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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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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