A New Type of Writing?

Kalagni posted a piece on her blog just recently that left me awed.  It was, in essence, a series of short sentences, each of which contained a link to a story or news item. Some of them came from the Onion, a parody news site, while others came from reputable sources.  It’s worth a look, even if you’re not particularly into magic, meditation, or related issues.  And, I felt that I could discern a story within them — a thread of what her thinking was, and what was on her mind.

No, what struck me was the degree to which she made a sort-of frame of ideas that formed a narrative of sorts about what she was thinking, and what was flowing through her mind.  And I realized that I’ve admired writers who can do this easily, like Gordon, who integrate links from all over the web into their writing — so that you can follow up on the the story that they’re telling you.

I don’t really know that I know how to do that.  I mean, it’s not like the web-resources pages that I used to put together on Canossa or the Roman Army or Galileo or other historical events or figures. For one thing, those are just web-links; there’s very little of my own writing in them, and there’s no effort to tell a larger story.  And, I largely abandoned that format because no one really read them.

But then this article on teaching evolution at the University of Kentucky comes to mind, and I think maybe I can write something in this “let me lead you through my thought process” style.  After all, if students from one of the most Creationist states in the country can be led into a decent understanding of the work of Charles Darwin and his successors, then maybe there’s hope for my ability to change.  Even so, I find myself wondering if this new form of writing is something that I’l be good at.  Some of it, though, comes down to being willing to silence our inner critic.

So, what am I thinking about these days?  Well, I’m trying to find my own way of describing what John Michael Greer calls the view from the outside.  Or maybe, the somewhat different view from the inside, as these Indiana prisoners discovered. Or the viewpoint that becomes possible when video cameras come into spaces formerly only recorded in an audio- or even printed-text-only format:

Like, for example, my classroom.  My classroom is an unrecorded space; and the times that it’s been a recorded space have felt personally disastrous to me.  It doesn’t mean they were disastrous, but they felt that way. I’m sure I could get used to it in time, of course. Why didn’t I like it?  For one, I don’t think I look good on camera; for another, it’s upsetting to not have control of your identity; and for another it’s easy to be made to look the fool when someone else controls the start, stop and pause buttons.  The efforts to establish classrooms as recorded spaces has not always gone well.  Now, I’m not threatening some Monsanto or Big Oil lobbyist with a requirement to drink pesticides or fracking-region groundwater.  But I have to wonder, cui bono if my classroom is recorded? The sellers of the cameras, certainly.  My students? Me? Cameras might benefit conformists, but not outsiders.  They benefit from being able to find their own spaces and carve their own niches.

And that’s were my time has been spent lately. On things and matters quite outside the traditional realm of traditional teaching, like on building workbenches and tables. Or learning to make scroll sawn gears. or a metal foundry, or how to make molds without fussing with lost-wax techniques. Or building French cleats, and finding out what they are. These are not the common concerns of a teacher who started off as an ancient history teacher and writing tutor. 🙂

Of course, I am reading. Like any good magician, I have my grimoire close at hand… well aware of what I want to be able to do at the very end of my studies, and knowing that I’m not very far along the learning curve.  (Well, to be fair, The Anarchist’s Tool Chest isn’t exactly a grimoire, but I do have one of those close at hand, as well. Two, in fact, if you count Caveman Chemistry.  Well, three or even four, but I’m not really ready to these quite yet.

But in truth, there’s really only one way to learn HOW to do something, and that’s to make a lot of pots and learn from each of them.  Or to make a lot of tool chests, and learn from each of them. Or a lot of ceremonial sashes, and to learn from those (is it cheating if I throw in a link to my own website?).

But underlying all of this is a recognition that, even if the internet is not really here to stay, that online learning has an underlying methodology and discipline to it, and it’s important to recognize it.  It’s also important to recognize that there’s a key distinction between knowing about some subject, and knowing how to do some skill or action (I am learning a lot about carpentry, but I’m not very good at carpentering yet, if you follow the distinction). Reading all the books in the world won’t help you do it if you don’t actually go to the workbench or the sewing machine or the alchemist’s workshop and do it.  Even brewing mead requires a little bit of effort.

(I’m not sure that there’s a story in here yet, either of the refinement of Gordon’s, or of the shorthand of Kalagni’s… but I have a sense of what I’m trying to do, even if you don’t.  Further refinement and experimentation to follow).


  1. Now that I’ve had a chance to follow some of your links, thank you for the article on the researchers at the Indiana Women’s Prison. It gave me chills, but was also very inspiring (at least until I looked at the comments and remembered what we’re up against).

    To go back to the ongoing conversation, oh yeah. Totally.

    It’s impossible to keep from crossing the streams, not least because the streams have a lot of inherent similarities (because folk magic), and not least because the streams have tended to be crossed again and again and again over the last thousand years if not longer. (If we ever manage to meet up in person, we’ll have to talk Atlantic World magical history over a few pints.)

    But I tend to think of religions as being a lot like languages in some ways; languages for communicating with the Neighbors in a (hopefully) mutually beneficial way. If I’m learning Spanish, my experience with French can help me a great deal, but it can also screw me up if I’m not paying attention. (In this light, I suppose syncretisms are comparable to pidgins and creoles, which means they have to be intelligible across a social group. And an individual’s crossing of the streams boils down to a unique effort to communicate that may or may not succeed or bear long-term fruit.)

    Anyway, while I agree that it’s impossible not to cross the streams to some extent, I think it’s also important to remember there’s a time and a place for things. If I’m helping out with an Ocha ceremony, that is not the time or place to break out my Palo skills. Nor should I write an invocation based in Kongo cosmology for a Heathen blot, even if both religions have interesting parallel tree things going on. “When in Rome . . . ,” because it’s polite, but also because that’s what all the other participants, especially the Neighborly ones, are expecting, and I don’t want to be the person who accidentally brings a discordant power into someone’s healing or initiation.

    • You’re welcome for the link to the Indiana prison story, but I know what you mean about the comments. I often can’t bear to read them, and I usually don’t.

      An Anglican/Episcopalian collect out of the Book of Common Prayer has many of the same purposes as a Pentacostal’s impromptu “Oh Jesus, we jus’ wanna…” but each is effective and powerful in its own sphere of operation, in part because of the way that this form of prayer ‘links up’ the congregation or assembly and entrains them to the experience. The comparison with pidgins/creoles is appreciated, I think.

      And yet, while we don’t want to bring discordant forces to bear during healing or initiation, when we sit deeply within two traditions I think it’s possible to see “oh, this is how we do “blah” in X, and we don’t do “blah” in Y — but if we were going to do “blah” in Y, then this procedure is how “blah” would be done, because “b” is done like this, and “la” like this, and “h” like this. Is there any reason why “blah” shouldn’t be done? Who should I ask? What does the tradition suggest? It looks like “blah” could be an appropriate extrapolation within Y — even though I learned about doing “blah” from X.”

      I have no idea if any of that made sense. But I think that it’s the suitable way to go about recognizing technique that’s helpful, and then realizing that technique within a tradition in a way that’s suitable. And of course, if “blah” can’t fit within Y’s tradition, then it probably doesn’t belong there.

    • Thank you.

      Incidentally, I *QUITE* see your point on not borrowing from ATR. I get that; and while I didn’t acknowledge exactly that I know that ATR aren’t always or even actually Earth-based, I do know what you mean there.

      And yet, as you say, we only have one head. We can be as scrupulous and careful as we like, and still some bleed-over occurs. I think it was Gordon who posted a link (which now I can’t find) about how imaginary worlds tend to all bleed together: it’s hard to say that the Hunger Games isn’t 20,000 years into the future of Tolkien’s Middle Earth (though that wasn’t an example from this article), which is also part and parcel of Dungeons and Dragons, and Firefly. Given the degree to which my spiritual life spills into my imagined worlds and vice versa, I think I’d have a very difficult time trying to draw a distinct line between what are supposed to be separated practices.

      In fact, this was sort of my experience when reading Eric Perdue’s new translation of Agrippa’s First Book of Occult Philosophy. Here he was talking about what sounded enormously like mojo hands and gris-gris bags, except he was calling them ‘hangings’ and ‘wrappings’. Different contents, perhaps, somewhat different goals and methods of construction. Reading the description popped images from New Orleans Voodoo (Voudou? Hoodoo?) into my head, which would not be dispelled. The partially-imagined world of modern magic bounced off the Renaissance magic, and settled into known and prescribed forms that may not be consistent with the Renaissance ideals….

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