Magic: in plain sight

A suit jacket with two prominent pins from toastmasters international Sometimes in reading the writings of other magicians, Druids, witches and wizards, I find myself thinking about the problem of magical orders. There’s really no denying that men like Aleister Crowley gets the lion’s share of the attention and notice among the earlier generations. His “Great Beast” self-designation earns him considerable notoriety among the black-and-silver occult fashionistas. But it was his contemporary, W.B. Yeats, a member of the same order, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature — and whose magical work might have had something to do with Irish independence. Crowley may have proclaimed a new Aeon — Yeats’ literary approach to Irish uniqueness may have brought one about, for the Irish at least if no one else. That was a bigger project, accomplished in less time, than heralding a new age. Yet Yeats doesn’t get much credit for changing hearts and minds. It doesn’t seem magic-y enough, does it?

Maybe he didn’t organize people or proclaim revolution himself — but many regarded him as an influence, perhaps the key influence, in winning the mental fight of the Irish independence movement.

Balinus’s approach to Hermeticism, that complex and mysterious not-quite-religion of the Mediterranean littoral, bears some of that same flavor of Yeats’ work. There’s a sense that doing these practices of meditation and prayer, studying the world, will make you a great physician — a bringer of medicine to yourself first and then to the world. It’s proposing a process of self-improvement through energizing and aligning the self with the larger flows of a complex and living universe.

Then, there’s William Randolph Hearst. The guy set editorial policy for newspapers all around the United States, and remade foreign-policy whatever he wanted to. There’s a lot of resemblance to Benjamin Franklin, who had similar ideas about the role that the continent of North America might play in future world politics. Hearst, apparently, knew that he was planning on changing people’s minds. He knew that he was engaged in process of transforming public opinion one newspaper reader at a time. Inflammatory language and illustrations were his stock-in trade.

You could argue that science fiction pulp magazines like Amazing Stories, and Isaac Asimov’s cience fiction magazine, had a similar effect on hearts and minds. Those two magazines quite possibly raised a generation of engineers — The kind of people that you need, if you’re planning on going to the Moon. It didn’t so much change their minds, as provide the right kind of impetus to get the readers to do the hard work or changing their own minds.

And then there’s Ralph C. Smedley. He noticed that a lot of the kids and adult business people in Santa Rosas, California had a lot of trouble speaking in public. That was in the late 1900s, up until 1924 when he founded the first Toastmasters club His students – clients, really, and then fellow-members, didn’t know how to make a point at town council meetings, couldn’t run a school board, couldn’t sell a product or accept an award at the chamber of commerce banquet. He started a club where people could practice. Eventually that one small club grew into Toastmasters International — now about 350,000 members strong, with 16,000+ clubs worldwide.

There’s something powerful but a little weird about identifying myself as a Toastmaster. It comes across as being vaguely silly sometimes, like being a member of the loyal order of Moose, or the benevolent and protective order of Elks. The organization is 350,000 members strong, with 16,000+ local clubs all over the world, even in Hobart, less than an hour from Gordon’s Farm. All of those members, and all those clubs, are engaged in the training programs — and there’s certain similarities with those training courses to all of the other magical training programs I have ever been in. I’ve been through a lot of training programs. All of them are designed to change people; some of them are intended to make people’s minds stronger, while others are designed to bring you more under the influence of a particular point of view. C. G. Jung’s point that ideas have people far more than people have ideas, is not lost on me.

I am not sure where I’m going with this. Yeats decided to liberate Ireland. Crowley worked to proclaim the new Aeon. Balinus either invented, or claimed to have found, a system for self-improvement. Hearst and Franklin both built communications channels, to change opinions across the continent. Smedley decided to train people to speak their own vision.

Yes, I think that’s the vision. If you are single-minded about your vision, if you dedicate yourself to a particular kind of work, you can change hearts and minds. You can do it on a massive scale, or on a long-term scale, or decide that your project will take thousands of years (Which means that you don’t really have to worry about whether you are right or not, and your future followers could claim victory any time that conditions are correct).

So yes, all the grimoires are important, and all these ancient books, this wisdom literature that we have inherited from the past. But we should be cautious about saying that that is the only magic out there. If Magic is the art of causing changes in consciousness, in accordance with will… Then some of the most powerful and interesting magic is the magic that is already hiding in plain sight.

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    • Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. I’m not a Thelemite, at least not yet. And I belong to a couple of other groups, as well, besides Toastmasters, that I didn’t mention. But I think the idea that I’m trying to get across is that there are a lot of organizations that are //effectively// esoteric, occult or magically-inclined, without //saying// or //believing// that they are. That’s a tricky line to walk, and I’ll say more about it in the coming weeks and months.

  1. “Not magic-y enough”.

    You know, this raises an interesting question:do bystanders react to–or even notice–a mage experiencing a wave of synchronicities? Can they latch on to the same wave? Or do they only notice when the ride is over?

    I have a theory on this, but I’d like to hear your answers first.

    • (Wow, autocorrect put a lot of errors in that there post… done editing. Right. Question time).

      I think that you raise an impossible question. When other magicians tell me about their synchronicities, I am alternately impressed, and dismayed. Impressed because it sounds amazing to be caught in that kind of a wave of things just lining up to your advantage; dismayed because I never feel like that’s happening to me.

      When I explained this to a friend of mine, my wonder that other people get that kind of result, and my frustration that I don’t, he outright laughed in my face.

      “Andrew,” he said, “ you are a walking synchronicity. I have been in conversations with people, and you have come up to us at a party, said something really deep and interesting, and befuddled both of us. You never say anything except what people really need to hear in that moment. It’s happened enough that people find it uncanny.”

      So that raises an interesting problem. Is that part of my purpose in this life, to turn out triple jackpot results on somebody else’s spiritual fruit-machine? Do I have agency, or am I working on behalf of some larger force? And is there a point in my life when I get to notice my own synchronicity process? Or do I have to be this gnomic figure all the time, constantly churning out highly-personal secret sayings like a Chinese fortune cookie machine?

      It’s kind of what is meant by being a living talisman, as a result of magical work: generating interesting results in the lives of people who happened to “own” you at a given moment in time, but being relatively inert on one’s own.

      I don’t know if that answers your question, but it seems relevant.

    • Points as they come:

      “impossible question”: Ah, but we’re talkin’ magic, where the answers are less important than the quest to get them!

      I came to understand these are tales, where a narrative creation process has already occurred even if every detail is accurate and unembellished. Other people may “join your adventuring party” if the tale is still open, they can see themselves as characters in its unfolding, and are willing to pay the buy-in cost of participation.

      Maybe that’s what made Yeats great in his time, but that epic tale of political independence is over now.
      Crowley’s story is still unfolding, and Thelemites are the ones willing to pay the (high) buy-in cost to participate.
      Smedley’s story is open and accessible, but plays in a gentler key.

      Shop-talk sync stories, on the other hand, are small in scale and closed by the time they’re told.

      “other magicians/dismayed”: This might be relevant.

      “spiritual fruit machine”: My first thoughts were figuring out tests for monetization potential. For science. 😉
      More seriously…effortlessly generating those jackpots is an end-goal of compassion practice mystics spend decades trying to achieve, yet you “coincidentally” picked this up along your way. As superpowers go, it’s not a bad one to have.

      “noticing your process”: Well, other people are noticing results, so it’s definitely happening. Maybe you’re gearing up for the telling of your own story.

      “gnomic figure”: The Custom Gnomism Line, 1-900-GNOME4U! $3.99/minute, charged to your phone bill! 🙂
      Gnomic answers are riddles that pack meaning…kind of like the riddle of your sync process, it seems.

      “living talisman”: My Qi Gong teacher was talking about that as, again, an end-goal of training.

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