Remember, the deadline for the technique contest is Samhain.
Archive for the Uncategorized Category
Today, according to Pravda, is the day that the world ends, according to Rasputin.
We’ll see, eh?
Just for fun, and also in the hopes of learning something, I propose a contest.
Submit, to my email, pee double-u dee you en en at gmail.com a description of your favorite magical or divinatory technique.
The four or five best techniques, judged on quality, innovation, usefulness, and clarity, will be posted on my blog. The two very best technique will win a prize: an inscribed copy of one of my books, of the winner’s choice. The very best technique will also win a free Lenormand Grand Tableau reading or a geomantic reading (your choice) in addition to the book.
Deadline will be Samhain, October 31.
ETA: Let me clarify that it is my hope you will explain, briefly, how to accomplish your technique so that people can learn it or apply it.
An interesting opinion article by a professor of philosophy on the question of whether or not Zeus existed. His conclusion:
On reflection, then, I’m inclined to say that an atheistic denial of Zeus is ungrounded.
I just watched Kumaré, a documentary about a man named Vikram Gandhi who decides to impersonate a guru to demonstrate how easily people are misled. I went into it not feeling sympathetic — I’m not a fan of the “make fun of people for their beliefs” crowd, even when those beliefs are odd. To my relief, it didn’t really take that route. And as I watched, I realized that this movie had a point, and it might even be a point that Mr. Gandhi missed:
He was, at some point, no longer impersonating a guru. He had become a guru.
Take the psychic who does a past life reading and talks about the long line of previous Kumarés who stand behind him. That’s all nonsense, of course: he made up the title and his yoga moves are often just air-guitar-like flailing around. But by the same token, she’s also right. There is something behind his teaching, because his teachings actually begin to help people. Why?
Because he teaches what he believes: You don’t need a guru. You can be your own guru. You can take charge of your life. You don’t need external validation.
Dude, this stuff works because it happens to be true.
It’s a nice example of postmodern spirituality, actually. The forms and rituals don’t matter (and he says as much. One of his confederates, toward the end of the movie, points out that they’re doing the ritual just because it makes things seem important and special, not because it really means anything).
At the same time, it’s a good example of realistic spirituality: the truth is real, even if spoken by a fake guru with a false Indian accent. And the truth is that you don’t need teachers, gurus, or guides to get where you’re going.
(By the way, the psychic at the end of the movie gets in a dig when she finds out his identity. ”You do have psychic powers, though,” she said. The screen goes blank. ”He doesn’t,” it says, in plain white type. Again, she’s right, and he’s wrong: he has charisma, which is a psychic power if there ever was one.)
I regard myself as a sort of postmodern Neoplatonist (::blam!:: that’s the sound of heads exploding as they try to reconcile the two — just roll with it, man, just roll with it). As such, I also admire the Stoics, who are some of the wisest and most practical philosophers ever to apply stylus to tablet. One of my favorites — because, like me, he found his own authority troubling and often woke up feeling like nothing he did was ever good enough — is Marcus Aurelius, who in between being emperor of Rome and leading campaigns against northern barbarians (who were, of course, my ancestors) also wrote a few notes to himself about how to be a good person. I read one passage over and over regularly, often on first waking up. It goes like this:
Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.
I believe, then — or try to — in humanity. I believe that we are good and trying our best, more or less. We do stupid things out of ignorance, and often those stupid things are just horrid, absolutely and undeniably reprehensible. But that fact that we can be repulsed by them is evidence that we’re not bad. We’re made to work together.
I think the good can often be described as the prosocial. I don’t mean that we have to get along with everyone or hang out with lots of people and go to lots of parties. For that matter, we can lock ourselves in our house all winter, much as I have this season, and still be prosocial. I just mean that the good is what allows us to live together and contribute to each of our welfare.
Society is a non-zero-sum game. If we learn that, we can create a civilization worthy of the name. Unfortunately, many people are ignorant, so I have to also believe in the power of education and reason to teach people how to live.
I don’t think that goodness comes from the gods — or rather, it does, but it’s not delivered by them in a little package of thou-shalt-nots. I get that many religions do believe that, and that’s fine. But I don’t. I think we’re human and we must determine the good for ourselves, but that it’s clear that we survive best by being with each other. And so that’s a place to start looking.
I live in a suburb of a city of six million people. If you were to take six million monkeys and cram them into the same amount of space, you would very quickly have a bloody soup of monkey fur. But we manage pretty well. Yes, there is violence and murder, but really not that much of it. It’s a miracle that there aren’t more murders, thefts, and so on.
There is an instinct for the good that drives most people, and I think that’s simply to be kind to other people, because we recognize on some level that they are we.
Now that I’ve been all negative and talked about what I don’t believe, I think it’d be good to cover what I do believe, and why.
Belief is such a strange thing. Plato analogizes beliefs as statues, that are so life-like that they might get up and run away. We can enjoy those statues only if we chain them down. And we chain them down by testing them, again and again, and never letting up. We forge the chains that bind our beliefs, that strengthen them and solidify them, through the process of self-elenchos, of self-questioning.
Some things we know with such solidity that to call them “beliefs” would be odd. I like anchovies. I don’t believe that; I know it, with absolute certainty. But you don’t know that’s true: what I experience, you only hear about. I experience enjoying the salty little buggers. You, though, only believe that I like them because I have told you so and you have no reason, I hope, to distrust me.
There are few things that I believe with enough certainty to assert them. And usually, my belief in them comes back eventually to a grounding in experience and elenchos. But here are three of them, in the coming days.
I suppose this one was obvious, but it was the original reason I wanted to write the series in the first place. As you probably know, on the winter solstice this year — just a week away! — the world will . . . not end. The Mayan calendar will . . . not end. And the Maya . . . didn’t predict anything particular about the date, other than that it is the end of a b’ak’tun, a long cycle of about 400 years. We’re currently in the 13th b’ak’tun, until Friday, when we will begin the 14th b’ak’tun.
This will not end the world any more than the beginning of January will end the world, or next Monday will. It’s just the flipping over of a cycle of time.
So why do people want to believe that it will herald the end? They did the same thing in 2000, as well as 1987, as well as 1844.
In fact, that last date is worthwhile to examine closer. According to some complex reading of the Bible, William Miller predicted the end of the world on October 22, 1844. As you probably remember from your high school history classes, the world didn’t end in 1844, but continued on a few additional years. However, so persuasive was Miller that he convinced quite a lot of people to sell all their possessions and await the return of Christ. Of course, since he didn’t show up, they were disappointed, and in a delightful bit of historical whimsy, this event is called The Great Disappointment.
They were disappointed. They were disappointed, that the earth didn’t end. They were disappointed that they and everyone they loved didn’t die. Why is that? Well, of course, they believed that they wouldn’t die — just all those nasty unbelievers would. They’d live forever. But I think the disappointment has its root even deeper.
I think the root of the disappointment, and the root of this eschatological urge in general, lies in the structure of narrative. We want to believe that our stories are real, that they matter, and stories — at least, most stories in the west — have beginnings, middles, and ends. The story’s not done until we see the end, and so they are disappointed that there’s another chapter after this cliff hanger.
Will the world end some day? Oh, yes. On some find morning an asteroid will smash into the earth, or the sun will burn out and expand into a red giant, or global warming will take off as a self-reinforcing feedback loop and turn us into Venus, or we’ll just kill off the ecosystem. Something, someday, will destroy the earth. The difference is, we have some control of these things. We can mitigate the ecological and climatological damage that we’ve done. We can watch for and attempt to deflect asteroids. We can’t do much about the lifespan of the sun, but we can leave the planet. We can do stuff, if we don’t think that the end is coming any second and it’s inevitable. That’s the rub. We have real work to do, and imagining the earth’s poles will shift on some day or another in the near future doesn’t help us do that work. It is a lazy reader skipping to the end of the book.
I don’t believe in the end of the world because I think this novel is longer than that. I think we still have many chapters to write, and I hope that we will not see the end of the world until we are so far beyond H. sapiens that we would not easily recognize ourselves. I’m not a transhumanist, another particular flavor of eschatology — but I do think that we’ve got improvement and advancement ahead of us if we act wisely, but not if we abdicate our responsibility.
I don’t believe in secret chiefs. I do believe, of course, that there are people wiser than I am, better at magic, and so on, just as there are those who are better looking, cook better, dance better, and so on. So this rejection of the concept of “hidden masters” or “secret chiefs” isn’t a matter of ego.
For those not in the know, a secret chief is the “true” and invisible ruler of a magical order, who delivers his or her messages on to the more visible rulers by means of telepathy or other methods.
I do believe that spirits can teach us, even perhaps spirits who have once been human (although, really, what do you imagine makes them cleverer once they’re dead than they were when alive, other than mere perspective?).
But the results of the secret chiefs — the lodge wars, the posturing, the insisting that I have the true ear of the secret chiefs, no, no, I do, no, I do. Bleh. Bugger it all. Anyone that imagines that this sort of nonsense is the height of magical work is doing it all wrong. They’re the sort of folks who take on grand names, mutter mysteriously or glower at people at festivals, and turn every topic to that of the occult. Dull people, in other words.
Again, as well, we find a bit of racism mixed in with occultism. After all, so many of the secret chiefs come from Tibet, or India, or are Native American — which seems like a really good thing, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s respectful of other cultures to honor their wisdom. But that’s the problem: it’s not honoring their wisdom, because these “Tibetan” or whathaveyou secret chiefs are having the dubious wisdom of their humble acolytes put in their mouths. When my secret and mysterious Native American spirit guide tells me some great teaching of his long lost people, what I’m probably really doing is projecting my own, quite western, quite white, probably quite imperialist views of what wisdom is onto this figurehead of “savage wisdom.” It’s insulting, both to the western mystery traditions themselves which don’t need to be exoticized to be valuable, but more importantly it’s insulting to the people whose cultures we’ve reduced to “sources of secret wisdom,” rather than recognizing their complexity and richness as a culture.
Fortunately, this trend in occultism is dying out. One rarely sees people claiming special knowledge from channeled hidden masters anymore, and the Native American spirit guide is, thank goodness, a thing of the past — in no small part, perhaps, thanks to those Native Americans who stopped putting up with the patronizing nonsense and spoke out against it.
And it’s doubly fortunate, because when we push our authority off onto secret chiefs, distant authority figures, and made up projections of our own prejudices, then we surrender our own authority. And that’s not something a magician does lightly. If the head of a magical order says, “I made up these rituals based on some stuff I read, and some of my own practices and experiences, as well as a few intuitions and insights I had,” I’d have more respect for that than claims of secret chiefs and mysterious ciphers.