Technique vs. Theory

There’s a disjunct in magic between technique-based systems and theory-based systems.Theorists: Crowley, Blavatsky, Mathers, Waite, Carroll. These are the people who make up systems — Crowley makes up Thelema, Blavatsky makes up Theosophy, Mathers makes up the Golden Dawn, Waite makes up . . . um . . . some really impenetrable prose, mostly, and Carroll makes up Chaos Magick. It’s a very modern approach, really — to make a system, to link things together and say “behold, I have figured. it. out!”

Technicians: Spare, Bardon (who has plenty of theory, but focuses on technique). There’s a paucity of technicians. But Spare is much more interested in getting results — not just physical results; that’s a misapprehension. Bardon has three books, two and a half of which are composed entirely of technique. This approach is a bit postmodern, actually. It opens up the possibility for all manner of theory. One can use Spare’s techniques without adopting his worldview — if you can figure it out. One can use Bardon, as well, and one frequently does *cough*, without accepting his rather odd worldview.

To find the purest technique — ars divorced entirely from theoria — requires going to folk magic, though. That’s the true postmodern magic: hoodoo and pow wow and such. In that light, the disjunction is also tied to social class. The rich do theory. The poor do magic. After all, the poor need to do magic.

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3 Responses to “Technique vs. Theory”

  1. I’ve come to like technique more and more. Of course my problem with folk magic is all the weirdness, shitting on twigs to cure horses? Wearing a wolf’s eye? Where the hell am I going to get a wolf’s eye? But I think most of the theories are just too complicated for me. You even get this in things like sound healing, where you’d think it’d be pretty simple, a lot more intuitive. No, we have to talk about chakras and aethyric bodies and multiple layers of bodies and wheels and colors and bullshit like that. Why? It’s sound, for crying out loud, where do colors enter into it at all?

    Mind I guess somebody saw all of this stuff and then we had to go codify it and fight about it all. And of course I guess we all have our theories. It’s just, eh, I dunno. People have problems. I do stuff to help them. That’s about how it works. I understand the Western need for systems, I have it too, but man, sometimes I wish we could get away from all that, because it just seems to cloud our judgment. We either insist we need a system, or we mistake the rules for the thing, like Bruno says of Homer.

  2. Administrator Says:

    I think it helps to try to think in terms of the original authors. Where are we going to get a wolf’s eye? Nowhere, not legally, anyway. But what could we get that would have the same associations of danger, predatory watchfulness, or whatever signature is relevant to the spell? In Hoodoo, for example, African-Americans took African herbal traditions and translated them into American flora and fauna. That’s one of the reasons I like it, but also one of the reasons I’m hesitant to, for example, special order a John the Conqueror root. It’d be more in keeping with the spirit, it seems to me, to find a local substitute.

  3. Going with your idea though, do you think people really did that? I mean, aside from being illegal these days, I imagine wolf’s eyes weren’t exactly the easiest thing to come by even back in the good old days. And isn’t that the point, it’s really difficult to get? If we just go, “oh I’ll use a really good picture of a wolf to symbolize it” or something, are we somehow diluting the power? I think part of it all was that effect, holy shit, dude’s got a wolf’s eye, he must be bigtime! Not all certainly, and of course we know energy can be manipulated via symbols as well as actual things. But I still sort of wonder sometimes if we haven’t oversymbolfied, (the similarity to oversimplified is deliberate), our magic.

    That’s not to say we necessarily should all go back to folk magic either, I can’t imagine myself doing half the stuff in Pow Wow for example, and hell, it’s even my hereditary tradition as it were, yay Pennsylvania Dutch! In fact mom claims my grandmother wanted to take me to a pow wow person when I was a baby to try to cure my blindness. But you look at the stuff in PW, it’s simple, wear a wolf’s eye, say this X times while using a string, rub wounds with twigs, face them a certain direction, and shit on them. Very simple and very visceral too. I wonder if we’re not getting away from that and losing something with the overcomplex nature of our theories, which I hinted at in the first comment. Or there’s the Bible, where Jesus heals with spit, what’s up with that? Again, not saying I’m yearning for the good old days at all, as I said I’m pretty into sound and its effects, which is in a lot of ways pretty damned abstract, though not quite in the same way I’m talking about with symbols.

    It’s not just that rich people make up theories, the theories seem to be very grandiose castles. I guess that’s just rich people making stuff that appeals to rich people. It’s still sort of interesting to think about though. Not just theory vs. technique, but when you start dealing with theories, sometimes the techniques derived from or used in conjunction with those theories get horribly complicated, ceremonial magic being the obvious and ultimate example perhaps, at least for the West. But we also seem to want to complicate experiences, see comments on sound healing previously, and mess with them, Harner’s “core shamanism”, where the folk systems weren’t good enough, we had to extract the truth from the rubbish, or to put it more kindly, we assume that because we can find some commonalities, (and I doubt these in many cases), it must be those commonalities that *really* matter, and the rest is just cultural window dressing. Now look what you’ve done, you’ve gone and got me started on a rant!

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