occult culture

Some Thoughts on Privilege and Paganism

privilegeThere's been a lot of discussion about privilege in the Pagan community following Pantheacon. Or rather Pantheacon just happened to be the place where the conversation came to the surface more, because the conversation has been happening for a while now. And such conversations are important because ideally it brings to light the inequities in the community. I'm a middle class white man that has the fortune of living in a first world country with running water, heat, and a number of other resources that are available to me. The level of privilege that I have is staggering and likely I'm not even fully aware of it. Yet what I am aware of is that there are other people that don't have that same level of privilege, who for reasons of gender or skin color or whatever else don't have the same level of access to resources, education, and opportunities that I have, and also face more situations where their appearance is used to judge them.

I feel that one of the ways I can leverage my privilege is to turn around and use it for the greater good. I'm not doing this out of a sense of white guilt, but rather because I don't believe that inequity of any sort should continue to flourish. And while my actions can't make everything right, I feel that what I can do is help make people more aware of the issues as well as continue to educate myself. One of the reasons Immanion Press has published several anthologies focused on issues of privilege as it applies to occultism and Paganism is because by doing so other people get their voice heard and hopefully they are inspired to continue writing and discussing because they recognize why it is so important.

And while I don't think addressing privilege in Paganism will make everything right, I think it's a start. If you want to make change happen, start with your community and build from there. That kind of change is slow, but it also builds momentum. I know that whatever change I facilitate will best occur by working with what I know.

In a lot of ways, it's interesting to observe the Pagan community and how it is dealing with the issue of privilege. Pagans, by and large, like to think of themselves as progressive people. And yet its clear that privilege still operates on certain levels. At this year's Pantheacon the Pagans and Privilege panel had to be held in a hospitality suite and the People of Color hospitality suite got a lot of resistance from the Pantheacon staff. At the same time the conversations are happening, and people are becoming more aware of the issues. Change is happening, as long as we are willing to continue to make it happen by confronting the issues and how they effect all of us as a community, and as individuals.

The continued segregation of the occult from the pagan community

unconventional warfare Over on the Wild Hunt, Jason wrote a post recently about the fact that the book industry Study Group has recently moved some of the books that are considered Paganism/Wicca from the Occult/New Age section over to the Religion section. He sees this as a good thing, and I would agree, if it wasn't for the following:

Throughout those years I remember often voicing a common complaint: “Why are books about Pagan religions shelved next to crystal healing and channeled hidden masters instead of in the religion section where they belong.” I felt, as many others did, that it created a two-tiered hierarchy: “real” religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and those religions relegated to what was once known as the “occult” section.

I'd ask why is there an assumption that crystal healing and channeling hidden masters couldn't be consider a form of religion in its own right, or at the least part of the religious practices? Or perhaps also why the occult is so stigmatized and seen as a bad thing that hurts paganism, especially given many of the religious and spiritual practices are occult oriented? Isn't the occult a real "religion"?

Now I'll admit that I don't consider what I practice to really be a religion, but at the same time I wouldn't mind seeing occult books given a bit more respect in general...and my concern is that while books that are considered overtly Pagan or Wicca will now be labeled as a religion, other books will continue to be relegated to a label that is less than flattering, and will also provide further fuel for what I think of as the segregation of magic from Paganism. It seems to me that occult/magic practices are considered the bastard child of Paganism, something to be dusted under the rug because it hurts the image of Paganism as more of a mainstream religion. Yet I'd argue that those very practices define the spiritual work and that the various books on Paganism and Wicca that reference magic and the occult shouldn't suddenly be removed from a section, unless you are going to remove all the books found in that section, or at least categorize them more effectively.

My question is: Why is there such an emphasis on removing the occult from Paganism? I think its because Paganism is making some strides and getting some good recognition and the last thing the people, working on making Paganism more mainstream and acceptable, want is  to be associated with magic and the occult. But when we remove magic from the picture we are removing something essential and while Paganism may look more acceptable, denying its roots, and looking down on certain practices just creates a rift that does more to hurt the community than actually help it. We shouldn't strive so hard for acceptance if we aren't willing to ask that everything we do be accepted, as opposed to only the parts that are considered "safe"

Is there tolerance in the Pagan community?

I came across this article yesterday which focused on the lack of tolerance that arises between different Pagan groups, both towards each other and toward other religions. I think its an insightful article that captures an issue that is sometimes swept under the rug in Paganism. I found myself empathizing with the author, having had my own experiences with intolerance in the Pagan community. Indeed one of the reasons I tend to consider myself more of an outsider is because of those experiences.

I think that tolerance, as a skill, is something that people need to practice on a very conscious level. It is much easier to make fun of someone else's beliefs than to consciously accept a person's beliefs, even if you don't agree with them. And consciously accepting a person's belief doesn't mean you agree with that belief...it means you agree and accept that person has the right to belief what s/he will. The problem is that people are so invested in being right that instead of accepting that someone has different beliefs, they insist on shoving their own beliefs down your throat while also trying to prove that your beliefs suck.

Within the Pagan community I have been told at various times that I am a fluffy bunny, a flake, or that I'm reinventing the wheel. I even had a pagan podcast where the people involved decided to attack me on their show because I couldn't be a nice traditional pagan like them. And what all this taught me is that even within Paganism, if you aren't the same type of Pagan as others, then some people will take exception to it.

In the post I linked to the author notes the following:

I don't see how replacing 'One True God(s)' with another 'One True God(s)' is going to change anything. The persecution might switch for a couple of thousand years but after that, it's the same thing all over again. I wish we could all let go of 'One True'. Then there would just be God and Gods and we could finally stop trying to carve out a place for our religion from someone else's hands and focus on creating a space for ourselves separate from the religion of others

It's a good point and one worth considering. You don't have to believe what I believe, but you could accept that I believe it and practice it without judging it or me. The people who try to get others to believe what they believe or try and disprove someone else's beliefs are just creating more intolerance because of a need to have other people be like them, or because they think their God demands or, or they don't believe in any gods and think everyone should be just like them.

I'm of the opinion that you can believe what you want...I may not agree with your belief, but I do accept you have the right to believe it and I'm not going to try and argue against it or convince you my beliefs are better. I have better things to do than try and force my views on someone else. That's not what my spiritual path or life is about. I'd rather devote myself to my practice and share my ideas with whoever wants to discuss them in an intelligent manner. Isn't that better than all the fussin' and feudin'?

Book Review: Living Magical Arts by R. J. Stewart

This is a definite must have book in my opinion. I see it as a successor to William G Gray's "Magical ritual Methods" Stewart does an excellent job of discussing practical magical work, particularly in describing how magic works and what the practitioner can do to refine his/her approach to magical work. I liked the methodologies presented in the book as well as the author's perspectives on different topics within magical work. This book will provide a solid grounding in how magic works and will help you improve your practice.

Is there Privilege in being out of the closet?

Is there privilege in being out of the closet? Lupa posted a recent entry where she argues that people who can choose to decloset and argue that other people should come out of the closet don't realize that they have privilege. Specifically she notes:

you have the option to decloset (or not) and can decide whether you feel you can handle whatever negative consequences may occur without having it made for you.

She goes on to criticize decloseted people who think closeted people should come out (and I suppose this would include me):

Moreover, it’s a dick move to criticize people who stay closeted to any degree, or their reasons for doing so. Not every decloseted person attacks their closeted associates, but some do. I have seen many people over the years complain about people not decloseting, whether that was the broom closet or the queer closet or whatever closet others were using for protection, I’ve seen them called traitors, and I’ve seen the blame for continuing discrimination against everyone else laid at their feet for not standing up and being visible. I’ve seen pagans say “You should have nothing to hide if you’re strong in your faith”. I’ve seen radical queers tell closeted queers that all they’re doing is milking the “benefits” of the closet and not taking the full brunt of queerphobia. I’ve seen closeted people being told that by staying in the closet, they’re actively supporting the bigots themselves.

In my most recent post about coming out of the closet I wrote (amongst other things): "When you don’t stand up, you essentially are condoning the way things are, and the intolerance and prejudice that comes with it." I think Lupa has a point when she says:

Privilege isn’t a criticism of the fact that you HAVE something; it’s a reminder that not everyone ELSE has what you have, and that affects the options each of you have access to in a given situation. The criticism comes when you forget that imbalance, and act in spite of it, and thereby harm those without your privilege.

So is it unfair to the closeted when someone like myself says what I wrote in the previous post? Yes and no. On the one hand it comes off as unfair to the people who feel they can't come out of the closet because of the consequences that could occur. They get criticized by someone who is out of the closet and are told they aren't doing enough. That's pretty presumptuous of the person whose out of the closet. That person is judging those people for not getting out of the closet. That's essentially what's being said when its argued that a decloseted person has privilege. And if you look at it from that angle, there's validity to it.

The people in the closet have my empathy, because I've been there. I remember as a teenager being asked by my mom a number of times if I practiced it and I denied it each time because I was afraid of the consequences. And when I was forced out of the closet, my fears came true. There were negative consequences. But here's why I wrote what I wrote and why I think it doesn't come from a place of privilege.

I get that some people don't feel they can come out of the closet and I understand the reasons for why they feel that way. But as someone who was forced out of the closet, and then chose to stay out, I have to say that being out of the closet isn't privilege. In graduate school I had two fellow grad students anonymously cyber bully me in part because of my beliefs. And when I worked in a corporate setting I always had to wonder what would happen if people googled my name, because I'd written about my spiritual practices with my given name. And in all honesty, there have been times where I wish I could change that because it would make life easier if I'd used a pseudonym and stayed in the closet. But I can't and I realize that if I did, I'd be leaving it to someone else to carry that responsibility. Even now me being out of the closet isn't all that wonderful. I'm self-employed, and I live and work in a fairly "liberal" area of the country, but that doesn't mean I don't get nervous or even uncomfortable when I find out that potential prospects have looked me up. Most of the people I've worked with don't seem to care, but I can guarantee that if I lived in a more conservative area they likely would care more and you better believe I feel lucky to be living here.

Being out of the closet isn't a cake walk. And it isn't privilege. It's hard and it comes with responsibility. Would I like it if people in the closet came out? Yes I would. There is strength in numbers. But I understand why it doesn't happen. The pain of being rejected by family and friend is harsh. The persecution and prejudice that can be faced is hard. And maybe I am in a place of privilege (as a decloseted person) because I wrote that people who stay in the closet are essentially condoning the way things are. Not everyone has what I have. Fair enough. But neither has everyone faced what I have, or what I continue to face as a result of being out of the closet. Being out of the closet isn't comfortable and when you minimize that, when you paint a brush over the people who are decloseted and make assumptions about what they face as a result of being decloseted, that's unfair too.

To anyone who's in the closet and feels that I've judged them, I apologize. You have your reasons for staying in the closet and they aren't wrong. They are valid reasons and I get it. I don't judge you for staying in the closet and I take back my statement that you're condoning the way things are. I don't think that's the case, but understand that when I write about this issue, its not from a place of empowerment and privilege. It's from a place of frustration and hardship, and that's true for anyone else who's come out of the closet.

To the people who've come out of the closet, I salute you. You've made a choice and chosen to face the potential complications that come with it. But there is hope that if we continue to raise awareness and visibility in a respectful way that we can make a space that is more tolerant and accepting as a result. And that's why I'm out of the closet.

Further thoughts on being out of the closet

Last week I wrote about why its important to be out of the closet. Since writing it, I've reflected further on the importance on being out of the closet, as have others. In this blog post that the author wrote in response to mine. As he notes there is a risk run with being out of the closet. Being out of the closet about your beliefs, sexuality, or whatever else can have negative consequences, and although it'd be nice to believe that the world is a tolerant place, the truth is that it isn't always a nice place. There will always be some people who will say, in ignorance and stupidity, that some people should stay in the closet. They make statements like that because they occupy a position of privilege. They've never had to face persecution for their beliefs or other choices. They are part of a majority, and they smugly pass judgement on issues they don't really understand.

As the author of the other blog entry notes, its important to stand up and be counted especially when you don't fit into the dominant culture. It's a social responsibility and a method of social transformation that pushes for the world to be a more tolerant, and easier place to live in. When you don't stand up, you essentially are condoning the way things are, and the intolerance and prejudice that comes with it. And it's not easy to stand up, to be out of the closet, but its importance because it raises awareness and it calls on us to be excellent to each other. It calls on us to be better to each other, to aspire for a more tolerant world that accepts people of different walks of life, with the understanding that while you might not make those particular choices, each person has a right to make the life choices s/he has made and be able to live those choices without fear of being persecuted for them.

Yesterday, I came across an entry that had been written in May of 2011 about the fact that entries about Pagan authors and pagan culture are deleted fairly frequently on wikipedia because not enough "reliable" resources have been written about the topic. The author of that post notes " Not enough sources they consider ‘reliable’ have written about Paganistan, which is short hand for saying the mainstream press hasn’t written much about us and the other sources listed aren’t reliable for one reason or another" Now it could be argued that much ado is being made about very little, but I'd argue that if anything when a subculture tries to carve out its own space in dominant culture and in media outlets of dominant culture there is always some kind of push back. Cara, the author of the second entry I linked to notes:

One of the reasons Pagan articles get put onto the fast track to deletion is that they lack sources Wikipedia considers reliable, which then makes the entire topic ‘not worthy of note.’  After all, if it was worth noting, people would write about it, right?

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this policy as it helps ensure that the articles and sources are solid.  When this policy is put into practice with under-reported minority groups such as modern Pagans, that’s where the unintentional discrimination happens.

That unintentional, and in some cases, intentional discrimination is why its important to come out of the closet and stay out. Change doesn't occur when people hide for fear of persecution or discrimination.

In my last post on this topic I mentioned I'd been outed by my friend's family to my mom when I was 18. She didn't handle it well. She told me I had to either move out or burn my books. I opted at the time to burn my books (only the ones I'd already read). I did it because I didn't have a job, I was in high school and I had half a tank of gas in my car. I didn't have a lot of options open to me, but it was a hard experience to realize I had to burn my books because my mom's Christian fundamentalism wouldn't tolerate my choice to believe in magic. I promised myself, after that experience, that I wouldn't hide. And later that year, when the step-father of the aforementioned friend teamed up with the father of that friend to call me on the phone and threaten to kill me for my beliefs, I didn't back down. I called the police and I let them know that their attempts to attack me weren't going to work. They backed down, probably because both of them were drunk and acting out their prejudice. But I learned a valuable lesson from it. You stand up and you be proud and you don't let ignorant idiots like that think they can get away with pulling stupid shit.

Even to this day I can't talk with my mom about my books or my beliefs, and even the rest of my family prefers to avoid talking about it. They just want this partial experience of me, of who I am, instead of really getting to know the real me. It's their choice, and their loss, because I can't not be me. I can't just hide in the closet because it makes someone else's life a bit more convenient. I won't inflict my choices on someone else, but I don't hide who I am to just make someone else happier. That's not how acceptance is won and when you are in a minority keeping silent to curry the favor of the majority doesn't get you very far. It just keeps you in a place that's convenient for them. So I'm out of the closet and to anyone who thinks I should be in a closet, all I really have to say is "Must be nice to be a bigot."

Edit: Another post can be found here about an issue occurring in South Carolina which highlights discrimination against Pagans in a school setting.




What's your magical language?

What's your magical language? What terms do you use to describe and define your magical workings? This post is prompted by Mike Sententia's writings about etheric software. What I've recognized is that he's drawn on software programming terminology to help describe his approach to magic. I've seen him draw on some other discourses as well, most notably from the medical community. For that matter I also draw on different terminology that's not traditionally occult oriented to help explain my approaches to magic. Whether its linguistics or culture studies or something else, the different discourses I've had access to influence my explanations about magic to other people, as well as how I construct magical workings.

What disciplines do you draw on? What terminology do you use to explain and define magic, both for yourself, and others? It's a good idea to look at those questions and do some work with them. The language we use can simultaneously open us to possibilities we hadn't considered, even as it also limits us by nature of how it frames our model and application of magic.

One of the reasons I've diversified my reading and exposure to a variety of disciplines is to keep myself open to new ideas and challenge the models I rely on. While a model can provide a useful explanation, it also creates tunnel vision that funnels our acceptance of a given situation into specific lines of inquiry that rule out anything that doesn't fit the model. The terminology we use needs to be carefully examined for not only what it allows us to explains, but also how it can limit our explanations.

Language is powerful, and often times we don't realize how powerful it can truly be. The reason a person can nitpick a definition speaks to the power of language, because a definition defines a person's perception of reality about what its defining. Testing your terminology makes you aware of how it can help you and allows you to critically examine where its failing you.

Book Review: The Wealth Magick Workbook (Affiliate Link) by Dave Lee

This is probably the best book on wealth magic I've found, mainly because the author does such a good job of differentiating between what wealth is and what money is. His approach, consequently shows the shortcomings of enchanting for money without really understanding how that money will apply to your overall sense of wealth. He provides some excellent exercises, which I highly recommend doing. I only wish the wealth section of the book preceded the money magic section, but overall its an excellent book for anyone who wants to do wealth magic.

5 out of 5

Why I think there isn't more experimentation in magic

In response to this post I wrote, another post was written which commented on the lack of experimentation. I think the author was dead on in his assessment, but it also prompted some further thoughts on my part on this subject.  I agree with the author that magic is a highly personal journey in some ways. I've certainly seen that with how people have taken some of my techniques and personalized them. I advocate for such personalization and my point that people should be able to explain how magic works really comes down to being able to explain to other people how they approach magic, with an understanding that is developed based off experience and a willingness to explore the mechanics of magic as it applies to their use of it. Will I get the same result as someone else does if I copy his/her technique? Maybe yes and maybe no. What I know is that if I take a person's technique apart and reassemble it into a process that I understand, I will get results. That's how its always worked for me, and in my books I have advocated for a similar approach on the part of my readers. I'll provide you exercises you can do, exercises that have been tested by myself and other people, but I've always urged people to make any such techniques their own, to personalize and experiment and tinker with the techniques until they have a thorough understanding of the technique from personal experience, which also fits their definition of magic. I don't know that there is a universal theory of magic. I do know that I find certain models of magic don't work for me because they seem counter-intuitive to my understanding of the world, but those same models work for other people just fine. What I object to however is the tendency of many occultists to not critically examine their process of magic. One of the reasons I think experimentation doesn't occur as much as that there's this focus on obtaining results, with an attitude of, "If I got it, why should I care about my process". We see this attitude echoed in the works of occultists such as Grant Morrison and Patrick Dunn, both of who have stated it doesn't matter if you don't know why or how magic works, as long as you get a result. We've seen it echoed in chaos magic, where it's all about results. If it doesn't matter, then why even examine your process?

However it DOES matter, and the magician who aspires to do more than just get results cares enough to explore his/her process in order to understand and cultivate their magical work more effectively, as well as to pass it onto other people. If the magician understands his/her process and can take the time to explain it and provide opportunities to both try the techniques as well as personalize them, there should be no problem in passing on the how and why of magic.

Another reason few occultists share their experiments is because there has been and is a tendency for many occultists and pagans to be judgmental of the people sharing their experiments. Since the late 90's I've experimented and shared my ideas, and for the majority of that time, I received more contempt and insults than people actually interested in what I had to offer. Even with that kind of obstacle, I persisted and found people to experiment with in groups, in order to try my concepts out. Even now, I have a small group I work with and in that group everyone is encouraged to share ideas and experiments so all of us can try them. But finding such a group is rare. I've had people call me too open-minded, fluffy, etc. I've also had people react because they feel if magic isn't done a particular way, it's not real magic. Obviously such infantile behavior has never stopped me in my work or in publishing it. In fact, one of the reasons I founded the non-fiction line of Immanion Press was to make sure that books that didn't fit conventional or traditional ideas of magic would have a chance to be published. Such traditionalism isn't confined to occultism. I've also seen it in academia. The reality is that in any given field of study there are few pioneers and many people sticking with what's tried and true. The pioneers have to be willing to take risks, and try and find like minded people who are willing to advance the evolution of magic by thinking beyond what has already been presented to them.

Recently, I had a conversation with the editor of a Pagan magazine. We were trying to figure out which themed issue we could do an interview of me. She mentioned that her readers wanted material that was grounded and practical, essentially material that fit what they knew. We came to the understanding that I didn't really fit her magazine in a conventional sense, and we decided we'd have the interview for the spell casting theme issue. I remember writing her and explaining that I'm out there on the edge, experimenting with magic, trying ideas out, fitting other disciplines to magical theory and practice. I am out here on the edge and there aren't many of us here, because to be on the edge is to go where the dragons roam and the angels fear to tread. It's to experiment beyond the tried and true, to defy what is considered known in order to bring the unknown into manifestation. And really, truly, I've been out here on the edge for most of my magical practice, experimenting on magic, trying things out, going with ideas that might seemed half baked and talking about them, because I don't care if its heresay...it won't become more than that if we don't share, if we don't publish, if we don't challenge what's known in favor of exploring the unknown.

I'm out here on the edge. Won't you join me?

The disappointment of magic

I came across an intriguing blog where the author discusses why chaos magic disappoints him, as well as why that disappointment is good. As I read his posts I found myself nodding in agreement, seeing some of my own frustrations expressed. Like me, he recognized that there has been a distinct lack of inquiry into why and how magic works in favor of simply shrugging off that it does work. It's the lack of questioning and critical inquiry that bothers me, and not just in chaos magic, but really in just about any system of magic that's currently out there. What I want to know, and what he doesn't really discuss, is why there isn't more experimentation with magic? And let me be clear: I don't think of chaos magic as a form of experimental magic at this point and I don't think it's been that way for quite a while. Ok you can borrow from other systems and put together a ritual that's a combination of those systems or you can create an entity or do a sigil. But that's the extent of it, and the extent is focused on obtaining a result. Being a process oriented magician, I think of a result as an indicator about the process, and useful in its benefits to my life, but I want more...I want a process I can use to achieve consistent results, and where if something doesn't occur, I can go in and fix it.

The process is more than just that. It's coming up with an idea and then testing that idea by developing a process to support the implementation of it into your life. It's experimenting with the idea, testing the idea and the process, until you are satisfied you've gotten everything out of it that you can achieve.

I see a lot of contemporary work that I'd label as experimental magic, which others would label as chaos magic. And I've been labeled a chaos magician even though its not a label I hold to. I think the difference comes down to an orientation on process. I care about the result, but it's not the only reason I'm practicing magic.




Some observations about on Religion and business

In my other business I go to a lot of networking meetings and it's always interesting to observe the intersection between religion and business. At a recent meeting, a person brought up that he was making Christian movies, which most everyone there seemed fine with, and in other meetings I've heard other people mention the intersection of business and Christianity as a matter of fact kind of reality for them. At the same time, I've also seen the intersection of new age beliefs in business as well, with people talking about mindful awareness and conscious intent or discussing their healing practice and how they use energy work. It seems to me that there is this interesting place where business and spirituality or religion come in side by side. At the same time, I'd have to admit that unless people asked I never volunteer information about my own beliefs or spiritual practices. It's not really anyone else's business and more importantly it's not relevant to my other business. I favor a partitioned existence when it comes to my different businesses. What I do with one business has little to do with what I do for another business, so it isn't important overall. But I also realize that because my beliefs aren't necessarily accepted by the mainstream that I also don't have the same comfort or freedom to express my beliefs that a Christian has. I could couch my phrases in new age terminology, which is a bit more acceptable, or I could use NLP as a descriptor of techniques, but being able to mention my beliefs, or spiritual practices at a business networking event is just asking for problems. Christians, on the other, can discuss their religion with impunity at such meetings. They are the dominant religion, so its perfectly acceptable for them to speak up and while it might make a few people uncomfortable, it won't be something people comment on, unless it gets excessive.

Personally, I don't think religion and business should mix anymore than government and religion should mix. It's best to just keep it separate...so that's what I do. It works overall, and I've never had anyone ask about my beliefs. And if they do ask, I'll be honest, because it's not like they couldn't find out anyway...all they have to do is a google search and there my beliefs are. But I never volunteer, and so it never comes up.

What's missing from academic inquiries into magic

I'm currently reading A Cognitive Theory of Magic (affiliate link) by Jesper Sorenson and the Anthropology of Magic (affiliate link) by Susan Greenwood. So far, they are fascinating reads, but in looking over their bibliography I find myself annoyed because in their effort to comment on magic the only sources they have pulled from are academic sources, and they have not even done a complete survey of that body of literature. But most importantly they have not also drawn on what occultists actually have to say about magic. Greenwood, being an actual practitioner, has no real excuse for not doing this, but Sorenson also doesn't have an excuse because he hasn't even drawn on contemporary academic examinations of magic. Actually neither of them have, instead drawing on the academic work of scholars from the early to  late twentieth century. Certainly it's good they are drawing on those sources, but both authors have done something I see occur in a lot of academic work on magic, namely limited themselves in drawing on very specific sources, while ignoring others. It's an academic tactic I'm familiar from my own days in the institution and paradoxically there's also this cry to be "rigorous" and thorough in drawing on available sources.

However even looking at the academic works of people who practice magic, we see more of a focus on pagan academic studies than occult or esoteric studies. And while that is still a good development, the pagan focus as it pertains to magic is more of a religious approach and less of a practical approach.

The aforementioned authors are focused on discussing the practical application of magic and where it fits into civilization, or lack thereof, but there's always this curious lack of inquiry into the actual occult texts that are available. I've seen it in other academic texts as well. There's lots of commentary on what other academics had to say about magic, but little to no commentary on what occultists might have to say on the subject. To claim authority in defining magic there necessarily needs to be familiarity with the entire field of study, which means drawing on a wide variety of sources that aren't academic, but also involves doing a thorough reading of the available academic literature. I'd like to see more of that kind of rigor in academic works on magic.

Esoteric Book Convention pt. 1

I've taken some photos today, and will take more tomorrow and do a picture post. So far I've really been impressed by this convention. It's one of the more occult leaning conventions I've been to and is focused primarily on scholarly presentations and occult books. I've liked the handbound work I've seen as well as the diverse range of books. One's even caught my eye. I wish I had gone to some presentations besides the immanion panel and will make it a point to go to one or two tomorrow. But I have really enjoyed catching up with John Coughlin of Waning Moon Publications about his work and also speaking with various other people I'd met today. It's always a pleasure to speak with people who are really serious about their practice. I've also enjoyed staying with Erynn and Phil as well as catching up with them.

Overall I'm impressed by the quality of the books, the convention itself, and everything else I've seen. Assuming this occurs again (which seems a bit likely) we'll definitely vend and participate again, and I highly recommend it out for the variety of books and perspectives on magic, the convention offers.

On another note, this is the kind of occult culture I like participating in. It's focused on magic, it's focused on small press, and it's focused on people in a very intimate way. I like talking magic with others, and also like that there's no branding going...simply people sharing in their passion for magic.

The Magical Experiments Radio Show

Today Bill Whitcomb and I recorded our first podcast radio show for Experimental Magic: Is Magic still Relevant. I've attached a player on the side bar of the blog, but you can also click the link and listen to it as well. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/Experimental-Magic/va/2009/08/16/is-magic-relevant-to-modern-times

some thoughts on occult culture appropriation

In thinking about it further, I think that part of what bothers me about the video series by "college girl" is that this looks like just another case of someone who's dabbling in the occult who's decided to set herself up as an expert, or someone's who decided to capitalize off of being in the occulture, even if s/he doesn't really practice magic and in fact identifies as an ex-occultist. At times what I think I see in the occult community is a lot of people who want to slap on the label of being an occultist, but not put in the work. It's one thing to talk about something, but are you actually doing it, is another thing altogether. I see a lot of talk, but not a lot of walk. I see a lot of hype, and what I think of as an attempt to appear different, cool, elite, and whatever else, but I don't see how these people are really integrating any of the actual practice into their lives. I was talking with Bill W about this today and he said that the majority of people who identify as occultists don't really practice, so much as talk about it. Maybe's he right. Certainly I've seen that often enough. I know some occultists who practice, and a few who I'd actually work with.

What I dislike seeing, and I see it more is an appropriation of the occult, and occult culture by people who don't practice it, and are mainly using it for a social purpose and as a way of somehow distinguishing themselves from other people. Looking as it were to an outside source as a way of validating themselves, when instead perhaps they should look inward to validate themselves and focus less on trying to appear different, and focus more on contributing something of value that goes deeper than just appropriating a subculture to capitalize on it for the sake of promoting themselves.



Lupa and I just came back from Heartland, a pagan festival that occurs every year in Kansas. I had a very enjoyable time there. I got to co-present workshops with Lupa, as well as share the festival experience with her, and also got to meet a lot of wonderful people. I even got to reconnect with some old friends, which was a bonus as I haven't seen these people since 2005. It was quite pleasant to re-connect with them. It's definitely a festival I hope to present at again, and one I highly recommend going to, if you live near it or can easily drive to it. I enjoyed presenting the workshops a lot. We had great audiences...good questions, good comments, and a lot of interest....that and being back in the midwest...I have to admit I did feel a bit of homesickness for the midwest/East coast Festival scene. I don't really miss the midwest itself, but the festival scene out there is very dynamic and active, much more so than the festival scene in the pacific northwest. I reflected on that for a while...

Larger population, but also a population in a conservative area or this country. For many of the people who attend such events it's their only opportunity to really be in a place where they will be accepted unconditionally, whereas Portland, OR at least is so liberal that the subcultures don't really have a pressing need to gather together.  That's not to say they can't get together, but in general they don't have to hide that their pagan or worry that they'll lose their job if they get outed as poly (and I say that last remark  on the basis of a friend of mine who works in a corporate environment here who was told it was perfectly ok to be poly).

Now I know not all the pac NW is a liberal bastion. Go to the Oregon coast for example and you'll see a fairly conservative environment, depending on where you are on that coast, but having lived in the Midwest for a while, and now living in the PAC NW region, I still have to say that people here do have it a bit easier comparatively speaking, and consequently the cultural differences that show up are rather interesting to observe.

I remember a daughter telling her mother about she'd told kids at school about dragons and magic and her mother cautioning her not to tell the kids in school about her beliefs, because they might not understand and it could lead to some problems, and thought...in PDX, she wouldn't have to tell her kid that, more than likely. And honestly, it made me grateful for the fact that I live where I live now, but it also showed me once again why festivals, which occur in places where it's conservative, are so essential: It gives the people living there a place to be accepted and open about their beliefs, lifestyles, etc. and it can be an experience they only get for a limited time.

And then, in the end, I think it won't stop me from appreciating what I do have here, both in terms of festivals and communities I participate in...it just makes me appreciate all the more what I do have and where I live.

Fame in the occult community

There's a really interesting post about fame in the pagan community, in which the author discusses the desire to be famous and how it is part of the Pagan identity, and that at the same time fame in such a context is associated with depth and wisdom, yet also speaks to a rather teenage fantasy of being respected because of being famous (which is not necessarily true at all...if anything fame leads to envy). It's an interesting post to read, and I see certain parallels in the occult community, which is not necessarily the pagan community, but isn't all that removed from the pagan community either. The question though is whether fame is all it's cracked up to be, and in my own response to her post, I mentioned that it isn't all its cracked up to be. Fame is a glamour...a kind of illusion, if you will. It shows off the persona of someone, but doesn't necessarily let anyone in underneath that persona.

At the same time, fame is a poison as well, at least for the really famous people who can never get away from the cameras or people wanting to know the sordid details of every single moment of the famous person's life.

I've never experienced the level of fame that say a movie star has experienced, but being an author, I've experienced some level of fame when I've presented at festivals and events. And more recently, because I've been getting more involved as a coach and public speaker outside of strictly occult topics, I've been experiencing some fame there. And I have to admit, I like my little taste of fame. It is nice to be recognized for your expertise and knowledge. But, it's equally important to recognize that why people recognize is because of that expertise and knowledge...its not because of some inherent specialness about you. And when you can remember that, then any sense of fame is grounded by a humble realization that for you to get to that point, you had to rely on what other people did in the past, as well as your own work. You realize that any sense of fame is also transitory. Fame only lasts as long as you are willing to put yourself out there. Even in Crowley's case, the main reason he's still famous has a lot more to do with his followers continuing to publish his books and also organize a belief system centered around his teachings. If they weren't there, would he still be famous...perhaps, but likely not nearly as famous as he still is.

The real question though is what the seeking of fame really brings someone. I think of fame seekers sometimes as people trying to build a sense of self-esteem based off what other people think of them...and that actually isn't much different from many a person...I don't know many people who don't, on some level, genuinely care about what at least one person thinks of them. And to be honest, it can be good for the self-esteem to know that someone genuinely thinks you are awesome. It only goes sour when we let it go to our heads, and when we forget to that self-esteem ultimately has to come from the self. You've got to possess your self, in order to really become yourself.

I like being an author and a publisher, and part of what makes it rewarding is the fame...but I think of the fame as icing on the cake...and the cake itself is really about the opportunity to share information, ideas, and also help others do the same (which is one reason why I love publishing). And in the end, all that aside, what really matters is the continuing journey through live...the living, learning, loving, experiencing of each moment as an a gift from the universe and also offering of yourself back to the universe.

Book Review: The Brain-Shaped Mind by Naomi Goldblum

This is an excellent beginner's book into neuroscience, and one I'd recommend for anyone who wants to understand how the brain works and how the mind is connected to the brain. The author presents the connectionist model and does a good job of also explaining how the neurons and synaptic processes of the brain work. The examples she uses are also very helpful. This is a short book, and an easy read. It's definitely the first book I recommend to someone new to neuroscience, because the author concisely introduces and explains the concepts, while keeping the reader grounded.

5 out 5 neurons

Specialness, Vulnerability, and Magic

Yesterday I had a conversation about the need to feel special and how that plays out in occult/pagan culture and also the feeling/role of vulnerability in magic. I don't really perceive myself or what I do as special perse. I think my practice of magic is an expression of my spirituality and curiosity. It's a methodology and process for asking questions and finding questions. Even the books and articles I write are an extension of that process, a desire to share information with like minded people. Granted, I enjoy presenting workshops and also writing books, but even that enjoyment is another expression of myself...it's not so much about feeling special as its about being true to my calling. And once I'm done presenting that workshop, I like just hanging out and talking for a while with people, like anyone else. Of course specialness can refer to otherness with magic, i.e. the otherworld...even that specialness is really not reserved for anyone...different faces, different archetypes, different beliefs can all lead to the otherworld. And the relationships we cultivate with that otherworld are like any other relationships, cultivated with care, effort, communication, love, etc.

As for vulnerability, a comment made was that there's a lot of fronting in magical culture, and not a lot of sharing of the process and mistakes and situations where someone does make a mistake...and I'm inclined to agree that for the most part this is the case. If I tell someone I'm working on a project, I don't want to just hear that they worked on something similar two years ago. I want to open up a dialogue between us, so I can learn what their process was and show them what my process is...and yes, be vulnerable, be willing to share the mistakes as well as the triumphs. I don't think this aspect of magical practice is shared as often as it could be, because too much focus is emphasized on showing how magically buff one is. But no matter how successful a person is at anything, that success is truly gained by making mistakes and learning from them. And if we can see that in action, then we can also appreciate magic as a holistic process, which shows us how to communicate with ourselves, each other, and the otherworld.

When to walk away from working with other people

My Interview with Abigail Doherty. This was a fascinating interview, where I learned about some intriguing energy work techniques as well as Abigail's work with animals. When to Walk Away from Working with Other people

Mostly I write about magical experiments on here. Today however, I had an adventure where I chose to walk away from a situation where I might've done magic with people. Now, I'm really picky about who I work with. I have definite criteria that need to be met:

  1. Must have a well-rounded background in magical practices and also non-magical disciplines. By well-rounded I mean someone who's studied magic extensively enough to know that the occult does not begin nor end with Crowley, and has some familiarity with not just hermeticism or chaos magic, but also Eastern approaches to magic. Being well-rounded in non-magical disciplines involves learning more a variety of disciplines such as finance, semiotics, the sciences, linguistics etc.
  2. Must have a critical, but open mind when it comes to experimentation. Know how to question the process and refine it.
  3. Must be able to show consistent effort in magical practice. No high holiday magicians here!

So today I was going to meet up with a small group of people who were trying to grow their magical group. I went mainly to see what they were doing and cause I'm curious about what others are doing. When I went there, I couldn't find them, mainly because they weren't where they said they would be. When I did encounter them, they wanted to go into a graveayrd to do their ritual. This made me feel uneasy. I don't believe in doing rituals in graveyards for the simple reasons that a graveyard is a very personal place for the dead and those people who come to honor their ancestors. None of the people I went with had ancestors there and neither did I. When they told me their ritual and mentioned it could be changed around in whatever way worked for other people, I knew at the point I couldn't work with them. Also my intuition had strongly picked up on the feeling that we were not wanted there and that the ritual was not welcome. I told them that it didn't feel right and I left without partaking in their ritual.

I walked away from working with these people because they didn't strike me as very organized or aware of magical practice. I questioned each of them a bit about their background and quickly realized they didn't seem to have what I might consider a solid foundation of magical practice. Nor were they at the place they indicated I should meet them, which seemed flaky to me. Finally, they didn't seem aware that there ritual might not be wanted. This especially bothered me, because if you practice magic, you ought to be able to sense if what you're doing is welcome or not and I definitely could tell that the dead did not want to be disturbed.

I never do magic with people I feel uneasy about. If I have any doubts, I walk away. And the reason I walk away is because you are sharing your energy with those people...It's important to be wise and careful about that. Think about your own standards for who you will practice with. What makes that person someone you'd work with? What tells you that you shouldn't work with someone? Think as well about the culture you want to be part of? Do these people represent that culture? If you have any doubts, walk away. You'll be doing yourself and those people a favor.

Article, Review of Magic Power Language Symbol and some thoughts on the occult culture

Taking the Path of Least Resistance in Magic has been posted by the good folks of the Right Where You are Sitting Now Podcast. I'll be writing more articles for them in the near future and look forward to continuing to work with them. I think they're a really good crew of people. Book Review Magic Power Language Symbol by Patrick Dunn

Overall, I was fairly impressed by this book. I think Dunn does an excellent job of explaining a lot of the theories behind language and magic, as well as showing how theories can be made into practice. He explores concepts of gematria, glossalia, metaphor, semiotics and much more and in the process makes all the concepts approachable and easy to understand. In fact, I think that's the strength of this book. It's written so that anyone can pick up the book, read about the concepts, and put them into practice, though at least in the case of gematria, readers will probably need to have a decent familiarity with Quabala.

I also liked his explanation of the semiotic web and the Defixio. In both cases he not only explains the theory, but also provides personal anecdotes and suggestions for how the reader can incorporate those practices into his/her work. I think his latest book is a good introduction to linguistics and magic, and he provides the reader some other works to explore once they finish his work.

I did have two minor issues which made this book a four out of five for me. The fourth appendix of the book has a bunch of practical exercises for the book. It seems odd that the exercises are placed at the end of the book, instead of incorporated into the book. I'm not sure if that a decision of the publisher or the author. The other issue is that while he does cover a lot of the connection between linguistics and magic, he doesn't cover much of the contemporary work occurring with linguistics or magic. He dedicates only a small section to the contemporary work. That said, this a good primer for linguistics and magic and how the two disciplines can be brought together. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in branching outward from more conventional approaches to magic.

Some Thoughts on Occult Culture

I was at Conflux this weekend. I had a good time, but while there I did a lot of thinking about occult culture and my own place in it. I've written in this blog, previously about my disillusionment with the occult culture, and yet I can't really say I'm disillusioned with occult culture overall. I think what it really comes down to is that I don't really feel I fit in with certain aspects of the occult culture...the aspects focused more on spectacle and image and performance. That's actually one reason I might not do Esozone again. While I'm looking forward to presenting my workshop there as well as meeting up with some people, I look at the program and I honestly wonder how much of what I'm teaching really fits with the overall theme. It's not that my work isn't focused on the other tomorrow...rather it's that I don't really relate well to the culture that has sprung up around esozone. I recognize it's occult culture of some sorts...I'm just not sure it's my occult culture.

But I've also been recognizing that there is an occult culture out there that I identify with and lately I've been starting to reach out to that occult culture. Not surprisingly who I'm reaching out to are people who have similar feelings of disenchantment with the direction occultism seems to be going in. They want something different, something more substantial, while also something that isn't so rooted in the past that it can't evolve. Lupa's suggested I try and find people I can work with who could develop some system or tradition...I don't know though...I'm mixed about that and yet I'm not...because I have a vision in mind...it just has to be with the right kind of person involved and I'm very picky with people, for a lot of reasons, which essentially boil down to being burned too many times by people I expected otherwise of. To work with someone in person would involve a lot of trust on my part (as well as theirs). Do I think it could happen? Yes...I know it can, because I actually am working with two different people closely, but it still comes down to finding the right fit, and if something actually develops in my immediate environment it will be with a small group of people initially.

And then too, I've increasingly been getting involved with other subcultures and the more time I spend in them, the more convinced I am that something really has to change with occult culture overall. It's not that these other cultures are better perse...it's just that there's something happening in them that I don't see as much in occult culture...what I see in other subcultures is less insularity, more communication and networking, more looking our for each other and supporting each other. The other day, a person who wanted to come to esozone and needed a place to crash and posted about it on an occult forum got no responses. I finally messaged her, because I really didn't want to see someone not taken care of...I wanted I suppose to reach out to this person looking for community and provide something of that to her. I suppose what I'm looking for is something of a tribe of sorts, or a system wherein we look out for each other. Lupa and I, have opened our doors a fair amount to occultists coming through Portland. I expect this will continue...I believe in hospitality, plus it's always good to get a chance to talk shop.

I have a vision of an occult culture and I think it's possible to make it real. The non-fiction line of Immanion Press is part of that vision made manifest...and it's time for more of that vision to be realized.