Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Glass Bead Game

When I proposed in last week’s Archdruid Report post that readers write science fiction stories about the crisis of industrial society, I wasn’t thinking of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke as a potential author. Still, a speech of his that made the New York Times a few days back suggests that he’s got a sufficiently wild imagination for the job.

In that speech, while trying to explain why shoveling trillions of dollars of money into the coffers of the banks that caused the Great Recession hasn’t done anything besides enriching bankers, Bernanke insisted that what’s wrong with the economy is that Americans are irrationally depressed about it. That, he claimed, is what’s keeping consumers from engaging in the binge spending that will get the economy moving again. You have to hand it to the man; it’s an extraordinary leap of fantasy.

Out there in the real world, after all, a sixth of the US population is living below the poverty line. Most Americans who are still employed are taking steep cuts in salary and benefits where they aren’t waiting day by day to see who gets a pink slip next. Then, of course, in a little over two years, Obama’s health care legislation will place yet another massive burden on working people by requiring them to buy health insurance whether they can afford it or not, at whatever price the industry chooses to charge for it, with only airy assurances of subsidies from a government already drowning in debt to balance against health insurance rates that are currently higher, for many families, than the monthly cost of the home they live in.

In other words, Americans are frantically paying off their debts, cutting their expenditures, downscaling their lifestyles, and trying to get some cash put by, because they have plenty of good reasons already to worry about their financial survival, and will have an even better one come 2014. It’s tempting to add another reason for worry to the list—a political establishment, on both sides of the aisle, that’s blatantly out of touch with reality—but there’s more driving Bernanke’s essay in science fiction than a simple case of common or garden variety cluelessness. The core issue, as I see it, is that the economy is not behaving the way economic theory says it ought to behave.

Among many other things, we’ve begun to see the first stirrings of stagflation—the theoretically impossible combination of a contracting economy and rising prices for necessities. That this round of stagflation follows the peak of world conventional crude oil production, just as the last round followed the peak of US crude oil production, is hardly an accident, but the connection is one that mainstream economic thought has an inborn inability to address. The dogma that demand creates supply, or more generally that financial forces can trump the laws of physics and geology, is so deeply ingrained in contemporary economics that the obvious connection between rising resource costs and economic malfunction is quite simply invisible to most of today’s economists.

Bernanke’s attempt to blame it all on an irrational epidemic of national gloominess will likely prove to be the first of many excuses we’ll see over the years to come, as the mismatch between economic theory and the facts on the ground becomes harder and harder to ignore. Connoisseurs of imaginative fiction will want to keep an ear tuned to the utterances forthcoming from centers of power across the industrial world; we’ll doubtless hear some whoppers. Still, I have to question whether any of this flurry of fantasy has much to offer as we rattle and bump down the rough roads on the far side of Hubbert’s peak, and with that question in mind, I’d like to turn to a very different work of fiction that brings up some points the Ben Bernankes of the world seem most disposed to miss.

This is all the more interesting in that the work in question, though it’s set in the future and makes some very subtle speculations about that future, doesn’t seem to have been recognized as a science fiction novel at all. This was probably a good thing at the time, because it won its author a Nobel Prize for literature, and you don’t get those for science fiction. Still, it seems to me that it’s past time that the work I have in mind be assigned to its proper genre. The novel is The Glass Bead Game, and its author was Hermann Hesse.

When I first started college, Hesse’s name was one to conjure with among the young and hip. He’d developed a cult following on American campuses about the same time J.R.R. Tolkien did, and for similar reasons; though the two authors differed in just about every other way you care to think of, both wove hard questions about the presuppositions of 20th century industrial civilization into their fiction. Both were accordingly dismissed as unreadable by most Americans until the social changes of the late 1960s called those presuppositions into question. When the reaction set in during the 1980s, Tolkien’s life’s work was neatly gelded by being turned into raw material for an industry of derivative fantasy that borrowed all his imagery and none of his ideas, and tacitly ignored the hard questions he posed about the lust for power welded into the heart of modern technology. Hesse’s novels were harder to stripmine for cheap clichés, and so in America, at least, they were simply forgotten.

Even in the days when every other college student you met had a copy of Siddhartha or Steppenwolf tucked in a garish backpack, though, The Glass Bead Game—for some reason, most American editions retitled it Magister Ludi—was a more rarefied taste. It’s a very odd story: a hagiography, more or less, compiled by a bumbling and officious scholar in the early 25th century, about a controversial figure of the previous century whose deep ambiguities of character and action go right over the narrator’s head. There are plenty of things that make it a more challenging read than some of Hesse’s shorter and more popular novels, but I’ve come to think that one of those relates directly to the theme of this blog: the 24th century setting Hesse shows the reader in brief glimpses around the life of Magister Ludi Josephus II, aka Joseph Knecht, master of the Glass Bead Game, is not a 24th century that most people in the 1970s and early 1980s were willing to imagine.

It’s one of the deft touches of the novel that Hesse paints that future with a very sparing brush, but the transition between our time and Joseph Knecht’s gets explained in enough detail to make a definite kind of sense. The early 20th century, in Hesse’s future history, ushered in what later scholars would call the Age of Wars, a century-long periond of prolonged and brutal violence that saw most of Europe repeatedly ravaged and the centers of global power shift decisively to other parts of the world. When lasting peace finally came, what was left of Europe tried to figure out what it was that drove the frenzy. The answer they settled on was the profound dishonesty and political prostitution of the intellectual life of the age—a time when, to quote a professor of the Age of Wars cited by Joseph Knecht in a letter, "Not the faculty but His Excellency the General can properly determine the sum of two and two."

In the postwar era, accordingly, the scholarly professions reorganized themselves on monastic lines as ascetic Orders, and each of the surviving European nations set aside a portion of land as a "pedagogic province," supported by the state but free from political interference, where talented youth could be educated, schoolteachers could be provided for the rest of the country, and scholars could pursue their research in relative security. Nearly the entire story of The Glass Bead Game takes place in one such region, Castalia, the pedagogic province of Switzerland. There and in equivalent provinces elsewhere, in the wake of the Age of Wars, the most gifted minds of each nation pursued research projects full time, and created a future...

If you were expecting that sentence to end "...of dramatic technological progress" or the like, think again. This is where Hesse’s future history bounces right off the rails of our expectations, into territory that may seem surprisingly familiar to regular readers of this blog. It’s worth remembering that science fiction of the more standard kind, with plenty of whiz-bang technology, was widely read in the central Europe Hesse knew. Nobody likes to talk much these days about pre-1945 central European science fiction, because a very large part of it enthusiastically pushed the aggressive authoritarian populism that got its lasting name from Mussolini’s Fascist Party and helped launch the metastatic horror of Nazi Germany, but there was a lot of it, packed with the usual science fiction notions of endlessly accelerating social change driven by limitless technological advances. It’s pretty clear that Hesse deliberately rejected those notions in his own work.

The future the busy scholars of Castalia create, rather, is a period of ordinary European history differing from earlier periods mostly in its lack of war. Technology, far from progressing, stabilized after the Age of Wars, and most modern machines seem less common than in our time. A trip by railway makes a brief appearance early on, but only that once. Automobiles exist, but only two of them appear in the story; one is owned by a wealthy and politically influential family, while the other is assigned to take a high official of the Castalian hierarchy to important meetings. Most of the time, when a character goes someplace and the mode of travel is mentioned at all, the trip is made on foot.

Other high technology isn’t much more common. Broadcast media, type not specified, play a minor role in the story at one or two points, and there’s some kind of projection system that allows equations to appear on a large screen as they’re being written, but that’s about it. Doubtless astronomers have big telescopes and the like—Castalia has astronomers, yes, but it’s the only science that Hesse mentions by name. Most of the scholars of the pedagogic province work in fields such as mathematics, musicology, philology and philosophy, or take part in the jewel in Castalia’s crown, the Glass Bead Game.

The Game is arguably Hesse’s greatest creation, a stunningly successful piece of social science fiction so far ahead of the conventions of the genre that its implications haven’t even registered yet with other writers in the field. Unlike most modern thinkers, Hesse realized that historical periods value different intellectual projects; the contemporary conceit that treats technological progress as the most, or even the only, valid use of the human intellect is simply one more culturally and historically contingent judgment call, no more objectively true than the medieval belief that scholastic theology was the queen of the sciences. In 24th century Europe, attitudes have changed again, and an abstract contemplative discipline, half game and half art form, has become the defining cultural project of the time.

For reasons I’ll develop in a forthcoming post, I want to take a moment here to talk a bit about the Game itself as Hesse envisioned it. It emerged, according to his invented history, out of the fields of mathematics and musicology, as scholars found common patterns underlying the two disciplines—the structure of a geometric proof, let’s say, sharing the same abstract form as a Bach fugue or a Gregorian chant. Early on, the game was played with an abacus-like device with wires representing the conventional musical staff, and glass beads of different sizes, colors, shapes, and so on—thus the name of the Game—providing a more complex alphabet in place of simple musical notes. Later on, a formal mathematical script was developed; more scholarly disciplines took up the Game, finding their own abstract patterns and relating them to the musico-mathematic core; meditation exercises became part of the toolkit; public Games, attended by crowds, broadcast to large audiences, and surrounded by festivals of music and the arts, became major annual spectacles.

It’s another of Hesse’s defter touches that by the time of Joseph Knecht, the golden age of the Glass Bead Game is already past. Public Games that once extended for a month straight now run for two weeks at most, attended by smaller audiences and fewer public officials; the first stirrings of discontent about the funding allotted to Castalia and its equivalents are beginning to be heard; political events in the Far East have raised the specter of an end to the long period of European peace. How this plays out in the course of the story is something I’ll leave to those of my readers who decide to try Hesse’s novel for themselves, but it’s not giving anything away to say that Hesse’s sensitivity to the pace of historic change was a good deal keener than that of most other authors of science fiction.

There are two reasons I’ve chosen to discuss The Glass Bead Game here—well, three, counting the simple fact that it’s an old favorite of mine that deserves more attention than it’s gotten in recent decades. Aside from that, first of all, Hesse’s future Europe may not quite be an ecotechnic society, but it’s the kind of society that could exist and flourish in a future on the far side of peak oil. A nation or a continent in which automobiles are a rare and expensive luxury, railroads provide the bulk of what mechanized transport is needed, high technology is relatively scarce, and the values of society focus on pursuits that don’t require burning up immense quantities of cheap energy, could probably get by tolerably well, and provide a decent standard of living to its population, in the absence of fossil fuels. At a time when most people can’t conceive of a world that lacks our current glut of cheap abundant energy without turning immediately to the fantasies of squalor and savagery our culture habitually projects onto the inkblot patterns of the past, Hesse’s novel suggests an alternative view—though he’s quite clear, of course, that the route there leads through some very harsh territory.

The second reason follows from this, and heads in directions that will be as uncomfortable for many of my readers as it is unavoidable. It’s pretty much standard practice for every society to assume that its particular tastes and values are universal truths, and to think that any society that doesn’t share those tastes and values is by definition ignorant, or backward, or—well, you can fill in the putdown of your choice; there are plenty to go around. Our culture’s obsession with replacing human capacities by machines is a case in point. It’s very nearly unquestioned in modern industrial societies that getting a machine to do something that human beings would otherwise do is a good thing; even nations with crippling rates of unemployment persist in using a definition of productivity that amounts in practice to seeing how many people can be put out of work by replacing their labor with machines.

Our machine fetish, as I’ve discussed here more than once in the past, could only be indulged in so long as the extravagant use of fossil fuels made mechanical labor cheaper than human labor. That’s already started to reverse—there are good reasons, after all, why most of the world’s manufacturing is now done in Third World countries using cheap human labor rather than in the industrial world with expensive automated machines—but the cult of the machine retains much of its grip on our collective imagination. Even among those who recognize that the age of cheap energy is ending, the most common first reaction is to try to find some way to keep some favorite type of machine running—automobiles, the internet, the space program, you name it.

Among the most crucial tasks facing the pioneers of the deindustrial age, in turn, are those involved in slipping free of that now-obsolete mindset. Machines, as I think most of us have noticed by now, make very poor replacements for human beings, and the reverse is almost as true. Shifting from a machine society to a human society in the wake of peak oil, then, is not simply a matter of replacing one set of components with another that happen to be human. It’s necessary to replace attitudes, values, and expectations that are suited to machines—and nearly the entire modern worldview can be summed up in these terms—with the very different attitudes, values, and expectations that produce good results when applied to human beings.

That leads in turn to issues that have been implicit in the project of this blog since its beginning more than five years ago, but that I’ve been doing my level best to avoid bringing up. At the core of these issues lies a topic so heavily loaded with ignorance and deliberate misunderstanding on all sides that it’s seemed far wiser to leave it well alone. Still, if we’re going to finish the project of exploring a toolkit for green wizards—a set of skills and a knowledge base suited to the crisis of industrial society and the hard work of beginning to build a new way of life while the old one is tottering around us—it can’t be avoided any longer. For that reason, despite serious misgivings, I’m going to begin a series of posts next week that will talk about the relationship between peak oil and magic.


Robert Magill said...

I've read all the 'Space Bats' entries I could locate scrolling through the comments but I'm sure I missed some, repeated several and hit links that led elsewhere. Very eclectic, very interesting assortment of stories.
Do you plan any sort of dedicated listing of entries; perhaps on the side-bar? We don't need a Dewey Decimal System, but anything that helps keep track will be appreciated.

In the Shadow of Mount Trashmore


BrightSpark said...

We all knew you'd bring that up eventually, and I for one am pleased to see that discussion, having read many of your works on magic. It seems only natural as humans to start to explore the internal dimensions again as material expansion comes to its limits.

Cathy McGuire said...

I'm back after a week with family - sooo good to be home and back reading the sanity of this blog!! I have to catch up, but I did note the story challenge, and since I did have one I was working on, I've posted it to my (mostly neglected) blog:

I will get caught up and post more comments soon. Came back to a water heater that had burst... reality definitely comes before theory! I'll mop up and catch up!

Randall said...

Please consider my tale of the future "Autumn Night" to be found at


John Michael Greer said...

Robert, I wasn't planning on a dedicated list -- it would be a very full sidebar, since I expect something like fifty or sixty stories to come in over the next two months. I've also received a couple of stories that weren't posted to links accessible to anybody else. Not sure what to suggest.

BrightSpark, the problem there, of course, is that the people who most need to hear what I'm trying to say can pretty safely be expected to turn and walk away the moment the word "magic" comes up. For that matter, there will be people in the occult scene who will probably be baffled or incensed by what follows. Still, can't be helped.

Cathy, got it! Your story has been downloaded and added to the folder, and the contest.

John Michael Greer said...

Randall, got it. What's your last name, by the way? I want to make sure I keep people's stories properly assigned to their authors...

Ozark Chinquapin said...

Just earlier today I decided to order four more of your books, which will bring the total of books of yours that I own to nine. One of them that I ordered was "the Encyclopedia of Natural Magic". Now you bring majgic up on the blog the same day I ordered that book.

katsmama said...

I am about 3000 words into a story for the contest, and now I have another homework assignment, I see. I'll see if our public library hasn't put Magister Ludi out on the cart in the entrance. Very much looking forward to next week's post.

tOM said...

So if life in the Game is so idyllic, why aren't we living it already? Is learning all just a game for minds to play? Why do we rush about burning fuels?

I think science has proved more than a game. Instead of half the world starving, the green revolution has fed them, at the cost of more fertiliser and mechanization and fossil fuel usage. More people are living better around the world than ever before. More people are living longer with fewer ailments and in less pain.

So learning became more than a game for the idle rich and their progeny. With the industrial revolution, it became Serious. We had more people on the land than were needed, and industrial enterprises offered fairly steady wages, better than the current farms could provide while population was steadily increasing. The Quebecois farms could only become so thin. Extra sons and daughters had to make their own way.

Machines, your bugbear, need not always take much more energy. Indeed, the bicycle saves energy compared to all other transportation forms save sailing. Apple corers, potters' wheels, windmills, and many other machines make life easier and save energy and drudgery.

Medicine may now be made in factories, but we have now learned to grow more varieties of it in genetically modified plants. Take a pea, anyone?

Medieval life, in fact, was not so bad. They had many more holidays(Holy-days) and fewer taxes. With better medicine, they could have been very happy.

There are many scientific advances which can reduce energy usage while reducing drudgery or suffering. While science may have polluted the air, it has also cleaned it. The computers we call cellphones can each, on just a few milliwatts, do wonders you would have needed hundreds or thousands of people to do.

We do need to reduce our use of energy, water, and other resources, personally and as a society, to match not just what is available now, but what will be available.

But the era of the isolated ivory tower is over.

The Peak Oil Poet said...

i remember the Hesse era

i also remember on reading The Glass Bead game that there was a clear message from Hesse to stop reading Hesse

that there was nothing further than could be learned - it was all in that final work

it was a very clever play to a captured audience

i always advise newcomers to Hesse to only read him in order of publication


Rich_P said...


This article about Toyota's latest automobile factory in Japan seems prescient:

The short of it: by using only a few robots, the factory can be smaller and more flexible, saving the company money.

John Michael Greer said...

Ozark, just remember that my books on the subject talk about magic to people who think they understand it, while the next few posts will be talking about magic to people who think they don't believe in it. Those two conversations require an almost complete shift in vocabularies.

Katsmama, I try to keep my readers busy! You'll want to make sure that you check under both titles -- there's at least one US edition that uses The Glass Bead Game as the title.

tOm, yes, I figured I'd get at least one spluttering denunciation that missed every point I made, and should have known it would come from you. We don't live in the world of the Game, as I explained, because we've got a machine fetish -- more specifically, a fetish for using fossil fuels to power machines when much simpler tools usually do the job at least as well. (Apple corers come to mind; I suspect they use them in Castalia.) We build gargantuan, energy-gobbling machines for exactly the same reason they play the Glass Bead Game in Hesse's imagined future -- because our values and self-image define that act as what's important and meaningful. As times and values change, the activities that absorb human passion and commitment change as well, and the particular activities you favor aren't exempt from that process.

Poet, there I'd disagree. Most of his early work can be neglected with advantage, unless you're really a fan, and the major novels are very much aimed at certain specific questions, or even personality types; the kind of person who can really get into Steppenwolf and the kind that absorbs Siddhartha are not the same.

Rich, thank you! That's the wave of the future -- less automation, more skilled labor, as energy costs go up and labor costs go down.

Susan said...

Bernanke and company are obviously much more into fantasy than hard science fiction. There is plenty of demand out there for more stuff, new cars, the latest fashions, etc. What seems to be lacking, and why so many people may actually be depressed (which, I think, is why they call a big economic downturn a "depression") is the means with which the demand can be satisfied. In simple terms, the demand is there, but the money to pay for that demand is not.

We have been living beyond our means for so long (individuals through maxed-out credit cards; whole nations through trade deficits and budget deficits), that having to actually live within our means is viewed as completely unrealistic. Thus we have stimulus packages, and government mandates requiring banks to give us low-interest loans that we are not honestly qualified to get, and massive central bank bailouts for whole countries, and all the rest of it.

All of the current political debates in Europe and America are centered around trying to figure out how to keep the gravy train rolling merrily along while trying to palm the bill off on someone else. In Europe, the someone else is the German taxpayer who is on the hook for bailouts of the PIIGS; in the US, the someone else is all the future generations who will be stuck with our unpayable debts.

The obvious solution is to change the mindset of most of the population to accept the proposition that we not only should, but also CAN live within our means and stop the insane consumerist rat race. Of course that will put millions of people out of work when everyone else stops buying the goods and services that they produce...

I have a bad feeling about this. Even without fracking we have enough oil to last for a couple more generations. I don't think most of our governments will still be here when that happens.

Roy Smith said...

Several thoughts on reading this post:

1) I suspect you'll lose a bunch of readers by talking about magic, but there may be nothing that can be done about that. I agree, it needs to be talked about, and I admire your courage in bringing it up in a forum such as this. I am looking forward to seeing how you address the subject.

2) I haven't read anything by Hesse, but the Game described seems to bear some resemblance to the Game in The Gameplayers of Zan by M.A. Foster. Of course, the resemblance may be pretty superficial, as the Game in Foster's book ends up having a technological application.

3) I particularly appreciate your comment that "Tolkien’s life’s work was neatly gelded by being turned into raw material for an industry of derivative fantasy that borrowed all his imagery and none of his ideas, and tacitly ignored the hard questions he posed about the lust for power welded into the heart of modern technology." Many people seem to miss the fact that his work, aside from being a mental playground for his invented languages, has a heavy dose of theological exploration woven throughout it, and it is not a theology of progress (to put it mildly). Also, referring back to magic, it is notable that very little "magic" (as our society has been conditioned to think of it by most mass-market fantasy) appears in Tolkien's work, even though one of the major characters is a wizard.

4) In Kunstler's The Witch of Hebron, I find the title character to be one of the most compelling characters in the book, precisely because she is not readily explained by a rationalist worldview. Some reviewers have criticized Kunstler for this and other bits in his books that are not rationally explainable, but I think his ideas may fit tolerably well with what you are proposing to discuss in this blog.

5) I hope to have a submission for your contest, but spare time is at an extraordinary premium for me right now, so no promises. If I do get something it will be on my blog,

The Peak Oil Poet said...

Ah then druid i think you indeed missed something :-)

woven into the work was reflection on the development of self

there are levels to the work - as there are levels to many of his works

even Siddhartha, is a statement about self

Those of us who were reading Hess through the development of the foundation of the Game - we all recognised what he was doing - hence the award - it was so superbly done.

Yes i guess you can skip the very early works - in a way they are only useful for watching the development of Hesse as a writer.

But knowing that the growth in maturity of the writer was only matched by the growth in maturity of his readers should not be missed.

It was after all the Fans of Hesse that won him his prize - i hardly imagine it was judged in isolation from the greater body of his works.

That would be as silly as claiming that Tolkien was only famous because of the last book of the LotR.

It does not hurt people to take the ride - jumping to the ice cream at the end is very American and very modern consumer - and i thought that you were advocating we start to change our mind sets?



Robert said...

Oh my, Archdruid, excellent, just excellent! I am so looking forward to this!

However . . .

I discovered Magister Ludi around 1962, while an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. Just back from a summer in Germany. I was already devoted to the German academic ideals of Lernfreiheit (a student’s right to study anything and everything that caught his fancy) and Lehrfreiheit (a professors right to teach study anything and everything that caught his fancy), and to hell with anything like a centrally planned university curriculum. I had also found Helen Waddell’s Wandering Scholars and her Medieval Latin Poetry, which introduced me to the life of the wandering student in the Middle Ages and the Goliardic poets produced by that life. Thanks to Waddell, I discovered the Archipoeta and his Confession of Golias, and I was captivated:

“Boiling in my spirit's veins / With fierce indignation, / From my bitterness of soul / Springs self-revelation: Framed am I of flimsy stuff, / Fit for levitation, / Like a thin leaf which the wind / Scatters from its station.

“While it is the wise man's part / With deliberation / On a rock to base his heart's / Permanent foundation, / With a running river I / Find my just equation, / Which beneath the self-same sky / Hath no habitation.

“Carried am I like a ship / Left without a sailor, / Like a bird that through the air / Flies where tempests hale her; / Chains and fetters hold me not, / Naught avails a jailer; / Still I find my fellows out / Toper, gamester, railer.” . . .

. . . and all the many wonderful verses that follow.

So I was all set to become hooked on Hesse and to be a serious fan of Magister Ludi.

Alas, Magister Ludi did not take on me, and Hesse’s vision of mathematics was half of why it did not take. He had no detailed and rigorous vision of mathematics at all – no vision that I could relate to any part of the Berkeley mathematics curriculum that I had taken so far, up to and through number theory. If Hesse’s vision of mathematics reminded me of anything, it reminded me of symbolic logic and its precursor, the so-called “algebra of grammar” propounded in the 19th century – which brings me to the other half of why it did not take.

The other half was due to anthropological linguistics, to Dell Hymes (Gary Snyder’s friend and classmate, who taught that subject at Berkeley), and especially to Benjamin Lee Whorf. Whorf had shown in a series of compelling articles how deeply the grammatical and lexical structures of one’s native language permeated and shaped the lines along which one’s thoughts ran without one even noticing. (The shaping is not absolute, and what is now called by linguists the "Whorf hypothesis" is not very much like what Whorf actually thought.) The languages of Western scholarship all came from a common ancestral language, and their lexical and grammatical structures resembled one another to a much greater degree than any of them resembled, say, the structure of Chinese, or of any of the languages of the First Nations of British Columbia, or of Xhosa, or of Bantu, and or of languages in many other families.

So . . . an insufficiently rigorous and deep understanding of mathematics, and flawed assumption about the relations between grammatical structures and the patterns of thought (and of culture). That is what I found in Hesse when I first read Magister Ludi.

Three decades later, when I turned again to the study and practice of magic, I finally came to appreciate more what Hesse was trying to do in Magister Ludi. It actually is a good jumping-off place for a discussion of magic in front of a Western audience, and I like your choice of it for this week’s topic.

I am very much looking forward to this next series of articles, even if it will be written for an audience that has no use for what it supposes magic to be, rather than for magicians.

Robert Mathiesen

jeffinwa said...

Thanks for reminding me of The Glass Bead Game; was too young to grok it all when I read it but really wanted to learn how to play the game, it seemed more involving than chess.
Steppenwolf was a good read but Sidhartha really spoke to me.

This was a beautiful transition post as we move into the not brighter but more real future.

Jeffinca now (again)

John Michael Greer said...

Susan, on consideration I'd class Bernanke more as a writer of fairy tales, or perhaps an unconvincing competitor to Dr. Seuss.

Roy, all good points. I haven't read Gameplayers of Zan so can't comment on it usefully. As for Tolkien, exactly; there's a rich stratum of philosophy and theology in his work that's completely missed by the copycat fantasies.

Poet, well, I disagree -- I see his work as a much less linear process than you've sketched out, and deeply influenced by Hesse's own explorations in a variety of directions, not all of which ended up in the same place. Still, whatever works for you...

Robert, oh, granted -- it's a work of fiction, and attempts to construct an actual Glass Bead Game have generally flopped. (Except to the extent that every novel is itself a Glass Bead Game, an arrangement of patterns with many meanings and referents.) But then I'm not a mathematician, and only a fair-to-middling amateur musician, so the fiction doesn't grate on me; and of course by the time I came back to the book a few years ago, I was thinking about Lullian ars combinatoria and Camillo's memory theater, which do the same sort of dance of concepts on a nonmathematical basis.

Jeffinca, me too -- Siddhartha appeals to the Apollonian end of the character spectrum, Steppenwolf to the Dionysian, and I've always tended to fall in the former camp.

Kevin said...

I'm very interested to learn what you'll propose in next week's post, and look forward to it with much interest. I can use all the magic I can get.

Bernanke is evidently the current Space Bat in Chief, now leading winged hordes from the Fortress of the Federal Reserve.

I'm not looking forward to January 2014. Even absent stagflation, the consequences flowing from the "health care" farrago may well prove disastrous, including to me personally. Frankly it's frightening.

I haven't read any (print) novels in a long time, saving your own "Star's Reach," so I may have a look at the Glass Bead Game. What is it with writers like Hesse and Robinson Jeffers? Presumably they weren't familiar with Hubbert's work, so how did they work out the way things might shape up - just astute intuition?

The following is off-topic for the week, but not generally, I think. Yesterday I chanced to see a TV ad in which a deep resonant voice declared grandly and with superb conviction that "Air travel is expected to double in the next twenty years," accompanied by images of airplanes magically multiplying like a thousand paper cranes and swooping about the skies while people smiled beatifically at the prospect of such a splendid aeronautic future.

Hello? Reality? Does anyone actually believe this palpable baloney and hornswoggle? The mind boggles at the chasm that yawns between the world projected by corporate media and the one which we actually inhabit. Do they themselves believe their own malarkey?

anagnosto said...

Ever heard of Rythmomachia? I have great difficulties finding players nowadays...

Cherokee Organics said...


I read your comments last week about Theodore Sturgeon and thought that you were spot on. So, I wrote another entry for submission to the competition. This one is a bit more fun, it's a murder mystery.

An investigation of Sturgeon

I hope you all enjoy it! Please feel free to leave a comment, but remember to be nice as I normally only write non fiction.

It was a strange occurence because I generally sleep very soundly, but woke up the other night with the whole plot and some of the dialogue in my head. Who'd have thought?

Speaking of which there's work to be done on the non fiction writing.

PS: JMG, I have some interesting thoughts and observations about your post that I'll share tomorrow. Top work, but more reading....



JacGolf said...

MAGIC! I knew you had a solution and were hiding it with all this talk of the end of the age of machines. You cheeky monkey! That is a huge relief. Now I CAN buy the McDouble mansion and the pickup truck to carry all my useless junk around in! Thank goodness you came out and said it, I was struggling with this whole personal responsibility thingy. I knew there was a way to keep it going, someone just had to say so...Now we can all be less gloomy and make Bern- Yank-Me happy! Whew! (Actually, even if we could solve this whole oil/resource problem, he is still a criminal!)

Les said...

JMG typed: "even nations with crippling rates of unemployment persist in using a definition of productivity that amounts in practice to seeing how many people can be put out of work by replacing their labor with machines"

15 or so years ago I went on a business trip to India. For an oil company, of all things...

I went to a three storey office building in Chennai, with about 150 people per floor. All the modern trappings were there. A tiny but fully automated lift to allow workers to not use the stairs. Each office had an automatic coffee vending machine, with a choice of coffee style and a place to put a cup to fill.

The lift would not fit 4 boofy westerners at once. But it came equipped with a bloke whos job was to say "what floor, sir?" and push either the button marked "1" "2" or "G" for you.

Likewise, each coffee machine came equipped with a bloke in a light brown shirt with "Nescafe" embroidered just above the pocket. His job was to say "which coffee sir?", put a cup in the dispenser, press the button requested, then hand you the cup of coffee.

All pretty menial stuff. But the takeaway for me was a country that was pretty intent on employing as many people as possible, in any way possible. I'm certain all this employment was forced on the employers by the government - no way would any multinational do this voluntarily.

I haven't been back in ages, so I don't know how India has gone with this philosophy - not well, I suspect, but I still admire a society that can put profits on a back burner and look to the people's welfare (in the original sense of the word) like this.


idiotgrrl said...

I checked the novel in question, having vaguely remembered the title, and noted that Time Magazine decided it was "a satire on ivory-tower academia."

It occurs to me that back in the day, if I'd seen it on the science fiction rack back when I was in my 20s, I would have read it with pleasure, but as a work of fine literature, would have dismissed it as too abstruse and symbolic and all those other lit-crit things.

Thus labels do make donkeys of us all, but not entirely. The two different labels would have given me two different ideas of what the author was getting at, and I'd have read the book differently, accordingly.

Now to check the public library.

John -- too many books, too little time! Never thought I'd ever say that, either.

Bryan's workshop blog said...

For pre-1945 central European sf that isn't fascist, check out Karel Čapek's _War with the Newts_. Excellent, sneaky satire on contemporary politics and science, among other things.

Scyther said...

Only Tolkein is fit to copy Tolkein, IMO.

Stranger from a Strange Planet was my favorite Hesse work, and I loved his other short stories. The novels not so much, and I never did read Magister Ludi. Similarly with Tolstoy and most other Russians - love the short stories, can't read the epic novels. I guess I have a little mind.

John, I heartily agree that modern economists are excellent fantasists. They should write novels, and farcical plays. They would be better appreciated that way, if less well compensated. Of course it's an interesting comment that modern economies can afford to compensate thinkers who can't seem to think properly about economics.

When you say "machine", in your last essay, you are speaking more about vast endeavors than about specific tools, I think. Coal mining, rather than bull-dozers, for example. One can mine coal entirely with people rather than with any machine, but perhaps the point is that coal doesn't need mining?

DE said...

Like others here, I too am anticipating your discussion of magic in coming posts. If economists stop with demand as the determiner of supply, might we expect magic to tinker with the nature of demand itself, so that we can learn to "demand" or expect differently, and play with the nature of demand, and what underlies it?

Mart said...


From your summary the Glass Bead Game would appear to discuss pure/just intonation. If you are not aware of this I think you will find it very interesting:

This is something I'm starting to explore myself as I think it may partly explain why modern western music is becoming louder, faster and less interesting.

Ponter said...

"...I’m going to begin a series of posts next week that will talk about the relationship between peak oil and magic."

Finally! I very much look forward.

It's been years since I read The Glass Bead Game, but it was my favorite of Hesse's books. I hope there will someday be a Hesse revival. His work is important ... at least it was to me back when I was an impressionable college kid. (I don't remember that any of us had backpacks in the 60's, but memory is fickle.)

As I read yours and other such blogs, I wonder about the demographics of your audience and of the other bloggers and activists who are advocating a more sensible post-oil world. With little empirical evidence to support it, but just judging from the nature of people's posts, their pictures, etc., my impression is that there are more readers of these blogs who, shall we say, have a bit of gray in their hair than are the young, sturdy types. Don't know if you have any more insight into this, JMG, but we can theorize a better world all we want, but if we don't get young people -- the ones with the energy and the remaining years to see the job through -- to pull the little white earbuds out of their heads and embrace a more physical but rewarding future, then not much can be accomplished. If only there were "pedagogic province[s]" in which young people (of both sexes, to be sure) could be instructed in green wizardry! I'm pretty spry for a geezer, but that can't last forever. There will be a time for us geezers to pass the torch. Will there be anyone there to take it up? Let's hear from your younger readers! Are you there? Have you enough cohorts to pull this off?

Anyway, glad to see where the blog is going. This is getting very interesting!

Robo said...

In this faith-based age of the Glass Screen Game, why should any discussion of magic be inappropriate? Is it not magical thinking to believe that wealth can be endlessly wished into existence, that humans can be happily worked like machines, that fossil energy and minerals are infinitely expendable? Indeed, magic is the principal language of our time.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

I'm looking forward to the discussion of magic.

I'm a big fan of Hesse and the Glass Bead Game was definitely my favorite, right after Demian. It has had a prominent influence in my thinking, especially all the notions of connecting various aspects of knowledge together.

Speaking of all this, I just came back from Seattle (I live in Cincinnati) where I gave my talk on "The Library Angel and It's Oracle" at the Esoteric Book Conference (don't know how many far trips like that I'll be able to take as energy descends, but it was worthwhile). In my talk I mentioned various library & archive projects that have been started to preserve and protect knowledge, including esoteric knowledge. Among the projects discussed are the New Alexandrian Library, Seattle Metaphysical Library, Black Moon Archives, and your own Sheneset Project. These types of libraries could become mini-castalia's in the de-industrial future.

I believe dreams, art, and magic have a leading role to play in the deindustrial future. Of course magic, though being related to glamour, is not always full of the same glamour people expect. I picked up a nice translation of Bruno's Cantus Circae while at the conference. The Art of Memory is one of the key areas of Magic I am exploring myself. Expect a copy of my talk (along with the booklet on the Library Angel I wrote that was printed by the conference organizers) to be sent soon to the P.O. Box of the Cultural Conserverse Foundation.

One more thought on Magic: I believe the Magical Revival that has been ongoing and growing since the onset of the Industrial Revolution is a response to very human needs... ...the old powers may have lain dormant but they never went away.

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, you get today's gold star for creative invective. "Palpable baloney and hornswoggle" is a fine reminder that profanity's far from the only way to express a strong opinion about, well, palpable baloney and hornswoggle. As for the rest, granted -- the level of schizoid dissociation that's taken for granted in today's world is frankly terrifying.

Anagnosto, I've heard of it but haven't played it. Hesse actually mentions in the book some of the medieval and Renaissance idea-games as precursors to the Glass Bead Game.

Cherokee, got it, and thank you -- a peak oil murder mystery will be a pleasant variation.

JacGolf, remember when I said that I had misgivings about bringing up magic in this conversation? The countless people who basically take your bit of satire literally -- see The Secret and similar pieces of, er, palpable baloney and hornswoggle -- are one of the reasons.

Les, thank you for the story! I wonder whether it's the Indian government, or whether it's simply the fact -- Kipling talked about that in some detail -- that in India, if you don't do things the way that India wants them done, you somehow just never quite manage to get them done at all. "...and the epitaph drear: 'A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.'"

Grrl, okay, you've rendered me speechless. "A satire on ivory-tower academia..." Sheesh.

Bryan, true enough -- Capek's great.

Scyther, you're quite right that I should talk a bit more about the machine, and clarify what I mean -- it's been a while. The very short form is that tools in and of themselves aren't the issue; the issue is the fetish that treats the replacement of human capacities by machines, and the replacement of human relationships with the relation of power and mindless obedience tht people expect from their machines, as the goal of human life and the proper use of human intelligence. More on this down the road a bit.

DE, excellent! Yes, and we can also start asking the hard questions about just what it is that we're demanding, and why it is that consumer products never seem to satisfy that demand.

Mart, thanks for the link! No, Hesse wasn't talking about tuning theory, though it was a plausible guess on your part, and the Pythagorean relationships between mathematics and music are certainly one angle along which a real-world equivalent of the Game could evolve. I'm at least a little familiar with the different tuning theories -- you run across the ancient versions of that all the time when studying the old philosophical geometry, which I've done.

idiotgrrl said...

Speaking of magic - there is already a magical war brewing in the nation's capitol - a Christian group with ties to Rick Perry has declared war on "that pagan goddess, Columbia, or Baal..."

Think you'll have trouble with people accepting magic? Well, the educated people who read this blog, maybe. (I'm a witch - I'll wait to see how you define 'magic'. Probably close to the way I do.)

But the rest of the country seems to be headed into magical thinking at a high rate of speed.

John Michael Greer said...

Ponter, I went to college in 1980, which was after backpacks began to flourish. I've met a fair number of young people into this stuff, but most of them are doing the sensible thing and spending their time out on the organic farm circuit. or otherwise getting the hands-on training they need, rather than hanging out here and discussing philosophy.

Robo, the funny thing -- and it's a point I'll be making in some detail in a bit -- is that the kind of thinking you've outlined is exactly how actual mages, practitioners of magic, don't think.

Justin, I'll look forward to it. The Art of Memory, eh? My translation of Bruno's On the Shadows of the Ideas is within half a dozen pages of completion, though there's a bunch of editing to do and a foreword and guide to practice to write. That's one old skill that could really use serious reviving as the Age of Extravagance winds down.

hawlkeye said...

I remember a clutch of Star Trek episodes with Borgs; once-upon-a-time humans with so many robotic components they became actual machines themselves. This seems precisely what has occured with modern industrial humans, whose lives are so embedded within machines within machines that we now think like machines and call it human nature.

I suspect "true" human nature thinks more like a plant, but generations of machine-mind have resulted in thinking that plants themselves think like machines! Which is why nearly everyone thinks like tOM.

The Green Revolution ITSELF is a petro-machine; billions of humans are on the planet only because we figured out a nitrogen machine, a tilling machine and a refrigeration machine. And they all trashed the good topsoil by the billion-ton, yet we still fail to understand that fertility cannot be manufactured.

What is the process of distillation that will render what is human from the scrap pile of machine minds hell-bent on nowhere?

I guess we're in it up to our elbows, and it seems to be heating up...that's it, we're composting!

Twilight said...

Oh, this should be fun! I never read Hesse, and I went to college to learn to make the machines. But then again a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. I've found one of the things that most fascinates me is the difference between what we in our modern western view think of as old, compared to just how long creatures just like us have walked this earth. I suppose that your long view of history is one of the things that appeals to me about your work as well. I grew up in an “old” house, and it used to give me comfort to know that others had lived their lives in those same rooms, dealt with their issues and problems, and made their way somehow - and by implication and that I could and would find a way too.

The same is true when I think about all the lives that came before in societies we may not even know about. In some ways those people were just like us, but in many others they were very different. I know just enough to understand that I cannot see the world as, say, an ancient Egyptian did, but that does not invalidate their view. I can only try to understand it through the filter of my own accumulated experiences, and there are too many differences. But if there are different ways to see the world, to perceive what is real and what is not, then it must follow that ours is just one and perhaps not any more “real” than others. Since we are not physically much different, it must be our own mental filters that create this difference. Changing these perceptions is the realm of magic.

BTW, thanks for making sense of stagflation – the reason economists thought it an impossible anomaly was because of the lack of understanding of energy and entropy. Certain costs – primarily those tied to energy – cannot follow their rules. It's an obvious demonstration that economics is not a science, just a belief system – and one about to be revealed as inconsistent with the world people see around them.

andrewbwatt said...

I've been consciously teaching my students how to use The Art of Memory, and I'm working with a script to help students start their memory palace to good effect so far.

Here's what they're working from: The Memory Palace

I hope this is helpful to some folks. A couple of my internet colleagues have said they're going to try it as well, and I'll report on how it's doing.

The contrast to this is Jonathan Spence's book about Matteo Ricci's work with the Palace of Memory in China, which is somewhat less sanguine or positive about the benefits of large-scale memory work. I've just started reading it, so I don't have a good grasp of his argument, but I'll report back if there's interest.

Regarding magic, I've been a huge fan of JMG's work in these areas for a while, to the point of joining AODA and doing some (although admittedly not all) of the work of the Druid Candidate. As this post in the Archdruid Report notes, Magic is not really what it appears to be.

I'm not sure that I can say, for sure, what is really is underneath all the layers I've been working through. I have discovered that I'm a much better thinker and forward-predictor as a result of the magical work, that I'm calmer and that my thoughts are more organized. I'm a better artist, and I relate better to people. I'm also happier and more conscious of how my deeds and actions resonate in the world around me. I also move through the world differently than I did — my skin is more comfortable on me, I've lost a lot of weight, I'm outside more, and I'm involved in a LOT of different projects both at work and in private life because people react to me differently.

I also don't feel like I'm done with magic, or that it is done with me. And I do weird things as a magician and a druid that a lot of people don't understand. I was a little weird before. Now I think I'm a lot weird to folks, and I don't know where I'm going.

The Unlikely Mage said...

Hello JMG,

Speaking as a magician, I'm looking forward to your talk on magic and peak oil. Interestingly enough, there's a recent debate going on in the magical blogosphere about the usefulness of the term 'magic', both in terms of how non-magicians think about the term and in terms of how magicians themselves pidgeonhole themselves into particular theories and reject any other technology for reality alteration.

Jason Miller has posted on this on his blog at

Based on his thought I've been seriously thinking about dropping the term magician altogether and finding a new vocabulary for explaining what it is exactly magicians do.

Glenn said...

I read Siddhartha with pleasure in High School, but at 16 I found Magister Ludi stultifyingly boring and didn't make it through the first chapter. This is saying something, since at 15 I struggled my way though Worm Ouroboros one chapter a night; the repetitious descriptios of palaces of chalcedony and onyx being a very effective somnolant drug. Judging by the long winded descriptions, Edddison's work begged to be made into a movie, Tolkien's opinion on that not withstanding.

Since you recommend it, I will once more brave the "bumbling and officious" scholar's prose and try to reach the tale obscured beneath it.


Marrowstone Island

dltrammel said...

While a sidebar would be nice, it would also fill up alot of space so I've put up a thread on the Green Wizard's forum for links to everyone's stories. Feel free to add yours to the list.

"Stories About The Future - A list of submissions for ADR"

dltrammel said...

I ran across this article which while it discusses the past when we had high unemployment during the start of the Industrial Revolution, seems to me to be a herald of the political turmoil we are in for in the Future.

"The all-involuntary army (of labor)" by Steve Fraser and Joshua B. Freeman

idiotgrrl said...

"Grrl, okay, you've rendered me speechless. "A satire on ivory-tower academia..." Sheesh."

Link here:,9171,853996,00.html

Remember, though, this was 1949.

Adrian Skilling said...

I'm looking forward to reading this. Thank you.

Being of a technological slant my early reading was sci-fi but in last 20 years I read almost entirely non-fiction. Now I 'tune in' to Permaculture magazine, 12V DC & solar guides, Energy Bulletin, Radio 4 news and The Automatic Earth site.

So, I could really do with some philosophically interesting fiction. Glad you can point me in the right direction.

I can't wait for next weeks post on magic. I'm very willing to have my mind opened on this one, magic is still very much associated with the modern meaning for me though I'm perserving with your explanations of it.

Chris Balow said...

Ah, yes, I've been wondering when you'd get around to discussing magic. I've long noticed the short references you've made over the years ("causing change in consciousness in accordance with will"), and have been anxious to see if anything more would come of them.

Interestingly, your repeated references to magic have always reminded me of another Herman Hesse work--'Demian.' Have you read it? Some years ago, when tortured by the "what am I gonna do with my life?" question with which you might expect an eighteen-year-old to grapple, 'Demian' provided me with a source of guidance and meaning.

In it, Hesse describes "magic" in similar terms to the definition you so often quote. Clearly influenced by Jung, in 'Demian' Hesse's characters attempt to determine the proper path for their own lives by communicating with what occult types might term a "higher self," and what psychology types might call a "collective unconscious." The book's iconic image--of a bird being born by tearing itself free from an eggshell--relays the idea that, for an individual to discover their own source of will and meaning, the individual must first break free of the sources of will and meaning provided by their culture. To accomplish this, Hesse's characters employ techniques that carry magical implications.

Anyway, I'm not sure if your description of magic will bear any similarity to the above, but I'm excited to see what you have to say.

kristiina said...

oh, man... What a whack the two most recent posts have been, veritably sent me reeling. First the invitation to write the story: the way you frame it absolutely waters my mouth. How the heck am I going to arrange time to make an attempt at it? And now this – bringing up magic in this context. I have been a lurker some time, came here by the way of Naked Capitalism, or maybe Club Orlov. Never noticed you had background in magic, as the books on top of the list seem to be post-peak-related. And even the druidry did not ring any bells – thought it was more in the vein of being connected to nature, not the magic stuff.

So, what is it about this that makes me reel? I have been (really slowly) researching Goethe's Faust from philosophical standponint. Ostensibly for a dissertation, but really it is the issues Goethe presents that haunt my mind/body. Faust has adventures of love, sex and technology – I keep wondering if Goethe wrote a spell, or is it a prediction? We are living Faustian lives, and it seems to me that maybe the spell could be broken if I (or we, humans) could figure out why Faust forever remains unsatisfied. Because that is us, our culture – can't get no satisfaction...From every potential satisfaction we manage to wring out repetitive obsession - addiction. Sex, money, power, celebrity – they've all become addictions.

I came to look at magic through practice of yoga, then shamanism, and have so far not found any single ”affiliation” that I would be willing to declare, except for Goethe and Jung – and some interviews of Alan Moore (the graphic novelist turned magician) – oh, well, gnosis, understood as straight knowing, not as a doctrine/faith/religion would probably be my thing. Goethe had a vivid dislike of Newton as a person and a scientist, and offered an alternative, morphological theory of science. It seems to me he may have the elements necessary for a sustainable view of life. Of course, his insights on science never got any attention, he got gelded (what an excellent expression, thank you) by the public only wanting his poetry and novels. So what you are proposing to do is something I have been chewing for years: a world-view that would incorporate the magical dimension of life. It is sorely needed, as the mind-field of this culture is simply sick and it is going to die, sooner or later.

I had not read your books before, but now I've ordered a bunch - more that i can actually afford. I'm looking forward to what you're going to say – and I have to invent the time to give that story a try. There's been some interesting articles on Naked Capitalism by David Graeber, an anthropologist, on the invention of money, that are quite refreshing, and point to a very different reality than the economies of lack that money produces and promotes. And the archeological site at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey keeps haunting me – a culture that had nothing to work with, but built an amazing temple area with sculptures ( We are magical creatures, our culture has just refused that.

FernWise said...

en I last caught the news (several days ago, since I'm on the road right now) they were crowing about an increase in credit card use. It was being touted as 'proof' that consumers were back to their old habits.

How, I wondered, with the poverty rate up?

It occurs to me that people are not 'confident' but scared, and making purchases of actual necessities using credit cards, and taking care of neglected repairs/problems that have arisen over the past few years.

My list of 'what I would use my credit cards for (if I was using my credit cards)' needs is getting long. Our car, used by 3 adult drivers, doesn't run in the rain, and that needs to be addressed. All three of us need new glasses VERY badly, especially my son with keroconis. The clothes washer needs help, I'm tired of filling it with buckets. Etc.

I'm guessing that people are using the what 'available credit' is now on their cards to take care of such needs before things get worse, rather than going back to the 'charge and accumulate' pattern of the past.

GHung said...

Magic? A term that seems to defy definition, like "universe" or "thought". While to deny that magic exists is to deny the magic of our existence itself, perhaps the most magical result, and both the source and result of our magical existence is magic itself. Yikes!

That more self-conscious species have developed a sense of humor about things (themselves) is, for me, proof of magic. My dogs have well developed humorous sides, I've seen porpoises in the wild play funny tricks on each other and delight in the result, and we humans have become the masters of the tragic comedy that is us. We are lost without it.

Lest we take our magic too seriously....

Come out and fight. It is a good day to die. Thank you for making me a Human Being. Thank you for helping me to become a warrior. Thank you for my victories and for my defeats. Thank you for my vision and the blindness in which I saw further. You make all things and direct them in their ways, Grandfather. And now, you have decided the Human Beings will soon walk a road... ...that leads nowhere. I am going to die now, unless death wants to fight. And I ask you for the last time... grant me my old power to make things happen. Take care of my son here. See that he doesn't go crazy....


Am I still in this world?

Yes, Grandfather.

I was afraid of that. Well... ...sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't. Let's go back to the tepee and eat, my son. My newest Snake wife cooks dog very well.

All right, Grandfather.

[from "Little Big Man", and perhaps my all-time favorite scene]

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Oh yes, the Glass Bead Game is a great example of the Ars Combinatoria. !!! We will need many new combinations in the de-industrial future.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Also, a real quick question. I recently read an interview with Joseph Max (I believe his first name was Joseph. He reported on a performance involving you at Pantheacon which involved your work with radionics. This inspired him to pursue radionics. Will radionics be part of your magical discussion? I hope so.

The interview was in Abraxas, an International Journal of Esoteric Studies, issue 2, from Fulgur LTD.

Susan said...


Ah, yes, I too suffer from the usual misconceptions about what magic is (or is not). Perhaps you will lose fewer readers if you call it a "sufficiently advanced technology..." :-)

Wendy said...

I look forward to reading your discussion on magic, because, as a long-time reader, I'm pretty sure it won't resemble the silliness and wand-waving that's so prevalent in our culture's imagining of what "magic" really is - either sleight of hand, nor automatic manifestation of our juvenile fantasies.

Kevin Anderson K9IUA said...

From the "other" Kevin who reads this inspirational blog:

I am working on a submission for your story collection. Got it mostly done, but need to work out some details by making them less detailed so that I don't get the people this story is inspired by in trouble, nor me with the U.S. Air Force, which is also the setting for the story. Will post it when I'm done on my own blog,, plus notify you when its ready. Hopefully soon, like next week if I can swing it.

Thomas Daulton said...

Wasn't it Bernanke's predecessor, Alan Greenspan, who said the economy was in trouble due to "irrational exuberance"? Now we get "irrational depression"?

Sounds like they want to put us all on Zoloft. And yet I presume that neither of these people think that maryjane should be legalized?

I guess the only conclusion you can make is that the economy is fundamentally irrational at all times...

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Good morning JMG--

Most interesting. Hadn't thought of The Glass Bead Game in a very long time--it's odd how when you are reminded of books you've perhaps forgotten, you see how deeply they've continued to influence your thought and therefore life; and that perhaps what you have thought were your own ideas turn out not to entirely be--and then thinking of GBG reminded me for some reason of More's Utopia. I wonder why?

You mean Bach fugues don't contain geometric proofs? ;-)

Regarding Bernanke and others: the word "fear" comes to mind, and whistling past the graveyard. I am reminded of the Wizard of Oz--lots of "wizards" and they none of them know what to do, so they put up magic lantern shows and hope no one will notice they're sitting in the corner, flummoxed. They could talk to people like Herman Daly or even some of us regular folks and take what they have to say seriously, but then…

Excellent points regarding Tolkien--I'd only add that his philosophic thought and the deeper themes woven into his books were also the product of deep learning and long thought and meditation, which implies a different orientation to that of many modern writers of fantasy who are churning out fast work to feed the commercial book production maw.

And perhaps because he made use of such deeply familiar motifs and archetypes, they were seemingly, deceptively, all the more easily borrowed. Our culture sometimes confuses surfaces for depths, and prefers sugar (well, high-fructose corn syrup) iced cake to a nutritious meal. Another example would be the difference between Grimm's grim tales and Disney versions of same.

Since I know little about what you call magic, I look forward to reading about it. Will you start with a definition please?

Zach said...

Magic, eh? Well, I see myself more as a philosophical heir of St. Patrick rather than his Druid opponents, but we shall see. I'm pretty sure what I understand as "magic" isn't what you're going to be talking about. ("You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means..." :) )

As for the econo-fantasists -- sheesh. I see Helicopter Ben is trying to invoke those old "animal spirits" of Lord Keynes. Put that next to Paul Krugman's call for an alien invasion to right the world economy...

But remember, THEY are the hard-headed realists, dealing with the Real World™. WE are the fuzzy-headed dreamers of fantasyland. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal say so.


Charles Cameron (hipbone) said...

Greetings, JMG:

Bryan Alexander was kind enough to point me to this blog entry and comments, which between them dovetail very nicely with more than one of my own interests in the bead game itself, in the hermetic arts and the art of memory specifically, etc.

As someone who devised his own playable variant on the bead game -- I didn't want the abacus and beads, I wanted to be able to play a fugal game of ideas in a café with pencil and napkin – I'm a little saddened that you write " attempts to construct an actual Glass Bead Game have generally flopped". I began crafting my variant games at Jan Valentin Saether's Bruchion School in Los Angeles, and introduced them on various hermetic listservs in the early nineties. My game with LeGrand Cinq Mars exploring the ideas of Yeats and Jung would be an example from that period:

But these things take time to develop. That was fifteen years ago: I visited the Game Developers Conference around that time, and Chris Crawford (Balance of Power), Alexey Pajitnov (Tetris) and Brian Moriarty (Trinity) were among the handful of game designers at the time who knew of Hesse's work.

Since then, psychotherapist Walter Logeman has used my games for a depth-psychological group investigation of dream symbolism, Israeli and Palestinian kids have exchanged love songs in their respective languages and claimed links between them in a game designed to facilitate mutual understanding and conflict resolution, and the games are currently in play in Howard Rheingold's online classes – with software for web-based play in development.

Hesse was just very much ahead of his times, and his notion of play -- which accords well with Ficino's motto, *studiossime ludere* -- isn't faddish in the least, so the "modern" mind has been a little slow to catch on, that's all.


If I may, and since I'm here, I'd like to offer a quick greeting to Robert Mathiesen, whose writings I followed assiduously some years back, and to say it's a delight to read him again.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Grrl aka Pat--

Funny comments about labeling. In my life I've found it best to mostly ignore the lit crit stuff I learned--if GBG is a satire of ivory tower academia, then the practice of literary theory with its arcane (not in a good sense) jargon is an excellent example of same, and itself deserves satire.

@Robert aka Mageprof--

have now got Agrippa in my grip, and Whitter's The Supernaturalism of New England.


Regarding young people--as a teacher, I can say there are young adults who are indeed looking to a different future and many other teachers besides myself spend a lot of time trying to help them distinguish between our culture's collective imagined reality and what I think of as "real reality."

I hope older readers, and any with children and other younger relatives will do the same--you have much wisdom to offer. My school is initiating a sustainable/urban agriculture program and hopes to develop as a teaching center for this.

Interesting music links! My son the tenor has talked to me about these things.

Stu from Rutherford said...

Concerning magick, belief may not be as binary as you implied.

I consider myself a sort of agnostic about magick - there is an interconnectedness to things but I'm sure I don't know what the implications are. There are probably others like me.

I'm looking forward to it.

Richard Larson said...

You might not lose too many as this is why you are interesting. I think most of those following your blog have noticed the line up of books you have published.

Now, attracting new people out of the main stream might be another matter.

Oh, personally, I don't believe in making something out of nothing, and do not practice any magic, that I am aware of. :-)

LynnHarding said...

Another old philosophy student here. I remember a dive into a deep blue pool at the end of the book. The rest of the story I forget. Funny, it (titled Magister Ludi) has been lying on top of a box of old books in a closet for years. Every now and then I think about reading it again and remember that I didn't like it all that much back then. I wonder whether I was too much into social activism back then.
I see that it is on Audible as The Glass Bead Game. I think I will try that this time and work in the garden while I listen.

RPC said...


Well, here's one technologist who says, "Bring it on!" Given that your adopted definition of magic could cover anything from advertising to Zen, it'll be interesting to see what you pull out of your grimoire.

shadowplay said...

"Les, thank you for the story! I wonder whether it's the Indian government, or whether it's simply the fact -- Kipling talked about that in some detail -- that in India, if you don't do things the way that India wants them done, you somehow just never quite manage to get them done at all. "...and the epitaph drear: 'A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.'"

I think a great deal of it has to do with India's large population - when you have that many people (an economist would call them 'surplus population', a term I find a bit chilling) it's simply cheaper to do things by human labor than automate them. When that's your operative assumption, and the average middle class family employs at least one or two servants, having things like a company employing a coffee wallah don't seem so odd.

It's like that quote from Agatha Cristie: "I never thought I'd be so wealthy as to enough to afford a car, or so poor that I couldn't afford a servant." Here in the US we've gotten used to this situation, but in India and much of South and Southeast Asia the reverse situation (relatively expensive machines and cheap human labor) is still the case. Peak oil will entail that everyone has to get used to cheap and available human labor once more.

Philemon said...


I've been following your blog for a few months (and other peak oil/downshifting etc. blogs for years), and I really like the social and cultural topics you are covering. This is something I miss in most other blogs and books that deal with the coming resource scarcity. Many people seem to confine themselves to the discussion of reports, statistics and vaporware energy concepts (most of which are aimed at what you fittingly describe as "trying to keep one's favorite technology alive").

Regarding Hermann Hesse, I tried to read Siddharta when I was ten (around 1990), and even though I was intrigued by it I gave up after a few chapters; maybe I was too young to really understand what Hesse wanted to say. Thanks to your post I've now decided to re-read it, though, and I'm probably going to get a copy of The Glass Bead Game (or rather Das Glasperlenspiel, as my native language is German) as well.

Funnily enough, when I went to school in the late Eighties and through the Nineties, we never really heard much about Hesse, even though he was one of the German-speaking authors that won the Nobel prize for literature. I guess he just fell out of fashion in a period where most families bought a second car and a third television set...

John Michael Greer said...

Grrl, oh man. This is going to be fun. One of the things you learn early and often, if you study magic, is that personifying and fixating a lot of emotional energy on something -- any kind of emotional energy -- is one of the best ways to give it power. I know there are pagans who worship Lady Liberty as a goddess; if the fundamentalist fringe is starting to fixate on her, too, that's going to be one powerfully charged archetype. Have you noticed, by the way, that every time Perry does a pray-in for rain, the drought in Texas gets worse?

Hawlkeye, good. Yes, there'll have to be a conversation about the impact of the industrial world's machine fetish on human thought one of these days.

Twilight, good. Very good.

Andrew, I've noticed consistently that people who look into the Art of Memory but don't practice it always end up dismissing it -- I figure that that's what shaped Spence's take on it. Those who practice it, by contrast, realize very quickly just how powerful a tool it is. Glad to hear you're teaching it -- your palace is a nice introductory system.

Mage, that's a common mistake made by people who are assigned the status of deviants -- trying to change their label to something acceptable. It never works; the more effective approach is to affirm the rejected label, the way African-Americans did half a century ago with "black" and gays more recently with "queer." Look into deviance theory in sociology one of these days and you'll see why it works.

Glenn, that's exactly how I got through Ouroboros the first time. I was fortunate enough not to try The Glass Bead Game until I was in college, and ate it up. Enjoy!

Dltrammel, thank you for the list -- and for the link!

Grrl, I bet whoever wrote that review went on to a successful career as an economist.

Adrian, fair enough. I'll be talking about the origins and purpose of that modern meaning in some detail.

Chris, Hesse ran with Jung, but the two of them were both part of the huge early 20th century counterculture scene in southern Germany and Switzerland, and Jung in particular drew far more heavily on that scene than his modern defenders like to admit. The approach to magic that was central to my own training came out of the parallel British movement of a slightly earlier period, so yes, there'll be some common ground.

Kristiina, have you read Oswald Spengler, by any chance? He used Goethe's Faust as a primary metaphor for Western civilization, and with good reason. Even beyond that, Goethe's a hugely important figure -- just for starters, he's the one who took the ideas of late central European alchemy and reshaped them into what became, among other things, the basis for the rise of ecology.

As for magic, Dion Fortune used to call it "the yoga of the West," and though that's an oversimplification -- there's more than one "yoga of the West," just as there's plenty of magic in Asian cultures -- it's a useful metaphor. More on this soon.

Eric said...

Another nice post. I will have to go blow the dust off my Hesse novels. (Cough.. Cough..)

Your post and Les' comment reminded me of something from my own experience that I would like to relate.

I was at the Asahi brewery in Tokyo taking the tour in about 1997. We were looking down at the bottling plant from a glassed in walkway up above. They run two lines there, one for cans and one for bottles. At the end of the bottling line sat 6 women watching the bottles of beer come by.

I asked the tourguide, "What do those women do?"

Tourguide: "They check for clarity and make sure the bottles are filled to the proper levels."

Me: "Don't you have machines that do that?"

She then proceeded to point out the machines that measured the levels and checked the clarity. They were fully automated and actually had a little kicker that would knock out any bottles that weren't proper.

I quickly realized that these women, and their jobs, were completely redundent and unnecessary.

At this point I asked: "So what do these women do?"

Her answer was: "Everybody needs to do something."

At the time I thought that it was very inefficient, but, after many years I realize that I was just thinking in the old "machine centric" manner that you describe in your post.

That being said, I still think it would be good to find meaningful work for everyone.

John Michael Greer said...

FernWise, that's the sort of thing I'm hearing from all over. People put away their credit cards for a while when it looked like things might roll over and die in a hurry; now that it looks like a slower road down, they're using the available balance to cover essentials that may not be there indefinitely.

Ghung, yikes indeed.

Justin, yes, that was Joseph Max, and the two of us did indeed put on a very strange demo at a pagan convention a few years ago; he played the theremin and I operated my homebuilt Hieronymus machine. (That name should bring back some memories, fond or otherwise, for those readers who were into science fiction in the Campbell era.) There aren't many branches of Western esoteric practice I haven't at least dabbled in, though radionics isn't really one of my specialties.

Susan, funny you should mention that. My tentative title for next week's post is "Clarke's Fallacy," which might give you a hint...

Wendy, bingo. If Harry Potter does it, you can safely assume it has nothing to do with actual magic.

Kevin, I'll look forward to it!

Thomas, I'd say rather that economists are fundamentally irrational at all times!

Adrian, "the art and science of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will." I'll be spending most of a post explaining what that means, but at least you've got the definition to chew on for now.

Zach, bingo. It's been a lasting source of annoyance to those of us who actually do the stuff that both Christian orthodoxy and scientific materialism have their own pet definitions -- it would not be too extreme to call them straw men -- labeled magic, which they like to beat up from time to time, but which have essentially nothing in common with what those who practice magic actually believe and do.

Charles, I did say "generally" rather than "universally," you know. I have yet to meet a fan of Hesse's novel that didn't at least harbor the hope that somebody, someday would at least make a start on the evolution of the Game, and if you've managed that, that's great news. I'd be interested in learning more.

Stu, "the wind is not moving, and the flag is not moving. Your mind is moving." There's your source of interconnections.

B-man said...

Well, I really do like your writing. And, although my eyes did roll a bit at the mention of magic, I'll look forward to your posts.

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, you may be interested to know that I don't think magic can violate the laws of physics, much less make something out of nothing -- and you do practice magic, all the time; you just don't realize it yet.

Lynn, it's not the kind of book that would appeal to somebody deeply into social activism, so that may be it.

RPC, good. Ioan Couliano would have agreed with you about advertising, and I'm certainly not going to argue about Zen!

Shadowplay, the Christie quote is priceless -- a great example of how drastically the value of labor and fossil fuels changed places in the course of the 20th century.

Philemon, I was a fairly precocious reader, and I don't think I'd have gotten more than a chapter or so into Hesse at age ten!

Eric, "everyone needs to do something" is a far more humane attitude than the one we've got in America today; I hope we can work our way to the point at which giving everybody a chance to do productive work of some kind becomes a value again.

Kieran O'Neill said...

@JMG, thank-you, I've put a hold on The Glass Bead Game at the library.

@Ponter: The Bike Coop I'm involved with at the local university just had various activities to welcome new students. I made two observations there:

1. At the general welcoming day, when all the clubs and societies at the university gave out information to students, I printed up QR codes with links to our website for students with smart phones to use. It seemed like the thing to do, with all the claims of everyone getting a smartphone these days, etc.

I was mildly disappointed (for my lost labour) but pleasantly surprised when almost no students used them. It turns out that a) not many students actually do have smartphones, and b) the kind of students who are interested in cycling and sustainable transportation are a even less likely to. People far preferred to chat to us directly.

2. At our first weekly volunteer night of the official school term, we had a record 40 people show up to help out and learn how to repair bicycles. Over the three starts of the school year I have seen, the number has gone up with time. The number of young people who want to know about cycling, and want to own a bicycle, seems to be increasing.

And they're also noticeably polite and considerate people, far more so than the average.

Not to worry -- the white earbuds are indeed coming out.

John Michael Greer said...

B-man, I appreciate the honesty. I'll be interested to see what you think when I start talking about the difference between what you think magic is and what it is.

Charles Cameron (hipbone) said...


Yes, I happily noted your careful phrasing – and yes, I'd be delighted to tell you more about my approach to the games.

For now, I think the best introduction might be via a solo game I played to explore religious issues surrounding nuclear weaponry – from John Donne via the Mahabharata to Wallace Black Elk. It is titled (after Nietzsche) "What sacred games shall we have to invent?" and you can download it in .pdf here.


But let me blow some other peoples' trumpets. The first person I know of to make an attempt at the Game was Dunbar Aitkens with his Glass Plate Game.

William Horden's Intrachange cleverly interweaves the I Ching with Chess to create a chess variant that is also a GBG.

Ron Hale-Evans' elegant game Kennexions is based on Norse kennings.

Mark Line's Waldzell Bead Game involves its own constructed language.

Terence MacNamee explains his approach to GBG design as liturgy on an old site of mine.

Joshua Fost's essay "Toward the Glass Bead Game - a rhetorical invention" makes lovely use of ciphered beads.

and last but explicitly by no means least, Paul Pilkington has three slender, beautiful books out exploring his version of the game, two of which are currently available from Amazon here.

shiningwhiffle said...

Oh, man, that last sentence put a big, big smile on my face. I think people will remember this post less for Herman Hesse than for being the post where you promised to finally talk about magic.

I'm looking forward to you doing for magic what you've done for peak oil. Almost as much nonsense has been written on the subject of magic as that of peak oil.

And, as university instructor who's also a newly-minted Pagan, it's nice to be reminded that I'm not necessarily crazy (well, not for that reason, anyway).

Myriad said...

JMG, as someone who has defended some of your viewpoints from misrepresentation and unfair criticism on a "skepticism and critical thinking" message board when they have come under discussion there, I look forward to your discussion of magic with a mix of excitement and trepidation.

In your recent discussions of science and health, your thinking appears to embrace empiricism (at least for the foreseeable future). For example, I believe you said you respect the controlled studies demonstrating t'ai chi's effectiveness, and the biochar example of small-scale science you described is nothing but empirical in methodology and philosophy. So I look forward to seeing how your views on magic manage to be consistent with that. I vow to do my best to understand.

As for the Glass Bead Game, any discussion of such a game (placing different colored beads in lines or grids in a way constrained by rules) can't help reminding me of this kind of thing. I know that the novel does not lay out the actual rules of the game, and they are not really the point, but mathematics and computing theory haven't stood still since Hesse's day. One startling finding is the extent and depth of equivalence between different rule systems, to the point where we can be nearly certain that no matter what the rules of the GBG are, if their application results in games with any kind of complex behavior at all, then it is fundamentally equivalent to all other systems of symbols and rules, including all branches of mathematics. That is, anything that could be proven or computed by traditional geometry, symbolic logic, number theory, algebra, or a computer program could also result from a Glass Bead Game if given enough time and beads. Why this is the case might be a mystery as deep as the nature of consciousness or time.

I plan to read the novel, to (among other reasons) find out whether that knowledge reinforces or undermines Hesse's insights.

Bruce The Druid said...

I am buckling my seatbelt. It might be helpful to look at the root of the word "Magic". It has changed in meaning, especially in the modern "scientific" age. I am in the process of trying to explain to some skeptical druids why we can't insist on making New Agers stop using the word "energy" to refer to vital force, because first of all, scientists did not coin the term, and its use to mean "activity" predates the field of Physics. I don't expect much success in that endeavor.

Bruce The Druid said...

Thank you for the observation on Tolkiens work. It should be noted The Hobbit has much the same themes, but far fewer pages. I never liked much of the fantasy genre I happened across, until a friend gave me a copy of The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I have not been able to fully put my finger on why much of fantasy, and even the neopagan movement failed to involve me, until the last of your posts. Thank you for clarifying the reason for the disconnect.

idiotgrrl said...

From Emma Bull's Bone Dance, page 231 (book club edition):

"What do you know about hoodoo?"
"It's magic. Crowley's definition, about makign changes in conformity with will."
"Do you believe it works?"
"No," I said, before I quite thought about it.
"Good. Because it does, and that's not how....we're living in a closed system. Energy can't be created or destroyed. That's true of mental energy, too, and spirit, and emotions -- all the stuff that magic and religion are about...the hoodoo doctor, who has a lot of energy and can get hold of more, mover it into the system, and asks some of the major components of the system to keep things stable."

and further down, "Hoodoo is all the energy and attention you bring to what you do. Everything you do. The work of your hands, done with all your attention, becomes a container full of energy that you can transfer to somebody else."

And further down, "As long as you keep the energy moving through the system, everything is free. But as soon as you block some of it off ... wham! The payback is enormous."

The character in question is part of a group that's working on both levels against a city Bossman who claims a monopoly on the sort of energy you generate. The person asking had to hide a wind turbine inside an old swamp cooler shaft (not sure how that would be able to work at all!) or the bossman's thugs would have been down on him.

Anyway --- sound like anything you practice?

Robert said...

@ Charles Cameron (hipbone)

And warm greetings back to you. Weren't you on the ARCANA list, way way back in the day? Wherever we met, I also remember you. It will be very good to have your contributions to this discussion.

And . . . how in the name of all the Gods do you know Dunbar Aitkens?!! When I was an undergraduate, or maybe even still a high-school student,, he was running a high-level journal/fanzine for science amateurs called "Particle" out of his basement apartment in Berkeley. I and a few others helped him put the issues together from time to time. I've always wondered what he did next, but never gotten around to looking for him on the web.

@Adrian Ayres Fisher

Great! Let me know how you like Agrippa.

Robert Mathiesen (Mageprof)

John Michael Greer said...

Kieran, glad to hear it.

Charles, many thanks! I'll be going through all of these as time permits -- also, of course, your game with LeGrand, who I did quite a bit of work with, back a couple of decades. Fascinating guy, and a Glass Bead Game with his input would be well worth seeing.

Whiffle, nah -- much, much more nonsense has been written on the subject of magic than on that of peak oil, as the nonsense mills have had much longer to grind on the former topic.

Myriad, I'll be interested to see your response to the next few posts. Since magic as I define it is the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, an empirical approach to magic has to start with the question of how consciousness is experienced, and how changes in consciousness are experienced, rather than (say) with a set of presuppositions about what consciousness is and what can and can't be changed about it, etc. That's not a controversial stance when applied to matter, but it tends to become very controversial when applied to mind.

As for cellular automata, the Glass Bead Game as Hesse describes it is more an aesthetic arrangement of patterns leading to an experience of meaning -- one of the things Hesse was talking about with the Game, I've long thought, is the experience of reading a novel. Still, the workings of cellular automata would have made a very elegant theme for a Game.

Bruce, excellent! Of course you're quite right; the original root of the word "energy" is an important technical term in Neoplatonism, for example, where its meaning is about as far from the modern concept as it's possible to get. Myself, though, I try to avoid using "energy" for ch'i et al., since that language tends to confuse communication more than it furthers it.

Grrl, that's one of the standard postmodern ways of speaking about magic. I don't find it useful myself -- and I don't know anybody who practices hoodoo that uses that sort of language, interestingly enough -- but I'm sure plenty of people on the postmodern end of magic find my comments about the intentionality of consciousness and modes of experience completely opaque. One thing, though: there's vanishingly little fantasy fiction that writes about magic as I understand it, and Emma Bull, though she's a fine writer, is no exception to that generalization.

hapibeli said...

Shifting from a machine society to a human society in the wake of peak oil, then, is not simply a matter of replacing one set of components with another that happen to be human. It’s necessary to replace attitudes, values, and expectations that are suited to machines—and nearly the entire modern worldview can be summed up in these terms—with the very different attitudes, values, and expectations that produce good results when applied to human beings.
Hallelujah John!! You do be a leader in the best sense. Intelligent observation with sage advice. Thanks always. Now, back to the chicken shed, sheep and goat barn, garlic planting, and thanking the Spirit of All That Is.

barath said...

How is it that some manage to imagine a future (just as Hesse did) differently than others, and who might those people be today? That's something I've been wondering a lot lately. Put another way, who today is analogous to M. King Hubbert mid-century, Donella Meadows in the 1970s, ...?

Related to that, what ideas that will shape our future are just barely emerging today just as peak oil was barely emerging a decade ago? I would imagine many of the ideas discussed here are in that category. But what else might be or should be? (Of course the ideas will be filtered down over time, but they're worth exploring nonetheless - even if they're controversial or absurd by today's norms. I imagine next week's post will be in that category; I'm curious what some others might be.)

dancegirl333 said...

Thank you for another excellent post.

I consider two other books worth mentioning in this conversation.

Frank Herbert's well-known "Dune" is a metaphor for oil and the troubles it causes to societies that have it. The Fremen represent Arabs and the Great Houses that want the Spice (needed for any type of transportation) are the European powers. And note that Dune's religion has a rule that to make a machine in likeness of a human mind is a sin.

Fewer people know Ursula LeGuin's "Always Coming Home", which presents a post-industrial society that came to stasis relatively peacefully. In this book, the most dangerous, socially suspect character is a mechanical engineer - the one who works with machines, not people.

Eric said...

Good evening professor Greer.
I have done it; written a story, made a blog spot, and posted:

Thanks, and good luck!

Randall said...

My full name is Randall S. Ellis. Thank you for including "Autumn Night" among those stories to be given consideration.

shiningwhiffle said...


That was not really intended to be a factual statement. More an insult to the popular coverage of peak oil.

BTW, I've been wondering what your take on ebooks are? I mention this now only because you reminded me that I never got around to reading the copy of The Druid Magic Handbook I bought for my Nook.

I realize that ebooks are not a sustainable practice long term, but I've been a bit paranoid about buying occult books ever since I ordered a used copy of Cunningham's Guide and the shipper kindly wrote "WICCA" on the outside of the package, as if she felt the whole world needed to know what I was into.

Greenwood said...

rocaA number of years back, I came across a correspondence between the author Thomas Mann and his friend, Hermann Hesse regarding the Glass Bead Game. Hesse had just won the Nobel Prize for Literature for it.

Mann was congratulating Hesse for pulling off such an astonishing feat of sarcastic ironic parody on the Noble Committee. He wrote to Herman that The Glass Bead Game was a masterpiece showcase of Hesse's utter contempt and disappoint in failure of European intellectual navel gazing and intellectualism in general to affect any good for Humanity.
Mann said that centuries of German high culture and intellectual gymnastics had produced the Nazis, not a Golden Age of the Mind.

In his answering letter to Mann, Hesse said something like, "Thomas, you are the only one so far to really 'get it', thank you"

It was obvious from the rest of the reply that Hesse wrote to Mann about the Glass Bead Game that he was dumping on the 'life of the Mind' in this book and was amazed that the Noble Committee, which was very much apart of ineffectual edifice that he, Hesse, now found so contemptible. Intellectuals and 'culture' never seem to stop fanatics.

From Wikipedia:

"In September 1914, Hesse wrote an essay entitled "O Friends, Not These Tones" ("O Freunde, nicht diese Töne") In this essay he appealed to German intellectuals not to fall for patriotism.

Oops, to late!

JacGolf said...


I am glad you understood my satire. I would not mean to be disrespectful. I first heard you on two beers with steve and will never forget your comment that all of our current paradigms are based on fantasy. Your straight talk and no bs is one of the things I respect in people and I have found your writing to be very insightful, even those with Sci Fi, which I have no experience with. I do look forward to next week because I am smart enough to know that magic is not abra cadabra-poof! (that is politics in my lifetime) but do not know the ins and outs of real magic and am very curious to learn where this will lead. In the past year, I have laid out a garden, learned how to repair used items and bought and learned how to use a gun for survival (not shooting others, but finding food). Thank you for your continued efforts and as I said, I look forward to Thursday mornings (you post after my bedtime on Wednesdays!)

Starting to see the light.

Jeff Z said...

There was a piece on the local public radio station a couple of days ago about the tragic loss of opportunity in the lack of lumber being cut in Minnesota after the housing crash.

Apparently other 'timber rich' states are pouring money into plants that extract various chemicals from wood in order to preserve a few lumberjack jobs in the north woods. The commentator was taking Minnesota to task for not getting on board, or at least not as quickly as he would have liked.

There was a quote at the end of the piece that- to paraphrase- 'if we don't use these trees, they'll just get sick and die.'

Which makes me feel that our culture is sick and dying. Anyone who can't see that leaving a tree to grow is increasing our capital in a way that a credit default swap is not- is living in a parallel universe. But I suppose that's where most economists choose to be now-- this universe really isn't behaving as it's supposed to.

I read Siddhartha in college and enjoyed it- I'll have to look up Magister Ludi. I'm starting to build a backlog of books for when the paychecks stop coming and I have free time again.

Other thoughts about the upside of global economic collapse at

John Michael Greer said...

Hapibeli, I ain't no leader. If I manage to encourage a few people to plant gardens before the night closes in, I figure I've done well.

Barath, you will be, as soon as you get around to doing it. The same goes for everyone else, of course. The moral: instead of wondering who's going to do the thing that needs doing, get out there and do it.

Dancegirl, we'll be talking about Dune in some detail; for that matter, I discussed it a while ago in a very early post on this list. I was less impressed by the Le Guin piece; it left me feeling, as a critic commented of H.G. Wells, that she sold her birthright as an author for a pot of message.

Eric, got it. If you'd be willing to let me know your last name, it would help make sure the right person gets credited!

Randall, thank you. I've added that to your story.

Whiffle, I prefer actual, physical books -- they'll still be readable when the technology becomes expensive or inoperable.

Greenwood, fascinating. I'll have to track that down.

JacGolf, no problem -- I caught the joke, but know far too many people who wouldn't do so!

Jeff, "if we don't use these trees, they'll just get sick and die" -- good gods. That has to be the second stupidest thing I've heard so far this year. The first will be taking center stage in next week's post. Thanks for bringing this to my attention -- and good for you, for having the common sense and sound instincts to see through the serene idiocy that passes for thought in so much of our society these days.

Dennis D said...

Here are a few thoughts on this post and some from previous posts. For Bernanke’s speech, and a long time fan of science fiction as well as fantasy, I think he is closer to children’s books, but one written by a pedophile, for his intentions for those who believe him seem to be similar. As someone who grew up on Heinlein, I was of the school that any technology advanced enough would be indistinguishable from magic, so am interested to learn how your definition works. As for losing readers due to the subject, those are the readers that can’t get by the title of your blog, so not too much to worry about. Slightly related, my wife got a copy or “the Secret”, and had me watch it with her. My reaction to it is that the mechanism it works by is simply to open people’s eyes to opportunities that are already there, which they otherwise refuse to see. Once they expect to see something, when it comes in sight they can recognize it and do something about it.

Don Mason said...

Re: Herman Hesse

I read Siddhartha, Magister Ludi, and Steppenwolf back in the late 60’s.

I really liked Siddhartha.

Hesse did an excellent job of describing different ways of viewing the world that seemed entirely plausible – even though they were just as crazy as the way that we currently view the world. Just as crazy, but crazy differently. (Seems to be a feature of our species: finding entirely new ways of misperceiving reality – but then again, how else can you perceive something as unfathomable and slippery as “Reality” except by misperceiving it?)

I didn’t like Magister Ludi much. I kept thinking, “Why are these guys wasting their time and money playing this stupid glass bead game when the Asians are about to eat them for breakfast?”

I might have been too young to appreciate the book. But that would probably be my response if I read it again: Mundane survival concerns come first.

But I have a special affection for Steppenwolf. Not that I liked the book (because I didn’t); but the really depressing 1974 movie of Steppenwolf starring Max von Sydow had a major positive influence on my life.

My girlfriend at the time was a former showgirl-turned-cocktail-waitress (yeah, okay – the hot babe thing again). Over the years of traveling around the world skating with an ice show, she had – how shall we put this gently? – developed a tendency to overindulge in alcohol.

We sat through that awful, depressing Steppenwolf movie (Magic Theater – for madmen only), went to a bar, mutually overindulged, got even more depressed, got into a really depressing argument in the parking lot, and that was the end of it. Which was a good thing, because she was a nice person and a lot of fun, but the relationship was doomed from the start.

So I am eternally grateful to Herman Hesse for writing Steppenwolf, and to Hollywood for turning it into such a terribly depressing movie, because it played at least a small part of saving me and her from doing something really stupid; namely, trying to make a doomed, crazy, youthful adventure into something it could never, ever be: namely, a mature marriage.

Bruce The Druid said...

"If we don't use the trees they will just get sick and die": this reminds me of Francis Mullholland, as quoted in "Cadillac Desert" agonizing over all the water flowing out into the ocean being "wasted". I always got a bellylaugh out of it, thinking Mullholland a supreme (and silly) egotist. Now I realize it typifies the Western mindset. Its not so funny now.

Zappnin said...

In response to Les,
I first visited India in the mid 1970's. One thought that occurred to me was that in this ancient culture, an efficiency expert must be one whose role is to design jobs to employ as many people as possible. I don't think there was such a thing as a real efficiency expert in India -- at that point in time at any rate. Its just that many, many more people than were actually necessary played small but meaningful parts in happenings. Everybody belonged.

John Michael Greer said...

Dennis, that's the half-truth that gives The Secret (which is simply a rehash of 1920s New Thought) what credibility it has. A change in consciousness can redefine how one sees the world, and highlight things invisible before. That's useful, but it's not as omnipotent as fans of the system too often think.

Don, thanks for the story. Most of the people I know who were around then have at least one Hesse story, and it usually seems to have to do with a relationship.

Bruce, the joke's on us. BTW, please don't comment on an old post if you expect an answer -- it's as much as I can do to keep up with the current post! (Since you asked, though, your best starting point on the Art of Memory is Frances Yates' book The Art of Memory, and you can get all the information on the Lullian art you could ever want from

Kris said...

I have tried to read Siddhartha a few times, but I have never finished it.

SophieGale said...

@tOM and anyone who is still casting about for short story inspiration): I recommend The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. How long will it take Manhattan to collapse after the power is shut off? How about the Panama Canal? Nuclear power plants? (You really don't want to see that in black and white!) What will happen to all that plastic whirling in the Pacific?

@JMG: It lifts my spirits to think of the Dominionists empowering Columbia even as they try to tear her down. The hubris of the DC40 prayer war is astonishing. It's a 51 day campaign with the crescendo October 31-November 2. Hopefully they will fly straight into the Great Bug Zapper of the Cosmos.

The Art of Memory: for folks who have not yet picked up Little, Big, Ariel Hawksquill (who always makes me think of Nancy Reagan) is the greatest living practitioner of the Art of Memory. She expounds on the subject at length.

Thijs Goverde said...

Ah, Hesse - I've only read Narziss und Goldmund and I'm afraid I didnt much like it. The characters were to full of meaning to come alive. There are several ways in which art may symbolize and this one just wasn't much to my taste.
Is it par for the course or are all you Hesse-lovers out there now going Oh, yeah, that one isn't very good...?

Interested in next week's post, by the way. I like to consider myself what is nowadays called a sceptic, but unlike some who label themselves as such, I think this mindset obliges one to listen unbiased, even when someone starts using words like 'magic'.
I do have difficulties keeping openminded when the word 'astrology' comes up but I've a feeling that's not going to happen in next week's post.
Gosh, I hope I'm right about that.

Cherokee Organics said...


I've read quite a bit of Tolkien and always noticed that just like us he is writing about being on the downward slide of an inverted bell shaped curve. I've always assumed that this was because he conceived and wrote them before, during and after WWII which was in the early decline of the British Empire. The mood of the times affected his writing. The whole lot is covered with it, especially if you read the background books to LOTR. Still makes for great and yet at the same time sad literature - but it is a consistent theme. What do you think?

Speaking of which and I understand why you don't want to comment on the submitted entries so far, I've noticed a dark - actually very dark - tone to the entries. I would suspect that this is either a reflection of your readership, or an accurate reflection of the state of US culture. Either way it concerns me. Which then brings me to:

We are also subject to the same, "Consume or perish articles", here which you referred to. Retail is doing it hard, do your best to support them etc.

In an accurate reflection of the state of the nation here, they are describing us as a two speed economy that is - mining/energy (energy is mining really) and everything else. Local manufacturing, which was mostly killed off in the early 1990's is now having its death rattle. Which also leads on surprisingly to magic. You wouldn't think it, but it does.

The average person is getting further disconnected from reality. Marketing is a powerful tool and wields a disproportionate influence on peoples lives. I've long understood the concept of "station" as in a persons economic / social station. The expectations of people here seem to be far beyond their station, to the point of not being based in reality. The things have I listen to with no comment now kind of disturb me.

Someone mentioned credit cards and there has been much discussion in the press here as their use has increased. It is a funding source of last resort and is probably indicative of expectations exceeding reality. It's a good metaphor for the whole Western economic system really.

Stagflation is good to mention, as we're seeing it here too as basic goods rise in price in line with the cost of oil. I noticed my favourite bran cereal (and bran is a by product of the wheat milling process) recently dropped about 120g per box, but kept the price the same. On the box, they said something about consumers asking for a new look product - what a joke. C'mon it's a cereal people.

Still stagflation is a step on the road to the eventual default. It's inevitable. The cost of borrowing rises with each new loan to the point at which it eventually becomes impossible to service that debt. Simple enough concept, it can occur on a household or national level.

Your upcoming health insurance situation is just odd. To me it sounds detatched from reality. Insurance is a gamble - on both sides - for the insurer and the insured. Surely it makes no sense to fine people if they can't pay for insurance. Such legislation makes a mockery of all legislation as it encourages mass disobedience, which in turn reduces the respect for the rule of law. It's a slippery slope from there.

I've always been surprised that there isn't a place for those that don't wish to take part in a society. I've always wondered about this matter.

I can see some pretty heavy magic is required over in the US. The culture of individualism is eventually doomed and perhaps that is what I am reading into the stories written so far. They are a reflection of this culture. Few are focusing on community.



Cherokee Organics said...

By the way, I enjoyed Wendy's story most of all the ones I read last week as it was a contrast between two cultures - the past and a possible future. However, one minor issue was that I couldn't work out who the character Clem was in the last paragraph or so - as a suggestion, it might need a bit of editing or introduce that character a bit earlier - or don't worry about it and leave it as is. It's your story after all.

Les said...

Zappnin said: "many, many more people than were actually necessary played small but meaningful parts in happenings. Everybody belonged."

One of my fondest memories of those trips was the journey from the airport check-in to the aeroplane itself. I think my boarding pass was inspected at least seven times on the way through. On each occasion the examiner was equipped with a stamp, which he wielded with the utmost satisfaction - examining the newly stamped boarding pass afterwards with the sure knowledge of an important job done well.

While the above might sound mocking, it is surely not intended as such. While I still would consider the tasks these people were undertaking as pretty menial, it is clear that they did not. I suspect the posession of the stamp may have improved its weilder's position in the pecking order amongst his peers, but I don't see this being enough to explain the palpable enjoyment each man had with the wielding of that stamp.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that meaningful employment is what we choose to imbue with meaning. Sure, peer approval helps, but it's mostly about how we view what we do.


pamouna said...

hi JMG and everybody,

i´d recommend reading "journey to the east" before "the glass bead game" since it´s kind of a prelude, much shorter and written in a more prosaic language.
btw, there exists a real 4th cv which hesse didn´t include and was published only posthumously.
somehow related to the gbg i found douglas r.hofstatter´s "goedel, escher, bach" with its interconnectedness,self-reference/-reflection and wholeness.
re: don mason + jmg
quoting hesse: "the really important things in a man´s life he´s doing beacause of a woman!"

Nano said...

What I think to be, a worthwhile read if Magick is on the horizon:

LewisLucanBooks said...

Tolkien - An aside. Tolkien pulled a lot of his source material from Finland. Always the linguist, he taught himself Finnish when he was 18. He traveled at least once to the Sami (Laplandic) region of Finland, at least once. Elvish is similar to Finnish.

He was particularly fascinated with the ancient Finn epic, the Kalevala.

As far as magic goes, I'm half Finn, with a Sami branch of the family. I have seen and heard of things in the family that are "magical." They do not tamper with the laws of physics but are more ... prophetic in nature. Knowing when unexpected guests are going to show up. "Reading" molten lead poured into water on New Years Eve.

Me? Occasiona flashes, nothing I can turn on and off at will. When I'm hot, I'm hot. When I'm not, I'm not. But then, I've never tried to hone my skills.

@ Cherokee Organics - One of the bigger lies in the world: "Our customer's asked for it." Horse apples! I used to hear that a lot when I worked in Library Land. Usually, it was some hot-shot young early adapter in administration that came up with some brainstorm.

RPC said...

Regarding the approaching health insurance nemesis:

"Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced." - Albert Einstein

Joan said...

The definition of "efficiency" as "labor efficiency," where the point is to get as much productivity per hour of labor as possible, is a result of the peculiar conditions of the North American frontier, when there were vast amounts of available land and vast numbers of Europeans who wanted to turn that land into wealth and power and prestige for themselves but not enough peons to do the work to make it happen the way it used to happen in Europe, when conquerors taking over a piece of real estate would automatically get a peasant population along with it. In the hot parts of the continent, this led to the importation of vast numbers of Africans. In the parts with real winter, Africans tended not to live very long, so the northern farmer became obsessive about setting up the farmstead so as to minimize labor costs because labor was the scarcest and thus the most expensive part of the operation. In later generations, it was these northern farms that produced many of the great inventors of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the stereotype of "Yankee ingenuity." They also enshrined labor efficiency as the cornerstone of economic success, and that belief, useless in most of the world, nevertheless became widespread simply because America was the most successful country in the world and therefore everything we do must be right.

As for the notion that 'if we don't use these trees, they'll just get sick and die,' it's absurd if you're talking about a natural forest, but in an area where some fast-growing species was deliberately planted too densely for long-term health, it could be the simple, ugly truth.

katsmama said...

@cherokee- I haven't read all the stories, but I am not surprised they are dark- a story needs conflict, characters need to grow. Any tale about how happy everyone is, isn't really a tale.

also, a story about machine-worship. I recently made a large sized hula hoop out of duct tape and irrigation tubing, and was telling a good friend about learning to use it. She said, "Oh, we have a hula hooping game on Wii. It's fun, you watch the screen and wiggle and keep the hoop up, and if you drop it 3 times, you lose." Umm. Why not just hoop?

siddrudge said...

@Cherokee Organics said: "I've always been surprised that there isn't a place for those that don't wish to take part in a society. I've always wondered about this matter."

I hear you man! Of course they would never allow us to 'opt out' of society for fear there would be too many takers :-)

Even as a young child, I always had a sense that whomever was writing 'the script' must be insane, or evil. As an adult I'm convinced of it.

In America, marketing and advertising are tools of war against independent thought.

I'm ready for some magic now.

Jeff Z said...

@JMG- thanks for the reinforcement! I thought it was the dumbest quote I'd heard in a long time, but unfortunately not out of place in our national economic dialog. I'm looking forward to finding out what made the number one place with you.

@Joan, in the article they were discussing tamaracks, although I don't know that the person quoted was referring to them specifically. I agree that tree plantations aren't exactly sustainable, but that says more about our stewardship of the land than about the health and viability of most plants. Besides, most forests in Minnesota are actual forests of wild growth, and I doubt there are any plantations anywhere of tamaracks, as they're typically swamp trees.

I posted the original quote and a link to the article at:

John Wheeler said...

The Glass Bead Game sounds very interesting, thank you for introducing it. I am also very much interested in your upcoming posts on magic and peak oil. I was wondering, will you be covering the how the magicians of Madison Avenue kept industrial society going in the second half of the 20th century? (I must admit, I have read nothing of yours about magic, so please forgive me if my conception is way out of line.)

John Michael Greer said...

Kris, okay; so?

Sophie, they're making their campaign peak right at Samhain? This could be entertaining. It would serve them right to succeed, by all that focused consciousness, in catalyzing the manifestation of the archetype in what our Tibetan Buddhist friends would call its wrathful form.

Thijs, I wouldn't consider Narcissus and Goldmund Hesse's best, but he does ladle out meaning with a hefty spoon, and if that's not to your taste Hesse may not be either. I won't be talking about astrology next week, btw; I'll be talking about the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, and why that's not what most people nowadays think magic is. From there, we'll proceed onward.

Cherokee, there could be a very interesting session of the Glass Bead Game played using decline as a theme, and Tolkien's earliest invented history and the "stealth inflation" of smaller packages for the same price as two major sources of imagery!

Pamouna, and that's also an option, of course. Yes, I'd heard about the fourth "Life," though haven't read it yet; the book as it stands is a favorite, and the unpublished stuff is sometimes unpublished for good reason. Certainly I have plenty of unpublished stuff that I hope gets shredded when I die!

Nano, ingenious, but the way the author understands magic is about as far from the way I do as you can get, and from my perspective, there are some major problems with the article's approach.

Lewis, true enough: Quenya, the high elven language, is modeled closely on Finnish, just as Sindarin is modeled on Welsh. Those were two of Tolkien's favorite languages. Mind you, this is a guy who could pray extempore in Old Gothic. As for the magic or, more properly, divination -- lead in water is old and interesting stuff. I knew someone once who could do the same thing with hot wax in water, with very good results.

RPC, oh, they can enforce it, all right. The plan as discussed is that you get to choose between providing proof of coverage with your income tax each year or paying, along with the tax, a fine of some thousands of dollars, with the usual civil and criminal penalties for nonpayment. Just the thing working Americans need!

Joan, that's part of it, to be sure, but there's another part that has been even more influential -- the relative cost of human labor and energy from fossil fuels. Think about the fact that one gallon of gas will push a car for, say, 35 miles down the road. How many people would you have to hire, at what wage, to haul the same amount of weight the same distance, on their backs?

Jeff, it's definitely a keeper -- and you're quite right, of course, that it's right in there with plenty of other utterances in the current economic monoculture.

John Michael Greer said...

John, excellent. You get today's gold star for perspicacity. Did you by any chance read what Ioan Couliano had to say about those Madison Avenue wizards in Eros and Magic in the Renaissance?

Ventriloquist said...

"Machines, as I think most of us have noticed by now, make very poor replacements for human beings, and the reverse is almost as true."


Every time I take the pickup to the horse ranch 8 miles away, and get the owner to bring the Bobcat up and with a few quick scoops, load the bed up with absolutely beautiful, aged (4+ years) composted manure, for a grand total of $10. per load, and then drive back home, I think of the alternative.

And you know what, I'm really, really glad for pickups and Bobcats.

As long as there is fuel, workable utilitarian automotive vehicles, and load-carrying capacity, I'm good with that.


Hal said...

Wonder if you caught Stuart Staniford's post a couple of weeks ago in which he made the modest proposal that some technologies be banned by government for the purpose of increasing employment.

It just amazed me that his usual followers, who I always thought were a pretty sharp bunch, seem to have thoroughly failed to tie the proposal into the theme of limitations. I made a pretty poor attempt to make that point, but alas, I usually find myself writing these things when I'm much too tired.

HaHaHa. Word verification is "readisol." Maybe it's telling me I need to disinfect my choice of reading?

Gaianne said...

@ Cherokee Organics 9/16/11 2:58 AM

just like us he is writing about being on the downward slide of an inverted bell shaped curve. I've always assumed that this was because he conceived and wrote them before, during and after WWII which was in the early decline of the British Empire.

Interesting thought, and perhaps not wholly different from Tolkien's own explicit reference to the First World War ("By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead." Foreword p.xi) as a shattering and formative experience.

In this he was not unique: James Hilton of Lost Horizon and Erich Maria Remarque All Quiet on the Western Front come to mind as authors for whom the (First) War deeply planted the idea that things do not always have to go well. Outside Europe, and a hundred years later, it is easy to overlook the effect WWI had altering (depressing) the mood of Western Civilization.

These days I hold with those who date British decline from their Afghan War--a gentle peak followed by increasingly accelerating descent. The run up to WWI certainly seems to confirm that Britain was past its peak: The strategic rot revealed by the War itself (Gallipoli just one of many examples) broke the previous mood of breezy optimism.


Charles Cameron (hipbone) said...

Pamouna, JMG:

The fourth life was to have been that of Johann Albrecht Bengel, the Swabian Pietist theologian. He figures in the novel as the device whereby Joseph Knecht, the future Magister Ludi, wins the affection and confidence of the Benedictine historian, Father Jacobus – and thus (unknowingly!) facilitates the opening of a diplomatic channel between the Game's province of Castalia and the Holy See.

Jacobus is interested in Bengel as an obscure but intriguing figure in theological history, and is impressed when Knecht mentions him, explaining to Jacobus that Bengel's obsession with the signs, symbols and numbers of the Revelation of John showed the mind of a glass bead game player… and that Bengel had, indeed, in his youth, "once told friends of a cherished plan of his … to arrange and sum up all the knowledge of his time, symmtrically and synoptically, around a central idea." "That," Knecht concludes, "is precisely what the Glass Bead Game does."

From which it would appear that Bengel, too, may have had a touch of the Llullian ars combinatoria to him…


I believe that HH's material for Bengel's "life" runs to around 100 pages, and has only been published in German (as yet). I believe it's in one of the two volumes of Volker Michels' Materialien zu Hermann Hesses Das Glasperlenspiel.

Charles Cameron (hipbone) said...

@Mageprof -- Yes indeed, I was on ARCANA – and I know Dunbar because I used to run another list at about the same time called Magister-L, which gathered all the folks interested in devising playable variants on the GBG and gave them a forum for discussion – the mathematician Bob de Marrais was another member, now sadly no longer with us, and one of his own major (dizzyingly pyrotechnic) writings is titled "Catastrophes, Kaleidoscopes, String Quartets: Deploying the Glass Bead Game".

@JMG -- You write "one of the things Hesse was talking about with the Game, I've long thought, is the experience of reading a novel" – indeed, Thomas Mann inscribed the copy of Doctor Faustus which he presented to Hesse with the words "To Hermann Hesse, this glass bead game with black beads, from his friend Thomas Mann, Pacific Palisades, January 15, 1948". Mann figures in Hesse's book as the Magister Thomas von der Trave.

@Greenwood -- I think you're hitting on the paradox at the heart of the novel – that Hesse was both enormously grateful for western culture, for Buxtehude and Bach and so forth, and cognizant that that same "culture" had descended into the sterile parody of itself he termed the "age of feuilletons". He could not have described the Game as he did without a great love for it – but neither could he write a glowing testament to European high culture and remain oblivious to the bloody dream that was right then and there capsizing Europe…

Matthew Heins said...

I swore to myself I was going to sit out commenting until I finished my short story contribution but...


You do realize that the vast majority of the actual work in your little story was done by little buggies on that horse manure over the course of those four years free of charge right?

Of what consequence are the 8 miles and -estimated- half-ton of loading next to that?

A couple of strong lads could've achieved that same load in -likely, I have seen too many Bobcat uses to believe otherwise- near the same amount of time with minimal sexy-muscle-making effort and shovels.

The 8 miles could have been covered in about five times the time with staggeringly less effort by a horse-pulled wagon.

Such a scenario would provide work for at least two more local men -or lads. With either the horse rancher himself having the manure cart as a nice sideline, or someone from town or some other entrepreneur running the wagon as a business.

Your scenario provides a fraction of the work -and therefore, the pay- to people you will never meet and who will almost certainly never directly contribute to your community's well-being. And ten bucks to a rancher to help cover the cost of an oversized Tonka Toy.

No offense, but you seem to be applying Wal-Mart thinking to sustainable culture.

The scenario you describe is NOT easier because of the maximalization of mechanization. It is -in fact- much, much harder. It is just that the machines in question take so much of this extra hardship upon themselves. That much more is taken by the systems and people who built the machines. And that nearly all of the rest is shouldered by an Imperial Apparatus -currently well into crumbling- that makes fuels and complex machines made by desperate workers in foreign lands seem cheap to average property holders in the older provinces of the Empire.

So I say enjoy the Bobcat and the pickup truck if you wish, just aknowledge that what you are enjoying is not a better way at all.

*lecture off*

*story writing on* ;)


nuku said...

JMG, thanks for this thought provoking post, and the next and the next...
Speaking of the philosophical ideas in Tolkien, I’m reminded of the beautiful creation story at the beginning of the Silmarillion in which the World is sung into being, and his ideas of the Fall which very much involved the potential abuse of power inherent in technology.

Mister Roboto said...

Here's what I learned about magic from my own experience, and it isn't a whole lot and kind of in the "no duh" department. The practice of magic is absolutely not for people with unresolved persistent neurotic issues, because any changes such people make in their lives through the agency of magic will only reflect those problems with increased intensity. Such people are rather better off effecting such changes only through the mediumship of their Higher Power (Christians commonly refer to this as prayer).

Robert Magill said...

A listing of'Space Bats' entries can be found at
Forums » The Green Wizard Cafe
Stories About The Future - A list of submissions for ADR

In the Shadow of Mount Trashmore by Robert Magill

Kris said...

I am more knowledgeable about J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, than I am with Herman Hesse! Tolkien was definitely an environmentalist, and Lewis wasn't as conservative, as many fundamentalist christians think he was!

LewisLucanBooks said...

"Sure these are but imaginary wiles,
And Lapland sorcerers inhabit here."
Shakespeare - Comedy of Errors

Divination - Back in the old days, as in the 1960s, I fooled around with a Tarot deck. I found it very .... obscure. Then I ran across some writings about divination with a regular pack of 52. Ah, way better results.

I discovered that the cards are not so much a signifier of future events, but more a channel to tap into something vast. I asked my grandfather about the lead in water on New Years Eve. If the lead itself divined the future, or if it were a channel. He agreed with me that it was a channel.

I won't even go into my acquaintance with ghosts. Way off topic. But I will say, that for me at least, they have nothing to do with divination.

@ Mister Roboto - I don't mess around with this stuff too much, because I KNOW I'm neurotic. Bad things easily accrue.

Myriad said...

"The art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will."

It seems that definition of magic would make me Gandalf. I could be wrong of course. Looking forward to your full exposition of this.

@grrl and Sophie: Your community considers what DC40 is doing to be malefic magic, and the interesting thing is, a large (but unfortunately shrinking) number of liberal Christians would agree. It's nothing new either: it's called taking the Lord's name in vain, in the original sense of that phrase, meaning attempting to command God as your personal magic genii, for instance to perform smiting or other acts on request. Saying "God damn you!" if you mean it literally would be an example (and hence, the modern diluted meaning of mere naughty language or general vocal disrespect to the deity). Anyhow, there's a rather strict commandment against it.

DeAnander said...

A very rich thread!

Re: the culture of machines vs the culture of people -- Hornborg's The Power of the Machine. IMHO a foundational work for any critique of industrial capitalism. It would be on my short-shelf of Great Books for the ecostery library.

Re: mining -- I have written fragments elsewhere about the take-over of an entire culture by the metaphors and mindset of mining. The way we practise fishing is actually mining; the way we practise agriculture is actually mining -- and stripmining at that. The mindset, tools, metaphors of mining engineers are driving much of our "best minds" straight at the brick wall.

@CherokeeOrg: on there being no place to go for people who want to opt out, this reminds me of a much-denied and obfuscated detail of early colonial history in N Am. Much was made of "Injuns" kidnapping hapless colonials. But it turns out (from authentic documents, correspondence, etc) that a larger problem for the colonial administrators was the defection of oppressed colonists, particularly youths, indentured servants and women (but I repeat myself), to the indigenous villages. Many of the "kidnap victims" could not be persuaded to remain among the colonists after their "rescue," but repeatedly escaped to rejoin the natives.

So there was, at one time, a place where people could go who did not want to be part of the system. And the system did everything it could, as it does today, to keep them (us) captive.

One last thought on the power of fossil fuels. At least one wag has satirised the US Constitution as supporting "life, liberty, and the pursuit of loneliness". One of the things fossil foolery has done for/to us is to make us almost "independent of" our neighbours. We can do stuff with a 4-trak or a bobcat by ourselves [hollow chuckle], w/o having to recruit a gang of locals to help us shift a rock, fall a tree, build a barn, tote that bale, etc. Admittedly we can also do that work w/o using slaves, which is touted by technophiles as a Good Thing (and I tend to agree, with caveats). But mostly, we can do everything without ever having to co-operate or engage in the network of labour and favour exchange which used to mark all productive communities.

idiotgrrl said...

It came to me this afternoon that the entire movement toward limitations, peak oil, and limits to growth are to the Faustian culture of the West what the Dionysian movement was to the Apollonian culture of the Classical era. That is -

As the era continues and develops its cultural ideal (or simply mindset) more fully, people start seeing something the cultural idea is blanking out, that, ignored, will destroy it. Mary Renault's "Mask of Apollo" has an excellent discussion of the need of an Apollonian culture for the "little madness" of Dionysus, lest they go mad with hubris. The hero is an actor, whose mask of Apollo is link to the god; and the play is "The Bacchae."

Just so, our own Limits to Growth comes out of the Faustian culture and is offering the same sort of reality check. Meaning we'll neither destroy nor replace the Faustian culture any more than the Dionysians did the Classical: we'll *balance* it.

I'm sure the other cultures in our planet's history have had similar balancing countercurrents. Zen Buddhism in Japan comes to mind.

Joel said...

Myriad, have you encountered George Lakoff's Where Mathematics Comes From? It gives a hint toward explaining the mystery you outlined: All of mathematics seems to be founded upon a few cognitive functions, most of which are crucial for interacting with the world and instill in us a solid and fairly predictable body of associations (conflations, technically) in our toddlerhood. Any math we can conceive of is just a carefully-constructed pile of metaphors that allow us to apply those basic cognitive functions in a novel way. Beginning from that hypothesis, of course all math is intimately related!

I think a fair number of Christians look at the Christianity espoused by famous people, and see among its fruits very little love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, or self-control. I don't personally know many others who read the scriptures as prohibiting the use of little engraved images of the sort Geithner's signature appears on so frequently, or as mandating frequent visits to people in prison...I guess it's tough to acknowledge how high the bar really is, and how many compromises we make.

JMG, I recently realized, while reading Illich's Tools for Conviviality, why computers have bothered me so much. Software design seems to be poisoned by attempts to encode will. I occurred to me that maybe I'm frustrated by software when, and to the extent that, it attempts to be an agent, rather than a tool.

I'm eager to read any thoughts you have about magic in the context of computer programming, and am very glad that Myriad brought it up. Software is, in many regards, just an extension of language, so presumably some heavy-duty philosophy can be brought to bear on it.

SophieGale said...

@Ventriloquist. We used a half dozen 20-something males and several cases of Oly beer to clean our barn.

Unknown said...

The Unknown Bender here.

Mr. Roboto, I don't think it is necessary to be perfectly mentally healthy in order to take up the practice of magic. The practice itself has some potential to help heal the psyche, depending on how you go about it.

In the tradition I practice, people are discouraged from attempting magic on their own until they have spent a period learning about it under the supervision of an experienced teacher. The issue you bring up is one of the reasons.

Students are also encouraged (sometimes required) to go through a course of psychotherapy or journal writing or some other discipline that will press them to face unresolved emotional issues and their own shadow material before getting into advanced magical work.

For people who are determined to try magic without either guidance or personal work, rules have been developed on the level of "look both ways before crossing the street" to limit potential consequences to the unwary.

I think that it is impossible to learn a new skill or refine a talent without some feedback on the results of one's efforts. If there is no observer to provide feedback, the environment will provide it sooner or later; sooner makes it easier to correct oneself. Sometimes what one learns is worth the mistake.

Glenn said...

OT. Since when has Columbia been a goddess? I thought she was symbolic of the U.S. much like Uncle Sam? It seems someone is intent on elevating a straw man (or straw goddess) in order to destroy it? Wierd, these people are certifiable.


John Michael Greer said...

Ventriloquist, no doubt. On the other hand, if you learn how to produce your own compost at home, and use other Bobcat-free methods to improve your soil fertility, you'll be much better prepared to deal with things when the Bobcat's not there any more. It amazes me how many people cling to their dependence on the technostructure as though it was a virtue.

Hal, I didn't -- thanks for the tip. He's quite right, of course; the single easiest way for any nation to prevent social chaos and stabilize its economy is to let go of the free trade delusion and get to work providing jobs for people using appropriate tech. Will anybody do it? Heck of a good question, but the odds do not look good.

Charles, it was when I went back to The Glass Bead Game after a few years, had read Paolo Rossi's wonderful Logic and the Art of Memory, ran across that passage, and connected Bengel to the immense late Renaissance movement toward a synthesis of human knowledge, that I started thinking of Bruno's Lullian mnemonics as a foundation for a sort of glass bead game -- something I hope to weave into my forthcoming translation of Bruno's De Umbris Idearum.

Nuku, your palantir is working today, I see. I don't expect to bring Tolkien into it, but some of the upcoming posts are going to have a lot in common with his incisive deconstruction of the myth of the machine.

Mister Roboto, that's generally considered wise advice in the schools in which I have my training. Magical training can help resolve common or garden variety neurotic issues, but if there's anything persistent or serious, that needs to be dealt with completely before even considering magical training.

Robert, thank you.

Chris, as I see it, most of today's fundamentalist Christians aren't conservative -- and indeed most of the people in America today who call themselves conservative are nothing of the kind. Authentic conservatism means recognizing the value of existing systems and advocating for a go-slow approach to social change; most of today's pseudoconservatives want to push social change as radical, and as driven by abstract ideology, as any Marxist ever did. Lewis, by contrast, was an authentic conservative -- which means that he would have skewered current American religious and political pseudoconservatism in fine style.

Lewis, you're in good company there. Every capable diviner I've ever known considers the tools of divination to be simply a way to get the conscious mind out of the way of a deeper kind of knowing.

Myriad, in my experience, most people who don't practice magic have very little idea just how much of what they consider real about themselves and their world is simply a function of their state of mind. The obvious and rather simplistic example is the person who insists "I am a failure," or what have you, as though it's a statement of fact, when it's actually a decision constantly reinforced by repetition. There are many other examples, far less obvious and far less simple. On the other hand, changing such states requires a lot more than a simple conscious decision to do so...

DeAnanader, I highly recommend Hornborg; his analysis of industrialism as a way of concentrating wealth, rather than producing it, it to my mind crucial.

Grrl, nah, the balancing movement in Faustian civilization was the Romantic reaction. We're past that stage now, as I see it, and both sides of that binary are breaking down in the face of challenges to the fundamental metaphors of the whole system -- just as both the Apollonian and Dionysian sides of the classical world crumbled as its core metaphors came apart.

Joel, I haven't read Illich in too long -- have to review that. I'll have some things to say about tools and agency in upcoming posts.

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, not weird at all. Calling Columbia a Pagan goddess is their way, within their particular set of ideological metaphors, of demanding that there be no center of value and meaning other than the one they offer. It's a standard element in totalitarian ideologies -- all loyalties must be subsumed in loyalty to the Party, or the glorious whatchamacallatarian revolution, or, well, fill in the blank. To these folks, patriotism is evil, so they're dragging a metaphor out of the Old Testament to express their hatred.

DeAnander said...

Re: the anti-Columbia silliness:

and besides, she's a gurrrrl :-)

you can't go around venerating gurrrls ya know.

knutty knitter said...

My link is right at the bottom of the last post. As a technofail I hope you find it because I don't think I can repeat that anytime soon :)

I've been lurking here for years but mostly find that others have already said what I was going to say and much better too! I have to say I love Science Fiction because it is a great way to explore the human psyche without having to play by the rules and I never could understand why people didn't see what JRR was up to.

Space bats rule :)

viv in nz

ps Magic sounds interesting.

Kieran O'Neill said...

"In America, marketing and advertising are tools of war against independent thought."

I've seen the point made a few times (an example follows) that modern marketing, especially as practiced in the USA, traces its lineage back to Josef Goebbels.

Which is not to say that all marketing is Nazism, or that marketers are Nazis. But it is to say that the techniques used in marketing are the same ones that were used to get the German people to do a great many things that run very counter to their consciences and to human nature itself.

In the USA there are many checks and balances against that sort of thing happening (freedom of the press, a multi-party system, a largely free and fair electoral system, etc), but it's worth bearing in mind.

Kieran O'Neill said...

@katsmama and cherokee

I have noticed that the stories I've looked at so far were rather dark. But the one I have unfolding in my head, while dark, has a fair bit of hope in it.

Maybe it's because I'm setting my story in South Africa, where the past has been full of darkness, yet there is no shortage of hope. Also, I think it's easier to envisage ways in which people can successfully deindustrialise, because for all, non-industrial society is not a very distant memory, and for many, it remains an everyday reality.

And also maybe it's because the people I surround myself with in my own activities towards sustainability are really positive people taking active steps in the right direction.

I think in the darker stories there is, to some extent, a theme of trying to cut through the denial phase in middle class society's Kubler-Ross response to peak resources, climate change, etc. Even in the stories where characters have come to accept it, they still seem to be in shock at some level.

This has its place, but I'm focusing more on exploring ways in which societies can and will adapt, with a little bit of JMG's idea of a progression of seres in industry and culture, as well as a good dose of drawing upon past generations' experience.

And just a dash of high tech -- it is science fiction after all.

Hopefully, in a few weeks, I can put my money where my mouth is...

Cherokee Organics said...


When you talk about the myth of the machines, I was reminded about an strange occurrence. I realise that you probably don't eat bread, but here goes anyway...

I live about 10km from the nearest bakery and I refuse to eat pre-package bread on the grounds that anything that can stay that fresh for that long can't be good for you! Anyway, a couple of years back I started baking my own bread from scratch and I finally settled on a crusty peasant loaf recipe. I usually make a small loaf most days and can cook thme in the wood oven. The ingredients are sourced from a specialist bakery supplier in bulk. Simple enough.

When people come over to visit, I serve them up the crusty peasant loaf and there's usually much appreciation for it. Some then ask me for the recipe and I oblige them.

Now, here's the interesting bit though.

It takes about 5 minutes max - by hand - to prepare all the ingredients so that they're mixed, everythings cleaned up and the loaf is then left to rise.

Everyone who requested the recipe, also asked if it can be made in a bread maker machine. Everyone!

I've tried showing them, how easy it is to do and they still insist on using a bread making machine.

I feel that this may be the tip of the iceberg.

Thanks for the colourful imagery in your response too!

Thanks also to everyone who responded.

DeAnander brought up an interesting point too. The same thing occurred here too with the convicts. Check out this guy’s story:

William Buckley - convict

I remember this guy from history class.

While we're discussing history, for all those people considering escaping into the wilds. My advice, remember to pick your partners well...

Alexander Pearce - convict

The amazing thing about Alexander, is that despite walking across Tasmania which is a massive achievement, he was re-captured, told what happened, wasn't believed and then escaped a second time.



Les said...

Apropos of nothing (and, therefore, please feel free to press delete), last week I was taking the dogs for the late night wee walk and wound up talking to a neighbour about why we’ve sold our house and are moving to a country town about three hours drive (five hours train) away. We spoke of the many reasons the wife and I are upping stumps – mostly revolving around the sheer unmitigated unsustainability of this country’s largest city, in which we live about 6km from the CBD. We touched on how much we both hate working in the IT industry and how I was voluntarily giving up well paid consulting to eventually wind up a farmer on maybe five south pacific pesos an hour, if I’m lucky. He suggested we were on the right track.

This week he topped himself.

I can’t help wondering if our decisions influenced his. And that makes me sad. And I wonder how many people will go his way before we reach a stable ecotechnic future.

Sorry for the ramble. Today’s news is just bringing “energy descent” a little more up close and personal than I’ve been used to.


idiotgrrl said...

Now I am moved to get a statue of Columbia for my altar! To set their faces against everything our country stands for is abominable in my eyes.

And my favorite expression of the attitude of the One God towards the "We have a monopoly on the Truth" monotheisms is a political cartoon showing the Old Man admonishing three squabbling clerics (priest, rabbi, mullah) against a desert background with "You children stop fighting! Now!"

BTW - since Spengler made much of architecture as a cultural marker - consider the inventors of the 20th Century "undecorated box" that you see everywhere. The skyscraper is the last Faustian building in the world, and they're now being built in Dubai.

But to me, "flat undecorated box" is a surefire marker that we're in the early phases of another Culture now.

Jason said...

I lurve the idea of Bernanke as the new Gregory Benford!

JMG: most people who don't practice magic have very little idea just how much of what they consider real about themselves and their world is simply a function of their state of mind. The obvious and rather simplistic example is the person who insists "I am a failure," or what have you, as though it's a statement of fact, when it's actually a decision constantly reinforced by repetition.

I just did did a post on exactly that, from the point of view of clinical hypnosis which is a cousin of the magical art.

Alf Hornborg is indeed brilliant, and he also must win a prize for the most Tolkienian name of all time. His lecture here is a great listen.

Hal said...

As silly as the people taking on "Columbia" are, aren't the people defending the "goddess" just as wacky? Doesn't "Columbia" come from Columbus? Didn't his first name mean, "Christ bearer?" Didn't he and the invasion that followed do a pretty hard number on the indigenous inhabitants and natural systems of the land he "discovered? What would a goddess "Columbia" really represent, then? Freedom to rape and pillage?

idiotgrrl said...

"When people come over to visit, I serve them up the crusty peasant loaf and there's usually much appreciation for it. Some then ask me for the recipe and I oblige them.

Now, here's the interesting bit though.

It takes about 5 minutes max - by hand - to prepare all the ingredients so that they're mixed, everythings cleaned up and the loaf is then left to rise."


Because I have such a recipe, but it always comes out too crumbly. But then, I'm at 5,000 feet altitude. And I rally want to learn to bake bread by hand without all the hoo-rah usually given, since I don't have the strength to do much kneading.

Jason said...

Two more Tolkienian thoughts whilst I remember:

1) The mention of palantirs in the same reply as self-hypnotising 'failure' is interesting, because Tolkien depicts the effect of the palantirs on those who hold them and are still 'neurotic' as exactly that -- a piling up of mental images of despair. I'm told there are studies that show television can contribute to just such 'Jonah complexes', which is why it's so interesting that 'far seeing' is the translation of both 'palantir' and 'television'.

2)As against the attempted monoculture of "demanding that there be no center of value and meaning other than the one they offer", I've always thought that was another important aspect of the Tolkienian narrative -- it's a dissensus versus an enforced consensus, a multiple-ways narrative vs. a single way.

Hornborg is about deconstructing the voice of Saruman!

Hal said...

Oops, I noticed a couple of other comments were made about Columbia in the time between my reading and posting. I meant no offense to anyone wanting to venerate her.

Hal (Playing hooky from church this morning)

John Michael Greer said...

DeAnander, yes, no doubt that feeds into it as well.

Knitter, got it -- "Bread" is in the contest. If you could let me know your last name, I'll add that to the file!

Kieran, the Goebbels lineage is an oversimplification -- marketing methods on the same lines existed in America in the 1920s. Still, there's a family resemblance, to be sure.

Cherokee, I do indeed eat bread -- homebaked, without benefit of machine. I've also noticed the bread machine fetish; it takes more time to clean a bread machine than it does to do the actual labor to make bread without it, but that fixation on the machine makes it impossible for many people to grasp that.

Les, I've long thought that there's going to be a lot of that, in one form or another, as things wind down. I also expect to see a lot of people drink themselves to death, or do high-risk things until their number comes up, or simply go into a crowded place with a gun and start shooting until the police get there and drop them.

Grrl, you may be right about the Culture. As for the Dominionists, the US Constitution defines treason as offering aid to the enemies of the nation, and I see no reason not to apply that label to people who want to tear up the Constitution and replace it with a theocratic dictatorship. Bluntly: let 'em hang.

Jason, I'd see Bernanke not as the new Gregory Benford but, let's say, the new John Norman -- writing totally implausible fiction that's popular among those who share a certain fetishistic fantasy. Somehow "Currency Swaps of Gor" seems more Bernanke's style than "In the Ocean of Finance" or "If the Banks are Gods."

John Michael Greer said...

Hal, most of the Pagans I know who go in that direction actually venerate Lady Liberty -- you know which statue, and it's precisely because of a desire to focus intentionality with great precision on the best, rather than the worst, that America has been.

Jason, I'd cite an expert opinion: "Perilous to us all are the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves."

Hal, fair enough. It's always worth remembering that on this forum, your chances of finding somebody who believes in, well, just about anything -- except for the religion of progress and the various cornucopian myths, that is -- are pretty good.

Breanna said...

To idiotgrrl - I am not the person you asked, but I have what is probably a similar recipe:

It requires no kneading at all.

Cathy McGuire said...

Wow! I'm really having a hard time keeping up this week (well, it's harvest season here)... but what a huge amount of wonderful stuff to read! I had no idea The Glass Bead Game could elict such amazing stuff! Thanks, Hipbone, for your link - I'm totally caught up reading about your games and I'm gonna forward them to some friends and see if we can get a game or two going!! Do you have any new games working? And thanks, David, for posting a list of links to stories -- that's a whole 'nother project to read all of them, but I'm enjoying it (now I also need to take the time to post a comment - thanks to those who've posted on my blogged story!)

I'm still not caught up on comments, but it's really nice to have so much to look forward to. And of course, I will be looking to find my copy of The Glass Bead Game...

LewisLucanBooks said...

You can have the Goddess Columbia. I'll take the Goddess Portlandia. The genius loci of Portland, Oregon. She arrived by barge, up the Willamette River in 1985.

Here's a 10 minute video of her arrival. It was quit a civic occasion.

Unfortunately, I wasn't there. I was happy to find this video, but I wonder ... where are the gaggle of young women in tunics with garlands in their hair, strewing flowers (roses, of course ... Portland is the Rose City) in her path?

idiotgrrl said...

A new Culture? Observation #2:

Critics sniff that rap and hip-hop are "not music", by which they mean this is music so bad it doesn't deserve the name. They are absolutely right, but for the wrong reasons. Rap and hip-hop are not "bad music"; they aren't even of that genre at all.

A digression - I have been treated to an enthusiastic live recitation of Old English poetry - the opening lines of Beowulf - at the conclusion of a Medieval Studies lecture. The similarity struck me immediately. I imagine very few people have ever heard both.

But rap and hip-hop are not music; they are a reinvention of oral poetry in the bardic style. The real bardic style, where the harp was used as a percussion instrument, and the rhythm was strong and very well adapted to banging beer steins on the table.

Anyone who wants to scowl and say "neo-barbarians" is welcome to do so; I won't argue. Especially with the sex and violence in some of these songs. I leave it to others to ask "Which set of songs do you mean?"

Ozark Chinquapin said...

Here's my Submission for consideration for your anthology, titled "Interface".

It's an attempt to portray a new society emerging from the next dark age, with its issues and challenges but also a lot of enthusiasm. The location I've chosen is a real place that I explored around to use as the setting for the story, but the name it's currently known as doesn't appear in the story. I'm interested to see if anyone can figure it out.

JP said...

The skyscraper is profoundly Faustian.

It's reaching toward infinite space with no additional fuss whatsoever.

New High Cultures take a long time to develop. Centuries, in fact. We just entered the Winter of the West.

Dubai having skyscrapers is just indicative of the impulse of the civilization phase of a high culture.

Magian civilization (Orthodox Christianity <-------> Islam) peaked a long time ago and is easily overrun by Faustian civilization (German Catholocism <------> Protestantism-Fundamentalist-Enlightnment Materialist).

I'm more interested in Russia (reaching toward the infinite horizon), personally. They are on a massive church building spree there.

Les said...

Cherokee Chris said about making bread: “I've tried showing them, how easy it is to do and they still insist on using a bread making machine.”

Funny. Since my wife became known as “the bread witch”, due to her ability to not even use a recipe to make great bread (it’s all in the way the dough feels, apparently), there have been a number of occasions on which we have been offered someone’s no longer used bread making machine, as if this would somehow help her.

Even bread making machines are too complicated for many people.

As an aside, if anyone is interested in learning true artisan bread making, it’s worth tracking down a copy of Joe Oritz’s out of print book “the village baker”

PS: Chris, some weeks ago you kindly responded in detail to something I posted about moving to the country. We’ve been a bit frantic since with trying to find a place to live – I’ll put a detailed reply up at the green wizards forum in the next few days.


John Michael Greer said...

Cathy, don't feel bad -- I'm having a hard time keeping up with the comments, too!

Lewis, clearly Portland needs to learn a few things about how to throw a properly orgiastic Pagan ritual. ;-)

Grrl, now that's fascinating. I'm not at all a fan of rap, but then I don't read Norse sagas for entertainment either.

Ozark, got it. If you can let me know your name, I'll add it to the story so proper credit can be given if it makes the anthology.

JP, the classic skyscraper is as Faustian as an architecture can get. The blank blocky boxes that so often get built these days, which lack any sense of upward striving -- they just sit there, looking big and dumb -- less so. I suppose you could make a case for them as the product of Faustian Civilization, the standard awkward attempt to imitate the forms of a Culture that's already dead.

Still, I have a hard time imagining a Faustian Civilization at all. The core of the Faustian Culture was endless expansion, and the loss of that sense, as it spreads, could mean a very short-lived and feeble Civilization (just as, say, the Egyptian and Chinese Cultures both set the stage for enduring Civilizations, since the core spatial metaphors in both cases fostered duration).

I don't think a new Culture will pop right up here; more likely, the Faustian land base will fall into the hands of another Culture or Civilization; but the stirrings of the Faustian culture can be traced in the West very far back before it really took fire, and I suspect the same thing may be happening in this case as well. More, much more, of this in a later series of posts.

John Michael Greer said...

Knitter (offlist) got it. Thank you!

idiotgrrl said...

"The answer is 'saga'. The question is?"

"What's Icelandic for 'Soap Opera'?"

Unknown said...

[The unknown Deborah Bender]

"Liberty Enlightening the World" is the formal title of the Statue of Liberty. "Lady Liberty" is one of the informal names of the statue. Emma Lazarus' poem "The New Colossus" ("Give me your tired, your poor . . .") is inscribed on a plaque on the pedestal. For those of you who have never made the climb up her interior, it somewhat resembles the inside of a chocolate Easter Bunny.

"Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" is perhaps the least popular of the patriotic songs that used to be taught to American school children. It's been replaced by Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Full lyrics, music and some of the song's history may be found in the Wikipedia article "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean." It's apparently a remake of a British patriotic song, like the better known "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Grrl,

I dropped the recipe for the Crusty Peasant Loaf onto the Green Wizards forum - Look under the first circle - food. Hope you enjoy it.

As to elevation and bread, I don't know, as I'm about half the height above sea level that you are at and haven't noticed anything unusual. I suspect that it may actually have more to do with the quality of the yeast, flour and the temperature that you leave the bread to rise at. I made some notes in the recipe about these issues, give it a bash and see what happens.

As to your comments re rap music, over here because of cultural differences it is predominantly a forum for youth protest - much in the same way that reggae is in certain countries. A good example of this is a recent song by the band "The Herd" expressing a sentiment that is not out of character with this blog:

The Herd - The Sum of it All

A very different experience indeed to US rap culture. I've noticed that the UK rap culture is different again, but closer in line with the Australian culture. I don't get gangster rap, it's a very negative trip.

Also, anyone who doesn't think that current music has depth and melody, check this out:

Active Child - Hanging On

PS: I'm having trouble keeping up with the comments too!

Les, I look forward to your response.



hawlkeye said...

All those bread machines are equally embedded in their owners' brains as surely as they are entrenched upon their counter-tops. The whole idea of labor-saving efficiency from the machine is so subconsciously enmeshed within our ideas of functionality, that far too many of us simply cannot imagine a life without them. Even within the precise moment that simpler living is the very topic!

(Chris, as weirdly surreal as these types of scenarios are typical, isn't it kind of invigorating? I don't know why, maybe that's just the adrenaline trying to convince me to RUN...!)

There is no current industrial human activity where the first thought doesn't go right to a machine, and that machine is the result of a series of machines assigned perpetual devotion and the forsaking of all other ways of doing. Generations of this acceleration has not only made us bereft of manual skills, but devoid of any sense of innate humanness without machines close at hand. Are we merely disconnected with nature, or overly connected with Machinebubble, or a bit of both?

Who on earth would we be if we didn't have machines to prop up our identities, to tell us who we are? Guess we'll find out...

Ceworthe said...

@ Ozark, my guess would be Hot Springs Arkansas

Wendy said...

Speaking of music - the "girl" band Rising Appalachia has an amazing song called Scale Down. Amazing music - cross between blues, bluegrass, rock, jazz. They use very few instruments, and no "electronic" ones. It's minimalist instrumentally, but their voices are just amazing.
It's an incredible piece ... and a fantastic "protest" song that needs more press.

Hal said...

Ceworth, definitely not Hot Springs. Somewhere closer to Eureka Spr., but over the state line into Mo. Lots of Ozarks in Mo. Hot Spr. is in the Ouachitas, not far from paradise.

Myriad said...

Joel -- I've looked into Lakoff's ideas but only superficially, as I haven't read the book. So far, I see it as an interesting perspective but not a deep insight. Finding a pre-existing conceptual metaphor that the Mandelbrot set comes from, for instance, appears problematic. Demanding proof that not only all mathematics but all apparent correspondence between mathematics and the behavior of the universe don't just come from our own minds, is flirting with solipsism.

Render under Geithner that which is Geithner's! Seems at least one verse of scripture has that particular "graven image" issue covered. But overall, point taken. Christianity overall is in a deplorable state, but the fracturing of churches (dissensus?) at least allows some ideals to survive in isolated pockets. I interact several times a week with monks of the Brothers of Charity, and I don't live in the Bible Belt or tune in to "Christian" broadcasts, so I'm privileged to observe more of the good than the evil.

Regarding the psychology of machine dependence: my favorite example is an ad campaign for an electric garage door opener with a battery back-up system. The desirability of the latter feature is highlighted, in the ads, by depicting the plight of a suburban family trapped in their car in their own driveway because the garage door won't open due to a power failure. Of course it's advertising hyperbole, but one must assume that the target audiences they tested the ad on did not simply break out laughing at what is essentially a variation of the old joke about people so dumb they were trapped on an escalator in a power failure. Presumably they instead identified with the family facing the brutal prospect of walking a few meters in the rain.

I'm a lot more sympathetic, though, to Motel the Tailor becoming "dependent" on a sewing machine to do his job efficiently. Or a dentist preferring to use a motorized drill instead of a hand-cranked one. And I much prefer my banker to use a computer instead of pencil and paper arithmetic. I hope the examples of frivolous use of machines that save no time (for me, snow blowers are right up there with bread machines in that category) or effect only trivial conveniences do not become an excuse to overlook the fact that most machines are work tools and actually do have a large effect on productivity.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Crumbly bread? Add an egg. Cut any liquid, slightly to make up for adding the egg.

I also make bread "on the fly." And, am at a loss when someone asks me for the recipe. I start with two cups of liquid, which will yield 2 loaves of bread. Liquid? Milk, water, honey, egg. No particular amounts. Just what's at hand. Flours? Wheat, white, oatmeal, corn meal, etc. What ever is in the pantry. Just keep adding til it looks and feels right.

On cornbread. I have a problem with digesting baking soda and baking powder. So, when I make corn bread, I put in a little sugar and honey and yeast to get the rise. No baking powder or soda.

Sometimes I dry and grind my own corn. Wow. What a difference in flavor.

John Michael Greer said...

Grrl, I don't watch soap operas. Do they often involve people beheading one another with swords and axes?

Unknown Deborah, I didn't happen to know that. If I ever have the chance to do the tourist thing in NYC, the Statue of Liberty is of course on the agenda; I'll keep the chocolate easter bunny comparison in mind!

Hawlkeye, good. That's the power of the myth of the machine -- the replacement of human capacities by mechanical prosthetics has gone so far that even when people fantasize about "simple living," they want a new set of machines to do their simple living for them.

Wendy, thank you! They're very good -- and you're quite right, of course, that the song deserves more press. I'll see if I can weave it into a post one of these days.

Myriad, it would be interesting some time to do a census of the whole range of machines currently in use in America and see if, in fact, most of them do something useful, or if (as I suspect) a majority of them are simply replacements for things human beings can do perfectly well without them -- or with much simpler, non-fossil-fuel-powered tools.

Lewis, you can also use pectin -- yes, the same stuff you add to jam to make it set. Since my wife has celiac disease, our bread and other baked goods have to be made without the binding properties of wheat gluten, and pectin is the best substitute binder we've found yet.

idiotgrrl said...

Has the sustainability forum been moved?

I haven't looked at it all month, having been out of town, but when I clicked the link just not, it gave me

"Firefox can't find the server at"



idiotgrrl said...

"Grrl, I don't watch soap operas. Do they often involve people beheading one another with swords and axes? "

Same themes, different weapons. And lawsuits; endless, prolonged, bitter, trivial lawsuits - common to BOTH!

Joel said...

>Finding a pre-existing conceptual metaphor that the Mandelbrot set comes from, for instance, appears problematic. Demanding proof that not only all mathematics but all apparent correspondence between mathematics and the behavior of the universe don't just come from our own minds, is flirting with solipsism.

In the first case, the authors only go as far as the Euler identity, but their assertion is not that all the math was pre-existing, only that new mathematics is procedurally generated from existing cognitive capacity. Ideas of how numbers might work (including interesting sorts of arithmetic, like Boolean) come from out instincts and early experiences regarding real-world quantity.

An absence of math that doesn't match the behavior of the universe is explained partly by the wide variety of behavior the universe can exhibit, but mostly by the fact that our cognitive abilities have been naturally selected to conform with this particular universe. For example, a hypothetical visual cortex with eight-dimensional would be poorly-suited to a life in three, and so even people who were born blind are predisposed to imagine 3D spatial relationships, and to reason accordingly.

You might not get much out of the book, but I think it would be worth checking out.

Unknown said...

Deborah here. My comment seems to have been eaten, so I'm reposting
with minor revisions.

JMG, the interior of the Statue of Liberty was closed to the public a long while after 9/11/01, then reopened, closed again more recently, and I don't know if or when it reopens. When the Statue is closed, the museum in the base is still well worth a visit. It contains a full scale model of a foot which you can sit on, and a lot of information on how the statue is engineered, why it was built and how it was paid for.

The climb inside the statue requires standing in line for a couple of hours (perhaps less if you arrive ahead of the groups of school children). My first trip was as a child brought by my parents. I noticed something then that I made use of on a second visit decades later, not long after the statue had been repaired for the bicentennial (the patches in her copper skin were still bright on the inside).

The climax of the climb up the spiral staircase is to file past the windows in the crown and look out over New York Harbor. One only has moments to do this because many people are in the line behind one, waiting for their turn.

Just before that point, one passes a platform large enough for one person to stand out of the line of traffic. On my first visit, I saw it, and on my second, I stepped onto it.

In that spot, one can stand for a while not bothering anyone, and meditate on Liberty Enlightening the World. If one practices magic, the platform is located about where the frontal lobes of the Goddess would be, on the vertical axis from the sky down Her double helix iron spine through the star shaped base of the pedestal into the rock of Bedloes' Island. It is a good place to align one's intentions with Hers, or with the Freemasons who created Her image.

If I ever did something that snagged me an invitation to the White House, I would ask the Park Service to let me climb the second staircase inside the torch arm and step out on what appears to be a viewing balcony around the flame of the torch. The torch has been closed to the public for many years.

Eric said...

Eric Farnsworth
I called the story 'And then' because I didn't feel like working any harder than that on a title, but I'd accept suggestions.

shiningwhiffle said...

(JMG: the original version of this was accidentally directed at the wrong user. Please discard it. Sorry.)


I was about to defend Lakoff when I realized you were talking about Where Mathematics Comes From and not his work on linguistic framing. Having looked that up, I'm with you: the psychology of mathematics is interesting but ultimately besides the point.

But then, Lakoff's view on mathematics is just a special case of impositionism, the idea that the conceptual order we find in the world (the fact that tables are tables and not just elementary particles) is imposed by our minds. Impositionism seems to be the first reaction of many thinkers who realize that representationalism -- the idea that conceptual order is already laying around out there, independent of our minds -- won't work.

I'm personally of the view that -- as Hilary Putnam put it -- "the mind and the world jointly make up the mind and the world."

Houyhnhnm said...

Reader fiction. What a great idea, JMG!

I've been writing whenever possible since the "Space Bats" entry appeared.

Here's what I have so far:

"The Collector"

Should I complete the chapter in the next month or so, may I resubmit?

Ozark Chinquapin said...

You're on the right track, Hal. In Missouri, not that close to Eureka Springs but certainly closer to there than to Hot Springs.

I'll be happy to respond to anyone's comments on my own blog too, so as not to overburden JMG with too many off-topic comments.

P.S. JMG, did my full name that I sent this morning get through to you?

DeAnander said...

In the Big Science institution where once I worked as a software geek, we used to tear out the most stupendously useless items from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue (if you want to despair of the human race completely, just sit down and read it).

I think the winner one whole year was the Motorised Tie Rack. But there were many more classic, ludicrous, jaw-dropping examples of runaway industrialism desperately inventing problems to solve.

On a more serious note, one of the lovely finger traps of capitalism and industrialism combined is debt servicing on capital equipment, which motivates the owner to keep the plant producing, producing, producing 24x7 in the hope of servicing the debt incurred in its acquisition or construction. The problem of overcapitalisation and the perverse incentive to keep the machinery running at all costs (hmmm), even if it's cranking out completely useless junk (and destroying biota in the process), has been discussed here and there.

There are some industrial plants which are very expensive to shut down and restart: it's *cheaper* to keep shovelling raw materials (aka minerals, petroleum and biota) in the hopper than to shut the plant down for a day or a week until there is fresh demand for its output. In other words, in many real-world examples out there, the "labour saving" machinery is now dictating the pace of production and consumption. Something wrong with that picture eh?

John Michael Greer said...

Grrl, it never did get a lot of use, so we ended up folding it into the Green Wizards forum. As for lawsuits, that's fascinating -- for centuries, the lawsuit was the Welsh national sport. What was it with these heroic societies and their law courts?

Deborah, fascinating. I'll keep that in mind.

Eric, thanks!

Houyhnhnm, you may certainly resubmit an improved version a bit later on, if you wish. Please let me know your name, though -- I can delete the comment unposted, if you don't want it to be listed here, but it should be attached to the story.

Ozark, got it -- meant to post a note on that, but got swamped with other things needing doing. Thanks for checking.

DeAnander, that's one of the crucial differences between a tool and a machine. A tool is flexible, and so can be used according to your needs; a machine is not, and forces you to conform to its needs.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey JMG,

Most impressed! Pectin, who would have thought? All is now explained. I guess your quince tree will be earning it's keep one day. They're all in leaf now here, although they're still a bit young to produce fruit. The biggest is about 2.5m now - still not above wallaby height. The first summer storm rolled through last night too.

Pectin is quite easy to make - I gave it a bash last year from some gleaned apples, although I've only ever used it in jam making.



dltrammel said...

Note to those of you submitting off the comments, please consider adding your submission to the list at the Green Wizard Forum. That way we all can enjoy (and comment) on your story.

jean-vivien said...

Hi everyone, I suggest we replace 'machines' with 'tools' (which are human-centered), and 'automtize' with 'make tasks a little easier for humans'.

Just my two cents for a more human centered mindset!

Cheers and keep up the good work.

S. Starwind said...

"...uncomfortable for many of my readers as it is unavoidable."

It was at the first word in the qoutations above that my attention to this post turned from interested to borderline obsessed, and that I began silently aplauding every word that followed. The entire section of the entry pertaining to, and following your second point of interest was nearly word for word what I've been thinking for the past five years of my young life. Any glimpse into my own writings could confirm this.

While I continue to put work into the post-peak oil short story (which was started yesterday...) I am, at the same time, greatly looking forward to tomorrow's post. I appreciate the opportunity you provide for learning and furthing my own intellectual development on a weekly basis with this blog, and on a semmi-daily basis in any of your numerous books.

Jason Heppenstall said...

"If we don't use the trees they will just get sick and die"

Argh. I have just been away for a couple of weeks and returned to discover that the local council has destroyed an area I regarded as a nature reserve. It was a few acres of 'wasteland' of demolished factories that had been knocked down in the 60s on which a very varied forest had sprung up. Giant snails lived there and unusual - sometime unidentifiable - flowers sprung up there in the spring.

When I returned it was simply gone, with just stumps left and a few large machines parked up that had done the dirty work. A large number of formerly resident ravens were sat on a nearby barbed wire fence surveying the wreckage philosophically.

Nearby was a sign with a computer generated image of what the council plans to put on the spot - a 'Nature Area' complete with neat grass, a couple of tree species and some fancy looking benches with computer generated people sat on them.

Gah, it breaks my heart.

Anyway, apologies for the digression, I am working on my 'short' story (just need to cut about 10,000 words from it) and looking forward to the forthcoming discussion on magic and the nature of consciousness.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Robert Mageprof--

Agrippa certainly lived a peripatetic life.

@DeAnander & JMG-

Thanks for the further discussion of machines and tools. The question of what are necessary aids-to-work is interesting. What about differences of scale? On the home front, while I use very few motorized aids-to-work, I do find my computer, vacuum cleaner, washer, and blender to be very useful tools (used with discretion and mindfulness).

Over the years, while we were never ever in the electric toothbrush/bread machine/electric tie rack category, we have let more things go, e.g. when our dryer broke some years ago we started using the clothes line instead of buying a new one.

On an industrial scale, I suppose a blender-like machine in a factory that produces processed food falls in the machine category, running 24/7 for reasons mentioned.

But I use my blender in part because I don't buy industrially mass produced food products. So what is less damaging to the ecosystem? The big factory or lots of people like me? (Taking into account the embedded energy of the motorized tools I do use.)

One realizes one's use at home of motorized aids-to-work may go away: A post-peak story could be written about a young person educated for a pre-peak profession but looking for work and hired as a domestic servant in a society in which manual labor is replacing the use of machines/tools in households.

Speaking of stories, the ones linked at the Green Wizards site make for interesting reading.

Thijs Goverde said...

@adrian ayres fisher:
funny, I own one of those confounded bread machines, use it daily in fact, and I never once thought about using a clothes-drying machine.
Only goes to show.
Takes all sorts.

Am I the only one who checked out the recipe given earlier, thinking 5 minutes a day? This I must see! (5 minutes is only slightly more than the time it takes to load, use and clean my Infernal Bread Device and, well, I'd like to do without it, but I'm unwilling to invest the time to do waht in my family is referred to as 'real' baking. My dad does do that, and though I realise his product is in many ways superior to mine, it takes him some serious time to make it)
And then I giggled, beause the 5-mins-a-day is realised by mixing enough dough for two weeks and putting in the fridge.
The ironic part being that a fridge is used as a labour-saving device here.
We're all implicated, one way or the other, it seems.

DeAnander said...

I own a hand-crank blender :-)

OTOH I have always been a big fan of power tools and I contemplate the possibility of living my waning years without 'em with... well, dismay. Not despair, but dismay. I know how hard manual labour is w/o energy slaves. What makes me crazy is to see the waste, the criminal waste of all that fuel and ingenuity that, carefully husbanded, could have kept us in power tools and other useful stuff for a century or more to come -- enough time for a softer transition perhaps.

As it is, I fear the lights will go out more suddenly that any of us (except the most farseeing and prepared) are ready for. sigh.

I am just watching a land deal come to a halt because the insurance company requires a WETT-certified inspector to file a positive evaluation of a wood stove. The most practical, useful and resilient piece of equipment in the house is regarded by the PTB as a dangerous aberration. Sigh again. I hope we are at, or near, Peak Craziness.

Dr. Simon A. Shakespeare said...

Thanks for publishing your blog. It's always a pleasure to read.

If I may, I'd like to submit my short story 'The Olive Tree Artisans' for your consideration. It can be found at:

I look forward to your coming blog postings with great interest.
Thanks, Simon.

Petro said...

As a Hesse fan back in junior high, I simply had to tackle "The Glass Bead Game" and found it a difficult slog, and after two readings I still felt I had missed the point.

I think you have explained very well here, with this post, why I felt that way.

Thanks for commenting on that book. Time for a re-read.

John Michael Greer said...

Simon, your story's been added to the contest. On to the next post!

Blindweb said...

I guess my point was that magic never seemed like the best path to reach the desired goals. I know you understand Taoism so I was wondering why you took the path of magic instead. Was it just the path your life led you on, or is there something in particular? Further reading recommendations are always welcome. Thanks

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.

cheeba said...

Ah, I see you already mentioned Spengler. This totally made me think of him:

"It emerged, according to his invented history, out of the fields of mathematics and musicology, as scholars found common patterns underlying the two disciplines—the structure of a geometric proof, let’s say, sharing the same abstract form as a Bach fugue or a Gregorian chant."

I must have read TGBG before The Decline of the West, or I am sure I would have spotted the connection before. So I too will be digging out my old copy of TGBG when I get a chance!

The one bit of Spengler people (me on first reading) just couldn't get on with was his prediction that a future Culture would consider the machine "Demonic" (how on earth could they give up the power, apart from anything else?). This post goes a long way to showing how it might become possible.

All of which, plus The Art of Memory, makes me think of Butler's Law and the Mentats in 'Dune' - another key SF text in the context of Peak Oil, I am sure you would agree.

Excellent steer on stagflation as well - I had been circling some kind of insight on it for a while but its simplicity had eluded me, so thanks.

Zach said...


Zach, funny robes, chants and symbols -- well, doesn't that apply to your religion just as much as to my magic? And for good reason -- those things are tools for shaping consciousness, and stay in use because they still have the required effect on the mental states of the participants.

Oh, certainly. (In fact, that reminds me... must see about robes for our acolytes...)

I think I see where I became confused. You've been busy for weeks now exploring how "magic" is a wider practice than one might have previously thought, and yet in this first "Lesson in Practical Magic" you're involving funny robes, chants, and symbols (FRC&S). My confusion is because I failed to keep distinct what magic is ("change in consciousness according to will") from the tools one might use to practice it (FRC&S).

This also gets back to the distinction I wanted to keep clear between religion and magic.

So: from your perspective, when we enact our liturgy using our funny robes, chants, and symbols, what we are doing is magic, because it is using one of the standard "toolkits" of affecting states of consciousness. And also at the same time, what we are doing is religious, because we are doing it as a response to the Divine.

Then for this weeks post, you are advocating the use of ritual magic (as well as fasting from media) for what I would call a "secular" purpose -- namely, creating a mental space between yourself and your society, from which you can critique it rather than mindlessly participating in it.

Am I back on the same page?

It occurs to me that we Christians are all urged to this practice -- after all, we do have "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind...", "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" etc. as part of our Scriptures. These passages are often misunderstood, especially by non-Christians, as urging contempt for nature -- but in traditional Christian theology, the kosmos we are to remain separate from are the patterns and perceptions of one's culture and age. So in terms of this blog, perhaps a good paraphrase might be "Don't let yourself get suckered by the mass thaumaturgy going on around you."