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Magic, Experience, and Culture

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.paranormal.spells.hexes.magic,alt.witchcraft,alt.satanism,
From: nagasiva 
Subject: Magic, Experience, and Culture (was Willow, Magic, ...)
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2002 09:35:40 GMT

50020612 VII

sri catyananda :
> real introduction to magic came through my parents' 
> antiquarian bookstore, and through a book that had belonged 
> to my grandfather, which was about German culture and customs 
> and contained a lengthy chapter on folk-magic, with 
> reproductions of German editions of grimoires like 
> "Albertus Magnus' Egyptian Secrets," "The 6th and 7th Books of Moses,"
> and so forth, as well as samples of sigils and talismans, 
> astrological charts sold at country fairs, and even "the true 
> length of Christ," a folded paper with prayers on it. I was 
> fascinated and wanted to learn more. Then we bought a library that 
> contained all of Crowley's books and i was set to cataloguing them 
> ... well, that was pretty cool -- and then Doctor Strange comics 
> arrived on the scene. 
> I too do not live a life of fantasy, like the stories in Buffy or in
> comics, but i am not ashamed to say that popular culture got me started
> thinking about magic, and my own bent for research and fact-finding did
> the rest. I did decide on a career in comics, though, and that worked
> out quite well. 

games got me started in doing magic, from solitaire to card tricks to 
balls and cups and vanishing coins. I loved Blackstone (Jr.) and Houdini,
comic book listings and magic shops. performance patter was my obstacle,
and while felt potential in me, stage fright was more than I wished to 
bear. better a ritual performance amongst friends than telling jokes or 
doing card tricks amongst strangers. I sat and stood wrapt in awe of 
street-vendors selling magic card decks (the last I saw one in San Diego 
near the Comic-Con a few years ago, while Hare Krishnas tambourine'd by 
in gleeful abandon). 

spells didn't interest me when young because what I found was so often 
Grimm's fairy tale material, boiling sacrifices and body parts of 
animals I loved. it wasn't until I met sri catyananda that I had 
some real appreciation for spellcraft beyond contexts of fiction
and abstract, sketchy, archaeology. 

role-playing was the first I began to seriously think about the 
subject (because I did this when beginning my philosophic education
and magic was a direct challenge to my materialist conditioning).
the only meaningful significance it had for me as a child was 
psychic effects or superpowers. witches wiggled their noses and 
things happened, they pointed wands and things changed. sometimes, 
like Mary Poppins might, they may chant or sing. sometimes they 
recited poetry like MacBeth's witches who I read about with my 
classmates in high school. the best I could come up with was that
they performed a kind of psychological cure for maladies (abortion,
curing disease, exorcism or facilitating a communion of subjective 
psychic fragments through demon-summoning at the least).
"black magic" we considered like the bogeyman where I grew up, 
only children in grammar school believed in it. it's all tricks 
and mirrors and delusions. I could always fit it into some kind 
of simplistic explanation that coincided with the teaching at
school and the stuff on teevee.

this all changed when I discovered more powerful psychoactives
than sugar and "Magick in Theory and Practice", which severely
disappointed me (in part because I had such a difficult time
understanding it, how it fit into any kind philosophy of magic,
why its author was so peculiar and artful a writer, why I did not
like his text, how I would re-write it, construct my own manual of
this sort, etc.). I left the project for later and next picked up 
Ponce's "Game of Wizards", Zolar's "Encyclopedia of Forbidden 
Knowledge", and, a bit later, Cavendish's "Black Arts". these got 
me thinking more holistically about the subject of magic, how 
its mystical character is so pronounced in some cultures, what 
ceremonial magic has brought to the entirety, and later, how 
writing about the subject may severely skew a reader's approach 
to its practice. 

I've since understood there's a goodly divide between those who 
write academic texts about magic from the OUTSIDE and those who 
actually practice magic THEMSELVES. those who've taken routes of 
academic study that stayed in contact with me told me horror 
stories about ejection from credibility based on association with 
occult organizations and traditions. 

it is a sad state of affairs whose reflection in fictional works 
like "Harry Potter", in which we see parallel cultures operating 
side-by-side ('Muggles' and 'Magical Folks', on the order of the 
witch-clan -- cultural differences -- evident in such fiction as 
'Bewitched': where bloodlines and magical activity also appears 
largely coincident).

Buffy-magic seems to depend on the particular writer of the episode
whose interpretation is given to direction of the spell. sometimes
we've got Latin, sometimes Wicca or other Neopagan style, sometimes 
Demonolatry, and even Fantasia. this appears in many media contexts.
Catholic, Neopagan, and Middle-Eastern spirit-based magic appears 
very common in comic books like "Son of Satan" (where he instructs 
college students about "_esoteric concepts_ as forwarded by everyone 
from Dion Fortune to Aleister Crowley!" ["The Son of Satan, Vol. 1, 
#6, Marvel Comics Group, 1976; p. 3, panel 6. -- 333]; or when 
characters begin talking about people as "stars" in a Crowleyan 
sense) or "Doctor Strange", which fluctuates from pseudo-Tibetan
mysticism to New Age, Neopagan, and even quite Christian or Jewish
magical styles (All Praise Be to the Mighty Vishanti!).

whereas early role-playing was a fair initial attempt to taxonomize 
and utilize the global conceptual background of magical practice 
(using Tolkienian/Medieval backdrops and Greek and Roman as well 
as quasi-Christian -- often Chivalric/Arthurian -- religious 
environments), comic book and television magic seems to orient not
only to what may be sustained by the purchasing public, but largely
to the imagination and background of the contributing writers. 
the future of magic is better kindled in text by role-playing game 
writers and philosophers of magic who are practicing mages (e.g.
folks like my Knight of Salad Forks, Paul Hume, whose Cyberpunk
"Grimoire" was a classic and imaginative expression in this form). 

the writers of comics and the makers of fiction (especially 
television) are too inconsistent to form a coherent and 
contradiction-free picture of how magic is supposed to work, 
though there are many wonderful ideas and circumstances 
described by creative plot-designers and it is fun to try to
reason out the Buffy-verse, infer Bewitched-verse Laws and
Operating Principles, and consider the alternatives to the
bloodline receipt of psychic power or the elite guardians of
ancient mystic secrets whose cosmic influence and import are
quite often impossible to reconcile with the behaviour or
cosmic presuppositions in comparable stories featuring what
ostensibly the same character.

far more entertaininng and enriching in fiction are *novels* 
by classic writers like Le Guin, McKillip, and Hardy (in
their "Earthsea Trilogy", "Riddle-Master Series", and
"Master of Five Magics Series", respectively), or even such
wonderfully-instructive biographies such as of Merlin in 
Mary Stewart's series or his portrayal in T.H.White's "Once
and Future King". I have heard praise for "Lavender-Green
Magic" by Neopagans (Andre Norton, I think), but I have not 
yet read it.

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