Archive for the Magical Systems Category

Is a Talisman a Kind of Spirit Box?

Posted in Magical Systems, Speculation, Techniques on August 23, 2014 by P. Dunn

In Ancient Egyptian magic, there were a large number of talismanic objects.  Geraldine Pinch, in her Magic in Ancient Egypt, describes them as possibly being bags containing a number of charms, worn on a knotted string.  This makes me think of the gris-gris or mojo bag of diaspora magical traditions.  This, too, is a collection of charms and curios with similar magical “signatures,” all places together in one place.

These collections of objects are quite a bit like the spirit box or spirit jar, a very old tradition (the Hermetic text Asclepius describes how to make one in a statue, for example) with a lot of contemporary popularity.  The difference is that a spirit jar contains items consistent with the spirit’s nature, and the spirit is invited or asked (or forced) to dwell within it.

But what is it one does in contemporary practice when one “charges” a talisman?  Isn’t it inviting something to dwell within it?

This distinction-without-a-difference is a really good example of how selection of magical paradigm can color one’s practice.  If you adhere to the energy paradigm, you will make talismans and analogize them as batteries to be “charged.”  If you adhere to the spirit paradigm, you will make spirit boxes, bags, jars, and analogize them as homes to be dwelled within.  Is there a difference?  I suspect to individual practitioners there can be.

When I look over my magical journals, there are lots of successes.  There are also a few failures.  A lot of those few failures are talismanic in nature, and most of those are talismans I conceived of as “charging” with “magical energy.”  For a while, I just assumed I sucked at making talismans — but I had some vivid successes in the past.  For example, I once got a job by charging a talisman and then sitting in front of the TV until a stranger called and offered me a job — within a week.  What was the difference between that and all the failures?

The difference was the paradigm.

I’m not saying that the energy paradigm is bunk, so let’s not pick that fight again.  But I am saying that sometimes, individual magicians resonate better to particular views of magic, and work better when they work from those paradigms.

The Magical Motto

Posted in Magical Systems on August 16, 2014 by P. Dunn

I’ve had three magical mottos since I started studying magic.  My first (a motto focused on aspiration, hope, and frankly embarrassing pretension) I had until I achieved Knowledge and Conversation of my HGA, at which point I changed it in order to focus on the issues that my HGA pointed out to me (duality, prejudice, self-loathing).  I had that until grad school, when I started work on making my foundation secure.  In some systems, this would be the work of the adeptus major and adeptus exemptus, but I don’t really belong to those systems.  I changed it to focus on issues of power and fate and determination, self- and other-.  I’ve had it ever since, although it long since stopped really representing me.  So now I’m taking on a new motto, representing my determination to control the thing that most holds me back in my spiritual and mundane work:  I am now Frater Timor Canicula Mea Est.  At least, for the time being.

Most magicians who ascribe to the magical motto as a useful method tend to change theirs at significant moments of their magical practice.  Why is that?  It’s because it is a useful method: the motto is one of the more powerful tools of the magician, because, used well, it’s a kind of magical oath.  Like all magical oaths it inevitably comes to fruition.  To pick a motto that aspires to a particular thing guarantees that thing manifests — for better or worse — in some way.  Whether it’s for the better or the worse depends entirely on the magician’s use of his or her own will.

The secret of the magical motto is that it represents the magician’s weakness, not strength.  When Crowley went by Perdurabo, he wasn’t bragging that he “will last through.”  He was pointing out that he had a tendency to give up, buckle under, be weak and doubt his own success.  Saying Perdurabo was his way of saying “Yeah, I give up, fail, give in, fall down — but I won’t.  I refuse to be that anymore.  It’s time to be something else, something that endures.”  I’m not intending to talk for Crowley; he did that plenty well himself.  But it’s obvious to anyone who has had a magical motto that this is what he meant by taking on that name.

The magical motto represents a goal, not an attribute the magician already possesses.  That’s its power.

Want to Help Me Write a Book?

Posted in Magical Systems, Techniques, Writing on April 18, 2014 by P. Dunn

I’m toying with ideas for my next book.  I’d like to do some research among those who practice magic.  Would you be interested in being interviewed for this possible book?  This may involve sharing some of your magical successes and failures, and perhaps trying a few techniques and reporting back.  There may be several follow-up interviews, as well.  If the book is published and I use your experiences, you will receive credit (either to your name or a pseudonym) and your experiences will be cited in the text.  I’ll also send you a free copy of the book when it comes out (but don’t hold your breath: it takes at least a year to write a book, and another year for it to come out).  I can’t guarantee that I’ll use everyone’s experiences.  But if nothing else, we may be able to share some ideas and techniques, even if they don’t end up as a book.

Feel free to join in whether you’re very advanced in magic or a brand-new beginner.  The book I’m envisioning is an advanced book, but I want beginners to be able to benefit from it.

If interested, email me at pee double-yew dunn at gmail dot com (address obscured in order to confound spambots.  Not that that’ll work.  Essentially, it’s my first and middle initial followed by my last name).  And be patient with me; it’s a busy time of the year for me.

“Hot” and “Cool” running magic

Posted in Magical Systems, Techniques, Theurgy, Weird on September 2, 2013 by P. Dunn

I don’t remember where I read about the distinction, but one idea that has haunted my work since I learned about it is the concept of “hot” and “cool” work.

Essentially, “cool” work is preparatory, interior, and what we might call theurgic.  It consists of things like offerings, meditations, regular visualizations — essentially, all the stuff you do to prepare yourself and stay ready.  It’s tuning the piano, practicing scales.  Or it’s sharpening the knives, seasoning the pans.

“Hot” work, though, is the practical magic.  It consists of work for specific, measurable aims: getting a job, getting laid, getting that copy of that rare book you want.  It’s playing a song, or cooking a meal.

There needs to be the appropriate balance between the two, and one thing it took me quite a while to learn is that this balance changes depending on time as well as personality.  Some magicians are very “hot.”  They do a lot of practical work, for nearly everything.  Others are very “cool.”  They prepare a lot, spend most of their time and effort praying, making offerings, meditating.  That balance is right for them.

Some are too “hot.”  They’re the chaos mages I knew in my misspent youth who seemed to have a sigil on every available surface.  I’m not sure they ever got anything done, though, because they were trying to do everything.  I mean, these kids couldn’t . . . um . . . charge the sigils fast enough.  And they heaped scorn on theurgy or illumination magic as “not practical” and “not measurable.”  They said things like, and I quote, “I fired off a tight little sigil . . . “, a phrase that contributed a lot to my abandoning chaos magic.  To this day that phrase — and the visualization that comes with it — makes me go “urp.”

Some, on the other hand, are too “cool,” the armchair magicians we all love to scorn.  The thing is, a real armchair magician isn’t just cool.  They’re zero degrees Kelvin.  If all you do, ever, is make offerings, meditate, and practice elemental pore breathing, well, guess what?  You are a magician.  You might be too cool, but you’re not an armchair magician.  A real armchair magician does nothing but read.  And that poorly, because even active reading is good “cool” work.  (Hint, if you had to learn a language to read the text you’re working on, that’s “cool,” not armchair.  In my biased opinion.)

Then again, you might not be too cool.  That’s the thing it took me a while to figure out, because frankly, I am at best a tepid magician.  Partially, that’s a result of success.  There isn’t a whole lot I want more than for my life to continue in the same direction.  So most of my “practical” work is maintenance these days.  I’ve considered doing some limited work for a limited number of hand-selected clients, just to “warm” up a bit.  But — maybe that’s a bad idea.  Maybe I should be tepid.

The other thing that I’ve learned is that hot and cool move in cycles.  I’ve had hot periods (there was about a year of grad school in which I had enough magical stuff going on that I was regularly having odd magical experiences, and another year during my undergrad years when I was still into chaos magic and had enough weird shit in my dorm room to give the housing people at my University fits).  But I also have cool periods.  Right now is very much a cool period for me.  I’m keeping up my offerings, trying to maintain my meditation (I’m bad at that).

The trick is to find a balance that works for you.  How do you do that?  I don’t know; I just bumble around until I get too damned bored (then I know I’m too cool) or too damned weird (then I’m too hot).  What do you do?  Let me know in the comments.

Signs You Are a Magician

Posted in Magical Systems, Theurgy on August 4, 2013 by P. Dunn

Recently, Nick Farrell wrote a post in which he enumerated several signs that you’re not a real magician.  Some of these signs are things I agree with, but some I disagree with strongly, so I’d like to counter with my own short list of signs that you are in fact a magician, inspired by his post.

1.  You dress consciously in order to achieve the outcome you wish.  For some environments, that’s a suit and tie.  For others, it’s a t-shirt and jeans.  For yet others, it might be all black with a pentagram.  It depends on what you wish to achieve, and you recognize that clothes are potent symbols in our culture.  You don’t wear a toga to a job interview, unless togas are the expected attire at that job.

2.  You do regular magical work, balancing between “hot” or practical work and “cool” or preparatory work.  You don’t sneer at theurgy because it “isn’t practical,” because you know that it’s profoundly practical.  You also don’t sneer at results-based magic as beneath you, because you know that we live in this world.  The amount of time you spend doing work per day is irrelevant; some days it may be ten minutes, some days three hours.  You recognize that any practice as organic and personal as magic doesn’t lend itself to a schedule.

3.  Your life is better than it was, and getting better all the time, on all levels: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, monetary, health, and so on.  Of course, you may have setbacks and bad things may happen; those are opportunities to show what you’re made of.  If you can deal with such things without falling apart, you’re doing well.

4.  You don’t blame magic for your relationship failures.  Sometimes relationships fail, sometimes they succeed.  Magic can help you have more meaningful relationships.

5.  You have some magical gear, but you don’t need it.  When you use it, you use it to help you work more efficiently, just like any tool.

6.  You talk, think, and practice occultism.  All three.

7.  You’re an interesting person, with varied interests.  If you don’t think a hobby is “worthy” because it isn’t magical, your imagination has failed you.  If you think hobbies are just ways to meet people, you have failed at being interesting enough to deserve to meet people.

8.  You have an active social life.  Many magicians are introverts, but even introverts have friends and a social life outside of their magical temple.  If your best friends are spirits, you are not succeeding at part of being human, which is being human among other humans.  You don’t need to be an extrovert, but you need to have some social contact with people you like, who like you.

9.  You recognize that a healthy person prioritizes their life, and can regard several things as important.  If you have kids, and they are not more important than magic, then you are a terrible magician and an awful person.

10.  You respect tradition, actual knowledge and wisdom, but test things yourself and engage in critical thinking.

11.  You understand that the difference between “physical” and “mental,” and the difference between “literal” and “figurative” are not easily delineated differences.  They are actually philosophically complex ideas.  You explore those ideas, not dismiss them.

12.  You think magic is about what you can get out of life, to make it more worthwhile and fulfilling, all the way up Maslow’s pyramid to the very top.

Ethics (3/3) — Virtue ethics

Posted in Ethics, Magical Systems on July 15, 2013 by P. Dunn

Rather than rules or consequences, virtue ethics looks at the qualities that underly particular actions. If, for example, you are an honest person, you might rarely tell a lie.

As I said before, one of the favorite practices of professors of introduction to ethics is the hypothetical. One of the most famous hypothetical is this: you are harboring a Jew during WWII, and a Nazi soldier comes to your door. Do you give up the Jew to the Nazi, knowing that he will die most horribly, or do you lie to the Nazi and save the life?

A deontological view with a simple rules, like “thou shalt not lie,” says “You tell the truth. So sad, too bad.” Of course, most people espousing such moralities won’t actually say that. They either “bite the bullet” as we say in philosophy, or they find some reason that there, that rule does not apply. Neither satisfies me.

A teleologist fares a bit better: she says “Lie. Of course.” But lies often make people feel better. Should I then lie all the time? This doesn’t quite satisfy, because we have a sense that lying probably isn’t a good practice overall.

The aretologist (or Virtue Ethicist) says “I am an honest person, so I do not tend to lie. I am also a compassionate person, so I do not tend to encourage needless suffering. And furthermore, I am a just person, and the Nazis are unjust. So I lie. It’s a pity that I have to, but — well, frankly, um, duh?”

Virtue ethics isn’t about following rules or attending to the calculus of consequences, but about what you are. It’s about becoming a good person, even if that means study and practice.

Each virtue is a balancing act. For example, justice is a balance between mercy and severity. Courage is a balance between the vices of cowardice and foolhardiness. And each virtue requires the skill or quality of phronesis, of wisdom, to find that balance.

One of the reasons I think virtue ethics is relevant to the magician is that even the word, virtue, means power. Being a good person, developing these characteristics, makes one capable as a human being and thus more capable as a magician.

The Wiccan rede isn’t an artifact of a virtue ethic, but there are four magical virtues describes by Levi:

To Know: The virtue of knowledge, of knowing what one must do, and what one must not, and how to achieve one’s aims, as well as to know oneself as human. The balance between ignorance and intellectual pride.
To Will: The virtue of resolution, of setting one’s mind and clearing one’s thoughts of distraction, of basic discipline. This is the balance between weakness and grit-toothed grim gym-teacher pain.
To Dare: This is the virtue of courage. Whenever I see someone new to magic surprised or startled by magical success, I think of this virtue, the balance between excuses and obsession.
To Keep Silent: The virtue of circumspection. We don’t have to keep everythign in magic a secret anymore, but sometimes we must just shut up in the face of the ineffable. This is the balance between haughty obfuscation and blatherskite.

I’d love to see more attention paid to virtue ethic in magic, and while I respect the rede, I respect the witch’s pyramid a lot more, because it serves as a practical set of virtues to aim toward in my own life, even if I don’t always achieve them.

A Grimoire of Time

Posted in Good Books, Magical Systems, Techniques on July 6, 2013 by P. Dunn

Jason Miller gets — and deserves — a lot of my admiration.  He’s a thinking magician, which is great, but more importantly he does stuff.  Creative, innovative, and practical stuff.

Therefore, you need to buy his new chapbook, Advanced Planetary Magic, which I have been honored with a review copy of, and let me say, I’m blown away.  There are two main parts of this book that you need, as a practicing magician.

First, there are the seals, which at first I glanced at with a “Oh, look, Agrippa’s seals, but all swirly,” until I realized that they are graphically encoded rituals in their own rights.  Look at them: if you draw those seals in the air you are performing a ritual dance and invocation of that planetary force.  Try it!

Second, and my favorite part of the book and why I’ll be coming back to it again and again, he offers forty-nine short but powerful calls of the planets for each combination of magical hours and days.  These things are mind-blowingly awesome.  They are essentially a grimoire, not of spirits, but of time itself.  They can act as initial invocation of planetary forces, or as full-fledged rites.  I have had limited to time experiment with them since getting the review copy, but so far I am impressed and I am hoping to hear of other people’s experiences as they work with these calls.


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