Archive for the Weird Category

Neoplatonism and Physics

Posted in Theurgy, Weird on September 22, 2013 by P. Dunn

ἀεὶ ὁ θεὸς γεωμετρεῖ

Always, God does geometry.

Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.

* * *

Beyond making calculations easier or possibly leading the way to quantum gravity, the discovery of the amplituhedron could cause an even more profound shift, Arkani-Hamed said. That is, giving up space and time as fundamental constituents of nature and figuring out how the Big Bang and cosmological evolution of the universe arose out of pure geometry.


“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.

In Praise of Bunnies

Posted in Weird on March 25, 2013 by P. Dunn

It’s nearly Easter, which is the holiday when Christians the world over do something or another with a rabbit that I don’t really understand.  Hats, too, are involved, yes?  Anyway.  I get Friday off and mom gives me candy.  Can’t hate on the chocolate bunny.

And there’s another kind of bunny I’m kind of tired of hating on.  The fluffy bunny.

If you’re unaware, a fluffy bunny is a derogatory term for people who are not serious about their paganism.  These are people into it for the fashion, the festivals, the social disapproval, the edginess.

The fluffy bunny is a silly figure.  He has gods from several pantheons on his altar.  He mixes and matches traditions.  He’s more interested in magic than faith.  He’s . . .

. . . a typical pagan of the first century CE, actually.  He might worship Isis along with Zeus, mix Hebrew godnames into his prayers, and sometimes just make some stuff up because it sounds good.  All of that is just sort of part of the daily life of a pagan in late antiquity.

So can we stop hating on the poor bunny?  In some ways, the fluffy bunny has a greater claim to historical accuracy — of a sort — than the strict reconstructionist.

And the bunny has a point.  The reconstructionist (and I’m not hating on them either, even though they sometimes hate on me) tries to drag into a postmodern era a religious tradition built on a culture that no longer exists.  Attempts to reconcile Hellenistic calendars illustrate the difficulty of doing this, and the whole concept of the Religio Romana as the Romans practiced it requires a state religion of a state that no longer exists (and the Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest, is named Francis and just got a new hat!).

I’m convinced that if we’re going to return to the worship of these gods, we need to do it in a way that recognizes the situation we’re in: a global culture of diverse subcultures, a fluid sense of identity, and more diversity of thought, not to mention tolerance, than ever in the history of the world.

There’s a lot to be said for the study of our ancestors and the historical methods and aims of paganism, but at the same time we are alive and building a living tradition.  Just as chopsticks are part of my place settings as often as forks are, so I must recognize that neither my culture nor my religion is monolithic.

Of course there are fluffy bunnies who really are quite ridiculous, basing their faith off of TV shows or whatnot.  Most of them are kids.  Kids will from time to time be a little silly; that’s the only upside that I recall of being a kid.  So why blame them?  They’ll grow out of it into respectable adult pagans, or they will grow out of paganism entirely and become atheists or Buddhists or Christians or something.  Or they won’t grow out of it and they’ll grow up into eccentric adults.  No matter what, it’s no skin off my wiggly little nose.

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.


Posted in Language, Speculation, Weird on December 31, 2010 by P. Dunn

I just ran across the sentence “Unicorns don’t have wings.” It strikes me as a good example of the sticky problem of truth-conditions. We say that a statement is well-formed iff it describes a possible world. It is true iff it describes an actual situation in that possible world. You can say “Harry Potter has a scar” and this is true because in the possible world of Harry Potter (yes, we have a loose definition of “possible” here) he does have a scar. You can say “Harry Potter is married to Hermione,” and although well-formed, this statement is false. The statement to be true need not describe this world, merely one that is “possible.” In a possible world with unicorns, the statement “Unicorns don’t have wings” is true.

Similarly, we can say “There is no such things as unicorns” and this statement is true.

But what if you say *”Unicorns don’t have wings, and there is no such thing as unicorns.” That doesn’t even seem well-formed; it’s neither true nor false, but meaningless. And if you reverse it, it’s even more clearly ill-formed: *”There is no such thing as unicorns, and unicorns don’t have wings.”

I think the problem is that the two statements are not consistently describing the *same* possible world. To say “unicorns” is to presuppose the existence of unicorns, and to immediately shift to a possible world different from this one.

But wait. Let’s say “The King of France drives a sports car.” Fine, there might indeed be a possible world where the King of France drives a sports car, but in our world there is no King of France. My instinct is that this sentence doesn’t invoke a possible world the same way that the mention of the unicorn does. Is it because we could plausibly assume that someone in our world might not realize that France does not have a king? If I say this sentence someone would be justified saying “Wait, there is no such thing as a King of France.” If I say “Unicorns don’t have wings,” I’d find it at best oddly marked for someone to gravely inform me that there is no such thing as a unicorn.

What if I say “The king of France rides a unicorn.” Huh, my instinct, purely my instinct alone, is that this is not as ill-formed as “The king of France drives a sports car.”

Huh. Is there a semantic feature of certain words that invokes a possible world, thus asserting a different set of truth conditions? If so, what? +[mythological], maybe. That would mean that semantics interact with pragmatic schemata. But if that’s the case, it’d seem possible and maybe even reasonable to imagine that other features might trigger other schemata. In fact, it seems — just guessing here, I’d have to figure it all out formally — but maybe semantic features are just schematic triggers or something of that nature.

Normal people lie in bed thinking about their bills. Me, it’s semantics. I have a vague recollection of reading something along these lines in grad school. I should dig through my files and see if I can find it.

I Got a Chick Tract

Posted in Weird on November 20, 2010 by P. Dunn

I totally win. I was at a coffee shop the other day getting some writing done, and I noticed that the guy hogging the comfy chair left, so I moved my stuff over, but he left a little tract sitting ever-so-neatly on the table. I think these things are hilariously ineffectual rhetorically, and I’m shocked to discover that people really do use them.

There was also one balanced precariously on the urinal. That one I picked up with a paper towel and threw away, ’cause . . . ew.

The one I got was this one, if you’re curious and don’t mind giving Jack Chick the hits. Essentially, it’s warning me against suicide and letting me know that hell is, indeed, a fairly unpleasant place, all in all. It’s notable for its odd emotional tone. The preacher rushes home from the funeral of the poor kid who is now in hell among the world’s least scary demons, to prevent the suicide of the kid’s girlfriend. At the end, she’s so very happy to have accepted Jesus that she decides that she will remember this day as the day she received eternal life, while she cries tears of joy. Meanwhile, presumably, all forgotten, they’re shoveling dirt on the coffin of her boyfriend. The preacher is positively beaming at his great good deed. Meanwhile, presumably, the kid’s family has gone on to numbly eat cold cuts at the post funeral reception, wondering where the guy who was to bury their son has gone. Where has he gone? To explain to dear Dolly that her boyfriend is burning eternally in hell. Whew, though, ’cause she’s okay. And that seems to be all that matters.

Pump up the Jams

Posted in Weird on July 5, 2010 by P. Dunn

For me, “occult” means “hidden” and is a synonym for “esoteric.”  I’ve learned it means different things to different people though, so much so that I’ve begun describing my work as “esoteric spirituality” rather than “occult.”

Here’s a manufacturer who has decided that “occult” means putting Princess Di’s hair in jam.  I do not . . . um . . . understand . . . this.

This looks like some of my parties

Posted in Weird on July 24, 2009 by P. Dunn

I would watch this show, if someone would invent it:  A talk-show hosted by Noam Chomsky.

Cutting the Cord

Posted in Weird on January 31, 2009 by P. Dunn

On a mailing list I’m on, several people are talking about a Yogic practice of cutting the lingual frenum, the cord that runs underneath the tongue and holds it fast to the floor of the mouth.  The purpose of this self-mutilation is to be able to curve the tongue back behind the uvula and into the nasal cavity.  This procedure is supposed to cause enlightenment.

It is pernicious nonsense to imagine that the body requires mutilation for enlightenment.  We are perfect as we are.  Anyone who tells you anything else is selling something.

The Crazy Guy Next Door

Posted in Weird on January 22, 2009 by P. Dunn

I thought my new neighbors might think I was crazy because I stood in the yard chanting to the full moon, or because I burned herbs in a bowl in my back yard, or because I put up Herms on the corners of the property.  But I had silly fantasies.

My new neighbors probably think I’m crazy because I was outside filling two black nylon socks with snow melting chemicals so I could drape them over my ice dams.

The bad news is, I can’t reach the back — I have to wait for my much taller SO to come home.  The good news is, I really, really hated those socks.  :)


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