Archive for July, 2006

Mixing Systems

Posted in Magical Systems, Speculation on July 31, 2006 by P. Dunn

I’ve often heard that one cannot mix paths, but I have yet to see a
good argument for this position. In the spirit of Rogerian debate,
however, here is what I regard as the strongest possible position for
the idea that you cannot mix approaches:

Doing so takes up more time, so that you never get deep into one
particular system, but always remain on the surface of several.
Spiritual advancement requires discipline and commitment, and dabbling
with x and then with y implies a certain lack of commitment.

I agree that, if one only learns the basics of many different systems,
there won’t be much long term benefits. However, I disagree that
exploring or studying several systems necessarily implies lack of
commitment or discipline, or that it guarantees a lack of depth. For
example, I might study the runes and ask myself how they apply to the
Qabalah. In doing so, I might gain some insight into both runes and
Qabalah that I would never have gained if I had studied each
separately. Similarly, I might notice in studying Jyotish (which I
am, now), that the sun is considered a malefic (or, rather, “cruel”),
and I might ask how that could reflect on my idea of tifareth. In
what ways in Beauty “cruel?” And my understand of tifareth as the
door of initiation also informs the way, for me, that the Sun in
Jyotish might be called “cruel.” In other words, I apply
understanding from one system in order to understand another deeper.

A foolish approach, however, might be to say “Nyah, the sun isn’t
cruel. I don’t care what those crazy Hindus say — the sun is neato!
Says so right here — see, resh!” That lacks respect for the system.
I may come, eventually, to disagree with the interpretation “cruel”
for the sun — but I want to understand it fully in context before I
abandon it.

And that’s the key: just as when learning a language we learn it in context of our native language but eventually learn to think in it separate from that context if we choose, so when we learn a new symbol system, we learn it in context of ones we already know. Still, the goal is to move in it unabstructed by preconception, while simultaneously being able to activate all our old knowledge when necessary.

Practical Magic and High Magic

Posted in Speculation on July 21, 2006 by P. Dunn

There’s some talk bubbling around the edges of some of the communities I observe about the difference between high magic (i.e., theurgy, magic designed to bring us closer to the divine, whatever that is) and low or practical magic (i.e., thaumaturgy, the magic of getting stuff).

Hinduism dealt with this distinction a few years ago (like, a few thousand) and came up with a nice summary of doctrine: “You can have what you want.”  You can use Hinduism to get what you want with mantras and spells, or you can use it to get what you want with the advanced techniques of yoga.  Hindu sages recognized that people who don’t have basic living necessities aren’t likely to want to seek god.  Of course, ascetics and so forth are an exception, but even they surrender luxuries they already had.  The point is, practical magic serves the purpose of yoinking us up Maslow‘s pyramid of needs.

Another purpose of practical magic is as a litmus test.  It’s pretty obvious when practical magic works.  I need a job, I do a spell, I get a job in a surprising or unexpected way.  But sometimes, it’s harder to tell if Theurgy works.  That new ritual I learned last night while rising on the plains — did I really learn it from an outside source or did I make it up?  How will I know for sure?  There are ways to test, but they’re always fraught with the uncertainty that — say — a handful of cash is not.

So obviously I come down on the side of getting what you want, at least while you still want it.  I also recognize that’s sort of a trap.  Many a person enters magic for power and so forth and ends up finding that all the stuff he or she wanted wasn’t what he or she really wanted after all.

The Hermetic Library –

Posted in Magical Systems, Techniques on July 20, 2006 by P. Dunn

The Hermetic Library –

A collection of electronic texts, all of them fairly useful in the study of magic. I was pleased to see that there’s some selections from the Papyri Graecae Magicae there. Lots of Enochian stuff too.

The Holy Guardian Angel: a tricky little devil

Posted in Techniques on July 18, 2006 by P. Dunn

The Holy Guardian Angel: a tricky little devil

Very interesting article on the Holy Guardian Angel. There isn’t much out there, and as the article points out, “The HGA is a very difficult concept to define, as most labels serve to impose falsehood and/or limitations on what the HGA may be.” While I could find quibbles if I was feeling graduate-student-ish about the whole thing, mostly I like what Ed Richardson has to say about the HGA. Hey, that rhymed.

How Every Mage Sounds to the Gods

Posted in Uncategorized, Weird on July 13, 2006 by P. Dunn

“And I want a pony and a job and my own ferris wheel and a trampoline and a pretty girlfriend and a keyboard and a Wolverine action figure with claw action and . . . “

Do be do be do

Posted in Uncategorized on July 7, 2006 by P. Dunn

Being something is never as interesting as doing something.  Being a writer is never as interesting as writing something; being a magician is never as interesting as doing magic.

I’m suspicious of that hinge, that “be” in the middle of sentences.  I sometimes think it’s a lying word.

Magazines and Glamours

Posted in Techniques on July 5, 2006 by P. Dunn

Guy just stopped by trying to sell me magazines. So here I am working on a commentary on the Emerald Tablet, and someone is outside my door trying to sell me Sports Illustrated. Ain’t that a nice allegory for — umm, something. The thing is, he didn’t just say “I’m selling magazines.” He said first that he had to go around and introduce himself to his neighbors, which made me think, aha, sexual offender. Then he suggested that perhaps he was looking for two “ugly chicks.” I informed him I was neither ugly nor a “chick.” Then he suggested that he was looking to sell edible underwear. That I didn’t buy for a moment. Finally, he hinted that it was a scavenger hunt. Then, he showed me the catalogue of a lot of magazines I, personally, have little interest in.

Still, while I found him somewhat repugnant in a number of ways, I found myself looking for a way I could please him by buying one of his magazines. A perfect example of a glamour — he made me want to like him, even though I didn’t, and want to fulfill his need to sell magazines, although I couldn’t.

Being a salesman for a few months might be good practice for magic. Makes me wonder: what other jobs can train us in magic?


Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2006 by P. Dunn

Just got back from a fireworks show.  I remember fireworks being a little bit awesome, in the older sense of the word.  Now, they’re just repetitive booms and flashes of light.  I found myself looking at the moon rather than the explosions near it, and thinking about lines of poetry I have found beautiful.  Fire drawn across the sky seems somehow meager when compared to the fire that can be drawn across the mind.  Explosions and colored bursts of light are not rare on the ground; what need do we have to hang them in the heavens?

Toward the end, I started worrying about traffic; direction of traffic in this town was not the best, but I left a bit early and made it home before it got awful.  That meant the grand finale took place while I was on the road, and that was the only moment I felt a twinge of the sublime — as I drove past the smokey haze of gunpowder flowing across the highway from the park, lit pink and blue by the lights of the police cruisers.

Should I wrestle this into a metaphor about the mind?  Okay.  When I was a kid, I thought fireworks were fascinating; they drown out the sky with their bright flashes and every one elicites an interjection of awe.   But now, I find their patterns overly familiar, so I can discount them and see the moon behind them.  Beginning the discipline of the mind, all of our thoughts seem like ourselves and each one elicits a feeling of shame or joy.  But after a time meditating and practicing mindfulness, thoughts just become the same old thing, and we can see the moon behind them.

All right, enough of that nonsense.  It sounds like something that should be in a book about Buddhism, one of those with a brush drawing of some moist flower on the cover.  In reality, I just feel ever so slightly melancholy because I wanted the fireworks to be like the ones I saw when I was a child.  That’s not a bad thing.  I don’t mind being melancholy; it’s a handy emotion to be in for a writer.

Happy 4th of July.


Posted in Literature and Performance on July 2, 2006 by P. Dunn

I do this thing every year where I work as a counselor for a writing camp for high school aged kids. It’s a guaranteed peak experience; I come away from it feeling like a zen master. The kids are beyond amazing: little burning balls of energy and creative force. All I need to do is wave generally at the idea of “image” and they get it — snap! — and they’re off writing amazing poetry and fiction. I don’t mean, amazing for a fourteen year old. I mean amazing. Like, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that in a couple years I’ll walk into Borders and see a name I recognize from writing camp sitting on a shelf.

I mentioned this camp to a buddy, and he said something like “I miss being sixteen, when I could just write poetry and say things that really mattered to me.” And I realized, hey, that’s the Great Work. Saying what really matters. Connecting. Those of us who get there by the crooked old road of magic, well, we’re maybe a little weird. But others get there by other means, and it doesn’t matter the boat; it’s the river that matters.

I’m sad. I miss my kids. Would you believe last year, when I was asked to do this, I considered not doing it because I thought I didn’t like kids? I was an idiot. I didn’t know kids. It turns out, I like these kids more than most people I’ve met this year.

No, I’m not going to get my teacher’s certification; for one thing, I’m not up for sitting in those cramped desks again after eleven years of doing so for my Ph.D. For another thing, I know very well that my campers chose to be there because they liked writing. I suspect most of my students, if I became a high school English teacher, would be like — well, wouldn’t much want to be there. I’m not interested in discipline.

I am going to focus a bit more on poetry. And I’m making some other changes, too, which I’ll talk about later.


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