Archive for the Speculation 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.

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?

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