Archive for March, 2011

I Want to Believe . . . But I Don’t Have To

Posted in Magical Systems on March 13, 2011 by Patrick

A commenter raised the common interpretation of magic: that it relies strongly upon belief. I say this is common because it’s an idea I’ve run into before, either in the form that it only works if you believe in it, or belief somehow “powers” it. I do not subscribe to this view.

First, if magic only worked if you believed in it, why does it work for people who don’t even know it’s being done on their behalf (or to them?) I have seen this many times. People who don’t even believe in magic can benefit from its effects.

Second, if belief was the engine that changed reality, why aren’t the delusional the most powerful magicians of all. Yet they’re not: they live difficult lives and cannot easily function. One rebuttal is that perhaps they’re counteracted by the democratic union of all sane beliefs. But if that were the case, then all we need to do is point to a time in history when the vast majority strongly believed something untrue. That’s not hard.

Finally, if belief was the driving force of magic, all it would take is plenty of confidence. I know people who are extremely confident in their abilities — yet can’t manage to achieve even basic magical goals.

No, there is a real, absolute truth. It isn’t an easy truth to perceive (in fact, we can never be certain that we have perceived it; we must always leave open the possibility of being convinced otherwise). People don’t like to hear that, especially in magical circles where a sort of naive relativism is the norm. But there is truth, and belief does not change truth.


Marcos’s Question

Posted in Magical Systems on March 7, 2011 by Patrick

Marcos, in the comments, asks a good question: how can magic work if someone just picks up a symbol they didn’t make their own, let’s say a bought herbal bath, and uses it without understanding all the complexity of symbolism? In fact, magic does often work that way. When I’m in a hurry, I reach for my favorite brand of pre-mixed oils and powders myself, despite having little notion what’s in them.

The question actually gets to the heart of the semiotic model, it seems to me. The answer is that the magician might not know what the herbs and stuff symbolize; however, the herbs know. It works better, usually, if the magician can align his or her mind with the symbolism by being conscious of it, but the stuff itself is already conscious of its own sympathies. The difference between the magician who knows the formulas and what their symbolism is and the practitioner who just buys the stuff premixed is the difference between the chef and the cook. It’s much more satisfying to be a chef, but a cook’ll get you fed.

I guess I’m coming down on the side of “magic is real and points to real stuff in the Nous,” which might seem at odds with some of my earlier writings, which people have sometimes interpreted as “anything goes,” which even then wasn’t really my intent.

Marcos, am I right in guessing that you’re one of my Eastern European fans? I’m so pleased that my books have been translated into Russian and Slovak, and that they are doing well overseas.

And That’s What I Wanted

Posted in Magical Systems, Speculation on March 7, 2011 by Patrick

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.

Fluid Condensers

Posted in Uncategorized on March 6, 2011 by Patrick

Jason asks,

A simpler question though. What gets gathered in a fluid condensor? If it is a symbol, than why bother with ingredients like gold and chamomile?

Fluid. Which is Bardon’s metaphor for power. Power is an abstract idea, and lots of symbols could point to it: fluid and energy among them. I don’t understand the second question: you seem to be implying that symbols are somehow less real than matter, and you know I think otherwise, so that must not be what you mean. Obviously the gold and the chamomile are both kinds of matter that express the idea of Bardon’s “power.” So it makes sense that you’d want them as allies to express that idea to the Nous. You put together three symbols, two of them expressed by pieces of matter, one by the magician, and you get an object of power.

I think you have a misapprehension that I think anyone who talks about energy is stupid. I don’t. Energy is a valid metaphor for power. But it’s not power. It’s not literally true that there is a magical energy and many, many people who practice magic think that there is. This misapprehension limits them. “Energy” as a symbol for power works fine, until and unless you start thinking it offers:
1. Explanatory force for why or how magic works;
2. A one-for-one metaphoric analog to power (complete with slots from the energy domain including “scarcity” and so on, that don’t apply to magical power.)
3. A literal, physical reality to magic, which reduces magic to another kind of materialism.
Magical power is more accurately understood as a kind of communication, not a kind of electrical charge. It’s the authority to get your idea across to the Nous, so as to change reality. If we have to visualize that authority as a fluid we breathe with our pores, or an electrical charge we get from the heavens, or a light that gathers in our chakras, or whatever, so be it. Just know that’s a visualization of an abstract idea, a metaphor and not the thing in itself.

Jason’s response

Posted in Magical Systems on March 5, 2011 by Patrick

Jason, first of all, you and me, next time you’re in Chicago, a cup of coffee. Maybe sushi. I’m buying. I know a good place.

Second, thank you for your comment. I’ve put some of it here, so I can address it point by point, but man oh man I do not want to get into a flamewar about this. I respect your work too much to do so, so if it goes that way, I’m bowing out.

Lets play madlibs:

The acupuncturist is using a needle to alter the flow of BLANK through a certain meridian to help you quit smoking.

Qi. Which means “breath,” not “energy.” Since it’s not literally breath, then qi must be a symbol for something else.

The Tantric practitioner is accumulating BLANK in the central channel to melt the BLANK drop in the forehead and trigger the descending bliss.

I’m not up on my Tantric terminology, but I imagine there are terms for these things that don’t literally translate to “energy.”

The Orgone Accumulator is gathering BLANK in the subject that is resting inside

Orgone. Which is probably a symbol for well-being to the person sitting in the big metal box.

When I used pore breathing to load a series of rooms with elememtal BLANK the subjects in those rooms were clearly influenced by the elemental BLANK inside.

Bardon called it “fluid.”

I think you are suffering from a bit of compartmentalizing. You are a linguist and see things through the eyes of a linguist and an academic. Lo and behold the best explanation for all magic winds up being a specialized term from the field of linguistics.

Well, okay, you saw my straw man and raised me some ad hominem. Perhaps my training in linguistics helps me understand a phenomenon that is, ultimately, semiotic in nature. That could also be the case. And I could interpret this argument as you clinging to an outmoded model. Neither of these interpretations is charitable or fair, so let’s not.

In the past you said something along the lines of “It would be good if we could find one mechanism behind magic”..l Why is that good?

Because it would provide explanatory force and help us advance the study of magic so that it might have greater effectiveness.

In the past you also mentioned something like “magic is worthy of academic study, but if it insists on using junk words like energy, it will never be taken seriously”. My response is that academics can study whatever it likes, but if academics are deliberately altering the field to make it ripe for study that is a a seriously flawed study. Its like an ornithologist killing all purple birds because there arent supposed to be any.

Did I say “academic?” I hope not. I think a university department of magic would be downright silly, and I would not want to publicly support such a thing. But it is worthy of study. It better be. I study it. So do you. And I don’t see how I’m deliberately altering the field; after all, I’m not the one translating diverse cultural concepts all with the same word.

I just don’t get where you are coming from here. Other than the few examples that you provide of very lame ass things like gathering pink energy at the heart and crystal crap you are not even attempting to deal with anything legitimate magic style that discusses energy.

No true Scotsman, eh? I’m Irish, actually.

I am with you in the ultimate sense that all is consciousness. But until you fully realize that ultimate truth, the relative truth is there as a tool. This inncludes energy just as much as matter,

Energy is matter. That’s my point. Using “energy” is often an excuse to reduce magic to a subset of materialistic ontologies. I think magic offers us a way of knowing that can exist alongside of and contribute to the scientific method, but is separate from it. When we start speaking and worse, believing, that magic is essentially a material phenomenon involving “energy,” we start to lose that way of knowing in favor of material reductionism.

As vehemently as I argue against the unthinking use of “energy” as a term, of course, I recognize that it can be a useful symbol if used mindfully. Your Bardon example is a good one above: even Bardon said it wasn’t actually an energy in the literal sense. He used terms like “magnetic” and “electric” to give people a felt sense of the process of focusing the attention on a single symbol.

By the way, you might also say that acupuncture manipulates electromagnetic energy and therefore is literally moving energy. But if that is the case, then acupuncture is not magic at all, because magic is metaphysical and energy is physical.

What the Semiotic Model Does for Magic

Posted in Magical Systems on March 5, 2011 by Patrick

I’m going to try to be clear and positive about what this model does that other models do not do. I won’t focus on those models, as hard as that is, because I want to reframe the discussion.

1. In the semiotic model, when magic doesn’t work, we know where to look: our own minds or the symbols we use to construct our reality. We will, in nearly all cases, find that the reason the magic didn’t work is one of the following:
a. Failure to unify the will toward a single goal.
b. Incoherent symbols which express contradictory significations (this is essentially (a), actually)
c. An unclear channel, which amounts to a mind cluttered with noise.

2. The semiotic model is culture neutral. I can interact with other systems in a respectful way, without necessarily lumping their experiences under the same terminological umbrella. I can take the symbols of another culture at their face value, at least while dealing with that system.

3. The semiotic model is consistent with a non-materialistic ontology. This is important to me personally: material reductionism is a philosophy that I find potentially quite destructive. It certainly lacks any room for magic.

4. It has great explanatory force, not only in regards to the how of magic, but also its why.

5. It opens up to the use of the magician a wide range of texts in the fields of psychology, anthropology, semiotics, communication theory, game theory, and philosophy that other models do not. This opening up of texts is useful because it cross-pollinates magic with other viewpoints and lays groundwork for further, advanced study.

6. It promises, ultimately, a greater understanding of magic as a phenomenon. Human knowledge is valuable in its own right, so this is a very good thing.

Information is also crap

Posted in Uncategorized on March 4, 2011 by Patrick

A friend pointed out that many of the objections I have to “energy” as a term could also apply to information. After all, most people think of information as a thing connected, not to consciousness, but to matter. This leaves me open to people saying “well, information needs a carrier, doesn’t it?” to which I stamp my feet and wave my fists and pull my hair because I have been. so. misunderstood.

So maybe instead of the information model, I should start calling it the semiotic model. In fact, I think I might: this term is a lot more like what I mean. Magic changes symbols; symbols change consciousness; consciousness changes matter. Energy, there, could lie in “symbols,” and often does, but doesn’t have to. Literally anything could be a symbol for something and thus change consciousness (note, that doesn’t mean that anything goes, by a long shot).

As far as the car goes: yeah, the car exists as a material thing. But that’s why it’s just an analogy. Matter isn’t the point of magic; it’s the side-effect.