Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why do you say there isn’t a magical energy, when almost every other book on magic says that there is?
A: I don’t say that there isn’t. I just say that thinking about magic as if it’s energy-driven is one way to think about magic, but there are other ways which are just as valid. Thinking about magic as information – or, if you prefer, messages we send to our deep mind or to God or to the universal consciousness – leads to interesting ideas that thinking about it only as energy does not. Of course, the reverse is also true; thinking about magic as energy leads to conclusions that other models do not. But those conclusions have been adequately explored, while the information paradigm has not. I’m not saying the energy paradigm is wrong and the information paradigm is right – I’m saying clinging so tightly to one paradigm that you can’t see the value in another is probably unwise.
2. If everything is just symbols, as you say, then why should it matter what we do to people? Couldn’t we hurt someone and if they’re just symbols, why would it matter?
A: Saying “everything is just symbols” reflects a misunderstanding. I’m saying everything (that we think, experience, and see) is a symbol referring back to other symbols, and there’s no ultimate thing they all refer to. But that doesn’t mean everything’s “just” a symbol, because the word “just” implies that there’s something that isn’t a symbol to compare it to. Of course treating people well is important, not because you’ll be punished by some ultimate God figure, or because it’s just right, but because the only way to meaningfully exist in this web of symbols is to exist in relationship to other symbols, to look into another person’s eyes and want to know him or her as a person, not just a thing. That’s the basis of my morality, anyway.
3. What is panpsychism, and why do you believe in it?
A: Panpsychism is just a reversal of the dominant attitude, that matter exists first and mind arises from it. A panpsychist argues that there’s no reason to assume that – in fact, there are perfectly good philosophical reasons to assume that the opposite is true, that mind preexists matter. Working under this assumption solves several sticky philosophical problems, such as the mind-body problem. But more importantly, my particular adoption of panpsychism allows – in fact, assumes as a fact of existence – that magic works.
4. Are you a chaos magician?
A: I don’t call myself a chaos magician because I disagree with some of the underlying assumptions of chaos magic – namely, that we can change our beliefs at will. I think anything we believe stays with us, and to blithely imagine that we change our beliefs is self-deception. However, I do like many things that chaos mages do and say: the questioning of dogma is something I agree with heartily. I also admire their willingness to play around with fictional godforms and made-up rituals.
5. Are you a ceremonial magician?
A: At times. I like ceremonial magic, but I like the choice. I like to choose to engrave the holy letters of the Hebrew alphabet in my mind in ritual, or to grab my drum and dance in the woods. I’d hate to imagine being bound up in ceremony, or for that matter, in freestyle shamanism, without the freedom to choose. Of course, I like both . . . other people may be heavily turned off by one or the other and therefore they’d be well advised to avoid it. The aesthetic element of magic is extremely important.
6. Are you a shaman?
A: I do some shamanic type work, and sometimes call myself a freestyle shaman. My anthropologist friends call me a sorcerer, which apparently is a not entirely flattering term in anthropology. I’m not sure I’d call myself a shaman, though, because a shaman is chosen by the spirits to perform some civic function, and I don’t live in a culture where I can perform such a civic function fully. Still, perhaps teaching is a way of manifesting the will of the spirits, and if so, then maybe I am a shaman. Really, though, I don’t like to identify myself as anything that’s not a process: I do ceremonial magic, I do shamanism, I write poetry, I cook stir fry, I read novels. Depends on when you happen to catch me at home.
7. Don’t you contradict yourself when you say X in your book, and then a little bit later say Y?
A: Oh, yeah, probably. The problem is, for some people, X may be true, but other people may find Y more useful. I’m not sure the contradictions go very far when you actually start working, rather than just reading and thinking, because at the end I suspect the experiences are the same. Still, yes, I contradict myself. “I am large,” as Walt Whitman said. “I contain multitudes.”
8. I don’t agree with you about X. Want to argue?
A: Absolutely! But here are the rules: we have to respect each other by making sure, at every turn, that we understand the other person’s arguments, and aren’t just arguing with our own interpretation of their argument. But if you agree to that, let’s argue, by all means.
9. Do you just explain away magic by saying it’s psychological? What’s the difference between the psychological paradigm and your information paradigm?
A: Do I explain away love by saying it’s psychological? No, magic is partially psychological, but of course it is, since it uses the mind and we’re psychological beings. It’s also metapsychological, because it affects the mind of the world. I’d say the largest difference between the information paradigm and the psychological paradigm is the fact that the information paradigm recognizes that magic has an effect on the world. In some ways, you could see the information paradigm, at least as I study it, as the psychological paradigm but looking at the mind of the world, not just the mind of the mage.
10. I’ve been using the information paradigm for years, and it looks nothing like what you describe in your book!
A: Excellent. Would you like to tell me about it in detail? My book is just my ideas about the information paradigm, and I’m thrilled to learn other people are using it, and that they have completely different approaches.
11. Could you trace out the history of these ideas a little more clearly?
A: Yes. I didn’t do so in my book because I felt it could bore the reader to dig through dozens of pages of footnotes. But some people have requested that I address some of the history of the ideas that I touch on my book. I’ll do so on a page on this website in the near future.
12. What religion are you?
A: I mostly worship as a pagan, but I feel that Buddhism has a lot of good ideas and consider myself a philosophic Buddhist. I’ve also prayed to Christ, Ganesha, and all manner of other gods. Having only one religion seems, to me, to be a failure of the imagination.
13. Are you trying to start a new “magical current?”
A: Nope. I’m not really qualified to do that, and I’m not even really sure what it means. For a while, it was popular to declare a new Aeon every week, it seemed, and start a new magical current every weekend. I think this tendency reached its peak in the 1980s, when a magical current was declared officially dead several months after it was started. At this point, I’m pretty much uninterested personally in aeonics as an approach to magic.
14. I liked your book, but I think you should have done X . . .
A: Thank you. I appreciate all suggestions. I fully intend to write another book (and another, and another, if the gods are willing and the publisher is accepting), so I hope I’ll have a chance to address some of the “want-to-see.” But on the other hand, I’m only qualified to write what I know and believe, so some things that people might want me to do, I just won’t. I sincerely hope that those people write their own books, because I like nothing better than reading other people’s ideas.
15. Are you going to write another book? What about?
A: Yes. Whether or not it sees print is not really up to me, but I’m working on a book. I’d rather not spill the beans at this point, because of course I don’t know how the writing process will go, and what I think the book will be about today may end up being something very different tomorrow.
16. I’m an atheist. Can I still learn magic?
A: Yes. Magic, contrary to history and expectation, doesn’t really require a particular religious affiliation. Obviously there are similarities to religion and magic, but I’ve known Christian magicians, Buddhist magicians, and, yes, even atheist magicians.
17. Will you teach me magic?
A: No, probably not. Not personally, anyway. I have occasionally taught people magic, who have asked and been willing to do the work, but it requires a commitment of time and energy on both our parts, and so I don’t agree to do it for everyone.
18. Some of your exercises are really simple. I read about them years ago. Can’t you give me something more advanced to do?
A: You read about them . . . or did them? If you haven’t done them, then they’re not all that simple, are they? If you did them, and you got results, then at this point you can make up your own exercises. Complexity in magic is like complexity in anything: it’s built up from the simple.
19. I read on one website that I need to have a double bladed athame, but all I’ve got is a single bladed hunting knife. Can I use that?
A: Whenever confronted with a bit of symbolism, ask yourself why it’s there and you’ll figure out your own answer from first principles. Why might a double-bladed athame have some symbolism that is important in ritual? Do you agree with that symbolism? How does using a single-bladed athame in ritual change it? By the way, my first athame was a single-bladed, huge hunting knife with a plastic handle. Let me tell you, trace a pentagram with that in the air, and the spirits noticed.
20. Would you like to be a guest speaker at my group or organization?
A: Sure. Contact me by email and we’ll arrange a fee and time.
21. I really don’t like what you say about science being irrelevant to magic. Can you defend your opinion?
A: A lot of people disagree with this stance. I don’t think science is completely irrelevant to magic, and I think it’s possible that someday science might find a way to investigate magic in some way. But I don’t think the scientific approach – which is materialistic and monistic – is the best way to approach something that isn’t materialistic in worldview. To apply science to magic requires adopting the assumptions inherent in the scientific paradigm, and those assumptions are pretty different from the ones one adopts in practicing magic . . . or painting a portrait or writing a poem or composing a song, for that matter.