Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Clarke's Fallacy

When I commented last week that I was going to have to discuss the intersection of peak oil and magic, I had a pretty fair idea what the immediate response would be, and that duly followed. Before the metaphorical ink on the post was dry, people were already popping up on the peak oil blogosphere to denounce in advance what they were sure I was going to say. For those of us who belong to the small community of people who study and practice magic, this is familiar ground; there’s a wry amusement in watching such antics, but no least trace of surprise.

Being an operative mage in the contemporary industrial world, really, resembles nothing so much as being an evolutionary biologist at a convention of Southern Baptists—or, for that matter, an educated theist at a meeting of the more intolerant sort of atheists. The great majority of the people around you know essentially nothing about the subject that concerns you, though they have an ample fund of misinformation culled from books and websites written and read exclusively by people who share their prejudices. They consider themselves qualified to judge the subject because they’ve lifted some canned polemics from these same books and websites, and if you show them that the canned polemics are riddled with ignorance, irrelevancies, and straw man arguments, they’ll just give you an irritated look and go right back to the canned polemics.

Those of my readers with a background in sociology will have no trouble recognizing this as a textbook case in the sociology of deviance—specifically, the way that human groups use seeming statements of fact the way baboons use bared teeth and threat postures, to stake out territory and drive off outsiders. As far as we know, baboons don’t try to use their territorial displays to make sense of their world, and this is to their credit. Human beings, alas, are not always so clever, and the resulting confusions play a massive though rarely recognized role in mangling communication in any complex society.

Try to talk about magic and this sort of mangled communication shows up early and often, as a recent and topical example shows clearly enough. About the time I started work on last week’s Archdruid Report post, The Oil Drum posted without comment this year’s most serenely idiotic statement about peak oil. The source was investment analyst Porter Stansberry; he was being interviewed about why peak oil isn’t a problem, and his reasoning ran as follows: "[G]eology doesn’t create oil; capital creates oil. The more capital you put toward oil, the more of it there will be." (You can read the whole interview here.)

Consider that statement for a good long moment. It’s not unique to Stansberry; the late Julian Simon used to make essentially the same claim, and you’ll hear it from quite a few economists these days. What Stansberry is saying is that if you have enough money to invest, geological limits to petroleum extraction don’t exist. Money, though, is a symbolic system consisting of abstract representations of wealth, and Stansberry is thus claiming that the manipulation of symbols wields occult powers that can override the laws of nature and conjure up petroleum from the depths of the Earth.

Most people would call this an example of magical thinking, and it corresponds very closely to the sort of thing people do in Harry Potter movies and other media portrayals of magic. It may be worth noting, though, that this is not what operative mages claim to be able to do. In point of fact, I’ve carried out a very modest survey over the last few years by presenting claims like Stansberry’s to the operative mages I know, and noting their responses. The typical reaction, edited for printability, is on the order of "You’ve got to be kidding. People actually believe that?"

What our society calls magical thinking, in other words, is not the kind of thinking that mages actually do, and the frequent denunciations of magical thinking flung at operative mages would be much more sensibly directed at economists. (I suppose there isn’t much hope of getting it renamed "economic thinking," though that’s a more accurate term.) This state of affairs unfolds from the very tangled history surrounding magic in the Western world, and is best understood via a thought experiment.

Imagine, then, that the cultural struggles of the late Renaissance that launched the scientific revolution and consigned magic to the crawlspaces of our society went the other way, and magic, rather than science, became the core cultural project of the modern world. You live in that alternate world, and one fine afternoon you step out of a bookstore on a street near the local university and head for the next stop on your list of errands, as carriages rattle over the cobblestones alongside you. It’s graduation day, and students in star-bedecked robes and tall pointed caps pass you on the sidewalk in droves. They’ve just completed degrees in astrology, alchemy, and other serious subjects; some will go on to graduate school, others to jobs—you overhear an excited young astrologer telling his friends that he’s just gotten a position at a brokerage, where he’ll be casting horoscopes to predict stock values.

You’re none too interested in the chatter, though, because you’ve just bought a bestselling novel that you’re dying to read—Harry Potter and the Scientist’s Stone. You already know half the plot, of course, since everybody’s been talking about it since it hit the bookstands. It’s about this orphan kid who’s stuck in this horrible home situation, but it turns out that his parents were actually scientists, and pretty soon a lab assistant comes and takes him away to the mysterious Warthogs Institute where everybody goes around wearing lab coats and muttering algebraic equations. There he gets to study science, which amounts to chanting chemical formulas and building big clanking machines to cause the changes in consciousness that ordinary people get done by magic.

In this alternate world, mind you, there are people who actually try to practice science—this despite the efforts of the Committee for Paranormal Investigation of Claims of the Scientific, whose members go around heaping disdain on anybody who claims to have experienced a repeatable cause and effect relationship. A lot of would-be scientists simply dress up in lab coats, fill their apartments with test tubes and similarly spooky decor, and leave popular books with titles like Secrets of the Physicists Revealed! on the coffee table to impress dates. Those who get beyond this sort of thing, as often as not, still have a great deal of Harry Potter mixed up with their science, and keep on trying to figure out how to make science do what magic does, with no significant success.

It’s only among the more experienced and serious practitioners in this alternate world that you find people who have realized that the difference between science and magic isn’t a difference of means but of ends—that science isn’t about causing changes in consciousness, as magic is, but about learning and then applying the properties of matter and energy on their own terms. In a society that embraces magic as its central cultural project, mind you, most people don’t see much value in this latter endeavor. The irony is that some of the most serious problems facing the alternate world can’t be solved by changes in consciousness. They could conceivably be solved by using the properties of matter and energy, but if you try telling people that, you’ll get an irritated look, and then a bunch of canned polemics.

Step back through the looking glass at this point, and you’ll find that the same situation applies once you reverse all the signs. Science, not magic, became the core cultural project of our civilization, and the things that science and technology can do—learning and applying the properties of matter and energy—are the things we consider important. Popular images of magic thus have it imitating science and technology in one way or another. The sort of fake magic you get ad nauseam in the Harry Potter franchise is as good an example as any; Harry and his classmates fly around on brooms, zap people with wands, and manipulate matter and energy directly, which is exactly what magic does not do.

The apotheosis of this sort of thinking is Arthur C. Clarke’s famous Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I mean no disrespect whatsoever to Clarke, who was among the best of SF authors; it’s hardly blameworthy that he shared misunderstandings of magic that were all but universal in his culture. The point remains that since magic does not do what technology does, and vice versa, the Third Law should properly be renamed Clarke’s Fallacy; no matter how advanced a technology may be, it does the kind of thing technologies do—that is to say, it manipulates matter and energy directly, which again is what magic does not do. I’d like to propose, in fact, an alternative rule, which I’ve modestly titled Greer’s Law: "Anyone who is unable to distinguish between magic and any technology, however advanced, doesn’t know much about magic."

To understand what it is that magic does do, it’s crucial to look at the specific purposes for which magic is used in practice. Since every human culture known to history has practiced magic, this isn’t exactly hard, and the purposes of magic have varied remarkably little over the centuries. Why do people turn to magic? To tilt the odds their way in hunting, gambling, war, and any other activity that combines high uncertainty with high stakes; to establish, improve, and shape the whole range of human relationships; to heal illnesses of body and mind; to integrate the personality and bring it into harmony with the structures of the cosmos, however those are understood; and, not least, to deal with the fact that other people are using magic for these same purposes, and not always with your best interests in mind.

What do these things all have in common? They all deal with mental phenomena, individual or collective. Grasp that, and you start to grasp what magic is all about.

Philosophers and psychologists down the centuries have tried to bring our attention to two important but generally neglected facts: we know more than we realize, and we affect more than we realize. Look at the human organism from an evolutionary standpoint and this isn’t hard to understand. Our rational, conscious, symbol-using minds are recent and rather rickety structures built over the top of a superbly adapted mammalian nervous system. The tangled relationship between the two shows up, for example, in the way that athletes have to learn to get their thinking minds out of the way in order to reach peak performance. It’s a dirty trick well known among tennis players to ask your opponent just how he holds his thumb when hitting backhand, knowing that the unwanted awareness will mess up his coordination and quite possibly cost him the game.

The same factors apply in most other aspects of human life. When two people fall in love, for example, their rational minds have little to do with the matter; the same nonrational, nonverbal patterns of mutual communication that handled pair bonding for our prehuman ancestors do the same thing for us, and as often as not our rational minds simply get hauled along for the ride, squawking and complaining all the way. Social status is determined the same way; read up on social hierarchies among baboons and then visit, say, an activist group trying to find consensus, and if you pay attention to body language and other nonverbal cues, you’ll quickly spot identical patterns at work. In my experience, at least, the more egalitarian a group claims to be, the more completely it depends on baboon politics to maintain group cohesion and direction—though if you mention that in such circles, you’ll get an irritated look followed by canned polemics.

I could list any number of other examples, but I trust my readers will have gotten the point: a great deal of what goes on in our lives depends not on our rational, linguistic, symbol-using minds, but on an intricate and richly communicative nonrational substructure inherited from our animal ancestors, most of which we never notice at all and much of which is highly resistant to any kind of conscious control. The main current of our industrial culture, which has made the rational mind central to its core cultural project and fixates on a particular mode of conscious control—more on that in a later post—has few resources to offer for dealing with that substructure, other than ignoring it, white-knuckling it, or drugging it into temporary submission. There are better tools to hand, though: the tools of magic.

Consider a healing spell, the sort of thing that shamans, sorcerers, and mages have practiced down through the centuries. Do these work? Quite often, yes, and the mechanism in many cases seems to be what today’s science calls the placebo effect. Today’s science treats the placebo effect as an obstacle to be gotten out of the way, and it’s right to do so. If you’re trying to find out the properties of matter and energy on their own terms, the placebo effect and its kin are major sources of confusion. You need to keep mental phenomena from bollixing up your perception of physical phenomena, or the results aren’t good. What’s an obstacle to the scientist, though, is the mage’s bread and butter.

The operative mage doesn’t want to get rid of the placebo effect. Quite the contrary, he or she wants to amplify it and use it, to direct the body’s healing resources toward a cure. That’s what the psychologically charged symbols, the ritual psychodrama, the emotionally evocative herbs and incenses, and all the other tools of operative magic are there to accomplish. Apply the same logic to the other purposes of magic mentioned above, and the same interpretation applies. We know more than we realize, and affect more than we realize; tapping into that unnoticed knowledge can lead to better choices, just as tapping into that unnoticed ability to affect situations can lead to better outcomes. These two taken together are what’s generally known as "luck."

But what about the spirits, planes, powers, and all the other metaphysical hardware that fills books on magical theory? Are those real? That’s a very good question with a very complex and uncertain answer. Anyone who takes up serious magical training will start to experience such things within a year or two of beginning daily practices; the effect is reliable enough that those of us who teach magic all know to expect the panicky phone call or email that comes right after each student has his or her first experience of the kind. The experiences we’re discussing are mental in nature, not physical; they have the appearance of real beings, places, and so on, but then the same thing is true of the people and places encountered in dreams.

There’s a lively and continuing debate among operative mages about the ontological status of these things—are they hallucinations? Dissociated complexes? Archetypes of the collective unconscious? Actual entities existing on a continuum perceived solely by the mind?—but so far, at least, it’s proven wretchedly hard to come up with a verifiable answer. The traditional lore offers useful guidance in how to deal with these experiences while maintaining a state of relative mental balance, and for the time being that’s about all that can be said for certain.

The debates over the nature of magical experience stray into some weird territory on occasion. Still, I’ve been studying and practicing this stuff for more than three decades, and in my experience, the only way an operative mage is going to get a broom to fly is to buy round trip airfare and take the broom as checked baggage. It really is that simple.

The same logic applies at least as forcefully to the intersection between magic and peak oil. Porter Stansberry can brandish the arcane symbols of the stock market and intone the ritual gibberish of economic textbooks all he wants; his incantations aren’t going to cause petroleum to materialize in the depleted reservoirs of America and the world. Chanting "Drill, baby, drill" may well put the chanters into a trance state—certainly the people who’ve made this their mantra seem to have achieved a blissful unconcern with the realities of petroleum geology—but that’s all it’s going to do. "The planes," to cite a magical maxim, "are discrete and not continuous," which means in ordinary language that petroleum reserves are one thing and daydreams quite another, and trying to insist that the former has to follow the same rules as the latter is a sucker’s game.

That being said, there’s another side to the story, because peak oil is not only, or even primarily, a problem of what magical philosophy generally calls the physical plane. The finite nature of petroleum and other fossil fuel reserves, and the very limited prospects for replacing fossil fuels with anything else, are a function of hard physical limits, of course, but the three decades of bad decisions that have backed America and the industrial world into a corner of their own making, and foreclosed any number of technically feasible responses to the impending end of the age of cheap energy, are not physical in nature. They belong to the plane of consciousness—to the realm of choices and worldviews, of the unrecognized motives and unacknowledged desires that run rampant through our civilization’s profoundly murky inner relationship with its technology and the energy sources that power the latter.

Over the last decade or so, quite a few people have tried to solve the technical issues of peak oil without grappling with, or even recognizing, the existence of this other dimension of our predicament, and the result has been a great many technically appealing solutions that sit gathering dust on the shelves. (Mention this to those who are busy coming up with new additions to the same dusty shelf and—well, you know what kind of look and response you’ll get.) The green wizardry of the Seventies, to its credit, went deeper, and attempted—with some success—to address these other issues: issues that could be called cultural, or psychological, or (let’s whisper the word) spiritual. To make sense of their explorations and build on them, though, we’re going to have to go a good deal further into the topic of magic, talk about the black hole in the history of Western philosophy, and—why not?—break out a bottle of Love Potion No. 9. We’ll do that next week.


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Degringolade said...

If you have the time and inclination, I would be curious as to your thoughts on Herr Doktor Leibniz' theories on monadology.

The ideas that you posit see to be not too disconnected with the now unpopular ideas (though Neal Stephenson did bring them back out on showcase for a brief time)

John Michael Greer said...

DeGringolade, it's been decades since I've read Liebniz -- yes, I know, a shocking lapse. I'll see what time permits.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Most interesting and provides much food for thought. It seems appropriate to have started reading Agrippa at this time--a serious project in itself; could take years.;) Looking forward to further development of your theme.

Don Mason said...

Re: Credibility of Porter Stansbury

Here's a link to a case involving the Securities and Exchange Commission's displeasure (ahem!) with certain statements Porter Stansbury has made in the past:

Cathy McGuire said...

A very intriguing start! As someone who has looked at many spiritual paths and arcane subjects but is also very attached to data, I have an open mind at this point. So far, your description of magic seems simlar to Jungian Active Imagination, and some practioners have gone so far as to give the images encountered there a "psychoid" dimension (meaning not real on this plane, but not just imagination). I am very leary of that New Age - "what you think you can manifest" ideology but I've read your posts long enough to know you don't believe The Secret or the other "imagine yourself into riches" stuff. I await the next week's post. :-)

Glenn said...


I'd suggest you'd get a better reception from intelligent materialists if you used a word besides magic. Unfortunately, I can't come up with one. I am one of those materialists (i.e. I tend to give most credence to those things provable by an _unbiased_ application of the scientific method.) So I am following your explanation and definition of what you are calling "magic" with great interest.

I am doing this because I have found your definition of "myth" very useful, and hope your definition of "magic" will be also.


Marrowstone Island

Zach said...

In my experience, at least, the more egalitarian a group claims to be, the more completely it depends on baboon politics to maintain group cohesion and direction—though if you mention that in such circles, you’ll get an irritated look followed by canned polemics.

This is wonderfully put (and I can confirm having had similar experience).


Shining Hector said...

So, that's magic, huh. The word you were afraid to use for so long. Changing consciousness. Coming to terms with the monkey brain. You know, I'm suddenly left with a mental image of you, with an occasional impish smile, quietly working your magic these past five years and not telling anyone. You have to meet people where they are if you really want to help them, though, so you did. Always be concrete. Don't give any whiff of loopiness. Never ever mention the M word.

Made a liar of me telling people, "Oh, but don't let the name of the blog fool you, there's no hocus-pocus" when there was all along. The title was indeed appropriate, not just a wink and nod to some quirky sideline that was properly compartmentalized away to allow serious discussion about Real Stuff in the Real World.

Funny how much baggage we all unknowingly saddle a word with, eh. The realization is somewhat anti-climactic and awe-inspiring at the same time. What one gets for preconceived notions, I suppose. Good stuff. Thanks.

Draft said...

Many ancient and modern cultures have integrated plant tools to the changing of consciousness and used them in divination. It seems that these tools - from mushrooms to cannabis to diviner's sage to cactus - help the mind shut down the 'reducing valve' (as Huxley put it).

Would it be fair to say that the closest experience to the magic you describe for an average person in the industrial world is the use of such plants for mental healing, meditation, etc.? Might this be a bridge that can help dispel some of the mythology about magic?

escapefromwisconsin said...

I've been curious about this post for a week. It seems we're in an issue of semantics here. What most people call "magic" I would term "conjuring." What you have termed "magic" I would call mysticism. Your descriptions of magic are very similar to the writings of oriental Scholar John Blofeld, specifically in his book "The Tantric Mysticism of Tibet," which I highly recommend. He makes the point that the seemingly "supernatural" elements of Tibetan religion are simply tools to manipulate consciousness toward a desired end - the attainment of enlightenment. Once the end is reached, the tools can be discarded.

I think you would very much enjoy this essay on the BBC Web site last week from John Gray, "Can religion tell us more than science?" A taste:

"We tend to assume that religion is a question of what we believe or don't believe. It's an assumption with a long history in western philosophy, which has been reinforced in recent years by the dull debate on atheism."

"In this view belonging to a religion involves accepting a set of beliefs, which are held before the mind and assessed in terms of the evidence that exists for and against them. Religion is then not fundamentally different from science, both seem like attempts to frame true beliefs about the world. That way of thinking tends to see science and religion as rivals, and it then becomes tempting to conclude that there's no longer any need for religion."

"This was the view presented by the Victorian anthropologist JG Frazer in his book The Golden Bough, a study of the myths of primitive peoples that is still in print. According to Frazer, human thought advances through a series of stages that culminate in science. Starting with magic and religion, which view the world simply as an extension of the human mind, we eventually reach the age of science in which we view the world as being ruled by universal laws."

"Frazer's account has been immensely influential. It lies behind the confident assertions of the new atheists, and for many people it's just commonsense. My own view is closer to that of the philosopher Wittgenstein, who commented that Frazer was much more savage than the savages he studied."

"I don't belong to any religion, but the idea that religion is a relic of primitive thinking strikes me as itself incredibly primitive."


Falling Universe said...

I know it is a little off topic, but your idea of magic makes me think of what Alan Moore talks about in his documentary "The Mindscape of Alan Moore". In my understanding he presents the idea of magic, via the way many writers use words, in a way that manipulates words. I don't know if I want to use "manipulate" but something of the like. Magic is one presentation, through writing, one can bring allusive and yet truthfulness to others.
I bring this up, because I find your use of words, and specifically "mage[s]" quiet interesting.

I wonder what do you think of the modern use of words in their application to bring about a certain interpretation? I am sorry if I am being either too general or off topic, but I merely wonder.

Thank you for taking my comment into consideration.

Zanshin said...

Superb, John Michael. Many thanks. Are you familiar with Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary? It's subtitled 'The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern World.' His thesis is that 'the left hemisphere has grabbed more than its fair share of power, resulting in a society where a rigid and bureaucratic obsession with structure, narrow self-interest and a mechanistic view of the world hold sway, at an enormous cost to human happiness and the world around us'.

Blindweb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

Enlightening, Archdruid. Science seeks solution to the problem of impending decline in available fossil fuel resources per capita. But magic can illuminate and exercise useful means for managing the predicament that the lack of scientific solution for that problem presents. So spell of our thrall to science with magic could provide purchase to escape the mire, even at this late hour.

John Michael Greer said...

Adrian, if studying Agrippa takes less than years, it's not being done seriously enough! Good for you. His definition of magic, by the way, is well worth reflection.

Don, yes, well, there's that. The embarrassing thing being that nobody's going to charge him with fraud (or, say, witchcraft) for insisting that money can conjure oil out of thin air.

Cathy, the more experiential end of the Jungian movement -- among whom, of course, Jung has a solid place -- is within hailing distance of my take on things, at least in some ways. As for The Secret , I probably need to discuss that twaddle sometime soon, too.

Glenn, thanks for keeping an open mind! There really isn't another word, and euphemisms don't help communication -- I figure it's a better plan to simply try to explain, and hope that at least a few people listen.

Zach, thanks for the vote of confidence!

Hector, good. You get tonight's gold star for catching on. "Causing change in consciousness in accordance with will," after all, is what this blog has been trying to do since day one.

Draft, actually, no. Basic to magic is the training of the will and the imagination; the odd experiences that come up now and again are side effects, and students of magic are normally well advised to ignore them and get on with the work. Drug use isn't helpful in that work, and I don't see how it's particularly helpful to those who aren't doing the work, either.

Escape, now there's a name I haven't heard in a while! Blofeld's writings on Taoism were a signficant influence on my thinking back a few years, and yes, what he was talking about has quite a bit of overlap with magic as I know and practice it. As for the John Gray essay, I saw that, and found it delightful -- good to see someone else pointing out that spiritual praxis, not having the right opinions, can be usefully regarded as the core of a valid spirituality.

John Michael Greer said...

Universe, I'd like to offer a bit from a knowledge lecture I studied back in my original training: "The true magician must understand his tools and, in periods of silence, must contemplate words as one of them."

Zanshin, I haven't read it, no. As I recall, brain science has gone a good deal past the relatively simplistic "right brain-left brain" division that got so much publicity a while back, so the thesis as you've described it may be a bit oversimplified; still, I'll take a look as time permits.

Blindweb, well, if it works for you, that's great. The Tao embodies many paths.

Lloyd, you're getting there. Good.

Draft said...

I see. So is magic as you describe it unrelated to the spiritual healing and divination practiced by the Mazatecs (with diviner's sage as an aid) or Indians and Tibetans (with cannabis as an aid)? In these instances I'm referring to those who have trained their minds already - i.e. not using the substances recreationally.

Just trying to understand what is part of magic across cultures / practice / time and what is specific to your form of magic.

Tony said...

Honest question here: would you say that in the majority of societies, people in general have seen ritual magic as a way to affect the mind and in turn change one's interaction with the external world, or have they unknowingly used it as such while thinking they were directly affecting the world? The end result might be the same, or the latter option could provide less discrimination about when it was useful and when it wasn't...

What of the idea of one of the fruits of the enlightenment being a stronger ability to make that sort of distinction in the first place? Though come to think of it, trying to directly affect the world with efforts that can only affect the mind seems to be a description of the unsuccessful attempts of economists and their ilk to make the world behave according to their models and the like, so I guess it might not exactly be one of the main results.

On the topic of mental influences to health, I just yesterday attended an absolutely incredible talk here at grad school that is related and I thought would be of interest... A visiting researcher presented basically his life's work, studying the immune system for more than 20 years. His latest work, just being published, found a direct connection between the brain and the immune system which regulates the whole body's level of inflammation and the general strength of immune responses.

Turns out that there is a direct connection via a nerve to your spleen that actually connects to immune system cells inside it with what look for all the world like synapses, and those cells then carry the signal to other immune cells that circulate throughout the body with chemicals that are usually only found in nerves. That one nerve winds up regulating about 75% of the signals responsible for causing inflammation and other whole-body reactions. What's more, the nerve is connected to bits of your brain that regulate other body functions like heart rate and blood pressure with mood and are strongly affected by behavior/thought/meditation/exercise etc, and he found that the nerve is suspiciously quiet in people with arthritis and lupus and other inflammation-based diseases. Physically messing with it in mice could even slow or accelerate the course of genetic arthritis by a factor of two. It's almost certainly not the only such circuit around. The causal connections between our brains/minds and the rest of our body are quite real, and not to be underestimated.

Rich_P said...

The worst part is that many economists really believe they're not magicians by another name. Their economic models are afforded a false sense of rigor and validity because they employ the same sort of mathematical techniques that physical scientists use to understand the world (e.g., differential calculus). In the words of Feynman, it's a cargo cult science. I don't care how elegant or complicated the equations are: if they're based on lousy assumptions, or are divorced from the physical laws of the world they claim to model, they're useless.

Now I wouldn't bother typing this if neoclassical economists were a marginal group like, say, the Wiccans. However, they hold positions of great power and influence in our society, and that makes their ideas dangerous. That is why the sensible folks among us must take every opportunity to point out that the emperor has no clothes; the sooner their ideas are utterly discredited (Nature will ultimately see to that), the quicker we can get to work.

Mister Roboto said...

Didn't you skewer the canned New Age theology of The Secret in a post of about four years ago?

sofistek said...

This is the second post that I recall your writing regarding the difference between the popular meaning of magic and what you consider the real meaning. You've also done something similar regarding the meaning of "myth". I'm not sure of the usefulness. If most people use one meaning then I doubt you'll be able to convince them to think of your meaning, when the word is encountered outside of this blog.

I like escapefromwisconsin's idea of using another word but "mysticism" is definitely not it.

John Michael Greer said...

Draft, you didn't ask about trained specialists in indigenous cultures; you asked about the average person. I wouldn't presume to tell the Mazatecs and Tibetans what to do, but the average American who dabbles in fashionable drugs is not going to get the same results, you know.

Tony, one of the fruits of the Enlightenment is a pervasive confusion that treats "the outer world" and "the world of matter and energy" as identical terms, when they're not. For the vast majority of people, for example, human relationships define a very large part of their outer world, and human relationships can be profoundly affected by magic. As for the nerve in the spleen, that's utterly fascinating! That would explain a great deal of healing magic, just to start with.

Rich, exactly. The fact that they use advanced mathematics doesn't mean that their figures have anything at all to do with the real world. Physics is a solid science because physicists started out by observing reality, and only turned to mathematical models after they'd gotten a good handle on what actually happens. Economists need to do the same thing.

Robin Datta said...

Thank you, Archdruid for a superb and much needed post. I had been trying to grapple with some ideas along these lines, as subliminally invoked in the TED Talks video

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

John Michael Greer said...

Mister R, that wouldn't surprise me -- I've written more than 250 of theee posts, you know!

Sofistek, words get repurposed all the time. "Magic" and "myth" have the popular meanings they do because they were repurposed centuries ago to mean something they hadn't meant before. I see no reason not to take the same tack, not least because the meaning of the word "magic" I've suggested here is the meaning used by people who actually practice it.

John Michael Greer said...

Robin, you're welocme!

team10tim said...

Dear Mr. The Archdruid Sir,

With all due respect I think that you have made a tactical error. The word 'magic' doesn't mean what you think it means. The problem is that language is a consensus based operation but there is not a definitive authority in charge of regulating that consensus. You, yourself, raised this semantic issue in the The Twilight of the Machine post over the term efficiency.

The problem is that regular lay folk have an understanding of the word 'efficiency' that is at odds with the economists use of the term. Here is the passage from your post:

It’s a credo of contemporary economics that HAL is more efficient than Rosie; since the term “efficiency” in contemporary economic parlance means “labor efficiency,” or in other words how much production you can get per worker, any machine is by definition more efficient than human labor. In a world of resource constraints, though, this definition of efficiency becomes very hard to justify.

Now we were all with you on this because the common use of efficiency was at odds with the particular use that economists had attached to it. But, in today's post you are asking us to do the opposite; you are asking us to ignore the common use of the word 'magic' and adopt your industry specific jargon.

So, back to the title of the post, referring to Clarke's Third Law as 'Clarke's Fallacy' is a tactical error because Clarke 'owns' the word the word magic against your wishes in exactly the same way that you own efficiency against the economists wishes.


Robo said...

So, if science is the language of what happens beyond our minds and magic speaks of what happens within, then every person who is able in any way to recognize and express their own inner mystery is a kind of magician. A mage is simply more practiced at it than most.

Of course, there's good magic and there's evil magic. The human struggle is to achieve and maintain a rough balance between the two. In your reading of history, how often has such a balance happened on a societal level?

These days it seems like an invisible thumb is pressing down on the evil side of the scales most of the time. We might want to consider who or what is exerting that pressure, and why.

tOM said...

Magic = patterns of thinking.... um.

Alas, there are so many varieties of magic/religion that all disagree. Science's contradictions are small diminish with more evidence and understanding - but magi/eligion?

Relying on magic is like landing on a rock in the middle of the ocean after a shipwreck. There are many rocks, all different, all with different viewpoints, all separated.

There are mystic experiences. I see them as having the clouds taken away so we can see the truth. The truth is that we are all struggling animals, with all the pushes of hormones, desires, wishes, injuries, memories, and more, from the beginnings of life, from the beginnings of matter and energy.

Mag/ligion may plot a route through life for a person, but for a civilisation?

Ma/igion raises too many imaginary walls. M/gion builds too many imaginary bridges.

M/ion is a crutch, a wheelchair, necessary sometimes, but an impediment when you start to run.

Stan Gardeys said...

Alright, Mr. Archdruid, you have managed to talk openly and confidently about magic to a man of science, and you haven't put him off. That's no mean feat, you know. He's still listening. I digress; Said man of science is also honest enough with himself to admit to noticing various anomalies with reality, some things going on that are not "scientific," but which warrant attention anyway. Man of science in question would like more information about magic as you speak of it, and would appreciate some titles and authors of books about the subject.

Oh, and there is a Zen word for the odd experiences you mentioned during the first bit of magical practice: It is Makyo. And there are a stories about it. One is: the student has horrible visions of devils and hell, and goes to the master, quite disturbed by all this, and the master's response is "Let it go." A little later, the student has wonderful experience of the great nature of the mind, and celestial singing and whatnot. He goes to the master, excited about this breakthrough, and the master says, "Let it go."

Another story is a hoary old chestnut, but it involves the student experiencing an amazingly powerful thing, and getting The Answer. He tells the master about it, and the master vexes the student by telling him that the student's experience is totally normal, and common. The master Really disturbs the student when he says that experience is a barrier to further development, and that if you meet the Buddha on the road, Kill him.

Yes, I practice Zen. Yes, I've rambled. To sum up: Useful word: Makyo. And would like titles and authors of useful books on magic, please & Thank you.

. josé . said...

However late I get home on Wednesdays, these days, I can't go to sleep without first reading the Report, and the initial comments.

I don't have much to add, except to note that the clarity of your explanations are always worth reading thoughtfully, even when I already know and agree with what you will be saying. (As, for example, in your discussions of peak stuff and humanity's limits.)

When you are actually challenging me to rethink and re-evaluate my long-held prejudices, however, your writing becomes (to me) much more transformative.

I'm currently rushing through your Druidry Handbook, because I decided somewhere near the beginning that I would start at the equinox (now just days away). I still hope to read all three paths before then.

But if I fail, I'll just have to start with the Earth path. Your discussion of "ritual" in the book resonated deeply with the kinds of repetition and focus that I've found so valuable recently. Today's discussion of "magic" seems to complement it very well.

Thank you!

Lance Michael Foster said...

By the standards of dogmatic materialists who believe magic is not "real" because it is a mental construct/phenomenon, then by the same standards, pretty much all of our culture is not "real," from the cult of celebrity to the cult of credit cards.

However unreal those mental cults might be (depending on your definition of "real"), because they are mental/sociocultural constructs, they certainly have real effects, witness the decline and degradation of the environment based on the energy use drawn from the environment by those phenomena...and so they are real enough.

And by those standards, that something which on its own may or may not be materially "real", is real enough if it has real effects on the material universe...then magic too is real.

Many have already talked about marketing and consumerism, and many other things in our culture, as essentially magical endeavors (influencing and control of the will of others).

Certainly as you state, JMG, "other people are using magic for these same purposes, and not always with your best interests in mind." Or the best interests of most people and our common weal. One way to utilize magic as an individual against undue influence is in the sort of psychic self-defense espoused by Dion Fortune and others.

But it also seems to me there is opportunity for loose collective action on a larger scale to use magic (aka irrational processes...and I mean irrational in a positive sense :-) subrational, nonrational, etc.) in a positive way to defend our collective existence and common weal as human beings against those negative efforts by other human beings and institutions.

. josé . said...

You may not wish to post my previous comment. I went back to the book to finish the chapter, and realized, of course, that the chapter I was reading was the Sun path - hence the reference to rituals. I had already decided that the Earth path would be either too easy for the first year (I'm already doing most of your instructions, including the meditation) or too hard (the ones that remain are the ones that would be very difficult to do before some more radical lifestyle changes).

My other comments, of course, remain.

William Hunter Duncan said...


I am not accustomed to laughing when I read your posts. I have not laughed like that in a long time. Just what I needed. Thank you. You are more a magician than any man I know.


Tommy said...


Very interesting post,as usual. It seems to me that the definition of magic that you've outlined has more than a little in common with the Buddhist view of the mind.

Central in this view, as far as I've understood, is the existence of a "pure" awareness which is separate from, or independent of, the thinking mind. Meditation is then the skillful means to get to know this more fundamental, unconditioned part of our nature.

I'd be interested in hearing how you view the relationship between magic and the Buddhist tradition.

Red Neck Girl said...

Your description of magic sounds somewhat like a book I got a good 15 or 20 years ago called PragMagic by Marilyn Ferguson, this happens to be the updated version and it's selected and compiled from the Brain/Mind Bulletin. It seems to cover quite a lot of what you're describing as Magic.

The blurb reads: Pragmatic magic for everyday living. Ten years of scientific breakthroughs, exciting ideas and personal experiments that can profoundly change your life. Copyright 1990. Its chapters cover everything from the senses to emotions, psychology, relationships, physical health, out of body experiences and a whole lot more!

I must admit I haven't given it as much attention as I should have. I really need to cultivate a habit of meditation.

Should I assume this is an acceptable secular version of a modern, green wizard's grimore? At least partially anyway!

Wadulisi Tsalagi

andrewbwatt said...


I try having this conversation all the time. Thank you.

greatblue said...

So tell me if I have this right: any attempt at persuasion is a magical act? Essay writing? Satire? Sermonizing? Advertising?

The Unlikely Mage said...

First off, thank you Archdruid for the gentle scolding you gave me last week. It's given me a lot to think about!

This post has given me a lot of food for thought as well. For a long time I never liked "causing change in consciousness in accordance with will" as a definition of magic. It smacked of trying to put magic into a reductionist box of psychological tricks and robbed it of its majesty. I fall pretty firmly into the "actual entities existing on a continuum perceived solely by the mind" camp of spirit interaction, and the psychological model of magic never satisfactorally presented a mechanism to me of how magic can affect other people at a distance, even with Jung's theories. The more I practice magic and talk with other mages, the more I'm starting to change my mind about consciousness. In the end, from my perspective, the mechanism doesn't matter so much as long as the eventual effect comes out the way you want. I want to equate consciousness with the idea of spiritus, as in the traditional animus/spiritus/corpus model, but I'm unsure if that's too narrow of a definition.

Looking forward to future essays!

hadashi said...

This post compels me to take a break from the science fiction short story I'm going to submit mixing peak oil, collapse of empire and . . . philately. This response also comes before reading a single comment(though I will definitely read them all). JMG, I'm glad that you've taken the plunge (or is it closets that mages come out of?). I feel that I've truly arrived home.

For my entire life, I've felt very uncomfortable living in the society into which I was born. I've never understood people's thinking, and why no one seemed to share my burning urge to explore consciousness in relation to reality - whatever that turned out to be.

Whenever I tried to address matters that I felt were important, I would get "an irritated look, and then a bunch of canned polemics" (what a powerful phrase to have in one's arsenal).

My interest wasn't only academic, in fact not even partly. I always been good at Science and Maths, but I mistrust that application of the brain. No, I knew that I needed to look into consciousness for sake of personal balance and integrity (I took up Transcendental Meditation at the age of 15 in search of that end).

So for me, I can assure you, the current content has not put me off. It's more a case of 'where do I sign up?'

Lead on, McDuff!

Cherokee Organics said...


I read the link to the interview with Stansberry and noted that he also did not understand that oil is required to both mine and transport natural gas. The two products are not easily interchangeable.

What a difficult topic to open a dialogue about, much respect to you.

For what its worth your post inflicted a sense of sadness on me, and I'll try my best to explain.

Your wikipedia entry notes that you are "one of 21st Century America's most noted occultists. He is also an organic gardener" (I approve of the second bit about organic gardening as well!). In dialogue with you this is never far from my mind and I consider it both an honour and a privilege to be able to communicate directly with you.

I haven't lived as long as you, but during this time I've had interactions of one sort or another for varying periods of time with sociopaths / narcissists. Very unpleasant people.

So, realising that something was deficient in myself, I began learning about all sorts of things so as to avoid these types in the future.

Learning, however requires an open mind, it can take you on unexpected journeys and the end product can mean a change in your belief systems. It can also come from the most unlikely sources. It also never finishes as there is no end point unless you choose a line in the sand. The breadth of knowledge that is available exceeds any one individual by a big margin.

It took me quite a while to accept that people can be manipulated or have their belief systems altered at the whim of others - some of who were naturals whilst others weren't. Yet once I accepted it, and learned some of the methods, I could see it literally going on all over the place.

Marketing, relationships, economic and political announcements - they are covered in it. Our society stinks of it.

Oil is just another example. How anyone could think that a non renewable resource that is mined out of the ground can continue to be mined and used without thought for the future is beyond me. Yet, the thought persists that it will go on forever and you can thumb your nose at anyone who dares speaks differently. A scary thought.

So, I find myself on an organic farm in the middle of nowhere important, focused on producing an increasing quantity and diversity of fruit and vegetables on a long term sustainable basis wondering at what point others will see the delusion for what it is. Who knows what will happen then, they surely wont be happy though. All I know is some of them, the ones that make the choice to not hold on too tightly will need guidance of some sort.



Jason Heppenstall said...

Thank you JMG, for showing us the gap between the curtains of the material and the metaphysical.

I look forward to learning more about this but in the meantime here is my (somewhat late and not fully edited) contribution to the SciFi story collection for your consideration.

The Amnesiac

Zach said...

re: Hector's observation -- I've suspected this about your blog for some time now. :)

re: Clarke's Law -- I wonder. Yes, it all depends on what one means by "magic." Still, if "magic" has the common meaning of "using arcane knowledge and symbols to cause matter and energy to rearrange in ways mysterious to non-initiates," then Clarke is right.

This isn't a completely formed thought, but I do find it interesting that in the computer world (which is all about manipulation of arcane symbols to induce real-world effects), we can very naturally fall into the language of wizardry and magic. (Why else are Unix experts called "gurus", who manipulate "daemons", etc.?) Possibly, it's because we're all nerds who immersed ourselves in Tolkien, Clarke, and Dungeons and Dragons before taking up "real" work, and so this language and imagery naturally bubbles up. But still, I wonder if there isn't a deeper correspondence.

Oh, and I love the notion of prosecuting economists for practicing witchcraft! Sadly, the harm done to their neighbors by these incantations is far, far greater than causing a cow's milk to sour.


ChemEng said...

Regarding the Harry Potter books I very much enjoy reading them, but I have never regarded them as being about magic. In their world they simply operate to a different set of rules about the world of matter and energy. For example the physics to do with broomstick flying is as tightly defined as the physics to do with say riding a bicycle in our world.

The books are good because of the gripping story lines, the excellent handling of normal themes (such as the conflict between good and evil, and the loneliness of childhood), the strong characterization, and the gentle use of irony (degnoming the garden is an example).

I really appreciate your sentence:

'Chanting "Drill, baby, drill" may well put the chanters into a trance state—certainly the people who’ve made this their mantra seem to have achieved a blissful unconcern with the realities of petroleum geology—but that’s all it’s going to do.'

I am in the offshore energy business, and I observe the same sort of statement being made by highly experienced professionals all the time. They maintain that, if the price of oil is high enough, we will always find more of it.

Texas_Engineer said...

Fantastic JMG - you have me hooked. I do not pretend to completely understand what you mean by "magic" until you explain it more.

But I am intrigued by what you have said so far. What has me hooked is your illusions to the fact that the hard sciences simply do not answer all the important questions. I have always been impressed with Fritz Schumacher's explanation of that notion. He makes that point very well by explaining how things like physics are always focused on reducing problems to their simplest form by eliminating almost all variables from experiments so that you are only studying one variable at a time. It is a powerful technique. The problem though, as he points out, is that almost all of the real problems of the world are on a completely different plane - and we cannot apply scientific thinking to them.

Even a lifelong scientist and engineer like me came to that realization as I grew older and hopefully wiser.

Looking forward to future posts.

ando said...

There is not enough of that magic in the world, sir. Well done.


Odin's Raven said...

Here's some more little stories of Future History for your competition.
(There's even some mention of changed consciousness and attitudes to oil.)

Bill Pulliam said...

Draft -- I'd say that the use of chemicals (herbs, synthetic, etc.) to alter your consciousness is only an effective tool of magic if you are already skilled at accomplishing magic without them. You may notice that traditional uses of these things are usually tied to a whole ritual, and a whole cultural belief structure, not just sitting around the trailer park, popping some shrooms in your mouth, and gawking at what happens. You won't learn to drive by riding in someone else's backseat and staring out the window.

Bill Pulliam said...

Rich & JMG -- if you want to see what can happen to theoreticians left alone with their equations in the absence of checks and balances from real world data, check out what has happened in modern Physics in recent decades with String Theory, M-Theory, etc. The field has become totally entranced with mathematical structures and equations that they have no means to actually solve, which they seem to believe somehow must represent reality just because they are so nifty. It makes a tome on interpretation of astrological aspects look like rigorous hard science in comparison!

South Florida said...

It is not immediately clear why activities such as war, hunting, gambling, and the like count as mental phenomena for the practitioner of magic. Clearly, these are physical activities per se, and favorable versus unfavorable outcomes depend on differences in physical causal chains.

So does the attempt to exert control over these kinds of activities via the techniques of magic not amount precisely to the attempt to marshall occult powers of the mind in the service of manipulating the physical world?

theteemingbrain said...

This is really excellent. Thank you for the clearly articulated thoughts, John. Maybe it's only because I tend to seek out such things, but it seems to me that awareness of the nature of magic as you explain it here -- in other words, of the nature of magic as it has always really been, despite the plethora of misreadings and misunderstandings -- is currently spreading in modern corporate-technocratic society. A function of the Internet combined with certain seriously influential pop cultural trends and figures, maybe (such as the continued broadcasting of these ideas and clarifications to a mass audience by the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison).

I'm particularly interested to see how such things "play" among the peak oil crowd, which is why I'm so fascinated, but not surprised, to see you tackling the matter here. When Kunstler brought a bit of magic into World Made by Hand and The Witch of Hebron, a lot of readers, especially those who reviewed the books in "high" places, didn't know what to make of it. But the intersection of such things, such themes, seems a patently obvious and mythically inevitable development to me, especially since, as Kunstler pointed out in an interview that I read someplace or other, when the external structures of industrial-technological society begin to falter and crumble, the corresponding psychological structures will be similarly affected, and older (ancient) psychic ways of being that they obscured and supplanted for centuries may well come to the fore.

Regarding the ontological status of the entities and forces encountered in magical work, don't be surprised if I quote you in a series of articles that I've been publishing at my Demon Muse blog about the question of whether the muse / daimon / genius of creative artists is "really real" or just a function of the unconscious mind in the modern biological materialist sense. I've already brought the respective persons and experiences of Aleister Crowley, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Stan Gooch, and Rick Strassman into the mix, and your words and insights will certainly mesh well with them.

Tony said...

@ JMG -Point well taken, regarding human relationships as a part of the external world distinct in flavor from interactions with the nonhuman physical world.

Perhaps I can rephrase my first question thusly: would you say that people trying to use magical methods to deal with hard physical problems they are not useful for is something relatively new, or is the phenomenon of the modern economist/politician/etc just the latest in a long line of varied incarnations of the same error?

idiotgrrl said...

"Any sufficiently advanced psychology is indistinguishable from magic?"

South Florida said...

And another point, if I may: The similiarities in your comparison of the trance-like state associated with economists' Peak Oil-related "incantations" and the dream-like mental states associated with the practice of magic break down in that economists do not customarily report experiencing spirits, astral planes, and the like.

That is a very important difference in the two sorts of experiences being compared, it seems to me. Though the economists' "incantations" are rooted in wild mental fantasies, they are, nevertheless, nothing more than wild mental fantasies. By contrast, it seems from what you say that magic may involve actual realities that go far beyond the mental life of the individual practitioner.

Indeed, it may make all the difference in the world if the beings one encounters in magic are in fact real, and not mere figments of the mind. The agnosticism you and other practitioners of magic profess in this regard strikes me as potentially very dangerous: What if the spirits whom you encounter are not only real, but also profoundly deceptive and ultimately malignant?

Whatever else may be said of the economists' brand of magical thinking, these are not the sorts of issues that they need to be concerned about.

Evan said...

I have been aware for some time reading this blog that magick is at work here, but I have taken it as good medicine. The weekly posts that have given me over towards considerations of, say, the very practical nature of thermodynamics in the daily rounds of my life. I know I wouldn't be sewing up thermal drapes if it weren't for the magick practiced through this medium.

My sense of magick arises in part from the work of David Abram, who being a sleight-of-hand magician and philosopher has written a wonderful book on the nature of language and perception called The Spell of the Sensuous. His argument concerning language and particularly writing is fascinating. I consider that we don't often notice language as magick in the way that folks in prior civilizations did where literacy was not near universal and those who had the power of inscription could wield quite some power.

In thinking of economists, I tend to think of them as part of the priest-magician caste of modern society who maintain the spell of industrial civilization. I remember reading Tainter how he mentions towards the end of one of the civilizations that in the midst of a famine the society gave more attention to magickal intervention rather than actually farming.

Perhaps I'm not using magick in the same precise sense in which you are here, but to me the economists & technologists are also practicing magick. However, like in the aforementioned example, these practices are no longer rooted in anything physical which means it is not long before its power suddenly disappears.

To me this is critical, because one of the major stories of our time is that there is a difference between "mind" and "body." But these are one, and when magick becomes only a process of "mind" it quickly spins off into useless oblivion.

sekenre said...

@JMG Awesome article! I was worried you might start losing some of your audience, but I think this will only strengthen your position.

@Tony that is an amazing idea! Can you remember the name of the researcher?

I did a bit of googling and found the following article (PDF):

Splenic nerve is required for cholinergic
antiinflammatory pathway control
of TNF in endotoxemia

ahimsa said...

Always a pleasure to read this well written blog where understandings of the complimentary practices of magic and science peacefully co-exist.

@escapefromwisconsin, thank you for the link to John Gray's wonderful article, I had recently grown so weary of mutually exclusive arguments from fundamentalist atheists and theists(though I have to chuckle at their mutual insistence they are nothing alike).

Whenever someone expresses interest in the topic of peak-oil or industrial society I always send them here,for holistic analysis grounded in praxis!

-thank you

Mister Roboto said...

I specifically recall that post of four years ago because I had a lot to say about it, having gone through a New Age phase myself with the theology of A Course In Miracles. In my comments of all those years ago, I criticized the tenets of ACIM fairly roundly, so I believe I should use this opportunity to state what I got from it that was worthwhile and lasting. From it I learned that living from your ego is usually going to be a very serious impediment to wisdom and maturity, and to live fully, one must necessarily embrace a greater sense of self that comes from our spirit. I'm guessing that the proper study of magic also teaches its students that very same lesson, though like many fundamentalist theologies, ACIM is very anti-magic. ("All magic is an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.") But considering that fundamentalist theologies tend to attract people with rather serious neurotic emotional problems {cough}Marianne Williamson{cough}, the command to avoid the practice of magic is probably sound advice for such folk.

Maria said...

I can't remember the last time I laughed so much while learning so much in a few short paragraphs.

Robert Magill said...

I'm unable to log on to Green Wizard sites. Tried repeatedly with no luck.
Are we having troll nasty work or...
Any info?

Draft said...

JMG - I see what you mean. Well, you're not alone in that viewpoint. María Sabina, the first Mazatec Shaman to speak with the outside world, talked about how the use of sacred Psilocybe mushrooms had lost their effect when used by others for pleasure rather than for their sacred purpose.

Yupped said...

Well, I'm hooked on this new series of posts. Looking forward to them. This is such a minefield, though. Misinterpretation, willful or otherwise, will abound. We should all take a deep breath every paragraph or so. Good luck!

GHung said...

I was following the conversation over at TOD this weekend regarding last week's post, a bit frustrating because most commentors automatically assumed the Harry Potter concept of what Magic is, not surprising considering the 'secular' nature of the site. Even some of the contributors whom I consider more enlightened were excusing the Archdruid's more eccentric side. My only comment during the thread:

Funny, I too 'wish' that folks would spend their decision making energies more pragmatically, but, considering human history and the role that magical thinking has played to this point in forming and driving societies and 'progress', to think that humans will change is, in itself, stretching magical thinking about as far as you can. You may as well run around and wave some anti-magical-thinking magic wand.

The problem with the pragmatists who, rightfully IMO, want to move humankind into a more sustainable mode, is that they haven't been able to cast the right magic spells to obtain their goals. That humans, en mass, are far more easily swayed by "magic" than logic is something the scientists and engineers haven't figured out how to deal with. That's something that makes the likes of Greer valuable., I like to think I'm getting there.

I remember the "swift boat" adds regarding John Kerry (2004 Presidential campaign) and my wife's anger that the truth could be so distorted ,saying that such "ads" should be illegal. My response was that it wasn't an ad, it was a "spell", and a very effective one at that. "Black magic", she called it.

I still have a TV, though I am very careful about how I use it. A lot of black magic there.

DavidB said...

A clarifying question, JMG.

You write: "The operative mage doesn’t want to get rid of the placebo effect. Quite the contrary, he or she wants to amplify it and use it, to direct the body’s healing resources toward a cure."

This got me thinking about my father, a respected neurosurgeon, who drifted away from his surgical practice to concentrate on the control of chronic pain. For decades he had a clinic at a major medical center. He was a sort of last resort for people suffering from migraines, back pain, and the like. In addition to detoxifying patients from overprescribed medications, and utilizing certain practices such as actupuncture and transmagnetic stimulation, his clinic's main focus was biofeedback. Via monitoring their own sweatgland activity and the like, patients could learn to relax and "control" their body's response to pain. (Some are better at this than others.) A certain percentage were "cured" by this and similar "mind over matter" techniques.

Given your account of magic and science, how would you describe this? Magic? Science? Some sort of hybrid that illustrates how the two aren't so neatly separable? (I take this latter to be one of your central points.)

My father is very much a no-b.s. man of science. Yet when derided by ignoramuses about his "mind over matter" methods being (pejoratively) magical or some such, he would simply hold out his hand and clench his fingers into a fist. He would then explain that the fist clenching he had just accomplished was nothing other than "mind over matter". I always loved that example. Always leaves the crude materialist at a loss!

Anyway, my question then is how you would describe the patient-centered pain control techniques such as biofeedback? (btw, if unfamiliar, google "pain control and biofeedback" and you'll find plenty of info). Perhaps an example of a very specific form of "amplifying the placebo effect"? Yet nothing un-scientific about it, and in fact very well-studied and published in medical journals, etc.

Susan said...


After reading this post and a few of your previous ones, a question occurs to me: How is it that the overwhelming majority of people on this planet have gotten the wrong idea about what magic really is? Is it the (what seems to me) perfectly natural human tendency to engage in wishful thinking about getting some kind of "free lunch" from the universe without actually having to work for it? I mean, it would be nice to be able to turn lead into gold, for example (even though doing that would wreck more havoc on the economy than even the Federal Reserve and Congress combined could do), but you'd need a really big particle accelerator to make it happen, and the electricity bill to run the damn thing would be more than the value of the gold, even at today's inflated prices. So, why is the misconception about the nature of "magic" so widespread?

And speaking of magical thinking in Washington and on Wall Street, Porter Stansberry is not the only one engaged in that practice. The Dow fell almost 300 points yesterday after the Fed announced its latest plan to "save" us, and is down another 300 points as I write this. Oops. It seems that lots of professional investors, not to mention just regular folks, are beginning to realize that there are no magic bullets that can solve our problems without any pain, even though our so-called leaders in Washington still think they can conjure one up.

I'm afraid the only cure for magical thinking is to be bitten on the butt by reality...

Hal said...

It took me a long time to realize what was going on in T'ai Chi. Now, thanks to you, I have a language to apply to it, and I think magic will do just fine.

Though I advanced fairly rapidly in my school, I never broke through to the level of my teacher. It was only after I left that I realized that he was able to do what he did because, on a very different level than most of us, he believed it.

Unfortunately, most of us are encumbered with our knowledge and rational minds. We are told to visualize something, e.g., our breath originating in our abdomen, or moving the breath out to the extremities, and as much as we can understand the benefits of being able to do so, the mind is always there, telling us it ain't so. Well, the truth is it doesn't really matter if it's "so" or not, what matters is being able to produce a real result, and that can often (there are other ways) be a result of an effective visualization.

Understanding, of course, that "visualization" is the groovy word that has even managed to work its way into scientific literature these days, but no one understands what it is.

The ancients may not have understood physiology the way we do, but they hit on a way of producing profound and very effective changes in the body and mind. I suspect that's what's going on in your discipline, also.

Bruce The Druid said...


I almost choked on my tofu when I read your comment. First of all there are many, many sects within Taoism. Second, there are three main trunks of Taoism: philosophical, magical (alchemical), and religious. Third, T'ai Chi Chuan is very much a Taoist art. Fourth, there are many similarities between Yoga and Tai Chi. Fifth, more than one scholar has remarked on the similarities between Tantra and Tao, Tantrics and Taoist. Yoga is to Tantric as T'ai Chi is to Taoist.

Six, practice your T'ai Chi mindfully, but with the aim to cultivate no mind. Got it?

noxpopuli said...

"The planes are discrete and not continuous." But which am I? Which plane am I employing, and which am I affecting, when I achieve change in my body through disciplined mind and magical practice?

I'm trying to understand your description of the bounds between me and thee; likewise, between me and the table, the broomstick, the living oak, etc.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...


That quote from Gray is most interesting, and resonates in all kinds of ways for me. We Quakers have long been getting in trouble with "organized religion," aetheists, and other authoritarians along precisely those lines because we eschew "beliefs" and "creeds," and what we call "outward forms" (as in meaningless outer shells, not in the Platonic sense). Our inward spiritual practice, like JMG's magic, does change consciousness and consequently our way of being and doing in the world.

Many Quakers are also scientists, especially natural scientists. For myself, I've never understood why there should be a conflict between religion and science, per se. I do understand a conflict between having a reverent view of our earth and its systems and the life therein, which might be called religious, and having a view of earth as a theater for exploitation and destructive manipulation by humans, which might be called technological/scientific.

And thanks for the link--I'll be sharing that essay with some other folks I know.

z said...

Magic post John!

I have to say you bollixed up my mind with that :) That's a pretty bad word this side of the pond you know!

Petro said...

Great posts, just started reading the thread, but I wanted to jump in, along with Zach, and punctuate your "baboon politics" observation with an anecdote:

Back in my pot activism days, I was at a NORML convention (you cannot find a more "egalitarian" bunch!), pursuing my usual compulsion - observing group dynamics (this compulsion consistently dooms me in organizational politics.) How quickly the energy of groups becomes diverted from its nominal purpose for organizing in the first place!

I was observing this internecine energy diversion during the ritualistic parade to the microphone that gives members the opportunity to "participate," but really and actually serves as a vehicle to preen and fan their plumage to the speakers and audience. Not normally being one who "goes to the mike," I was overwhelmed with the urge to refocus things a bit, so I naively stepped up and offered this well-considered meta-observation.

It was quite embarrassing. You could have heard a pin drop when I finished, and I was not offered even the lightest smattering of response from the platform or audience, in a forum where the most incoherent and batty contributions received polite, if obligatory, applause.

The "irritated look," as it were.

Your essay just clicked me into realizing just how and why my impulse was inappropriate, my response being just as un-self-aware as the phenomenon I was observing.

GHung said...

Just to note: The 2011 September equinox comes on September 23, at 4:05 a.m. CDT (9:05 UTC).

I fear that I damaged my relationship with my daughter recently when I suggested that Jesus of Nazareth was, IMO, perhaps the most successful magician (mage) of all time, inspiring the most widely read book of magic; the Christian Bible, of course. I noted that the Bible is a remarkable collection of spells and incantations, and that "The Church was a collective of institutionalized practitioners of magic.

One must use great care when discussing anothers choice of practice. She said that her "religion isn't magic, its real".

Of course it is....

Flagg707 said...

This series of posts promises to be interesting. What is more interesting is seeing there are several other engineers down in the comments who are willing to tag along with this line of thought. I guess we all somewhat share the mindset of "if it works, use it" and leave the theory to the physicists and other theologians.

I do have a question that I have puzzled over on and off over the years. As the materialistic mindset rose to dominance in Western thought over the past several hundred years, societies all over the globe fell one by one to this march of materialism. Cultures that had deep roots in practicing various forms of "magic" fell to bullet, artillery shell and Cartesian "logic." While acknowledging that Western thought has for the most part neglected the integration of the personality and denigrated spiritual pursuits, is this not the result of watching it overcome older methods of relating self to the world around us?

Maybe I am off base here, but if:

"’s crucial to look at the specific purposes for which magic is used in practice. Since every human culture known to history has practiced magic, this isn’t exactly hard, and the purposes of magic have varied remarkably little over the centuries. Why do people turn to magic? To tilt the odds their way in hunting, gambling, war, and any other activity that combines high uncertainty with high stakes; to establish, improve, and shape the whole range of human relationships; to heal illnesses of body and mind; to integrate the personality and bring it into harmony with the structures of the cosmos, however those are understood; and, not least, to deal with the fact that other people are using magic for these same purposes, and not always with your best interests in mind."

Then is the materialist mindset nothing more than a method of doing all the above? A method that maybe got out of hand and has gone to the extreme in looking for a material explanation for everything? (This is assuming the psychological interpretation of "magic." I won't dive down the rabbit hole of evocation to manifestation or other such topics)

I guess what I am trying to ask is, what would magic, as interpreted above, have to offer a world in decline that we can't obtain from the various types of self-improvement philosophies that have circulated in Western thought since at least the late 1800s?

If it truly is all in our heads, would that mean that the writings of Napoleon Hill might have the same significance as those of Agrippa or Paracelsus?

Apologies in advance if I am butchering your line of thought.

Glenn said...

Usefullness of Drugs

My brother, who has more experience than I with drugs and spirituality explained it to me this way:

"Drugs will take you _to_ the gateway, but not through it. To get through you must go back to the beginning and do all the spiritual work."

The usefullness then, was to show an untutored, and possibly unguided, person that there was a gateway, roughly where it was and roughly what it looked like. A tutor and guide would greatly improve the likelihood of success.

Most modern citizens of the United States are deeply severed from their spiritual traditions, so I can see where those seeking new ones chose to use drugs to get there. the danger is getting caught in the loop of repeating the drug experience over and over again in the hopes of finally getting through the elusive gateway.

Marrowstone Island

Twilight said...

Well, I guess your secret's out, as Hector pointed out. However, I suspect most of the regular readers are willing participants actively looking for alternative ways to see their world, so it's not a dirty trick. I've been through several periods in my life where I actively worked to change my view of life, and the last 6 years since I learned about peak oil have been one of the most significant. I've appreciated the help! I'm hoping that the increase in the number of comments is indicative of a wider mood to move in that direction. If so, it may be a leading indicator of more substantial social changes to come, as it takes time to change one's perceptions.

Justin said...

Adding to Hector -
well done JMG and thanks. I'll have a much different life for it.

blue sun said...

I'm glad you finally brought up this topic. It will be a very difficult baby to birth, but it will be well worth it.

Just this phrase alone, if taken to heart, would do the peak oil scene (not to mention the rest of the world) a lot of good: "We know more than we realize, and affect more than we realize."

I guess what I'm getting from you is "magic" and 'science' are both tools, like a hammer and a screwdriver. And due to the historical situation whereby we started out with say, the hammer, everything looked like a nail and we overused the tool. (All the incantation and "magic" in the world couldn't stop crop failures and plagues in old Europe.) So once we acquired the screwdriver of science, we threw away the hammer and we've swung to the other side of the pendulum. Now everything looks like a screw, so maybe you could even say we're "screwing ourselves" morally and spiritually (collectively that is), perhaps quite literally.

The question that is just dawning on me, is if "magic" is from the Pagan tradition, then what do you call the superstitious incantations of other religions which explicitly reject "sorcery"? (Roman Catholics have their rosary beads and Jews have superstitious rituals all over the place, for example....) What do you call that? What do you call economic superstitions, for that matter? All this is very hard to pin down if we don't have common words to describe what we're talking about. Which ties into my only criticism (which follows).....

blue sun said...

My only beef with your approach is your choice of vocabulary. This is the same problem that eminent scientists have in explaining things to a mass audience. In the realm of the educated, a "theory" is a framework for explaining things, which really needs no proof, and a "hypothesis" is an unproven guess. The problem is that in the vernacular (spoken by 99%+ of the population) the word theory literally means an "unproven guess." This causes all sorts of trouble!!! It's already hard enough to explain scientific concepts to the masses but this just creates another battle that scientists have to fight (and it's an uphill one). They could eliminate so much trouble by merely inventing a new word entirely.

As others have pointed out, you have the exact same problem. Why fight a battle that doesn't need to be fought? Don't waste your energy trying to fight years of accepted usage and the full force of the Harry Potter franchise. You have more important things to do with your time. You might as well try to tell us that from now on you're going to call a table a chair, even while the rest of us go on calling a table a table.

Call up all the certified mages and come up with a word. You could have a contest. Make it fun. Call it "change-in-consciousness," call it "greer-ic," call it whatever you want. But as long as you insist on calling it "magic," you will be fighting two battles instead of just one.

Bill Pulliam said...

South Florida -- I have to wonder whether you have ever hunted, fought, or gambled, if you think these are physical activities with outcomes based on chains of physical causation. You could hardly have selected three better examples of cases where success or failure depends so heavily on your mental processes: awareness, insights, complex understanding, and quick decisions are what dictate outcomes! Wander absent-mindedly through the woods with a rifle and you will go hungry (or get shot by accident...). Show up at the rumble with big muscles, a big knife, and a fuzzy head and you will be the first casualty. Check your brain at the door for the poker game and you will be begging for cab fare home after having lost all your money AND the title to your car.

One of the many things that magical working accomplishes in these situations is to improve the synthesis of perception, awareness, intuition, conscious and subconscious choices and actions to help lead to the outcome you want even when you cannot initially (consciously) imagine how it could possibly be achieved... and even in hindsight as you stand there triumphant you might not really quite comprehend all that happened on the way there.

SLClaire said...

I've been reading your column for a couple of years but only now have signed up for the Google account that will let me comment.

I find your work compelling as much for your willingness to speak of the mental, philosophical, and psychological aspects of our predicament as for the practical responses to it that you have taken pains to implement in your own life as well as describe and encourage us to practice in ours. As a scientist (PhD in physical chemistry), Zen practitioner, person who has trusted her intuition since she was a very young child, and practitioner of green wizardry (under the name of voluntary simplicity) for well over a decade, I appreciate your work.

I could write a lot more but will confine myself to two questions at this time. It has to do with the ethics of magical practice. You’ve already owned up to your magical practice as being at work in your blog. I know I’m here because the quality of your writing and the importance of your ideas draws me to it and then encourages me to go beyond where I already am in my green wizardry practice. In that sense you’ve changed my consciousness, and in a way that is in harmony with Gaia, the living system in which we are all embedded. You’ve also alluded to advertising as a magical practice, certainly a very effective one, that has power to change our consciousness in ways not in harmony with Gaia. Presumably our own practice of green wizardry, and for those of us who choose, the magic you write about in your Druid books, can also have effects on changing the consciousness of others. How can we be sure that we are using our green wizardry / magic in ways that help ease the predicament we are in rather than exacerbate it as advertisers do? (I can think of one: practice what we preach.) And in a broader way, how can we use the sort of magic you discuss in skillful ways to counteract the advertising magic more broadly, to ease the predicaments of more people than we might be able to reach on our own? Perhaps you will be addressing these questions in future columns. If so, I wil be happy to await your response.

artinnature said...

Thanks JMG for this introduction to magic.

I've not read all the responses yet but wanted to comment. As one who has read every word of this blog, I know that you have not been as silent on the subject over the years as many here now seem to think, but every time we have gotten in up to our ankles you would say something like "this will not lead to any meaningful discussion (canned polemics)" or "I really need to tackle this subject properly one of these days" and quietly closed that door. I've been waiting patiently, thanks for diving in!

It seems to me, magic deals strictly with the non-physical human, which, when compared to things like "Bewitched" (70's TV show) type magic, or the magic of technology, things that various groups see as magical, doesn't seem to accomplish much at first glance. But once you are able to affect the non-physical human, you can then begin to affect everything else, physical and non-physical, human and non-human, through the admittedly limited non-physical human portal, and using some "unique" tools.

At least this is my "diving board" into the realm of magic. Looking forward to the next few posts and all that is to come.

Matthew Heins said...

"In my experience, at least, the more egalitarian a group claims to be, the more completely it depends on baboon politics to maintain group cohesion and direction."

Yeeeeeooouuch! ;)

I actually laughed out loud at this.

But then, I attended The Evergreen State College, so I know well of what you speak.

I shall never be able to attend a "consensus-based decision-making" meeting again without picturing myself sitting on my heels on a rock with my fellow baboons.

Magic at work.


rakesprogress said...


I can read most of your writings without much contortion because your ideas about energy and ecology are substantially the same as my own.

But I have to admit, as a mechanic, pilot, and computer technician, immersed in the rational world and coming as I do from an atheist family background with direct involvement in the sciences, your direct discussion of magic has struck me as outrageous and provocative. (The intensity of this emotion perhaps scores a point for you.)

But you found a chink in my armor. I have been through a successful program of psychotherapy, and I have long recognized and appreciated how the conscious and unconscious attitudes and language we bring with us affect our course of travel through the world. If magic is really that simple at its core, well... DUH!

For our culture to be to be so blind to this, we are indeed in dangerous territory.


John Michael Greer said...

Tim, nobody "owns" the meaning of words; they're always polyvalent and contested. When I challenged the use of the word "efficiency" in that earlier post, I was pointing out that there are several definitions of efficiency and the one that was being used by economists wasn't helpful in terms of the issues we as a society have to face. In this post, I'm pointing out that there are several definitions of magic, and the one that's being used by popular media isn't helpful in terms of the issues we as a society have to face. I have a hard time seeing any contradiction there.

Robo, good. We'll be discussing that in a bit.

tOm, magic doesn't equal patterns of thinking, and magic and religion aren't the same thing. (I've noticed that the only people who confuse those latter don't practice either one.) You might also try reading my post, rather than simply trotting out the irritated look and the canned polemic -- the business about how science supposedly moves toward consensus while magic and religion don't is one of those straw men from the books and websites I mentioned, for example.

Stan, that is indeed a word worth knowing. As for authors and titles, that's a challenge -- it's been a very long time since I've kept up with what's in print that's suited to beginners, and the stuff I originally studied is written in a jargon that a lot of people these days find off-putting. I'll have to revisit that. My The Druid Magic Handbook might be worth a look, and for those who aren't uncomfortable with Judeo-Christian symbolism, Learning Ritual Magic, which I wrote with two other operative mages, is a good practical handbook.

Jose, you don't have to read everything in the three Paths to start -- quite the contrary. The point is to spend the initiatory year reading, reflecting on, and practicing the stuff in the book. As for the Earth Path, here's a small challenge: find three little things, not huge life-changing ones, that will cut your impact on the biosphere, but that you've never thought of before, and do those for your Earth Path work.

Lance, collective action is always tricky in magic. You're quite correct that there's some seriously slimy magic being worked by way of marketing and advertising, and we'll be talking about that down the road a bit, but I've generally found it more useful to teach people to work the counterspell for themselves, one at a time, so the other side doesn't notice that they're losing their grip.

William, thank you!

Tom, I don't have a great deal of familiarity with Buddhism, as it never really appealed to me -- no criticism expressed or implied, it's simply not my style. Thus I don't know how much useful I can say about that.

Girl, I'm not familiar with the book, but if it works for you, by all means. I'd certainly encourage you to take up a meditation practice!

John Michael Greer said...

Andrew, the great thing about having it on a blog is that the irritated looks and canned polemics don't come out until you've finished your piece!

Greatblue, if it operates on the level of rational persuasion, no. If it works with the nonrational parts of consciousness, yes.

Mage, good. I'd equate anima with consciousness, and spiritus -- well, there we start getting into the role of the old vitalistic philosophies in magical theory, which is a can of worms I don't propose to open yet, but if you equate spiritus with prana, ch'i, etc. I suspect you're on the right track. I agree about the dangers of reductionism; they have to be balanced against the equal dangers of reification. More on this later.

Hadashi, Wiccans like to talk about coming out of the broom closet, but I don't know of a comparable bit of slang for operative mages! I'll look forward to your story; a bit of philately will be a pleasant change.

Cherokee, you're quite right; our whole civilization stinks of it. I'll be offering a useful label for that in a later post.

Jason, got it -- you're in the contest.

Zach, oh, granted, the current set of popular misunderstandings of magic have taken on a life of their own, not least because they've become an inkblot onto which a lot of people project their dreams of a less dreary world than the one progress, so called, has given us. As for computers, though, every single kid I knew in high school who went on to join the first generation of computer geeks was up to his eyeballs in Dungeons & Dragons, so my money's on that explanation!

ChemEng, I wasn't a great fan of the books, but that's a matter of personal taste, of course -- if you enjoyed them, great. It just got very irritating to have most of a generation of would-be students show up with their brains full of Harry Potter cliches, all of which had to be gently removed in the course of training -- though it wasn't half so bad as the kids who watched Charmed, or some such TV program, and wanted to know how to use magic to make their hair turn blonde.

Texas, very good! Science is precisely like classical logic -- an incredibly effective tool within its limits, mostly useless outside them. It took quite a while after the formulation of logic for people to really get the fact that logic isn't an answer to every question, and we're still fumbling toward that same point with the scientific method. We'll get there -- well, as a species; my guess is that it'll be a while yet.

Ando, thank you.

Raven, got 'em.

Bill, no argument there. Once scientists stop making predictions that can be falsified by experiment, they've stopped practicing science. That point has been reached in several fields.

JC said...

Thanks, really wonderful (and funny).

Ceworthe said...

"In my experience, at least, the more egalitarian a group claims to be, the more completely it depends on baboon politics to maintain group cohesion and direction."

I also laughed out load at this, owing to experience. Yes, well I was dumb enough in one such group to point out to the "peace people" involved that they were being inconsistent with their stated desire to have all people have input into the consensus making process and that it seemed to be being used as a way of manipulating the group to a desired result of one or two people. Talk about non-violent people suddenly becoming quite verbally hostile while spouting canned polemics!

It is a great visual image that I will default to in the future when the inevitable baboon politics arise :-)

John Michael Greer said...

South Florida, success in hunting, gambling and war depends on split-second decisions made on the basis of data that's nearly always insufficient for rational analysis. Magic is one very traditional way to help make sure your nervous system is working with you rather than against you, so you react the right way rather than the wrong one.

Teeming, it's an interesting detail of history that magic in the post-Renaissance West has much more often than not been the tool of choice of the poor, the ethnically or socially discriminated against, and so on; it's an option that comes quickly to hand when you don't have access to the levers of power and wealth. As industrial civilization comes apart and those levers of power and wealth snap off in people's hands, one live option is turning to magic instead. It'll be interesting to watch that unfold.

Tony, it varies. Most societies in the past tended to use magic for purposes that it can actually do something about -- I suspect that's because, if a mage routinely promised to do things but couldn't follow through on them, his chances of having his head stuck on a pike went steeply upwards. Still, there have been exceptions now and then; the results have not been good, and in fact I'll be discussing this in a future post.

Grrl, I'd rather just reference an agricultural implement by its appropriate cognomen!

South Florida, it's not necessary to be convinced of the objective reality of magical phenomena to know that they can be dangerous. The hallucinatory voices that drive some psychotics to suicide or murder are purely mental phenomena, after all. As I mentioned in my post, the traditional lore of magic includes quite a bit of material about managing these experiences without going off the deep end; most of what students learn first, in any reputable system of magic, is the equivalent of sterile procedure -- how not to be affected by the odd experiences that follow on systematic magical practice.

As for the economists, quite the contrary -- they need to be much more concerned about such issues than they are. The hallucinations of a mage, if that's what they are, rarely affect anyone besides himself or herself; the hallucinations of economists are dragging the entire industrial world toward ruin.

Evan, everyone practices magic, all the time, whether they want to do so or not. The mage does it consciously and with intent; that's the difference. Yes, technologists and economists are practicing magic, but very few of them realize that that's what they're doing, and the results are much like those in the old story of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. As for Tainter's account, he's quite right, but there's an important magical law that applies to such cases: magic is not going to save you from the consequences of continually making the wrong decision. We'll touch on the reason why in next week's post.

Sekenre, oh, I'm sure I've chased off some readers. I do that fairly often!

Ahimsa, thank you.

Mr. R, true enough. One of the standard (and very necessary) rules in magical training is that magic is not an escape from your emotional problems, and if your emotional problems are such as to interfere with your ability to lead an ordinarily functional life, you need to deal with them first, before getting involved in magic.

Maria, thank you!

Robert, I've forwarded this to the moderation team -- hopefully things will get straightened out shortly.

Joel said...

Hunting, fighting, and interactive sorts of gambling all have an interesting game-theoretical property: an adaptable adversary means that most of the best long-term strategies include some randomized behavior. Randomly choosing from a few good hunting grounds, for example, prevents your prey from consistently avoiding you. Neal Stephenson came up a while back; Cryptonomicon explores, among other topics, the value of truly random numbers in war.

Counter-intuitively, the best quality of information for such purposes is the sort that has the least connection to the topic at hand. Our nervous system is laughably bad at generating random numbers, so it would make sense to use some sort of cognitive prosthetic for that purpose. I suspect the technology most responsible for our species' ability to hunt so many others to extinction had nothing to do with the physical chore of ending life once prey has been found, but some kind of sortilege, like throwing knucklebones to determine who led the hunt.

I've never encountered a book on poker that recommends memorizing lists of random numbers or using a digital watch or bank password fob to make decisions pseudo-randomly, but I think that sort of method could be really valuable.

Sortilege counts as magic, from what I've read, but would you still call it that if it were used within the framework of game theory?

Tyler August said...

Excuse the "crude materialist", but... magic is applied psychology?
Maybe not psychology as it is studied in university departments, but untold thousands of years of empirical knowledge. The same sort of empirical knowledge that underlies much Engineering work-- by themselves, Newton's Laws won't tell you how to build a bridge. So that's magic, or have I missed something?

Interestingly, the hard-core rationalist community at almost falls into this lingo. They refer to 'dark arts' as methods of persuading and manipulating others via knowledge of their cognitive processes. (such as the 'black magic' one commenter referenced coming from the T.V.), but I'm not sure if their Art of Rationality is a sort of secular magic or an anti-magic by this way of speaking.

JMG, have you ever heard of a fellow named Michael Persinger? He's a neuroscientist at my alma mater, who has had great luck recreating mystical and religious experiences using transcranial magnetic stimulation. ( They call it the God Helmet. As a side note, Richard Dawkins apparently proved immune to its effects.) Science and magic, again. I'm interested to hear any thoughts you might have on the good Doctor's work.

shiningwhiffle said...


String theory is a good example of what I try to avoid, both in science and in spirituality: all the entities are ad hoc, and all of the implications are internal to the theorized system. It's like asking how many shoggoths can dance on Cthulhu's head.

Like William James, I've become averse to overly-abstract metaphysical talk, which is part of why I've finally became interested in the magical as well as religious aspects of Paganism.


Are you familiar with the work of Paul Feyerabend? I ask because you've mentioned falsifiability and the scientific methods again and again, and I've come to cringe somewhat at these terms.

Feyerabend certainly says some stupid things along the way (he's something of a court jester), but I've never seen anyone successfully rebut his points against falsificationism specifically (which anyway is simply a special case of Bayes' theorem) and "methodism" generally.

As I understand it, no one has ever found the scientific method, the master method behind all of the particular methodologies employed in the actual sciences. Consequently, no one's ever solved the demarcation problem.

John Michael Greer said...

Draft, that doesn't surprise me at all. There were probably systems of psychedelic drug work in ancient Europe, but it's an oddly fragile method of doing things, and the ways we do things nowadays are a good deal less vulnerable to changes in set and setting.

Yupped, thank you!

GHung, I saw that -- thank you for speaking up. Still, it was highly amusing to watch people working themselves up into a lather about what their canned polemic insisted I had to be about to say. As for TV -- bingo. There's a reason I won't have one in my house.

David, you've just brought up one of the test cases that shows the limits of the magical maxim I mentioned, "the planes are discrete and not continuous." In certain places -- the one that matters most to each of us is the human nervous system -- the planes of mind and matter come into contact, and it's possible for each plane to influence the other. What your father is doing is right on the border, where material technology (the biofeedback device) interfaces with magical practice (changes in consciousness). If the scientific community wasn't generally so pigheaded about magic, there could be a lot more work of this sort done.

Susan, most people on Earth have a much less garbled idea of magic. Magical practice is very common and relatively accepted in many Third World societies, and even in some relatively industrialized ones. It's primarily the nations of the industrial West that have the really distorted idea, and that's a product of three and a half centuries of religious and scientific propaganda following on the reality wars of the late Renaissance, when mainstream Christianity and materialist science allied with one another to squeeze out the alternatives -- and then just kept on squeezing. (Yes, they ended up fighting over the spoils eventually, but that's hardly the first time.)

Hal, excellent. Yes, that's also what's going on in magic; since I practice t'ai chi as well, I think I can say that with some confidence! The direction of ch'i though the body is very closely akin to some of the things done in magical workings, in fact.

Nox, from the standpoint of the One, all things are one. This does not make it safe to mistake a grizzly bear for a pet gerbil. As I commented to David a bit higher up the queue, the human nervous system is one of the places where influences can spill across from one plane to another. That doesn't make them one and the same, any more than your mouth is the same as your anus just because they're connected!

Z, good heavens. I didn't know that.

Petro, that's a great story. Thank you!

Ghung, have you ever read Morton Smith's interesting book Jesus the Magician? For that matter, Christian magic has a long and honorable history, though it's been discountenanced by most of the established churches. I know some very capable Christian mages, who do all their workings in Jesus' name and apply Christian ethics to their actions; it seems to work well for them.

Flagg, no, materialism isn't an effective way of doing most of the things that magic does well. It's a very effective way of doing other things -- among them, building weapons and transport systems that will allow you to conquer the world, which is what materialist technology did for Europe in the centuries from 1500 to 1900. The Europeans took their ideologies with them -- first Christianity, then scientific materialism -- and imposed these wherever they went.

As for the difference between magic and Napoleon Hill, though, we'll be getting into that in a big way in an upcoming post. The short version is that New Thought and other self-improvement systems approach the subject matter of magic with a very different set of attitudes and expectations, and fixate -- as of course Hill's book did -- on the most crassly material end of things. Magic goes much deeper and, in its most developed forms, has far higher objectives.

WwoofBum said...


Based on a chart I found (, and ignoring some recent price spikes that, I suspect, reflect politics and psychology (magic?) more than the practicalities of the physical plane, and assuming that price (other than the above noted events) is a reflection of costs (plus, of course, the usual vig for the executives), it appears that the cost of extracting a barrel of oil, in constant value dollars, has been floating between $10.00 and $40.00 a barrel since somewhere around 1880.

With this in mind, it strikes me that Mr. Stansberry's claim may not be as absurdly magical as it seems at first blush.

This is not to say that I believe that the magical principal of similarity ("we did it before, we can do it again" infinitum) must necessarily apply to the production of oil.

sgage said...

@ Petro, et al.

As Art Kleps said, regarding baboon politics at meetings and whatnot...

"I have been to many meetings... and they all seem to proceed along the same lines unless everything important is defined ahead of time. Few people ever follow an argument to its logical conclusions, either in public or in private. Their "arguments" therefore, ought to be taken as mere expressions of feeling like "ouch" or "yum yum" rather than as attempts to define or reason. Professional politicians take this for granted and do not make everyone uncomfortable by treating what they say as if they really meant it. "Feelings rule mankind," Disraeli said. Right."

Yum yum!

sgage said...

@ WwoofBum
"it appears that the cost of extracting a barrel of oil, in constant value dollars, has been floating between $10.00 and $40.00 a barrel since somewhere around 1880."

The cost of lifting the marginal barrel is not anything like the true cost of production. When you figure in full costs of exploration/development/drilling rigs/etc., it becomes much more expensive. To say nothing of EROEI.

hadashi said...

@Blue Sun

"You could have a contest. Make it fun. Call it "change-in-consciousness," call it "greer-ic," call it whatever you want. But as long as you insist on calling it "magic," you will be fighting two battles instead of just one."

I like the word 'magick'. It is the same as magic, but with enough of a difference to make people people think that there is something more to it.

shiningwhiffle said...


I can only see two plausible ways of interpreting what Stansberry actually said: either he thinks there's an infinite supply of oil out there, or he thinks with the proper financial incentive oil companies will find ways of duplicating the processes of the carboniferous era but over a million times faster.

Both ideas are almost as nuts as actually suggesting money can create oil out of thin air.

sofistek said...

All I'm saying, JMG, is that if the common meaning of some words is different from what you'd like them to be, it seems pointless to try to pull the meaning back to what you'd like.

I looked at some on-line dictionary definitions of "magic" and couldn't find the meaning you'd like it to have. Then I pulled out my 30+ year old Chambers 20th Century Dictionary (the definitive dictionary for UK cryptic crossword setters then) and found the meaning you'd like the word to have. However, it was the last of five definitions. The first was "the art of producing marvellous results by compelling the aid of spirits, or by using the secret forces of nature, such as the power supposed to reside in certain objects as 'givers of life'". The last was "a secret or mysterious power over the imagination or will"

You say your meaning is that used by those who practice magic. Well, others may believe that they practice the other meanings, including the art of producing illusions by legerdemain, or any of the first four dictionary meanings.

Thijs Goverde said...

Oh, that explanation of magic. Pretty much what I gleaned from reading Illuminatus, and from not putting my fingers in my ears when I heard, say, a Freemason or Candomblero talking.

I have neither the time nor the inclination (as if there's a difference) to practice any sort of traditional magic, but I sometimes feel a thorough training in Impro Theatre (as described by Keith Johnstone) makes up for at least part of that.

GHung said...

WwoofBum: I suggest you vistit the TOD archives. One good starting point would be here, Nate Hagens' Peak Oil - Whom to Believe? Part One , written in 2007 before the 2008 crash, and then find a more current chart. Skip the comment sections as they're massive, though I challenge you to find a more thorough analysis of peak oil, free to the public. You may find that Stansberry's magic works pretty well, but his spells aren't designed to improve your clarity regarding peak oil.

Doctor Westchester said...


I am member of an interfaith religion which has a tradition having of lay people in the pulpit when the minister is off doing other things. Base on an earlier post of yours, I wrote a sermon on the “Need for Magic in the Age of Depletion.” After all, just because I know nothing about a topic doesn’t mean can’t I talk about at length – after all doing so is a national sport.

I’m happy to say that what I wrote appears very consistent with what you are writing here. The sermon even starts off “Drill baby, drill. A magical incantation if I ever heard one.” I’ve given the sermon twice, at two different churches. The second time was earlier this year, which was ironically the opening weekend of the final film in a very popular fantasy series adapted from a best-selling series of books.

As my comments in the past have shown, I was extremely aware that our current difficulties have little to do with technology per se, and much to do with our worldview, our myths. As you may recall, I am in the Transition movement. It too very much deals with magic; although most, at least on this side of the pond, wouldn’t recognize that fact. I am eager to see what else you have to say on this subject.

Lastly, this is for your stupid trivia that I wish I didn’t know file. I’m afraid that your comment that “If Harry Potter does it, it isn’t magic.” is not one hundred percent correct, only 99.999%. In one passage Harry does practice actual magic. He makes his best friend think that Harry has doped his breakfast drink with a Luck potion. His best friend, thinking that he has been given the potion, goes on to lead their team to victory in that weird intramural sport they play on broom sticks. It could be debated whether the Luck potion could be actual magic or not. It was the perceived use that I think should be counted – and I’m sure Harry wouldn’t have done it if he had known he was practicing real magic.

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, my experience is that a lot of people who think they're using drugs as a gateway are simply looking for entertainment, and neither magic nor spirituality will provide them with that.

Twilight, it's interesting to watch. I did not expect this positive a response to a discussion of magic, that's for sure.

Justin, thank you.

Blue Sun, very good! That's quite correct; magic is a tool, science is a tool, classical logic is a tool, mathematics is a set of tools -- and no one tool is really a substitute for any other. Magic, though, isn't specifically from Pagan traditions; as I mentioned a bit earlier, there's a long and honorable traditions of Christian magic, and in fact just about every religion I've ever heard of has at least one magical tradition closely associated with it. I suppose you could say that magic is to religion what medicine is to biology.

As for the vocabulary thing, you could as well say that I shouldn't have titled this blog "The Archdruid Report," since a lot of people have mistaken ideas about Druidry. Euphemisms are very rarely a good idea; the word "magic" may be misunderstood in some cases but the shock value has benefits of its own, and -- as the response to this post shows -- people are starting to be willing to learn.

SLClaire, I will indeed be discussing the ethics and practical applications of magic in upcoming posts, but one of the core concepts is easy enough to grasp: you must always start by changing your own consciousness. It's the refusal to do that that produces advertising and kindred forms of black magic.

Artinnature, that's certainly one way to approach it. I like to speak of consciousness, because after a while people start to notice that everything they experience in the cosmos around them is experienced through the structures of their own consciousness, and then -- sometimes -- they begin to get a glimpse of just how much of what they think of as "out there" is actually "in here." That's when the doors start to open.

Matt, I don't think I knew that you were a Greener! I went to Fairhaven up in Bellingham -- not too different in some ways, at least back in 1980-83. Yes, there was plenty of baboon action there, too.

Rake, excellent. Of course there's a sense in which it's deliberately provocative; I'm well awaare of how much of my work involves flicking people on the raw, in the hope that it'll direct their attention to a sore they hadn't noticed. Still, a good psychotherapist is second cousin to a mage; they don't use our tools (unless they're Jungians, in which case they use a few), but they deal with some of the same territory.

JC, thank you.

Ceworthe, yes, I've watched the use of coercive consensus methods more than once. I bet you got quite the fang-baring threat display!

siddrudge said...


Fascinating topic this magic stuff.

Messing with people's minds comes with a lot of moral responsibility, especially when directed toward children.

Messing with your own mind can be useful -- especially if you can fortify your mind with the understanding and recognition of invasive external intentions. A "built-in BS detector" if you will.

So I guess I'm more interested in 'counter-magic' if there is such a thing.

Since we can't get people to wipe their feet before we allow them to walk through our heads, we should at least be able to recognize when we need to get a mop and bucket. I think meditation practice is an effective mental disinfectant sometimes.

It's the 'intent' of magic, as practiced in advertising and marketing, that gives me the creeps. There is some dark and deceptive business going on there!

The sole purpose of advertising is to 'create the itch that needs to be scratched.' It is not concerned with truth -- only the 'perception' of truth.

But I do understand the positive aspects of magic as you describe it -- the placebo benefits and all that. Perhaps we need to approach it the way we approach art -- as "the lie that tells the truth."

When I was a young kid, I went to a haunted house at a popular amusement park. Half-way through the terrifying ride, the car suddenly stopped dead in it's track. All the bright emergency lights switched on, exposing a tangle of wires and cables, hardware, duct tape, stitching and all the other stuff that held the cheesy illusion together. It was a profoundly liberating experience for a sensitive young boy and 'awakened' me to the power others have over us.

So, when sorcerers approach we need to be able to switch on the utility lights in our minds.

On another note, you now have me thinking of 'magical' behavior in the animal world. Aren't some creatures skilled 'illusionists' who can create camouflage to protect themselves from predators; scents and colors to attract a mate; puff themselves up to appear bigger than they are? How tricky are animals with each other? What can they teach us?

Also, I'm very much enjoying all the stories folks have posted and I'm hoping to have a story of my own to submit to your contest within a couple of weeks.

Craig H said...

John Michael Greer, I am a very infrequent reader of this blog so do not know if my post is redundant. There is a book by Ioan P. Couliano called "Eros and Magic in the Renaissance" that is very relevant to your essay. From the introduction of the book: "The magic that concerns us here is theoretically a science of the imaginary, which it explores through its own methods and seeks to manipulate at will. At its greatest degree of development, reached in the work of Giordano Bruno, magic is a means of control over the individual and the masses based on deep knowledge of personal and collective erotic impulses. We can observe in it not only the distant ancestor of psychoanalysis, but also, first and foremost, that of applied psychosociology and mass psychology." For those with a conspiracy inclination, Ioan Couliano was murdered in the bathroom of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, motive and killer unknown.

Richard Larson said...

I am interested to know if anyone sent you a disparaging comment? From reading the comments it appears you have not lost any readers.

I do as much fishing and hunting as possible and I DO (until now unknowingly) practice magic in these pursuits. My Grandmother - 40 years or so ago, mind you - often told me I had to hold my face right to get the fish to bite.

As the years have gone by, I have translated this to having the mind in an alternate plane, or not thinking precisely of what is happening.

It is true! If you think to hard about fishing, or want fish too badly, the fish don't bite! But if one enters this altered state, one is reeling fish in on a regular basis.

Now, it might be funny to some, but this is nothing like Jesus Christ feeding a whole host with 5 fish.

The difference, what Jesus Christ has been purported to have done, is best described as a 'miracle'.

And this is what the economist wants to perform. This is what most christians want to perform. And some might even envision themselves as a christ.

But they are not. Turning water into wine is just as impossible as turning numbers showing up on an income statement into oil.

Miracle. The guys thinks he can perform a miracle.

John Michael Greer said...

Joel, I've read von Neumann's Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, and I'd certainly count it as an arcane tome! Of course sortilege remains magical when its game-theory dimension is kept in mind; the deliberate cultivation of useful bits of randomness is a common tactic in magic.

Tyler, an applied psychology and, if I may coin a word, noumenology -- the study of the objects of mental experience -- some thousands of years richer than the one that's taught in universities these days. As for Persinger, yes, I read up on him while researching my book on the UFO phenomenon -- I didn't know that Dawkins was blind to that class of human experience, but I suppose it should come as no surprise.

Whiffle, it's been a very long time since I've read Feyerabend. I don't mean to impose any kind of strict definition on scientific method -- there's rather a Wittgensteinian family resemblance among the different methods used in scientific research, at most -- but the basic concept that a hypothesis must be capable of disproof is essential to any form of science I can imagine; that's all I mean by it.

WwoofBum, the cost of extracting a barrel of oil is basically the cost of running a pump. It's the cost of finding a barrel of oil to replace the one you just extracted, so you can keep on extracting oil indefinitely, that you need to look up. That's what determines whether we can keep on using oil into the indefinite future or not.

Sofistek, and all I'm saying is that all words have a variety of meanings, and it's always fair game in reasoning with others to challenge a popular definition in favor of another that makes more sense. Socrates used to do that all the time, as you may recall.

Thijs, good. Of course magical training isn't for everyone, any more than everybody ought to go learn a martial art or play a musical instrument -- two pursuits that take a comparable amount of time and effort to master.

Doctor W., one of my concerns about the Transition movement on this side of the pond is the extent to which some of its main public proponents seem to be practicing the black magic of marketing and advertising; I'm sure you'll recall my comments about a certain video back in late 2008. That way lies some very unwelcome possibilities. I hope that enough people catch on to more constructive forms of magic, and move the movement in that direction instead.

Siddrudge, well put. We'll be talking about that very point quite soon. In the meantime, I'll look forward to your story!

Craig, I'm quite familiar with Couliano's work -- as a student of Giordano Bruno and a practitioner of geomancy and the art of memory, I share three of his main interests. The book of his you've mentioned will be discussed in some detail in an upcoming post, though I have some criticisms of his take on magic that'll come out at that point.

Richard, good. The difference between magic and miracle is worth keeping in mind; I don't propose to court an argument over whether or not miracles of the loaves-and-fishes variety actually happen, but it's fair to say that magic does not achieve such things.

idiotgrrl said...

Well, this isn't magic theory, but I was ruminating on what you said about baboons and was thinking about our neo-pagan community and the usual baboon model didn't fit.

Then the phrase "baboon matriarchs" came to me, and - Bingo! - I had a complete description of how our group operated, how to rise in it (far too lazy to try), why one of the men given to flat assertions in a loud voice stomped out to "find a group with less drama", and precisely why some of those who left, complaining about our "closed" matriarchy (not so, but it takes work and patience and being useful to enter it)seemed so childish ---

even to the analog to what the males do. What the females do is, when they so desire, try to steal your baby, even to kill it, without letting them anywhere near theirs except as a special mark of favor. And what is a baboon baby equivalent in human beings? Our ideas!

You gave me, or triggered, the most useful revelation I've had in all my studies of how people behave and why and what one can do about it, which for me is like studying Martian anthropology. [Thank you, Oliver Sacks, for that phrase.]

BTW - there is a true story of a young primatologist who was having difficulties with her senior faculty. One day she was watching the gorillas and it came to her 0 the senior professors were just like silverbacks. What if she treated them as if they were? Human style, of course. It greatly improved her relations with them.

Daniel N Smith Jr said...


I send you good wishes and gratitude for the work you have done over the last few years. I am an avid reader, a moderate practitioner and a never-poster.

Thank you!

escapefromwisconsin said...

So we go from the age of space exploration to the occult. I think Jack Parsons deserves a mention at this point, don't you?

And it occured to me that the alternate world you ask us to imagine in your essay has an analogue in Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion in 1959. Very materially poor but emotionally and spiritually rich. If Alexandra David-Neel is right, they were able to accomplish some amazing feats through control over mental states. Too bad that society is no more.

Red Neck Girl said...

JMG, I think I understand well enough what you mean by magic although I have two reactions to the word. The first is a little brown girl that coos at a brightly colored dragonfly and puts up a dimpled hand for it to land on, without thought just for the beauty of it. The second reaction is more mature, almost a click at the back of my mind a realization of a different way of thinking allowing me to grasp the entirety of the world around me seeing a path where there was none before.

Metaphor, maybe but it's a visual I've had at the back of my mind. In some ways, for a woman, I'm a more visual thinker then in abstract concepts although I'm good with words too.

Wadulisi Tsalagi

nutty professor said...


105 posts and counting this early, and I see that your blog has become quite addictive, even as some readers continue to resist your meaning.That is some strong magick you are working. But why tip your hand? As a second generation African American mage, I should remind you of the old hoodoo aphorism, that "the magic don't work if the subject knows he is being conjured!"

Sheesh. Now you've done it.

WwoofBum said...


I'm sorry, but your response strikes me as illogical. The cost of extracting a barrel of oil must be based on the sum of such things as the cost of exploration and development in addition to the cost of simply pumping the stuff up. Unless the costs of exploration and development are being covered by someone other than the companies that sell us the oil? (Which, I suppose, mignt be true, depending on exactly how much the public is subsidizing the oil industry.)


"The cost of lifting the marginal barrel is not anything like the true cost of production."

Who, then, is paying those costs?


I meant that, looking only at what has been charged, over history, for a barrel of oil, one might be justified in supposing that one need only hand over another $40.00 (adjusted for inflation) to get someone to pump you an additional barrel.


I do not need to be convinced of the reality of peak oil. I am simply asking the question: why has the price of a barrel of oil (in constant value dollars) been relatively constant (with the exception of a couple of moments of insanity) for over 100 years?

Tony said...

@ sekenre – Yep, the last author on that paper you linked is the one. I even saw a figure or two from that paper during the talk. That paper is from 2008, there is more recent work they've done (some still unpublished) in which they teased out much more of the actual mechanism of control of the immune cells by the nerve (like most evolved systems, it's more complicated than you'd expect and yet strangely elegant), and ongoing work in human patients and a mouse study confirming the link between this system not quite working right and inflammatory disease.

@ Tyler August – Hah! I never would've expected to find another reader here familiar with LessWrong! Those people, Yudkowski especially, are... interesting. They have some of the most interesting writing I've ever found on cognitive science and decision theory and statistics and epistemology, some of which I've actually put to good use. But then I just sit back and chuckle as I watch them spin off into messianic superiority complexes, transhumanist/singulatarian fantasy (with a hefty dose of combined progresso-apocalyptic mythology), and the general idea that they can think their way out of having ape brains. They've got some very interesting thoughts, but like most people are guilty of assuming that their Favorite Thing is the solution to everything, in practice and in theory. I visit them for the occasional gem of real insight, but just as often I get another good laugh.

Maybe you could say that the Greer/magic/etc approach is to accept the irrational animal in all of us, and give it symbols and patterns and outlets to chew on and direct itself with such that it works for us, while Yudkowski/etc have the goal of completely formalizing rational thought and then completely rejecting and vanquishing the irrational within. Kind of funny considering the content of some of their discussion about how to 'construct rationalist communities' and change others' perception of their cause. Anyway, I'm not convinced at this time that either practice can really be perfected by creatures such as we...

John Michael Greer said...

Grrl, that makes perfect sense to me.

Daniel, thank you!

Escape, he'd fit right into the discussion, no question.

Girl, I don't get visual thinking at all -- I naturally think in spoken language -- but I think you're seeing something of what I'm talking about.

Professor, true enough, but when you've got people working with you and not quite realizing what it is that they're doing, sooner or later it's time to have a little talk. That time is now.

Wwoofbum, you're confusing the price of extracting a barrel of oil with the price at which a barrel of oil is sold. The latter -- along with gargantuan tax breaks and outright government subsidies -- provides the funds oil companies use for exploration and development of new fields. The cost of extraction per barrel has nothing to do with that -- again, it's simply the cost of running the pumps -- and if you try to use it as a surrogate for the whole life cycle cost of petroleum production, it's going to mislead you indeed it seems to have done. The price of a barrel of oil has not remained constant -- only the cost of running the pumps to extract it.

WwoofBum said...


If you believe that the price (in constant value dollars) for which a barrel of oil is sold has not remained relatively constant (within the range and with the exceptions I have noted), then you must believe that the chart which I referenced is a lie. I am asking why you believe that.

Tony said...

@ JMG – I'm not actually all that surprised by the relatively warm reception you're getting from hard core materialist-reductionist types like me. Once you clarify your definitions – something that always seems to get in the way of useful discussion of almost anything – the main points of contention are really only likely to be the ontological status of experiences involved, the usefulness of the practice/its effects on and requirements from thought patterns, and your interpretation of the history of such practices and the history of their efficacy.

I do not pretend to have studied the last historical/sociological question enough to make a case either way, and the word-definition quibble has played out. As for the usefulness and ontological status – even though we reductionists would tell you that a human mind is easily capable of creating experiences out of whole cloth based entirely on internal states, that does not necessarily make such completely internal experiences unimportant. That internal state got that way somehow, is vast and complicated, and it's your internal state.

When I was a Christian I felt that I had multiple encounters with a being that I now regard as entirely mythical which certainly affected my behavior and state of mind at the time, and since then I have had dreams involving what can be called Jungian archetypes which colored my emotions for weeks, rather negatively. I can easily imagine affecting this sort of thing in ways that work for you rather than against - or where you try VERY carefully to extract the influences that caused them. The more mild and much more common case of intentionally changing the way one parses their reality to reframe things, or coming to realize how much of what one sees as reality is actually internal seems even more possible and useful. Just how much of what we think about the external world is driven by how we parse it has been driven home to me rather strongly lately.

This being said, I am not yet sold on the end-usefulness of magical methods with more layers than somewhat simple applied psychology (like you have been practicing on us, hah). This is mostly due to the fact that I have relatively low confidence in the human ability to not latch onto false beliefs about the external world (human or simple physical) and how to live in it based on internal states that don't always have to directly correspond to external things. I'm also generally wary whenever anyone begins explaining how useful their Favorite Thing is. But I easily see the importance of beliefs having to do with internal states of myself and others, and you have already spoken of the use of ideas/personifications/etc as focuses for emotion and reflection by the irrational mind rather than rational 'belief'. This makes sense, and I've even recently resurrected parts of my old nightly prayer ritual, even though I now just talk to myself, because I find it is a good way to reflect on my life and goals and to help convince myself to be the sort of person I want to be. I look forward to more of your thoughts and perspectives, and you could definitely yet convince me of something (or fix errors I undoubtedly have in my conception of your methods).

I also look forward to any further explanation of the idea that “we know more than we realize and affect more than we realize” - a concept you very eloquently expressed via the Halka in Shalsha. I've never been the best at reading social cues, but I am amazed at the skills of some of my friends and family at reading the tiniest of subtle hints, figuring out complicated relations between people from such little observation. I've also found that I can often predict my own decisions with high accuracy long before I formally make them, and am not sure if this indicates bias towards snap uninformed decisions or might involve unconsciously knowing things that I later dredge up into consciousness.

You've gotten my attention...

Glenn said...

JMG Said:

my experience is that a lot of people who think they're using drugs as a gateway are simply looking for entertainment, and neither magic nor spirituality will provide them with that.

That's part of my point, drugs can take people _to_ a gateway, but never through it. And yes, for most modern citizens of this country, they are seeking diversion rather than spirituality. It's the "hard work" aspect, even if done with the mind (or the will, trying not to be aware of the mind...) that tends to put off a people used to getting all they want with no personal effort involved.

Now there's a history of "bad magic" as practiced by Wall Street and Madison Avenue; still it's an edifice built on a foundation we all laid.

Marrowstone Island.

Candace said...


Thank you for your thought provoking blog. I have been reading some of your books on magic because of some of what you have written. I find I am not self-disciplined enough to make a good practitioner. I know in a variety of religious traditions there were teachings for the average or "mundane" person and "inner" teachings for the "adept".

Do you have recommendations for "counter-spells" to some of the black magic? Is there a grown up psychological version of "I'm rubber, you're glue; bounces off me and stcks to you?

I think reading and thinking about your blog helps with the rational component of defense, what about defense in the less rational/emotional/unconscious arena?


John Michael Greer said...

Wwoofbum, I see the confusion. When you described the chart as one of the cost of extracting oil, I took you at your word without going to the chart; the cost of extraction has, in fact, remained pretty flat for decades. The chart you actually referenced, as it turns out, was a rather inaccurate chart of oil prices -- not the cost of extraction. Did you notice that it shaved nearly $50 a barrel off the 2008 peak, for example?

That said, now that we've got the misunderstandings out of the way, the answer to your question is quite simple. The price of oil was relatively low, and relatively stable, during the period when US oil production was still increasing; whenever the price started to rise, new fields could be brought on line to bring it back down. After 1970, when US oil production started to decline, that was no longer the case, and from then on prices were low only for a relatively brief period in the late 1980s and 1990s, when the market was being flooded with cheap crude for political reasons. Now that the world has passed peak production, the higher prices are here to stay, because new production being brought on line is no longer keeping up with old fields running dry.

Tony, I'd say first of all that magic is certainly not for everyone. It's been central to my life since my teen years, but here again it's rather like being a serious musician, say, or a martial artist -- if that's what calls you, that's one thing, but most people are better off with a less strenuous life, or at least one focused in other directions! There are a range of relatively simple practices anybody can use, and some useful perspectives that can be of help to most people, but the deep reaches of magic, no.

One of the simple practices you might consider adding to your evening nonprayers is the old custom of recollection: remember the day, in as much detail as seems relevant, in reverse -- as though watching a movie backwards, starting with the moment you begin the recollection and ending with waking up in the morning. It's a good way to slip past the usual memory filters. As you recall the day, of course, it's good to assess your choices and actions and make notes for improvement where that seems useful.

Glenn, bingo. A culture of entitlement will never be a culture of mages. It's a running joke for me that when somebody says "that worked like magic," I think, "Okay, it involved years of training, intensive preparations, and a tautly focused ritual performance that left sweat running down every limb. Got it."

Candace, fair enough! I'll be talking about some of those as we proceed. One basic step, though, is to deny access -- this is one of the reasons I encourage people to throw away their televisions, for example. If you deny the black magicians easy access to your brain, you've taken a major step in the right direction; of course you need to fill the empty space with something better, as I discussed in a post a few weeks back.

sofistek said...


I think you're falling into the usual habit of bloggers (or maybe it's a habit of everyone) of being convinced that they're right. In your response to me you said that you were challenging "a popular definition in favor of another that makes more sense". Actually, Clarke's third law makes more sense when the first definition of magic (as found in Chambers) is used. That his "misunderstanding" is almost universal is probably because the common definition of the word "magic" is not the definition that you like to use. The "magical thinking" you referred to also makes more sense with the first definition.

Yes, you're right that many words have multiple meanings but that's not all you were saying, as you claimed in your response to me, otherwise you'd simply link to your previous post on the subject and leave it at that. In any case, the Stanberrys of this world didn't use the word "magic", at least not in the quote, but you then went on to claim that the word does not have the meaning that most people think it does. I'm glad that you now realise that the word has multiple meanings but not glad that you seem to think that the meaning you prefer is the best one and the one people should adopt.

John Michael Greer said...

Sofistek, I've always been baffled by comments like yours, insisting that there's something wrong with thinking that one's views are correct. Of course I think my views are correct; if I didn't think they were correct, I'd replace them with the views that I do think are correct! Do you go around claiming things that you believe are wrong? If so, for heaven's sake, why?

Matthew Heins said...

"...I don't think I knew that you were a Greener!".

Heh ;). Well, I never graduated, but my wife did (before I met her). I was automobil-ing around the West and read in a bookstore outside of Portland that Evergreen had no grades. College with no grades! I thought, that's the ticket!.

But alas, they had something worse than grades, they had Seminar class. ;)

As much as I found watching a group of 15-30 twentysomethings attempting to have a 2 hour long conversation about a book without revealing the fact that none of them had read it educational, I was much more interested in the book itself and so decided to save some money and just read the book, hold the institution.

Others have had a very different experience, however. My wife for example had an excellent education in the sciences there.

Sometimes I think of myself as actually being a bit more of a Greener than the Evergreen of 2000- could handle. From what I've heard, the place was much more my speed in your college years than in mine.But even more, I think I would sit through 1000 Seminar classes to be "magically" ;) transported back to Evergreen (and Washington!) 1969-70s.

But anyways...

Nice to see that most people were able to handle the shock of The Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America revealing he had a bit of an interest in magic so well. ;)

Very much looking forward to next week's post. It seems to me that the non-technical aspects of our predicament are a large part of why it is not a cluster of problems.


Zanshin said...

What we do with our minds changes our brains (literally - the actual structure changes as neuronal connections are remodelled), which then changes our minds. See Norman Doidge's 'The Brain That Changes Itself' for an explanation of neuroplasticity. The implication is that we can consciously take control of this process, and as our brains change our experiences change. A useful, credible introduction to HOW to do this is 'Buddha's Brain', by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius, a Neuropsychologist and Neurologist respectively. Not just for Buddhists! Was it Robert Anton Wilson who talked about Headonic Engineering for fun and profit?

Cherokee Organics said...


"Our society stinks of it."

Err, not my most elegant bit of prose, but it was heartfelt and I couldn't find a better way of expressing myself.

As a purely pragmatic question and as long as it doesn't not conflict with your interests, what can an individual do with the information that they glean from this process?

The reason that I ask is because sometimes it is unsettling for me personally to pierce through to the truth of the situation / matter and see it for what it is. I'm unsure how to incorporate this knowledge in my belief systems and additionally have no desire to change others attitudes - they must come to change in their own time.

Is there training or learning for this, I'd appreciate some advice?

As an aside, I've been working towards my own version of the Green Wizards project over the past 17 years - although for me it has taken many different paths than first anticipated.

You confirm my world view.

My grandfather who is now passed, but was a truly interesting person, said to me a long time ago, "only those that look ahead, get ahead". It's a shame I did not have more of a chance to converse with him as an adult, he willed himself to death once his working life at 71 (which was his raison d'etre) was over.



phil harris said...

When you recommend the practice of recollection (e.g. before Tony's evening non-prayer), how do you see that rewinding through our minds?

You mentioned before that you think entirely in language (words). Do you, however, also see the 'video' clips, hear the speech of others, feel the emotions, squirm accasionally at the implications? Indeed, scatter question marks as tags among those implications?
Or like Wordsworth, recollect emotion in tranquility; if I remember him correctly?

Uwe said...

I have read and appreciated your posts for about two years now. What still draws me is your unconventional and insightfull perspective. The reason I am posting now is that in these post equinox hours reading your entry and the comments made something click in my mind.
For some time now I have been looking for creative community. In existing and in emerging communities I have experienced the power of ritual to transform and integrate. I see community as magic ground without really knowing anything about magic.
What I learned today is that magic can be studied and that I might apply myself to it with the goal of building community in mind.

RainbowShadow said...

God, speaking of "baboon politics" and statements of facts as "marking territory," is there any way I can convince anyone that ideas should be judged on their own intellectual merits and actual quality and not how superficially "successful" they are.

Like, for example, those idiots who take one television station or other (whether it's MSNBC for liberals or Fox News for conservatives, I'm not picky) as the Word of God simply because "it has more viewers than anyone else and gets the most ratings and therefore it's Number One", never mind whether or not the newscasters act like MANCHILDREN shouting and screaming at each other?

If you have any ideas on how we can break this idiotic "I'm Number One and who cares if my ideas are right as long as I'm the most successful!" culture, that would be great. I sometimes wake up gawping like a goldfish at the antics of this country's citizens sometimes, and I realize that gawping isn't productive but I don't know how to tell people "You should judge ideas by their sound or unsound reasoning and not by how popular they are" without them screaming at me "YOU FILTHY ELITIST!!!"

Aside from that, FANTASTIC post as usual! As usual, you say in writing what I'm too afraid to say aloud for fear I might be judged as going off the deep end.

You may be interested in knowing that I've completely stopped watching television at least one or two years ago, so I hope that's progress at least.

DavidB said...

A quick followup to the biofeedback question (for which thanks btw). As by definition alterations in consciousness, would you consider all learning to be "magical"?

Ploughboy said...

You seem to be drawing them out of the woodwork this week Mr.'s another long time lurker on this board, stepping out. Magic does that I suppose.

(Hey to Bill P. up N. of me, I'm just one of the happy shirtless, here in the Heart of Dixie.)

But yeah, in my experience, unbending intent does yield real changes in consciousness. I've been talking in front of juries in the courtrooms of Alabama for about 25 years. In that time, I've regularly glimpsed snatches of that made evident. As they say, when you are good, it always looks easy, but it is nothing of the kind. I've had the privilege of watching and learning from some of the best civil trial lawyers alive, on both the plaintiffs' and defendants' side. What happens when the collective focus of that many people comes to bear on a single set of facts is pure-d alchemy. I have no doubt at all that if you brought this kind of scrutiny to bear on a larger problem, transformation would result. Sad to relate, it has happened many times in history, but only rarely for the good (O.K., I’ll concede that it sometimes doesn’t happen for the good in the courtroom either). Doesn't argue against the possibilities though.

Robert said...

@ Tim and Sofistek on the word "magic" and similar terms.

"Magic" is a technical term within a learnèd discipline that has its own scholarly traditions and its own specialist terminology.

All scholarly and/or scientific disciplines have technical terms of their own, which they appropriated ("stole," if you like) from common speech, but repurposed to suit their own needs.

When the discipline is a recognized one, its terminology sometimes gets registered even in dictionaries for generalists (like Webster's or the OED), though never with anything like perfect accuracy. When, however, the discipline is a reprehended one (as is the study of magic), then most dictionaries ignore its technical terminology altogether.

Technical terms are needed because common, everyday language is a wretched and woefully inadequate instrument for any sort of precise, technical, impersonal thinking. Human speech did not evolve to do that kind of thinking. Rather, it evolved to serve other purposes, for example, to create social cohesion, or to persuade others to some common course of action, or to play all the varied "games" of power-over that our species enjoys so much.

This is why those of us who are magicians by virtue of our long study and practice -- magicians by profession, if you will -- must insist on the necessity of using the technical terms of our discipline without any concession to common speech, much less to any generalist dictionary.

Of course, we can explain this terminology when others find it unclear, at least to the limited extent that it can be explained in common speech. But requiring us to adapt our technical terminology to common usage makes no more sense than requiring a carnivorous animal to stop eating meat and subsist on vegetables alone. The carnivore would die, and so would any scholarly or scientific discipline if it had to use only common speech.

Robert Mathiesen / Mageprof

Spartiate said...

John, I've read your Druidry Handbook and was wondering when you'd address magic, since I thoroughly enjoyed that book.

I think your open-mindedness is what has drawn me most to your viewpoints on peak oil, and I just wanted to thank you again for your time and effort to share your thoughts on these matters. I hope they will help other people look at things differently.

Your comments hit home for me. A best friend of mine is finishing up his Doctoral in Social Psychology, with an emphasis on evolutionary theory. He reads skeptic books by guys like Michael Shermer, and dismisses anything that cannot be measured by science. And while I consider myself agnostic, I'm not nearly as closed-minded. We end up having to tip-toe around discussions that have anything to do with the metaphysical. I hope he will one day open up a bit, as I'd like to discuss some of these things with him, but he does the same thing you describe in this post, scoffs, gives an irritated look and turns away.

Maybe you could write a "Dealing with the Closed-Minded Handbook". =)

Glenn said...

Robert, Mageprof,

Thanks for that. I'm a sailor and boatbuilder with some scientific training. When people ask why I use a $7 word, I reply 1: It's more accurate than any other word. 2: It can replace several other words. 3: Which can aid being concise, which can be a lifesaver on a boat or ship in an emergency...

This only works as a communication aid when everyone knows the same vocabulary. Which is one of the reasons sailors and scientists both undergo training.


mirror said...

The most dramatic display of magic I have experienced is the Lakota yuwipi ceremony. You can google for details, what I've read is variously accurate. My son is/was one of the singers and I attended a number of rituals. I accepted what I saw, heard, felt, smelled, at face value, for there is no scientific 'explanation' for the phenomena as most educated westerners would have it, no matter how tortured their logic. But then I saw odd things as a child, and learned odder lessons - not always pleasant, - as an adult, until I learned to pay attention. There are worlds or planes, of existence and to understand this simultaneously simplifies and enriches life.

WwoofBum said...


Thanks. I can see that I was being too loose in my use of terminology.

On the other hand, while my expectations for the future are pretty much in line with yours, I still feel that a reasonably sensible person could look at the history of oil prices and say "Hey, looks pretty good to me. Sure, there was the damn OPEC guys screwing us in the 70s, and the speculators screwing us in the 00s, but even at $100.00/barrel we're not paying much more (in constant value dollars) than we were in 1900."

Robert said...

Cathy McGuire wrote:

"So far, your description of magic seems simlar to Jungian Active Imagination, and some practioners have gone so far as to give the images encountered there a "psychoid" dimension (meaning not real on this plane, but not just imagination)."

Jung's mother and her relatives routinely dealt with (perceived) spirits. His doctoral dissertation was on the phenomena of spirit mediumship, taking a cousin of his as the subject and reporting the results of seances with her as the medium. In my book, Jung counts as a well-read occultist throughout his adult life, but an occultist who pragmatically made himself "pass" as a scientist according to the standards of his age, and who managed to build a respected career on the basis of his interests. The similarities between his technique of Active Imagination and some aspects of magical practice are not an accident.

As for the ontological status of the entities encountered in such practices, it may be useful to begin with a distinction between "imaginary" and "imaginal," both of which are different from "physical" or "real" (as materialists use the last terms).

Loosely, what is "physical" exists in the material realm, and it can produce effects in that realm; what is "imaginary" is not, and cannot.

Between them lies the imaginal realm. It is like the imaginary realm in that does not exist in the material world, but it is like the physical realm in that it can produce effects in the material world.

The clearest example of something imaginal, for most of us, is being-in-love. Being in love has its physiological components in the material world of the body, but it is more than *just* the sum of those components. Among other salient points, being in love has a structure and an aim. The material world knows no teleology, and has no aims, but by its nature love is teleological, that is, it has aims and desires).

One might say, "Yes, but being in love is a useful and socially valuable fancy, nothing more." We do have fancies of that sort, but usually they are hard for another to detect at a glance. When, however, one is in love, even if one has not yet admitted it to oneself, any friend can instantly see that something important has changed: one's behavior, one's body language, one's whole external presentation to the world, alters in distinctive and recognizable ways. This is the realm of the imaginal, and it contrasts sharply to the passing fancies with somewhat similar content that arise, say, as one sits down and samples the books in the romance or the fantasy sections of a bookstore. What these books yield belongs to the imaginary realm, not the imaginal one.

Likewise, deciding to make a fist belongs to the imaginal realm if one's own hand then clenches. Also, using words or gestures that inspire others to clench their fists and brandish them is also an example of work in the imaginal realm that has effects in the physical realm. Among other things, magic is a means of working effectively in the imaginal realm.

So the entities encountered in magical practice of Jung's Active Imagination, whatever else they may or may not be, also have their being in the imaginal realm for the practitioner (rather than the imaginary or the physical one). As such, they can impact the physical, material world in a mediated fashion at the very least.

There is much more to magic, or to Active Imagination, than can be accounted for by distinguishing "imaginal" from "imaginary," but at least it gives one a useful starting point.

(Footnote: It was Henry Corbin who introduced the distinction between the "imaginal" world and the "imaginary" worlds into these discussions, on the basis of a similar distinction in Islamic (Shiite) philosophy. See his article "Mundud Imaginalis," which is available here and there on the web.]

Robert Mathiesen / Mageprof

Robert said...

@ Draft about the use of drugs in magic.

Consider what Rudyard Kipling said in an address ("Surgeons and the Soul") to the Royal College of Surgeons way back in 1923:

"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."

If you use them skillfully, words (and, I would add, ritual) can do all that drugs do, and more. The trick is to use them skillfully enough to open the doors of perception fully. I assure you, it can be done.

Robert Mathiesen / Mageprof

Jan Steinman said...

"... the more egalitarian a group claims to be, the more completely it depends on baboon politics to maintain group cohesion and direction—though if you mention that in such circles, you’ll get an irritated look followed by canned polemics."

So, what to do about this situation? If we hold egalitarianism as an ideal, are we doomed to medulla-driven politics?

I do agree completely, but can't escape the trap. When you're caught up in something, understanding so isn't much help.

Blindweb said...

@Bruce the Druid

I don't know anything about the sects of Taoism. I have no interest in learning about them. I only follow the Tao. I don't quite understand why one would need to create a practice for no-mind, like Tai Chi. Create something from nothing to bring you back to nothing. Very convoluted to me.

My main point, although I realize convoluted, was why use a system like magic, yoga, or Tai Chi? The systemless system is the path of least resistance.

The five colours blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear...He lets go of that and chooses this.

Robert said...

Chris (Cherokee Organics) wrote:

"The reason that I ask is because sometimes it is unsettling for me personally to pierce through to the truth of the situation / matter and see it for what it is. . . . . . Is there training or learning for this, I'd appreciate some advice?"

Here is some of that advice:

T. S. Eliot ("Burnt Norton") sets the scene for a walk in a garden full of unheard music, with unseen creatures behind the dead leaves of autumn, and other worlds hidden from us in other ways. A bird -- a thrush -- calls out to the spooked walkers:

"Go! go! go! said the bird: human kind / Cannot bear very much reality."

The thrush has said it rightly: too much reality is more than we humans can naturally bear, and when a body has too great a burden to bear, it experiences pain, both experiential and social.

The pain will always be there, if one pays attention to oneself and the world in which one lives.

But one can also learn *by hard, stubborn practice* to do one's work in the world despite the pain, so long as it is not too intense. For me, concentration on work can also alleviate pain, and the harder the work, the greater the relief.

And if the pain gets too intense, well, often -- not always! -- one can reduce it to bearable levels by implementing the placebo effect on oneself. I have found it to be just as strong if you know you're using a placebo, as if you don't know. And it doesn't need to be administered or prescribed by an authority figure to work strongly, either. (Placebo effects work in and through the imaginal world, as do nocebo effects, so we are moving into the territory of magic here.)

I have always felt the experiential and social pain that you mention, from my earliest childhood up to now. Very early on I found -- by chance! -- that concentrating on work eased the pain, and so I became a scholar (and eventually a professor) in fields that did not come easily to me, but took me very hard work and deep concentration to master. Because that hard work and intense concentration eased the pain, the work and concentration themselves became, and remain, a source of abundant joy for me. (When pain finally goes away, there is always an upwelling of joy.)

And then, for the last quarter of a century, I have also had to live with the sort of full-body pain that is sometimes diagnosed as fibromyalgia. Chemical painkillers of any sort have never worked very well for me, and the stronger ones badly impair my concentration and ability to work. So I have begun to learn how to make he placebo effect work for myself to ease pain, and I have had some success with it so far. (Basically, I am experimenting on myself, on my own.)

Part of the secret here is not to fear pain all that much. It is, by now, an old and familiar companion of mine -- not a friend, precisely, though it has taught me much, even also some things about magic. For me, a human life, fully lived,will bring pain, then death, and finally even the total erasure of one's very self and memory. Who am I to fear such things? I hardly matter that much, except to my own ego? As for the ego, who now knows the names of the men who built Göbekli Tepe, or the litter-box attendants for the sacred cats in a temple of Bastet? YMMV, of course.

I don't know whether any of this may help a little, but I hope it might. It's about the journey, not the destination.

Robert Mathiesen / Mageprof

Myriad said...

I'm listening, and waiting to see how this progresses.

Just one comment for now: from the presentation so far, it appears that the subject matter of memetics must overlap significantly with at least some facets of magic, especially regarding aggressive spells effecting social transformation. I'm surprised that association hasn't come up yet, so I'll throw it out there.

by Aurok said...

As a practicioner of magic, a great fan of your books, and an economist, I'm somewhat disheartened by your use of the term. Any scientist operating in a setting that demands views of him rather than giving him the means to create his own will become a tool of the wealthy. At his or her best, an economist is equal parts money manager, behavioral analyst, and mathematic historian. I'm going to grad school for Environmental Economics (which is applied ecological statistics) to get far afield from the cult of perpetual growth evangelized by investment bankers.

On the semantic tip: I use the term 'mundane magic' to distinguish what I practice from the supernatural magic that offends those who do not want their sacred laws of physics violated (blasphemed). It's not that I have not experienced the supernatural - but it is an entirely seperate discussion from the magic I use to bring my whole body and mind in accord with my aims.

As a sidenote, I've argued that anything which is not measurable, replicable, or universally percievable is beyond the purview of science. This is where supernatural magic can begin. I've never had this refuted, though I've never had it accepted, either.

Roy Smith said...

JMG, I have been working my way (slowly) through the training path described in Learning Ritual Magic, and as a result of reading some of the other books recommended in it, I recently ran across this passage in The Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune that I would like to hear your perspective on: "I can only endorse what all the gurus of the Eastern Tradition have always averred - that any system of psycho-spiritual development can only be safely and adequately carried on under the personal supervision of an experienced teacher." This is my latest encounter with an idea that I have run into numerous other places.

Also, in response to this: "there's a long and honorable traditions of Christian magic, and in fact just about every religion I've ever heard of has at least one magical tradition closely associated with it." True enough, but I suspect Christianity is unique, or at least a bit unusual, in that most adherents to it do not regard their magical tradition as legitimate in any way.

Alphonse Houner said...

Some of the ideas in this posting may be evident when evaluating several other belief systems. I have an ongoing, and mostly friendly, discussion with the pastor of our Presbyterian church. He considers himself an accomplished theologian which n practice means he knows multiple interpretations of scripture and thus is unassailable when it comes to all things spiritual and religious. He brushes off the claim that an individual can “be spiritual without being religious” which means you cannot have a spiritual experience without attending trappings of religious practices; this in clear contravention of the very scripture upon which he bases his notions and many of the hymns sung during religious services. Unfortunately I do not agree as through my now long life I have had spiritual experiences far more often when in nature than within a spiritual artifice such as a church.

Such attitudes seem be common among nearly all lines of discipline whether it be political, economic, scientific, social or religious. In each case it appears to be an attempt to quantify everything but in the case of things economic, social and religious things cannot be quantified as, at the core, we are in each we are dealing with individual mindsets and emotions. This practice also seems to be an attempt to provide individual or group discipline by discouraging disparate beliefs and in the process make the so-called expert indispensible. Seemingly all this is to protect an illogical and dying status quo through complex belief and regulatory systems.

Thanks again for the good work.

Ric said...

Apologies if this repeats anything previous in this forum, but Porter Stansberry's touching faith in cornucopian oil reminds me of the wonderful story:

A dozen economists were hosted by a dozen mining professionals on a tour deep in the mine. Suddenly, a fearful accident cut them off from all escape. They gathered together and took stock. Plenty of air, plenty of water, and the miners were confident they could be found and reached, but unfortunately the drilling would probably take several weeks. But what about food?

One of the economists volunteers that he was carrying two cheese sandwiches. And praise be, another economist pipes up to say she's just been to the mint, and has one million dollars cash.

A wave of blessed relief sweeps over the economists, who are confident there would straightaway spring up a robust market in sandwiches.

Ric Merritt

Robert said...


If JMG hadn't beat me to it, I was going to recommend Morton Smith's _Jesus the Magician_ to you also. It's a very good and careful piece of scholarship, so it can be tough going even though it's written for a popular audience rather than a technical scholarly one. In general, Smith was an absolutely first-rate scholar with an impressively broad reach.

To be sure, the available evidence doesn't reach far enough to settle all the open questions with which Smith deals, but by and large I found his arguments and readings of that evidence to be convincing.

What Smith does argue, I think, is not precisely that Jesus was a magician, but rather that he was not a mere rabbi or exorcist, or even *primarily* an ethical teacher, but either (1) a magician or (2) an actual incarnate god . . . but Smith himself takes an atheist position in the book (and in his own life), and does not admit the existence of any gods, which leaves only the first of these two options for him.

Other, less skilled and less scholarly authors have followed up Smith's work in recent years. See Robert Conner's _Jesus the Sorcerer_ and _Magic in the New Testament_, and Pieter F. Craffert's _The Life of a alilean Shaman: Jesus of Nazerteth in Anthropological Historical Peerspective_. All three of these books have lots of interesting details and tidbits for someone who has already mastered Smith's book, but they are really not helpful for a reader coming fresh to the problem.

More valuable than Conner and Craffert's books are Margaret Barker's later works, especially _The Great High Priest_ and her subsequent books on what she calls "temple theology." Barker is the real scholarly deal, an accomplished academic in the field of Biblical studies and a past president of one of the professional societies in that field. And she is a good writer.

Although Barker greatly downplays the fact, she has also read and profited from high-level works on the practice of magic, e.g., the first edition of William Bloom's _The Sacred Magician_, which is a thoughtful account of Bloom's successful completion of the Abramelin work and the considerable effects it had on his life afterwards. (The first edition includes valuable preface by Peter Sommer, which she also cites.)

So there's lots to read now on the subject of Jesus's own magical practices. Enjoy!

Robert Mathiesen / Mageprof

Robert said...

@ Tony, sekerne and DavidB

Thank you for pointing me to Kevin J. Tracey's work on the splenic nerve and inflammation. I expect their work will help me increase the power of the placebo effect as I deal with my own case. It always helps to have a good, accurate understanding of the physiology that one intends to influence by means of magic (in this case, the placebo effect).

Robert Mathiesen / Mageprof

John Michael Greer said...

Matt, I wasted plenty of time in equivalent nonlearning experiences at Fairhaven. I know it's hopelessly old-fashioned to suggest this, but in my experience learning works best when there's somebody who knows a subject, and mostly teaches, and somebody who wants to learn it, and mostly listens and takes notes.

Zanshin, most interesting.

Cherokee, we'll be discussing that down the road a bit.

Phil, depends on your own mental habits. With me, it's a narrative with pauses for reflection.

Uwe, that's certainly an approach. Just be sure you don't use magic as a means to the end of influencing others -- there are some serious dangers that way.

Rainbow, no argument there.

David, not if it just stocks the memory with different information. Changes in the content of consciousness are not equivalent to changes in consciousness.

Ploughboy, that's fascinating; I can well imagine the law courts as a focus for magic.

Spartiate, thank you. Unfortunately such a book would be very short, and not very effective. No known explosive is powerful enough to blast open a thoroughly closed mind.

Mirror, fascinating!

Wwoofbum, that's why you want to show that chart along with a chart showing the rate at which production has been outstripping new discovery. That's the one that tends to catch the attention of those people who are willing to think about the subject at all.

Jan, there's a very simple and solidly proven alternative, which is relatively egalitarian and tends to keep the baboonery from overwhelming the process. It's to have an explicit system, such as a constitution and bylaws, and some sort of basic rules of order to govern meetings. You might want to research, for example, how highly egalitarian organizations such as the Grange, say, or the old-line unions, used to manage their meetings and decisionmaking processes.

John Michael Greer said...

Myriad, memetics is a more modern word for the evocation of spirits. (Seriously.) One step at a time!

Aurok, er, which term? That wasn't at all clear from your comment.

Roy, a teacher is good to have -- and I've had a couple of very good ones -- but in my experience, things aren't quite as cut and dried as DF argued. As for Christianity, it's not unique, though it is definitely in the minority. Still, did you know that there's a patron saint of Christian mages?

Ric, that's good. Thank you.

Matthew Heins said...

A true revolution in education!

All we need is a good name for the people who profess the subjects and another one for the people who study them. ;)

In fairness to my teachers at Greenerville, though, I was definitely not doing my part to listen and take notes. I wanted the guys who wrote the books to be my professors. They seemed to know what they were talking about.

It flows nicely with your response to Jan, doesn't it?

Actually being explicit about the situation in finding a solution is invaluable.

"You're here to learn what we know so shut it and listen." would be a sort of harsh way to put it, but that is the essence of the method employed for the bulk of a millenium by such little-known places as Oxford or Cambridge Universities.

Or put another way, my fellows and I should have asked ourselves the question: "If we know this stuff well enough to have a Seminar on it, what the heck are we still doing in school?"


South Florida said...

Thank you, JMG, and Bill Pulliam also, for your helpful clarification regarding the mental aspects of hunting, gambling, et al., where magical practice might be helpful.

Thank you also, JMG, for your response to my second post. I'm afraid, however, that the principal thrust of my query may have been obscured by my reference to the ill-considered magic of the economists.

Allow me, therefore, to rephrase my question: In both your original blog post, and your response to my second post, you indicate both a basic agnosticism, and a relative lack of concern, regarding the question whether the spiritual phenomena one encounters in magical practice that SEEM to have a reality independent of the mind really DO have a reality independent of the mind.

For me, as a prospective practitioner of magic, however, the issue of the potential extra-mental reality of these spiritual phenomena would matter a great deal. For if these spiritual entities are real apart from the mind, then one is putting him- or herself in their hands, it seems to me, in a manner that makes one profoundly vulnerable to being harmed by them. The potential harm they might cause, moreover, may happen in ways of which one very well may not even be aware.

One is furthermore placing his or her trust in their basic benevolence, if they happen to be real. But what if, instead of being real but benevolent, they are real but also malevolent and profoundly deceitful in their intentions?

Do not these aspect of a serious engagement in magic warrant at least some concern and hesitation for the prospective practitioner of magic, as well as for the established practitioner who has perhaps not adequately considered them?

Bill Pulliam said...

Aurok -- I am going to speak from the point of view of physics here, often viewed as the "hardest" of the hard sciences: There is no such thing as supernatural. There is no event that you can imagine (or even that you cannot) that completely violates the known, empirically tested, proven laws of nature. So you suddenly found yourself transported to a new place and time without having expended any energy getting there? Extremely unlikely. But not impossible, and not a violation of the laws of physics. The claims of "supernatural" magic I have seen have generally been far smaller than this, of course. You received information from a remote location through an unknown mechanism? Nothing wrong with that so long as the information did not travel faster than light. Even if the info did come superluminally, this is still not impossible, just very very unlikely. The fact that you do not know how the information came to you is certainly not supernatural, just ignorant.

JMG etc. about consciousness... As JMG pointed out, we are not talking about changing your ideas, beliefs, or knowledge. Magic involves changing STATES of consciousness. Images, words, ideas, can help foster this state change. but they do not per se comprise it. Awake versus dreaming is a consciousness state change. Attentive versus daydreaming is another. The magician learns a whole multivariate spectrum of conscious states and how to shift among them at will. In each state, the processes of the mind are tuned differently, using the same inputs and knowledge in different ways. Stare at this screen and read some of the words. Now stare out the window and gaze at a leaf. That is a change in state of consciousness. You will not spot the caterpillar while reading the screen, you will not be exposed to JMGs written ideas while gazing at the leaf. It all depends on what you wish to achieve.

sofistek said...

JMG, you seemed to have missed my point. Of course if one is expressing an opinion, one thinks it is the right opinion. What I was getting at was that opinions aren't necessarily right and isn't it a mark of a reasonable person to take on board others' opinions, that may differ from yours, and occasionally modify your opinion accordingly? I've pointed out mistakes you've made in the past and in your books but you've been very reluctant to accept those mistakes (regarding me as a troll, to begin with, and, in the end, not even acknowledging your mistake).

I note that you did accept that words have different meanings but only in a brief comment to me. Are you likely to update your post, though? I rather doubt it. Are you still claiming that your definition of "magic" is the right one or the one that makes more sense in the context of Stansberry's quote or Clarke's quote? I think you'd be hard pressed to make that claim but I notice that you ignored the rest of my previous comment so I don't hold out much hope of your altering your stance.

Vicky K said...

I am fascinated by implications of the placebo effect. And the splenic nerve connection with inflammation.

In the realm of health it seems practical to harness mental/magical forces in lieu of elaborate medical care as it exists today, given that we will probably have to do without a lot of the current medical care in the future. And the nice thing about magic is that it can't be monopolized by the AMA. But it still may have to remain more underground if there are any claims of healing made by the practioners. Just as herbal medicines walk a fine line of practicing without a license.

Any self-care would of course be exempt by the fact of privacy. I do see some possible problems arising when treatment fails and a person dies, like in the case of some parents being held responsible when Christian Science treatments failed and the parents refused to seek conventional medical treatment.

Conventional medical treatment can fail us without stigma it seems.

I know that you want to give magic a legitimate place but it does seem that practicing medical magic is fraught with far too much baggage to call it MAGIC. Might this be an exception to your use of the word? Calling it accelerated self-healing or some other innocuous sounding term might work better. Or Placebo Plus. Sounds kind of scientific-ey.

On the other hand, gardening magic is a pretty safe bet that you could use magical terminology and get away with it and just seem eccentric as long as your garden is successful.

Now to my other point. Why should we be promoting magical acts and procedures when the history of magic is filled with an overgrowth of malignant intentions? Whole societies have become paranoid and ill-willed because of it.

John Michael Greer said...

Matt, truly revolutionary. ;-)

South Florida, I think you misunderstood my response to your second comment. Magic does not teach that it's a good idea to presume on the benevolence of the apparent entities that are experienced as a result of magical training -- quite the contrary. As I tried to explain, among the basic elements of magical training are methods to chase off these apparent entities; that's what any capable teacher of magic teaches first.

Sofistek, I considered your opinion and disagreed with it. I still disagree with it; as I've tried to point out, the meaning of words is always contested and negotiated, and I'm making use of that property to make some of the points I feel are important to make in this discussion. Now of course you can disagree with that if you wish to, but that's not going to change my view of the subject. 'Nuf said.

Vicky, I don't think anything will make magic acceptable or respectable in modern industrial culture, and replacing the scary "m word" with a euphemism -- well, it's been tried many times, as I've pointed out more than once already, and it doesn't do any good; the biases of materialism still exclude what I'm discussing, whatever you label it. It's proven more effective to keep the name and let it serve as a protective screen -- the fact that people insist on confusing magic with bad fantasy is, among other things, a good way to evade attention.

As for societies becoming paranoid and ill-willed because of magic, well, isn't that a good description of where we are right now? Wvery society in all of human history has practiced magic. The question is this: do you want to be a passive recipient, or do you want to understand what's going on and be able to do something about it?

Vicky K said...

So, JMG, do you mean that what we are most concerned with is self-protection from the bombardment of influences that reach into our psyches without our permission? Rather than actual practice of magical procedures that enhance our own intentions?

I don't equate the psy-ops of propaganda, advertising and appeals to some moral higher ground[guilt tripping] to be MAGIC in the truest sense, but just clever manipulation using some of the tools of magic. That is, getting past the filters of our conscience minds to buy or vote or believe something that they are promoting.

The psychology of persuasion is sufficient to explain the phenomenon. Even when we don't fully understand the neurological underpinnings of the effect.

My understanding of magic is that it ranges from manifesting a parking space where and when you want it, to revolutionizing your inner self to where your will and the whole are synchronized fully.

Doctor Westchester said...


I am almost embarrassed to admit that I don’t call any comments of yours referring to a film made by an US Transition group. Can you provide a link to that post or other writings? Was something that Michael Brownlee did? I try to read any criticisms of the Transition movement in order to better understand its limitations and weaknesses. I have found yours invaluable, especially one that warns of the dangers of revitialization movements. Criticisms by, say, people identifying with the Tea Party may be less insightful and coherence but are still invaluable in other ways.

As far as the practicing of the black arts of marketing and advertizing, unfortunately that is so ingrained in American culture, maybe even more so than the next worst offenders, that people have no clue that there might be anything else. I barely do and the voice that says, “If you don’t do that, what else is there?” still loudly whispers from the corners of my mind.

I noted your caution to Uwe about using magic to influence others. The voice in my mind asks, “If you shouldn’t do that, what good is it?” A good question and one that I suspect means looking at ends and ultimate purposes. Thus one danger that you may speak of is the creating of a revitialization movement, others may be more personal.

Again, I look forward to what you have to say. If I don’t get answers to these nagging thoughts, I hope to at least get some insight around them

Justin said...

I don't think one should have to worry if a non-existent deity accessed in a change in consciousness to divine the physical and mental state of a social group as a unit, if that consciousness were real in a sense of existing, it wouldn't belong in the non-reality of consciousness.

Unknown said...

"Porter Stansberry can brandish the arcane symbols of the stock market and intone the ritual gibberish of economic textbooks all he wants; his incantations aren’t going to cause petroleum to materialize in the depleted reservoirs of America and the world."

(Deborah Bender) I'm going to be catching up on previous posts and the comments for awhile, so my comment may not be new. The idea that increasing investment in oil exploration will necessarily result in increasing discoveries of petroleum reminds me of the late nineteenth century hypothesis that "rain follows the plow".

This idea was based on short term observations and some plausible mechanisms were proposed to account for it. The farmers who took the climatologists' advice and moved to the Midwest didn't do well in the long run.

Dwig said...

Hi all,
My schedule lately hasn't permitted me to do more than lurk, but this post (and some of the comments), triggered some thoughts I do want to share.

The statement "We know more than we realize, and affect more than we realize." reminded me of Michael Polanyi's dictum "We say more than we know that we say. We know more than we can say that we know". I read a review of "The Tacit Dimension" some time ago, and never quite got around to following up on it. Now, I'm wondering if Polanyi's work is relevant to the practice of magic. (Thre's a capsule review of his work at

Something I hope to see discussed in this "tour of magic": I've been recently mulling over the different ways that people perceive and use time and time-related concepts. For example, one can think of a hierarchy of durations of "human perceivable time", from "instantaneous" to "generations". For another, I had a dream a while back of visiting a civilization that created its "buildings" by planting and shaping trees over generations -- a new "building" would be begun with the idea that it would be completed by the "builders'" grandchildren. (Bernard Lietaer has described something like this with regard to the medieval builders, who literally built their structures to last for centuries.)

A thought on magic and science: it occurs to me that training in magic could be very useful to a scientist, particularly during revolutionary periods.

@Bill P.: re modern physics, particularly string theory: thanks! I'd suspected as much. Math can be subtly addictive, and not just for economists.

@JMG: "collective action is always tricky in magic": leave out the last two words and it's still true (e.g., the problems of consensus, or democracy for that matter). For a good case study, consider collective action by stakeholders in a commons, treated in depth in Ostrom's "Governing the Commons".

Re "baboon politics": I suspect that JMG had more in mind here than just a pejorative label. From what little I've read, baboons have a pretty complex and dynamic social life, one constantly in flux. At, there's an interesting essay called "Redefining the Social Link, From Baboons to Humans", which contains a short history of baboon studies. (In a nice bit of irony, the essay is in a book titled "Primate Politics".)

@Cherokee: "only those that look ahead, get ahead". Reminds me of a quote from Alvin Toffler: "In a time of drastic change it is the learners who survive; the 'learned' find themselves fully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."

@Uwe: You write "for some time now I have been looking for creative community". You might be interested in a work I started a while ago, and would like to return to, if I can find some collaborators:

Re the planes of existence: As a software engineer, this puts me in mind of some ideas I've had. The basic idea is that hardware doesn't determine what a computer can do. Rather, it provides a space of possibilities that software "lives in". In turn, basic software (operating systems, software languages, system libraries, ...) elaborates on that space, both narrowing it (by foreclosing some possibilities) and extending it (by creating new possibilities). I've thought that this might point to a useful way to understand the relationship between body and mind (animus and/or spiritus). At least, it could provide a good argument against reducing mental activity to "sequences of sets of synaptic firings" or some such.

Joel said...

I seem to recall the story of loaves and fishes not following the template that most accounts of miracles follow. Usually, if people are amazed, the text mentions their amazement explicitly. Not so this time.

Porter Stansberry isn't attempting the same sort of work that Jesus performed for the multitude: like the disciples did in that story, he assumes that people's needs will only be met if they are encouraged to use money. The disciples only had five loaves and two fish, but "the human being(s)," as a shared identity, had plenty of food.

The important work here isn't to allow more to be bought, but to reveal that we have enough.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Robert,

Thankyou for your thoughts. The thrush indeed sounds correct in its assertion.

Physical pain has not been much of an issue for me as I learned to switch it off through a few decades of long distance running - which I no longer do. It is akin to the meditative state that you achieve through hard work. I too like nothing better than clearing my head with a bit of music and a days hard work. It rests the mind.

Years ago I fractured my fore arm when a jackhammer fell over and I stupidly reached out to stop its fall. It connected with with my arm and well, lets say I saw stars and felt a bit sweaty. Still, there was work to be done, so I kept going. A few weeks later, I thought I better go and see a doctor, who promptly sent me off to an x-ray and found the fracture had formed a callus on the bone and it was too late for anything to be done. He had a sense of humor and asked me for a DNA sample because he thought I was an alien having not come to see him earlier.

I've always thought that the pathways into the brain for pain can be unlearned as well as learned.

I'm sorry to hear about your ailments, but I reckon you are on the right track to getting by day to day with it. There is nothing like hard work to clear the mind and refresh the body.

The mental side is another thing all together for me. I have no idea what to do with the information I glean from interactions with others. I used to use the word "gaming" to describe what I see, but well, magic is as good a usage, if not better for various reasons.

The knowledge of what is going on around me is very useful, however, I have also had to deliberately limit my inputs - no free to air commercial television for example because I find it to be disturbing - particularly the marketing and PR exercises - which are so frequent as to be wrong.

My ethical base is "do no harm" and some people take this for a weakness, when I consider it a strength. It can sometimes very occasionally lead to difficult situations as some people find the limits of my boundaries.

There are a type of people that like testing other people. When they get a response, they escalate their programs to the next level. I feel sorry for them because they are on auto pilot and it is the only progam they know for interactions with others. It is these types that occasionally give me grief. Ahh, more learning.

I'm interested to see where JMG leads us in this discussion, it's sure to be some place interesting. I suspect the Green Wizards project requires more than just talk at the end of the day and I accept that outcome.



Jason said...

Great post! How nice to see it at last!

JMG:If you show them that the canned polemics are riddled with ignorance, irrelevancies, and straw man arguments, they’ll just give you an irritated look and go right back to the canned polemics.

Ah! Words to live by. Not forgetting Hazlitt:

There is no prejudice so strong as that which arises from a fancied exemption from all prejudice.

Equally challenging for many is putting in that ternary between science and magic. Lots of ‘deviance taboo’ knocking about whenever you talk about the ‘weird science’ as well.

Jung was already mentioned -- all the stuff Zanshin listed has turned up confirmations of his approach, which the psych texts somehow forget to mention. (see Haule).

Keeping the word ‘magic’ out of it hasn’t really helped. Hypnosis is magic, but its strongly-fought battle to avoid being thought of under the label (and thereby do some good to people who can use it) requires constant energetic input. I guess it has had some good effects. But mainstream psychologists just don’t like it. Milton Erickson, the demigod of hypnotherapy, is not mentioned at all in psychology, even though more are using his approaches than ever.

Erickson mixes very handily with the trad magical forms -- Jason Augustus Newcomb did a book combining NLP (derived from Erickson) with Hermetics, and got a JMG stamp of approval on the back cover. Jan Fries did very enjoyable things along more non-traditional lines that mix very well with how I approach mind. Both good beginners’ books for the interested.

I just wrote a blog post about what that Ericksonian hypnosis approach can do in the way of change to those nonrational internal maps. It’s jolly to see people buying books on ‘hypnotic language patterns’ who wouldn’t look even once at a Book of Gramarye!

I’m also glad JMG might talk about spiritus/ch’i later on, since that’s my favourite way in to magic. Again plenty of weird science there, which people can prove to themselves any time they want, although always shading into places science can’t reach. There’s a lot known about how the brain and nervous system interact with that energy (check out ISSSEEM for a start). I learned from martial artists, especially the late great Glenn Morris, how to use ch’i as a gateway into the magical and mystical. Directing energy (through the body and beyond it) for certain effects was and is a big part of the ryu/lineage, although enlightenment is the primary goal. But they are all connected.

JMG, I’m sure you’d’ve enjoyed Glenn’s company and/or a session hacking at each other with swords and magic! A very different way from Hermetics and druidry, but in magic I think dissensus is valuable too. His Ph.D was in Communication and he favoured the study of rhetoric, which has its magical elements. A propos of this post, he once wrote:

Spirit is not just an attitude or something invoked by a pretty cheerleader. ‘To inspire’ is not what a thrill it is to meet a personal hero. Our language is not without symbolic content. We have just elected to be familiar with the easier meanings of the words.”

Thanks for bringing the hard meanings back into the conversation! And for encouraging flexibility of language.

This blog is a masterclass in long-term thinking.

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...

A very timely post when scientists at CERN think they may have sent a neutrino to Italy faster than the speed of light ( a serious bump in the road for quantum phtsics).

I don't put too much stock in economic thinking. Their theories of how the world works can not predict a bubble and the bust that result from applying their ideas even when looking back at past 'data'.

The problem may be exactly that they do not understand magic and have left it out of their caclulations.


DavidB said...

I strongly agree with you that some such distinction btw rote/technical learning and true learning (aka 'magic') is needed. I quite like the idea that true learning is, therefore, magical. Perhaps a nice rallying cry for today's beleaguered teachers!

Twilight said...

Regarding blocking out the spells of Wall St. and Madison Ave. - you can turn off your TV or get rid of it, but that is not enough. It's all around us all the time in every space controlled by man. I have worked hard to train myself not to see the advertising, not to listen to the propaganda. I used to think that with enough knowledge and awareness I could listen to it without ill effect, but it is insidious and it will effect you even when you are aware of it. So rather than trying to withstand it, one must try not to see or hear it.

I find that when I am forced into a situation where I cannot avoid it, like being stuck in a waiting room with a TV blaring, it is a lot of effort to block it out and focus on other things. One of the things that is interesting though, is that after you've stayed away from the advertising and propaganda for a while, when you are exposed again it becomes almost jarring how obvious it is.

Jason said...


I have worked hard to train myself not to see the advertising [...] I find that when I am forced into a situation where I cannot avoid it, like being stuck in a waiting room with a TV blaring, it is a lot of effort to block it out and focus on other things.

Do you have any experience of hypnosis? It's very easy not see things that way -- it's called 'negative hallucination'. You know, what economists do with ecological laws? :)

I've had success using a feeling I had when a kid on holiday, looking at adverts I didn't really understand and which were obviously aimed at someone other than myself. They seemed laughable -- even when young I thought, what a relief! I was floating free of it all. It was literally 'somebody else's problem'.

I retrieved that as a resource and applied it to all advertising, along with some other things. Worked very well. The usefulness of the hypnotic approach is that you just find yourself doing it, you don't have to expend any conscious effort. You don't notice that you didn't notice. :) Negative hallucination is a classic trance phenomenon. As JMG says, people use such power all the time subconsciously, to edit the world which they're presenting to themselves, but it's all about turning that natural ability into productive channels.

Bill Pulliam said...

Greg -- even the authors of the study don't believe that their result showing faster-than-light travel by neutrinos is correct. Their number is also out of range from other much more precise measurements. This is a media frenzy, not a revolution in science. This happens regularly where a spurious result gets grabbed by the media before it has tome to be checked and (almost always) found to be in error. Remember non-Newtonian gravity from the 1980s? No? Neither does anyone else since it turned out to be nothing. In all likelihood the same will happen with the superluminal neutrino.

DeAnander said...

Ouch my most recent comment never appeared... was it deemed too long, or too far OT, or...?

phil harris said...

Really just as a speculative footnote.
Serendipitously I came across an interesting 2008 paper on the very large capacity of the longterm human memory. The paper also deals with concepts such as "task-relevant levels of abstraction" [ needing memory]. This study seems to lend credence to the notion, "we know a great deal more than we might think". Memories appear to be more detailed if attention is paid during memory acquisition. It seems to me personally to be possible to usefully test some 'task-relevant' abstract propositions, quite fast, by asking questions of the slightly below conscious substrates of the mind, where memory might suggest "truth", falsehood" or "maybe" for any one proposition (answers "like magic"?). The implicate knowledge embodied in vast sets of examples if they are drawn from the observed world, or our own bodies, and if we have paid enough attention, must be beyond any normal 'conscious' attention? Mental 'tests' could be applied to questioning anything, from the result of a physical action (e.g. use of a tool in a practical task) to more complex cognitive tasks like 'imagining' the stresses and strains of a flying buttress when building the original Gothic Cathedals?
The scientific paper for anybody interested is at

Twilight said...

@Jason – No, none. I am a simple man trained as an engineer, and for most of my life would have been disinclined to give any credence to magic and scoffed at hypnosis. Of course, I've never had it presented in such a clear and reasonable way as our host has. And I have had some success in changing how I perceive the world.

In many ways it is curious that I find the generally positive reception that the Archdruid has received in broaching the topic to be cause for celebration, but I do. Now I am quite interested, but I shall never be a mage. I had quite a lot of time to think about that today while I was shoveling our gravel drive off of our yard for the third time this year. At a few weeks shy of my 48th birthday, I am perhaps a bit too old of a dog to learn such extravagant new tricks.

Even if I were not, events are already upon us. I have two children and a wife to take care of, and a home and “hobby farm” to keep up as well while hanging on to my regular job as long as it lasts. There will never be time for for the kind of training necessary. I will have to make due with a simpler kind of magic for a simpler man. Long ago I learned to be still, to listen to and cultivate those quieter voices within, and most of the major decisions of my life have been made not by deciding, but by trying to uncover the decisions I had already made. Somehow I have been quite aware that “we know more than we realize, and we affect more than we realize.” If nothing else I will be putting more attention and effort in those areas as best I can.

Bruce The Druid said...


What is a systemless system?

I study T'ai because it teaches the Tao through physical movement. It trains the mind, calms the nervous system, and liberates the Spirit. Its fun.

So I can learn about Tao from a book or I can do T'ai Chi. Or I can do both. Or I can do neither and simply sit beneath an Oak. Or I can go a walk. Or not.

What about you?

"There is no one method for attaining realization of the Tao. To regard any method as the method is to create a duality, which can only delay your understanding of the subtle truth. The mature person perceives the fruitlessness of rigid, external methodologies; Remembering this, he keeps his attitude unstructured at all times and thus is always free to pursue the Integral Way"

Please email me at if you want to continue the conversation.


Draft said...

Jason - I'd be very interested to hear how you went about training yourself to not see advertizing. It's something I'd like to try doing.

John Michael Greer said...

Vicky, no, I was suggesting denial of access as a basic step for those who don't feel called to do the work, or aren't willing to invest the serious time, effort, and study it requires. Dabbling in a bit of magic here and there is tolerably often a recipe for trouble; it's much better either to do it seriously or to leave it alone. As for whether advertising is or is not magic, of a particularly grubby variety, we'll be discussing that down the road a bit.

Doctor W., the original comment was here, and a more extensive discussion of the subject is here. Are you going to be at the ASPO meeting this fall? If so, maybe we can discuss the matter in more detail there.

Justin, I've been trying to parse your comment for some time, and I still have no clear notion of what you're talking about or what you're trying to say.

Rebecca, a fascinating parallel -- and you're quite right to point out how it turned out.

Dwig, good to see you here again! You get tonight's gold star; Michael Polanyi's writings, and in particular The Tacit Dimension, were strongly recommended to me years ago by one of my teachers in magic, and have influenced my ideas substantially.

Joel, that's an interesting interpretation of the story.

Jason, I wish I'd had the chance to meet Glenn Morris, and for more than the obvious reasons. The extent to which magic is a deeper form of rhetoric -- to use medieval terms, a rhetoric of res rather than verba -- has been much on my mind of late, and it would have been good to discuss that with someone else who would have gotten it.

Greg, well, we'll see. Might be an anomaly, might be a measurement error.

David, well, not quite. Again, it's quite possible to learn something on a rational level -- to learn it thoroughly and completely -- and not touch on the realms of magic. Magic comes into the picture when we go beyond the content of consciousness and begin wrestling with the structure and orientation of consciousness. More on this soon.

John Michael Greer said...

Twilight, sure, but don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good. I've seen a great deal accomplished by the simple expedient of getting rid of the TV and replacing the time spent staring at the tube with some more interesting activity.

DeAnander, I never saw it, and I just checked the spam filter and it's not there. It must have gotten eaten by Blogger. Perhaps you could try to post it again!

Phil, nice to see that the scientists are finally catching on!

Joel said...

Greg: QM doesn't impose a speed limit, that I'm aware of: the neutrino result would only be a problem for relativistic physics. What troubles a lot of scientists about both, of course, is that they're already irreconcilable with one another.

Cherokee Organics: I had a similar experience when I broke my hand, except its new shape was different enough that I had it checked out promptly. The adrenaline made me loopy, but it hurt less than a stubbed toe would've.

Jason said...


I agree a simpler magic will suit you best. All this about cultivating the quiet, uncovering decisions, knowing more than we know, etc., sounds very good to me!

If you have a hypnotherapist handy they will quite happily help you with the advertising thing if you ask, though. You will recognise the quiet process of actualising an improved perception as very akin to what you already know from your contemplation, if you do decide to experience it. This advertising thing is something I've been asked about so many times that one day I will make an audio recording for it -- hopefully there will still be ways to play audio recordings by the time I get around to it. :)

Cultivation of relationships with a local hypnotherapist will benefit you later in any case -- the pain relief techniques alone will be vital in a post-peak world. Hypnotism's use in childbirth could prevent something of the pain palindrome playing out.


I did a post here which gives some good ways in. Any more questions, there is a 'contact me' button on the blog.

This is actually quite an easy thing to do.


Thought you'd appreciate the rhetorical angle! Glenn's last book addressed rhetoric in animals too, doesn't get more res than that! He also pointed me to the related modern psychological research on Persuasian, Social Influence and Compliance Gaining which was most enlighening when considering the modern black arts of advertising in a rhetorical light.

Alchemyguy said...

Your post of June 02, 2010 "Magical Thinking" (You'll find me as "Patrick" in the comments there) perfectly primed this post for me. That post was the first indication that magic might be something more functional than fantasy and allowed my ultra-rationalist mind to refocus and see that other narratives might just have merit. Since that post I've begun developing my own atrophied spiritual nature and even entered membership in a (rival?) druidic organization.

So yes, nothing of substance to say, just another voice in the din this post has generated.

Les said...


I’ve always been very firmly of the opinion “Magic does not exist” and equally firmly of the conviction that my world view is best summarised as Hard Core Scientific Atheism.

But: I’ve always considered magic using Walt Disney’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” definition of the term.

Thanks for pointing out the more technical alternative.

It's somewhat analogous of a number of robust conversations I used to have with a work colleague (an enthusiastic member of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society). These biffo sessions were rooted in the different meanings of the word “theory” in relation to the theory of evolution.

The main difference with this conversation is that I’m listening to you. And looking forward to the next series of instalments on the topic.


Edward said...

I was listening to some music from an English Band from the '60's (Farifield Parlour) and it occured to me how much magic is part of the english psyche. I suppose that is a result of their long unbroken history extending back even to Druid times.

The US by contrast was founded during different times and our myths are much more rational and emperical with little thought for magic.

It makes me wonder whether the american revolution of the '60s was inspired at least in part by the english music of this type.

John, do you see this as a contrast between the English and Americans?

Justin said...

I've been trying to parse your comment for some time, and I still have no clear notion of what you're talking about or what you're trying to say.

JMG, apologies. I was responding to South Florida upthread who wondered if dealing with imaginary deities in order to shift your consciousness might be dangerous because they could be real and cause you serious harm.

For if these spiritual entities are real apart from the mind, then one is putting him- or herself in their hands, it seems to me, in a manner that makes one profoundly vulnerable to being harmed by them. The potential harm they might cause, moreover, may happen in ways of which one very well may not even be aware. My thought was that they are real apart from the mind as a different conscious frame of reference from what we consider our conscious, but not in a physical reality sense.

Atilio Baroni Filho said...


I've read this poignant report about the psychological fallout of the Fukushima disaster and remembered this post. When I see highly technical discussions about peak oil, our role on the degradation of our ecosystem and the current economic crisis, I'm astonished how we often miss this kind of consequence. Do you believe we can use magic, the way you are describing here, to help prepare for this? I imagine this will be part of your future posts.

ando said...


what books on Natural Magic do you recommend for the beginner, please?
Sorry if this is a repeat question, have not been able to read all the comments.

Thank you,


Robert said...

@Edward about magic in England vs. the US

The US was created during the Enlightenment, and the dominant historical narrative of the US reflects that. If you dig deeply enough, there are old counter-cultural traditions here which have persisted from Colonial times until now, and some of them include magic. But they lie very much outside the country's dominant historical narrative, which is overshadowed by successive layers of Puritanism, Enlightenment rationalism, and secular Progressivism -- all of them hostile to the very possibility of magic.

England's dominant historical narrative is enormously older, of course. It has passed through such wonder-filled texts as Geoffrey of Monmouth's _History_ and the so-called "prose Brute," or _The Chronicles of England_, first published by William Caxton and kept in print ever since. There you can read about such things as the giants that once lived in that island, the ancient Temple to Diana where London now stands, and many other marvels.

There is now a nice potted history of the English magical tradition by Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate, _The Book of English Magic_. It's a good starting point.

Robert Mathiesen / Mageprof

Doctor Westchester said...

I feel better! I thought that you might be referring to some major film production that Transition US did, like the rather earnest In Transition film that the UK group created, and I was wondering how I had miss it.

An amusing side note. The person who is spearheading the formation of the first local Transition Initiative in our Transition Hub area took her Transition training from Michael Brownlee of the Deep Transition heresy. She enjoyed it immensely and it was the final push for her to start the Initiative. She is a very experienced and grounded person and any heresy she might have heard didn’t seem to have harmed her at all.

You have five more posts until the ASPO conference. I think that we might have a lot to discuss while in the land of Congress critters.

SophieGale said...

If I might go back a week, I am 125 pages into The Glass Bead Game, and I can't help but notice that there are no women in this book. Am I going to find that there are no female Glass Bead Gamers? No female scholars in any of these elite schools? Am I going to find that half the human species has been barred from this exquisite Life of the Mind?

I have a sneaking suspicion here, that having barred women from their territory and eliminated all those bloody and brutal confrontations over food and sex, that the baboons,in The Glass Bead Game, have reached the apotheosis of hierarchy and domination.

I could be wrong here. I shall endeavor to read on.

Folks interested in women and the Life of the Mind might want to pick up Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin. Elgin is best known for her nonfiction book The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense.

phil harris said...

@ Edward
Thanks for Fairfield Parlour thought.
Guess you could be right.

John Michael Greer said...

Jason, fascinating. I'll be sure to read that when time permits.

Alchemy, I'd say "a different Druidic organization." Diversity is a positive feature in any ecosystem, including one formed out of spiritual groups.

Les, glad to hear it.

Edward, America likes to rewrite its cultural history at regular intervals, and so the rich history of popular and scholarly magic in this country is difficult to trace unless you make the extra effort. England is simply a bit less mendacious about its past, is all.

Justin, okay, that makes a great deal of sense.

Atilio, excellent. You're quite correct that the psychological impact of the end of the age of cheap abundant energy, not to mention some of the crises that will be involved in that process, is going to be massive, and yes, magic is one of the ways to deal with it. Perhaps even more important, though, is the simple process of coming to terms with the fact that it's happening, and the shining future promised by the religion of progress not only isn't going to happen, but never was. Once those expectations are discarded, it becomes a lot easier to see what can still be done with the time and resources -- psychological and otherwise -- that we have left.

Ando, I tend to recommend my own book Encyclopedia of Natural Magic -- it's not actually an encyclopedia, though it contains some material arranged alphabetically.

Doctor W., I trust you're using the term "heresy" with joking intent!

Sophie, there is, as I recall, one female character in The Glass Bead Game. No doubt Hesse would have written it very differently if he had been a member of our culture and time, and shared the values of that culture and time, but of course he wasn't and didn't; if that makes it impossible for you to see value in his work or his ideas, well, so be it.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Joel & Cherokee Organics - Back in the 80s, I was walking down a snowy, slight sloop when I went tuckus over tea kettle. Came down with my leg twisted under me. Well, sure it hurt. But, I just laced myself tightly into my good boots and continued about my business. For two weeks.

A friend finally talked me into going into the ER. Turns out I had broken one of the two bones in the lower leg. The Doc couldn't believe that I 1.) had less then a 32d of an inch of displacement and 2.) that I had walked around on it for two weeks. Manual transmission in the car, too.

Well, gee. I had never had a broken bone, before. Why start then? Today is like yesterday and tomorrow will be like today. Until it isn't. I was in a cast for 6 weeks. It still gives me a bit of a warning twinge when the weather is about to change.

Knock on wood (is that magic?) that it never happen again.

Vicky K said...

JMG: You may have to ban me on principle for this particular subject of magic. I am a dabbler. Within a couple days I will be four score and ten, way too late to be warned of the dangers.

My own interest in natural science has never kept me from being fascinated by what is conventionally considered unexplainable by science. I have endured some ridicule by others for believing some of things I do, but have lived to see science validate some of it. Organic gardening was considered woo woo when I was a beginning gardener. The placebo effect was considered to be something only weak-minded or gullible people reported, confounding real studies of medicine. Meditators and others have been studied that show actual changes in physiology and brain activity consistent with the subjective reports of the participants once the stigma of studying them was overcome.

What seems to be most notable is that the discussion has moved from mind over matter [heresy] to mind-body connection [plausible].

I admire your willingness to broach this subject on your well-received blog, potentially alienating some of your readers.

On the other hand I do think that ordinary people can practice magic without extensive training or having a full cosmology to explain it.

Your suggestion to turn off the TV is good. Like really well designed permaculture projects it serves multi-purposes.

I am hoping that your magical intention for bringing this subject into the conversation is more than academic.

Green Wizards somehow makes me think you might have another project in mind for your readers.

Vicky K said...

Oops, senior moment. Meant three score and ten.

ando said...


Good, I would rather buy your books. I was somewhat misled because St Louis County Library has your "encyclopedia" in the reference section. At least they did buy 8 copies for the different branches!



Doctor Westchester said...

Yes, I am engaging in a more than a bit of bemused hyperbole, fortunately.

Cherokee Organics said...


Sorry, this a bit off topic, but we're all lurching towards another economic crisis (well, it's a continuation of the previous several).

One of my personal favourite bits of magic that you see particularly in government pronouncements is a tool designed to put people at ease. It goes like this, "we have (or are developing) a plan to deal with the situation / crisis or whatever". Obviously it's stated a bit better than that, but that is the gist of it.

It is a tool to buy time and stop people worrying or agitating about an issue because it is in hand. Doesn't make it go away though... When I hear this, I can be pretty certain that they have no idea or that there is a lot of dissension either way is not good.

I'm not trying to be all doom and gloom either, because even in the Great Depression here when unemployment was at 30%, you have to remember that 70% were still employed. Though they probably fiddled with the definition of unemployment to make it look better than it was.

What it actually means is that the standard of living that you are all used to is on the downward trajectory. Brace yourselves! It's not the end of the world though so don't panic.

I've always imagined that the long descent is like a downwards staircase, with each crisis represented by a drop down to the next stair. The going on the stair represents a period of stability. Sometimes the next step may be up instead of down. But overall, if you plotted a regression through it, it will be downward.

Good luck and grow some fruit trees - they take years to produce a good quantity of fruit!


Robert said...

Vicky K wrote:

"On the other hand I do think that ordinary people can practice magic without extensive training or having a full cosmology to explain it."

I am of the same age as you, Vicky, pushing three score and ten. And it seems that I am also of the same opinion as you on this subject.

This may not be an accident, but a generational thing.

I myself never received any systematic training in magic. At first it was hints from my family. My family's view was that any child who had what it takes to do magic should be able to figure it out for himself with just hints along the way. I began to get hints from my mother (at least, the hints that I remember) when I was about eight years old.

Later, in high school, I spent many evenings talking about magic with my advanced physics teacher, Mr. Harvey. He was an occultist as well as a superb science teacher, and he soon became a trusted friend as well. But he, too, never offered anything like systematic training or a rigorous course of study in magic. (What he did offer was the rigorous study of Old Egyptian grammar.) It was just one conversation after another, wherever the mood of the evening led us. Much of the time we simply translated parts of the Old Egyptian Pyramid Texts together, and talked about what they meant.

To be sure, there are risks in magic, on occasion even great risks. My family thought that, by and large, children could manage to survive these risks by themselves, and that it was good for children to be exposed to risk, and to deal with those risks themselves. How else could children learn how to cope with the very risky business of living as an adult in the real world?

It was religion, not magic, that my family thought was much too dangerous for children. "Magic is for children, religion for grown-ups!" One shouldn't encounter the Divine too closely until one has gotten some sense of one's own abilities and power, they thought.

Many decades later, after I turned fifty, I began to teach magic to a few students of my own, who found me through my university courses on the history of magic and home-grown American magical religions. A small handful of them were gifted natural magicians, who had figured out much of it on their own years before they ever entered my university. Others had a real aptitude for magic, but had not gotten very far on their own. I soon learned that each of these students had her own set of gifts for magic, and no two of them could develop their magical skills to the fullest by the same series of steps, following the same regimen of training. I had to study each student as carefully as I have ever studied anything, and figure out what each one of them most needed from me. Each of these students was a magical autodidact. I was just there to facilitate the process, not to direct their studies.

By now I have begun to suspect that magic is not just one thing, in the sense that chemistry, or number theory, or locksmithing, is just one thing that a person can master fully. Rather, magic seems to me to be many related things, and a person who is able to master one of these things called magic is unable -- inherently unable! -- to master some of the other things called magic. YMMV, of course.

Robert Mathiesen / Mageprof

John Michael Greer said...

Vicky, I certainly don't mean to suggest that "ordinary people" can't practice magic. Of course they do; nothing is more harmful, to my mind, than the Harry Potter notion that some people have some particular facility for practicing magic, and the rest don't. My experience has simply been that most of the people who get in trouble via the practice of magic are dabblers -- and in particular, dabblers who don't realize that they're dabblers, and think that a little lackadaisical practice here and there is enough to prepare them to tackle, say, goetic evocation without harm. As always, there's plenty of room for dissensus, but I felt it was appropriate to offer my own viewpoint and advice.

Ando, I hope you find it useful.

Doctor W., glad to hear it.

Cherokee, John Kenneth Galbraith talks about the use of incantation by political and economic leaders in 1929 in his book on the Great Crash; like the rest of that book, things have not changed at all.

LewisLucanBooks said...

There's a very fancy, large, totally tricked out truck in our small northwestern town. I don't know who it belongs to. But it has several Palin quotes applied in a very professional manner. Including "Drill, Baby, Drill."

It used to irritate the heck out of me. But now, viewing it as just another (failed) incantation, it doesn't bother me near as much. Another useful insight from this blog.

Now if I could just figure out a way to get over the bumper sticker "Gun Control Is Dropping a Liberal at 50 Yards" my life would be complete.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the reference, I recall it from your own book. A bit of history never goes astray - ebay is a wonderful thing for people living in out of the way places - a copy of the book is on its way.



Vicky K said...

Mage Robert: My path to some forms of magic was far more prosaic. My father tried to hypnotize me to regress me to a former lifetime. It was in the 50's during the Bridey Murphy craze. Didn't work. Although in my adult life I did do some past life regression with a therapist. And also was in a group regression with a Psychologist that was doing statistical analysis of the data. I did these things as a way of seeing what was hidden in my psyche, more like dream analysis.

Even though I had experiences that might indicate the existence of reincarnation, I abjure the concept. It now seems to me a perverse and superstitious belief system. Only an unfriendly universe would come up with this kind of torture.

I went to a psychiatrist when I was in my early twenties and asked him why I was so afraid to die and he said it is because you are afraid to live. He was right. Getting off the wheel of karma requires that you treat this life as a one-off, no do-overs.

I wended my way through all kinds of pop psychology and eventually to some esoteric materials of various degrees of believability. Tried it all on for size.

All of this simultaneously with an interest in science. I got that I was trying to ride two horses pulling in different directions. My only way of reconciling the worldviews was that I had a firm conviction that the universe was of a piece and had no internal contradictions or paradoxes. The paradoxes had to lie within the human mind.

I dabbled in New Thought [sorry JMG] sufficiently to recognize some of the unsolved quandaries that occur. I have since learned more about why it does and doesn't work. I even learned some techniques that solve a bit of the problems with it.

Neo-paganism came my way. It was fun and completely in harmony with my other religion. Gardening. I worked with small groups of women doing magic for the purpose of fulfilling our personal intentions. Very mundane stuff like getting a job, while enjoying the creative aspects of devising ritual for the purposes.

My orientation to magic remains in the realm of psychology and the way the brain works. The Great Work of magical tradition is way too much for this Valley girl.

Being happy with what is, is my main objective these days. That is a practice too, with a long tradition. I had the great good fortune to experience an extended period of grace that revealed the ordinary and mundane as totally sufficient. The magic is right here now. Far more potent than getting something you want or think you need.

Derv said...

Hey JMG, long-time reader here. I was just wondering if you had a hard (or even approximate) cut-off date for submissions to the future history writing contest. Are there already a hundred submissions, and you've neared your limit? Or will you be taking submissions for some time? I've been brewing up a story, but life has gotten in the way recently. Thanks!

Les said...

BTW, Thanks John for the pointer to Galbraith's Great Crash, I've just finished it (I'm a bit of a slow reader).

Chris, the take home message is that when the powers-that-be start telling everyone that "the fundamentals are very strong" then it's long past time to head for the exits.

To that end, I actually managed to find a sucker that still believes in unlimited growth to buy this house and we start moving to Wingham (NSW) in another 10 days or so. I will post on the GWF soon; packing 20 years of accumulated useful stuff has us a little distracted just now...


Lance Michael Foster said...

Magic is a lot of things tossed into one category called "magic", and is defined in many ways and comes out of many roots. To me it is strange that both the Abramelin Operation and spitting three times to avert the Evil Eye is lumped together simply as "magic", when they are as alike as engineering a power plant and building a snare to catch birds.

The same with "dabbling." Certainly dabbling in Goetic evocation (whether one believes the demonic is part of internal or external reality, or concurrent reality) should not be considered in the same category of risk as divining who one is going to marry by throwing apple peels on the floor at New Year's to see what letters are formed.

There is a difference in learning and training for running events in varsity track and field to break world records in the Olympics, versus running cross country in the mountains while escaping enemies or hunting like the Tarahumara. Both are running, both need excellent physical conditioning, and just because one is an excellent runner doesn't mean one is adept at both.

Draja Mickaharic says in "Practice of Magic" (p. vii-viii): "...Magic must have a real physical result to be worthy of the name. ...It is currently popular to define magic as the art of changing consciousness at will. This is not my definition of magic. [But] being able to change consciousness at will is a prerequisite to any real practice of magic. The student of magic must gain control of the mind the magician gains the ability to change the -perception- [emphasis mine] of earthly reality at will. ...Being a magician is [only] a stage in the process of developing spiritually. It is not the height of development. In fact, it is only a step in the first part of the range of real human development."

Different people have different natural gifts, different "knacks." Some people are natural runners, all can improve their running through rigorous training. But it is also true that some people never get off the couch in front of the TV ;-)

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