by Hand Week 15
week I mentioned Aleister Crowley’s definition of magic,
which was not very different from the definition of technology in general.
It is “the art of bringing about change in conformity with the will.”
All technology is an effort to will change. Yet most people would agree
that there is some essential difference between “building a better mousetrap”
and magic. Even though popular definitions of magic are far from rigorous,
there is something about our notions of “magical” that preclude “the better
mousetrap,” or at least most mousetraps.
Note: The following section has been changed from the original posting.
In mentioning certain materials regarding a better rat trap, I inadvertently
introduced copyrighted material belonging to my friend, Christopher Warnock,
an attorney and traditional astrologer in Washington, D.C., who performed
the original experiment. I was unaware that he had an article that was
about to be published about the incident, and that article, "A Legacy
of Magic: Traditional Electional Astrology in the Renaissance" will
appear in the December 2000-January 2001 issue of The Mountain Astrologer.
My apologies to my friend Chris, and I refer the reader to his forthcoming
would a “better mousetrap” be like? If I could answer that question, I
would be the inventor of one, and I would (according to the prevailing
American mythology) be on my way to wealth. But let’s suppose for a moment
that we were planning to build one. We might examine the behavior of mice
and find out what they really like, and what attracts them. We could check
out better baits—do mice really like cheese all that much, and if so,
what kind? Could we create the mouse equivalent of the “Roach Motel” where
the mice “check in, but they don’t check out?” Whatever we would do, we
would look at known, observable criteria, accessible, more or less, to
all who might care to look at the phenomena involving mouse behavior,
and exploit this information to design the better mousetrap. The main
point is that everything that we would do would be basic mechanical, cause-and-effect
Nature of a “Spell”
of manipulating the physical universe directly, magic uses ritual and
spells. I think that most readers are sufficiently familiar with magic
to know what a spell is, at least in general terms. The word “spell” is
actually derived from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning “play.” Casting a spell
is a kind of psychic theater in which the intentions of the operator are
focused on bringing about a certain kind of result. Here is where the
will comes in. The spell can be a ritual, the creating of an amulet or
charm, the recitation of magic or ritualistic words or other things as
well. It is extremely open-ended in its structure. What a spell typically
is not, however, is a manipulation of physical-plane, “real-world” conditions
so as to bring about an intended outcome.
is an example of what a magical operator might do. Suppose someone were
to desire to improve his thinking, writing or basic communications skills.
The modern person would no doubt take a class. According to Cornelius
Agrippa in Book Two, chapter 43 of his Three Books of Occult Philosophy,
he would create an image of Mercury for an amulet to wear, perhaps.
an Image at the hour of Mercury, Mercury ascending in Gemini, the form
of which was an handsome young man, bearded, having in his left hand
a rod in which a serpent is twyned about, in his right carrying a dart,
having his feet winged; They report that this image conferreth knowledge,
eloquence, diligence in merchandizing and gain...” [Spelling and
punctuation as in original.]
is done to evoke the symbolism and energies of Mercury, it being the principle
ruling the qualities the operator wishes to enhance. But what is even
more interesting is that the images are made under certain astrological
conditions. The ritual act of creating the image of Mercury is elected
on, in chapter 50 of Book Two, Agrippa describes very detailed techniques
for electing times to make images and to perform rituals for bringing
about all manner of results, making someone fortunate or unfortunate,
making someone fall in or out of love, bringing about the downfall of
cities and even driving away vermin. All of these involve just simple
electional astrology. And what is it electing but an act of will? Like
the rituals it may time, it has no obvious mechanical interaction with
the physical world, even though the intention is to bring about change
in the physical world “in conformity with the will.”
only obvious thing about this magical practice is that the will or intention
by itself seems to be acting as a mechanism, albeit a psychic one. (Yes,
at this point I would have to agree that a psychic mechanism is
from the point of view of ordinary language, an oxymoron. An oxymoron
is a statement that contradicts itself, such as “jumbo shrimp.”) The astrology
involved here is intended to make sure that the intention of the operator
is to a maximum degree in accordance with the symbolism of the cosmos.
The astrology does not make the act of will happen.
here we have two factors that seem to distinguish magic from non-magical
technology: 1) There is an act of will. 2) The main channel of the act
of will is not some concrete action on the physical plane, but the direction
of what seems to be a psychic energy toward an intended aim. No ordinary
mechanism is involved.
will continue this a bit more next week, and then look at another definition
that is related closely to Crowley’s.