In Defense of the Armchair

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2014 by P. Dunn

armchair

Where I do a lot of my magic.

I’m an armchair magician, by which I mean, I have an armchair. Well, actually, it’s a poang from Ikea. Comfy!

For those not in the know, “armchair magician” is a pejorative term for a magician who doesn’t do magic, just theorizes about it, writes about it, and talks about it. But like most pejoratives, it’s used in two ways:

First, it can mean — as I said above — a person with only second-hand knowledge of magic, and no direct experience. Second, it can mean — and more often does — a magician who theorizes.

Sometimes you’ll see, “well, theory is just armchair magic.” As if we shouldn’t, therefore, engage in theory at all, lest we magically adhere to our armchair!

This is an anti-intellectual nonsense. Every single magician has a theory of magic. The practice of magic is what you do: call up spirits, draw a circle, make a mojo bag, burn a candle. The theory of magic is why you do it. Even a folk magician who has never “thought” about magic in any sort of formal, academic way has a theory of magic: there’s a reason she’s stirring that pot. She might think she’s calling on spirits, or saints. She might have some idea that God has a certain position and she occupies another (hey, a cosmology!), or she might have some notion that the physical objects in that pot are doing something in some subtle way. These theoretical ideas are probably very complex, very well-formed, and she may not even be entirely aware of all of them at once.

Other times, I’ll hear people say “I don’t care how my magic works; I only care that it works.” Then they’ll go off explaining what they did: “Well, I made a talisman with the symbol of Jupiter and then charged it with magical energy at the hour of Jupiter by passing it through cedar incense while . . . ” Every single one of those magical acts has a why behind it. Each one represents a theoretical position.

What that attitude often boils down to is, “I have no intellectual curiosity, and I think that’s a virtue.”

I don’t have much sympathy with that. In truth, time in the armchair can translate to being more effective in the circle. The two aren’t mutually exclusive at all. And reading about magic and learning theory can encourage you to act, just as reading a good cookbook can encourage you to get in the kitchen. Yes, you cannot learn to cook by reading cookbooks, or learn magic by reading magic books, but that’s not what they’re for. So let’s stop knocking the armchair and those of us who sit in it, as long as we get out of it as well.

Frater RO Hits It On the Head

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2014 by P. Dunn

No surprise that Fr. RO and I agree about a lot of things.  We’re both Hermetic magicians (although I tend to more a postmodern, ecclectic Hermeticism, while he is hardcore Agrippa all the way).  So even though the Word of his Will appears to be four letters long and starts with an F, he and I tend to end up on the same page a lot (with the exception of Goetic stuff, but that’s the topic for another post).

His post on the economy of consciousness is downright brilliant, and I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Our experiences are all interpretations of sense interfaces that are not real time. Our brains seem to process everything that happens each moment and turn all that data into a bubble of interactive awareness. We’re all living a few nanoseconds in the past all the time, and we think it’s now. And the universe and our ongoing experience of the universe, with memory and thought and time and running narrative supports the theory that it is actually real stuff we are experiencing through the senses.

 

Read the whole thing.  It’s all that good.  Downright inspired, maybe with a capital I.

In Defense of that Damned K

Posted in Uncategorized on September 13, 2014 by P. Dunn

I really hate magick.

Part of it is just my loathing of pretense, of pretending, of imagining oneself to be living in the eighteenth century when — oh, just barely — one could get away with an extra -k at the end of a word.  I sometimes joke with my friends that one should be careful, that too much magickcickickick will give you a heart attackackackackackack (not a funny joke, given my genes, but whatever — fate is fate).

I have said that no one but a blinding idiot would confuse stage magic with practical magic.

But that was before the twenty-first century, when I realized that I made a grave error.  Go on, search for “magic.”  I dare ya.  Here, I’ll help.   How many of those results are remotely helpful?  The last one, maybe, if you’re interested in the intersection between magic and logic.

I’m a damned fool.

“Magic” doesn’t help in finding information about real magic on the web.  The vast majority consists of either magic in the sense of stage magic (prestidigitation, the British call it, and I while I love being an American, sometimes I think I my fondness of bergomot-flavored tea hints at a British past live).

The downside, of course, is that if one searches for “magick,” you get a hell of a lot of Crowley.  He’s a good place to start, but — not everyone has to end there.  I wish there were a term (Hey, the use of the subjunctive, another sign of being British in a past life) that indicated real magic, like, changing reality, express-train to god, start tinkering with the universal computer code that makes up matter, kind of magic.

Ain’t one.

Darn.

 

Eclectic and Scholarly

Posted in Uncategorized on September 5, 2014 by P. Dunn

I didn’t start off an eclectic pagan.  I started off a Hellene: a reconstructionist of the Greco-Roman religions.  I belonged for a time to a reconstructionist group, where I learned a lot and had a good time, until I didn’t.

Then I got into the Cabala, which at least has Greek roots (seriously, I think it does — that’s a matter of another post).  And then I got into Chaos Magic.  And the reconstructionists did not care for that, because magic wasn’t part of the ancient Greek religion, or rather, wasn’t a valorized part.

But of course that’s not quite true, that little story.  Because I didn’t start off as a reconstructionist.  I started off as an undifferentiated pagan who prayed to mother earth because that was what I was taught.  And then I read on Wicca, and magic, and cobbled stuff together, and had religious experiences that mattered to me.  I had visions of gods.  Actual, honest to goodness visions.  Artemis a hundred feet high, silver bow shining.  Eros, dark-eyed force at the center of the universe, turning his infinite gaze on me (and I fell on the floor as if punched).  Even earlier, I would read the myths and feel profound — inspiration?  — from Dionysus, who overcame the bullies who tried to bind him by the force of his dignity.

In college I decided to become a scholar and started doing research, and got involved in those reconstructionist groups mentioned before and — stopped having visions or feeling inspiration.  It started to feel like theater.  Interesting, often pleasant theater, but not religion.

I know for a fact this lack of spiritual engagement in reconstruction is not true of everyone, and I don’t mean to claim that this is an invalid path.  Lots of people find it more spiritually fulfilling than anything eclectic to as carefully as possible follow the historical sources.  I respect that a lot, even if that respect isn’t always returned.

Later, other gods came knocking.  First, a couple Egyptian ones — okay, well, there was syncretism between Egyptian and Greek cults in late antiquity.  Then Eastern ones.  Oh.  Well.  That’s not historically attested, but I suppose it could work if . . . and then a particular figure from a diaspora religion showed up.

And that’s when I had to face the fact: I had become an eclectic pagan.

So I was determined to do it right.  I wasn’t going to disrespect any of these gods by disrespecting the cultures they came from.  I wasn’t going to impose my own beliefs on their worship, or try to sacrifice to Ganesha as if he were Hermes with a mask on.  I wasn’t going to reduce them to Cabalistic boxes.  By the same token, I couldn’t fake a puja, or pretend to an initiation, or wear the necklace of a particular lwa.  I could study those cultures and respect them from the outside and hope that the fact that some part of that cultural practice offers me some spiritual nourishment isn’t terribly offensive.  But I wasn’t part of those cultures, and I couldn’t pretend.

And that’s the rub: I am not part of the ancient Greek culture, the Roman culture, or even — genetics notwithstanding — the Celtic culture.  I’m an American, living in an eclectic postmodern culture that borrows and (yes) steals and mixes and matches.  In many ways, I am much like a pagan of the fourth century: I am a cosmopolites: a citizen of the cosmos.

Astrology and Magic

Posted in Uncategorized on August 30, 2014 by P. Dunn

I’m deeply skeptical of astrology, but I do often see startling results from it.  I find horary astrology — when I can read the charts — to be very accurate.  I also have received some helpful insights from my natal chart, and identified troublesome periods in my life in advance using various traditional Chronocrator techniques.

One thing I’ve noticed in my natal chart is that the strongest parts of the chart correspond to the kind of magic that works best for me.  For example, my Mercury is very strong (although afflicted by Mars), which — yeah, well, obviously.  The Lord of my 12th house is also very well dignified, in its own sign, and can behold the 12th.  The Lord of my 9th is retrograde and under the beams of the sun.

I wonder: does your chart look similar?

Is a Talisman a Kind of Spirit Box?

Posted in Magical Systems, Speculation, Techniques on August 23, 2014 by P. Dunn

In Ancient Egyptian magic, there were a large number of talismanic objects.  Geraldine Pinch, in her Magic in Ancient Egypt, describes them as possibly being bags containing a number of charms, worn on a knotted string.  This makes me think of the gris-gris or mojo bag of diaspora magical traditions.  This, too, is a collection of charms and curios with similar magical “signatures,” all places together in one place.

These collections of objects are quite a bit like the spirit box or spirit jar, a very old tradition (the Hermetic text Asclepius describes how to make one in a statue, for example) with a lot of contemporary popularity.  The difference is that a spirit jar contains items consistent with the spirit’s nature, and the spirit is invited or asked (or forced) to dwell within it.

But what is it one does in contemporary practice when one “charges” a talisman?  Isn’t it inviting something to dwell within it?

This distinction-without-a-difference is a really good example of how selection of magical paradigm can color one’s practice.  If you adhere to the energy paradigm, you will make talismans and analogize them as batteries to be “charged.”  If you adhere to the spirit paradigm, you will make spirit boxes, bags, jars, and analogize them as homes to be dwelled within.  Is there a difference?  I suspect to individual practitioners there can be.

When I look over my magical journals, there are lots of successes.  There are also a few failures.  A lot of those few failures are talismanic in nature, and most of those are talismans I conceived of as “charging” with “magical energy.”  For a while, I just assumed I sucked at making talismans — but I had some vivid successes in the past.  For example, I once got a job by charging a talisman and then sitting in front of the TV until a stranger called and offered me a job — within a week.  What was the difference between that and all the failures?

The difference was the paradigm.

I’m not saying that the energy paradigm is bunk, so let’s not pick that fight again.  But I am saying that sometimes, individual magicians resonate better to particular views of magic, and work better when they work from those paradigms.

The Magical Motto

Posted in Magical Systems on August 16, 2014 by P. Dunn

I’ve had three magical mottos since I started studying magic.  My first (a motto focused on aspiration, hope, and frankly embarrassing pretension) I had until I achieved Knowledge and Conversation of my HGA, at which point I changed it in order to focus on the issues that my HGA pointed out to me (duality, prejudice, self-loathing).  I had that until grad school, when I started work on making my foundation secure.  In some systems, this would be the work of the adeptus major and adeptus exemptus, but I don’t really belong to those systems.  I changed it to focus on issues of power and fate and determination, self- and other-.  I’ve had it ever since, although it long since stopped really representing me.  So now I’m taking on a new motto, representing my determination to control the thing that most holds me back in my spiritual and mundane work:  I am now Frater Timor Canicula Mea Est.  At least, for the time being.

Most magicians who ascribe to the magical motto as a useful method tend to change theirs at significant moments of their magical practice.  Why is that?  It’s because it is a useful method: the motto is one of the more powerful tools of the magician, because, used well, it’s a kind of magical oath.  Like all magical oaths it inevitably comes to fruition.  To pick a motto that aspires to a particular thing guarantees that thing manifests — for better or worse — in some way.  Whether it’s for the better or the worse depends entirely on the magician’s use of his or her own will.

The secret of the magical motto is that it represents the magician’s weakness, not strength.  When Crowley went by Perdurabo, he wasn’t bragging that he “will last through.”  He was pointing out that he had a tendency to give up, buckle under, be weak and doubt his own success.  Saying Perdurabo was his way of saying “Yeah, I give up, fail, give in, fall down — but I won’t.  I refuse to be that anymore.  It’s time to be something else, something that endures.”  I’m not intending to talk for Crowley; he did that plenty well himself.  But it’s obvious to anyone who has had a magical motto that this is what he meant by taking on that name.

The magical motto represents a goal, not an attribute the magician already possesses.  That’s its power.

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