Archive for the Theurgy Category

Neoplatonism and Physics

Posted in Theurgy, Weird on September 22, 2013 by Patrick

ἀεὶ ὁ θεὸς γεωμετρεῖ

Always, God does geometry.

Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.

* * *

Beyond making calculations easier or possibly leading the way to quantum gravity, the discovery of the amplituhedron could cause an even more profound shift, Arkani-Hamed said. That is, giving up space and time as fundamental constituents of nature and figuring out how the Big Bang and cosmological evolution of the universe arose out of pure geometry.

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“Hot” and “Cool” running magic

Posted in Magical Systems, Techniques, Theurgy, Weird on September 2, 2013 by Patrick

I don’t remember where I read about the distinction, but one idea that has haunted my work since I learned about it is the concept of “hot” and “cool” work.

Essentially, “cool” work is preparatory, interior, and what we might call theurgic.  It consists of things like offerings, meditations, regular visualizations — essentially, all the stuff you do to prepare yourself and stay ready.  It’s tuning the piano, practicing scales.  Or it’s sharpening the knives, seasoning the pans.

“Hot” work, though, is the practical magic.  It consists of work for specific, measurable aims: getting a job, getting laid, getting that copy of that rare book you want.  It’s playing a song, or cooking a meal.

There needs to be the appropriate balance between the two, and one thing it took me quite a while to learn is that this balance changes depending on time as well as personality.  Some magicians are very “hot.”  They do a lot of practical work, for nearly everything.  Others are very “cool.”  They prepare a lot, spend most of their time and effort praying, making offerings, meditating.  That balance is right for them.

Some are too “hot.”  They’re the chaos mages I knew in my misspent youth who seemed to have a sigil on every available surface.  I’m not sure they ever got anything done, though, because they were trying to do everything.  I mean, these kids couldn’t . . . um . . . charge the sigils fast enough.  And they heaped scorn on theurgy or illumination magic as “not practical” and “not measurable.”  They said things like, and I quote, “I fired off a tight little sigil . . . “, a phrase that contributed a lot to my abandoning chaos magic.  To this day that phrase — and the visualization that comes with it — makes me go “urp.”

Some, on the other hand, are too “cool,” the armchair magicians we all love to scorn.  The thing is, a real armchair magician isn’t just cool.  They’re zero degrees Kelvin.  If all you do, ever, is make offerings, meditate, and practice elemental pore breathing, well, guess what?  You are a magician.  You might be too cool, but you’re not an armchair magician.  A real armchair magician does nothing but read.  And that poorly, because even active reading is good “cool” work.  (Hint, if you had to learn a language to read the text you’re working on, that’s “cool,” not armchair.  In my biased opinion.)

Then again, you might not be too cool.  That’s the thing it took me a while to figure out, because frankly, I am at best a tepid magician.  Partially, that’s a result of success.  There isn’t a whole lot I want more than for my life to continue in the same direction.  So most of my “practical” work is maintenance these days.  I’ve considered doing some limited work for a limited number of hand-selected clients, just to “warm” up a bit.  But — maybe that’s a bad idea.  Maybe I should be tepid.

The other thing that I’ve learned is that hot and cool move in cycles.  I’ve had hot periods (there was about a year of grad school in which I had enough magical stuff going on that I was regularly having odd magical experiences, and another year during my undergrad years when I was still into chaos magic and had enough weird shit in my dorm room to give the housing people at my University fits).  But I also have cool periods.  Right now is very much a cool period for me.  I’m keeping up my offerings, trying to maintain my meditation (I’m bad at that).

The trick is to find a balance that works for you.  How do you do that?  I don’t know; I just bumble around until I get too damned bored (then I know I’m too cool) or too damned weird (then I’m too hot).  What do you do?  Let me know in the comments.

Signs You Are a Magician

Posted in Magical Systems, Theurgy on August 4, 2013 by Patrick

Recently, Nick Farrell wrote a post in which he enumerated several signs that you’re not a real magician.  Some of these signs are things I agree with, but some I disagree with strongly, so I’d like to counter with my own short list of signs that you are in fact a magician, inspired by his post.

1.  You dress consciously in order to achieve the outcome you wish.  For some environments, that’s a suit and tie.  For others, it’s a t-shirt and jeans.  For yet others, it might be all black with a pentagram.  It depends on what you wish to achieve, and you recognize that clothes are potent symbols in our culture.  You don’t wear a toga to a job interview, unless togas are the expected attire at that job.

2.  You do regular magical work, balancing between “hot” or practical work and “cool” or preparatory work.  You don’t sneer at theurgy because it “isn’t practical,” because you know that it’s profoundly practical.  You also don’t sneer at results-based magic as beneath you, because you know that we live in this world.  The amount of time you spend doing work per day is irrelevant; some days it may be ten minutes, some days three hours.  You recognize that any practice as organic and personal as magic doesn’t lend itself to a schedule.

3.  Your life is better than it was, and getting better all the time, on all levels: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, monetary, health, and so on.  Of course, you may have setbacks and bad things may happen; those are opportunities to show what you’re made of.  If you can deal with such things without falling apart, you’re doing well.

4.  You don’t blame magic for your relationship failures.  Sometimes relationships fail, sometimes they succeed.  Magic can help you have more meaningful relationships.

5.  You have some magical gear, but you don’t need it.  When you use it, you use it to help you work more efficiently, just like any tool.

6.  You talk, think, and practice occultism.  All three.

7.  You’re an interesting person, with varied interests.  If you don’t think a hobby is “worthy” because it isn’t magical, your imagination has failed you.  If you think hobbies are just ways to meet people, you have failed at being interesting enough to deserve to meet people.

8.  You have an active social life.  Many magicians are introverts, but even introverts have friends and a social life outside of their magical temple.  If your best friends are spirits, you are not succeeding at part of being human, which is being human among other humans.  You don’t need to be an extrovert, but you need to have some social contact with people you like, who like you.

9.  You recognize that a healthy person prioritizes their life, and can regard several things as important.  If you have kids, and they are not more important than magic, then you are a terrible magician and an awful person.

10.  You respect tradition, actual knowledge and wisdom, but test things yourself and engage in critical thinking.

11.  You understand that the difference between “physical” and “mental,” and the difference between “literal” and “figurative” are not easily delineated differences.  They are actually philosophically complex ideas.  You explore those ideas, not dismiss them.

12.  You think magic is about what you can get out of life, to make it more worthwhile and fulfilling, all the way up Maslow’s pyramid to the very top.

Modern Greek Pagans

Posted in Ethics, Paganism, Theurgy on June 20, 2013 by Patrick

They don’t like the term Pagan, apparently, but this is an interesting (and kind of infuriating, in places) article on modern neopagan movements in Greece, from the BBC.  It’s occasionally confused and confusing (they don’t pray to the gods, but they want to build temples to pray in . . . ).  The reporter takes a fairly neutral tone; the “experts” don’t.  Take, for example, Peter Jones, co-founder of Friends of the Classics, who blithely states that these people are “kooky” because “Values and virtues are entirely meaningless in ancient terms.”

This is one of the stupidest things I have ever read.  If it came from someone who was ignorant of the classics, it might be forgivable, but this is someone who claims to be a “friend” of the classics.  In this one statement, he has swept aside the entirety of ancient philosophy, most of it concerned with how to live a good life by developing ἀρετή, meaning “excellence” or “virtue.”  I cannot fathom what sort of hideous stupidity would cause one to say that “values and virtues are entirely meaningless in ancient terms.”  I cannot even imagine a context in which that might not be an asinine thing to say.  The only thing I can imagine is someone with an axe to grind and a willingness to lie and distort the classics of which he claims to be the friend.  With friends like that, who needs enemies?

I should probably do a post on reconstructionist pagans and why I’m not one at some point, shouldn’t I?

Pagan Prayer

Posted in Paganism, Speculation, Techniques, Theurgy on June 1, 2013 by Patrick

Jason Miller recently had a clever and thorough post on the debate between those who think that fictional beings are the same as gods, or can be used the same way in magic.  He writes:

We not only do not currently know for sure the nature of what we deal with, but we currently do not have the capacity to know for sure the nature of what we deal with. Therefore every operating theory, including the ones above, might be wrong. Keep this in mind whether you are doing traditional work or experimenting.

I was thinking of that post today while I was going for a walk. Unlike Jason, I am a pagan — specifically a Theurgist [ETA: This was a bit of sloppy reading on my part, as Jason doesn’t say he’s not a pagan, only that his blog isn’t a pagan blog].  Often, when I go for a walk, I like to pray.  So I got out of my car at the forest preserve, headed into the woods, and thought “Okay, now, whom shall I pray to today?”

I had to laugh at myself.  That’s not a question most people ask, being monotheists.  I finally decided I wanted to be a little edgy, and pray to Ares, a god not often prayed to in ancient times.

Then, I had a second question: “How shall I pray today?”

Of course, there’s the traditional sort of address a god by name kind of thing, and then talk to them.  “Oh, Hermes, hear my prayer.  If ever I have burned sweet scents to you or praised your name in writing or made offering to you at a crossroad, hear my prayer, for you are able. . . . ” and so on.  Very traditional, kind of formulaic, but effective.  Wouldn’t work with Ares, though, because it’d be something like “Oh, Ares, hear my prayer.  If ever I have largely ignored you . . . ”

Then there’s contemplation.  Build up an image of the god, carry it with you, and just contemplate it without words, or maybe just repeating the names of the god.

Then there’s one of my new favorites: the elenchus.  I’m pretty sure this prayer isn’t at all traditional, because I made it up, but it’s kind of awesome.  You begin by contemplating the god, and then you present a problem to the god, and imagine what question that god would ask you to get to the heart of the problem.  This is, without some serious magical oomph, “just pretend,” not a real invocation.  But it can be startling the sorts of insights you receive.  Just don’t fall into the mistake of asking the god questions: he or she will ask the questions, thank you very much.

So I thought I’d give the elenchus a try to Ares.  So I contemplated his image until I felt his presence and said, “I’m a little uncomfortable praying to you because I know the ancients kind of — well, loathed you.”  “Why do you think they hated a god?  Wouldn’t that be suicidal?”  “I think they had to recognize your power, as a god of force and violence, but they didn’t have to approve of the violence.”  “And did their disapproval of violence lead them to eschew it?”  “Not at all.  So maybe they weren’t loathing you, but their own hypocrisy.” And so on.

I had my chaos magic phase, as did everyone in the ’90s, and I learned a lot of valuable techniques.  But I also tried like everyone to invoke Spock, and I’ll tell you something: there’s no there there.  Spock is just an image, a facade, and maybe with enough practice and work you could get a god to inhabit that image — but why bother?  Hermes is real.  The work has been done.

And so, at the end of my elenchus, I felt like something had been accomplished.  No, I don’t think I spoke to the god or that he spoke to me, other than in the broadest sense.  I’m not going to write down our conversation as a new Scripture of Ares.  But I felt something there, something enlivening and powering my contemplation, that just isn’t present if I imagine a similar conversation with a fictional being.  And perhaps that’s just me, or perhaps it’s the god.  I’m not sure it’s evidence of anything, other than how I best work.  But I do feel closer to understanding that troublesome god, and coming closer to the gods is about eighty percent of the work of theurgy.