My new book, The Practical Art of Divine Magic, is now available. It’s a pretty good one, if I do say so myself. If you’re interested in theurgy (or working with divine forces in magic) it’s something you might enjoy.
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I can’t dance.
I can’t speak French.
I can’t sing.
I can’t write what I really want.
I can’t be myself at work.
I can’t dance yet.
I can’t speak French yet.
I can’t sing yet.
I can’t write what I really want yet.
I can’t be myself at work yet.
I can dance a little.
Je peux parler le français un peu.
I can sing a little.
I can write what I really want a little.
I can be myself at work a little.
I can dance.
Je peux parler le français.
I can sing.
I can write.
I can be myself.
I am that which I am.
What’s the difference?
And which are a more magical view of the world?
Let’s try a thought experiment (I don’t actually believe this, but it’ll be interesting to entertain the idea):
You wake up in the morning. You have thoughts, feelings, emotions. You know, at a level impossible to question, that you exist as a thinking being. If you try to question that you are a thinking being, you fail, because in questioning that you are thinking, you are thinking, because questioning is a kind of thinking. Thus, you must be a thinking being.
You see your neighbors, your friends, and you think that they, too, are probably thinking beings.
But they’re not.
See, a few of your friends have been replaced with perfect replicas of a human being: mechanical dolls. They are machines made out of the same organic material you are, so cunningly created that they could not possibly be distinguished for an organic human like you. Moreover, their brains have been woven out of the same neurons, but there’s a difference:
While they react properly to all stimuli, due to a very sophisticated program, they never have thoughts, feelings, or emotions of their own. They only seem to. They see you make a frowning face, and the program goes, “if expression(other) == frown :: expression(self) == sympathy.” But they don’t feel it.
Could such a world exist? Could there be a world in which some people have been replaced with physically and behaviorally indistinguishable replicas of real people? I’m not asking if you think we live in such a world (I hope you don’t), but could such a world exist, or would such a world be self-contradictory?
It seems, to me, that such a world could exist. (Even though it doesn’t)
What does that imply?
It implies that internal experience is real, otherwise, the appearance of internal experience and the actuality of internal experience would, by Leibniz law, be the same thing. But they don’t seem to be. It rubs against at least my intuition that they could be.
Do you agree?
Yes, this post was an excuse to bring up not only the philosophical zombie, but remind you of this wonderful song from the 90s.
Llewellyn posts an intriguing blog asking if all gods are the same. It’s a particular good clarification of the difference between correspondence and equation.
It comes down to this: just because Odin, Mercury, Hermes, and Quetzalcoatl share correspondences, this does not mean that they are the same person. Think of it this way: Your professor, your high school teacher, your doctor, and your psychologist all share certain qualities. They’re intelligent, insightful, helpful, and professional. These are correspondences. But your professor, your high school teacher, your doctor, and your psychologist are all probably different people.
In my own view, Mercury isn’t even Mercury, by which I mean the god Mercurius isn’t the same “person” as the planetary power of Mercury.
But from another perspective, Mercury, Odin, Hermes, and Quetzalcoatl are instantiations of the same ultimate power. The distinction is between the Platonic idea of god and daemon. The god is transcendent, beyond matter, perfect and ideal, and not subject to change or influence. But those gods shine down into the world, and as they do so they manifest as intermediary beings: daemones who communicate between humans and the divine.
So your teacher, professor, doctor, and psychologist are all different people, but they’re representing a particular ideal: teaching and helping you to be a better self. That ideal doesn’t change and isn’t a “person,” but insofar as each of these people represent that ideal, they are “the same.”
It’s complicated and sticky, because it all gets into the concept of “identity,” which is a philosophically complicated notion. One of my favorite YouTube channels addresses this issue very clearly and well:
What’s the difference between magic and religion? After all, as a magician, I believe in an unseen world, and use verbal formulas and ritual actions to influence that world. That sounds like a Christian praying, or any other member of a religion interacting with his or her concept of the divine. But while magic does fulfill most of the functions of religion for me, it’s still feels a little different.
First, it’s orthopractic, not orthodoctic. It doesn’t matter what I believe; it’s what I do that counts. Of course, what I do influences what I believe, but I don’t go to hell if I think X or Y about the gods. Sometimes, it’s easier for me to imagine that the gods are aspects of my psyche. At other times, it’s more useful to recognize their cosmic aspect. It’s hard for me to imagine that either of these two rather incompatible views of the divine represent a heresy.
Second, it’s very practical. It’s about living a good life, both in the mundane sense and in the moral sense. Some religions offer spells or rituals to influence the world, but with magic I get a whole toolbox. Light a novena? Sure. But if that doesn’t work, I’ll create a servitor. If that doesn’t work, I’ll summon an Olympick spirit. If that doesn’t work . . . well, that usually works.
Finally, magic doesn’t tell me what my salvation is. For me, it’s henosis, but no one said it had to be. I know very good magicians whose entire raison d’etre is to get laid and make money (or at least, that was what they were into in the 90s. I mean, we were all in college then, and that’s what you did).
I know that anthropologists have, in the past, laid out the distinction as one of “magical thinking.” But affirming the connection between signifier and signified is hardly exclusive to magic: if we adopt this as the definition, then we have to include religion under the umbrella of magic just as we have to include advertising (cars = sex), professional sports (animal totems, anyone?), and fashion.
Ramsey Dukes has a take on it that is a little more useful, and I’d encourage you to read SSOTBME Revised – an essay on magic
if you’re interested in thinking about this idea further.
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.
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.