Archive for July, 2013

Lenormand — if not symbols, than what?

Posted in Lenormand on July 21, 2013 by Patrick

Mary K. Greer has a post up about Lenormand cards, in which she asserts

The cards are not read symbolically! The narrow range of meanings, which are functional rather than symbolic, ensure there is little ambiguity about their significance.

I love Greer’s work and have always admired it, and the rest of her post is interesting (in fact, she has several very valuable bits of research on her blog for those interested in the Lenormand:  this post is particularly interesting, as it provides evidence that the Lenormand did not begin as a game afterall).

But I cannot understand what she might mean by this statement.  A symbol is “aliquid stat pro aliquo,” or “something that stands for something else.”  If I draw a Lenormand card –Mice, let’s say — and say “Busy, but without much profit, and maybe small annoyances as well,” I’ve read that card symbolically.  Even if I read it as “Oh, gosh, you have mice in your house!” I’ve read it symbolically.  The card isn’t a mouse: it’s a symbol of a mouse.  A mouse isn’t small annoyances; it’s a symbol of small annoyances.

Later on, she offers an example:

The cards are easily adapted to modern situations as long as the integrity of the whole is not broken. For instance, Stars (like the nodes in a web) is the internet and, along with Garden (the public), they represent social networking.

If this is not reading symbolically, I have to wonder what is.

Ethics (3/3) — Virtue ethics

Posted in Ethics, Magical Systems on July 15, 2013 by Patrick

Rather than rules or consequences, virtue ethics looks at the qualities that underly particular actions. If, for example, you are an honest person, you might rarely tell a lie.

As I said before, one of the favorite practices of professors of introduction to ethics is the hypothetical. One of the most famous hypothetical is this: you are harboring a Jew during WWII, and a Nazi soldier comes to your door. Do you give up the Jew to the Nazi, knowing that he will die most horribly, or do you lie to the Nazi and save the life?

A deontological view with a simple rules, like “thou shalt not lie,” says “You tell the truth. So sad, too bad.” Of course, most people espousing such moralities won’t actually say that. They either “bite the bullet” as we say in philosophy, or they find some reason that there, that rule does not apply. Neither satisfies me.

A teleologist fares a bit better: she says “Lie. Of course.” But lies often make people feel better. Should I then lie all the time? This doesn’t quite satisfy, because we have a sense that lying probably isn’t a good practice overall.

The aretologist (or Virtue Ethicist) says “I am an honest person, so I do not tend to lie. I am also a compassionate person, so I do not tend to encourage needless suffering. And furthermore, I am a just person, and the Nazis are unjust. So I lie. It’s a pity that I have to, but — well, frankly, um, duh?”

Virtue ethics isn’t about following rules or attending to the calculus of consequences, but about what you are. It’s about becoming a good person, even if that means study and practice.

Each virtue is a balancing act. For example, justice is a balance between mercy and severity. Courage is a balance between the vices of cowardice and foolhardiness. And each virtue requires the skill or quality of phronesis, of wisdom, to find that balance.

One of the reasons I think virtue ethics is relevant to the magician is that even the word, virtue, means power. Being a good person, developing these characteristics, makes one capable as a human being and thus more capable as a magician.

The Wiccan rede isn’t an artifact of a virtue ethic, but there are four magical virtues describes by Levi:

To Know: The virtue of knowledge, of knowing what one must do, and what one must not, and how to achieve one’s aims, as well as to know oneself as human. The balance between ignorance and intellectual pride.
To Will: The virtue of resolution, of setting one’s mind and clearing one’s thoughts of distraction, of basic discipline. This is the balance between weakness and grit-toothed grim gym-teacher pain.
To Dare: This is the virtue of courage. Whenever I see someone new to magic surprised or startled by magical success, I think of this virtue, the balance between excuses and obsession.
To Keep Silent: The virtue of circumspection. We don’t have to keep everythign in magic a secret anymore, but sometimes we must just shut up in the face of the ineffable. This is the balance between haughty obfuscation and blatherskite.

I’d love to see more attention paid to virtue ethic in magic, and while I respect the rede, I respect the witch’s pyramid a lot more, because it serves as a practical set of virtues to aim toward in my own life, even if I don’t always achieve them.

Some Toys

Posted in Uncategorized on July 13, 2013 by Patrick

I’ve started a new website, mostly as a place to practice my Javascript and html skills. But I have a couple magical apps available that people may find helpful: one little program that helps with memorizing rituals, and a simple browser-based geomancy program that generates a random chart with the click of a button. I hope people find them entertaining or useful.

A Grimoire of Time

Posted in Good Books, Magical Systems, Techniques on July 6, 2013 by Patrick

Jason Miller gets — and deserves — a lot of my admiration.  He’s a thinking magician, which is great, but more importantly he does stuff.  Creative, innovative, and practical stuff.

Therefore, you need to buy his new chapbook, Advanced Planetary Magic, which I have been honored with a review copy of, and let me say, I’m blown away.  There are two main parts of this book that you need, as a practicing magician.

First, there are the seals, which at first I glanced at with a “Oh, look, Agrippa’s seals, but all swirly,” until I realized that they are graphically encoded rituals in their own rights.  Look at them: if you draw those seals in the air you are performing a ritual dance and invocation of that planetary force.  Try it!

Second, and my favorite part of the book and why I’ll be coming back to it again and again, he offers forty-nine short but powerful calls of the planets for each combination of magical hours and days.  These things are mind-blowingly awesome.  They are essentially a grimoire, not of spirits, but of time itself.  They can act as initial invocation of planetary forces, or as full-fledged rites.  I have had limited to time experiment with them since getting the review copy, but so far I am impressed and I am hoping to hear of other people’s experiences as they work with these calls.