Marcos’s Question

Marcos, in the comments, asks a good question: how can magic work if someone just picks up a symbol they didn’t make their own, let’s say a bought herbal bath, and uses it without understanding all the complexity of symbolism? In fact, magic does often work that way. When I’m in a hurry, I reach for my favorite brand of pre-mixed oils and powders myself, despite having little notion what’s in them.

The question actually gets to the heart of the semiotic model, it seems to me. The answer is that the magician might not know what the herbs and stuff symbolize; however, the herbs know. It works better, usually, if the magician can align his or her mind with the symbolism by being conscious of it, but the stuff itself is already conscious of its own sympathies. The difference between the magician who knows the formulas and what their symbolism is and the practitioner who just buys the stuff premixed is the difference between the chef and the cook. It’s much more satisfying to be a chef, but a cook’ll get you fed.

I guess I’m coming down on the side of “magic is real and points to real stuff in the Nous,” which might seem at odds with some of my earlier writings, which people have sometimes interpreted as “anything goes,” which even then wasn’t really my intent.

Marcos, am I right in guessing that you’re one of my Eastern European fans? I’m so pleased that my books have been translated into Russian and Slovak, and that they are doing well overseas.

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10 Responses to “Marcos’s Question”

  1. Mr. Dunn, thank you very much for your answer… I liked very much the chef/cook metaphor…

    Actually, I am one of your brazilian fans…. and we look foward your future publications.

    Best wishes.

  2. just an alternative explanation: what if magic works because one believes it works (because *insert your favorite world-theory-system here*)? If that´s the case, a person who uses a symbol-system from another guy and believes it works (because said guy is an able magician) will have favourable results, because of his believe.
    I like this mode of explanation better because it explains the kind of situations in which people use symbol-systems they don´t understand and get the results they wanted to have, instead of those the symbol-system implies.

  3. I follow a much more spirit-centric magical paradigm, and I think this sort of phenomenon speaks to the relationship between an animistic account of the world and an information-based account. The information with which we work in our magical endeavors “fills out” real presences, which have some level of self-knowledge. That’s why the herbs, for example, in some very real sense “know” themselves, even if we ourselves don’t really know the particulars. How we generate that sort of inter-subjective experience with other spirits constitutes the Craft of the Witch.

    I’m very much afraid I’m rambling, just a little.

    All the same, Bright Blessings!

  4. inominandum Says:

    @eneugebauer: A lot of people who ascribed to this theory, especially in the Choas Magic hayday of the 90s, have found examples of magic behaving according to the system even when belief was different.

    Examples include:

    Evocation of beings that traditionally do not get along with each other causing problems even though the evoker was not aware of the conflict between them

    People accidentally using the wrong symbol (such as saturn hex instead of solar hex) but getting the result associated with the actual symbol they used, not the one they believed it to be.

    People getting harassed by spirits that they specifically did not believe in.

    Mages getting measurably better results using traditional spirits rather than fictional characters that they believed would do the same thing.

    These just come to mind at the moment. There are others

  5. @inominandum:
    Thanks for the input. These examples would indeed support the information-paradigm or spirit-centered beliefs.
    The problem I have with those kind of examples lies in the fact that I did not yet had those kind of experiences nor do I know anybody who did. Too much hearsay, too much “beware of the awesome evil of evilness”-talk while on the other hand I have often used a symbol-system (old-egyptian) I didn´t really understood at that time and got favourable results.

    But, if you (or anybody on this forum) would tell me about an incident where you *directly* experienced a situation where somebody used old-fashioned symbols (or gods or whatever) in a “wrong” way and had results according to this system rather than according to his expectations (provided the practioner worked alone and didn´t tell anyone familiar with this system about his use it at that time), it seems I have to rethink.

    Thank´s in advance.

  6. inominandum Says:

    Each of the above examples either happened to me or to someone I know directly. I will write more in depth when I can.

  7. ok, thanks alot. Looking forward to your next post.

  8. inominandum Says:

    Short on time, but here is a quick run down

    The first example was from a ceremonial magician who used Orishas as his quarter guards rather than angels. Oya for the North and Yemeja for the West work Kabbalistically and Symbolically. The problem is that they hate each other. This persons life quickly fell apart and he had to pay thousands to a Santero to fix the mess.

    Second example was my former roomate who thought he was doing Solar Invoking Hexagerams every morning but was actually doing Saturn invoking hexagrams. Depression and other mental glum set in until he figured it out.

    Third example is actually backed up by a few instances. One was me during my Choas Magic phase in the 90′s totally getting crap beat out of me by Horus. Another is a case of improper offerings to the Naga that happened to a friend of mine in Nepal. Yet another is an attack by Dorje Shugden, a spirit that someone I know was not even aware that they had received the empowerment for because it was part of a larger package. There are lots of others.

    The last example is simply from most former Chaos Mages I have met. They argued that Superman received more attention in todays group psyche than Mars did and thus was a better example of martial power. They learned through experience that attention and belief are not the same thing AND there there is a dimension that most traditional gods and spirits have that beings who are thought of primarily as fiction do not.

  9. Eugene, I can add another personal example:

    I develop techniques from the building blocks of magick. How to heal based on individual connections and energy signatures, rather than an overall intent. Often, my first guess on how to do a healing is thoroughly ineffective. I expect it to work, but it doesn’t. A few tries later, I find a technique that works. Next time I encounter the same injury, I do that same technique right away, and it works again, reliably. That tells me that the magick is in the technique, not in my believing that the technique will work.

    And yes, this happened even before I noticed this pattern, when I arrogantly expected my first guess to be right.

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