Archive for the Language Category

Why Can’t You Teleport?

Posted in Language, Magical Systems, Speculation on August 1, 2009 by Patrick

A recent comment asked some pretty good questions, which I’ll paraphrase as “if matter is just an idea, why can’t you do miraculous things like teleport or travel in time?”  and “What are the exact mechanics of magic?”

The first question is a good one because it illustrates a common misunderstanding of my first book.  I’m not saying that reality is “just” an idea, because “just” implies that there’s something more real than ideas.  I’m saying what we call thought or consciousness, and what we call matter, are the same thing.  Matter isn’t just conscious — animism — but a kind of consciousness itself.  It isn’t “just” a symbol.  Being symbolic is what makes it really real.

Secondly, as to the limits of magic — I actually have no idea where they are.  I haven’t reached them yet.  I’ve seen and even, I think, caused what could be called telekinesis, although I can’t rule out self-deception completely.  I haven’t seen teleportation, and I think it’s pretty unlikely, but probably not impossible.  The thing is, I live with a wonderful person.  Sometimes, I say “could you do the dishes?” and he says “sure.”  But if I said, “could you buy me an elephant and paint him a light mauve” I suspect he’d say “um, what?”  Hold on, I’ll try it.

Okay, bad example.  He said “sure, but it’ll have to be a little one.  Oh, and if I get you an elephant, you have to be in a parade with me.”  So that didn’t work out the way I expected — and neither does magic every time, although it doesn’t usually result in me marching in a parade.  Still, in general, likely requests, like “do the dishes” will be heard.  Unlikely requests, like “buy me an elephant,” won’t.  People get jobs all the time, so communicating the idea for a new job is easy; people don’t teleport all the time.  In information science, we say that the quantity of information of a message is the inverse of that message’s probability, and the more information a message contains, the harder it is to communicate clearly.  I think the same rule holds true for magic.

As far as the mechanism, I don’t know.  I’m not sure there is one, in the sense of a mechanical string of cause-and-effect.  Magic is, by definition, acausal, or so it seems to me.  When I ask my partner to do the dishes, my request doesn’t cause him to do the dishes; it leads to him doing the dishes, but it doesn’t cause it the way that, say, hitting a billiard ball causes it to fall into a pocket.  The mechanistic material paradigm is not one that I share; only a small subset of all possible ideas obey the mechanical logic of cause and effect.  Many more ideas obey the logic of metaphor and the pragmatic logic of language.  I suppose that’s a disappointing answer, but I really doubt that any explanation of magic that reduces it to mechanics will be very effective or helpful in the long run.


A video of a Welsh actor reading “Taliesin”

Posted in Language, Music on August 3, 2007 by Patrick

Here’s a video clip of Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd reading one of the “Taliesin” poems.  “Taliesin” is the name given to a Welsh bard and cultural hero.  He’s also an archetype for the transforming sorcerer and the protean bard.  The clip is in Welsh, with subtitles.

Part I, Part II

Overall, this is a good example of an incantation.  Taliesin identifies himself not just as the master of secrets, but as the metaphor itself — he has been all of these things, and all of these things are Taliesin.  Taliesin identifies himself as the “is” in metaphor.

Rigorous Intuition

Posted in Language, Speculation on July 3, 2007 by Patrick

An interesting post on Rigorous Intuition.  I particularly like the quote from George Hanson, whom pretty clearly I need to read more of:

It is commonly assumed that there is a simple, objective correspondence between the signifier and the signified even thought they are separate entities. It is assumed that language is only a set of names for things, events, and concepts. These assumptions are incorrect, but few recognize the extent of the implications. This lies at the heart of deconstructionism, and magic.

Natural Semantic Primitives

Posted in Language, Magical Systems, Speculation on June 12, 2007 by Patrick

I find this theory that all meaning can be broken down into 61 semantic primitives — atoms of thought, if you will — intriguing.

I’m not sure this theory is about language, so much as it is about thought, however.  Could it be that we conceive of only sixty-one main ideas?

More interestingly, it’s about culture — it seems a clever tool for unpacking meaning, and whether these 61 words are the atoms of thought or not, it’s a handy algebric notation for trying to undertand a complex concept.

I’m tempted to try my hand at it.  Keeping in mind, of course, that I haven’t really read much of the theory in any formal sense, just surfed the page and glanced at a few articles at this point, so I’m probably doing it wrong.


I want something to happen.

I do something like this thing.
This thing happened because I did something.

But something’s wrong there, I think.  Because this script could work for lots of things.  I mean, it could work for writing a letter.

I want to say something.

I cannot say something.

I do something like saying something.

Or it could work for superstition.  Or any number of other ideas.  What is it about magic that makes it not superstition and not writing a letter or acting in a play or doing some other symbolic action?

And of course each paradigm of magic would write a different script.  For example, the spirit paradigm:

I want something.

I say words to something/ something does not have a body/ something does not live/ something thinks.

Something makes something happen.

Or the energy paradigm:

I want something

I move something/ something often does something/ something does not live/ something does not think/ someone cannot touch something/ something is inside all things/ because of this, things happen.

This something makes something happen.

I’m sure I’m doing this wrong, but it is sort of revealing.  After all, the closest I can come to the energy paradigm makes me wonder if this isn’t just the same as the spirit paradigm.  I wonder if we boil down all paradigms to primitive semantic units, we might not find that they’re all the same.

I might have to pick up her books.


Posted in Language, Techniques, Writing on March 9, 2007 by Patrick

Done, finished, over with. Now, I just need to prepare the submission package and mail it out.

In case you’re wondering what submitting a book for publication looks like (hey, people have actually asked me, which is weird, cause not even *I* care), it looks like this.

1. Choose a publisher. This is easy if you’ve published before, because you need to offer your old publisher first dibs. If they don’t want it, you can send it, and all following books, anywhere you like. If you have an agent, you send it to him or her instead, and he or she decides where to send it. But occult nonfiction isn’t often agented, so I’m agentless.

2. Write a cover letter. Mine looks a bit like this: “I’m a writer, poet, and occultist living near Chicago.” My biggest question is always, do I mention I’m a professor as well? I am hesitant to do this, because it’s unethical to sell books based on one’s expertise in academia if those books have nothing to do with one’s expertise. For example, if I had a Ph.D. in, I don’t know, physical therapy, and tried to market myself as Dr. Patrick offering psychological advice to people, I’d be a liar and a fraud and probably rather wealthier than I am. Similarly, adding a Ph.D. to the end of your name and mentioning in the book that it stands for something stupid like “Practically Hilarious Druid” or something is also deeply dishonest. So the Ph.D. stays where it belongs: the classroom. Still, I do make cops call me “Doctor,” but that’s just because it’s fun.

3. Write a summary. This is a chapter by chapter rundown. I’m just cutting and pasting the last half of the introduction, for this.

4. Write a list of indexing terms. Here’s an archaic thing that some publishers still require. You go through the book quickly like a bunny, writing down all the terms that would appear in an index. This takes hours. You alphabetize the list, and send it with the book. When it arrives, it’s carefully separated from the submission package and used to wrap fish. No one ever mentions an index again, although the contract mentions that the author pays for it if anyone does.

5. Write a table of contents. Easy as pie.

6. Write a bit on the market. Point out that nothing like your book exists on the market (partially because most people probably know better than to try to write something like this), point out that you have skill and knowledge most people don’t (most of it involves stuff the book isn’t about, but that’s beside the point), mention that you are a great public speaker (I am, but even if you’re not, don’t worry about it — no one will ever ask you to speak), mention that you have various plans for promotion and would be glad to collaborate with your publicity guy. The publicity guy might even email you. But only once. Don’t worry about it: it’s part of the nature of the beast at every publishing house on Earth, as far as I can tell.

7. Mention that you maintain a blog and that it’s not quite as popular as those dancing babies were a few years ago, but is at least as popular as the guy who dresses up like Peter Pan. Actually, no, it’s not even that popular — and do you know how that makes me feel?

8. Wait about a year.

How Magic is Like Literature

Posted in Language, Literature and Performance, Magical Systems on March 6, 2007 by Patrick

W. H. Auden, I think it was, said “Poetry, after all, makes nothing happen.” Except, of course, that it does. Hemingway’s fiction shaped how a century saw masculinity and femininity, power and powerlessness, choice and weakness. People made decisions, changed their lives, and acted differently because of Hemingway, but in no way that could be quantified or predicted. Similarly, when I do a spell for — let’s say — money, I am causing change in the world, but in no way that I can predict. I only know that the outcome is likely to be that I’ll get money from an unexpected source. I don’t know how or why.

Obviously, in the case of literature, the chain of cause and effect is clear from retrospect, or at least, clear-ish.  The chain of cause and effect in magic is less clear.  Maybe I do a spell, and it makes spirits do something that causes me to get money.  Or maybe I do a spell, and it makes some sort of magical energy move and do something.  It’s always that chewy nougat center that our magical theories are trying to fill.


Posted in Book Review, Language, Speculation on October 24, 2006 by Patrick

I picked up Alexander Roob’s Alchemy & Mysticism. It’s largely a collection of plates from various periods in history illustrating alchemical and mystical theories. What’s striking about the book — and this isn’t a judgment of its quality — is that the textual explanations pale against the effect of the graphics. It makes me think about the ways that we organize information.

In the middle ages, paper was expensive, books were expensive, and (although this is secondary, I think) literacy wasn’t widespread. The graphical representation of information, therefore, was common, from stained glass depicting saints’ lives, to alchemical texts illustrating complex procedures with allegorical drawings. We now find this a remarkably inefficient way to organize information, but it’s exactly the opposite — it’s incredibly efficient. Reading it, however, requires different sets of codes.

For example, we have to recognize that up is often far, and down is often close — processes frequently move up the page, rather than down as we might expect. Our preference for left over right is irrelevant, largely. The center is still privileged. Smallness indicates minor information, not distance in space. Largeness indicates important information, not closeness in space.

The codes all changed with the invention of text. Engraving images and text together was a bit of a chore (Blake’s dead brother taught him a method from beyond the grave, for example — that tells you something of how difficult a task it was). So there’s a stronger reliance on text than image, and the codes change. Coincidentally, we also develop the new graphical codes — the “realistic” codes of forced perspective and so on.

Now, we have a third revolution on our hands — image and text interacting in a completely free environment. We have yet to invent or codify our codes for interpreting information in this new medium.

Also, these graphic representations have a different effect on consciousness. The information doesn’t arrive linearly, as with text, nor in binary pairs, as with language. It arrives in threes, fours, groups, clusters, and — while there’s a tendency for the eye to move along certain lines — slightly differently for each person.

I sometimes wonder if a graphical representation of the principles of magic is not only preferable, but necessary.