Tradition and the Individual Magician

A lively conversation on the HHoL revived my interest in an idea I had months ago: "magicians need to read Eliot." It’s true, of course, because everyone needs to read Eliot, but in this particular case it’s true because Eliot wrote an extremely short essay, titled "Tradition and the Individual Talent," in which he charts a course between tradition and uniqueness. Magicians need to read this because, between the Scylla of reconstructionism and the Charybdis of anything-goes Neopaganism, many magically operant people have a screwed up sense of what tradition really means.

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Literature for Magicians: The Night Land

The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson is one of the strangest things I have read, I believe. Anyone interested in dreamscapes, fantasy, post-apocalypse fiction, or weird fiction should give it a try. This essay is "for magicians" simply in that this novel will enrich the imagination powerfully, something any magician should do every so often.

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Secondary World part 2: Visiting Other Worlds of Magic

Last week, I talked about how Coleridge’s "suspension of disbelief" can be used to understand how more than one magical system can make sense, even if they’re mutually exclusive. In short, a work of art that is not convincingly "realistic" tugs on your heart by reminding you of "inward truths," and I compared that to how one might sympathize with Yggdrasil not because one believes the world hangs from the boughs of a tree, but because one believes trees are central to the survival of our ecosystem on Earth.

This week we’ll go even further. Tolkien’s famous essay "On Fairy-stories" developed an idea called the "secondary world" and we can conceive of magical systems as secondary worlds that we visit. If they’re coherent, we may keep coming back!

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The Secondary World of Magical Texts and Traditions

Recently, on the Hermetic House of Life server, we were engaged in a conversation about how exactly a magical text “makes sense.” A friend, Nicholas Chapel, said something I will quote below, but which sort of comes down to the idea that a text should have what he called a “holistic integrity” which can be present even if the text is fragmentary, but which is about whether it “holds up” so to speak.

This gave me Thoughts, as you might imagine. Magical worldviews are a little like maps of the world: they are, to some degree, arbitrary, and therefore they all differ from one another. But they are all representing the same thing: the world itself. And when you’re approaching a magical worldview for the first time, or approaching one outside your own tradition, you have to do so with certain techniques if you want to avoid everything from colonialism to just being kind of shitty to people. Now, normally we’d just call that “being polite” and move on, but I think it will be helpful to dig down into the way that “everything is true” even if two people can have diametrically opposed views of how something like magic works. I’m going to use Samuel Taylor Coleridge and J. R. R. Tolkien to discuss how that works.

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Genre Theory for Magicians: Genre and Magic

Theory for Magicians: Genre and Magical Practices 2

So last time, I discussed the general theory of genre from a literary perspective, with some additions from video game theory. The idea here, in the follow-up, is to explore how we can use genre theory to think about magical traditions.

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Theory for Magicians: Genre and Magical Practices

I was doing what you do: listening to a podcast episode to see if I should add the whole thing to my feed. The podcast was What Magic is This and the specific episode was with Nicholas Chapel and focused on The Kybalion. Now, I have no real horse in the race of whether The Kybalion is hermetic or not, but every expert in the field agrees it is not. But the conversation about that topic got me to think of something. Here’s how it went:  Chapel said that, while he certainly knows it’s not Hermetic, and can absolutely tell you why, it’s still a difficult task to do, because the field of Hermeticism is so big and wide open now. Historically, there have been a lot of innovations and changes in Hermeticism, and so it is perfectly reasonable to call Agrippa, the Golden Dawn, and the Corpus Hermeticum “Hermetic” even though in some ways none of them look anything like the others. The thing this made me think of is that magicians need to learn something about genre. So here we are, with an entry in my Literature for Magicians series sub-classed as Theory for Magicians: genre theory and the horizons of expectations.

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Literature for Magicians: Descent into Hell

2021 saw me start to get into Charles Williams, a poet and prose writer who was friends with Yeats, worked in publishing, and was fascinated by magic and mysticism. Descent into Hell is his best-known novel, and well worth reading if you’re into magic and mysticism of any kind as well.

I briefly mentioned this book in my 2021 in Books post, but as I said there, I always intended to write more about it. It’s a really excellent book, and another great example of how fantasy can be weird as shit if it just, you know, exists before the generic markers hardened.

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Literature for Magicians: The Novels of E. R. Eddison

As opposed to the previous entry in our series, Literature for Magicians, this post is more holistic and less pointedly pragmatic in nature. Less of a toolbox, this set of works is inspirational and philosophical. So: have you heard of E. R. Eddison?

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Literature for Magicians: the Llyvyr Taliessin

The Book of Taliesin is a great collection of medieval poetry. You should read it on its own merits. But for this inaugural post of my series, Literature for Magicians, I’ll be focusing on ways that the Welsh bard’s poetry could be useful to you in a magical or ritual setting. From direct quotation to loose adaptation, the verses of The Book of Taliesin can be incorporated in a variety of ways.

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