Monthly Archives: August 2012

Reading Roundup: 16 August 2012

Is Obesity Actually a Taboo from a Magical Point of View? at Esoteric School of Shamanism and Magic Blog.

I sadly cannot find a link to the original post this referenced (it appears to have been deleted), but it argued that obesity is against pagan morals and values because it is harmful to the body and can kill you, and pagans shouldn’t die of preventable diseases. The reply is, apparently, more nuanced than the original, but trying to track down the reference to the “Navajo Beauty Way” led me down a curious and puzzling path of intersection between Native American traditions and their uses out of context by white Westerners. Still trying to get the pieces of this one together which rather distracted me from the original post. Another theme of the blog post, their “Rules of the Road”, seemed worth consideration with regards to ethics:

The magician judges the “goodness” or “badness” of his or her own acts, whether they are conscious or unconscious acts, on the basis of what the Universe reflects back on him or her. The same is true of judging others, entire communities, states, or nations.

How problematic this approach can be. It can be very comforting in some hands (who isn’t satisfied when somebody petty, selfish, & mean “gets it” when their own actions backfire on them?) and on the others it can lead to very strange, fallacious logic which blames victims for their own suffering (for example: “Voodoo is a violent belief system, that is why Haiti is poor & oppressed”, a sentiment really expressed to me this year).  But how are we to regard the ethics of our behavior, from where do we look for the sense that our ethical stances make sense? If we don’t believe in “Instant Karma”, how do we conceptualize “cosmic justice” that isn’t arbitrary, cruel, or more problematic than it is satisfying?

The Talmud’s Many Demons

A discussion of demons & the practical magic used to see them in Talmud. While the author is perturbed to see a belief in demons & the magic that unveils them (and the deeper theological implication in a belief in demons & spirits, which is at odds with his modern understanding of monotheism), the spell he includes is extremely interesting. In previous semester work I had difficulty tracking down references to Jewish magic, so this one delighted me.

 And there are magical ways of making demons show themselves. All you have to do is find a black female cat who is the firstborn daughter of a firstborn mother, burn her placenta to ashes, grind the ashes, and put some of them in your eye, and you will be able to see the demons. Be sure, however, to place the remainder of the ashes in a sealed iron tube, lest the demons steal it from you.

It show some markers of folk magic I would expect; the magical qualities of  black cat (as a black cat owner I’m gratified to see it doesn’t advocate harm to cats in any way!), the power of placentas to show things which would otherwise remain hidden,  the importance of birth order, and the power of fire to render things into usable form. I’m not sure I’d want to put something as unhygienic as placenta ash in my eyes, but perhaps this is why I don’t see demons…

The Kabbalah: Letter and Spirit (Visual Discourse)

In more links to Jewish studies, here is a beautiful group of historical images relating to themes of Jewish Kabbalah with some explanations, focusing mostly on its mystical and meditative qualities.

Art and Occultism (Visual Discourse)

By the same author, it is an interesting & eclectic offering of mostly (but not exclusively) 19th century occult ideas & their depictions in art.

Giordano Bruno’s Definition of Magic

An excerpt of definitions of magic. Quite interesting/useful. For my research I particularly like these two:

Second, ‘magician’ refers to someone who does wondrous things merely by manipulating active and passive powers, as occurs in chemistry, medicine and such fields; this is commonly called ‘natural magic’.

Fourth, magic refers to what happens as a result of the powers of attraction and repulsion between things, for example, the pushes, motions and attractions due to magnets and such things, when all these actions are due not to active and passive qualities but rather to the spirit or soul existing in things. This is called ‘natural magic’ in the proper sense.

This one might perhaps offend pagans of my acquaintance, but this kind of rhetoric used to be common:

The sixth sense adds to this the exhortation or invocation of the intelligences and external or higher forces by means of prayers, dedications, incensings, sacrifices, resolutions and ceremonies directed to the gods, demons and heroes. Sometimes, this is done for the purpose of contacting a spirit itself to become its vessel and instrument in order to appear wise, although this wisdom can be easily removed, together with the spirit, by means of a drug. This is the magic of the hopeless, who become the vessels of evil demons, which they seek through their notorious art. On the other hand, this is sometimes done to command and control lower demons with the authority of higher demonic spirits, by honouring and entreating the latter while restricting the former with oaths and petitions. This is transnatural or metaphysical magic and is properly called ‘theurgy’.

The astonishing 2,500 year old tattoos of a Siberian princess, and how they reveal little has changed in the way we decorate our bodies

The “Siberian Princess” found in the Russian permafrost has tattoos of animals significant in Siberian spiritual practices, including deer, and some of what she was buried with indicates she might be a healer or a spiritual leader. The tattoos themselves are beautiful, and the art forms surprised me with their similarity to medieval art found in Ireland. “Not much changes”, indeed.


“How magic survived the disenchantment of the world” Wouter J. Hanegraaff

“How magic survived the disenchantment of the world” Wouter J. Hanegraaff

Abstract: This article argues that the process described by Max Weber as the ‘disenchantment of the world’ iscompatible with the continued vitality of ‘the occult’ in contemporary western culture. Focusing on theexample of ‘hermetic’ magical traditions in western culture before and after the pivotal period of the Enlightenment, the article analyses the relation between continuity and change in the development of thesetraditions from three angles: their theories of magical efficacy, the nature of their practices and the ways inwhich magicians seek to legitimate magic to the wider society as well as to themselves. The discussion demonstrates that the transformation of magic under the impact of modernization and secularization resulted in the paradoxical phenomenon of a ‘disenchanted magic’. The article concludes by proposing a theory that explains why it is actually quite natural for magic to have survived the disenchantment of the world.

It took me a few days to get around to giving this my proper attention, but I really should have done it earlier. As a sociological exploration of how modern magicians think about the magic universe in a way that is consistent with their beliefs in a “scientific” as opposed to a “spiritual” universe, it’s rather on point to my research as to how modern communities of practitioners conceive themselves and their magic. For the researcher of modern magic, it neatly summarizes some of the dominant beliefs I’ve seen in discussing magic, what it is, how it works, and why it’s efficacious.

Beginning with Max Weber’s theory of disenchantment, Hanegraaff argues that the continuing influence of magic after the enlightenment illustrates not a blanket invalidating of Weber’s theory, but that magical theory and dialogue is so fundamentally changed by the theological changes of upper-class Western society known as “the disenchantment of the world” that magic after the enlightenment explains itself and justifies itself completely differently from its Renaissance roots, which were deeply oriented in a religious landscape. By defining “secularisation” as a process which changes how beliefs and rituals are understood to have deeper meaning, he argues for a fundamental post-enlightenment shift in thinking that impacts the worldview and theoretical basis of magic to make it more easily justifiable to modern magicians in a way that is different than the justifications applied to Renaissance magical texts and practices.

Renaissance magi appealed to “natural magic” and the orderly, created universe which was full of deliberate correspondences set down by God for the benefit of humanity. But modern magicians justify magical practice principally by psychologizing their beliefs and lumping the whole of them in as an “unknown science” which is partially pseudo-scientific, partially based on archetypal psychology, and partially related to belief in another kind of unseen reality in which things may be symbolically or fundamentally true in a way that is not literal. From this point of view, “magical techniques are actually psychological techniques intended to develop a mystical consciousness” (366). How this works is not particularly important, rather, what i important for occultists is “only that there is ‘some kind of subtle stuff’ which ‘somehow’ bridges the gap between mind and matter. The presupposition is that magic is ultimately based on the powers of the psyche: ‘it is the mind that works magic’.” (368)

Among the most relevant references for my own research was the very coherent way Hanegraaff articulated  the ‘magical plane’ theory of being the home or origin of magic.

Fundamental to the way occultists rationalize magic is their concept of a separate-but-connected ‘magical plane’ which exists on a different level of reality. On this plane the things of the imagination are believed to be as real as tables and chairs are real in our everyday world. Perhaps the easiest way to explain the magical use of the concept is by the analogy of a computer. The images on the screen may seem very real, but are the direct reflection of an underlying and more fundamental reality ultimately existing of digits and zeros: a parallel reality which remains invisible to the common user. Only the programmer is able to access this level and work with it; any changes he makes on that level are bound to be reflected in the reality on screen. It is not surprising that so many contemporary magicians also turn out to be computer enthusiasts, for magic is believed to work exactly along the same lines. The magician works on a parallel realityor a ‘subtle plane’ where the things of the imagination are real. Just like the computer specialist needs to learn a complex programming language with its own symbols and rules, the magician needs to learn a no less complex language of symbols and equivalences based on elaborate systems of correspondences. By mastering such a symbolic language, it becomes possible for the magician to manipulate the realities on the magical plane; and as a result of such activity things will change on the parallel level of the everyday world. It is hardly possible to overestimate the importance of this concept for understanding how magic is legitimated in a disenchanted world. Processes of secularisation and disenchantment inthe everyday world simply have no bearing on the magical plane, and hence do not have to affect the reality of magic. As observed by Luhrmann, the purpose of the concept of the magical plane ‘lies in keeping unhappy bedfellows apart’ (Luhrmann, 1989,p. 276). The other ‘bedfellow’ is precisely the disenchanted reality of everyday life. The dissipation of mystery in this world is compensated for by a separate magical world of the reified imagination, where the everyday rules of science and rationality do not apply. And Luhrmann correctly recognises that this is a new phenomenon in the history of western hermetic magic… (370)

The rest of Hanegraaff’s article is worth a read to see how he uses sociological theories of religion to explain what potential reasons magic users had to adapt the magical universe to a disenchanted world. Not so much on point for my work, as I’m not particularly interested in what theories might have to say about magical practice, but interesting. While secularisation and disenchantment as theories have limited usefulness in many contexts (especially my contexts), his critiques of those theories allowed him to offer up an interesting interpretation of changes in communities of magical thinkers.

Reading Roundup: 12 August 2012

Top 10 Crowley Myths which are Actually True

Crowley remains complicated, important, and influential in the research I do. I find the intersections of his sexuality and the sexual theology based off his esoteric work a complicated intersection. The magical community continues to think of itself in heterosexual and cis-gendered ways when one of its most influential founding writers would now be called bisexual. Crowley is a study of esotericism all to himself.

A New and Greater Pagan Cult: Gerald Gardner & Ordo Templi Orientis

Speaking of Crowley’s complicated relationship to early neopaganism, how about the influences of Ordo Templi Orientis rituals and conversations with Crowley on Pagan rituals on Gerald Gardner? It’s very obvious looking at their work that Gardner borrowed heavily from Crowley, but even this is circular and not as straightforward as saying Gardner “stole” his rituals from OTO, because of Gardner’s initiation into OTO and his conversations with Crowley about religion. And quite frankly, has a ritual ever existed without theft of some kind?

Repetitious, Time-Intensive Magical Rituals Considered More Effective, Study Shows

So, it turns out that the more complicated a ritual is, the more emotionally satisfying it is as a problem-solving tool. I think I’ll be referencing this study in my work as I try to understand what rituals have emotional salience to magic-users.


A collection of links, thoughts, essays, and miscellany about magic, esotericism, & ritual by Lev M. This blog is a part of masters studies at Goddard College.