Archive for September, 2014

In Defense of the Armchair

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2014 by Patrick

Where I do a lot of my magic.

I’m an armchair magician, by which I mean, I have an armchair. Well, actually, it’s a poang from Ikea. Comfy!

For those not in the know, “armchair magician” is a pejorative term for a magician who doesn’t do magic, just theorizes about it, writes about it, and talks about it. But like most pejoratives, it’s used in two ways:

First, it can mean — as I said above — a person with only second-hand knowledge of magic, and no direct experience. Second, it can mean — and more often does — a magician who theorizes.

Sometimes you’ll see, “well, theory is just armchair magic.” As if we shouldn’t, therefore, engage in theory at all, lest we magically adhere to our armchair!

This is an anti-intellectual nonsense. Every single magician has a theory of magic. The practice of magic is what you do: call up spirits, draw a circle, make a mojo bag, burn a candle. The theory of magic is why you do it. Even a folk magician who has never “thought” about magic in any sort of formal, academic way has a theory of magic: there’s a reason she’s stirring that pot. She might think she’s calling on spirits, or saints. She might have some idea that God has a certain position and she occupies another (hey, a cosmology!), or she might have some notion that the physical objects in that pot are doing something in some subtle way. These theoretical ideas are probably very complex, very well-formed, and she may not even be entirely aware of all of them at once.

Other times, I’ll hear people say “I don’t care how my magic works; I only care that it works.” Then they’ll go off explaining what they did: “Well, I made a talisman with the symbol of Jupiter and then charged it with magical energy at the hour of Jupiter by passing it through cedar incense while . . . ” Every single one of those magical acts has a why behind it. Each one represents a theoretical position.

What that attitude often boils down to is, “I have no intellectual curiosity, and I think that’s a virtue.”

I don’t have much sympathy with that. In truth, time in the armchair can translate to being more effective in the circle. The two aren’t mutually exclusive at all. And reading about magic and learning theory can encourage you to act, just as reading a good cookbook can encourage you to get in the kitchen. Yes, you cannot learn to cook by reading cookbooks, or learn magic by reading magic books, but that’s not what they’re for. So let’s stop knocking the armchair and those of us who sit in it, as long as we get out of it as well.

Frater RO Hits It On the Head

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2014 by Patrick

No surprise that Fr. RO and I agree about a lot of things.  We’re both Hermetic magicians (although I tend to more a postmodern, ecclectic Hermeticism, while he is hardcore Agrippa all the way).  So even though the Word of his Will appears to be four letters long and starts with an F, he and I tend to end up on the same page a lot (with the exception of Goetic stuff, but that’s the topic for another post).

His post on the economy of consciousness is downright brilliant, and I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Our experiences are all interpretations of sense interfaces that are not real time. Our brains seem to process everything that happens each moment and turn all that data into a bubble of interactive awareness. We’re all living a few nanoseconds in the past all the time, and we think it’s now. And the universe and our ongoing experience of the universe, with memory and thought and time and running narrative supports the theory that it is actually real stuff we are experiencing through the senses.


Read the whole thing.  It’s all that good.  Downright inspired, maybe with a capital I.

In Defense of that Damned K

Posted in Uncategorized on September 13, 2014 by Patrick

I really hate magick.

Part of it is just my loathing of pretense, of pretending, of imagining oneself to be living in the eighteenth century when — oh, just barely — one could get away with an extra -k at the end of a word.  I sometimes joke with my friends that one should be careful, that too much magickcickickick will give you a heart attackackackackackack (not a funny joke, given my genes, but whatever — fate is fate).

I have said that no one but a blinding idiot would confuse stage magic with practical magic.

But that was before the twenty-first century, when I realized that I made a grave error.  Go on, search for “magic.”  I dare ya.  Here, I’ll help.   How many of those results are remotely helpful?  The last one, maybe, if you’re interested in the intersection between magic and logic.

I’m a damned fool.

“Magic” doesn’t help in finding information about real magic on the web.  The vast majority consists of either magic in the sense of stage magic (prestidigitation, the British call it, and I while I love being an American, sometimes I think I my fondness of bergomot-flavored tea hints at a British past live).

The downside, of course, is that if one searches for “magick,” you get a hell of a lot of Crowley.  He’s a good place to start, but — not everyone has to end there.  I wish there were a term (Hey, the use of the subjunctive, another sign of being British in a past life) that indicated real magic, like, changing reality, express-train to god, start tinkering with the universal computer code that makes up matter, kind of magic.

Ain’t one.



Eclectic and Scholarly

Posted in Uncategorized on September 5, 2014 by Patrick

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.