Eclectic and Scholarly

Posted in Uncategorized on September 5, 2014 by P. Dunn

I didn’t start off an eclectic pagan.  I started off a Hellene: a reconstructionist of the Greco-Roman religions.  I belonged for a time to a reconstructionist group, where I learned a lot and had a good time, until I didn’t.

Then I got into the Cabala, which at least has Greek roots (seriously, I think it does — that’s a matter of another post).  And then I got into Chaos Magic.  And the reconstructionists did not care for that, because magic wasn’t part of the ancient Greek religion, or rather, wasn’t a valorized part.

But of course that’s not quite true, that little story.  Because I didn’t start off as a reconstructionist.  I started off as an undifferentiated pagan who prayed to mother earth because that was what I was taught.  And then I read on Wicca, and magic, and cobbled stuff together, and had religious experiences that mattered to me.  I had visions of gods.  Actual, honest to goodness visions.  Artemis a hundred feet high, silver bow shining.  Eros, dark-eyed force at the center of the universe, turning his infinite gaze on me (and I fell on the floor as if punched).  Even earlier, I would read the myths and feel profound — inspiration?  — from Dionysus, who overcame the bullies who tried to bind him by the force of his dignity.

In college I decided to become a scholar and started doing research, and got involved in those reconstructionist groups mentioned before and — stopped having visions or feeling inspiration.  It started to feel like theater.  Interesting, often pleasant theater, but not religion.

I know for a fact this lack of spiritual engagement in reconstruction is not true of everyone, and I don’t mean to claim that this is an invalid path.  Lots of people find it more spiritually fulfilling than anything eclectic to as carefully as possible follow the historical sources.  I respect that a lot, even if that respect isn’t always returned.

Later, other gods came knocking.  First, a couple Egyptian ones — okay, well, there was syncretism between Egyptian and Greek cults in late antiquity.  Then Eastern ones.  Oh.  Well.  That’s not historically attested, but I suppose it could work if . . . and then a particular figure from a diaspora religion showed up.

And that’s when I had to face the fact: I had become an eclectic pagan.

So I was determined to do it right.  I wasn’t going to disrespect any of these gods by disrespecting the cultures they came from.  I wasn’t going to impose my own beliefs on their worship, or try to sacrifice to Ganesha as if he were Hermes with a mask on.  I wasn’t going to reduce them to Cabalistic boxes.  By the same token, I couldn’t fake a puja, or pretend to an initiation, or wear the necklace of a particular lwa.  I could study those cultures and respect them from the outside and hope that the fact that some part of that cultural practice offers me some spiritual nourishment isn’t terribly offensive.  But I wasn’t part of those cultures, and I couldn’t pretend.

And that’s the rub: I am not part of the ancient Greek culture, the Roman culture, or even — genetics notwithstanding — the Celtic culture.  I’m an American, living in an eclectic postmodern culture that borrows and (yes) steals and mixes and matches.  In many ways, I am much like a pagan of the fourth century: I am a cosmopolites: a citizen of the cosmos.

Astrology and Magic

Posted in Uncategorized on August 30, 2014 by P. Dunn

I’m deeply skeptical of astrology, but I do often see startling results from it.  I find horary astrology — when I can read the charts — to be very accurate.  I also have received some helpful insights from my natal chart, and identified troublesome periods in my life in advance using various traditional Chronocrator techniques.

One thing I’ve noticed in my natal chart is that the strongest parts of the chart correspond to the kind of magic that works best for me.  For example, my Mercury is very strong (although afflicted by Mars), which — yeah, well, obviously.  The Lord of my 12th house is also very well dignified, in its own sign, and can behold the 12th.  The Lord of my 9th is retrograde and under the beams of the sun.

I wonder: does your chart look similar?

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.

Balance

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2014 by P. Dunn

I would love to live in a fantasy world, I admit it.  If I could put on a robe, carry a staff, have peasants tremble at my terrible power, and so on — that’d be pretty nifty.  And that’s why there are such things as video games and novels and roleplaying games, all fun things.  But they’re not real.

In reality, I live a double life.  On the one hand, I am a mild-mannered (or not so mild, actually, in terms of manner, some days) professional.  I deal with the public, champion critical thinking and skepticism, and regard myself as a scholar.  I get up, go to work, pay my mortgage, clean the house, mow the lawn, cook dinner, eat it in front of the computer while watching old episodes of Frasier.  You know: an ordinary life.

On the other hand, I’m an occultist.  I pray to gods, practice theurgic rituals, try to probe into the meaning and use of occult forces, cast geomantic charts, summon spirits, make talismans, meditate (never enough).

It’s sometimes hard for me to maintain a balance.  I often find myself veering toward tweed rather than robes, because it’s certainly easier to live a mundane life.  But that way lies the slough of despond.  If I ignore magic, I start to feel thin and dry in my mind, like I’m letting the bigger part of me atrophy.

At the same time, I see people who retreat so far into magic that they fail to live a successful mundane life.  I’ll just say it, man: if you’re horridly in debt, unhappy, and your idea of a relationship involves someone to jeer and scream at, you’re not doing well.  Magic should make those things better, not be an excuse for them.  Sure, it’s not a panacea, and sometimes bad things happen to the best magicians.  And not every magician has everything they want automatically, because sometimes magic doesn’t work (often for very good reasons, but that’s another post).  But I’ve known more than a few people who claim great magical power but couldn’t balance a checkbook.

I don’t want to be such a person.  More importantly, I don’t want to seem to be such a person.  So it’s hard for me to balance these two important and valuable lives.

What helps me is to look at my friends who are not magicians, but have a rich spiritual life.  They seem to have found that balance, partially because their religions are sanctioned by the dominant culture, but really that’s just an excuse.  In fact, they find that balance because there isn’t, for them, a difference between these two lives.  The mundane life is a part of the larger, spiritual life.  It’s not a choice between two lives, but having one part of your life be a subset of the greater whole.  So that’s the balance I suppose I’m striving for.

Donald Michael Kraig

Posted in heroes on March 19, 2014 by P. Dunn

Donald Michael Kraig died yesterday.

His book, Modern Magick, was an inspiration to me from a very young age.  I first read it when I was about fifteen, I think, and I worked my way through it lesson by lesson, one month per (but I cheated!  I used lunar months!  They’re shorter!) chapter.  I made all the tools.  I memorized all the rituals.  All of them.  When I got to college and was introduced to Hegel, my first thought was “Oh, DMK talked about him.”  In a very real way, he was my inspiration in magic.  He showed me that magic could be real, rational, a way of life more than a style choice.  He taught me how it was a system that aligned with cosmology, ethics, philosophy, art, and the list goes on.  Magic, he taught me, isn’t something you do.  It’s something you are.

It’s our job now to remember the meaning that his life had, and a life has meaning in relationships with others.  His work had a tremendous influence on many, many magicians, and as the meaning of a life goes, that’s a pretty good one.  Another thing we can do, of course, is help pay the bills of his medical care and funeral costs.  You can do that here.

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