods of the classical world moved out to the heavenly spheres as their civilization progressed along its path, the spirits of the modern world have the religion of the ancient world have retreated inward to the landscape of the human soul (epitomized in modern religion with the constant battle between good and evil within the soul of every Christian and the location of Jesus within the hearts of the saved). The advent of psychology in the modern world, like the advent of astrology in the classical world has become a refuge where believers can hide their gods from the prying eyes of skeptics, often housing them within psychological concepts such as thought forms and archetypes in much the same way the ancients housed them in classical bodies. Meanwhile, psychology has taken the role in today’s magic that astrology had in late antiquity, and so, just as the Christian mages of medieval Europe drew their power from the stars where Jupiter had once lived in the religion that preceded it, the mages of the modern era (and presumably if the pattern holds the civilization that follows it) draw their power from inside the heart of the individual where Jesus and the angels live. The thought's still a bit meandering and unrefined, but it does seem like an interesting pattern and is something I’d never noticed or thought about before.
One other question I have… it may fill into next month’s follow up, but I can’t really find its place in the discussion and it is important to many magical traditions, particularly in most folk magic: What of the traditions that draw their magical power from stones and herbs, bodily fluids, bones, and other natural objects (such as you tend to see in a lot of folk magic traditions?) Do they fall into a different category? You definitely see them throughout the process right alongside the “Marlon Brando” mages, the “high mages” doing astrology or whatever the tradition of the time is, or what have you and it overlaps and bleeds into the other types of magic or borrows from them (you even mentioned the liberal borrowing of renaissance grimoire magic in American Hoodoo and Conjure) but it also seems different enough to merit some mention of its own. Is that something you plan on touching on next month? Or is it different enough to belong in a different discussion altogether? (It does seem relevant if for no other reason than being an element of magic pretty far removed from the oft mentioned biophobia of today’s sensibilities which don’t usually leave much of a place for snail slime, semen, dead animals and the like.)
I was so happy to see another post at the Well today!
As for D&D, it was definitely influential in introducing me to the occult—not in the practical sense, but in teaching me the names of demons, devils, and all sorts of magic concepts and terms. So maybe the fundamentalist Christians were right!
Call of Cthulhu, however, was the game that really got under my skin—the modules were very well-written and faithfully translated HPL's mythos into a game of investigation (vs. D&D's hack-and-slash) and creeping insanity. I played it a dozen years ago and it was as fun as it was in my salad days, whereas playing D&D, while fun, just didn't have that same spark.
Re: magic in fantasy fiction, I found Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy to be refreshing in its treatment of magic. Although Pullman is an atheist, his interviews have shown him to be quite the nature mystic and the trilogy is steeped in Gnosticism and Neoplatonic magic—so much so that it offended lots of fundies and freaked out the Roman church with its depiction of God as the bad guy! It's top shelf fantasy for me, and its beauty and depth makes Potter look like See Spot Run.
@Breanna, I had the same questions about doing magic around my children. I don't know what JMG will say, but a magician I greatly respect, Josephine McCarthy, warned me against it. I asked her because my youngest was having nightmares—and not just scary monster nightmares, but very deep mythological dreams with content far beyond her age and knowledge—and I was worried my magical practice was somehow affecting her.
McCarthy warned me off the practice, and said in her tradition it was suggested that doing magic around children was potentially harmful because magic could attract parasitical things that might find a child—especially a sensitive child—quite enticing. Also that practicing magic could affect the child's own magical/spiritual development. The general age in which she considered it okay was seven (not surprisingly) but she said the ideal was to wait until the child was older. So for whatever that's worth, it made me decide to go back to book learning until she got older.
Maybe you should go with your instinct here—if you feel it might be harmful, do you want to take that chance? Otherwise, if it feels okay intuitively. just keep your awareness attuned to any changes in your child's behavior and adjust accordingly.
Daelach, the gap between religious experience and theology is always a massive issue with prophetic religions. The interesting thing is that so many people who believe in prophetic religions take a much more realistic attitude to what their gods can and will do than the theologies would suggest — and of course that reflects itself in the magic as well.
SLClaire, heh heh heh…
Nicolas, fair enough; I've been out of the gaming scene long enough that tracking the different games has started to remind me of tracking subsets of Baptist denominations!
Breanna, I don't recommend teaching magic to children, or practicing it in their presence. Their task on the way to adulthood is that of finishing the process of descending all the way into matter, so they can enjoy and benefit from the experience of material incarnation; getting them into magical practice too early can slow or even stunt that necessary process. In order to lay the foundation for magical training in adulthood, if your child decides to take up that path, I recommend minimizing his exposure to the mass media, maximizing his exposure to mythology, legend, and folktale — preferably by means of you reading stories aloud to him — giving him plenty of unstructured time out in the natural world, and guiding his ethical growth by way of firm but loving discipline (which of course requires his parents to do the same thing to themselves — no one can instill self-discipline in another person unless they first exercise it on themselves). That plus Waldorf schooling, which is a very good system, ought to give your son the best possible preparation for magical training if, when he's grown, he decides to follow that path. Not everyone does, and not everyone should.
DM, no problem — after a 22 hour shift, I'm impressed that you can manage to type a coherent sentence!
Eric, good. Yes, the transition to astral religion was a very important stage in classical culture, and also helped feed the popularity of astrological magic. As for magical powers residing in physical objects, I mentioned that — in terms of the old astrological wizardry, that's natural magic. The belief was that stones, herbs, etc. had the powers they did because they resonated with the heavens in specific ways — this herb belongs to Venus, so it can be used for love charms, and so on. There were also less systematic forms of natural magic in old Europe and, of course, elsewhere, but there again, this is a blog post, not a book!
Professor P., I also enjoyed Call of Cthulhu — I wish I'd read more Clark Ashton Smith at the time I played it, as it would have been a hoot to weave in chunks of Smith's Averoigne and Hyperborian mythologies into a game!
” I wonder about this sometimes when people talk about making offerings…how do the “meatless” feel about this attempted bribery in general, or does it vary from entity to entity?”
Well, it depends on the religion in question. In ATRs/ADRs(African traditional/Afro-diasporic religions) we feed our deities and other entities such as Ancestors,for example, as a continuation of the relationship we had with them during their life, to empower their positive influence in the lives of their descendants and in a spirit of thanks and sharing of love and energy.
Similar concepts are behind the offerings offered to Orisha in Yoruba based new world trads such as Lucumi/ Santeria and Ifa. I cannot speak to Haitian Vodou as I am not an initiate in that religion but my guess is that it's similar.
Priests and devotees make offerings to divinities based on divination, required care of shrines and ritual objects and, out of AFFECTION for their tutelary deity.There are offerings made as 'ebo' a word that can mean of medicine,charm or, remedy depending on the circumstance and is usually determined by divining, or devotional offerings such as those done in honor of a priests initiation anniversary, (required yearly during the priests life), or in thanks for a favor granted,or requested by an Orisha to help a devotee. Sometime it's just because one wants to give something to their Orisha or Ancestors.
None of these are 'bribes': these are willing exchanges of energy between the two parties for the maintenance of relationship between the Orisha and their priests/devotees, with the ultimate goal for both parties being the the manifestation of 'Iwa Rere' (or Pele) depending on who you read: Good/ gentle character, which is shown by honest, hard working, respectful, altruistic actions in ones life and that helps the devotee complete the destiny they were born to fulfill.
This attitude to offerings is quite a different approach to the ideas of offerings to Spirits or deities found in pop culture or among many neo-pagans I've dealt with.
Ah, yes. There is taste, and there is perception. If I should ever encounter Terry Pratchett, the comic writer, I might feel as you do. (I haven't yet). 😉
As to Eric S's question re “traditions that draw their magical power from stones and herbs, bodily fluids, bones, and other natural objects” that definitely sounds tailor made for me.
“The belief was that stones, herbs, etc. had the powers they did because they resonated with the heavens in specific ways”
Ok, that makes sense. I was thinking of it strictly as a subset of astrological magic, but looking back at the essay and thinking about the history of magical traditions, natural, ceremonial, and mathematical methods can be used with any source of magical power and exist within spirit-centered magic as well as astral magic or modern will-centered magic. So within spirit-centered magic, rituals of summoning and banishing fall under the heading of ceremonial magic, the elaborate crafted sigils and symbols of the Keys of Solomon would fall within mathematical magic, and so on. I suppose you see the same thing when you look at the magical theory behind American hoodoo and rootwork, where the combination of herbs that go into a mojo bag are used to attract a spirit that you then have to feed and treat a certain way so that the spirit doesn’t leave and render the bag useless. That leads to some questions of its own, but I expect those will apply better to next month’s essay since they relate specifically to 19th and 20th century strains of magic.
Professor Pan, thank you for that. Thus far what I'm doing feels okay, and I'll follow my intuition on it.
JMG, thank you so much for the detailed answer. That prescription matches very closely with my plans for how to raise him.
For fantasy: the Isles series by David Drake. In his own words: “The (common) religion of the Isles is based on Sumerian cult and ritual, but the magic itself comes from the Mediterranean and is mostly Egyptian in its original source. The voces mysticae which I’ve referred to as “words of power” in the text represent the language of demiurges; that is, they are intended to have meaning to beings which can then translate human desires to the ultimate powers of the cosmos. I have copied them from real spell manuscripts of the classical period.
I don’t personally believe that the voces mysticae have power over events, but millions of intelligent, civilized people did believe that. I don’t pronounce the voces mysticae aloud when I’m writing.”
There are nine books in the series, the first is Lord of the Isles.
As a Christian, at least in the circles I move both on and off line, the concept of offerings is that all that we have is His. He doesn't need our offerings, but we need to both be reminded that we are His stewards and to practice giving.
On children and the supernatural: dreams of the future run in our family. We don't encourage the children to seek them out, but they happen, and at a quite young age. The older children are encouraged to write what they dream in their journals with the idea that they can confirm for themselves what happens and learn to recognize sorts of dreams. The younger ones are just encouraged to tell. We don't know what, if anything, my ancestors or my husband's ancestors did with this experience: they didn't pass anything down to us, so we've been making it up as we go along.
And a rather new interesting phenomenon: when someone is behind me it feels almost exactly like fingernails on a blackboard. This is both driving the children nuts (can't ambush Mom) and apparently there is at least one unseen sort around the house. I need to rearrange the furniture so my regular chair is against an outside wall rather than an interior.
I once spent a rather enjoyable winter with the video tape of the Wizard of Oz movie, an annotated version of the book which included maps, the Thoth and RyderWaite tarot decks and the 777. It was watching it for the umpteenth time with my children I suddenly “saw” Dorothy and Toto very much resembled the Tarot card The Fool, The TinMan (known in the book as the Tin Woodsman) the Charioteer, and the Scarecrow bore certain resemblance to The Hanged Man. I could say much more but I don't want to spoil the fun of anyone who'd like to explore this for themselves.
I forgot to mention another benefit of D&D: playing with the Platonic solids! Anyone who has played the game can not only visualize them with ease, we know exactly how they feel.
“As for magical powers residing in pgysical objects, I mentioned that — in terms of the old astrological wizardry, that's natural magic.”
Interesting — when I first read that phrase, I thought of ecology. Thinking a bit deeper, it still seems appropriate. Ecology is, if I'm not mistaken, the first of the natural sciences to be based on a whole systems perspective. From what I've learned so far from your writing, it appears to me that an essential part of a mage's practice is considering a proposed action from a holistic viewpoint. Perhaps there's an overlap?
I see Breanna mentions Steiner above … I loved his nine preparations for an organic farm , i modified them to reflect nine of the regular activities that occur on my farm , and it felt great ! Steiner is a dude …. It must be such hard work being a dedicated thaumaturge … Sitting around all day stewing over quantum probabilities and trying to avoid various consequences …. So bourgeois and tiring …. The best magic i have done lately is make biodiesel with used cooking oil . When i poured it into the tank of my ute , i felt like Jimmy Doolittle launching a twelve bomber raid against Imperial Japans heavy industry with no possibility of return .. Like sticking a pinprick into a huge dirty demon that may or may not have noticed …or it may have just laughed because mostly i just feed it !
@Mirela, re: Druidry & mentors
(John, please correct me if I'm wrong, as I know you have far more experience with OBOD than I). A few months ago, I joined OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids) to begin my study of Druidry. OBOD does offer mentors – via e-mail or letter – to those who are studying the OBOD materials. So far, I have had only minimal contact with mine, but that's been largely due to the fact that I haven't needed more. Even so, it's been very helpful for me. If you decide to go the OBOD route, you may be able to discuss some of your questions with an OBOD mentor, keeping in mind that these are busy people with their own lives.
Just another thought to throw in the mix.
Nice to see a Christian in this group. Although I can't be said to engage in the Christian religion in any meaningful sense, I do hold Jesus as the Ultimate among my spiritual…mentors/role models/guides??? Not sure what term I would use.
About 20 years ago, when I was trying to practice Buddhist meditation (never had much luck with it), I tried visualizing a very peaceful meadow to center my thoughts. It helped, so I made it a cornerstone of my practice. Within a week, Jesus was showing up. He was never seen, but I clearly felt His presence just off the edge of the meadow, and I never doubted who it was. Incredibly powerful soul. Incredibly. He was always there, always patient, always quietly waiting. I've never had anything close to that sensation of peace and gentleness combined with strength that I had during those meditations. And once I had those experiences, I never doubted about Jesus again. Unfortunately, I was never able to get anything close to that sense in any of the churches I tried (no offense intended to the Christian religion, as I know others who do), so I knew that path wasn't for me.
Nonetheless, the experience touched my soul, and I carry it with me on a daily basis, and do my best to follow His example. Based on that very personal experience, I think he is just fine with Druids who also follow the Golden Rule. (Or at least I hope so…. 🙂
JMG, thanks for the post, causing me to look at history from a new angle and with different perceptions. Food for thought.
Re practical magic: oh yes indeedy, cooking and gardening and so much more.
But what about music–composing and playing? The other week I went a concert and heard a truly vibrant and thrilling complete performance of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. This is music I've loved my whole life but never heard live.
During the performance, the audience was completely silent and still. The music was played as it should be played–it was intellectually absorbing, sprightly, reverent, somber at times.
Listening to it did cause a change in consciousness–collectively, I think. We were all there, audience members and violinist, immersed in the music, which seemed like the guiding spirit of the event coming through the violinist (who, of course had combined his talent, desire and spiritual affinity for the music with practical hard work to be able to play it). Yet, the medium was Bach's composition so that the playing of the music was as though a ritual, a ceremony in accordance with the instructions from a great mage; the playing of it re-invoked the power put in it. It seemed to me important that the audience be there as well as the musician–not the same ceremony, otherwise. And Bach was a church musician, though this music was not written for the church. The violin itself was very old, nearly as old as the music, the violinist fairly young.
Re Wizard of Oz–that is the first book that I remember, as a parent read it to me, recognizing the words on the page as words, not black squiggly marks. It was my initiation into reading–magic of its own sort, I suppose. And what influences we absorb, all unconscious at a young age!
Otherwise, Sphere of Protection is yielding some remarkable and interesting results in everyday life. The acorn I planted when first reading about the earth path is now a sturdy young sapling approaching its fourth birthday.
I saw a comment somewhere earlier, maybe last year, now I can't find it, someone calling for putting together an online community for studying the Celtic Dawn together and sharing experiences. Has it come to pass? How can a person join?
Renee, thanks for this — I haven't had a lot of exposure to the African and African-diaspora traditions, so appreciate the info.
Scotlyn, funny. I'd explain, but literary theory is way off topic for this blog.
Eric, exactly. Since I'm not talking about all the world's magical traditions, just a specific historical sequence affecting western magic, I didn't get into all the other ways that natural magic can be (and has been) conceptualized.
Breanna, glad to hear it.
BoysMom, does the magic in Drake's stories have effects that real magic doesn't — lightning bolts from fingertips, or what have you?
Wildcucumber, excellent. I wish more students of occultism would pursue their studies that way.
Professor P., funny. For what it's worth, I've found that a lot of my students follow discussions of the Platonic solids best if I say “d6,” “d20,” or what have you.
Dwig, excellent. Yes, and that earns you tonight's gold star.
Kutamun, I have to admit that this is the first time I can remember anyone referring to thaumaturgy as “bourgeois.”
Janet, that certainly fits my experience.
Adrian, all the arts can be vehicles for magic, and the more magic that goes into them, the better. (People used to be intensely aware of that, thus the importance of the arts in traditional religion.)
Vera, if by that you mean my book The Celtic Golden Dawn, you might want to have a look here.
This might be somewhat off-topic but…
I have come to realize lately that a core aspect of the relationship we have with our immaterial entities (call it symbbols, mythology etc…) has to do with whether the entity in question is a higher scope encompassing us all or if it has an individual relationship to us. Take progress, for example : that idea plays out on both levels, since it could be either a belief in your own life (and that of your descent… there are quite a few stagess between individuality and collectivity) getting better over time, or a belief in societies and values getting closer to some sort of transcendant truth.
The twist here is that we are currently seeing cracks opening on both levels : take the recent news of the ghastly air crash on my country's soil. The symbol of the plane, man's conquest over the heavens, is quite a strong one, and its downfall equally strong. But it turns out, maybe as a manifestation of the zeitgeist, who knows, that this particular horrible crash was due to the will of one individual.
In the end we are coming to a point where not only our symbols fail us, but also the very idea of the next of kin. This is where the game is open for occult believes playing on both levels : expect a return to the omniscient God of the Christian tradition, but also a lot of occult belief systems playing out as webs of relationships on an individual level with other entities… since relationships with other individual human beings are losing a lot of their trustworthiness. This is what terrorism, war does to us. Incidentally, technology might have started that trend as well, by some irony of fate. Or maybe we will put more value in those individual relationships, as has happened throughout History's major disasters… Who knows, ultimately the choice is ours. Diminishing retuns might not only play out in how we relate to our society as a whole, but also in how we relate to each other as individuals. This is where spiritual values and belief systems will come back, without the expedient of the complex machinery needed to support the mythology of Progress.
@Renee, very well said. I admit I find the earlier poster's characterization of offerings as “attempted bribery” just a bit insulting. I make offerings to thank my Matron for making herself known in my life and for blessings already received; if she never reveals herself again or gives any more of her gifts makes no difference. Likewise, I make offerings to the land spirits and ancestors to be in “right relation” to them, not to prompt particular favors out of them. I'm sorry you've not encountered the spirit of reciprocity you describe as part of your own tradition among Neopagans; my experience is that it's starting to be discussed, but we have a very long way to go to (re?)create truly respectful relationships with the invisible world. Or the natural world, for that matter.
Re: D&D and the veritable feast of this post–
After many years of litigation, Dave Arneson was recognized as the true author of the D&D Vancian system that he self-published as the Arduin Grimoire. If you want to see D&D as it was initially conceived, I would recommend finding a copy or scan.
Chivalry & Sorcery (C. 1977) was based around Medieval magic, with some actual research, and Lankhmar was an unpopular and brilliant Fantasy and magic game by Leiber.
Fritz was a practicing esotericist who attended many, many neo-Pagan and magical rituals when Gardner's Museum of Magic was in San Francisco. Some of my friends there regularly circled with Fritz and have nothing but good memories of him.
Sitting next to me is my copy of “The Complete Illustrated Book of the Psychic Sciences” by Walter and Litzka Gibson. Aka “Maxwell Grant” author of the Shadow, the Avenger, et al. by Street & Smith.
The Gibsons had a deep knowledge of stage magic–they and Blackstone were friends, and I think Walter B. Gibson belonged to the Magicians Club in Los Angeles for a time.
The Gibsons were also fluent in esoteric studies, as their several books and guides demonstrate. Their books are worth owning, and not just as historical curiosities.
“Bell, Book & Candle” followed by “I Married A Witch!” brought magic of a sort to the big screen in the US and in contemporary settings.
The MR James story “Casting the Runes” was filmed by Tournier as “Night Of The Demon”, which my parents generation regarded as the genuinely scariest movie ever made. Because most of it involves a sheet of paper that one cannot get rid of, followed by badness and a direct Crowley knock-off (worse than the one in the currrent CW series) who meets his inevitable end.
Is it jumping the gun to talk about the scads of reincarnation-themed magic novels of the early, middle and late 19th century like “She” or its knock-offs like “Phra The Phoenician” or Gardner's hastily written (following his trip to Crete) novel “A Goddess Arrives” or Stewart Farrar's occult murder mystery novels?
These involve very long timelines, lots of fate, wars between Goddesses fought out with humans, talismans, lost documents, lost civilizations, etc. Heady stuff!
Farrar's mystery novels are hard to find in the US, and sad to say, the villains are always practicing a specific, theoretically ,non-British culture's magic. There are scads of other, similar series that only had one printing, and are all but forgotten by most today. So much is today ephemera, like the magic-laden magazines of the mid-20th century such as “Mystic”.
nwlorax: In point of fact, Arneson had nothing to do with Arduin Grimoire, which was created by Dave Hargrave (so I can understand the confusion due to similarity of names). Dave Arneson's personal approach to gaming was published as Adventures in Fantasy (and The First Fantasy Campaign). His approach to magic bore little resemblance to the D&D “Vancian” system, as magicians in Arneson's game use spell points rather than Vancian memorization slots as D&D does. You can read a description of Arneson's game here.
As to the litigation, Arneson was awarded money, but was certainly not “recognized as the true author of the D&D Vancian system”. As people have explored the history of the game, it has become apparent that, while Arneson had an influence (and of course the whole concept of adapting the idea of the Braunstein wargame to fantasy was his, to be sure!), D&D is pretty clearly the creation of Gary Gygax. See Jon Peterson's Playing at the World for more details, or read some of the back articles at his blog.
There's been quite a lot of research into the history of roleplaying games in the last few years, with many surprising and interesting facts coming to light. See, for instance, the sad story of how Gary Gygax was eventually forced out of TSR here.
I feel like I should probably weigh in on the “magic in gaming” topic, since gaming, and history of gaming, is a major interest of mine. I'd kinda wanted to avoid “crossing the streams”, as it were, but there's been quite a lot of discussion of it here.
The first published gaming product which attempted to take magic on its own terms, as far as I have been able to determine, was a fantasy miniatures game called The Emerald Tablet. In the game, magician figures could summon demons to the table for various effects, and the game controversially made use of graphic seals from the Lemegeton, prompting some occultists to worry that playing with such symbols could result in mental/psychic difficulties for players. No such problems have been reliably reported, however. Of course, The Emerald Tablet wasn't exactly what you could call a best seller!
Chivalry & Sorcery attempted to present a more “realistic” (whatever that means in terms of games, which is a subject of much discussion and debate) gaming treatment of magic. It was fairly successful, mostly by treating the subject in an anthropological manner. However, in my opinion, it creates some artificial divisions that are problematic in themselves (what, for instance, is the real-world difference between a “dance/chant” magician and a “drug trance” magician?)
A minor, but well-known due to some odd circumstances, game called, simply, Fantasy Wargaming was an interesting treatment of the subject. It approached the subject using the then-current (and cutting-edge, in the sense that it wasn't a predominant theory of magic at the time) ideas of Chaos Magick, in which the “beliefs” or “paradigm” of the practitioner are the primary determinant of magical potency. The game was, unfortunately, not well written and so became something of a butt of jokes as the internet age rediscovered it. I wrote a long review of it a few years ago, with some sketchy notes on how I'd improve it today, which you can read starting here. I have done some work on creating such an updated and developed version of the game, but have set it aside in favor of other projects for now (I do plan to return to it as soon as I finish my current gaming project, though). The magic system in FW was partly adapted to the GURPS system by Kenneth Hite as part of his supplement, GURPS Cabal, where it saw some acclaim.
In the meantime, Isaac Bonewits (of the Druid organization ADF fame) had written a short tract on applying his theories of magic to gaming, published as Authentic Thaumaturgy. It is largely the same as his book, Real Magic, but with a complex system of math added for gaming purposes. It is nearly unusable at the table due to that complexity, but has been used as a resource by a number of game designers, I am informed. There is a revised edition of it that was published in the 1990s, adding coverage of some gaming phenomena of the time, such as the card game Magic: The Gathering.
For many occultists who game that I've discussed the matter with, the magic system that most resembles the one they know from their magical activities is the one in RuneQuest (made stranger and wilder in the semi-revision, HeroQuest).
Another magic system that has seen some positive reaction from occultists is the one in Shadowrun, but as far as I can tell that is mostly because “spells” in that game are treated as independent entities to some extent.
Jean-Vivien, good. For what it's worth, I suspect the next round of religions will have to discard either the belief in divine omnipotence or the belief that the omnipotent divine being in question is particularly concerned about human well-being. In the twilight of the industrial age, the combination of those beliefs may just be too hard to support.
Nwlorax/Gordon, nah, I brought in Algernon Blackwood et al., so you're not jumping the gun to talk about the Theosophically influenced fiction of a slightly earlier era — though I plan on getting to that whole kettle of reborn fish later on. I'll have to add “The Shadow” to my list of pulp reading — I've been hunting up Jules de Grandin stories in old Weird Tales pdfs of late.
Faoladh, okay, I know an invitation to an old-fashioned RPG geek-out when I hear one. 😉
I played “The Emerald Tablet” back in the day — not much, but some; I liked it, but the circle I ran with didn't do a lot of wargaming as such. There was another game that involved sigils from the Lemegeton that appeared two years later — do you recall SPI's Demons? Rival mages roaming around medieval Armenia summoning demons to find buried treasure? (I think you had to be there at the time.)
I also played Chivalry and Sorcery (first edition) a great deal, and yes, the subdivisions of magic were pretty absurd to anybody with an actual background in occultism. As with most of C&S, playing the thing required the GM to arbitrarily leave out or radically simplify a lot of things, but you could get something very close to a medieval European campaign out of it, and that was the attraction for me. I still have the maps for the imaginary medieval French colony on the east coast of North America that I used as one of my main settings for games, though the other — the result of a fleeing 14th century Rhineland army with camp followers straying through a time warp into the early Cretaceous, learning to ride a breed of small ceratopsians, etc. — seems to have gotten lost. (Again, I think you had to be there at the time.)
I read Bonewits' Authentic Thaumaturgy but never tried to play it, as I disagreed with his theory of magic pretty much on sight — I read Real Magic shortly after it first came out in hardback (the local public library got a copy), and immediately had the first of my many disagreements with his work! As for GURPS, RuneQuest, and ShadowRun, I never played them so can't comment usefully. We could talk about the magic system from Tunnels & Trolls, but there bad puns are considerably more relevant than authentic magic!
I never did play Demons, though I knew of it. I was not aware that it included demonic seals! While I do love wargames, and still own a number, there are few people around for me to play them with, and while there were more “back in the day” available to me, SPI's games got short shrift in my gaming circles (I do not know why). We played more Avalon Hill and Metagaming games.
One of the things that I have learned about roleplaying games (and it is a topic about which I could wax eloquent for hours if I were allowed) is that they are not like other media. One of the ways in which they are not is a dreamlike quality of them, whereby events that are immersive and meaningful to the players are rarely as engaging to those who were not actually playing. It's a commonplace that listening to someone talk about their character and what he/she/it has done can be an exercise in tedium – and yet there is such a compulsion to tell others about one's own characters' exploits! There are, of course, exceptions to this, but the rule tends to be borne out.
True story: When I first encountered Tunnels & Trolls, oh so many years ago, I dismissed it – entirely on the basis of its ridiculous spell names! That is one of the things that I regret in this life. I'm still not a huge fan of the game, but I have certainly opened up to it quite a bit more in the last couple of decades, and have gained some measure of fondness for its quirkiness.
I really could go on about magic in gaming for quite a long while, as I haven't even touched on the magic of Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer (aka Elric!), Witch Hunt (set in Salem and surrounds in the late 17th century), GURPS Voodoo (which may be the best presentation of the spirit magic hypothesis yet published in gaming), C.J. Carella's WitchCraft (Carella also being the author of the aforementioned GURPS Voodoo), Empire of the Petal Throne (one of the supplements to which, The Book of Ebon Bindings, amusingly, was mistaken for an actual grimoire by some late-era “Satanic panic” proponents), Pendragon, or any number of other games. Uh, I was going somewhere with that, but lost track when I was distracted by something outside of my computer. I apologize, but I'll leave it up in case something comes to me.
Oh, yes, and I completely agree about Bonewits's theory of magic, in both Real Magic and Authentic Thaumaturgy. Too much reliance on imaginary physics, too little thought about what magic really is. A better introduction to what magic really seems to be can be found in the late Ioan Couliano's (aka Ioan Culianu) Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.
Would you be willing to describe some of your other disagreements with Isaac Bonewits? Some are obvious, of course–he was all for humanity's glorious destiny colonizing the stars–and some I could probably guess–he missed out on a lot of the value of the Revival Druid works due to his infatuation with Dumézil–but I'm interested to know what you would consider some of the more important points you disagreed on, and which points you disagree with most that are specifically relevant to the practice of magic.
Faoladh, you didn't miss that much with Demons, as a game. It was pretty much run of the mill, though I can't think of another game in which you can pester another player's character by having a demon send scores of naked women running past him. On the other hand, it drew pretty much all its magic straight out of late medieval grimoires, so is relevant to your research. I wonder if the Satanic-panic folks confused The Book of Ebon Bindings with Clark Ashton Smith's imaginary Book of Eibon — that's the sort of thing I'd expect from them.
Yucca, we didn't have a lot of disagreements that were specific to magic; I found his theory of magic in Real Magic unconvincing and, more to the point, not useful as a guide to training and practice, but that's about it. More generally? We could go on for a very long time, and I don't think it would be that useful.
The one disagreement that might be worth noting here has to do with his famous division of pagan spirituality into paleopagan, mesopagan, and neopagan categories. This was borrowed surreptitiously from Protestant Christian theology, where it's long been habitual to divide the history of Christianity into “the primitive church” (in Bonewits' terms, “paleo-Christianity”), Catholicism (“meso-Christianity”), and Protestantism (“neo-Christianity”). In both cases the paleo- category is supposed to be the real deal, the meso- category is supposed to be dripping with evil evilness of various evilly evil kinds, and the neo- category is a renewal of the paleo- category that renounces the meso- and all its works.
Of course in practice the trichotomy is simply a polemic gimmick used by newly founded offshoots of an older movement to distance themselves from their actual roots. In the case of Druidry, though, and of a great many other traditions of magical spirituality that are older than the Neopagan movement, it had disastrous consequences; it played a very large role in convincing younger people that they had nothing to learn from any western magical tradition older than the Neopagan movement — with a handful of exceptions such as the Golden Dawn and Thelema. As a result, scores of older magical traditions went out of existence in the last quarter of the 20th century, in most cases taking all their accumulated lore with them, because people who might otherwise have joined them were convinced that they were full of boring, stuffy old mesopagans who might give them cooties or something.
Not sure if it's synchronicity… after someone mentioned Algernon Blackwood's work here around January, I was also interested in occult detectives. I would really like to see an analysis of the John Silence stories, to understand how they were shaped by actual occult knowledge.
I found the Wendigo story's treatment of its characters so impressive that I tried to look up TV series episodes on the same theme… which was quite underwhelming.
I also watched some X-Files episodes, and was appaled by the quality of the acting. It was shocking to see how it was only a variation of the occult detective theme literally recycling all of the era's crackpot conspiracy theories… it really should have been called the D-Files (D for dumpster). and it displays an unconditional belief in some higher, greater entity, taking the form of either the aliens or a government very good at hiding them.
My current interest in grimoire magic is focused on the incidences (surprisingly many!) of spirits described as fairies. This was always an interest, but when I read Dan Harms's article in Rankine and d'Este's The Faerie Queens, which seems to have identified a ritual element that looks very much like a legitimate survival of pagan ritual practices, with a clear parallel in Hindu puja, I began to pay more attention. Happily for me, a grimoire, Folger MS V.b.26 (transcription available here in pdf), is being released in a new edition in a week or two (Harms is one of the editors of the new edition) that includes some significant fairy magic. It's being published as The Book of Oberon, though apparently the name of the fairy king in the actual grimoire is spelled Oberion. Marketing, neh?
Jean-Vivien, well, you know my biases — I find television underwhelming by definition. The low quality of the programs isn't surprising when you remember that the point of the medium is to push advertising at you — thus the unstated first law of television, which is that the programs must never be more interesting than the ads.
Faoladh, a friend of mine is doing the art for The Book of Ober(i)on, so, yes, I'd heard of it! I'd argue that there's a great deal of central European folk religion, with significant shamanistic elements, in the grimoire tradition generally, though of course it has to be combed out of a tangle of other material.
That's Jake Stratton-Kent's argument in Geosophia, as well. I have to say that I certainly buy it, especially after I noticed the structure of the Chamalières tablet.
My attention was called to this online reissue of Robert Kirk's SECRET COMMONWEALTH (1691) with Andrew Lang's commentary 200 years later. 17th Century spelling conventions including the long s.
For those interested. I worked my way through the commentary and found in condescending and snotty, but, hey, 1893….
Brother Greer, it's been a while since I read the books, but they are Epic Fantasy, in which Our Heroes are dealing with a world literally coming apart at the seams. I remember there were times when I wasn't sure if what was happening was a physical or mental experience for the character. Any lightening bolts would have been on the side of Our Enemies; the main magic worker on Our Heroes' side was more concerned with sliding by unnoticed on the edges of catastrophes with her work. She had at least one lecture on why it was foolish to do big showy things if one didn't understand all of the consequences what one was doing, with the subtext that if one understood one wouldn't do them. Not sure I finished them, either, I'll have to see if my library has them.
As a musician, I know–I've always known–that music is a powerful tool for affecting the audiences emotions. If I'm doing my job halfway right I can make most listeners laugh or cry. The Star Wars 'Darth Vader' theme is particularly good for laughing: I don't know why, but I know it works. I'll have to take notes on results with other music: I have a few pieces that are absolute go-tos for playing at a certain casual local venue, maybe I should know why that is!
I hope this is not too tangential to your point here, but as it happens I recently had a very interesting experience.
The short of it is that I had a sleepless night that I spent in intense meditation. Early the next morning, after I arose and began getting ready for work, I was struck very suddenly by an intense feeling I have never had before. It was like my insides had suddenly turned into a void.
I sat down for a few moments, when it suddenly occurred to me to contact a friend of mine. I relayed to her the feeling I was having, asked her if everything was ok, and very spontaneously thought to ask her about a former co-worker of hers. I then continued on with my day, the feeling lessened and faded after a few hours.
I did not think much of it, when I returned home, she had responded to tell me that the person I had mentioned had come to their office, confronted her angrily on the street about his termination, and threw her in front of an oncoming bus, which she had managed to jump out of the way of with nary a moment to spare. This had all occurred shortly before my feeling and message.
When I brought this up in a meditation forum, a moderator very quickly responded with ad hoc theorizing that I was sleep deprived, had an anxiety attack, and it was a great coincidence that I contacted my friend and mentioned the very person that almost killed her. Though I did not ask any questions or give any indication I was looking for an explanation about this, only sharing an unusual meditation experience and asked if others have had something similar, the tone of the conversation was aggressively aimed at explaining my experience in acceptable terms. It struck me that given such a challenging posture, others who have had something similar are likely not sharing a similar experience.
It just occurred to me that this relates to your point about what happened in the Northwest when someone reported their experiences and would draw the attention of the rationalist skeptics.
(My account is here)
JMG, I'd be very glad to learn of any further thoughts you may have on the topic of art as a form of magical practice – or those of anyone who may feel disposed to discuss the topic – as it's of the greatest interest to me, with a direct bearing on my artistic practice.
Thus far I conceive it in two general categories: on the one hand, art that is explicitly magical in purpose, such as talismans, sacred images, magical tools and other consecrated objects; and on the other, art for a more general audience, not typically composed of initiates into any given magical system. The first is for use by the practitioner only, or a small self-selected group of colleagues. The second I am currently thinking of as a form of enchantment by images (or other media) alone, without any direct action upon the spectator of any consecration, invocation or evocation. I fancy that to employ these in that context might cross some kind of ethical boundary (although I gather that Tibetan Buddhist priests do create their sand mandalas with the intention of benefiting everyone within range, even people who are not aware of the presence of a nearby mandala – or so I have read).
In my mind, the manipulative practices of advertising and propaganda use the same tools to very different effect, the goals being befuddlement, delusion, domination and control. It seems to lend substance to those other shades of meaning in words like “ensorcelment” and “bewitchment.”
Walter Pater famously wrote that all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. My dictionary and other reference sources tell me that spells, enchantments and charms traditionally come in the form of words that are sometimes spoken, but more often chanted or sung – that is, in the form of music. Music is, with poetry, in a sense the most spiritual of the arts, having the least materiality, existing essentially in the form of vibrations upon the air. Perhaps it is in part for this reason that the other arts aspire to its condition as a primary tool of enchantment.
In my preferred genre, fantasy, world-creation is typically a critical element, usually the foundation of the whole affair. I'm not sure exactly what is its purport; perhaps alternate worlds are a means for facilitating alternate states of consciousness.
Incidentally, my magical practice has been hampered of late by a rather severe case of plantar fasciitis. I can usually stand long enough for a quick LBRP, but resuming regular practice of the MPE may have to wait for a few weeks. It's just too painful. It'd sure be handy to have a form of magical practice I could do “in my head,” as it were, at need.
Speaking of which, it would also be nice to have something of the sort to focus upon while waiting for the bus, at the doctor's office, etc. – especially practices oriented toward strengthening the Sephiroth, the Sphere of Protection, or the like.
I was just beginning to attempt one of these a few days ago – visualizing the Spheres glowing about me, that sort of thing – when in walked the doctor, putting an end to my wait. Funny timing.
I hafta tell you the truth. I dig doing this because it makes me feel powerful. It definitely beats twisting in the wind while you wait at the mercy of bus drivers and receptionists – especially when people seem to respond in positive ways.
This is probably more relevant to the topic of the next post, but what's your take on the connection between magic and psi? It seems that many occultists, including Gerald Gardner, see them as intimately related, to the point of positing that psi is the basis of magic. It strikes me that psi is probably an expression of magic rather than the other way around.
You've mentioned Rupert Sheldrake before, so I'm sure you're aware of his explanation of psi in terms of morphic resonance, which ties it into his theory of morphic fields. Sheldrake's ideas obviously have a lot in common with the Aristotelian notion of formal causation. IIRC, Aquinas explained the will as a formal cause of action, while the human body merely provided the efficient cause.
Philosopher Roderick T. Long has proposed essentially that very notion as an explanation of free will: our will imposes an order on our brain as a whole, and the necessary neurons line up to fulfill it. This avoids the need to see our will as some spooky hand knocking neurons around like billiard balls. He also points out that, contrary to determinist objections, our will isn't diverting the physical particles in the brain from what they otherwise would have done — most plausible interpretations of quantum mechanics imply that there was no “what they otherwise would have done.”
Am I wrong in thinking of magic (and psi) as something like the use of formal causation rather than efficient causation in order to bring about change? That would certainly explain why magic and technology have different realms — technology's focus on efficient causation allows it to connect directly to the material plane while formal causation operates most effectively on the mental and astral planes, putting it at quite a remove from the material.
“Adrian, all the arts can be vehicles for magic, and the more magic that goes into them, the better. (People used to be intensely aware of that, thus the importance of the arts in traditional religion.)”
Hmm, certainly the Orthodox church has put some thought into its iconography, having rules which allow the paintings but disallow styles that make the people too realistic looking.
Twice I have been particularly moved by a painting. Once I saw a painting of the scene of the sword of Damocles. I could not tear myself away from that painting and would have stood there all day if not for other people I was with. Mostly, it was just so stunningly beautiful.
Another time as a teenager, some friends I was staying with were collecting old things and had an old tapesty that contained a scene from ancient or classical Greece, with several people gathering on a veranda in a garden in high summer, goblets in hand, silicious trays of fruit, engaged in lively conversation. One weekend I was alone there, really stared at that tapestry, and became so filled with grief and longing to be there with them that I did nothing but pine away about it the entire weekend.
“Walter Pater famously wrote that all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. My dictionary and other reference sources tell me that spells, enchantments and charms traditionally come in the form of words that are sometimes spoken, but more often chanted or sung – that is, in the form of music. Music is, with poetry, in a sense the most spiritual of the arts, having the least materiality, existing essentially in the form of vibrations upon the air. Perhaps it is in part for this reason that the other arts aspire to its condition as a primary tool of enchantment.”
Personally, I've come to the conclusion that in the heaven worlds, all speech is poetry, and sung or chanted.
Thank you for understanding.
On another and completely different note – and it also sounds a bit pervy – but scores of naked women running past me would certainly be quite eye catching and also somewhat distracting. In such a situation it seems like the best advice is to watch out for those cheeky demons who are just about to clop you over the head – as it seems a rather unlikely scenario! It would be quite weird if such a thing happened on the dirt road here.
Although the Meredith music festival just out of Geelong – which is not far from here – which I've never been to – seems to have come up with just such an event (but with both sexes). I trust this doesn't mean that there is a demon behind it all?
Hi, Val. I'm normally a lurker here, de-lurking to respond to your comment about art and magic.
I'm a fiction writer. I also dabble in other art forms, mainly singing and visual stuff (I design my own book covers, for example). Due to family issues, I really don't have the time or energy to delve into ritual magic right now, but I used to be involved pretty seriously in Wicca and I have done some thinking about how magic and art intersect.
I see art as a means of manipulating consciousness, both in the creation of it and on the appreciation end. This is especially clear in fiction. There is an kind of unspoken contract between the writer and the reader — I (the writer) will help you enter and maintain a trance state so that you can more fully experience the story I've created and you (the reader) voluntarily consent to my manipulating your consciousness for this purpose. When the reader is in this trance state, he/she is more suggestable and therefore psychologically vulnerable. This vulnerability is why product placement and other forms of advertising are so sneakily powerful (the trance state is very present when we watch TV or movies, which is why I limit my consumption of horror films).
The reader/viewer doesn't experience the exact story the writer created, though, because the reader brings his/her own life experience, expectations, attitudes, and values into the mix. So the story the reader gets is some kind of blend of her personal background shading the story the writer wrote. A lot of writer energy goes into providing enough detail so that the reader gets something pretty close to what the writer intended and this is a skill that takes a lot of time and practice to master.
I don't generally ritualize my writing because when I make a big ceremonial deal out of writing it just tends to activate my Inner Critic, who's a serious b!tch. But that brings me to another magical practice common among writers — referring to aspects of our own psyches as separate beings, such as the inner critic or inner editor and the muse. Of course, some of us suspect they really are separate beings…Most writers who talk about this stuff don't have the faintest idea they're using a magical technique.
Sometimes I do use trance techniques to get at deeper aspects of the story I'm working on. Usually this amounts to me writing as fast as I possibly can whatever happens to pop into my head (having first set the intention that I'm writing from the point of view of a particular character). Stuff often comes up that genuinely surprises me when I do this. Once I used it to create a magical, non-human villain for a paranormal romance novel.
There's so much more to explore here, but this is what I've got for now.
I did today my first Grove Ceremony Ritual as an initial testing to see how well I've memorized it. Went very well. I was alone at home when I performed it, and my wife noticed the change of energy in the house a few hours latter when she arrived.
I have noticed a few white wisps of “smoke” coming from the tip of my fingers, not long after completing the ritual.
There has been some discussion here this month about the role, types, and appropriateness of magical practice by and around developing children at the beginning of their life and it has been a fascinating topic. I definitely agree with JMG's suggestion that the best thing for children is a thorough exposure to mythology, tradition, and experience of the natural world. I also would say that an exposure to non-magical community ritual through a church and temple would be a good primer until a child comes of age.
That discussion also has some tie-ins to a question that's been forming about the other end of the cycle that I have for JMG: A close friend of mine, in fact one of the people who first introduced me to magic, paganism, and the occult and piqued my interest enough to leave me seaking out some more formal practice and training is currently dying (the third close death I've experienced in the last three months). The doctors have given her maybe two months to live (though that could mean anywhere between a week and a year depending on how long her body takes to work its way through the process).
She's been asking for advice about what direction her magical practice should be taking at that point in her life. There was a pretty readily set program for dying for my grandfather (Probably best described as a Deist, since his beliefs were pretty close to rational materialism but he held onto a residual belief in God so as not to compromise his masonic lodge membership) and my father (a Christian), because both of those belief systems are very dominant in our culture and tend to be the two approaches to the process offered by typical hospice programs. My advice has been to work heavily on whatever relationships she's built over her life on the other side of the veil, especially any psychopomps she's comfortable working with, and possibly start switching over at least a portion of her meditative practice from the focus, discourse, and visualization over to clearing the mind and letting go. At the same time, I'm fairly new to active participation in the death process and even newer to actually being asked to advise and play a role in guiding the process, and am, at best an intermediate with the magical traditions I'm well versed in so give magical advice to someone who is going through the process. Most occult books I've read on the subject tend to be written for those staying behind and helping to usher the dying person through the threshold.
As someone who I know has done a lot of hospice work in the past, what shifts and changes in spiritual practice would you advise for a magic practitioner going through their final weeks? Apologies if this is a bit off topic, it probably wouldn't have crossed my mind if the conversation hadn't turned to the topic of preparing children for magical practice and the role of magic in the process of incarnation, but since it has, the same question as related to the process of disincarnation seems appropriate.
Faoladh, to my mind it's the only explanation that makes sense of the whole picture.
Patricia, par for the course. I prefer the old uncommented version!
BoysMom, interesting. I'll check it out as time and circumstances permit.
Justin, that kind of experience is normal. I mean that quite literally; human beings have such experiences All. The. Time. It's purely because we've had dogmatic materialism pounded into our heads by schools and the media that so many people try to pretend that it's anything out of the ordinary. That is to say, welcome to the real world — and to the panicked efforts of most people to stuff you back into the imaginary world of materialist pseudorationalism!
Val, I'll consider a post on the subject, but since I'm not an artist, I'm kind of in the position of a virgin talking about the metaphysics of sex. As for the Middle Pillar, try doing it sitting down — it works just fine that way.
James, that's a subject for a post, not a brief comment here! I'm far from sure, though, that I find the concept of psi useful; basically, it's what happened when a group of researchers noticed a collection of testable effects that are rejected by materialist philosophy but happen anyway, and lumped all those effects together as a single thing — “psi.” Let me consider that topic for a future post…
Cherokee, oh, I don't know about pervy — scores of naked women running past would tend to distract most heterosexual men and lesbians, I suspect, for perfectly normal reasons.
Nicolas, good. Is the “smoke” something you see in other situations, or is it a new experience?
Eric, I have no idea. I've never been through that situation — well, not in this incarnation! — and don't know of any reliable sources for information on the subject. I could speculate, but I'm far from sure my speculations would be worth much.
Eric, I feel humbled by what you've been going through, and in relation to magical practice I'm less than no help at all, but your comment did remind me of a thing I've seen in my clinic from time to time when dealing with elderly or very ill patients…
Just to give an example, an 82-year old woman who consults me once or twice a year for hip pain, generally jolly in her demeanour. But one session, outwardly no different, she spends the session in floods of tears… And, as I held her hands, she relates incidents from childhood, from marriage, roads not taken, regrets, pleasures, hopes, fears, loves, many deeply felt, seldom talked about, acts, choices, responses. At the next session she was her old jolly self, though lighter as well as if the previous had been a necessary thing.
That and similar episodes I've witnessed with other people made me think that there is such a thing as a judgment day. Only it precedes death and we are led, in its season, to conduct it ourselves.
For what it's worth your friend may be much more aware here, and, like childbirth, I suspect some life transitions are so powerful in themselves that they generate the required moves from within themselves…
Eric, what a year you are having. My heart goes out to you.
you use brackets around the word smoke. I know it is a very personal experience, maybe a perplexing new one at that… But would you try to clarify to us what phenomenon you are referring to ? Is it an actual physical phenomenon ? And if that is the case, have other people seen it happen in you ?
I am not biased against such a hypothesis, I just want to ensure I can grasp what you are describing…
@Scotlyn: Thanks a lot for the sympathies. I've been learning a lot, and I'm doing my best to see this as preparation for a future where death midwives who can help people through the spiritual side of the transformation without fear, disgust, or judgement may be something in high demand and short supply. We've been doing a lot of ancestor work, and a lot of journey work, and I've been coming by twice a week to do some very simple ritual to keep the doors she'll need to go through open and safe and maintain sacred space. It's been a lot, but it's good in a way to make friends with death now while the rest of life has a stable rhythm to it.
@JMG: it was definitely something new. It lasted around two hours once I completed my first ritual and after that it disappeared.
@jean-vivien: I use “smoke” because it's the closest description I can give with my knowledge of the English language.
Eric: I like the idea of of a death midwife… it seems right, somehow…
@ onething & Tori Minard – thanks for your responses on the topic of the practice of art as a form of magic. I'll give the matter more thought, bearing your replies in mind.
@ JMG –
“…since I'm not an artist, I'm kind of in the position of a virgin talking about the metaphysics of sex.”
In that case, I'll consider myself at liberty to indulge my most perfervid imaginings until I hit some kind of barrier.
BTW, at your suggestion I've tried the MPE while seated. It seemed to work OK, except that again I had trouble visualizing where Malkuth should be. I eventually decided it should be at my feet, so that the light would travel through my legs.
I think the world could most seriously use a vertigo-inducing jolt like the one you describe above. I'm hopeful that one is on the way.
I've been reading some ancient Taoist Shamanic poems that express deep connection and relationship with local forces of nature as well as those of the distant stars. Though more than 3000 years old, they speak elegantly what I've never thought to put into words. One of my favorites speaks for a Shaman who is grieved of being constrained by his aging body in his dealings with the Great Lord of Destiny (pole star): “I'm getting old, and if we do not stay together, I am afraid we will become strangers”.
For all our knowledge, I fear we've lost more than we've gained.
I rather enjoyed the stories with the telepathic blue eyed horsies. They were a lot of fun to read, especially since the first time I read them I couldn't have been more than ten or eleven.
Hmm, sex magic. I predict this will become one of the most widely read parts of the Galabes series! 🙂 Along those lines, I occasionally read things about certain religious people that abstain from sex as a way to increase their psy/occult/spiritual power. One sect (possibly in Tibet?) even practices techniques to avoid wet dreams.
Closer to home, I once went on tour of the old Shaker village outside Lexington KY, and was struck by descriptions of spiritual practices, including dance, that they used to deal with their sexualities. A renaissance artist (Michaelangelo?) was known to not have sex, and was thought to have redirected his sexual energies into his work. There are also people who are unable to have sex in any fashion, possibly due to medical tragedies of one sort or another–I wonder how that would affect psy/occult/spiritual experience or power.
I'd be interested to hear what you think about sex abstention in this part of the discussion, as well as sex ritual. Very interesting series, and fascinating comments from all–I am learning so much–Keep up the good work!
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