Limited Economies: The View From The Wizard’s Tower

Limited Economies: The View From The Wizard’s Tower


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Some days I like John Howe better. Other days Alan Lee. Today it's Howe.

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” -Doc Brown

The millionaire crouches down behind the balcony railing and lights a cigarette.

I stand lookout like the ginger kid who is cool enough to hang with the bad crowd but definitely not cool enough to actually smoke.

We are on the balcony of Google’s newish Central London office, looking down at the British Museum and across the capital.

The millionaire turns to me and holds up the cigarette. “I’m sure this will be all right, yeah?”

Late last year Google bought his company for half a billion. They have moved him to London from New York and I think pay for a town car. It will be all right.

This isn’t the first time we have met. We got drunk together at his company event last year. He invited me to Berlin while we were waiting for a cab in Mayfair. (I declined.) There is a weird sense of camaraderie among foreigners in London. It’s such an extreme place that anyone who is outside of it -no matter where they seem to be from- is instantly more familiar than anyone inside of it.

Which is probably how, last week, I ended up in the somewhat incongruous position of dispensing luxury real estate advice -Islington or Chelsea- a few hours after listening to a cabinet minister say that “everyone in the room should call him”.  (Just a couple of hours later I would get the bus back to my rented shithole of a sharehouse to eat supermarket pizza.)

But this is what makes the guy a millionaire after my own heart. He can see all viewpoints. Nothing is beneath or above him. He started in the back office and now he sits at the pointy end of the plane. This is not old money. He built a product that will change how media is traded. This is wiry, scrappy passion.

And it occurs to me his vision is unrestricted in a way magic’s is often restricted, both historically and even today. Restricted by the notion of the limited economy. Here’s how Owen Davies -of Grimoires fame- describes it in his latest book:

Foster identified a behavioural pattern of thought and action dictated by the perception that there is a limited good in the world. Society, economy, and natural environment constituted a closed system in which ‘good’, in terms of resources, was finite and static.

So if someone got richer, it could only be at the expense of someone else.

In a model ‘classic’ peasant society, people were locked into a moral economy which discouraged economic development. Wealth accumulation was abnormal, and countered by communal gossip and envy.

The labourer asks him- or herself, ‘I work just as hard as my neighbour, but he has become more prosperous. How can that be?’ It was explicable in terms of the discovery of a resource, such as buried treasure, that was exceptional to the zero-sum economy. But it could also be explained in terms of magical appropriation. Foster recognized the role of magic, witchcraft, and folk medical diagnoses in explaining misfortune in a limited good society. Other anthropologists, historians, and folklorists identified examples in the past and present from around the globe. Treasure legends from Peru to Sweden seemed to fit the model, with the possession of magical knowledge being one means of finding and securing treasure. Limited-good interpretations explained the basis of many witchcraft accusations, primarily as an explanation for misfortune.

In some limited-good societies, envy also manifests itself in terms of the ‘evil eye’. This is the notion that certain people can transmit misfortune or bad luck merely by looking at people or their property. The concept is not as pervasive as has sometimes been assumed. It is certainly a strong theme in Mediterranean and Near Eastern societies but less so in the annals of Western European witchcraft. While an attribute of witches, the ability to cast an evil eye was not necessarily restricted to those who held such a reputation. Those who cast an evil eye do so out of envy and jealousy. They do not benefit from it materially, but as a study of peasant communities in southern Italy explained, fear of the evil eye ‘kept individuals and families from flaunting good fortune or material possessions directly’, and so may have discouraged wealth generation.

The millionaire and I stood on the orange corner bit in the top left.

Our wines are refilled and we look down over the British Museum as I point out potential neighbourhoods.

Limited economy thinking is not confined to magic, of course, but as far as I’m concerned we have even less of an excuse for it.

And we do it a lot.

Even from up here I can point to the different corners of the museum housing examples of this exact idea virus from all over the world.

Including the most advanced parts of it, explored flawlessly in Grayson Perry’s recent exhibition there. Which is a neat segue into Seth’s controversial new ebook:

There are two recessions going on.

One is gradually ending. This is the cyclical recession. We have them all the time; they come and they go. Not fun, but not permanent.

The other one, I fear, is here forever. This is the recession of the industrial age, the receding wave of bounty that workers and businesses got as a result of rising productivity but imperfect market communication. In short: if you’re local, we need to buy from you. If you work in town, we need to hire you. If you can do a craft, we can’t replace you with a machine.

No longer.

The lowest price for any good worth pricing is now available to anyone, anywhere. Which makes the market for boring stuff a lot more perfect than it used to be.

Since the “factory” work we did is now being mechanized, outsourced, or eliminated, it’s hard to pay extra for it. And since buyers have so many choices (and much more perfect information about pricing and availability), it’s hard to charge extra.

Thus, middle-class jobs that existed because companies had no choice are now gone. Fairy tales tell us a lot about what people want. Girls want to be princesses, boys want to be heroes. And both girls and boys want to be chosen. They want to have the glass slipper fit, or the mighty gods from another planet give them a lantern that energizes their power ring.

In a monarchy or similarly authoritarian system, there was no way in the world you were going to accomplish much of anything unless you were picked. Picked by the chief or the local ruler or the priest or the nobleman in search of a wife.

It was the best you could hope for.

Given the ongoing exploration of our current apocalypse, you can be forgiven for assuming I don’t really like rich people. But I have no problems with the ones that choose themselves like my house-hunting friend. The self-made ones that picture a bigger future and go after it. The ones that don’t rely on waiting to be chosen or striking it rich in a treasure hunt.

Gambling magic, treasure hunting magic… these are all indications you have given up. You have accepted the defeatist narrative that nothing less than a golden-egg-laying Black Swan is required to lift you from penury. Pshah!

Sitting at the fringes of a corpus of otherwise completely useless magical thinking are a few choice bits of tech ripe for some hacking. Here’s an example from Jake Stratton-Kent’s brain-meltingly excellent Geosophia of precisely the limited economic thinking Seth is talking about:

Turning from this section of the Solomonic magician’s manual to the instructions on How to render Thyself Master of a Treasure possessed by the Spirits, this exact same prayer is discovered to be a major part of the ritual proceedings. The prayer is to be made at various points once excavations have commenced. Comparisons, even with talismans included in the same book, show something startling. Whereas these treasure hunting talismans are geared towards removing magical guards already in place, dismissing them or at least subduing them, this prayer very clearly invites the entire spirit hierarchy of the Solomonic universe to take up residence!

This distinguishes the rite not only from talismans within the Key of Solomon itself, but from a great many other such operations throughout the genre. Cellini’s necromancer plainly connected the Book of Spirits with magical treasure hunting, and here is a significant convergence of the two ideas in a Solomonic grimoire.

Except it’s limited economic thinking with a twist… with a hack we can potentially put to good use. It’s not simply summoning up a multi-dimensional Indiana Jones and following it around with a shovel. It’s a repeated drawing down of the highest into a phased pursuit of greater wealth. This is the actual prayer:

Adonai, Elohim, El, Eheieh Asher Eheieh, Prince of Princes, Existence of Existences, have mercy upon me, and cast Thine eyes upon Thy Servant N, who invokes Thee most devoutedly, and supplicates Thee by Thy Holy and tremendous Name Tetragrammaton to be propitious, and to order Thine Angels and Spirits to come and take up their abode in this place; O ye Angels and Spirits of the Stars, O all ye Angels and Elementary Spirits, O all ye Spirits present before the Face of God, I the Minister and faithful Servant of the Most High conjure ye, let God Himself, the Existence of Existences, conjure ye to come and be present at this Operation, I, the Servant of God, most humbly entreat ye. Amen.

The top right is the gym. It looks out over London toward Canary Wharf in the far distance. Two Towers indeed.

Like SyFy says, imagine greater.

In an excellent talismanic exploration Nick says “This does not mean that the self made man is enlightened, just that he has aligned himself to the same forces that draw more of the sparks that he has inside towards him.”

This is a Truth Bomb.

You see, there’s an element of faulty logic in ‘road opening’ or ‘impediment removing’ enchantments. And that is that you will continue to do the same thing once the blockage has been removed. Once the tree has been cleared from the road you will continue on the same path rather than choosing a different route.

All of this isn’t to say there isn’t value in these enchantments. Rather it is to suggest that there are more expedient hacks to them which may yield better results. Comme ci:

  • Blow out all lingering impediments. Something like this little number from Balthazar (one of the better posts of the year so far IMHO) should suffice.
  • Reset your thinking from a limited to an unlimited economy.
  • Draw more of those sparks and draw them in phases. The above prayer was repeated during the excavation for treasure. It a means of repeatedly drawing down the highest in service of your mutual ambitions. Whomever originally penned this version possessed of an innate understanding of probability and the necessity for its enhancement.

Back to the balcony.

The millionaire ideally wants to live somewhere where he can walk to work. There are certainly some amazing places in his price range in Covent Garden or Fitzrovia. They’re not super-ideal for two young kids, however. And his wife wants something closer to the ‘Peter Pan’ vision of London she has in her head. (Knightsbridge it is, then.)

And then he says something telling. He says that she gets to make the ultimate decision on where the family will live because “she put up with the last four years of madness while I got all this done.”

Hidden in that throwaway comment is the companion secret to having ‘wizard tower vision’.

He has done the work. His was not overnight success. He went where he didn’t need roads and today there are absolutely no barriers between his desire and its fulfilment. That’s what I call magic.

Now it’s our turn.

10 Comments

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  1. 1
    Andrew B. Watt

    Brilliant, as usual.

    John Michael Greer points out in yesterday’s column that London used to be the center of a world-spanning empire, that once embraced both places where you and I were born. That empire did not come about because Londoners were nice, or overnight; just as the US empire (let’s not beat around the bush; we were an imperial power once, and our time is ending) did not come about overnight or because we were nice.

    It’s kind of built into the Tree of Life, too. I didn’t really become a strong teacher until I grew unafraid of giving “C” grades. You have to be able to work from your pillar of severity, as well as of mercy, in order to get stuff done and rule the kingdom. If you can’t send your army into battle, don’t try to be emperor.

    But likewise, if you can’t call the spirits to counsel and advise you and get on your side, don’t send your army into battle, either. :-)
    Andrew B. Watt´s last blog post ..Taiji day 32: Lead Left

  2. 2
    BeaGilead

    “Blow out all lingering impediments. Something like this little number from Balthazar (one of the better posts of the year so far IMHO) should suffice.
    Reset your thinking from a limited to an unlimited economy.
    Draw more of those sparks and draw them in phases. The above prayer was repeated during the excavation for treasure. It a means of repeatedly drawing down the highest in service of your mutual ambitions. Whomever originally penned this version possessed of an innate understanding of probability and the necessity for its enhancement.”

    I really like this. Simple and effective and can be applied to most magical situations – health/love etc.

  3. 3
    Gordon

    @Andrew thanks for pointing out the article. Although TBH I still get the feeling he’s browbeating select historical facts into his over-arching decline narrative.

  4. 4
    VI

    So, learn to recognise the sunk cost fallacy, learn that the ‘ordinary’ ‘proper’ and ‘possible ways are not always geared towards *your* survival, but in fact acceptable paths are often the paths of least resistance.

    Steal ruthlessly, don’t be afraid to use black-hat techniques to get what you need, don’t wait for the lottery but employ techniques that will get you what you need to survive, again and agin.

    Or, as a friend of mine puts it it’s taking a grand a week vs a million pound lottery win.

    Most folks want the lottery. Because they’re not thinking about *survival*. Magic is an edge for the folks who can survive and prosper *no matter what*. It’s not about stability. Not about strength or power, it’s about influencing things to the benefit of you and yours.

    Always has been.

  5. 5
    Rose

    “Blow out all the lingering impediments.”

    *nod* I used Balthazar’s technique and I’ll tell ya, it works wonders! I discovered my smaller glass bowl sitting in plain sight (usually happens after I’m done with a project in which I need something) and will be working this again shortly. It’s a powerful, yet simple and effective way to keep one’s path clear of debris.

    Especially when you’ve blown other stuff to bits and decided to get back on track after silly detours.

    I also agree with Andrew’s comment about being able to work with your pillar of severity as well with your pillar of mercy in order to rule your kingdom.

    But I was particularly struck by Nick’s comment within the blog to which you linked:

    “There are 25 letters in the verse. This number is attributed to Sagittarius, the archer and the Tarot Key Temperance which happens to be ruled by Jupiter. The 25th path connects Yesod to the Higher Self at Tiphareth. 25 is also the number of the Rose.

    So by transmuting ourselves to the Gold of Tiphareth we are lifted from begging dust on top of a material dung heap. We draw what we need by aligning ourselves to our higher self on the path of Temperance.”

    Continued synchronicity … love it, and this post.

    http://weavingamongthestars.blogspot.com/2008/09/visions.html
    Rose´s last blog post ..Burnt Offerings: Digging to Discover My True Will – Part 4

  6. 6
    Lance Foster

    I haven’t commented a lot, Gordon, because I learn a lot from your blog. You are a net thrown into the ocean and you bring in many fish.

    I understand the idea of switching from a limited model. The thing that I agree with Greer though is that this is a limited planet. To concentrate wealth requires that wealth be extracted, not just money or resources, but attention, life force, all of it. Nothing is created from nothing, it is all transformed from something else, and in that transformation there is always loss, as entropy rules.

    The more I didn’t get what I wanted in life, the more I realized I didn’t really want it. The more I did get what I wanted in life, the more I realized there are always strings. Not just strings, ropes. Not just ropes, heavy marine cable.

  7. 7
    solxyz

    Spirit is unlimited but matter is quite finite. Wealth is something in between, and different people’s ideas about what constitutes wealth differ considerably. At the most material extreme, the scrooge mcduck conception, in which having wealth is having piles of precious metals, one actually is living in limited economy, since there is a limited amount of those metals on the planet (ok, add a little flexibility for changes in mining technology, etc, but you get the point). At the most spiritual extreme, in which being itself is recognized as the wish-fulfilling gem, it is clear that everyone can posses this wealth at the same time.

    Although the idea of an expanding economy is enshrined in most economic theories, this idea in fact reflects a historically abnormal and probably unsustainable development (ie rapid extraction of non-renewable resources). Average income in the US has been more-or-less stagnant since 1999, which means that, during that period of time, people who got richer did in fact do so at the expense of other people.

    So, sure, shoot for the stars, but I suggest that the best way to create wealth is by continually spiritualizing your reality, rather than by simply achieving aims which which seem valuable on any fixed level of awareness.

  8. 9
    Jhonn Barghest

    Great post. As an aside, I’m looking forward to reading that Owen Davies book which I ordered not two days ago. Anyway, I gotta say, over the least few years, someone’s mother would ask me, “How do you do it? How you get by? How do you survive? You seem to have to the means to do things; how?” VI answers that question for me.
    Jhonn Barghest´s last blog post ..Sigilizing the Rune Soup Way

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