Is a Talisman a Kind of Spirit Box?

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.

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3 Responses to “Is a Talisman a Kind of Spirit Box?”

  1. To bunk or not to bunk?

    I doubt I am alone in being somewhat used to experiencing the spiritual world through multiple, sometimes conflicting, worldviews. The third that I trained in (several years of professional-level training) was the energy paradigm.

    I’ve been working a lot on magical theory lately, and honestly the underlying assumptions of the common energy paradigm seem to be somewhat self-limiting. As soon as we can see that spiritual “energy” is everywhere, our own “energy” seems somehow less impressive.

    Or, to put it more simply, the direct effect of “energy work” is to put people in touch with their own spirits (which, believe me if you haven’t tried it, can be a hugely impacting and useful thing).

    Past that? The energy paradigm never seems to deliver all that it promises — and those same promises seem to keep us from delving deeper into it. For that, we can probably blame the founder of Western Reiki, who also apparently simply made up a new history for it, to make it more palatable (similar to Christianity in its theology) for Westerners.

    Not all paradigms are created equal — or for the same things. Just as different college degrees lead to different ways of seeing the world, so does training in different paradigms.

    There might be no “best” paradigm. But each way of perceiving and acting in the world that we learn both takes years to master and requires huge personal investment. It’s no surprise that people defend the efficacy of their skills, their assumptions about the nature of power and the universe, and the value of their sacrifice.

  2. This makes a lot of sense to me. I’m working on some similar lines in a Hermetic vein (which changes little besides vocabulary).

  3. We can always try to find out “why things work”, but it leads to just theories. I believe in magic; I’ve seen it work. I try to figure ouut why something doesn’t work when it should. I’m examine why magic doesn’t work at times. I ask questions like a scientist would. I accept the spiritual planes concept. I do believe that those planes adhere to the properties as in this physical world.

    Believers in laws of attraction lean toward an energy concept that it is our thoughts that really matter. Are we concentrating long enough on our goals to create thoughtforms? A belief in magic and spirits lean toward a spiritual concept and this means we have to know how to motivate those spirits to get our goals. I feel that it’s not a misunderstanding of our magical methods that matter. Some of us are great magicians. I think it has to do with our goals. What you wish for happens faster if it is an event that is likely to occur. It goes back to mathematics and laws of probabilities.

    Face it, what will happen faster? Magic to get you a new Chevy to go to work or a love spell to lure Paris Hilton into marriage? Think about it! 😉

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