So I am reading this paper about the cellular causes of death because -here’s something you may not know- biologists have absolutely no consensus on why things weaken and die with age. There is a whole, gripping chapter on this in a science book I really want you all to read.
One of the theories with the least holes is called ‘mutation accumulation’. Basically, because nature is a harsh place, very few animals live to old age so there is not much evolutionary ‘selection pressure’ that removes random mutations that affect you later in life.
You have already procreated and passed on your genes, you see. If the mutation had affected you prior to breeding, it may prevented you from doing so and thus would not be passed on. Evolution doesn’t care what happens to you after you have spawned because your genetic material is already making it’s own way across the planet.
Generation after generation, these adverse mutations just tend to accumulate like junk at the tail end of your life, thus causing you to eventually weaken and cease functioning, ultimately killing you.
Now something about the idea of junk accumulating down the centuries, being passed on to each successive generation got me thinking about modern magic. Can’t imagine why.
Stop me if you’ve heard any of these before:
- Don’t buy your own Tarot cards
- You have exactly seven energy bodies
- Leave food out for fairies
- DON’T leave food out for fairies
- Always use a candle snuffer in ritual settings
- Demonic sigils must be written on vellum
- Life gives off an undetectable magical ‘energy’
- Pluto can affect your life just as the moon affects the tide
- Civilisation began with matriarchal cults of ‘mother goddess’ worshippers
- Quantum entanglement proves we are all connected and that’s how magic ‘works’
- The world is criss-crossed with ley lines
- Our Celtic ancestors followed these ley lines like magical drug sniffing dogs
Magic suffers from an ‘accumulation of folklore’ in much the same way we are all -or soon will be- suffering from an accumulation of genetic junk that has been building up for 3 billion years. Like sexual reproduction, it is an unavoidable cost of doing business in this field.
Let’s continue the evolutionary metaphor a bit. Is there a way to determine which ‘folklore accumulations’ are ‘junk’ and which ones we deem to have propagatory value? After all, It’s difficult enough as it is to avoid becoming Choronzon’s bitch without hanging onto to some 120 year old ideas of ‘modern science’ and a seemingly random scrapbook of European seasonal customs.
I think there are several ways. One of the best is to develop and understanding of historiography. So I’m going to define it and then pick a ‘key occult historical moment’ to use as an example.
Historiography: A Definition
Historiography is the study of the history and methodology of the discipline of history. Sound circular? Basically, it’s a way of looking at how history was conceived… In times prior to this.
For better or for worse, the way modern magic is thought of and practiced by the vast majority of follows coalesced during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Meet The Victorians
During Victoria’s reign, the population of Britain doubled. Try and imagine what that would look and feel like in an era before the car. Unimaginable wealth and resources gleaned from all over the greatest empire the world has ever known poured into the country, fueling a massive explosion in industry.
The capital was openly considered to be ‘the new Rome’. It was an apt moniker to give her. She sat at the centre of an enormous empire to which all the great and good flocked. This had a very transformative effect on Rome during her empire and the same could be said of London.
The city was ‘naturally’ the centre of the world. And here we find our first historiographic clue. Britain had ascended to be the world’s leading artistic, intellectual, scientific and technological light because of certain inherent qualities of ‘Englishness’ that made them more industrious… Cleverer even. They were inherently superior and so God favoured them with an eternal empire.
Empires do terrible things to your ego. Comparisons with Ancient Rome led to a renewed, rose-coloured view of the Classical World, just as it did during the Renaissance. Plato, Aristotle… All the classical magical masters were back in fashion.
Society was absolutely delighted with the empire… Particularly India. Queen Victoria even added “Empress of India” to her official royal title.
Exotic, mostly-racist tales of savages and mysterious brown swamis with magical powers, great shiploads of priceless artifacts arriving from Africa, Egypt and the Middle East… They all came to London.
Everybody knows about the infamous ‘mummy unwrapping’ parties held by Victorian society. But did you also know that, such was the volume of mummies arriving into the country, they were used as garden fertilizer, ground up and sold as a medicine… And even burned as fuel to power steam trains? (Cheap mummies have a lot of tar. Apparently nobility burned better…. But don’t they always?)
Britain may have been fascinated by India but there ‘cultural engagement’ was very lopsided. Some of the phrasebooks handed out to expatriate civil servants in Bombay didn’t have any actual Hindi in them. Instead, it was just a collection of English words that sounded approximately like the Hindi words. The example I remember from university was “there is a brown door” apparently sounds like “bring me some tea” or something in Hindi. No wonder they thought their servants were dumb. The British must have sounded like they were speaking to them underwater!
So yes, the Victorians loved their empire, they were fascinated by it… But they were still superior to it.
I’m painting you a very specific picture, here. By now you’ve probably guessed what ‘key occult historical moment’ I’m going to use.
Where would we look to find a grab-bag of poorly translated gloop from all over the British Empire, coupled with a lopsided interpretation of Ancient Greek Philosophy, sprinkled with stories of magical brown men who are beaming them thoughts but still shot-through with that quintessentially Victorian superiority?
Tune in tomorrow. The answer may surprise you.