Archive for the Speculation Category

Pagan Prayer

Posted in Paganism, Speculation, Techniques, Theurgy on June 1, 2013 by P. Dunn

Jason Miller recently had a clever and thorough post on the debate between those who think that fictional beings are the same as gods, or can be used the same way in magic.  He writes:

We not only do not currently know for sure the nature of what we deal with, but we currently do not have the capacity to know for sure the nature of what we deal with. Therefore every operating theory, including the ones above, might be wrong. Keep this in mind whether you are doing traditional work or experimenting.

I was thinking of that post today while I was going for a walk. Unlike Jason, I am a pagan — specifically a Theurgist [ETA: This was a bit of sloppy reading on my part, as Jason doesn't say he's not a pagan, only that his blog isn't a pagan blog].  Often, when I go for a walk, I like to pray.  So I got out of my car at the forest preserve, headed into the woods, and thought “Okay, now, whom shall I pray to today?”

I had to laugh at myself.  That’s not a question most people ask, being monotheists.  I finally decided I wanted to be a little edgy, and pray to Ares, a god not often prayed to in ancient times.

Then, I had a second question: “How shall I pray today?”

Of course, there’s the traditional sort of address a god by name kind of thing, and then talk to them.  “Oh, Hermes, hear my prayer.  If ever I have burned sweet scents to you or praised your name in writing or made offering to you at a crossroad, hear my prayer, for you are able. . . . ” and so on.  Very traditional, kind of formulaic, but effective.  Wouldn’t work with Ares, though, because it’d be something like “Oh, Ares, hear my prayer.  If ever I have largely ignored you . . . “

Then there’s contemplation.  Build up an image of the god, carry it with you, and just contemplate it without words, or maybe just repeating the names of the god.

Then there’s one of my new favorites: the elenchus.  I’m pretty sure this prayer isn’t at all traditional, because I made it up, but it’s kind of awesome.  You begin by contemplating the god, and then you present a problem to the god, and imagine what question that god would ask you to get to the heart of the problem.  This is, without some serious magical oomph, “just pretend,” not a real invocation.  But it can be startling the sorts of insights you receive.  Just don’t fall into the mistake of asking the god questions: he or she will ask the questions, thank you very much.

So I thought I’d give the elenchus a try to Ares.  So I contemplated his image until I felt his presence and said, “I’m a little uncomfortable praying to you because I know the ancients kind of — well, loathed you.”  “Why do you think they hated a god?  Wouldn’t that be suicidal?”  “I think they had to recognize your power, as a god of force and violence, but they didn’t have to approve of the violence.”  “And did their disapproval of violence lead them to eschew it?”  “Not at all.  So maybe they weren’t loathing you, but their own hypocrisy.” And so on.

I had my chaos magic phase, as did everyone in the ’90s, and I learned a lot of valuable techniques.  But I also tried like everyone to invoke Spock, and I’ll tell you something: there’s no there there.  Spock is just an image, a facade, and maybe with enough practice and work you could get a god to inhabit that image — but why bother?  Hermes is real.  The work has been done.

And so, at the end of my elenchus, I felt like something had been accomplished.  No, I don’t think I spoke to the god or that he spoke to me, other than in the broadest sense.  I’m not going to write down our conversation as a new Scripture of Ares.  But I felt something there, something enlivening and powering my contemplation, that just isn’t present if I imagine a similar conversation with a fictional being.  And perhaps that’s just me, or perhaps it’s the god.  I’m not sure it’s evidence of anything, other than how I best work.  But I do feel closer to understanding that troublesome god, and coming closer to the gods is about eighty percent of the work of theurgy.

he glotta hede ouk esti rhadia!

Posted in Language, Speculation on February 10, 2012 by P. Dunn

Every so often I get the philological bug and start going back and trying my hand at a dead language.  This time, I finally picked up that old monster of Greek, and started having a serious go at it — like, vocabulary notecards in the inside pocket of my sports coat, muttering paradigms in the elevator, spending my nights declining sigma-stem nouns kind of go at it.  I’ve made serious progress in just three weeks, if I do say so myself, and I’m getting obsessed.

It’s just downright infinite.  It’s like Borges’ “Book of Sand.”  I learn a paradigm, turn the page, and there’s another one, all seemingly different (I just wrote “seem” and my brain coughed up “dokei.”).  At the same time, though, you can see patterns underneath the paradigms: order arising out of the chaos of inflections and declensions.  Then, once you grasp a pattern, you pull back and there’s a larger weirdness that seems irregular, and then eventually you stare at that long enough and there’s another pattern.  It’s no wonder some of the greatest minds the west ever produced grew up on this language: just conjugating a verb required a mind that could grasp fractal levels of complexity.

Tonight I hit the wall, which happens in learning anything this complex.  I ran into a sentence so filled with things I only vaguely grasp — imperfect verbs with their foggy secondary verbal endings, sigma- and liquid-stem nouns, and the incredibly slippery prepositions . . . It was like walking into a crowded room and hearing people screaming words at you in disjointed cacophony.  I get frustrated.  I wanted to punch the book, I was so annoyed.  So you look at it, and look at it, and think about it, and look up a few words, and work backwards (let’s see — Oou must be the second person middle voice singular ending -so, undergoing sigma-deletion and contraction with the theme vowel -e- to produce eo which becomes ou, which means there must be augmentation of the first vowel, so it can’t be omega-iota-subscript but omicron followed by iota which makes the root . . . oiomai — Aha!  “you believed!”)  Doing this is not knowing a language; it’s decoding it.  But it’s the first step.

Meaning swims out of noise.  What appears at first to be alien symbols quickly becomes an alphabet.  Then the alphabet becomes words.  The endings, rules of conjunction, and all of that eventually becomes habit and instinct.  And then they stop being words and become meaning.

It baffles me: our brains do that.  What Vonnegut calls a “dog’s supper” of fat and nerve tissue can reconcile the rules of Greek grammar and turn gibberish into meaning.

How, ma Dia, can anyone who admits that someone can learn ancient Greek simultaneously deny that magic is real?

Heads, In and Out and Inside Out

Posted in Speculation on January 19, 2012 by P. Dunn

Jason Miller writes on the current bloghaha about whether or not magic is all in your head.

Lon Milo DuQuette has asserted, for some time, that it’s all in your head . . . but you have no idea how big your head is.  The myriad misinterpretations of this statement surpass imagining.

Let me try to have an epigram as pithy:

It’s all in your mind, but your mind isn’t in your head, because your head is in your mind.

Or is my head in something else?

Ephesia coincidence

Posted in Speculation, Weird on September 28, 2011 by P. Dunn

So after posting on the Ephesia grammata, I find that my beloved has given me a reproduction of the famous statue of Artemis of Ephesus for our anniversary.  Purest coincidence.  But a pretty cool one.  I think she must approve.

Ephesia Grammata

Posted in Magical Systems, Speculation, Techniques on September 3, 2011 by P. Dunn

From diverse ancient sources, we know that on the cult statue of Artemis at Ephesus, there were six words inscribed in Greek script:

askion kataskion lix tetrax damnameneus aisia

What these six words mean is a matter of considerable speculation, if they mean anything at all.  They may simply be barbarous words of invocation, devoid of meaning, although their use is clear.  They were a spoken phalactary, a protective spell, an alexipharmika.

Chester McCown suggests that they may be the names of six separate and distinct daimones.  I’m not so sure, other than in the sense that a magical word is often treated as a being in its own right by classical magicians.  If they are a list of magical beings, then perhaps they represent six daimon servants of Artemis.

If you wish to experiment with the grammata, they are pronounced as follows (at least, approximately — it’s hard to describe another language’s pronunciation without using IPA):

askion (/a/ and /i/ as in Spanish, short o, accent on the first syllable)

kataskion (same as above, accent on second syllable)

lix (short i)

tetrax (short e, accent on final syllable)

damnameneus (short e, eu like a blend between an eh and the French u, accent on last syllable)

aisia (vowels as in Spanish, accent on first syllable)

Signs of Success

Posted in Magical Systems, Speculation, Techniques on August 28, 2011 by P. Dunn

DMK, as usual, has an interesting post on his blog about the signs of success in ritual: not that you get what you want, but hints that you’ve done magic before anything manifests at all.  He describes two signs: a change in temperature, and a change in time perception.

I have never experienced either of those things in ritual.  No, not even the warping of time perception, which is common enough in day-to-day life.

What I have experienced that lets me know I’m on the right track is a subjective sensation of intense euphoria.  It’s similar, but not quite the same, as the euphoria I feel at having finished a creative project.  I think it might be related to the idea of Flow.  But again, I’ve experienced Flow while writing or hiking and this isn’t quite the same.

The other indicator is a striking coincidence.  Usually it’s not so direct as do a spell for money, find a crumpled up twenty on the sidewalk.  That’d make me think maybe I didn’t specify quantity clearly enough.  But say you do a spell for money, then immediately turn on the radio and hear this:

It’s not unusual for people related to the purpose of the spell to call out of the blue, or for objects somehow related to the goal in my house to fall or end up in odd places.  Once, a wand I was working on for a friend fell from a table during a ritual invocation; on another occasion, after a particularly intense invocation, I heard a person talking on their cell phone in such a way that everything they said was exactly relevant to what I had asked for.  Obviously, these things can be coincidences.  Vibrations from the nearby train may have jostled the wand from the table.  I might have noticed a conversation that seemed relevant, but not noticed the ones that weren’t.  Confirmation bias seems a likely cause.  And yet . . . in the midst of it, it’s hard not to see a link.

So — temperature changes?  Nope.  Time stretching or compression?  No.  Visual manifestations?  Almost never.  Not for me, anyway.  For me, it’s synchronicity and euphoria.  What is it for you?

Ngrams are Addictive

Posted in Language, Speculation on August 14, 2011 by P. Dunn

Google has a new Ngram tool, which searches Google Books as a corpus of English.  An Ngram, if you don’t know, is a graphic plot of the frequency of tokens in a corpus.  From it, one can draw — oh, all kinds of conclusions, some valid, some ridiculous.  But you can point out interesting correlations.  For example, take a look at this one:

Magic Energy

Notice that “magic” stays mostly steady at the bottom, and “energy” rises dramatically in the middle of the twentieth century?  What does that tell you?

Or how about this one:


Now, of course, if you read this closely, you’ll see those numbers on the left-hand side are small, so don’t make much of this statistically, but it’s an interesting toy.


See that little tophat right there in the line, around 1900?  Who do you think is responsible for that?

ETA:  As a commentator points out, this is a little early for Crowley’s publications.  Yet there is a bit of a spike.  You can search for specific years, and in doing so, I found that they were mostly citations of some of the older stuff.  I wonder — could a young Crowley (about 25 at the time) have run into such citations and been inspired by them?  Meh, it’s all speculation, but it’s kind of neat anyway.

Definition of Information

Posted in Magical Systems, Speculation, Techniques on May 28, 2011 by P. Dunn

I get this from Luciano Floridi’s Information: A Very Short Introduction. It might help explain what I mean by “information” and why “energy signature” is just a longer synonym for “information” in this sense. Warning: there is symbolic logic. I will explain as we go.

σ is an instance of information, iff

σ consists of n data, for n ≥ 1
the data are well-formed
the well-formed data are meaningful

So, something is an example of information if-and-only-if it consists of one or more bits of data. These can be the letters of an alphabet, a yes/no circuit, a particular shape of a leaf, the color of my carpet, a graph or a chart, or anything else that can differentiated from anything else. All of our sensory experiences are data. All of our experiences are data, period: we have no experience of anything that is not data.

Well-formed means that these data follow rules of organization. In language, this is syntax. In mathematics, its conventions. In the natural world, it’s coherence — if I see a dwarf hanging upside-down from the tree outside my window, I assume that this is not information; it is hallucination because it does not seem to be coherent with my experiences. It is not well-formed.

It is meaningful. Much data gets discarded because we do not assign it meaning. But meaning is merely fitting that data into our experiences. A bee is circling the gutter outside of my window: this is a datum. It is well-formed — bees do fly in the summer, and so it fits within the symbol system of my experiences. It is meaningful: it may mean I need to be careful when I water the lilacs.

Now, by this definition, any meaningful organization of data (for which you can read “experience”) is information.

In fact, information can exist without a consciousness being aware of it.

We often find ourselves facing with Floridi calls “environmental information.” Environmental information is when “two systems, a and b, are coupled in such a way that a’s being of type or state F is correlated to b’s being of type or state G, thus carrying for the observer of a that b is G.” The example I gave above, of the bee, was an example of environmental information. When Temperance Brennan looks at a skull on Bones and says “male, caucasian, thirty years old,” she’s interpreting the data of the skull to arrive at meaning.

Now, if there are any locations where there can be no consciousness, then there can be no information there. Even environmental information requires that someone could at some point observe a. Yet this strikes me as a difficult proposition to accept. Insofar as we are conscious, and construct meaning, then it seems we could at least theoretically observe any environmental data to give it meaning. Which means information must be ubiquitous.

Why is this useful in the study of magic? We have in the definition above the three requirements for magic to work, for our act to be informative enough to cause change in the world. It must contain data — symbols, in our case. Those symbols must be well-formed, selected from a coherent symbol system that reflects human experience. And by manipulating those symbols, we must give them meaning: our ritual must take our attention, our concentration, our deliberation. We can breathe rhythmically and imagine colored spheres of light all we like, if that’s the system that we wish to borrow our symbols from. But it’s not the imaginary colored light that does the magic: it’s the meaning we attach to it.

Step by Step

Posted in Speculation on May 27, 2011 by P. Dunn

Mike, in his recent comment, asked me to lay out what happens step-by-step between a magician doing magic and the world changing, from an information perspective. So let me take a stab at doing that.

First, let me make it clear what I mean by information. When I say that material reality is a kind of instantiation of information, what I mean is that matter is nothing but the cluster of ideas we have about. To prove this, try an old thought experiment: think of matter without qualities. Strip it of any abstract quality that you can conceive of separately. A rock, for instance: strip it of qualities like “heaviness” and “spatial orientation” and “extension in time” and “color” and “hardness” and all such abstract concepts. What you’re left with is pure matter — and of course what you’re left with is pure nothing, because matter is nothing but the configuration of these abstract ideas.

We can think of this mathematically. If you’re familiar with configuration space as a method of mathematical modeling you can see that anything that exists can be given an orientation in an Nth dimensional configuration space. Of course, every single abstract idea is a dimension in C-space, for any given object. This means that a pebble contains the C-space position of every single one of its molecules and atoms and electrons, as well as all the abstract ideas connected to that rock, as well as its interaction with all other particles and forces — each of which has its own dimension in C-space — and so on. A rock, therefore, is “conscious” in that it is constantly “thinking about” the current values of those dimensions. The more complex the system, the more likely it gives rise to emergent phenomenon on the physical level, the more conscious it is. (And now I’ll have to explain levels of consciousness, which is tricky — bah, skip it)

I’m pretty sure that’ll just be more confusing, not less. So let’s launch into the concrete example and see if I can explain as we go.

I want money. I exist in a certain C-space, in which my position is determined by the complex system of economics. Being an emergent system, economics is conscious. It is a mind — call it a Nous to differentiate from our human minds. Moreover, it is part of the universe of symbols and ideas, which is itself a Nous.

So I take symbols that rest closer to the C-space of the thing I want — money. In this case, I select some symbols that, in oen system of symbols, represent wealth. I take a blue candle and anoint it with anise oil. I wear an amethyst and say certain words, many of them highly symbolic and some of them even glossolalic to the Nous, expressing my need. In doing so, I change the deepest parts of my mind to become a different person: the kind of person who gets money. Since my identity is a number in C-space, I have simply moved my position in one or more dimensions to a narrative line more conducive to me being wealthy. At the same time, the Nous of the economic system (hopefully) takes notice and receives the message, and meets me halfway.

Now I have two changes in the world: I have changed to attain the quale of being “a wealthy guy.” The universe has changed to shift into a narrative in which I am a wealthy guy. A point (me) in C-space must move along its dimensions according to coherent rules, not all of which we know (which is why we need to communicate to the Nous as well as ourselves). The result is that any change to our position in C-space is a narratively consistent change: in other words, to our eyes it will appear as coincidence. The larger the shift, the more the coincidence seems unlikely, and the harder it is to communicate that idea (as explained elsewhere).

I get money. Some publisher in another country buys the rights to one of my books, let’s say. Or I win a prize for poetry. Or one of my investments pays out. Money doesn’t drop out of the sky, though: that’d be incoherent. It’d shift a point into a position it cannot occupy in C-space.

This is just a model, of course, of how it works, and all models are hopelessly reductive, or they wouldn’t be models. And I suspect this model is anything but clear to anyone who reads it. Bah. I can see why there’s such a current of “I hate theory” in magic.

But look at it this way: what is the mechanism for the same magical operation from the perspective of energy work? I do the same ritual, which I think of as “directing energy” and — where am I directing it? Why does it work seemingly by coincidence? What does the energy do when it gets there? If it communicates an idea, why not focus on the message and not the energy, which is clearly just a carrier?

And That’s What I Wanted

Posted in Magical Systems, Speculation on March 7, 2011 by P. Dunn

What I wanted out of this discussion was an intelligent engagement with the theory behind magic rather than a rote acceptance of it. I got that, and so I am quite happy. I don’t mind the disagreement; how else could I ever refine my ideas if people don’t challenge them?

Finally, Augoeides (the person with the blog, not the angel with the wings) has weighed in on the topic and what he says is a must-read, not because he agrees with me but because he changes the game entirely. I’ve got to reread his post a few times and let it percolate before I can address it, but I think he raises a very, very good point about the role of energy in magic. If you’re following this argument please give it a read.

I think I finally understand why Spare made up terms like “Kia.” Any word we use will have cultural baggage. I was going to address the “how do you translate qi” thing by pointing out that etymologically, “spirit” is a far better translation than “energy” — but in truth, both have so much cultural baggage that either will impose western ideas on another culture. We cannot translate without orientalizing. No wonder the Italian word for “translator” and “traitor” are the same.


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