How to Break Into Occult Writing

Posted in Writing on October 26, 2014 by P. Dunn

Here are some suggestions for those who want to write books about the occult:

1. You have to have something to say. If everything you have to say is everything everyone else has had to say, you won’t get very far. The best way to get something to say is to go do some magic. You want to write a how-to about making wands? Then go out into the woods and get some branches and start making wands until you can say interesting things about the process. Don’t just make up some stuff that sounds good. Actually do the exercises and techniques you want to talk about.

2. You have to say it well. Hone your craft by writing, a lot, and reading it aloud. Find a few authors whose style you admire, and imitate (but not copy!) them. Learn to cite your sources. Learn to write clear English, and easily understood instructions. This could take years, and so you should get started as soon as you can. I began writing when I was about sixteen. Before the world ever saw anything I wrote, I had written five or six very bad novels, countless terrible stories and essays, and enough poems to choke a pretentious horse.

3. Take criticism. Someone who criticizes your writing is criticizing your writing, not you. There are two, and only two, ways to take criticism. If it’s valid, address it. This happens a lot, even among very skilled writers, because no one can see everything even in their own writing. If it’s not valid, ignore it. Never talk back or try to argue with a critic. It’s a waste of time. If they’re wrong, they’re wrong, and that’s okay. This goes triple for when you have published the book and reviewers respond to it. Someone gives your book a bad review? That sucks, but move on with life. You can’t please everyone. You don’t have to disparage their judgement, or attack their integrity, or respond publicly at all. Maintain your dignity. (It may be acceptable to send the author of the review a short note, but it should be friendly, private, and should say something like “thank you for your review. It’s given me a lot to think about for my next book.”)

4. Learn the business of publishing. Your publisher is not your baby sitter, your friend, or your therapist. They’re a business arrangement, and you should approach it that way. Forget all the silly notions you may have of authors being prima donnas, making demands and so forth. Meet your deadlines like a professional. Take criticism from your editors as a professional (this is the only time you can argue with criticism, by the way — but do it as a professional and only when you’re sure you’re right). Be friendly, concise, and polite in all your dealings. This goes triple if you’ve been rejected.

5. Don’t let publishers walk on you. Most publishers aren’t really cut-throat. That’s just a thing for movies. But do have enough of a backbone not to cave. The first contract they send you is a perfectly fair, acceptable contract. Don’t sign it. Instead, read it very, very carefully. If there’s something you don’t like, ask to have it removed or changed. For example, publishers will often happily send you more complimentary copies than listed in the boilerplate. If you intend to give talks, classes, or readings, ask that this number be increased. They may or may not raise your royalties if you ask, but you can always ask for a graduated royalty schedule, where you get paid more if you sell a certain number of books. No publisher will ever say “Hey, you asked for an extra 2% if you sell over ten thousand copies. That’s nonsense! The deal is off!” They might laugh in your face, but they won’t usually cancel the deal unless they say no and you refuse to budge. If they request changes, make sure you can make them before you agree. Make sure you understand how translation and foreign rights work, and if there’s not a clause for it, ask their lawyers to write one.

6. Deal with your editor fairly. If they tell you that something needs to be changed for the good of the book, don’t have a kneejerk reaction of “no way.” Think about it and make the changes if they make sense to you. If they tell you to do something that you know is wrong (like get rid of citations), tell them no. It is still your book. Your name is on it. Any input they give you on the cover is a kindness they’re offering you; most contracts do not give the author control of the cover.

7. The author never gives money to the publisher. If you are told otherwise, you are not dealing with a publisher, but a scam artist.

8. A typical size for a book might be around 50,000 words. If you write 1,000 words a day, you’ll finish the first draft in a couple months. Assume that it takes you an hour to write a 1,000 words (that’s fast!). That’s 50 hours. It usually takes, by rule of thumb, at least twice as long to revise. That’s another 100 hours for a total of 150. Research and practicing the techniques (see suggestion #1) will also probably take you a while, so say another 50 hours for that and thinking time. That’s 200 hours to write a book. You could do that in three weeks or so, working most of the day. So it is a doable task, but it won’t break down that easily. You’ll make false starts, have days that involve staring at the lawn and not writing a word, and so on. It usually takes most authors a year to finish a book, including downtime and so on. You may make, total, a couple thousand dollars in royalty on most books. $2000 a year is a very bad salary. $10 an hour isn’t great either, and would require you to write nearly all day every single day. The moral: don’t write for money. Write for the fun of it.

Are Mercury, Odin, and Hermes the same guy?

Posted in Uncategorized on October 18, 2014 by P. Dunn

Llewellyn posts an intriguing blog asking if all gods are the same. It’s a particular good clarification of the difference between correspondence and equation.

It comes down to this: just because Odin, Mercury, Hermes, and Quetzalcoatl share correspondences, this does not mean that they are the same person. Think of it this way: Your professor, your high school teacher, your doctor, and your psychologist all share certain qualities. They’re intelligent, insightful, helpful, and professional. These are correspondences. But your professor, your high school teacher, your doctor, and your psychologist are all probably different people.

In my own view, Mercury isn’t even Mercury, by which I mean the god Mercurius isn’t the same “person” as the planetary power of Mercury.

But from another perspective, Mercury, Odin, Hermes, and Quetzalcoatl are instantiations of the same ultimate power. The distinction is between the Platonic idea of god and daemon. The god is transcendent, beyond matter, perfect and ideal, and not subject to change or influence. But those gods shine down into the world, and as they do so they manifest as intermediary beings: daemones who communicate between humans and the divine.

So your teacher, professor, doctor, and psychologist are all different people, but they’re representing a particular ideal: teaching and helping you to be a better self. That ideal doesn’t change and isn’t a “person,” but insofar as each of these people represent that ideal, they are “the same.”

It’s complicated and sticky, because it all gets into the concept of “identity,” which is a philosophically complicated notion. One of my favorite YouTube channels addresses this issue very clearly and well:

Magic and Religion

Posted in Uncategorized on October 11, 2014 by P. Dunn

What’s the difference between magic and religion? After all, as a magician, I believe in an unseen world, and use verbal formulas and ritual actions to influence that world. That sounds like a Christian praying, or any other member of a religion interacting with his or her concept of the divine. But while magic does fulfill most of the functions of religion for me, it’s still feels a little different.

First, it’s orthopractic, not orthodoctic. It doesn’t matter what I believe; it’s what I do that counts. Of course, what I do influences what I believe, but I don’t go to hell if I think X or Y about the gods. Sometimes, it’s easier for me to imagine that the gods are aspects of my psyche. At other times, it’s more useful to recognize their cosmic aspect. It’s hard for me to imagine that either of these two rather incompatible views of the divine represent a heresy.

Second, it’s very practical. It’s about living a good life, both in the mundane sense and in the moral sense. Some religions offer spells or rituals to influence the world, but with magic I get a whole toolbox. Light a novena? Sure. But if that doesn’t work, I’ll create a servitor. If that doesn’t work, I’ll summon an Olympick spirit. If that doesn’t work . . . well, that usually works.

Finally, magic doesn’t tell me what my salvation is. For me, it’s henosis, but no one said it had to be. I know very good magicians whose entire raison d’etre is to get laid and make money (or at least, that was what they were into in the 90s. I mean, we were all in college then, and that’s what you did).

I know that anthropologists have, in the past, laid out the distinction as one of “magical thinking.” But affirming the connection between signifier and signified is hardly exclusive to magic: if we adopt this as the definition, then we have to include religion under the umbrella of magic just as we have to include advertising (cars = sex), professional sports (animal totems, anyone?), and fashion.

Ramsey Dukes has a take on it that is a little more useful, and I’d encourage you to read SSOTBME Revised – an essay on magic

if you’re interested in thinking about this idea further.

Misconceptions about Occult Publishing

Posted in Weird, Writing on October 4, 2014 by P. Dunn

I want to take a moment to clear up some odd misconceptions about occult books and occult publishing. I’m doing so because, in other areas of the net, I sometimes see some odd claims about occult authors and occult books.

1. Occult authors do not do it for the money. There’s very little money in writing as a whole, and most occult authors I know who do make a living at it actually make their money with speaking fees and classes. It’s not uncommon for an author to receive less than a dollar per book sold. A well-selling occult book might net an author a few thousand dollars. It takes about a year, often more, to write a book. Do the math. As for me, I don’t intend to make much money with my books. I write them because it’s fun for me, and because it keeps me researching and thinking, and because it’s a great way to connect with other occultists. That check is pretty nice, but it often means “hey, let’s go out for sushi” rather than “hey, let’s buy a yacht!”

2. Occult authors are not the employees of their publisher. Llewellyn and Weiser are not having magical wars with each other. Neither are their authors. The loyalty I have to Llewellyn is based on a series of contracts (and the fact that they work well with me, and I like the people personally). It’s not exclusive. I buy many Weiser books, and admire quite a few of them. It’s not impossible that Llewellyn may reject one of my books, and if that happens, I may self-publish it or shop it out to other publishers. No one will feel the slightest sense of betrayal or annoyance if that happens.

3. As an extension of #2, if I write a bad review of a book by an another publisher, I did so because, in my opinion, it is a book that did not set out to meet its stated aims. It has nothing to do with who published it. There’s no rivalry, and other authors are not my competition. In occult publishing, a rising tide raises all boats. If someone writes a book on Lenormand, and it sells better than mine — great! Maybe that means it’ll spark lots of interest in Lenormand and people will also buy and read my book. So if I write a review that says “this book doesn’t work,” or “this book is often plagiarized and poorly written when it’s not,” it has nothing to do with my publisher and everything to do with the content of the book in question.

4. Occult publishers used to have niches. Llewellyn published a lot of very friendly, very light books on magic. Weiser published heavier stuff. These niches are no longer the case. Llewellyn has published many serious books on magic, and Weiser has published much lighter, friendlier stuff. Sneering at an entire publisher because of their catalogue doesn’t make you sound knowledgeable. It makes it sound like you live in the ’90s. The market has changed dramatically in the last twenty years, and there is no longer any room for niches.

Perhaps I should write a post offering advice for those who wish to break into writing occult books?

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.

 

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