18 October 2017

About Messing With Magic...

In my study of magic, I have found that the biggest question to be answered is "What is magic?". Of course, I have studied magic only really as a storyteller but I think that the problems for someone making an explicitly fictional narrative that includes magic are exactly the same problems that beset someone seeking to define the term in any internal narrative of the world.

The journey starts off easily enough. Magic is a means of achieving the impossible. So, five hundred years ago a man flying was magic, since the invention of the aeroplane the matter of which part of flying is magic has become context dependent. Magical flying is now more like "levitation", whereas flying at all has been ossified into science and engineering.

Science is a big problem for magic because science allows us to achieve the magical "within the rules" thus rendering the accomplishment non-magical. We can scientifically turn lead into gold in a particle accelerator but achieving this effort "within the rules" means that the cost is prohibitive.

For this reason, magic becomes any means of circumventing the rules. It is an action that has no equal or opposite reaction. It is a reaction that happens without a preceding action. Magic is any violation of the rules of natural philosophy.

Herein lies a big problem. The rules of natural philosophy are pretty handy at our size and scale. They stop us melting into walls, boiling away into space, they create some really handy reality-shaped boundaries. Sure, get small enough and all those rules go away, the quantum universe, in an immediate sense, is where the magic literally happens. The next problem becomes that in this framework "magic" and "roiling inferno of ultimate chaos" are one and the same.

By this time I wouldn't blame you if you were all at sea as to what magic actually is. A lot of people are similarly confused. It's an easy thing to say "I want to wish really hard and have a bunch of money materialise in my bank account" but how would that ever work? If you have the answer you either have magic, the fruits of hard work and good fortune, the wages of sin or you have an insubstantial and unfulfilled wish.

Magic, in short, is the ability to manifest will without having to fill out the paperwork and avoiding all the problems of playing a system that affords you your very existence.

As with any essentially worthwhile endeavour magic is a very risky proposition. Stories about magic must present the danger of magic because otherwise a reader's story sense will tingle and fantasy will quickly be rendered idle. People who wish to perform magical acts in the real world tend to be desperate or to understand desperation.

I've been writing about Discordianism, and also about Vodun in recent times. Magic is a meeting place for the two disciplines. The sister school of enchantment for Discordians tends to be that thing called Chaos Magic. To an outside observer, Vodun would appear to include within it the practice of magical acts, hence the offshoot into the Westernised sensational shell artifact, voodoo.

Repeatedly those with an interest in Vodun, or Vodou but no route in or reason for are told by those who practice that their pursuit is without form and therefore their goal an impossibility. From what I can tell you do not use vodun to achieve something, you practice vodun because that is part of who you are. For this reason, I am a Discordian. I do not do Discordian things to use Discordianism to achieve an end. I am a Discordian because that tells me something about who I am.

Chaos Magic is, quite explicitly a method of practicing "magic" where the individual has the aim of "utilizing supernatural forces". The key word here is "utilizing", not "acknowledging", "interacting with" or "contemplating" but "utilizing".

This is where I have a problem. Science is the practice of utilizing nature to achieve ends within the rules set down. When science gives us an atom bomb we realize we have really "used" nature. The destructive force of an atom bomb is a direct view on what happens when you uncork the quantum universe and up-end many of the rules of reality. The results are not pretty, not controllable and useful only for purposes that satisfy the darkest shadows of our unconscious minds.

The atom bomb is what happens when we "utilize" nature in a cynical manner. The idea that we are anywhere near ready, as a race of organisms, to "utilize" anything that might count as "supernature" is completely laughable.

The more I study Vodun and Vodou the more I perceive there is an inherent layer of spiritual respect baked into it. People are people and some of them will always try to cut a corner or achieve something "off book", but in Vodun you say "please" and answer "thank you", not things one has to do in science. The idea of treating nature with respect sounds like hippy crap, but look where not doing so leads, boom.

From a personal point of view I would like to say "hello" and "how are things with you?" and "what can I do to leave things in both the visible and the invisible world better than when I found them?", I am beyond "what's in it for me?" because when I used to ask that the answer has traditionally been "not much" and, besides, even with all that not much I have to acknowledge that I currently have more than I need in most aspects of life anyway.

What I want is to connect, and, where relevant, to improve. Other than that I don't want anything. So, I fulfil my karma and, if that karma will include an interaction with the unknown, then I will deal with that too. And if I were to hand out advice about attempting to fill a hole with magic this, or supernatural that I would ask myself, what's the nature of the hole? Nine times out of ten, in my experience, the matter of filling it will not depend upon the supernatural.

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