Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Lesson in Practical Magic

Up to this point in our discussion of the intersection between peak oil and magic, we’ve mostly talked about what doesn’t work. That couldn’t be avoided, since the misunderstandings of magic that run barefoot through contemporary culture have to be dealt with before it’s possible to make sense of anything more substantive.

Still, I hope that by this time my readers have grasped that magic is not a substitute for technology, a way of making an end run around environmental limits and the laws of physics, or for that matter a means of forcing society as a whole to deal constructively with the rising spiral of crises that dominates the emergent history of our time. It’s an old and subtle craft that deals with the interface between consciousness and the universe of our experience, using the buttons and levers of the nonrational mind; it has remarkable potentials for good and ill; and some of those potentials have quite a bit to offer in the face of peak oil. Now that the misconceptions have been more or less cleared away, we can get down to the details of practical magic.

There’s a significant parallel between the material we’re about to cover and the “green wizardry” of the Seventies appropriate-tech movement that we discussed at such length a little while back. The key to green wizardry is that it starts with the individual; instead of pursuing vast top-down changes, the organic gardeners and renewable-energy wonks of the Seventies put gardens in their own backyards, solar water heaters on their own roofs, and insulation in their own attics. In the same way, the effective practice of magic begins with the individual student of the art, and works outward from there.

How to begin, and how to work outward from there, varies from one system of magic to another, and very often from one teacher to another. Since the purpose of this blog is to discuss peak oil and topics related to it, rather than to offer a course in magical training for beginners, I’m going to skip most of the technical details here; those who are interested can find them in the standard textbooks of the art. It’s more useful for the present purpose to give the context in which those details find their place and have their meaning, and that might best be done by introducing you, dear reader, to one of the more colorful figures in the entire history of magic.

If I say that Joséphin Péladan was a French conservative of the 19th century, nearly every person who reads that phrase will misunderstand it; the English-speaking world has never had anything like continental European conservatism, and even in Europe the conservatism of Péladan’s time is all but extinct. If I go on to say that he was one of the leading lights of the Decadent movement in French literature, the author of lushly erotic and wildly popular novels, as well as a dandy and an esthete who out-Gothed today’s Goths a hundred and twenty years in advance, my readers may have some difficulty squaring that with my first comment; and when I go on to explain that he was at one and the same time a devout if eccentric Roman Catholic and a significant figure in the Paris occult scene of his time, I trust I will be forgiven for listening for the distant popping sound of readers’ heads exploding.

Péladan was all of that, and quite a bit more. He’s the man Oscar Wilde was imitating when Wilde went strolling through London in velvet clothes with a drooping lily in his hand. Péladan claimed descent from the ancient Chaldean sages, sponsored a series of Rosicrucian gallery shows that came within an ace of changing the history of Western art, and ran an occult order that had no less a figure than Erik Satie as its official composer. (Fans of Satie’s early music will recall his Sonneries de la Rose+Croix; those were written for the meetings of Péladan’s order.) “Do you know what is meant by the expression ‘That man is a character’? Well, a mage is that above all,” Peladan wrote, and he certainly was.

All the colorful details, though, were in the service of an utterly serious purpose. Péladan belonged to that minority of late 19th century thinkers who recognized that the European societies of their day were headed for disaster. More clearly than any of his contemporaries, he understood that what was facing collapse was not simply political or economic, but the entire cultural heritage—aristocratic, Christian, Latinate—that linked the Europe of his time with its historic roots in the ancient world. What set him apart from the sentimental conservatives of his time and ours, though, is that he recognized that this heritage was already past saving. “We do not believe in progress or in salvation,” his Manifesto of the Rose+Cross announced to a mostly bemused Paris in 1891. “For the Latin race, which goes to its death, we prepare a final splendor, to dazzle and make gentle the barbarians who are to come.”

His work as an operative mage and a cultural figure focused on that theme with the frantic intensity of a man who knows he’s going to lose. His core work of magical theory and practice, Comment on devient mage (How To Become A Mage, 1892), contains not a single magical ritual. Its theme, to borrow a typically ornate term from his writing, was ethopoeia—the making (poesis) of an ethos, one that would enable individuals to stand apart from the collective consciousness of their time in order to think their own thoughts and make their own choices. “Society,” Péladan wrote, “is an anonymous enterprise for living a life of secondhand emotions”—and the particular emotions on offer, as he discussed in some detail, are not picked at random. Ioan Culianu’s description of modern industrial societies as “magician states” that rule by manufacturing a managed consensus by the manipulation of nonrational lures would have been music to Péladan’s ears.

His unwavering focus made How To Become A Mage the most detailed text of its time on the fine art of freeing the individual will, sensibility, and understanding from bondage to unthinking social reactions. It was very much a book of its era, full of references to current events, and it also uses the utterly Péladanesque strategy of infuriating the reader by poking as many of those social reactions as possible. Liberal, conservative, radical or reactionary, every reader of Péladan’s treatise could count on finding a good reason to throw it at the nearest wall, and the effect would be even stronger today, since the cultural differences between Péladan’s time and ours would step on a whole new layer of sore toes. In spare moments, I’ve gotten about halfway through making an English translation of How To Become A Mage, but it’s purely a private hobby; it’s hard to imagine a more unpublishable book.

Still, the same theme appears throughout the literature of the 19th century occult revival. Partly that’s because everybody in the occult scene read Péladan, but it was also because the 19th century saw the emergence of the first generation of effective mass media and the foreshadowings of the mass movements and political thaumaturgy of the century to come. An extraordinary range of magical literature at the time, and right up through the Second World War, assumed as a matter of course that contemporary European civilization was, as we now like to say, circling the drain.

Whether “the barbarians who are to come” would be domestic or imported was a matter of some discussion—Péladan himself thought that Europe would eventually be conquered by the Chinese, a theory that seems rather less far-fetched today than it did in his time—but very few people in the occult scene doubted that they worked their magic in the twilight years of a dying civilization. Of course they were quite correct; the old cultures of Europe, in every sense Péladan would have recognized, died in the trenches of the First World War; the forty years from Sarajevo in 1914 to Dien Bien Phu in 1954 saw Europe’s nations flattened to the ground by two catastrophic wars, overwhelmed by cultural change, and reduced from the status of masters of the planet to pawns in a game of bare-knuckle politics played with gusto by the United States and the Soviet Union.

All this made Péladan’s lessons more than usually relevant, because the catastrophe he foresaw had a clear magical dimension. Read contemporary accounts of the way that Europe stumbled into war in 1914 and it’s hard to miss the weirdly trancelike state of mind in the warring nations, as vast crowds cheered the coming of hostilities that would cost millions of them their lives, and left-wing parties that had pledged themselves to nonviolent resistance in the event of war forgot all about their pledges and swung into step behind the patriotic drumbeats. The collective consciousness of the age was primed for an explosion, partly by the thaumaturgy of any number of competing political and economic interests, and partly by the rising pressures of intolerable inner conflicts that, in magician states ruled by a managed consensus, was prevented from finding a less catastrophic form of expression.

It took an extraordinary degree of mental independence to stay clear of the trance state and its appalling consequences, but that was one of the things the magical training available in those days was intended to do. Péladan was inevitably the most outspoken of the period’s occult writers on this subject, as on so many others, and filled a good many of the 22 chapters of How To Becone A Mage with advice on how to open up an insulating space between the individual mind and the pressures that surround it. Many of the same points, though, are made in quieter ways by other writers of the time, and in the instructional papers of magical lodges of the same period. All this advice is aimed at the social habits of another time and has not necessarily aged well, but the basic principles still stand.

The first of those principles is to limit and control the channels by which the mainstream media and their wholly owned subsidiary, public opinion, get access to your nervous system. Now of course that raises the hackles of quite a few people nowadays. When I suggested two months back that those who wanted to reclaim some sense of meaning from today’s manufactured pseudoculture might consider pulling the plug on popular culture as a good first step, I fielded the inevitable responses insisting that popular culture was creative, interesting, etc., so why did I have such a grudge against it?

It was a neat evasion of my point, which is that contemporary mass-produced popular culture exists solely for the purpose of emptying your wallet and your brain, not necessarily in that order. In terms of the classification I’ve suggested in recent posts, popular culture is a vehicle for mass thaumaturgy; it works, as mass thaumaturgy always works, by inducing you to think less and react more. Thus, in the strictest sense of the word, it makes you more stupid. I don’t think any of us can afford that right now.

One point Péladan made that remains valid today is that spending time among a crowd of people whose minds and conversation are utterly conditioned by popular culture is not noticeably different from getting your popular culture firsthand. If anything, it’s even more of an issue these days than it was in his; I suspect most of us have had the experience of hearing a conversation between two people in which every single word spoken was a sound bite from some media source or other. There’s no need to become a hermit, but it’s a good idea to choose your crowds with some care.

Steps such as these will cut down on the influence that the mass thaumaturgy of our time has over your thoughts, feelings, and decisions. Still, the empty space has to be filled with something better, or there won’t be much of an improvement; this is the second of the principles I mentioned earlier. That’s the perennial mistake of Romanticism, the notion that all you have to do is fling aside the fetters of social expectations and do what comes naturally. The problem here is of course that “what comes naturally” to every one of us is the product of a lifetime spent absorbing social cues from the people around us and the media directed at us, all of which triggers a set of unthinking and unconscious reactions we share with our nonhuman relatives: social primate see, social primate do.

Being who he was, and living when he did, Péladan phrased that dimension of the work in terms of art, music and literature, and that’s certainly one of the available options. If you happen to be a dandy and an esthete, and live in a city with good art galleries, concert venues, and the like, you could do worse than to follow his recommendations—he was particularly partial to Renaissance paintings, German classical and romantic music from Bach through to Wagner, and Shakespeare’s plays—but I don’t recommend copying him and Oscar Wilde and strolling down the streets with a lily in your hand. Their wives clearly had to put up with a lot. (You didn’t know that Wilde was married, did you? Her name was Constance; she was an initiate of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the most influential magical order in late 19th century Britain; and yes, she did have to put up with a lot.)

Still, that’s only one option, and the last thing you should do in this sort of practice is rely on someone else’s notions of what ought to feed your mind. “’Fear the example of another, think for yourself,’” wrote Péladan; “this precept of Pythagoras contains all of magic, which is nothing other than the power of selfhood.” As I suggested in the earlier post mentioned a few paragraphs back, the important thing is simply to choose things to read, watch, hear, and do that you consider worthwhile, instead of passively taking in whatever the thaumaturgists-for-hire of the media and marketing industries push at you. What falls in the former category will vary from person to person, as it should.

All this seems relatively straightforward, and indeed it’s quite possible to get to the same decision by plain reasoning starting, say, from the shoddy vulgarity of mass-produced entertainments, and going from there to the realization that there’s much more interesting mind food to feast upon. That making such choices also makes it easier to think clearly would in that case be merely a pleasant side effect of good taste. The operative mage in training does the same thing deliberately, not just to think clearly but to feel and will clearly as well. As the training proceeds, however, those effects begin to reveal another side, which is their effect on other people.

Péladan hinted at this effect in How To Become A Mage, though custom in the occult scene back in his time didn’t favor spelling out the details. “Do not look for another measure of magical power than that the power within you, nor for another way to judge a being than by the light that he sheds To perfect yourself by becoming luminous, and like the sun, to excite the ideal life latent around you—there you behold all the mysteries of the highest initiation.” What he did not quite say is that “the ideal life latent around you” is in other human beings, and that—especially in times of cultural crisis—stepping outside the lowest common denominator of the mass mind has an effect rather like induction in electrical circuits; put another way, it can be as catchy as a lively new tune.

You can catch that tune, so to speak, from a person; you can catch it from a book, which is why Péladan wrote his 22 novels, each of them exploring some aspect of the relation between the initiate and a corrupt society; you can catch it from other sources, the way Rainier Maria Rilke did from a statue of Apollo; you can also catch it all by yourself, by climbing out of collective consciousness for some other reason and discovering that you like the view. Now of course far more often than not, those who step out of the collective consciousness of their society promptly jump back into the collective consciousness of a congenial subculture, which from a magical perspective is no better—thinking the same thoughts as all your radical friends is just as much secondhand living as is thinking the same thoughts as the vacuous faces on the evening news—but there’s always the chance of getting beyond that, and some subcultures make it easier to get beyond that than others.

Does this seem vague and impractical? If so, dear reader, I would encourage you to glance back over the history of the peak oil movement. Fifteen years ago, next to nobody anywhere was talking about the hard fact that global oil production was approaching hard planetary limits. Ten years ago, there were people talking about it, but they were voices in the wilderness dismissed by all right-thinking people. Five years ago, the idea that an archdruid would take an active part in a national and international conversation on the future of industrial society might have made a great idea for a comedy skit. This year—or, more precisely,a few weeks from now—the archdruid in question will be speaking at ASPO-USA’s annual conference in Washington DC, practically in the shadow of the Capitol. Five, ten, and fifteen years from now? We’ll see.

Many factors contributed to the remarkably fast rise of the peak oil movement, to be sure. Still, from the perspective of an operative mage, it’s hard to argue against the idea that the induction effect Péladan didn’t quite mention—the magical equivalent, to be precise, of personal example—had at least some role in it. As for the deeper implications and applications of that effect—well, here again, that’s a subject for next week’s post.


On a note that Péladan would have appreciated, I’m delighted to announce that Rise & Fall, a modern dance piece choreographed by Valerie Green and performed by DanceEntropy, will have its premiere at the Baruch Center in New York City on January 20-22, 2012. Regular readers will remember that Rise & Fall is partly inspired by my book The Long Descent. Further information about Rise & Fall and its companion piece, Inexplicable Space, can be found here. I’d encourage any of my readers who will be in the NYC area then, and enjoy modern dance, to take it in.


AA said...

JMG, what are the other "standard texts" (and I've been reading about magic for over thirty-five years and never found as lucid an explanation as yours)? AA

John Michael Greer said...

AA, it depends on the tradition of magic you want to practice. In the Golden Dawn system, where I had my original training, Israel Regardie's Foundations of Practical Magic and Ceremonial Magic, Gareth Knight's excellent little books Occult Exercises and Practices and The Practice of Ritual Magic, and Dion Fortune's The Mystical Qabalah are pretty standard, though other operative mages would probably have their own lists; I might throw in Learning Ritual Magic, which I cowrote with Clare Vaughn and Earl King Jr, and is the text I use for personal students who don't have a lot of previous experience. Druid magic -- well, there's very little in print; most orders keep their magical work very private, though AODA has broken away from that a bit with my The Druidry Handbook and The Druid Magic Handbook. Other systems, you'd have to ask somebody who's studied them.

escapefromwisconsin said...

How do you suggest dealing with the inevitable alienation and possibly lonliness that results by having one's consciousness outside the mainstream narrative that is being sold to us (worked on us?). I'm sure I speak for many here when I say that once you see what's really going on (or take the blue pill to use, er, a popular culture metaphor), you find it hard to deal with everyday life where others are so wrapped up in collective delusion. How do you get through the day? How do you even relate to people?

John Wheeler said...

If you do ever publish How To Become A Mage, please do tell us, I am definitely interested!

J.D. Smith said...

Living in DC, I hope that my wife-who introduced me to this blog-and I may be able to attend your speech and/or other events of the conference.

Second, though it's been a while since I read the Anton book, I think it's worth nothing that some of Culianu's speculative fiction as cited by Anton involved taking over television stations, such as happened in Romania in 1989. If memory serves, Culianu's fiction preceded that tactic. This comports with more than a few others' ideas of television and spectacle, and with other more recent events.

Finally, my own submission to the Peak Oil and post-Peak Oil anthology can be found at the following link:

A couple of typos will be fixed pending the resolution of a software glitch.

Mister Roboto said...

That all sounds like a good place to start. Though people should be warned that if you were previously drinking one of the socially standard flavors of Kool-Aid prior to embarking on this new regimen, your former fellow Kool-Aid drinkers will likely identify you as The Enemy as much as or even more so than The Usual Reviled Other. Of course, the need to have a Reviled Other is one of those things you should outgrow as you liberate your mind from the shackles of mass-culture.

John Michael Greer said...

Escape, if you find solitude difficult -- not everyone does -- it's a very good idea to find a supportive subculture that shares your views, even if it's on the internet. In the long run, you're going to get comfortable thinking your own thoughts and not having anybody else reflect them back at you, but that's something that comes with time and experience; we grow up relying on herd consciousness, and that has to be outgrown.

John, I'll keep that in mind!

JD, I'll hope to meet you there! Let me know when the typos have been taken care of, and I'll download your story.

Mister Roboto, the best way to avoid that is simply not to tell them. The four powers of the mage are to know, to will, to dare, and to be silent -- one of my teachers used to use a rather more colorful phrase for "be silent"!

Robo said...

I'd never heard of Péladan until tonight, so thank you for that.

Once again, I'm reminded that this process of ending has been going on for much more than a century, and mass culture usually isn't interested in anything beyond a week in either direction.

Hal said...

Edifying post as usual, John Michael.

Traveling cross-country at the moment, last night I was in a motel without wifi, so I naturally turned on the free mass-consensus machine. It seems that Republican debates are as hard to avoid these days as MASH reruns. I spent way too many precious minutes watching the most inane discussion I've heard since, well, the last election. Not that Democratic candidates would have been any better. It just staggers me that the vast majority of people in this country consider such realities as well within the acceptable mainstream.

I am so in need of what you're trying to get across just now.

Texas_Engineer said...


I am getting the uncomfortable feeling that you are working magic on me. I am getting hooked :-)

Seriously though - this comment you made....

"The first of those principles is to limit and control the channels by which the mainstream media and their wholly owned subsidiary, public opinion, get access to your nervous system."

...really intrigued me. Have you ever studied Gurdjieff.? In his teaching he taught the importance of controlling the Influences on your state of being. He defined Influences A as all of the popular culture. Influences B is great art, music, and the writings of great minds, Influences C is form higher powers - his example was the Gospels. His basic guidance was to totally remove influences A from your life and focus on B and C.

Just curious.

Zach said...

...and when I go on to explain that he was at one and the same time a devout if eccentric Roman Catholic and a significant figure in the Paris occult scene of his time, I trust I will be forgiven for listening for the distant popping sound of readers’ heads exploding.


OK, now that we have that out of the way... forgiven. :)

I am still working on wrapping my head around this material... it still seems rather slippery, this notion of "magic." As you define it, it seems to encompass a good many things that I would not qualify as magic(*). And still, in this first practical installation, we seem to be back to the stereotype of funny robes and chants and symbols.

Just an observation and reaction; I don't think I necessarily buy everything you're selling here, but on the other hand, I don't think I understand enough to offer an intelligent critique yet.

I do, however, agree with the points regarding the decline of the West and the dumbing effect of popular culture. In fact, as of yesterday, we began the work of getting the family off of television -- cold turkey. (The addict's response to being cut off was not unexpected...) And we realize one of our challenges will be to fill that void with something substantial and worthwhile. (Details yet to be worked out.) Hmm... it seems I'm on that part of the trail already, prior to reading this week's installment.


(*) Yes, this is a challenge for me to pick up -- "Well, Zach, if by 'magic' you don't mean the same thing as JMG does, what do you mean by it?"

jim said...

The idea of non supernatural magic that you have been talking about is very jarring to my way of thinking. (thanks I think I need that.)

I am seeing some things in a different light. I came across this recently:

"DARPA, the Pentagon’s advanced concepts think-tank, is looking to take propaganda to the next level, and they’re hoping to do so by controlling the very way their targets perceive and interpret the flow of incoming information.

The Pentagon believes that by engaging in ‘narrative control’ they can alter an individual’s grasp on reality and the way in which they evaluate current events. Simply put, DARPA is looking to shape minds with stories."

It seems to me that DARPA wants to merge neuroscience and magic. I am thinking that more successful DARPA is the worse the outcome for the rest of us.

J.D. Smith said...

Typos fixed in wake of dealing with peak complexity.

Robert Magill said...


Fascinating post! Nineteenth was a heady century.

Here's an entry:

Stories About The Future - A submission for ADR

The Maui Cargo Cult
by Robert Magill


Susan said...

We stopped watching prime time commercial television back when shows like Friends and Seinfeld were popular. Those particular programs were advertised as being about "nothing" in particular, other than a way to spend a few mindless hours a week in front of the boob tube. Most of the rest of what passes for popular entertainment, even when it is supposed to be about something important, turns out to be mostly a waste of time. A "vast wasteland" indeed.

My husband, the news junkie, actually gets up early on Sunday mornings to watch the talking head interview shows like Beat the Press and Mace the Nation. I think he's crazy, but occasionally he does learn something useful. At least he comes back to the bedroom with fresh coffee and bacon, so I'll probably keep him...

We listen to NPR and Rush Limbaugh, and try to read as many different points of view as possible on the Internet, from Mother Jones and The Nation to The American Standard and The Drudge Report. In other words, we try to look at all available points of view and then try to tease out the underlying reality from the noise of ideological bias that almost every source of "news" is contaminated with.

Lately, it's becoming more and more obvious that our whole economic and political system is teetering on the brink of something awful, but nobody in a position to actually do anything about it seems to have a clue. We are gardening and canning and stocking up on things like water filters and solar powered lights and battery chargers and books about sustainable living and ammunition, just in case.

All we need is a little bit of farmland and a few goats and chickens, and we'll just drop out and do our own thing while the world goes to hell without us. For all intents and purposes, we've already dropped out emotionally and intellectually. How's that for a good attitude?

William Hunter Duncan said...


Part way through, I thought, "He has broken it wide open." By the end, I thought, "He has only begun."

Richard S said...

As someone who unplugged from mass media and the group-think machine almost 4 years ago, I can highly recommend it. That chest-high pile of books I had been meaning to read has been read, I take walks out of the beach and spend time out in nature.

My friends and I have little in common anymore since I can't sit and discuss the latest episode of [fill in meaningless TV show here] and I get that blank stare when I come at some subject from outside the group-think box.

Still, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

andrewbwatt said...

The archdruid's list — Gareth Knight, Regarie, Fortune, and his own book with Vaughn and King — are all excellent. The Druidry Handbook is interesting and useful, but kind of dismaying... It takes a long time to become a Druid, really, and the AODA books are pretty open about it. A year of pretty dedicated study qualifies you to be an apprentice; three years more to be a companion; several more to be an adept. Unburdening yourself from thte mindset of your era requires a lot of thinking....

It takes a long time to become a good ceremonial magician, too. But Knight, et al, are much sneakier about it. They don't really tell you up front how long it's going to take. :-)

It's worth mentioning that there's another magician or two who dont't really get studied much any more because they were powerful reactors oagainst their own times but came to be seen as part of the victorious paradigm: Benedict of Nursia, the founder of the Benedictine monastic system; and Augustine of Hippo, the magisterial Doctor of the Western Church; and Patrick of Ireland, are all called saints by the Roman Catholic Church today. Yet all three were committed to helping people break free of the cultural chains of their eras ... A job they did so successfully, they wond up helping to create the mass thaumaturgy of the next era.

jean-vivien said...

any online papers or resources to see how this stuff works (basic example of ritual, how and why it works...) ?

Just anthropologically curious...

KrazyKat said...

I am in your debt.

I have lurked here for a couple of years, only posting once or twice, but I must come out and applaud the past 4 posts especially. They have the same magical effect on me that reading Marshall McLuhan did in the late 70s. MM's aphorisms are not there to state some provable fact, but rather to startle you awake. The real magic happens within, not without

It's like being a fish and suddenly becoming aware of water. We don't know what magic is because it permeates our inner and outer lives.

Question: any ideas where I can find Comment Devenir Sorcier? Used book sites have lots of Peladan's art stuff, but not a single copy of Sorcier has turned up.

Cherokee Organics said...


I read the post and then re-read it. The currents are deep here and I need to think on them a bit.

As a thought, sustainable cultures tend to absorb the lessons of the past - and I'm particularly thinking of the Aboriginals dreamtime stories. We seem to have dropped this strength as we glance off towards the future.

One of the meme's being told at the moment is that people are busy - and they're buying it in droves. I don't see them being any more or less busy than in the past.

I'm fascinated by your comment, "the rising pressures of intolerable inner conflicts that, in magician states ruled by a managed consensus, was prevented from finding a less catastrophic form of expression" and will think more on this matter.

By the way I'm halfway through John Kenneth Galbraith, "The Great Crash: 1929" and am having trouble putting it down. It is truly delightful to read an academics work written in such a irreverent style. He's also speaking your language...

The other interesting thing is that the present is playing out almost identically to the rollicking good tale as presented in the book. Yikes!



MaineCelt said...

We need not feel alienated--it can be, instead, an opening of ourselves to the awaiting welcome of our truer and larger family: the earth and all its breathy creatures, our subtle cousins in the soil, the quiet trees and mushrooms carrying on their own transformative work.
Part of the challenge is to shift our ways of seeing and find other sources of light beyond society's little glowing screens. (Yes, the irony of sending this from my glowing screen to yours is not lost on me.) I think, particularly, of one of our farmhands, a WWOOF volunteer (and mystical hobo of a sort) who had acquired a copy of Daniel C. Matt's "The Essential Kabbalah" in his travels. "I have been in awe these past few days," he said, "of the idea that trees are holders of the sun's great light, that they store that light and release it again as fire when we put them into the stove."
This farmhand glowed with his own inductive fire. He may have seemed like a lone traveler to the untrained observer, but he practiced deep connection and thrived on its nourishment. We continue to reflect on him long after he traveled on: a man profoundly connected to the wider joy and wisdom--even friendship--of an awakened earthly/earthy life. Attuned and aware, he was neither lonely nor alone.

gregorach said...

Great post - I'm curious as to whether you've encountered Erich Fromm, and particularly his concept of "anonymous authority"? If not, I think you would find his work interesting...

Siani said...

Interesting and lucid explanation. Having been 'out of step' with most folks and groups I have known for most of my life, I found this post strangely soothing.

Marching to your own drum, in a sense, can be lonely at times..even if you like solitude as I do..but it keeps one sharp.

It also leads to the (in my case) compulsion to ask questions that make a lot of other people really antsy.


Óskar said...

John, I don't fully agree with what you're saying about staying out of popular culture and avoiding people who're influenced by it. It might work alright for some persons in some places, but be unproductive for others.

I come from Iceland for example. Our society is very close-knit and family ties are highly valued. Cutting ties would be hard. Since it is also a small society (relatively few people), there isn't the social diversity for one to conveniently pick the exact subculture that matches one's personal views, and there's no guarantee the subcultures aren't ruled by "baboons" as you put it so nicely. I've gone down this road myself and I sensed it only led to personal misery - even though I'm a fairly independent thinker and introverted person.

I believe that by divorcing your immediate "mainstream" society you reduce your possibilities of influencing it. I feel mentally "strong enough" to resist the thaumaturgy even while paying attention to what it's saying and therefore what may be going on in the minds of the "mass" around me.

But that said, considering the state of mass society in the United States, perhaps you're perfectly right in that context and I just need to adjust my interpretation to what's appropriate to my own place and what's not.

Karen said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

I have not posted in quite a while but have been reading your posts and the comments.

I mentioned previously that the television was given up several years ago and has not been missed.

I have devoted my time to improving my skills in knitting, sewing and newly hand spinning along with working in our vegetable/fruit garden. Plus of the realities of a full time job.

To feed my mind, I have been learning to play the piano as well as engaging in other musical aspects, and I read quite a bit (your books included).

What has been an interesting side effect is to recognize that my conscious decision to step away or aside from main stream culture has made it quite uncomfortable for others. I pose critical questions to their "sound bites" and too often expose that the thoughts and opinions they express are not their own. I have learned however, to say very little these days as the resistance is quite high to any other points of view.

I enjoy silence and solitude to have the time to think, plan and act. Many I have come across are not able to endure silence, there must always be something on (tv, computer, radio, etc.) I at times wonder if it is a conscious choice to have all of the "white noise" or is it a product of the "programming" induced by mass media to be ever present.

In any event, I thank you again for the knowledge that you share and in my case for expanding my horizons.

Michael said...

To escapefromwisconsin: My two cents ... first, it helps to have someone close to you -- spouse or partner ideally -- who shares your views about these topics. Since each of us is coming to these realizations at different stages of life, and with some commitments to others possibly already made, that might require some persuasion -- and it might not be possible. But if you can achieve it, it goes a long way toward easing isolation.

The other thing I've found helpful is, don't obsess on it. You can look at other people who are going about their lives on the assumption that cheap oil will always be available as fools on the fasttrack to perdition, but that will heighten your sense of separation from everyone else... or you can see them as just the same kind of people that you and I were until relatively recently, and be comforted by knowing that if you can have your consciousness raised, so probably can at least some of them. And then you can decide whether you want to try to be the instrument of that raising or let someone else do it.

Twilight said...

" open up an insulating space between the individual mind and the pressures that surround it."

Yes, yes! For whatever reason, this has been a focus of much of what I've done. It is so hard to think, to see, to understand with all the noise. At first I thought I could absorb it and it would have no effect because I had caught on, but this is almost impossible to maintain. Blocking it out is also required, both by simply shutting it off when possible and by means of your own defenses when not. In all things one must be active in seeking out experiences of value, and not afraid to make such judgments for one's self. Passivity just leaves you open for someone else to insert their thoughts for their own reasons (usually profit or power in our society).

Replacing the noise of popular culture, once you've got past the icky feeling that you're doing something wrong, that you're weird and strange, opens you up for a lot of joy discovering new things. I have discovered some great authors (obviously), some wonderful music, found satisfaction in connecting and understanding things that had long confounded me either consciously or not. The internet is a major source of noise, but it's too good of a resource to resist, so I use it a lot while it still functions. I find that there is a small community of sorts that has formed around the Peak Oil meme, both of authors and some commenters, and often people who I've grown to respect have contributed worthwhile ideas and views, and spurred research in interesting new areas.

It does take time to build a useful distance and to fill the void with knowledge. But you don't have to flaunt it in everyone's faces or to adopt all sorts of affectations. It is not necessary for everyone to know all your thoughts. There will be moments when you can make a connection to others - open up someones' eyes to a different viewpoint or receive that from them, help someone gain an understanding, or just discover someone else who understands and enjoy the company. And ultimately, use that wisdom to make better choices. That is enough.

Justin said...

I believe there may be a misconception here in what JMG is saying about cutting oneself off from pop culture with all the responses protesting that they can't just turn their backs and cut ties with their friends.

I have cut myself off from pop culture for some number of years, and for awhile I existed in sub-cultures as JMG described with their own patterns of group think, and have since gotten out of that as well. I still remain friends with lots of people (well, for me, about 10-15 or so) from all periods of my cultured/social life in the sense meant here; from football college kid, to corporate deck hand, to dissident, and so on. Its not that hard to talk to people without the crutch of pop culture. I would say that its easier, people have learned not to reference the latest sitcom or movie around me. Instead, they say something else. We don't discuss football or tv shows like they matter. The social programming is very skin deep, in my experience. People who are steeped in pop culture have lives as well, they may tend to mediate or make sense of the universal through the frame of pop culture, but that does not mean they cannot make sense of their lives in their own way, privately. I imagine everyone has their own running dialogue, and has occasion to wonder if they aren't crazy for thinking some kinds of thoughts. The mistake we who try to go through the process of shedding pop conciousness may tend to make is a common enough one to all of man, hubris.

Absent pop conciousness, I can still have conversations with people, friends, etc. who are more plugged in. I think there is often a lot of relief at not to have to go through the charade on all parties and just to be able to talk, and I think that because most of my friends seem to really enjoy it when I can make it to a get together with them, and quite often a few of them will very specifically ask me what I think about something going on (like the U.S. bombing Libya) because they know they are not going to hear a regurgitated opinion I harvested from CNN or Fox News, or the New York Times, or Saturday Night Live.

Get over your selves, assume that everyone is as self-aware as you about this stuff even if they may not be. The propaganda of pop conciousness is clumsy and painted in broad brush strokes, that's what makes it so easy to dispense with to begin with. If the people you know truly have no way to relate to you absent references to American Idol and will sit in awkward silence without that as a center piece of conversation, then I politely suggest you find more interesting people. But don't just assume that this will be the case.

The Unlikely Mage said...

@AA Two books that I've found extraordinarily useful for my own practice are Philip Farber's Brain Magick and Dunn's Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age. This is especially true if you have a viewpoint of reality that tends to the psychological (Farber) or to the linguistic/symbolic (Dunn).

Larry said...

Thanks for a wonderful piece on the importance of thinking for yourself, which, at one point, if my understanding is correct, was a goal of American education.

One way I've found to get away from the mass culture of the day and to possibly learn a thing or two is by listening to audio tapes of history books while doing chores/exercises et cetera.

My current selection, What God Hath Wrought (a history of the US between 1815 - 1848), for example, makes the claim that the presidential election of 1844 was probably the most important one this country ever faced.

Who would have thought that? (By the way, the wrong guy won.)

Justin said...

Another comment on another subject.

One side effect of exiting the pop conciousness for myself is when I am subjected to its works, I am jarred out of any ability to suspend my disbelief by being able to see exactly what buttons the work is trying to push. The suspension of disbelief cannot be disrupted or held up when it no longer exists.

Watching movies and tv shows is mostly unenjoyable for me because I am usually deconstructing the manipulation of the present moment. I spent several years reading McLuhan, Debord, Chomsky, and so on to understand how it all works and to be able to see it for what it is. And for a time that entertained me, and you can find plenty of sub-cultures ranging from internet meme-ophiles who are ironically self-aware about pop culture to more politically charged media critics to get involved in, but at some point the interest for all of that fell away; its like learning to tie your shoes, I get it, got it, done it. It just does not hold my interest. And to see a movie and understand instantly that the way they are framing a shot is to manipulate me into feeling afraid, or what a commercial is striving for, or the ham handed patriotic sentiments of a sporting event is less than offensive, it is distractingly boring. I imagine that for someone who finds this stuff interesting to some degree another, whether they are fully bought in or if it exists as a 'guilty' pleasure, this probably sounds like extreme minimalism. That is missing it, I never set out with the goal of rendering the artifacts of pop conciousness distracting, boring and irrelevant to me. That was a side-effect of pursuing an understanding of it and how/why it works.

So I have filled that time with writing, reading, painting, drawing, low budget travel while its still possible, and working on projects like helping my mom fix up her house in the hopes that she can sell it before the next spasm of micro-collapse.

ando said...


Seems our Archdruid is a brilliant scholar in his own right. ANOTHER darned fine, educational, and enjoyable essay.

JMG wrote:

“Society,” Péladan wrote, “is an anonymous enterprise for living a life of secondhand emotions.


"His unwavering focus made How To Become A Mage the most detailed text of its time on the fine art of freeing the individual will, sensibility, and understanding from bondage to unthinking social reactions."

These two phrases are the essence of the Advaita Vedanta response to Peak Oil and Consumer Society that I still owe you. I will post it soon. Magic and Advaita are One,
but we knew that, eh?



Chris said...

A profoundly beautiful essay. Thank you.

BruceH said...

Your recent posts have led me to realize that perhaps my own path all these years has been leading me in the direction of "magic" as you describe it.

An early influence was an English teacher who assigned us to read J.Krishnamurti's thoughts on topics like Friendship and Love and then write a response.

Krishnamurti himself was groomed from childhood by Theosophists to become what you've described as a Thaumaturgic magician of major stature. However, he used his "coming out party" to publicly reject that path. I now realize he chose instead to become more of a Theurgist working with individuals.

He eventually developed somewhat of a cult following, but it's still helpful to reread some of his discourses from time to time to re-ground myself in "what is."

Odin's Raven said...

Here's another little story from the future. It's about 5,700 words.

Chris Balow said...

Would it be possible for you to provide a definition of "popular culture?" Do you define it more by its medium (e.g. TV), or by its popularity (e.g. the Twilight novels)? Surely, some of what gets on TV is the product of an original thinker, just as some of what was published 200 years ago was the product of mindless groupthink. In other words, how do we know it when we see it?

Justin Patrick Moore said...

I've been thinking a lot about subcultures lately. I've been involved with many of them in my 32 years, yet have never felt like I totally "belonged" in any of them. And that sense of "belonging" is what makes subcultures so attractive.

In my teen's it was skateboaring & punk rock. Then at 18, when I was initiated into a magical order, it started shifting towards those in the occult & pagan scenes. Even so, I always felt like I was on the periphery of this stuff in one sense. Most of my ritual and inner work has been on the solitary end.

On through my twenties I entrenched myself in Cincinnati's experimental music, literary, & arts scenes... and again, even though I'm a participant always felt like I was still on the periphery. I don't mean to suggest this in terms of being an "Outsider" as Colin Wilson talks about in his book of the same name. I'm a very sociable person.

One of the things I've become interested in over the past few years, though not a participant at all really, is the subculture of hackers. I wrote an essay (it needs another pass) about the similarities between Occultist and Hacker subcultures. Now I see that these traits apply to many kinds of groups...
...especially now that my wife and I started taking a speedskating/roller derby class to get some exercise...

I guess I always knew in the back of my mind that my magickal practice was part of the reason I've always felt to be involved yet still on the periphery, and in touch with my own thoughts and feelings about things outside of groupthink.

Yupped said...

Thanks again, this continues to be a delight to read and follow.

You talked of “climbing out of collective consciousness…and discovering that you like the view…[But] far more often than not, those who step out of the collective consciousness of their society promptly jump back into the collective consciousness of a congenial subculture”.

That does seem to be the challenge of freeing your mind – you see through the illusion/craziness/impracticality/non-sustainability (chose the term that best works for you) of your current conditioned mindset and you make plans to escape. You follow through with said plans, if you are lucky in a few huge leaps but most probably with a lot of small, disciplined steps over a good amount of time. And along they way, you get tempted to form another mindset, perhaps of the “committed spiritual person” or “low-carbon footprint person” or “wise philosopher/seer” or something. And off you go again, spending another few years playing a role, which will end up in disappointment or disaster.

On my own spiritual path, the destination seems to be to reach a level of consciousness that is free of egotistical role-playing, or at least is conscious of it, so that you just play with roles and have fun but don’t take them too seriously, and certainly don't believe in them. You learn to accept life as it comes, and that acceptance brings a gentleness and compassion that is quite freeing.

So how would a Mage see the “destination?”

Bobo the Dorkboy said...

If you finish your translation of it, I, for one, will purchase and read it. Not to sound too fawn-y, but I'll happily read pretty much anything you crank out... Tom

Maria said...

Regarding "catching the tune": I've noticed that as I have changed, I've been drawn to others on a similar path and they have been drawn to me. Somebody mentions a book that is exactly what I'm looking for at that moment. I stumble upon a blog written by a dude with an excellent beard, and his writing helps to open up my mind. I wander into a shop and make a friend. I think of this as a simple form of magic -- meaning that my mind is receptive, and as my consciousness changes I notice and act on different cues.

Regarding Apocalypse Not, which you kindly recommended in response to my comment: I almost bought it, and it's still on my short list. Budget constraints being what they were, I chose The Long Descent and . There's a method to my madness. :)

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Dear JMG,

Thanks for this. I'm still working out for myself the meaning of your definition of magic, and like Zach, I find the magic/non-magic or yes-magic/no-magic borders to be like a land of mists.

In any event, this post is helpful as, in certain respects, it describes in its deep, a-historical structure my own non-pop-culture life.

I also find this post strengthening since my new job requires me to interact with government entities and work to help a solidly in-the-culture institution move toward sustainability. Like a very, very junior mage in a court society? In, but not of, so as to carry what you call theurgy where it's not expected?

Yet I also find that here are mists, as well, since many of the people I am meeting truly "get" peak oil, climate change, etc. As a humanist among scientific and technically-trained folks, however, I bring a somewhat different perspective and habits of thought to the enterprise.

You speak of stepping aside from the mass culture--and I have my own private community--yet what news do you have for those of us living in the border lands?

And an impertinent question: I am experimenting with color breathing--so far blue seems to be going well, but if you, as you've said, think entirely in words, how do you visualize color?

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Two other useful books from my own shelf for the aspirign mage: "The Western Way" by John & Caitlin Matthews, and "Modern Magick" by Donald Michael Kraig. (JMG wrote an introduction to one of the editions of the latter). The first book explores the twin traditions of the "native" and "ceremonial" magics as it were.

I've long felt that all the media we consume is a type of food: It takes time to digest. Some of it strenghthens you, some of it you are allergic too even, and some is just junk. A person quickly learns to avoid what one is allergic to. Junk food may be had on occassion, but you wouldn't want a steady diet of it, because it will kill you in the end. That leaves the food that will strengthen.

And what makes up a healthy meal will vary for person to peron, in at least how it is prepared, though the ingredients may be common.

Here is to cooking up some great new recipes!

Twilight said...

A somewhat related article from Scientific American: The Real Science behind Scientology

J Kellerman said...

Another 19th century thinker who urged the abandonment of popular culture and blind faith in exchange for a self-possessed authenticity was Thoreau. In "Life Without Principle" he urges his readers to shun the post, the press, and gossip.

"Just so hollow and ineffectual, for the most part, is our ordinary conversation. Surface meets surface. When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is, that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while."

Hierax said...

Dear sir,
First of all, thank you for your excellent books and blog. I've been lurking here for the last year, and the recent posts about magic are like a dream come true.
It's great to know more about Péladan, hope you let us see a bit of your translation.
For those interested in the original, I found a copy online:

Again, thank you.

parus said...

Hello JMG, and thank you for this excellent blog, which despite my interests in both environmentalism and esoteric matters had gone unnoticed up until a few months ago. This recent series of posts on magic is excellent.

Reading your description of Joséphin Péladan, it seems to me you're very good at putting yourself in the shoes of someone belonging to another time and viewing the world from their point of view, without outright adopting it for yourself. As such, I'd be very interested in hearing what opinions, if any, you may have on Julius Evola.

I feel like he might tie into some other themes of the present discussion as well -- the tumultuous age that was Europe in the early 1900s (avant garde artist and influential occultist in the interwar period, extreme reactionary in his later years) and the alienation of the initiate (the old baron had a rather elitist view of the esoteric path after all, including more or less stating that certain people -- and, well, peoples -- will never get it).

Thomas Daulton said...

Here's just a vote to say, regarding the visual format of the blog/essays, it's nice to see a couple of small pictures. Helps engage different parts of the brain rather than just all text.

> Steps such as these will cut down on the influence that the mass thaumaturgy of our time has over your thoughts, feelings, and decisions.

Thank you sir, I was on the verge of writing to ask you to list some such steps. Please share more as you feel appropriate!

(Side note: As the head of a religious order, is there a title I should address you as? Is "sir" sufficient from a layman like me, or is there some more traditional title? I mean, if I were commenting on the Pope's blog, I suppose I would there would exist some expectation -- which I might or might not cleave to closely -- that I say "Your Holiness". By contrast, it wouldn't surprise me if Druids traditionally eschewed titles completely, even "sir", at least in casual conversation. But I just don't know one way or the other.)

Lance Michael Foster said...

As the Mark Twain story begins:

"Will the reader please to cast his eye over the following lines, and see if he can discover anything harmful in them?

Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!


Punch, brothers! punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!"

A hilarious story by Mark Twain of a "harmless" rhyme gone viral, passed from one person to the next, until each is debilitated and another catches it in turn. I remembered reading this decades ago and it has stuck with me (See??!!)

The other thing your post reminded me of this week, was the movie "Exorcist 2: The Heretic" with Richard Burton and James Earl Jones. Yes, it is a perfectly awful movie in most respects. But always remember there is a bit of Yang in Yin, and Yin in Yang, and the worst of pop culture can have a tiny gem hidden in its folds.

In this case, the origins of the reason for Regan (Linda Blair's character) becoming possessed by Pazuzu the demon is explored. Burton (as the priest) discovers that a little African boy (Jones), his gift, is to be able to cease the phenomenon whereby normal grasshoppers cluster and turn into the terrible locust flight where crops are devoured and famine begins. The boy has a spiritual gift to do so, and he uses the sound of a bullroarer to calm the locust hordes.

It turns out that just as the madness can spread from individual locusts clustering and gathering for flight, an individual grasshopper of rare type can calm the others and prevent such a flight.

The priest eventually finds out that Regan had this natural gift as well, and that is why Pazuzu, who is attributed with starting locust plagues, targeted her for possession, to nullify her gift to calm hordes (not only of locusts, but by implication, to calm crazed people/crowds in the same way). The ultimate battle has Regan using an imaginary bullroarer in the final scene to calm the locusts and the madness of the priest as well.

It is worth thinking about. Your post and the memory of this movie combined to evoke in me a passage from the New Testament, something Jesus said: "Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:15-16).

Thomas Daulton said...

A comment aimed at Justin: (We know each other in real life, so this isn't exactly an unbiased comment)

This is a key step here --
> assume that everyone is as self-aware as you about this stuff even if they may not be.

I have found in many areas of life that when you assume the best about people you meet, and telegraph that assumption in an honest way (i.e. knowing full well that it is an assumption rather than fact), a strong majority of people have an instinctive reaction to try to live _up_ to your assumption rather than taking the low road. By making that assumption clear, hopefully nonverbally, you bring out and even expand the qualities in people which are independent of the morass of pop culture.
Sure you get burned five or ten percent of the time -- if you assume independence from pop culture thought, somebody may laugh at you; when I assume people are honest, somebody may steal from me. But the successes you get make up for the 5 or 10% failure rate. The trick is not to be stupid or make yourself unnecessarily vulnerable with this assumption, but make it anyway. It's a fine line.
This might be considered a form of magic (thaumaturgy?) by the Druid's definition -- it takes advantage of instinctive social reactions -- but no more magic than how a good parent raises their kid. Perhaps it works because our culture's parenting skills have atrophied in favor of machines and electrons.

Lance Michael Foster said...

PS. And as you remind us (and to avoid megalomanic hubris), each of us have this same light (is this then our divine spark, our Yod?), hidden or otherwise dimmed, and there can be no greater effect of increasing our own light so that the light in one's fellows is encouraged. What is the light from one candle, if this can grow to ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand? Not as some uncontrolled bonfire, but as steady and controlled individual candles?

GHung said...

A lot of comments so far about decoupling from what most here consider, on some level, as the collective madness that is Humanity. While decoupling from the disfunctional hive mind, I've found that it is necessary to decouple from the hive's systems to a great extent, at least for me it is, as I have found that freeing the mind while being fully emersed in, and contributing to, the equally damaging and disfunctional physical systems of the collective creates conflict. I haven't been able to compartmentalize the two as successfully as some folks.

Rationalizing one's aquisition of physical needs while choosing to reject the cultural malaise these systems enable and generate is hard to reconcile; seems a bit lazy to me. Perhaps this is why I set myself on a more sustainable, self-reliant course, as a pre-requisite to a more sustainable mental state; a Maslowvian hierarchy thing, perhaps. This more holistic approach may be useful to some while attempting to modify the complex adaptive system that is us.

I understand now why the 70s 'appropriate technology' issues were addressed first. Wise, indeed.

Richard Larson said...

Oh, I am very good at poking the status quo. And yes, it is just as hard for people around here to listen to me harangue them over their ineptness to grasp their plight, as it is for me to shut up about it. Can relate to that guy!

Yes, being released from society's mental grip makes one quite isolated. I am there. Even surprised I haven't been blocked from commenting here!

Anyway, do like this week's blog, and like the last few, worth reading again. I'll be back next week.

Lynford1933 said...

Does it seem ironic that people cut the direct access to the public (no more TV) and yet increase their time on the internet, typically to a set of sites with a distinct philosophy (doomers here, financials there, magic(?))?

MilesL said...

"In spare moments, I’ve gotten about halfway through making an English translation of How To Become A Mage, but it’s purely a private hobby; it’s hard to imagine a more unpublishable book."

Only read this far. Please finish and make it into an ebook or some form of on demand self publishing. If nothing else your fans will want to read it. It's ideas sound like they would have a far greater interest than I think you believe.

Getting those who believe in the ideas to actually read source material. Now that is difficult. It is that which makes publishing it under the usual system difficult.

The Peak Oil Poet said...

some points

1. getting away from/cutting free from/rejecting the group, mob, culture - seems to me this is not new, in fact it's the natural tendency of the young and is more pronounced the more under stress a population is.

2. I hardly think that turning off the TV and reading JMG qualifies as cutting free from the current culture. Seems just the way the culture is going anyway, some of us at the front, some in the middle and some bringing up the rear. It's evolutionary not revolutionary. And, ah, seriously, it's Elitist - we are the intellectual elite oh gosh look at how clever and free we are!

3. The true prophets of change will probably be burnt at the stake (or the modern equivalent). To my mind the magic that will be most potent will be that which renders all the current schools to a common pool of blood - i think Gordian Knot.

4. I suggest that an example of a true change in group think will come when every aspect of current common world views are shed like the deconditioning of Pavlov's dogs - and under like conditions (cold hard confrontation with imminent death)

5. Fundamental changes in cultural thinking/behaviour do not come about as a consequence of Casandras or Druids pointing out the obvious. They come about as a consequence of the existing collapsing under the weight of its blindness to truth. Think Japan and Nuclear power and you only just start to understand.

In some ways, however much we might like great art, writing, thinking - whatever - most of it is not much different to fiddling as Rome burns. Let's all hold hands and dance and sing on the deck of the Titanic. Might as well, there's no survival for us anyway.

If a vicious alien space bat colony was to come to earth and start wiping us out left right and centre along with all our greatest art and creations (them being viewed as not much different to chicken scratchings) we'd have an epiphany, briefly, "oh yeah, now i get it! it's all about cold blooded absolute power [zzzaaap]"

Who i wonder will play that role?

For surely THAT is the one true power - the sword trumps the mage - in all our stories and all our cultural memories.


Petro said...

"Does this seem vague and impractical?"


While I've long gotten past the need for reassurance that I am not crazy, this doesn't hurt.

Odin's Raven said...

If looking for authors on magic, please don't overlook W.G.Gray

John Michael Greer said...

Robo, excellent. In 2014 I think it might be useful to have a party to celebrate the centennial of the beginning of Western civilization's decline and fall; though there were plenty of signs of incipient breakdown before then, I'd call the beginning of the First World War that actual start of the downfall.

Hal, remember when I said that one of the routine effects of mass thaumaturgy is that people become stupid?

Texas, I haven't done a lot of study of Gurdjieff or the other Fourth Way teachers, but yes, they're talking about many of the same things that I am, or for that matter that Peladan was. The advice you've quoted is certainly good.

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.

Jim, I'd say instead that DARPA wants to practice magic, pure and simple. That suggests that the rest of us need to learn how to take control of our own narrative-shaping functions as soon as possible.

JD and Robert, got 'em.

Susan, it's a great attitude.

William, good. You're getting it.

Richard, excellent. I've had the same experience -- the occasional difficulties of pulling the plug on the popular culture machine are massively offset by the immense benefits.

Andrew, in my experience it takes as much time and effort to become a capable magician as it does to receive teacher's qualifications in a traditional martial art, or -- well, to complete any other serious training program worth doing. What you get back from anything in life depends on what you put into it.

Jean-Vivien, vast amounts of ritual material online, yes. Useful explanations of how and why it works? That's much rarer. You might visit and do some digging there; there's quite a bit of good stuff there.

Kat, you won't find it under that name! Try Comment On Devient Mage and you'll have a lot better luck.

Chris, excellent! That's the edge behind Galbraith's wit; what he's talking about is always going on somewhere, with some asset or other. In the US right now the big bubble is student loans -- there's a trillion dollars of those outstanding as of this year, up by some stunning figure over last year. Same rhetoric, same illogic, same destiny.

idiotgrrl said...

On the subject, though not of magic,

Jennifer D Riley said...

Wow, loved your statement, to paraphrase, people listen to mass media, then when they're face to face, that's all they know to talk about. True.

John Michael Greer said...

MaineCelt, people like that will be the wizards and sages of the deindustrial future. That book may count as a holy relic someday!

Gregorach, I haven't read Fromm in decades. Thanks for the tip!

Siani, granted -- it's always good to find out that there are others walking the same weird path!

Oskar, exactly -- you need to make your own choices in accordance with your own circumstances. Still, you might try ditching popular culture -- say, throwing away the TV -- as a good first step.

Karen, that's very good to hear! It's often necessary for any of us on this path to say very little in social settings, because people who are still in the belly of the beast do indeed get acutely uncomfortable in the face of an actual diversity of ideas; I'll be writing about that down the road a bit, because it's an important symptom.

Twilight, exactly. Exactly.

Justin, well put. Some people will turn their backs, no question, but many others will get used to the fact that you're just a bit weird. It can even become a running joke of the sort that friends have among themselves -- "Don't ask John about the football game!"

Mage, I'll have to look at those one of these days. I haven't really kept up on the whole neo-magical movement -- my tastes tend toward the old formal disciplines -- but it's good to check up on current developments now and then.

Larry, that's a useful habit -- and anything that gives you a better grasp of history is worth its weight in light sweet crude oil. 1844 was a hugely important election, no question -- it set the US definitively on an expansionist path and lit the fuse of the Civil War, just for starters.

Justin, excellent! I do very little visual media these days, for much the same reason.

Ando, the Hindu tradition has an immense body of practical magical lore, and quite a bit of it draws heavily on the Vedas -- so, yes, the connections are there. I'll look forward to your analysis!

Chris, thank you.

Bruce, funny you should mention Krishnamurti. I did a post about him a while back, which I dug out the other day as fodder for an upcoming book on magic and peak oil. (For which I now have a publisher lined up -- more on this later.) His stuff is well worth reading.

Rsven, got it.

Chris, I'd like to suggest a simple ostensive definition: if it's advertised on TV or another mass medium, it's popular culture. (That includes TV programs, of course, which are heavily advertised on TV.)

Justin, bingo. The mage can hang out with people in subcultures, or in the mainstream culture as well, but the passive, unthinking immersion in collective consciousness -- no, that door is closed for good. You get used to it after a while, and again, the corresponding benefits are immense.

Yupped, I don't think that there's just one destination. The old title for someone who has achieved the highest level of initiation in the Hermetic tradition is Ipsissimus, which means "most completely oneself;" the implication is that each person has a unique potential and the disciplines of magic enable him or her to fulfill that potential to the utmost degree.

Philip Steiner said...


Just in case you missed it on the original space bats post, here's the link to my story submission:

All the best


John Michael Greer said...

Bobo, duly noted.

Maria, that's actually a very standard form of magic -- or more precisely, it's one of the things that happens very often when somebody gets started on the magical path. What we like to call "coincidence" goes haywire; I suspect experiences of this kind are what led Jung and his physicist friend Wolfgang Pauli to invent the concept of synchronicity.

Adrian, the definition of magic is inevitably fuzzy, for the same reason that, say, a definition of healing is hard to pin down. What does and does not count as a healing method? It depends hugely on circumstances. As for the borderlands, I'm not really in a good position to speak to that; I speak from where I stand, and hope that what I say has some value to those who stand elsewhere.

It's important not to practice color breathing with the same color too constantly, by the way -- it tends to feed imbalances -- and that's especially true if you concentrate on the color you find easiest to work with. Practice with a different color each day and the results are better. How do I experience color? Visually, but only after years of practices; it doesn't come naturally to me at all, but I can do the thing.

Justin, I'm not a great fan of the Matthews book; it's rather too heavy on dubious history, and light on meaningful practice, for my taste. The Kraig book is another matter; I long since lost track of the number of people I've met who got their start in magic from it.

Twilight, thanks for the link.

Kellerman, thank you! I'd somehow missed that Thoreau essay, which is appalling; we don't have saints in Druidry, but if we did, he'd be one. He was a remarkably good field ecologist, too!

Joel said...

"The four powers of the mage are to know, to will, to dare, and to be silent"

That sounds almost like a bullet-point agenda of a four- or eight-part series of posts.

I've known for a long time that I have difficulty willing. I'm eager to read whatever you're planning to share with us on the topic of working out the will.

I sought out Baumeister and Tice's psychological research in that field years ago, and more recently a family member passed along some anthroposophic exercises that I should probably find and take a closer look at. Additional insights from the traditions you're familiar with would be much appreciated.

andrewbwatt said...

Oh, Archdruid, I'm not complaining about how long it takes to become competent at magic... I'm warning your other readers. :-) I know, four or so years of formal daily practice in, that it keeps paying dividends while leading to lots of very odd experiences along the way.

Will I ever been an archdruid or an Ipssissimus? Answer hazy, comes the answer. Try again later. :-)

I told you a while ago that I was part of a group trying to use the ideas in your book Inside A Magical Lodge to do our own group work. I've just about finished creating the 'newbie' manual for that group, at least in first draft. It pretty much took all I've learned formally in the last four years, and informally in the 10-ish years of occult dabbling before that, to write it. A lot of it is exercises that the eight of us had found in sources like The Golden Dawn and Kraig's book, and Gareth Knight, and numerous other sources...

So, for your other readers... I affirm that the study of magic pays enormous rewards — just not right away. Or in the ways that you expect. Or that you thought you wanted... Hah!

shiningwhiffle said...

Do you have any advice for anyone trying to decide which system of magic to try? In your interview with the Wiccan/Pagan Times you recommended devoting a year to your chosen magical school — but what if you're not sure which school will be worth that year? (At least the first such year.)

What if different aspects of two different schools seem to "call" to you? In my case, I'm attracted to the practice of Hermeticism (having dabbled with the Tarot and having a friend who was once a Thelemite and is now converting to Reform Judaism but who practices Kabbalah), but attracted to the philosophy behind Druid magic, with its more balanced approach to spirituality (without even the slightest whiff of "let's get off this plane of existence").

I know you practice both. So I guess a corollary to my question is, how does one integrate systems of magic with such different underlying theories and philosophies into your life?

shiningwhiffle said...

I feel I should clarify that my using my ex-Thelemite Kabbalist friend as a reason for choosing Hermetic/ritual magic is that if I had a question, he would probably know the answer, since he's been at it longer than I have. I'm not trying to just follow the crowd.

Maria said...

Oops, somehow in my previous post, the second book I mentioned got lost in outer space. It was The Druid Magic Handbook.

Thanks for the affirmation that what is happening is standard stuff. It's comforting to know I'm on a well-marked path.

Thijs Goverde said...

Funny that you should mention the War, mr. Greer. There was a chap living at the time who went very much against the grain and he got widely vilified for it. He stayed true to his pacifism (and his other unconventional ways) and later gained a huge following. I don't know if you'd count him as one who led by 'contagion' or 'induction'; he certainly led by example.
To be fair, the fact that his example was so widely known might have had something to do with the fact that he was a) related to a former P.M. of the largest empire in human history and b) one of the sharpest intellects of his century.

He no doubt knew several Golden Dawners personally - he knew pretty much everyone, I guess - but I'm pretty certain Bertrand Russell was no mage of any kind.

(I keep rooting for the philosophers. Can't help it, sorry.)

Edward said...

John, your teacher's advice to be silent is one of the best ever bits of wisdom. A young and enthusiastic person at work took up bike commuting and now rides with me from time to time. He is not yet past the habit of making our traveling adventures public knowledge and preaching the virtues of bike commuting. He'll learn soon enough that this is not the way to affect people. It seems that simply going about your business in a quiet and serious way moves people more than being pushy about it. In other words, you can affect people by not seeking to affect them! People approach me and ask about bike commuting. My first piece of advice is that if you are interested, do it for your own benefit - you have to understand that you're not going to save the earth, but you might save yourself.

John Michael Greer said...

Hierax, thank you for tracking that down! I knew I'd seen an online copy somewhere, but didn't remember where and hadn't had the chance to google it.

Parus, yes, I was afraid somebody was going to bring Evola up sooner or later. You're probably right that I need to discuss him, though I should give fair warning -- I'm not a fan of Traditionalism at all; despite its virtues, and at times because of them, it's had a largely negative influence. I see the whole movement as an exercise in the particular kind of bad faith that comes from claiming unearned authority. More on this later.

Thomas, I'll see what I can do about the pictures; I used images once before, in the post about Rosie the Riveter and HAL 9000, and nobody seemed particularly excited at the time. As for titles, Druidry puts very little store by those; there is no official form of address for an archdruid, and I sincerely hope there never is. Personal names, or convenient monikers such as "JMG," are standard usage.

Lance, you know, the ability to find a useful point in one of the worst movies in history is also a strange and mystical power; I'm impressed. ;-) I'm pretty sure Peladan meant to evoke that particular Gospel passage, for what it's worth.

Ghung, actually, the Seventies appropriate tech stuff is primary; the magic, in this context, is an add-on. Decouple yourself from the material systems, and your mind will begin to follow whether you intend it to do so or not. Mind you, if you combine the two approaches, there's a synergistic effect -- which, again, I'll get to later on.

Richard, as long as you follow the house rules -- which are posted for everybody's convenience over the comment screen -- you're welcome to post here. Same goes for everybody.

Lynford, it's not ironic at all. It's the natural response to a manufactured pseudoculture that provides no better nourishment for the mind and heart than mass produced junk food does for the body -- people go looking for other options, and just at the moment the internet is a very easy way to find them.

Miles, of course you're right about getting people to read source material; it's been my experience that most people nowadays won't read anything older than they are unless you force them to it. Still, Peladan was astonishingly good at being unacceptable. How many people can deal with a guy who despised democracy because of its inherent militaristic and imperialistic tendencies? Or one whose attitude toward women was utterly sexist, but in a way that modern sexists find intolerable? I'll doubtless finish the translation as time permits, and there's been enough interest shown here that I'll doubtless find some way to get him into print, but every copy that gets sold will end up being thrown against the wall at least once!

Poet, you ought to know better; have you forgotten Shelley's comment about poets being the unacknowledged legislators of the world? The people with swords -- or the modern equivalents -- who think they despise poetry and magic and culture in general, are inevitably mouthing words, thinking thoughts, and taking actions put into their heads by the poets and mages of a generation or so before.

Petro, excellent.

Raven, Gray's a very mixed bag. His early stuff is belligerently self-important in a very unhelpful way -- it really does get old that every generation of bright young mages convince themselves that they're the first people ever to understand magic, and Gray did quite a bit of that early on. His best work, from The Talking Tree through the Sangreal material, is very good but very idiosyncratic; you can't combine it with anybody else's material, with the admitted (and valuable) exception of his student RJ Stewart. Thus I don't recommend him to beginners, though a student with some background can get a lot out of his work.

John Michael Greer said...

Grrl, that's good enough that I can't resist turning it into a clickable link.

Jennifer, bingo. I suppose Peladan's point, updated for today, is to live so that you have something interesting and worthwhile to talk about.

Philip, got it -- it's already in the competition.

Joel, the trick to learning how to will is to treat it just as you would a muscle that you're exercising. Do things for no other reason than because you will to do them. Start very small and simple, with things that don't have any emotional charge at all. The classic mistake is to start with something like losing weight or quitting smoking; that's practicing failure, and you need to build the habit of success instead.

For example, leave a note on your desk reminding you to do some simple action, and every time you sit down at the desk and see the note, do the action, right then, no matter what. There's a lot more -- there were once entire books full of will training exercises -- but that's the basic principle: do something each day purely because you decide to do it, and for no other reason; change the exercise at intervals, adding difficulty in very small increments, and you'll end up with a very strong will.

Andrew, I figured, but the point had to be made for the benefit of others. Congrats on your lodge, by the way!

Whiffle, it really doesn't matter what you choose to begin with, so long as you choose one that you can stand practicing, and stick with it for at least a year. You'll get the same skills in either case. it's not a good idea to start out trying to practice two different schools when you're a beginner; remember, though, that you can always add more later on. I'm a case in point; I started with the Golden Dawn, went on to Druidry, and have also done fairly extensive work in old-fashioned Southern conjure, Renaissance astrological magic, and several other things. So you're not closing any doors by choosing a style to start with.

Maria, glad to be of assistance!

Thijs, he's worth rooting for. I disagree with a lot of his stances, to be sure, but the guy had integrity.

Edward, exactly. That's Lao Tsu's secret; it's the one who doesn't promote himself or his ideas, to paraphrase the Tao Te Ching, that succeeds best in spreading them.

andrewbwatt said...

Thank YOU for the framework to build the lodge, and the suggestion to join the Freemasons. Both were really useful.

And 'my druid group' meets again November 1. Maybe it's silly to have a druid group when I'm still only a druid candidate (still have to plant that tree!), but it seems appropriate to Druidry, in particular, to gather and mark the day.

The Unlikely Mage said...

I tend to pull from the ends of the spectrum and leave the middle alone. We talked a bit a long time ago on Spiritus Mundi and I'm a member of Chris Warnock's astrological magic course. You wrote me a wonderful article on coming to grips with the traditional world view. I love Agrippa/Picatrix/PGM-style magic along with the much much later models of Dunn and Farber.

My other primary teachers are Jason MillerandFrater Rufus Opus. I consider them to be a part of something I call the 21st Century Blogger Tradition of magic. These are mages that mostly share their teaching and information online through blog posts, courses, and e-books, with the occasional paper book. You can get an excellent introduction to it by going through their blogrolls and old posts.

Magical teachings from the 1800's up to just before A.O. Spare never really appealed to me. It always felt muddy and obfuscated, and the heavily Egyptian motifs and the elitism of the writers that I saw in the movements at the time didn't resonate with me at all. I guess it's just a matter of personal taste.

Matt and Jess said...

Hey, thanks for this. I don't have a very magical vocabulary and have a hard time following a lot of this but I think I get the gist of it. It's all about pulling yourself out of the collective culture and learning to think for yourself, to become your own person. You mention one thing that could happen is becoming in-step with just an alternate culture or subculture. So like, how do you find the balance between identifying with other groups (political, religious ... whatever) and thinking for yourself? It would still be possible for you to identify as part of a group and have your own thoughts, for example, you of course do it as a druid. I suppose it's a matter of being selective?

Blockhill (NZ) said...

@escapefromwisconsin - I am in a similar situation, isoalted rurally surrounded by conservative mainstream farmers who look at us as oddities and attempt to discredit our lifestyle choices.

I find consolation in the thought that these people, with whom I currently have nothing in common will, over time, have increasingly more in common with me as they are forced to come to terms with the new reality and adapt accordingly. The will stop dropping chemicals on their land with aircraft for example....

Maybe this line of thinking will help you.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Since we are talking about magic manuals for hermetic theurgy, one might also mention Franz Bardon's "Initiation into Hermetics" and Paul Case's "Early Writings" (vols. 1 and 2).

Hal said...

One little meme I'd like to see us avoid, even in jest, is "JMG's doing magic on us." For one thing, I think it's more like the opposite. He's inviting us to create a space where magic isn't being done on us. For another thing, look at his last comment to me. There are indeed a lot of stupid people out there. Stupid people are dangerous people.

PhysicsDoc said...

Any danger this creepy occult stuff can open doors to dark forces? Jus sayin...

Joel said...

"Start very small and simple...change the exercise at intervals, adding difficulty in very small increments, and you'll end up with a very strong will."

That's so deeply human. And it pretty much subsumes everything else I've read on the topic.

Thank you. I get the feeling I should've known without asking, but I really appreciate your response.

John Michael Greer said...

Andrew, it's never silly to get together with people who share your take on things to celebrate something that's important to all present.

Mage, well, that's one of the virtues of dissensus!

Jess, exactly. The difference, to dip into technical language for a moment, is whether your mind remains independent of the group mind, or not. One of the goals of theurgic magic is to stay independent of group minds, even while you spend time with groups.

Lance, there again, I wouldn't recommend either of those to beginners.

Hal, good. In fact, what I'm trying to do here is not to enchant but to disenchant people -- in several senses of the word! My goal is to show you all what can be done if you think about the world in an unpopular but useful way, and those who choose to take the hint can go to it; in a little while we'll be returning to more mundane topics, like the decline and fall of the American empire.

PhysicsDoc, sure, and people who perform physics experiments risk being possessed by Maxwell's Demon. Sheesh. You need to read less Harry Potter and more authentic magical literature. There are risks in magical practice, of course, as there are in anything worth doing, but the paranoia about "dark forces" is two parts bad fantasy fiction, two parts old religious prejudice, and three parts the sort of panic that always shows up when a worldview starts to show cracks.

Red Neck Girl said...

JMG, I don't believe my current story I'm working on will fit in your parameters. Perhaps what I post at the end will help but more likely confuse you. Lol!

Magic, means thinking differently. I believe I've already been doing that although not what's been described. I have absolutely magical moments. Flashes of perception and clarity that are bordering on euphoria. They usually happen when I'm concentrating intensely on a demanding task. I can remember driving down a road where I could suddenly see every grain of sand on a cut bank, the colors of the trees, the scent of the air, sounds, crisp and precise. And all totally drug free!

It appears I may be ADD and those are moments of laser focus for me.

Here's a little piece I wrote on a message board to describe what I was thankful for.

I am thankful for the turning wheel of the seasons. The rain in the winter and the sun in the summer. The harsh innocence of spring and the fleeting radiance of autumn.

I am thankful for the colors and textures of my world, the variegated, nubby greens of the forest and shrubs, knotted and quilted together. The flowers in all their pastels shapes and sizes on filigree vines and stems. The smooth, enigmatic mirror of a lake or a pond reflecting back the moods of the forest and the celestial bowl of the sky.

I am thankful for the velvet muzzle of a horse and the satin feel and shine of it's hide as it slides over muscle and bone. The grace and power of the horse as it lopes and turns at the touch of heel or rein, mane flying and tail flagged as their hooves barely touch the ground that, for a moment, lets me feel like I'm riding Pegasus.

I am thankful for all these moments of perception and I cherish them as memories for I know they will all pass soon enough. But I am comforted because I also know that I will live them again, in some other time, some other place . . . . .

Wadulisi Tsalagi

ezab said...

So glad to hear you are going to speak at ASPO. May your communication be fruitful!

hadashi said...

Wow, a little gem that almost slipped through the comments net is the passage that starts:
"Joel, the trick to learning how to will is to treat it just as you would a muscle that you're exercising . . ." Thanks JMG.

These past few posts I haven't commented much, but that's because I'm going, "Yes, aha, right, exactly . . ."
Though I share an unfamiliarity about the entire field of magic and its literature with many of us here, there's a resonance going on, and my mind remains open. I'm unlikely to get into the actual practice, but that is because, as with many of us here, I've developed my own techniques of disengaging from popular culture (for over thirty years I've avoided the 'News' and it's been a decade since I regularly watched the boob tube (except for the sumo). Hmm, just wondering if my very slow uptake of Japanese is because I enjoy being unaffected by advertising and the mainstream scream of unconsciousness.

Do those of us here comprise a subgroup? If so, it's good to find you here, though I'm still going to stick to my own mode of thinking :-)

idiotgrrl said...

"For example, leave a note on your desk reminding you to do some simple action, and every time you sit down at the desk and see the note, do the action, right then, no matter what. There's a lot more -- there were once entire books full of will training exercises -- but that's the basic principle: do something each day purely because you decide to do it, and for no other reason; change the exercise at intervals, adding difficulty in very small increments, and you'll end up with a very strong will. "

As someone who's been doing my chores to a list for a long time, to make sure they all get remembered and done, I've been touting this as a help for people with ADD (self-proven) but have now stepped it up to include daily practices that tend to get shoved aside in the press of daily business.

idiotgrrl said...

Blockhill said "@escapefromwisconsin - I am in a similar situation, isoalted rurally surrounded by conservative mainstream farmers who look at us as oddities and attempt to discredit our lifestyle choices.

I find consolation in the thought that these people, with whom I currently have nothing in common will, over time, have increasingly more in common with me as they are forced to come to terms with the new reality and adapt accordingly. The will stop dropping chemicals on their land with aircraft for example....

Maybe this line of thinking will help you."

Blockhill - I take the blog of a very conservative Christian goat farmer in Alamogordo who is doing everything John suggests except overt magic (prayer, instead) -- and would freak at the notion of being any sort of environmentalist. She's doing it to save money, she claims, and to live a healthier lifestyle away from a decadent and anti-Christian culture. "Whoever does these deeds in the name of the Enemy is on our side, and whoever does (other deeds) in our name is our enemy..." quoth one of the great theurgists of Western history. Roughly paraphrased, of course.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...


Thanks for your answers. When I asked about borderlands, I meant, those of us who move between, or among, worlds, as it were--the home life that is pretty much decoupled, various subgroups, and the more mainstream work life. But having read yours and others comments about quietly going about one's business without preaching, and also while remaining decoupled, I now understand better what you were talking about.

Also, you write from where you stand, but perhaps one can maintain one's stance while "traveling?" In which case, perhaps "where one stands" is dynamic poise, or the flexible spiritual/mental strength imparted by the various disciplines such as chi k'ung, my Quaker practice, and as I am discovering, your Druidic practice?

Re color breathing: as you say, too much of one color can lead to imbalance--as I discovered this week, so your warning is timely. The other night I awoke suddenly having a very "blue" floating, expanded feeling-- somewhat disorienting. Have now tried green and this morning worked on yellow (delightful!).

This reminds me of the little I know about the Chinese system of seasonal colors and the dangers of imbalance of one or another as expressed in various physical symptoms. Is there a relationship?

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

J. Kellerman--

I agree! "Life Without Principle" is truly great, vintage Thoreau--and life changing, in the sense of causing one to reorient one's outlook and attitudes, if read at the correct impressionable moment in one's own life.

I've also found great value in some of his travel writings, as well, such as "Walk in the Maine Woods." Have you read it?

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Question: As a practicing Druid what is your opinion of the scholarship in other books by the Matthews, specifically "The Handbook of Celtic Wisdom"?

(I just ordered a copy of your own Druid Handbook yesterday...)

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...


You still have time--just!--to plant that tree. You could also plant some acorns now, or you could collect and cold stratify them in vermiculite or moist sterile medium and plant in the spring.

I planted an oak seedling in my back yard this past spring, not knowing I was following the earth path. It's now just over a foot tall, very healthy and well-leafed. It's so rewarding to grow a tree from seed! said...

Concern- the dialectic of "peak oil," secular as it is, fits into the rapture model of sudden change that segregates society into survivors and the damned. There's a long history to this in the twentieth century- old civil defense pamphlets are an absolute scream- but it has continued through y2k into the zombie war and UN invasion memes of the present day. How separate is peak oil from the mass culture that generates these other predictions?

One can make the case retrospectively for the nineteenth century as well- this was also the era of Trotsky's quote (which irritatingly I can't source) on a great catastrophe looming over Europe, as well as the original referent for the phrase "fin de siecle culture." Different cultural forces percieved a similar impending danger with different names and causes. If anything, I would say the sense of precarity is embedded in modernism as deeply as the sense of progress.

In other words, far from standing apart from the culture of the day, I think our friend here was reflecting and contributing to it. The "trancelike" march to war was as much a fulfillment of the consensus inevitable as anything else.

What will happen if a similar "hard survivalism" narrative becomes the consensus inevitable in our own day and age?

greatblue said...

I think it must be true that most Americans don't like being alone with their thoughts. We're surrounded by distractions and most people apparently like it that way. Look at the outrage that the Blackberry outage evoked.

TVs are on in more public places than they used to be. Even my credit union now has TV news on all day behind the tellers (CNN in the morning, Fox News in the afternoon - equal time!) There's nothing like being subjected to an ad inviting me to participate in a vaginal mesh lawsuit while I'm trying to deposit a check. At least the utter tastelessness of the situation gives me something to talk about with the teller!

Unlike most of my generation, I'm unable to tune it out. I can't listen to more than one thing at a time. But even if you are able to tune it out consciously, all that propaganda and negative energy must still be affecting people on some level.

Even on this trivial level, I'm afraid that most Americans are poorly prepared for the breakdowns that are sure to come.

Cathy McGuire said...

A very intriguing post! I’ve been reading them all avidly, though I have had little time recently to create a reply – still busy with harvest, and also reading The Glass Bead Game, and the various submitted short stories. Keeping me busy!

Your description of Peladan and his influence on people reminds me of the physical presence of some holy people I’ve met. The effect of how they actually are speaks so much more loudly than words.

And I’ve been mulling over the similarities of your descriptions of rituals and symbols getting in under the logic-radar, and comparing it to my experiences making and using art. As a (retired) art therapist, I have seen some powerful effects from creating artwork that grapples with the problem at hand. I have seen families silenced and shaken by the evidence of their own group drawing that they supposed would be just “doodles”. I have watched wounded teen girls go through a growth process that was reflected in their series of drawings, paintings and sculptures. And I myself have moved through some deep, deep pain by switching to making art, wordlessly, as I tried to give expression to the pain – some of those art pieces are scary-looking, but in each case, I found that I had in some ways shifted the pain, made some inroads into dealing with the situation. Art is powerful magic, IMO, although I’m not trained in magic.

You remind me (thank you!!) of the power of the art that I have within me, and that it’s time to take it up again as I make these shifts toward green wizardry. Practical prep is very good, but there also needs to be that activity that to my logical mind seems “impractical”…that wordless wandering inside that brings up surprising symbols.

And pertinent to the discussion on detaching and yet staying in the world, I have mentioned before (I think) Marsha Sinetar’s “Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics” which is the result of a study she did of people who had pulled back from the world in various ways, because they were “called” to something different and/or simpler – I read it when I was 30, and it changed my life. It’s not necessarily about Christian values; many respondents said they had no religious beliefs. It’s about what JMG refers to as uncoupling from the popular culture.

Zach said...


In fact, what I'm trying to do here is not to enchant but to disenchant people -- in several senses of the word!

"Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years..."
-- C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory


Justin said...

What will happen if a similar "hard survivalism" narrative becomes the consensus inevitable in our own day and age?

The United States is a country that has spent more on its military than any other every year for decades. We have killed more people in more countries than any other for the last 2 decades. We have spent more on police forces and building prisons than any other, we are the world's leading prison country with the highest percentage per capita and total head count among other countries. We have been at the bleeding edge of R&D and developing the infrastructure of surveillance necessary for a panoptic corporate-police state in our military and computer research. We have a mushrooming police surveillance state already in place. JMG and other commenters have already touched on our pop culture and the functions it serves. Much of our so called social diversions are actually engineered ways of creating reliable data to feed into these systems, the CIA funds seemingly benign social media programs like Facebook. The military uses social media to spoof identities and influence opinion. Per the OWS demonstrations, JP Morgan directly funded the NYPD to the tune of about $5 million.

A lot of this is carried on with the rationale of protection from drugs, crime or terrorism. I am not sure what is meant by hard survivalism, but I think we are a lot closer to whatever dystopia is implied than most of us imagine. And I think the mechanisms of imagination are what JMG is starting to get at.

Doctor Westchester said...


If you want to get involved with Dark Forces, just turn on your television...

John Michael Greer said...

Girl, thinking differently is an important part of magic, but then it's also an important part of philosophy. Either way, if it works for you, excellent.

Ezab, thank you.

Hadashi, I don't know if this is large enough to be a subculture, but the peak oil scene has the makings of one. We'll see how it develops.

Grrl, glad to be helpful! As far as I know, I don't have ADD, but I do have absent-minded professor's syndrome -- it's easy for me to get caught up in thinking, and lose track of things I meant to do.

Adrian, there's probably at least what Wittgenstein liked to call a "family relationship" between them. The version of color breathing I practice relates to an early 20th century set of Druid teachings that was one of the things I got handed along with the hot seat in AODA, and it doesn't have any hard and fast connection to the seasonal cycle -- but that doesn't mean that one couldn't be evolved. Tradition is a much more fluid thing than many people seem to think.

Justin, I haven't read that one of Matthews' books. I'm mostly a fan of his work on the Arthurian legends.

Huntgather, the mainstream of European culture in Peladan's time was as convinced of the onward march of progress as anybody is nowadays; Trotsky, like the fin de siecle Decadents, were on the fringes, in rather the same way that peak oil is today. The armies that marched to war in 1914 were one and all convinced that they'd be victorious by Christmas! It's that blind optimism that's the great danger now -- that, and another, subtler issue with hard survivalism and a great many other ideologies, which I'll be discussing in a bit.

Greatblue, no argument there. I loathe the contemporary habit of having TV screens blaring on all sides; it's as though people are so terrified of stepping outside the media-generated fantasy that they have to have a TV yelling at them night and day.

Cathy, the personal creation of art is a hugely important process -- that's one of the reasons, though only one, why mages habitually make their own working tools. I need to do a post one of these days about the contemporary delusion that there's this thing called talent, which some people have and others don't, and the presence of which can only be judged by a combination of media opinion and mass popularity. It's hard to think of a more wretchedly untrue and horribly damaging belief system.

Zach, good. Did you mean, by the way, to post your other comment to the post on the Glass Bead Game? It seems relevant to this post instead.

Justin, I don't see that as leading to dystopia, simply as the normal practice of an overcentralized empire that's on its way down. As Toynbee pointed out a long time ago, it's par for the course for such societies, having given up the ability to inspire, to settle for the power to coerce -- and it always, without exception, fails.

Doctor W, funny! Still, I think of the TV industry as like Phil the Prince of Insufficient Light from Dilbert, waving their oversized spoons and darning people to heck. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Odin's Raven said...

May I repeat a query about last week's post which got lost in cyberspace.

Didn't Renaissance magi believe in archangels each of which presided over the destiny of a people or represented their identity? I wonder whether attempts were made to negatively influence these archangels as a way of attacking a people?

Candace said...


I'm wondering where the responsibility of those who practice propaganda to support a particular world view ends and where individual responsibility begins.

In previous posts you have discussed how people too often want to point fingers at a secretive elite that is believed to have controlled and manipulated the framework of our economic and social world view.

In these most recent posts, you are pointing out ways to continue to disengage from the shared delusion of continuos growth.

But it seems like the only reason that many of us are aware of the illusion is not because we are more perceptive, but that we accidentally were pushed to the outside and were forced to look in.

A friend and I were talking about problems that exist in our work places and the chasm that seems to exist between the views of "upper management" and the lower level level management and front line workers. It is hard to tell when to try to advocate and push for change and when to accept that your supervisors just can't see what you see. I was thinking that it was like the serenity prayer ... asking for the serenity to accept the things that you can not change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It's hard to know when to take resposibility and when you just need to back off and accept that the outcome is not something you can influence.

So I also wonder about that with the resposibility that I have as a member of society that brings about such waste and destruction and when I need to accept that I can not effectively "push" against the social river and just need to head for higher ground.

How do you determine how to spend your energy?

Zach said...

Oops! Yes indeed, I meant to post on this thread rather than "The Glass Bead Game". Here it is again...

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 is 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."


P.S.: Verification word "fixatics." Heh.

PhysicsDoc said...

I understand that magic as described here does not violate physics and has to do with consciousness but the vagueness is driving me nuts. Tapping into human psycology also does not seem very interesting. Please give me an example of what can happen if one learns this magic. If I dedicate myself to music for two years I have some idea of what skills that will give me (playing a sonata etc.). What will I have if I dedicate myself to studying magic? I have to say that the earlier posts dealing with "green wizardry", peak oil, thermodynamics, etc. were much easier for me to deal with and comprehend.

phil harris said...

JMG wrote: "It's hard to think of a more wretchedly untrue and horribly damaging belief system".

My father always maintained he could not draw (like he also maintained he was not intelligent because he did not have a good enough memory - untrue on both counts.) I discovered eventually that he had been taught not to be able draw. His lesson was a long time ago, about 100 years, but relevant I think, and the timing not insignificant. They started him by requiring an exact representation of a matchbox; linear with perspective. He immediately 'learned' that he could not do this! 'Perspective' in Western Art has an interesting history, but is quite tricky when you are 9 or 10. This was England before 1914; just about the point that the Empire he was also being taught to believe in, was to enter the first fire storm. (The British Army in very short time ran out of traditional officer-class and brought in the 'Grammar School' boys - just about all the boys in the years above my father. Their average life-expectancy when they reached France was about 6 weeks. As Kurt Vonnegut used to say "So it goes".

Jason said...

Wow, that Peladan, some character you've dug up there. :) Good psychology would encourage "resistance to enculturation" (Maslow) as fundamental to health for each of us, confirming older wisdoms. (Although they often leave that out of undergrad texts for some strange reason.) If you fear it, try it. Society has always relied on people standing outside it for its best stuff.

There are plenty of unconscious Wagnerian/aesthete/literati types sleepwalking to their dooms. It's really not the choice of art so much as the idea of making a choice rather than going along. Youth culture is often built on a rejection of the adult world which they plainly sense is doomed, and focuses on not becoming the sleepwalkers who are supposedly 'teaching' them. I was introduced to the Shaman King manga and consider it ideal reading for a kid of any age planning to interest him- or herself in magic, especially the shamanic martial arts. You also need somewhere real to go after that, but the message of breaking free of groupmind by spiritual means is there loud and clear along with valuable moral lessons.

Talking of which, although affinity groups etc. may not be all they're cracked up to be, I'll put in a good word for martial arts. Not many are as overtly magical as my choice, but shop around. Ironic the 'peak oil poet' counterposed magic and the sword since anyone who can read knows they have been allies for millennia. I notice JMG has written a book on energy swordsmanship from a Western angle. Surely some takers for this stuff. :) It is for real.

Justin said...

Zach, For a time now I have had a suspicion that most of Christian religion is open to dramatic reinterpretation if you take some of the literal and make it metaphorical. I also suspect that at its origins it was interpreted by its followers in metaphorical terms, which is why they also had no problem adopting pagan beliefs and traditions. The evolution of the Church has turned it literal.

To take a few examples, I think the holy trinity is more coherent if it is taken to be understood as a diagram of conciousness, two individuals communicate through the symbolic realm of conciousness, which can be understood as its own personality without a literal person. The resurrection is not a physical resurrection, but an observation that the concious can persist after self-awareness and the physical body dies. As JMG said, we all use Plato's ideas every day in our lives, in that sense, he has been alive for millenia. I also think one could credibly reinterpret the story of Jesus in metaphorical terms as an allegory of what happens in society when we become immune to the suffering of others. Jesus is a metaphorical embodiment of moral concious, and that dies for our turning away from those social ills.

Also, JMG. I agree with you re: Toynbee - symptomatic rather than causal.

Karen said...


I co-own some land which was a derelict farm. For the past few years we have been cleaning it up, replanting some native species, generally making it more wildlife friendly. The more time I spent on the land the more I realized that nature was my "religion," especially when I was among the timber on our land. Anyway, about a year ago I thought I needed guidance in my new found religious awareness and discovered the archdruid's blog and books. I started the study he outlines for the druid path. While I've strayed from the prescribed path somewhat, and gone very deeply into the herbalism of the plants native to my land, I have noticed things are different for me now. My perceptions are different, I more easily see broad connections in plant communities, built communities, personal and work relationships. This has allowed me to situate myself more to my liking, and hopefully- I think without harm and mostly usefulness to others. I don't know if I can attribute this change to my druidic studies, but it is now the major intellectual influence in my life and timewise corresponds very closely.

David said...

JMG, you wrote: "I need to do a post one of these days about the contemporary delusion that there's this thing called talent, which some people have and others don't, and the presence of which can only be judged by a combination of media opinion and mass popularity. It's hard to think of a more wretchedly untrue and horribly damaging belief system."

I share your distaste for this common characterization of talent. One approach I have found helpful is to adopt the language of games such as chess and go, in which the players are ranked by "strength." I no longer say, "She is a talented musician." Instead, I say, "She is strong at the violin." I no longer say, "That person is a saint." Instead, I say, "That person is strong at compassion and the sacred." Similar to your comment earlier about characterizing will through the metaphor of the muscle - if we identify unproductive vocabularies and replace them with helpful vocabularies, we can begin the long work of gradual improvement. In this case, the replacement vocabulary reminds us that we can become stronger, and suggests the next step of finding the appropriate action that will contribute to strength.

(Relatedly, there was a great study several years ago by the psychologist Carol Dweck, described in her book Mindset and elsewhere: students at a failing school who learned the mantra "The mind is a muscle, the more I use it the stronger it gets" broke out of thinking of themselves as stupid and wildly outperformed the control group.)

LewisLucanBooks said...

Some people seek constant media bombardment because they say they are bored. Often, when criminals are questioned as to why they committed a crime, they will say they were bored. I have seen the sentiments "I'm bored, entertain me" and "I'm bored, let's break something."

My response has always been that boredom is a failure of imagination. I thought perhaps I had coined that little turn of phrase, but other people have said it at other times. When I was checking out the possible originality of that thought, I came across some interesting things.

'Being a bore' goes back to the 18th century. Boredoms first known use was in 1852. Charles Dickens, "Bleak House." The French came on board about the same time with 'ennui' and the Italians with 'noia.'

So just as the world is industrializing, boredom rears it's ugly head. Interesting.

Even as a child I don't remember being bored. If I wasn't building a castle out of milk cartons, paper towel and toilet paper rolls I was chasing down possible new hobbies. Tropical fish, rock collecting, leather craft and inventing new ways to torment my younger brother come to mind.

Boredom is the failure of imagination.

ladyimbrium said...

Another interesting and thought provoking installment. I had to stifle a laugh, however, when I read this line:

"Now of course far more often than not, those who step out of the collective consciousness of their society promptly jump back into the collective consciousness of a congenial subculture, which from a magical perspective is no better"

Because it seems to me that you are appealing directly to that congenial subculture in much of your writing. Perhaps whether it is good or bad from any perspective depends on one's relative position in that subculture? I find myself wondering; is social thought all we as a species are capable of? I wonder what the threshold might be between a "congenial subculture" and a group of people whose minds are truly breaking free of the society around them. As someone who appreciates a challenge, thanks!

Bill Pulliam said...

"Now of course far more often than not, those who step out of the collective consciousness of their society promptly jump back into the collective consciousness of a congenial subculture, which from a magical perspective is no better"

My shorthand for this is "All marching to the beat of the same different drummer."

sgage said...

@ Karen...

"The more time I spent on the land the more I realized that nature was my "religion," especially when I was among the timber on our land."

I am a nature person, Nature is surely my "religion" if I have one, and I'm very much an over the top tree person (MS in Forest Ecology, for what that's worth). Have been for decades. Just keep in mind that nature is its own thing, and will not be domesticated, as it were. Take it on its own terms, but try not to get to thinking that there is some benevolent Mother Nature out there that cares one way or the other about you or me, or anything in particular except keeping the ol' Dao going :-)

That said, I am perfectly willing to put myself in the hands of nature, or, if you prefer, the Dao.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey PhysicsDoc,

"Tapping into human psychology also does not seem very interesting. Please give me an example of what can happen if one learns this magic."

The PR people, advertisers and politicians would be very happy with your response. The question you should be asking is, "how much of my formed thought processes am I in control of?"

Since the time of the ancient Greek philosophers, control has been the key issue.



PhysicsDoc said...

Thanks Karen and Cherokee Organics

So some results are:
(i) independence, of thought processes
(ii)closer connection and awareness of nature
Still not sure why occult type rituals and practices are needed to achieve these things. I still feel like I am missing something.
I think I am mostly in control of the thoughts that I am thinking I think, but who knows. We have all been fooled/controled, and sometimes don't even know it.

Karen said...


How I envy your forest studies. I am already living your advice. I've never needed or wanted the formal rituals/trappings of a religion until I internalized how limitless and indifferent nature was. That realization made me understand how religions possbily got started. It also made me curious how to handle my new understanding in a spiritual way.

I don't believe there is a mother nature, but I don't think we should be too quick to dismiss consciousness in non-humans. A leading neuro-biologist stated in a recent interview that trees don't need a brain/central nervous system, because they don't relocate. Other research shows that they seemingly communicate through release of chemicals in aerosol form. Most of our knowledge to date has been based on how best to exploit nature as a resource. We simply don't know know the vastness of our ignorance. Sadly, if there is one thing that my druid path readings have illuminated most, it is how much previous knowledge was forgotten, and how we are now working with fragments of the old knowledge often out of context.

das monde said...

“what comes naturally” to every one of us is the product of a lifetime spent absorbing social cues from the people around us and the media directed at us

Excellent. One of aspects of human nature is feeling confident about knowledge in use - which is eventually given by mass media most often nowadays.

It does not look too hard find yourself beside (or above?) the mainstream media, or in a select subculture. Especially if you see yourself in the top few percent of this world order. How do occult practices by today's elites compare with historical practices, in your view? And looking at it from the other side: What kind of magic can be found in an Occupy crowd? Or what can be sought by someone broke by mortgage or college education debts?

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...


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

Your discussion is helping me with my own understanding of the magic and religion question.

These passages are often misunderstood, especially by non-Christians, as urging contempt for nature...

That paragraph is so insightful and matches my own interpretation of those passages--but I'd add that many Christians share that misunderstanding with non-Christians, leading to all sorts of destructive (Christianist) beliefs about our relationship to the living earth. The unfortunate result is that those attitudes--and resultant actions--help to give Christianity a bad name among many environmentally-centered people.

Malcolm Smith said...

Gorge Lakoff's works on language and metaphor are useful.

Batailles works, especially "Theory of Religion" go a long way towards explaining the fractured consciousness of tool-using humans,the role of religion, magic and sacrifice, and the subsequent forms of economic life that manifest as a result of how surplus is disposed i.e. productively or non-productively.

Turner's, the Western Spirit Agains the Wilderness explores the cultural background of our civilizations alienation with "nature".

Changes in the Land by Cronin explores the encounter of the English and Native People in New England focusing the nearly complete lack of mutual comprehension of land use and property rights, concepts of usufruct and so on, between these two groups.

Jerry Mander's In Absence of the Sacred explores the rapid and systematic collapse of Indian reservation cultures (sp the Dinadeh in Canada) upon the introduction of western media through the introduction of satellite tv, as well as the seductive and destructive long term consequences of using personal computers and the way computer use structures how we act and think, despite their many, and readily acknowledged personal advantages the personal computer has wrought.

Just some thoughts.

sgage said...

@ Karen,

Thank you for your thoughtful reply...

"I don't believe there is a mother nature, but I don't think we should be too quick to dismiss consciousness in non-humans."

Indeed, and that was certainly not my intention. This is a fascinating topic, especially since even coming up with a definition of "consciousness" seems to be not so straightforward. In any case, I'm here to tell you that my dogs are conscious. :-)

"A leading neuro-biologist stated in a recent interview that trees don't need a brain/central nervous system, because they don't relocate."

Trees are unique in a number of ways, and face a number of challenges - as you mentioned, they can't "run away". They are also large, so they're up in the weather - they can't really hide. And many tree species live a very long time, so they are going to see it all, sooner or later. They need many strategies...

"Other research shows that they seemingly communicate through release of chemicals in aerosol form."

The chemical communications among trees, and in the soil, including inter-species chemical communication, are all fascinating topics. The communication/symbioses between plants and soil mircoorganisms are especially interesting to me. There is beginning to be quite a body of knowledge in these fields, but it's only the beginning.

But I don't use "scientific knowledge" as a synonym for "knowledge". To me, the science drapes over something out there, and there are other ways of apprehending that "something". Sometimes science is mind-blowingly revelatory, sometimes it is merely useful. But it is what it is.

Every time science manages to elucidate some really cool ecological process or what have you, I don't think "oh my, how clever we are, and that much closer to understanding how everything works". To me, it's just more evidence of the incredible depths that we just sort of bob along the surface of.

As the late Terence McKenna said, "the bigger you build the bonfire, the more darkness is revealed".

He also said, "where is it written that talking monkeys should understand the Universe in all its glory?".

(Love him or hate him, ol' Terence was a goldmine for pithy aphorisms. :-)

Karen said...


Here is my story. Since starting the druid path studies about a year ago, here are some things I've noticed that have changed in my normal routines. I have unconsciously set up what would seem for me to be rituals. They aren't fancy, but it gets my awareness in a different place. For example, when I go to work on our farmland, I have particular sets of clothes that I only wear for that-- my land clothes. After a couple of years, it seems that when I am in that costume, my mind and body know what will be needed from them. I feel physically stronger and more aware of what I need to do to accomplish that task. Another ritual -- there is a particular white oak on our land that lost a big branch and the healed over stump looks like an offering cup. So when I am in that part of the woods, I always put an offering to the forest there. It really is just part of a granola bar or whatever that will be found by a squirrel. That may be silly, but it might not be.

For my day job rituals, it is cup of tea, check emails, check this blog, read something about trees, etc. Then I work. What I have discovered is that rituals helps focus and narrow the distractions. In my case, what I feel has been magic, (although I don't know if the practicing mages would think so) a few months back, I needed a situation which would allow me the earn income, but with a schedule that was completely set by me. My new found rituals, gave me the ability to concentrate on what was important, formulate a goal, evaluate my resources and figure out how to achieve that goal. I clearly stated to my husband what I wanted to have happen on a Sunday, described to him how I wanted it to work, and by the following Wednesday totally out of the blue, I was presented with a work opportunity that was exactly what I needed. Everyone I know was amazed and asked how that happened. I told them it was magic. They laughed, I don't. For me it just seems like what these recent discussions might call magic.

Justin said...

"Boredom is the failure of imagination."

I don't agree. I think boredom is the result of the narratives that inform your imagination not aligning with whatever it is you are observing. The narratives that inform your imagination are derivative. The point of cutting yourself off from pop culture is to cut off that source of the contrived narrative structures that you are exposed to and form the default patterns of thought to describe whatever it is that is going on around you.

Spending thirty minutes or so to study a caterpillar crawling around and overcoming various obstacles, or just to get a sense of the rythm for thow their peculiar bodies move is only boring if you're framework of what is entertaining is informed by the underlying narrative structure of our fictional media. Boring is a value judgment, and it is evaluated against a normative standard. You can control the value judgment indirectly by deconstructing your normative standard.

Boring is not the failure of imagination, it is the failure of reality to conform to the expectations of your imagination, and those expectations are learned. I think that is what the real value of excising pop culture and mass media from what you are learning. said...


You are uncomfortable. You are beginning to admit that much of what you think, say, do might be conditioned. You are waking up!

The idea that messing with magic can lead to 'dark forces' is an idea implanted in you by a society that doesn't want awake people...they ask too many questions and challenge the status quo.

What will practicing magic for a year do for you? Well, for one thing it will develop your will. You will become strong in doing things not accepted by society, and in challenging even your own belief systems. You will be able to see the value in the practice of the ridiculous. You will be able to see the sacred in the mundane. You will see that magic, religion, and science are not separate disciplines at ALL.

Mostly, though, you will come to know yourself better. And you will become more. Of whatever. Compassionate, creative, adventurous, perceptive.

Are these good enough reasons to try it?

Jennifer D Riley said...

@JMG, yep, i turn off tee vee, except for PBS and two programs i value for good writing. I attend a writer critique group and read as much poetry as possible.

Several posters here can benefit from a former colleague's comments. His young son was enrolled in a local dojo in North Carolina to study martial arts. My colleague said something profound and magic, as I would know magic. "The dojo masters try to make you feel great about being average and mediocre." Point being there's not much world-class martial arts taught in North Carolina. I'll leave all readers to apply to their own situations.

fyreflye said...


"I think I am mostly in control of the thoughts that I am thinking I think..."

If that's what you think, any form of spiritual practice that involves meditation will soon disabuse you. Waking up to the insanity that lurks below the surface of our conscious minds is the greatest gift any spiritual work can offer us.

John Michael Greer said...

Raven, that's a concept out of Jewish tradition, and some Renaissance writers used it. Still, the idea of trying to influence an archangel is not something you'll find in the old lore; angelic beings are not subject to human influence, being outside of time and change. You might as well try to change the movement of the Sun around the galactic core by throwing rocks at it.

Candace, that's always a judgment call, and almost never one that can be made on the basis of abstract principles. Hierarchies of the kind that dominate the US economy these days are hugely dysfunctional in times of crisis, because they insulate decision makers from what's going on down on the ground; even bright leaders usually end up clueless about the contexts and consequences of their actions because the information they get is filtered by so many levels of bureaucracy. Still, now and again it's possible to have an influence, and you have to make your own call when that's a realistic option, and when it's time to cut and run before the whole tottering mess comes crashing down on you.

Zach, good. Magic is a means that can be applied to any number of ends, and religion is one of those ends; some religious traditions make quite a bit of use of magic, while others avoid it. You might be interested to know that Druids stray all over that distinction; there are Druid traditions that use all the ceremonial bells and whistles they can, and others that tend toward a very spare, ritual-free approach.

Do those scriptural passages, by the way, use kosmos for "world," or do they use oikoumene? Pun not intended, there's a world of difference...

PhysicsDoc, I've tried to be as nonvague as possible, but the biases of our culture -- and of your training, presuming that your moniker means what it seems to mean -- all stand in the way of understanding it. Let's put it this way: you wouldn't want to do an experiment with equipment that was uncalibrated, questionably accurate, and gummed up with extraneous matter. The human mind and personality is the instrument we use to experience the world, and in nearly all cases it can be described in exactly the same terms I've just used. Magic is one very effective way to get the crud out and make sure that your own mental states, and the various influences that are directed toward you, are not interfering with your perception of the world. Does that make any more sense?

Phil, a lot of educational systems, past and present, had and have for their unstated purpose the task of making sure that the bottom of the economic ladder was well tenanted with people who believed they couldn't do any better. Your father ran afoul of that process.

Jason, of course you can be a Goth and still be clueless! Peladan's genius was in realizing that there was an entire class of young men in his time who could be encouraged to detach themselves from the collective consciousness, not just so that they could turn into a reactive counterculture, but so that at least a few of them could become individuals. As for martial arts, that's something for a later post. It's a loaded issue, since so many people are still caught up in apocalyptic fantasies and the violent aspects of martial arts training can unfortunately feed into that. There's more going on than angry white pajamas, though.

John Michael Greer said...

David, that's a very workable way of thinking about it. Of course people have different degrees of innate strength, to use your term, but any degree can be developed through exercise. As for sainthood, though, I've long thought the Catholics are very sensible not to use that term of anybody living!

Lewis, in a certain sense, yes. In my experience, though, boredom is also a message that tells you that you're not paying enough attention. It tends to pop up in magical training right before you suddenly realize that there's a whole new level of the work that you haven't been noticing until just then. In the same way, when a t'ai chi student gets bored doing the form slowly, the best response is to have them do it even more slowly, until they start to notice what it is that they're missing.

Lady I., a subculture is a good stepping stone, but it's a lousy final destination. Whether or not human beings can get completely beyond social thought, fortunately, isn't at issue; the point is that we can certainly reach the stage of being able to interact intelligently with the thinking habits of our society, and act on them rather than merely being acted on by them.

Bill, good. The words "Yes! We are all individuals!" also comes to mind.

Das Monde, historically speaking, a great deal of magic has been practiced by people who felt themselves to be disempowered or disadvantaged. I'd expect to find quite a few people among today's downwardly mobile yuppietariat turning to magic as a result.

Malcolm, thanks for the suggestions!

Justin, well, I've already offered my suggestion.

Jennifer, good. Of course all of us are average and mediocre in most respects; it's one of the traps of contemporary culture that suggesting that will raise the hackles of almost everyone. An average and mediocre black belt is still going to be able to deal with certain situations a lot more smoothly than his or her untrained equivalent!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey PhysicsDoc,

I've noticed peoples explanations here are tending towards mysticism - which are also perfectly valid. But, I can see you want a concrete understanding and justification.

So, here goes (hopefully).

Do you own a car?

Is it a large vehicle?

What colour is it?

Does it consume a lot of fuel?

Is it a new or an old vehicle?

Now, ask these further questions of yourself (and think about it honestly for a bit) - why did you buy that vehicle and what does that vehicle say about you to the world at large?

The reasons that you come up with are the magic and the vehicle is the symbol.

What I'm trying to get across, is that in purchasing that symbol, you are being magicked (hope I didn't just make that word up).

Obviously, if you get around only by push bike (or walk) then much respect to you, but then you probably also don't need to think about the above questions.

This is only the beginning as you can start looking outwards from there. Where do you live? What does your dwelling say about you? It just goes on and on.

These are all deeply emotive questions - although at face value they may not seem to be so. The scary thing is that they are just the tip of the iceberg.

People rarely ask why they are doing the things that they do and understanding magic can provide you with an antidote to the collective conscience. You can begin to make rational and informed decisions once you understand the parameters under which you live. I won't guarantee that those decisions will make your life easy though.

Hope that helps?



Rich_P said...


Apologies if my comment is a bit off-topic, but this new paper from a trio of researchers out of Zurich lends support to your thesis in The Wealth of Nature that the tertiary economy has metastasized the primary and secondary economies, and that our financial system is dangerously complex and interdependent. As the authors note, "... in good times the network is seemingly robust, in bad times firms go into distress simultaneously."

Nearly all of the top 50 "superconnected" corporations in the world are banks, investment firms, etc. If you read the original paper, the conclusions are on pages 6-8.

Slorisb said...


Your statement "To me, it's just more evidence of the incredible depths that we just sort of bob along the surface of.". Reminds me of a quote from Jack Ward Thomas. "Ecosystems are not only more complex than we know, they are more complex than we can know."

Joel said...

You said: "angelic beings are not subject to human influence, being outside of time and change."

And later: "we can certainly reach the stage of being able to interact intelligently with the thinking habits of our society, and act on them rather than merely being acted on by them."

Don't these statements contradict one another? Or are "thinking habits" only a minor part of a people's identity?

From what I've read of my own brand of old lore, there have been cases of combat: it's possible to wrestle angels, or at least (with the help of a faithful donkey) to evade them.

It's reportedly difficult, as you've mentioned, to even become aware of them, and once you've done that, to overcome the resulting sense of fear. So I'm certain that instead of attempting "to negatively influence these archangels as a way of attacking a people," it would be more practical to work on influencing a people's perception of their own archangel, and their opponents' archangel(s).

Sean the Sorcerer said...

This has been a fascinating and educational series of posts on magic. I for one would love it if you focused on this topic rather than Peak Oil, since this is obviously your area of real expertise!

Anyway, my thought about magic is that it is alive and well today, but it just goes by different names, such as neurolinguistic programming, hypnosis, advertising, law of attraction, New Thought, meditation, visualization, etc. Couldn’t one create an entire system of magic using these techniques without appealing to any ancient grimoires, traditional rituals, etc., or do you think something would be lost? Since the word “magic” has so much baggage, perhaps the clever mages have just changed the packaging and are working the same old sorcery from our modern towers of glass and steel?

Jason said...

As for martial arts, that's something for a later post. It's a loaded issue, since so many people are still caught up in apocalyptic fantasies and the violent aspects of martial arts training can unfortunately feed into that.

Ah. Yeah, didn't think of that. The lunkheads are definitely still out in force.

John Michael Greer said...

Rich, I saw that! It's also a nice illustration of my point that resilience is the opposite of efficiency -- having all that financial interconnection is very efficient, and utterly nonresilient.

Joel, a society's habits of thought change; archangels, at least according to the theory, do not. That suggests right there that there's an important distinction between the two!

Sean, well, that's a backhanded compliment, isn't it? Peak oil is also one of my fields of expertise; I've been studying it nearly as long as I've been studying magic, since the late 1970s. As for nouveau magic of the sort you've described, well, that would be a very limited approach. The existing traditions of magic -- which are also alive and well -- have some thousands of years of continuous experiment and accumulation of technique behind them, and it will take a very long time for today's practitioners of cheap thaumaturgic manipulation to catch up!

Jason, "the lunkheads ye have with you always." Still, the point about martial arts is a valid one.

RainbowShadow said...

For a change of pace from my usual comments, I'm going to recommend something productive, basically how to "not go insane and do something destructive" upon realizing that you're living in a country with so many "lunkheads."

There's a musical called Avenue Q, and one of the songs emphasizes the fact that the good and the bad things in life are only "for now." It's the entire theme of the song.

And they sometimes change the lyrics to match current political situations. "George Bush is only for now" back in 2007, "Glenn Beck is only for now" back in 2010, etc. Now in a recent 2011 running, they say "Fox News is only for now."

The point of the song in its entirety is that nothing lasts forever, not even modern forms of stupidity.

Cathy McGuire said...

@PhysDoc: Still not sure why occult type rituals and practices are needed to achieve these things. I still feel like I am missing something
I can only speak from my experiences w/art: when I physically “enact” something, rather than just think about it, something changes in my perspective. Another example: I worked on a child psychiatric unit, and had had a very bleak day – I needed a way to grapple with the grief of very sick children. I made a container that I covered with psychiatric diagnoses and terminology, glued some real gemstones inside and poured tar into it… I hesitated (always hate to “waste” things), but I could feel the grief nagging – once I poured the tar inside (it evoked tears), thus enacting the “waste” I had seen in the unit that day, my grief peaked and then eased… I hadn’t changed their pain, but I had expressed my grief and my acknowledgment of the reality, physically, and that changed something inside that all the thinking and even journaling didn’t touch. So that is why I agree that enactment (rituals and practices) can reach where thought alone doesn’t.

And on the subject of martial arts, here is a very funny skit you may have heard of “Tai Quan Leap”:
Inexplicably, they insert “Unchained Melody” into the skit (which is not how I first heard it) but the song after that at the end is also very funny!

Sean the Sorcerer said...

Sure magic has thousands of years of tradition behind it, but aren’t the techniques universal across all the schools and can't they be distilled down to a fairly small body of knowledge? I would find such a postmodern approach very helpful, because the traditional lore is filled with appeals to culture-specific gods and myths which I have a hard time taking seriously.

Come to think of it, this is exactly what the Chaos Magicians have done; are you familiar with the writings of people like Peter Carroll? Readers with little familiarity with magic might find books like Liber Null a more comprehensible starting point than much of the older corpus, which is so vast and murky that one hardly knows where to begin.

Joel said...

>it will take a very long time for today's practitioners of cheap thaumaturgic manipulation to catch up!

It's sad to think what all was lost during the Renaissance. Back to the ethics-as-hygiene analogy, there must have been losses, at that time, as tragic as the abandonment of indoor plumbing after the fall of the Roman empire.

"archangels, at least according to the theory, do not."

Hm. I wouldn't expect them to change nearly so easily as people do, but I would be surprised if there were no recognition, in advanced versions of the theory, of changes that take place in deep time.

Zach said...


Do those scriptural passages, by the way, use kosmos for "world," or do they use oikoumene? Pun not intended, there's a world of difference...

Heh. :) Actually, Romans 12:2 uses aeon, which is quite different yet, suggesting that it is this present "age" (sometimes translated "world-system") that we are not to be conformed to. James 4:4 does use kosmos (as does that most famous passage, John 3:16). Other New Testament passages do use oikoumene, though it's only used 15 times (vs. 152 for kosmos). None of the uses of oikoumene refer to conformity or friendship with "the world", however -- that's always either aeon or kosmos.


Thank you. I'm glad my writing on this has been helpful for more than just getting my own thoughts straight.

You're right, of course, that the "contempt for nature" interpretation is widespread enough to cause problems. Unfortunately. I can say, though, from my time as an Evangelical, that what I experienced being preached from the pulpit (and what was being urged in popularly-read books in that subculture) was contempt for the "world" in the "world-system" sense. There's probably a good sociological study waiting to be done on the relative prevalence of the two views...


Well, certainly the metaphorical is important, but I'm of the belief that one of the essential elements of Christianity is its historicity. Absent that, it becomes, well... something else reusing the name and symbolism and accumulated cultural capital.

"Crossing the Rubicon" is a useful metaphor, too, but that doesn't mean that the real, literal Julius Caeser never moved his real, literal troops over a real, literal river in a real point in time and space.

I also suspect that at its origins it was interpreted by its followers in metaphorical terms, which is why they also had no problem adopting pagan beliefs and traditions. The evolution of the Church has turned it literal.

I am well aware that this viewpoint has been popularized by certain academics and a certain notorious bishop. I believe that the source documents and historical evidence we have from the early centuries of the Christian era do not support this view, and that it's simply a projection of modern prejudices popular in academia.

I could say more, but I suspect that pursuing that particular argument here would strain the good will of our bloghost, and so I will simply note my disagreement and stop. :)


Catholic Agrarian said...

I'm an avid reader of the blog, and many thanks for the effort you put into this each week. My question is about the relation between magic as described here, and overt satanism. In college I studied Yeats pretty extensively, and it always seemed to me that the process you describe here, the unshackling of one's mind if you will, if not done within an ordered context, tends to lead toward disorder, sometimes pretty sever disorder at that. Anton Levy, who was a fellow member to Yeats in the Order of the Golden Dawn is a good representation of that. 'Do what thou wilt' - is that whole of the druid's law?

You're exactly right about the correlation between traditional religions and druidry - the bells, incense and robes - but in the one they drive us towards heaven, and the other, at best spreads us out on a more horizontal plane. It's easy to detect the charity in everything you write - what drives that?

Pax Christi

hapibeli said...

An interesting study from Miller-McCune:

Among the many issues raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement, perhaps the most basic is: What took so long? Why did three years elapse between the time reckless financial traders nearly brought down the global economy and large numbers of people began collectively expressing outrage?

A new psychological study provides at least a partial answer. It finds people are strongly motivated to perceive the socioeconomic system they live under as fair and just, and links this pro-status-quo impulse with a reluctance to protest against the Wall Street bailout.

“It is extremely difficult for most of us to believe that our political or economic system is inherently corrupt,” said New York University psychologist John Jost, “and it is a belief that we are tempted to resist, even when there is evidence suggesting deep and fundamental problems.

“Because of our immense psychological capacity to justify and rationalize the status quo, human societies are very slow to fix system-level injustices and to enact substantive changes.”

Another example of why to escape the magic of the current paradigm.

John Michael Greer said...

Rainbow, nice. It's like the magic ring in the old Sufi tale, that would always make its owner happy when he was sad, but would make him sad when he was happy. It was a plain gold ring with an inscription: "This, too, will pass."

Sean, no, the techniques are not universal between systems -- they vary quite a bit -- and they can't be boiled down to a small set. You really need to study more magic! There's been a mania for watering down magical traditions in the last century or so; Crowley watered down the Golden Dawn, Spare watered down Crowley, the chaos magic types watered down Spare, and no doubt somebody's trying to come up with a watered down form of chaos magic as we speak!

The old magical traditions are overwhelming in their richness, complexity, and range of technique; it takes a couple of decades of hard work to get a good working mastery of any one of them -- which is doubtless why so many people nowadays want to take the easy way out. Still, it's quite easy to get to work learning any of the old sytems; you just have to be willing to start at the beginning and do the work a step at a time, like every other student has done down through the centuries.

Joel, that's a good metaphor. As for angels, though, remember that eternity doesn't mean "a very long time," it means outside of time. For beings of the angelic realm, according to the traditional lore, the creation and end of the universe and everything in between are all now.

Zach, interesting. Aion makes perfect sense in context, but kosmos seems hard to interpret in any way that doesn't involve hostility to the universe itself -- that's the typical phrasing of Gnostic literature, though of course the Gnostics gave a very different valuation to the aeons.

Agrarian, you're confusing "Anton Levy" -- I assume you mean Howard Levy aka Anton Szandor LaVey, who was a California poser in the 1960s and '70s -- with Aleister Crowley, who was a very good example of how not to practice magic. (If you begin life rich, handsome, talented, and charismatic, and end up a burnt-out heroin addict in a small town flophouse with an estate worth 14 shillings and a name that's a laughing stock on three continents, you're doing something wrong.) No, I don't consider Crowley the "prophet of the New Aeon," and "do what thou wilt" is to my mind neither the whole, nor even a significant part of the law; Crowley was an aberration, and not even a particularly interesting one except as an object lesson.

As for your distinction between your religion and mine, well, yes, I know you guys believe that you have an exclusive relationship with God and the rest of us are simply out of luck. The rest of us don't share that opinion, and what you've called the vertical dimension is found in a great many places other than your church. You don't have to believe that, but it might help communication if you recognize that the rest of us do.

Hapibeli, that seems sensible enough. The cognitive dissonance that comes from grappling with the possibility that your own society is hopelessly corrupt can be a very difficult pill to swallow.

Robert said...

Sean the Sorcerer asked:

"Sure magic has thousands of years of tradition behind it, but aren’t the techniques universal across all the schools and can't they be distilled down to a fairly small body of knowledge?"

To the best of my knowledge and experience, the answer to both these questions is a resounding "No."

Effective magic does not seem not to be one single thing, in the sense that physics or mathematics is one thing. Your expertise in, say, geometry, does not hinder you from later developing expertise in number theory. However, your expertise in one kind of magical practice, however, can hinder (or, at times, even block) all your subsequent efforts to become an expert in certain other kinds of magical practice. It is very hard indeed to "unlearn" one kind of magic, after you have learned it thoroughly and made it your own.

There is, for example, a kind of magic that involves strengthening one's will to the maximum possible, and prevailing over circumstances by the force of that strong will. And then there is a second, rather different kind of magic that involves discovering one's so-called "true will" and doing that strongly. Both are magics of strength, but the sort of strength is cultivated is not quite the same in the two practices.

Moreover, these two are not the only kinds of magic that exist. A third kind of magic requires one to weaken one's own will more and more, thereby rendering oneself transparent to Something Other than oneself, which has a will of its own -- presumably a will with which the magician is in sympathy. This Other can then work through the magician to exert its will in our world.

And a fourth kind of magic ignores the will entirely, seeing it as just scum on a pond that prevents the magician from "seeing the moon in clear water," or rather, grasping how the great living fiery web has been woven that connects all things in all times and places, Having grasped this, you may also understand when, where and how you are meant to tug a little on this or that strand in the great web, and what will come about when you have don so.

And there are other kinds of magic as well . . .

I do not see how one and the same magician might train himself to be *equally* adept in these four kinds of magic. How can one follow a regimen of practice designed to strengthen the will, and at the same time also follow another regimen of practice designed to weaken the will, or one that ignores the will altogether? And just *which* will, out of the several we have mentioned here, is the will that we shall strengthen, or weaken, or ignore?

No, I think that magic is not one thing in the sense that one might hope to devise a unified theory and practice of magic valid for all magicians.

Robert Mathiesen /Mageprof

Cherokee Organics said...


Hope you are enjoying autumn. Things are warming up a bit here and it looks as though La Nina will continue this summer.

Apologies for the poor taste materialistic explanation to PhysicsDoc. I've always found that cars and houses have huge amounts of symbolism surrounding them and it can be a helpful starting point for some. Oh well.

I'm two thirds of the way through the Great Crash 1929 book and whilst enjoying it, I'm taking some important pointers out of it.

Some things I've noticed so far is that the media, the economics profession and the powers that be will tell people whatever they need to hear to further their own or the peoples supposed ends. This can be in contrast to the reality of the situation.

Interestingly too, public sentiment can be in marked contrast to these incantations (oops sorry!) reassurances. I've noticed the housing market here is starting to tilt towards a downward movement.

In terms of the Long Descent, my gut feel is that we are on our way. Although as you've stated before, it's a staircase fall and not a crash - which I agree with. It can take quite a while (decades even) to find a new stable state, although if you lived in Ireland you'd probably say it may happen a bit quicker than that.

My reason for this is that I can read the latest pronouncements (especially in relation to public debt and growth) and put them in historical context. The other thing is that the policy makers are running short on tools or options with which to tackle economic crisis's. Oh well.



Cherokee Organics said...


Oh yeah, my prediction is that the next lurch will be in mid November. I hope to be wrong, but you just never know. It's the plan to make a plan type of pronouncements that lead me to think that this will be the case.



PhysicsDoc said...

Just wanted to thank those that responded to my questions and comments. This topic and the things you have written have definitely peaked my interest. Although I consider myself more of a theoretical physicist, I appreciate the noise/interference-free calibrated instrument analogy. The benefits for dealing with emotions is also evident.

phil harris said...

You raised matter of the tight network of global finance (and RichP linked to an original paper as well as to a NS commentary piece - thanks). Efficiency versus resilience is JMG's important response.
Interesting that Lehman's was in the top 50 of the original data set of super-interconnected companies used by the researchers. Goldman Sachs, also there, of course had something to do with previous Greek government hiding their bad position. Seem to have made your points.
Just a further point: there is an evolved mindset and modus operandi lurking here? I quote "According to some theoretical
arguments, in general, financial institutions do not invest in equity shares in order to exert control.
However, there is also empirical evidence of the opposite [23, SI Appendix, Sec. 8.1]. Our results
show that, globally, top holders are at least in the position to exert considerable control, either
formally (e.g., voting in shareholder and board meetings) or via informal negotiations."

Jason said...

@Sean the Sorcerer: Sure magic has thousands of years of tradition behind it, but aren’t the techniques universal across all the schools and can't they be distilled down to a fairly small body of knowledge?

They can't, but you certainly can vary the entry point according to the times. If you don't like the old god forms and want to go Hermetic practice Bardon who is free of ritual for neophytes. If you don't like myths straight take them with a Jung chaser, that works extremely well.

Find your own way. Don't be put off by people who think that everything good is both old and unpopular, but recognise that much of the stuff on your list is lightweight and the stuff that isn't connects with traditions whose force has taken time to build up.

Work on how you interface your identity with both the eternal and the culture -- that's the intent of this post. JMG is temperamentally suited to discarding modern identity which is one way. Ch'i kung is modern in the sense that it took tradition and extrapolated, including scientifically, but would be nothing without what had budded off from traditional forms. You can produce magic lots of ways, but listening to people who've already done it is liable to save you time. If you like meditation and hypnosis check out my blog.

Joel said...


"physics or mathematics is one thing"

I think Newton was tilting at windmills when he attempted to make physics one thing. Same goes for Russell and mathematics. Funny how their books were titled the same, eh?

I've mentioned this before, but (again, trying to be respectful to our host), general relativity is irreconcilable with quantum mechanics, and quantum mechanics is consistent with many different worldviews (alternate universes, wave functions, etc.). Unless some violence is done to it in the name of purity, physics is many different things to the many different people who practice it.

Kieran O'Neill said...

Seeing one of your asides about Toynbee, and having spent the past few weeks allowing my blood pressure to rise over one too many pointless echoings of talking points masquerading as discussions, I've decided that reading a few universal histories would be a good way to move myself outside of the current social context for a little while. After I'm done reading the Glass Bead Game, I have Toynbee, Spengler and Ibn Khaldun on the reading list so far. Could you suggest any others?

I've also been finding the Glass Bead Game's abstract description of the archetypal bureaucracy, dressed up delicately with narrative, quite soothing. (Not to say that I think that's all the book is, but I do think Hesse having set it in the future was a deliberate stratagem to take the narrative, and the reader, outside of the modern socio-political context, to enable some critical analysis of both his political scene and that of other times and places, including our own).

Ric said...

First, I have to say that as a Recovering Evangelical(tm), I have been enjoying the posts on magic more than I ever thought I would. So much so, The Druid Magic Handbook will soon be taking its place next to the The Druidry Handbook on my shelf.

Not directly related to this weeks post, but an interesting data point nonetheless: we seem to have reached peak driving. The article makes the point that this isn't the result any policy or program, but individuals deciding, "This is just stupid," and getting out of the car to walk, bicycle or take mass transit.

I'm curious about another point the author brings up; the current cohort of teens not being interested in driving. I have to say that I haven't really noticed that other than as one of a cluster of symptoms in someone who clearly wants to be a permanent child; however, my experience living in first in the heart of "car country" (Flint, MI) followed by living in rural areas may be skewing my perceptions. Is there a noticeable percentage of those in high school who view cars as old school and the alternatives as more... er... hip? cool? rockin'? (Anyone under 20 want to help out an old guy?)

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, I don't like to make specific predictions about dates, but the whole idea behind the stairstep decline is that each step down is pretty close to vertical, and I don't think we're too far just now from one of those vertical drops. A lot depends on just how badly the situation in Europe goes -- I understand that bank runs are starting in Greece, which is a very bad sign.

PhysicsDoc, thank you for making the effort to follow the discussion here! A lot of people in the sciences don't, which is unfortunate for all sides.

Phil, I've always put those "theoretical arguments" about how financial institutions exert no control over the other businesses they own in the same category as belief in the tooth fairy. Glad to see them getting challenged.

Kieran, nearly all the others try to shoehorn history into the myth of progress, so I can't recommend them. I'd encourage following up the ones already discussed with a flurry of intensive study of the history of some civilization about which you know next to nothing, so you can ground the theoretical models in the lived experience of a society's rise and fall.

Ric, if we have indeed reached peak driving, that would be an immensely good thing. There are few problems we face right now as a civilization that wouldn't benefit at least a little if people drove less and owned fewer cars.

Philip Steiner said...

@Ric, I've noticed the same phenomenon in my teenagers' and their friend's attitude towards getting a driver's license and then supporting a car. My daughter got her license more at her parent's insistence, because it will lower her (our) insurance rate over the long run, and because it's almost a mandatory form of ID. Can't do much as an adult without one :)

I've noticed that her peers (all around 18) have an almost indifferent attitude towards driving, a real contrast from my own youth. Some of their indifference I can attribute to growing up in a suburb of Vancouver, Canada that's well-served by public transit, and very eco- and bicycle-friendly. Local transit authorities are waging an effective war on the automobile, so I guess that's affecting their attitudes as well.

What I don't know is whether this attitude extends to the outer suburbs or rural areas of my region. My daughter is attending university in Kelowna, a small-ish community with less public transit, so I'll have to ask her if she sees a different attitude amongst her classmates.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yeah, thanks for the advice. I now realise the error of my ways. Having just read the chapter "Aftermath II", it spelt out in no uncertain terms my error. I commit to desist from such activity in future.

The economic situation in Europe is pretty bad. I can see most sides of the debate too which doesn't help. It's a classic case of a predicament rather than a problem and there is no positive outcome.

The major bond holders for Greek debt are the Euro banks and they are being asked to take a write down on the face value of that debt. I can only think that it will have a flow on effect.

It's not dissimilar from the house of cards that were the trust funds in 1929. Cross ownership and debt has its downside.



Apple Jack Creek said...

Robert/Mageprof, this comment of yours really caught my interest:

a fourth kind of magic ignores the will entirely, seeing it as just scum on a pond that prevents the magician from "seeing the moon in clear water," or rather, grasping how the great living fiery web has been woven that connects all things in all times and places, Having grasped this, you may also understand when, where and how you are meant to tug a little on this or that strand in the great web, and what will come about when you have done so.

Would you be kind enough to point me towards further detail of this school of magic?

Ritual holds a very small place in my world (it's a Quaker thing, partly), and 'strengthening my will' is just not an idea that appeals to me at all ... thus I've not looked much into the formal practice of magic, though I'm open to the idea. This "opening of oneself to the larger picture" idea, however, sounds like something that might speak to my condition and I'd like to know more. :)

SophieGale said...

OK, here's my story for the anthology: "Yes, He Can Bake a Cherry Pie."

PhysicsDoc said...

Hi Joel,

I have been praticing physics for a long time, and to me physics is mathematics applied to the physical world and used to organize experimental and empirical data. The mathematical models and theories do not explain what nature is just how it behaves in certain regimes or circumstances. The power comes from its relative generality and predictive capabilities. There are many deep mysteries that most physicists ignore since the math works and explains how things behave. There are of course many theoretical physicists trying to unify quantum physics and general relativity into one unified and mathematically consistent theory, but that does not stop the two existing theories from being successfully used in many circumstances. Just my opinion.

RainbowShadow said...

Whoa whoa whoa whoa, Joel, don't knock Bertrand Russell. He's the guy who explained the fallacy "you are determined he is pig-headed," after all. ^_^

Frankly, I'm of the opinion we need more of Russell's thoughts, not less. Not in terms of mathematics, but in terms of Russell's ideas about critical thinking, and what you actually have to do in order to find out the truth of anything.

He's also the guy who first pointed out how bad the American public school system was, calling it the first school system that seemed almost designed to take away children's ability to think critically (although Russell was incorrect; Sparta was first, Prussia was second, America was third).

This quote comes to mind from his chapter on Heraclitus:

"In studying a philosopher, the right attitude is nether reverence nor contempt, but first a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to believe in his theories, and only then a revival of the critical attitude, which should resemble, as far as possible, the state of mind of a person abandoning opinions which he has hitherto held. Contempt interferes with the first part of this process, and reverence with the second."

If America had more of Russell's "hypothetical sympathy," and less "contempt," they wouldn't be making decisions based on Rick Perry's revival of the stupid birth certificate claptrap, for example.

I agree, though, that Russell's probably not very useful to practicing magicians.

I brought him up because he's really more useful when guarding yourself AGAINST magic. And again, I mean his ideas about critical thinking, not about mathematics.

Fran said...

Hi john,

This is not an actual comment to the article, I just couldn't find your email :-)
You may be interested in the deciphering of the copiale cipher:

Thanks for the wonderful resource that your blog is!

idiotgrrl said...

You have said it takes years and years of long hard practice to become a mage. This is discouraging to someone who might not have years and years. But Dion Fortune points out that while it takes years and years of long, hard practice to become a top-level gymnast, the ordinary person can still use some of the principles and practice to get and stay in shape. This is why I am interested in studying magic. Could you comment on this, please?


John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, no argument there. The global tertiary economy -- the economy of paper wealth -- at this point is one vast house of cards, waiting for the sudden jolt that will send the whole thing flying.

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

Fran, thank you! A lot of my friends and readers seem to have me pretty well typecast; I've had half a dozen people last night and this morning drop me a note referencing this article. Mind you, I'm not complaining -- I'm glad that somebody did.

Grrl, Fortune is quite correct. The reason that I mention the "years and years" thing is that the world, and in particular the internet, is full of people who think they can read a couple of books, fumble their way through a few rituals, put on a tall pointy hat, and voila! They're a Big Bad Hoodoo Master (tm) or what have you, and can swagger around on that basis. Just now magic seems to have an overwhelming attraction to what I've elsewhere called The Teachings of Don Juanabee: A Poser Way of Knowledge. But Fortune's right; you don't have to have a medical degree to take better care of your health, and you don't have to complete a decade or two of intensive study of magic to get quite a bit of benefit out of regular magical practice. Besides, you never know if you might have a decade or two ahead of you, and you might just end up as an operative mage in spite of yourself!

hapibeli said...

Another chink missing in the current thaumurtagy?

Europe Faces New Hurdles in Crisis Over Debt
Published: October 25, 2011

PARIS — New fissures and disagreements emerged on Tuesday on the eve of a European Union summit meeting promoted as the moment for agreement on a comprehensive solution to the two-year-old euro crisis. Crucial financial measures were left unresolved, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy faced strong opposition inside his governing coalition to major changes demanded by the Europeans.

Kieran O'Neill said...

@Philip: For ID purposes, those without a drivers license can get a BCID. It would seem strange to me to go through all of the pain of learning how to drive just to get government identification...

I think you also should try to be aware (and beware) of the "war on cars" straw man / meme. Neither the City of Vancouver, nor Translink, nor the various alternative transportation advocacy groups are trying to get rid of cars. They are trying to promote a shift to a better mix of transportation modes, with an ultimate goal of bringing car trips down to 50% mode share, which would still be as much as walking, cycling and transit put together.

If you look at the history of the phrase, it's been used by a slightly less than reputable campaign firm to get Rob Ford elected into office in Toronto, and can best be described as a "manufactured right-wing talking point". That same campaign firm is now representing the NPA in the upcoming municipal election, hence its coming up again here. I don't think it should take much to see that it is exactly the kind of black magic JMG's been talking about over the past few weeks, and does nothing but obstruct level-headed discussion of transport policy.

But if you're interested in knowing more about cycling in Vancouver, my bike coop will be running a cycling resource centre every second Saturday at the Winter Farmers Market at Nat Bailey Stadium. We'll be handing out route maps, answering questions about everything from cycling safety, laws and maintenance to where to buy a good bike for a reasonable sum, as well as doing free bicycle tune-ups. There's ample parking for cars and bicycles, several nearby bus routes, and it's on a quiet, family-friendly neighbourhood street for walking. Everyone is welcome!

Zach Livingston said...


Great post as usual. I have some comments on your treatment of popular culture and the starting point for your argument.

Starting from a value judgment on popular culture - that it is vulgar, vapid, useless, etc - seems to somewhat defeat the point of using magical practice as a means of achieving independent thought. Even though it encourages a person to question narratives, it starts from a position of a person accepting a narrative. In other words, listen to my opinion - which happens to be that you should form your own opinions.

Furthermore, a lot of the wonderful old pieces of culture you reference as being worthwhile, valid, etc, were often considered just as lurid and trashy as you might consider a good bit of our current popular culture. Shakespeare is a great example, as the very notion of going to the theatre was for a very long time considered not a very classy thing to do.

I don't want to take your points out of context, because you made a great many solid arguments and your general thrust is to encourage independent thought, which I agree is sorely needed and figures heavily into the rise of the peak oil movement. However, I think the place to start is not, "the mainstream culture is wrong," but perhaps "the mainstream culture does not seem connected to facts on the ground. Why?" Especially when we're talking about how the human brain works, which seems to be an important topic in magical work, I would argue that leading a person to discover and ask their own questions is more effective than leading them to any particular answers. The answers they come up with after independent, thoughtful review are generally going to be the ones that have the most meaning and staying power. I think we probably agree on that in essence, and I'm really just making the point that starting from a position of "popular culture is not good", without examining why it is not good, is skipping ahead a step. Anyways, you have probably covered that particular topic in other posts, but I think in this post it could have strengthened your thesis.

Full disclosure - I am an actor and so I have a very different process for processing popular culture than many do. While I see a lot of the nonsense for it is, from the point of view of being a professional story-teller, I have to take a wider view than many do of the interaction between popular culture and popular thought, subconscious, etc. This probably informs my arguments a great deal.


Joel said...


I meant no disrespect! I'm not even a competent philosopher, much less a great one. I don't share their impossible dream of a complete model built of "techniques universal across all the schools... distilled down to a fairly small body of knowledge", but I recognize it as an idea that drove each of them to build impressively general, impressively self-consistent bodies of knowledge. They're true to an unprecedented extent, and are worth studying as much for that as for the ways they depart from truth.

My point was simply this: the fact that both these thinkers pushed the boundaries of applicability out to far beyond the horizons of a typical person, doesn't mean we should, collectively, pretend that those boundaries don't exist. All models must have boundaries, and we may choose to recognize them or not.

Einstein collided with the applicability-boundaries of Newton's system, and seems to have put a lot of work toward erasing the boundaries between his own work and that of Bohr. That he, Newton, and Russell all stayed true to the same ideal actually earns them additional respect from me, despite my conviction that reality cannot conform to such an ideal. Einstein earned yet more of my respect for remaining engaged with those boundaries, despite a belief that they should not exist, and in the face of their stubbornness.

John Michael Greer said...

Hapibeli, exactly what's going on in Europe right now is a fascinating question, and the magical dimension of it all is even more fascinating. We'll see how it works out.

Zach, you've done a remarkable job of missing the point of this post; please read it again. You'll find that I haven't objected to contemporary popular culture because it's "vulgar, vapid, useless, etc." -- where on earth did you get that notion? I object to it, as I explained in so many words, because it's a vehicle for manipulative practices that are meant to empty your wallet and your mind. Thaumaturgy, not trashiness, is the issue under discussion, and it fascinates me that you missed that; it also fascinates me that your comment here rehashes, in almost the same words, an objection I critiqued in so many words in the post. If you're going to critique my ideas, you know, it would be helpful if you take the time to figure out what they are first!

hadashi said...

@ Robert/MageProf
May I echo Apple Jack Creek and request more about the fourth kind of magic that ignores will?

Zach Livingston said...

JMG, I went back and re-read your post, and my comment. It looks like I conflated your statement about the aims of popular culture - to empty the wallet and the mind - with a value judgement on popular culture. Oops.

However, that's tangential to my central point. To avoid confusion, I will go directly from your text:

It was a neat evasion of my point, which is that contemporary mass-produced popular culture exists solely for the purpose of emptying your wallet and your brain, not necessarily in that order. In terms of the classification I’ve suggested in recent posts, popular culture is a vehicle for mass thaumaturgy; it works, as mass thaumaturgy always works, by inducing you to think less and react more. Thus, in the strictest sense of the word, it makes you more stupid. I don’t think any of us can afford that right now.

In this paragraph, you make a fairly vast generalization that, though it may be supported in your past posts, is not supported here. Of course, one can't express every idea in every post, however: asking your reader to absorb such a claim - that popular culture exists only to empty the mind and the wallet - without providing some support for that claim, isn't much different than the creators of popular culture asking consumers to implicitly absorb the unsupported claims that are carelessly thrown about on television every day. (And really, support for your claim could have been as simple as a link to a previous post. But I digress.)

Thus, even though the rest of your argument might be sterling, it's based on an unsupported idea that you are implicitly asking your readers to simply accept and move on with. My point is that popular culture often communicates its messages in a similar fashion. Proceeding from that, if there is much value in promoting people thinking outside the mainstream, then it might be more constructive to lead them to questions about the inadequacy of that mainstream, rather than general statements about the mainstream that simple render it valueless. And yes, I am saying that claiming something exists only to empty your mind and your wallet is claiming that it is of little, if any value.

To be very clear, this is not a comment in defense of popular culture, though I do disagree with your characterization of the concept. I am simply pointing out that you are asking your readers to perform the same thought process in reacting to your work that popular culture asks its consumers to perform in reaction to its content: namely, the process of accepting an unsupported idea as fact, simply because someone important has said it is so.

Ignoring the somewhat shaky underpinnings of your otherwise fine argument by pointing out that you're intending to go somewhere else with it is akin to a used car salesman ignoring the flat tire you just noticed so he can show you how great the engine is running. Is the flat tire a huge, impossible problem? No. But there it is.

John Michael Greer said...

Zach, and of course you're ignoring the fact that I've spent most of the last two months explaining the basis for that characterization -- and once again mischaracterizing my argument for the sake of scoring points. A little good faith attempt to understand what I'm saying, rather than attacking it because you don't like my conclusions, would have gone a long way. 'Nuf said.

Zach said...

@Other Zach,

asking your reader to absorb such a claim - that popular culture exists only to empty the mind and the wallet...

I was just re-reading Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television
this morning. His second argument that advertising is designed to do precisely this (empty your mind on the way to emptying your wallet). As Four Arguments was published in 1978, this is hardly new ground.


(Verification word: "bioncon". Ha!)

Zach said...


Is magic, then, like the martial arts? In which we have multiple, effective, fully-developed systems, yet if one simply mixes-and-matches techniques from different systems, it's easy to end up with something less than the sum of its parts?

And similarly, it seems that whenever someone tries to distill some sort of simplified, universal system, what they end up creating is... yet another system. :)


Zach Livingston said...

@JMG - I'm not ignoring it, I just wasn't aware. A simple "see post x and y from date z" would have sufficed. I'm not exactly asking for a bibliography. Call me old-fashioned, but historically the burden of providing references is on the writer. If the response is that I should spend more time following the general train of thought on the Report, then all I can say is what I tell my friends who love those HBO hour long dramas so much - I don't have time to follow all the content. All I'm asking for is a link or a date, and with all due respect to you, I don't think that's too much. I am actually very interested in reading your previous posts on popular culture, but searching your site for particular arguments is not always an easy task.

Second, I actually quite agree with your conclusions in this post and I have no interest in scoring points. I support your work in general or I wouldn't bother to participate in the discussion. Again, I do not take issue with your conclusions in this post, but rather the way that you arrive at your conclusions. I find it frustrating that you are apparently not seeing this distinction.

@otherotherZach - Thank you for citing a source. No, this is not new ground, but that fact does not render sources meaningless. In any case, "advertising" is not the same as "popular culture", though there is certainly a lot of interplay between the two.

John Michael Greer said...

Zach, you came wading onto the comments for this post in the middle of a discussion that's been developing over most of the last two months, with a frankly fatuous mischaracterization of the point of the post and a series of insulting comments. When I called you on the mischaracterization, you offered another, based on the really rather rude assumption that I was just pulling the statements I made out of my hat. Normally, the best description for someone who uses that sort of cheap debating tactics is that useful term "troll."

Now maybe you're the exception to that rule, but you know, if you're not sufficiently interested in the conversation to follow it from the beginning -- which you'll find here, on the off chance that you'd like to do so -- I really fail to see any point in rehashing it for your benefit. I'm trying to develop a fairly subtle and complex line of argument here, and fielding cheap shots from someone who's stated that he's not interested in following that argument really isn't a constructive use of my time.

Now go away.

Robert said...

Zach asked:

"Is magic, then, like the martial arts? In which we have multiple, effective, fully-developed systems, yet if one simply mixes-and-matches techniques from different systems, it's easy to end up with something less than the sum of its parts?"

I don't know enough about martial arts to really give this question the full answer it deserves, but it is not *just* that the resulting whole can be less than the sum of its parts.

It is also that the human organism is not a universal skill-acquiring device. You cannot "undevelop" a skill that you once developed just to clear the way to developing a contrary skill. Can a body-builder like Arnold Schwarzenegger by any means "undevelop" his muscles and acquire a scrawny body, able to crawl through tight, narrow passages? Hardly!

As with the body, so with the mind, the soul and the spirit.

Again, some magical systems require the magician to develop skills that he will never after be able to "undevelop," should he wish to learn certain other systems that require opposite skills and opposite gifts.

When one tries "to distill some sort of simplified, universal system" from several magical systems, what one sometimes gets is not "another system," but no coherent result at all. It all depends on the systems themselves and whether they start from contradictory premises, yet are all equally effective.

Robert said...

@ Apple Jack Creek and @ hadashi:

I'll make a stab at answering your question(s) over the next week, and post my response to this same thread. I've never found anything published about this kind of magic, so I can't send you to some book or other, but will have to say a little something about how it reached me and why I think highly of it.

Apple Jack Creek said...

@Robert/Mageprof, that would be most enlightening and I appreciate you taking the time to share your hard-earned wisdom with others!

@the Archdruid, thank you so much for providing us with this place to converge and talk about such interesting ideas. I learn a lot hanging out around here.

The Peak Oil Poet said...

Ouch. Oh Druid you can be so cruel.

Or maybe you are just trying to inspire me to try harder, do better and to use words in a way that might be the koan of the "new" magic's awakening?

I'd spar with you if i thought i had a chance to score a point or two but my black belt is in martial arts not the art of magic.

Nonetheless, i do have one attack - you cast terrible slander on the use of bats in short stories. In particular you were quite scathing about space bats.

Well last night i woke from a dream that demanded of me that i defend space bats.

I wrote down the story and feel comfortable with the role that my space bat has played in the story.

the land of skinny people

I hope this will bring you to be more gentle with both myself and bats in the future