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.