Friday, April 17, 2009

Freezing in time

Gordon Finn asked the following about the last post:

What is so wrong with saying there are old traditions and there are newer ones based off the older ones and saying they aren't the same?

Good question, which is why the answer gets it's own post.

Whats wrong with the view is that it arbitrarily freezes something in time and declairs it the true tradition. Look at the work of Joseph Lisieski: he more or less picks a moment in the Renaissance and declairs it the pinnacle of magickal tradition. Everything before it was building up to the magick of that moment, and everything afterward was a degradation of the true tradition. To this end he has people attending Latin masses, stealing leftover eucharist from church garbage and all kinds of nonesense. 

Why that time? Do we have any evidence that the magick of that period worked any better than any other time? No. There were no teleporting and flying mages gettting mad rich off the gold made by the philosophers stone. There are stories about incredible things, but there are stories from any period. Hell, there are even some stories about little old me that arent believable. 

In Tibet, the Gelugpa and Sakyapa were did exactly the same thing. They wanted to re-capture the Buddhist Tantra of India that had been wiped out by the turks. Anything written in Tibetan was new-fangled crap. 

The problem in both these cases is that its museum keeping, not magick. Magick grows and evolves with the times. To a large extent, the idea of individual traditions is a grammatical fiction. They dont really exist because the people that originated them would have given their eye teeth to interface with people from different traditions that they could borrow from. In fact they did. 

Look at the Papyrii which can be seen as one of the prime roots of both the Western Grimoire tradition AND the various traditions of Witchcraft. Do you find a clean homogonized tradition? NO! You find a clusterfuck of religio-magick that draws on everything from Christianity, Judaism, Egyptian Paganism, Greco-Roman tradition, and a hundred other things. Look at any one of those elements and you will find a similar conglomeration of elements. Its like putting matter under a microscope; what may appear as solid and whole is really made up of millions of individual parts and a whole lot of empty space. 

Now, make no mistake, I appreciate people digging into the past of traditions and recovering the babies that were tossed out with the bathwater. People like Frater R.O., Aaron Leitch, Skinner, and Peterson are doing an immense service by recovering parts of the western mystery tradition that had been abandoned by Levi, Mathers, Wescott, and Crowley.But that doesnt negate the contributions of those four. cat yronwode is doing similar recovery work in the field of Hoodoo, recovering parts of the tradition that had been killed from slavery, racism, and the impact of pharmacutical companies*. That doesnt negate the work of everyone that did something new or synchretic with Hoodoo.

When things that were forgotten in a tradition are recovered or re-emphasized, it should not be seen as a turning back of the clock, but rather yet another new development in the continuing evolution of the art. 

*In the old days, rootworkers would get their herbs from the same places that doctors would. When drugs started to become synthesised in a lab, various occult vendors and african american cosmetics companies started supplying herbs for magick. They were less than dilligent about really suppliying what was asked for by their clients, instituting a policy that yronwode terms "green for green, brown for brown".  


Suecae Sounds said...

I agree with you on most points. There is virtue in both ways of doing the work. But I must confess that it irks me when some; equipped with a holier then thou attitude, diminishes all attempts at magic post Renaissance.

We basically need to stay humble.

Gordon_Finn said...

It's nice I got my own post, but how does "old and new" equate to "true and not true"?

Persephone said...

I believe all the stories about you Jay, true or not. At least the good ones. :)


Qabalier said...

I can't help thinking about the Library of Alexandria...

Recovering lost or dismissed elements of the magic of the past would then be more about having more pieces of the puzzle, rather than less (ie replacing all the newer ones).

Jow said...

@Suecae Sounds - I was thinking about that today, as well.. Arrogance is a dangerous and subtile poison.

Frater Extasis In Excelsis said...

Your post reminded me of a disagreement I had recently with a friend regarding a particular Lisiewski argument. I am a member of the Golden Dawn, and thus practice Hermetic magick. I'm also being taught the Vajrakilaya practice by a Lama. My friend felt I was "mixing systems" and stressed the need for "subjective synthesis" (gained through "correctly building one's own mental matrix (knowledge and experiences)") and mastery of a single system before getting involved in other systems. He said, basing his argument on Lisiewskian ideas, that I was chasing 2 hares, and thus would catch neither. Lisiewski comes in where he points out the fact that in Rennaisance magic, that's all there was, only a single system, unadulterated by other belief systems. However, since the New Age, everything's been garbled together in a big mush, without any genuine cohesion, and thus "eclectic reasoning" replaces true mastery and "subjective synthesis". As a result (from Lisiewski's and my friend's perspective), modern occultists possess a confused, muddled subconscious, an undigestable stew of various systems, traditions and paradigms.

My question to you? It is obvious, like many of us modern occultists, that you practice several different styles and traditions, and you seem fairly confident and competent. Do you ever feel you are chasing too many hares, and jumbling up eclectic, incongruent paradigms in your subconscious? Are we doing ourselves a disservice by dedicating ourselves to more than one traditions?

(sorry for the long post)

Jason Miller, said...


I did'nt write about true and untrue. I wrote about the fact that even if you say you are practicing and old system, you aren't. Not really.

Jason Miller, said...

Care Frater,

No, I don't feel that I am chasing to many hares because I do what I do slowly and systematically and only when opportunity presents itself.

If fate tosses a Ngakpa Lama that will teach me persoanlly than damn straight I am gonna learn Vajrayana, but even then I assessed the complexity and devoted 5 years to doing it exclusivly.

If you are trying to learn Vajrakilaya AND work your way through additional GD grades at the same time, than you will have a problem, I can almost guarantee it.

If however you freeze your progress in GD for a time, and only do practices that keep you in with your group and keep your most basic commitments (like an LBRP/Middle Pillar or something like that) than you will have no problem, but you will have trouble approaching both with zeal at the same time.

Jason Miller, said...

May I ask who you are studying Vajrakilaya under?

Mike Rock said...

"Magick grows and evolves with the times. "

Can we restate this as "develops with the times"? the word "evolve" is so faddish anymore it kind of sours the digestion and at least in popular, tho not strictly scientific use, it carries a faint stench of positivism and implicitly suggests an inevitable "progress" in a certain (up) direction.

Ananael Qaa said...

Look at the work of Joseph Lisieski: he more or less picks a moment in the Renaissance and declairs it the pinnacle of magickal tradition.

This is somewhat tangential to the discussion, which is why I didn't post it earlier, but does anyone here actually believe that whenever Lisiewski summons up a spirit from the Heptameron he gets all sorts of poltergeist activity like he claims in his book? He goes so far as to claim that if you don't get poltergeist activity, your ritual is a failure so you need to close down your temple for a month and do no other magical work.

Having done magick for a long time with a number of different systems I find that pretty hard to believe. The cynical part of me thinks that since you're hardly ever going to get poltergeist activity with a spell, the injuction about closing down the temple for a month means that you only get one or two attempts before enough time has passed that you can no longer return the book, but for the sake of the magical arts I hope that's not what's really going on.