After a week of extremely late, debauched nights out in a foreign country, manflu was more or less guaranteed. I picture my immune system as a cantankerous, steampunk still that an old lady in a rocking chair needs to periodically hit with a broom, especially if there is a storm approaching (which she can tell is happening because her knee starts to ache).
And, you know, if it wasn’t for the general ‘unwellness’ of being ‘unwell’, I’d probably enjoy it.
You wander in and out of fever dreams, your attention span is restricted, your attention itself is easily distracted… so you -or at least I- end up careening through the more bizarre, crazy corners of YouTube. The content of the videos feeds back into the fever dreams until everything ends up very Event Horizon, but in a pleasant (?) way.
The prize at the end of the journey are some deep, probably-wrong, thoughts about topics of interest. Mine ended up being something to do with the iterative nature of western magic’s 30+ thousand year meander.
Then this morning, I check my feeds to find Jason in the woods.
Whilst the topic is personal gnosis, spirit guidance and the such -which I don’t want to touch but my opinions on the reliability/scalability of spirit teachings are a matter of record- I want to pick up on the paradoxical recency of ‘ancient magic’ as it aligns really well with some of my deranged fever thoughts.
In a lot of ways -in most ways, frankly- my entire life is a sort of ‘proof of concept’ experiment of magic’s efficacy, which is why it collapses periodically… that’s me ending an experiment. And I don’t fuck around with these experiments: they can involve moving cities, countries, hemispheres… whatever.
There are probably a few fellow New South Welshmen out there who may remember their first introductions to science classes in high school. If not, yours will look broadly similar, no doubt. On the first day, on the first page of my line exercise book, we were instructed to write down:
My thirteen year old self was so very impressed with this framework. Surely it was only a matter of time before I invented a warp drive! Perhaps even before lunch. When Jason talks about the recency of the use of text collections such as the PGM he’s correct, of course. And we may extract two Year 7 science hypotheses behind this statement.
- Authenticity is an operational and cultural requirement of magic.
- Historical accuracy improves magical efficacy.
The first one I think we can actually follow the whole way through my Year 7 Science process. Jason’s travelled and we’ve discussed this in the past so I know there is some broad alignment in our views on geographic or situational authenticity. The Nepal experience, for instance, fundamentally altered the rest of his life. And in that vein, I humbly submit -when it comes to the western magical tradition- this is something I can speak to with a very high degree of experience-derived confidence:
It’s my observation that authenticity masquerades as legitimacy, and that it is a largely New World concern. I not only cut my magical teeth in the New World, but in a hemisphere with opposite seasons and different stars. I can tell you it’s not simply a matter of swapping Samhain with Beltane, as the whole thing falls out of alignment with the nearby Saint Days and cultural traditions, be they candles, trees, certain types of food, and such. (You’re Beltaning and the rest of Sydney is Halloweening.) But over there… over here for me now… they were swimming in the good stuff. Foggy stone circles, centuries-old village customs on patron saint days… It all sounded so ‘authentic’.
And it is. There is no other way to dress it up. That hypothesis was correct.
Seven years in and I can tell you that if you are even slightly organised, you do get those barrows and circles to yourself, you can drink from or bathe in the holy wells, you can wake dragons. The other week I was catching up with Geraldine of Atlantis Books about her recent trip to Australia (having provided a few travel tips, etc) and I basically described the whole move from New Zealand in that experimental way… I came here to learn if authenticity was a thing. I ended a happy, complete, extremely-well-paid life in what is some years the most desirable country on earth in which to live -in a city that always makes it into the top 5 best in the world- in order to find this out. (So don’t tell me you can’t hop on a plane for a week. Is this important to you or not? How important?)
But if you scroll back up, you’ll note I split out operational and cultural requirements. What I was doing in Australia and New Zealand was still magic… it retains an innate, operational authenticity. Going to the various sacred or magically significant sites across Britain and Europe provides a sort of cultural authenticity. It feels like…. a tuning fork. I’m simply not sensitive enough to… ugh… ‘vibrate’ in alignment with a remarkable dark age saint without actually fronting up. Now I can. Now I probably could in space. Perhaps that’s my failing as a magician? I don’t know. But I don’t think it is. Because it is an experience -or at least an opinion– which is shared.
Operational authenticity/legitimacy is innate. Cultural authenticity must be earned.
You simply cannot hold a belief in the law of contagion without recognising the importance of pilgrimage or other forms of physicality. It makes no sense. And neither is it conferred via re-enactment. You cannot precision-re-enact your way into priestesshood of a cultural object without experiencing it. And besides, to say otherwise sort of invalidates the cultural ‘value’ of the object relationship you are trying to achieve anyway. You don’t need to move to some Greek Island, but you can’t dismiss situational context because it is too inconvenient. This stuff is real, folks. That is my Year 7 science conclusion.
Your operational right to authenticity, however -as one divine being engaging with another- remains unchanged.
Which brings me neatly to the second hypothesis.
This one cannot be run through the full Year 7 science experiment because, as Jason points out… it’s new. The experiment is still ongoing. It may be that there are people out there who have confused the two separate hypotheses and are trying to achieve 1 by way of 2, but it is simply too early to tell if that is possible. Some mid-experiment observations:
- Older does not necessarily mean ‘better’, but oldest might. However by oldest I am talking 70,000 year-old-snake-worship in Zimbabwe… and you would need to carve arrows and bite the heads off live snakes. You can’t just put a snake picture up on your altar and hang out your shaman shingle.
- There is no period in history where magical texts were used ‘correctly’, just as there are no ‘correct’ water molecules in a river. Honestly, half the time they were used by people who couldn’t even read. This is hugely freeing, when you stop to think about it.
We have only had a few decades access to a passable version of magic’s history. Significant texts -a permanently incomplete category, I hasten to add- became generally available in my lifetime… a tiny fragment of a 30,000 year journey. So actually, 13-year-old Gordon will tell you that historical accuracy might improve magical efficacy -and in a broad sense probably does– but it is genuinely too early to tell.
Where does that leave us? With Australia’s very own, and only, Gandalf.
My other deep illness thought from this week is that permaculture is probably Australia’s philosophical ‘contribution’ to the world, given that we arrived too late to claim Modernism, Postmodernism and such.
Permaculture can only exist as a post-scientific-enlightenment set of design principles. It is not a ‘return’ to ‘ancient’ or ‘better’ ways of farming because even pre-industrial agriculture was monocultural… although they managed soil degradation with field rotation and didn’t spend decades over-saturating the land with toxins. Permaculture relies on an awareness of design, biological and scientific principles that have been robustly observed and practically built upon. Companion planting, gravity irrigation and the like were all in play beforehand for sure, but a correctly designed permacultural farm provides higher yields than any other system observed.
It is supremely modern and yet supremely ancient in that it seeks to restore an almost pre-agricultural relationship of mankind to the earth where our lifecycle improves rather than damages the planet. You begin to see the parallels with Jason’s video observations then? It is old ideas, deployed in a modern -dare I say more intelligent- context that makes something new. This is what modern western magic -and I would go so far as to explicitly say chaos magic- is to me.
Permaculture is now deployed on thousands of farms on every continent (except Antarctica, presumably). Here again we may discern a corollary with western magic -particularly text or grimoire based magic. If we return to the hasty definition of witchcraft as where the grimoire tradition reacts with the local biosphere, we see a decentralised vector of authenticity. The appearance of a text in a new context creates something new… we need only look at the impact of European grimoires on the magic of the American colonies. What happened? ‘Design principles’ in a ‘new landscape’ provided a higher-yielding (bordering on superabundant) ‘thing’. Operational authenticity led to cultural authenticity.
Which is what happened when the PGM showed up in Byzantium. Or when the Hygromanteia showed up in Venice. Or when the Hermetica showed up in Florence. Or when the Picatrix showed up in Spain. You get the idea. Operational authenticity abounds. But no one moment provided cultural authenticity. That can only be found in either a specific geographic context or over the whole 30,000 year journey. Find both. This is magic.
It is same, same… but different.