Gordon over at Rune Soup, in his “Whiskey Rant” says repeatedly that it’s time to make some changes in the dominant narrative of our time, and place magic in that narrative where it belongs. I don’t know that I agree with him, but there was an astrological window for the Moon which Chistopher Warnock told me about last week, that opened about 8:20 am this morning in my neighborhood that I wanted to use. As an artist, I find that these kinds of astrological windows are kind of interesting.
Only problem was, I was going to be in class. (Actually, as it turned out, we weren’t in class; we were taking the all school photo, and attending a meeting on various end-of-year stuff). How to design a lesson for the kids to do, that would allow me to slip off to make a talisman? No. Wrong thinking leads to wrong action. And even if I don’t think the dominant narrative should be overthrown, I do think it needs to be tweaked a bit.
So, when my class came in from their interruptions, I didn’t allow questions. I handed everyone a rectangle of paper, and I put a quick image of Diana the Huntress on the board. “Everybody copy this down, quick! We don’t have much time.”
To say that they asked lots of questions is an understatement. There were lots of complaints about inability, about drawing skill, about why are we doing this, about what’s the purpose? How does this relate to Latin? About 15 minutes before the end of the window, I told them to STOP working on the drawing, and I wrote a couple of phrases on the board. We chose one, and they used their exam-prep-buffed Latin skills to translate that English sentence into Latin. We talked about the use of the nominative, accusative, and dative; and about the imperative tense. A great review of skills in the short time we had in class (and admitting that I asked them to do a task that had little to do with Latin). We did three pass-throughs of the sentence — putting it into Latin vocabulary in Latin, then altering the latin words to fit the correct endings that seemed appropriate, then a third write-through to put the words in the right order. And then we wrote that quick ‘prayer’ in Latin onto the blank space we’d left on the square of blue paper. I finished my work, said a brief sotto voce word or two and waved my hand (as if I were a Jedi)…
And the astrological window closed.
A true Hermetic consecration, it was not. A perfect talismanic creation, it was not. But it led to an interesting conversation, which I’m going to try to explain here, to both an occult audience, and a (possibly) less-interested audience of teachers and school administrators (although maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’d be interested in).
“What’s this all about,” asked one girl. “Why couldn’t we ask questions? Why were you so secretive?”
Well, I said, “Well, the ancient Romans believed in magic, and just as they believed in Curse Tablets (called “defixiones”) they also believed that you could do magic to bring beneficial things your way… like the skills and abilities that make you more successful in the world. They also believed that one of the ways to make magic more successful was to time events on earth in connection with events in the sky — as we did this morning. I happen to believe that drawing and translating between languages are great skills, so we practiced both of these skills as we made these talismans — tools for calling good dreams to yourself, and also the skills to carry out those dreams.”
A boy apparently thought that was ridiculous, and said, “do I have to keep this?”
“No,” I said. “Of course not. But people all over the world, in all times and places, have made these sorts of things to try to influence the future, and make it better. You can destroy this image, or keep it, or give it away. But the Romans and the Romanists of the Renaissance would have believed this image was charged with a specific intention — the intention to call good dreams to you, and help you grow the skills you need, and the power to make them reality.”
“So it’s like a dreamcatcher?” a girl said. “I have one near my bed.”
“Very much like that,” I said. There was a bit of explanation required of what a dreamcatcher was to a number of kids. “This card is a tool like that, but operating in a different context.”
Then came the killer question: same girl, different line of attack.
“Mr. Watt, do you believe this stuff?”
I winced, and shrugged. “Belief is such a tricky word,” I said. I wrote two words on the board:
“In this present time,” I said, “we care a lot about ‘orthodoxy’ — that is, what do you believe? But the Romans, and Confucius, and a lot of others, would have asked a different question: have you performed the correct actions? That’s what Orthopraxy means — performance of the correct actions at the correct moment. And that’s what this object is about. It doesn’t really matter that much whether we believe in it or not. We’ve made it, and as a result we’re empowered in a way that we weren’t before. Maybe it’s that our drawing skills have improved. Maybe our ability to think through Latin constructions on the fly has improved a little bit. Maybe our artistic sense has grown. Maybe our ability to connect with the universe as a whole, and with the Moon in particular, has improved. Maybe our sense of what the divine is, has grown. Whatever. Do I believe in it? No. Do I do and make the things at the correct times, when I know about the windows? Yes. Does it seem to work, sometimes? Yes.”
“So you don’t believe in it?” She presses her advantage. I love getting the last word in, though, and we have only a minute left in class. Probably less.
“You have a dreamcatcher by your bed,” I said. “Does it work?”
She nods without even hesitating, in a way that suggests she barely knows she’s doing it. I press in for a key thought of the day. “Do you believe in it?”
And that rocks her back in her chair. She’s not used to thinking about these sorts of questions on a Friday. I let them go off to their next class.
I got the talisman I wanted to make. I got a group of kids to think about the Latin language and the ancient Romans in a new way. And I got across the idea — through a serendipitous discussion of dream-catchers — the idea that maybe we all do magic, on a lot of different levels, in a lot of different ways. And that we, as a species, as a people been doing magic for thousands of years — to have dreams, to acquire skills, to build success on success, and to make new lives for ourselves. It’s a universal of human behavior, and maybe, just maybe, they got a taste of that today.
I might call it killing two birds with one stone. But I’m done with defixiones. I’d prefer to make Talismans… or maybe I should call them Adfixiones — not curse-tablets, but blessing-tablets. That’s not striking sparrows — it’s feeding three birds with one crumb.