The Materiality of Magic is an exciting new book about an aspect of magic that is usually neglected. In the last two decades we have had many books and proceedings of conferences on the concept of magic itself as well as its history, formulas and incantations in antiquity, both in East and West. Much less attention, however, has been paid to the material that was used by the magicians for their conjuring activities. This is the first book of its kind that focuses on the material aspects of magic, such as amulets, drawings, figurines, gems, grimoires, rings, and voodoo dolls. The practice of magic required a specialist expertise that knew how to handle material such as lead, gold, stones, papyrus and terra cotta—material that sometimes was used for specific genres of magic. That is why we present in this well illustrated collection of studies new insights on the materiality of magic in antiquity by studying both the materials used for magic as well as the books in which the expertise was preserved. The main focus of the book is on antiquity, but we complement and contrast our material with examples ranging from the Ancient Near East, via early modern Europe, to the present time.
I fantasize that witches, magicians, and sorcerors of all sortsThat’s a metaphor from the printing trade, did you know? are sweeping their shelves of books with the familiar crescent Moon on the spine and tossing them into cartons to take to the nearest used bookstore to sell or to trade for store credit. Six Ways’ success threatens the old model of printing lots of occult books in small press runs and waiting to see if any author is the next Scott Cunningham.
(In the cover photo, Wasserman is in back and his business and magickal partner Bill Breeze in the foreground.)
Before I found my first Wiccan coven, a friend connected me with (an) Abby of Thelema, a little group of 20-something magicians living in a run-down old house in a run-down neighborhood of Colorado Springs. Three or four other members lived elsewhere but came over for study and ritual. They did have a lot of Crowley’s books, and if I had been more attuned and had had some extra money, I could have bought them all from the member who ended up with them, held them a while, and … Continue reading There was a certain amount of drug use and not always enough food, but someone was the “imperator.”
I learned some things there, but the combination of high-flown titles, material poverty, and self-delusion was pretty strange. The “abby” hit the rocks before long, and I moved on to a more compatible path.
But yes, Thelema. Here, pre-O.T.O., is our protagonist at (the old) Antioch College in Ohio: “This [academic] quarter was particularly laced with drugs, women, and spiritual seeking. School was simply off the radar.” The first quarter of the book, in fact, is a classic Seventies melange of road trips, dope, spiritual teachers, sexual relationships, and more road trips. (Wasserman and I could have passed on the street in Portland — or maybe in Taos.)
Finally Wasserman is in New York City, working at Weiser’s, a pre-eminent metaphysical store, and meeting other esotericists with whom he shares memorable experiences: “How many mornings we later spent on the pier on Hudson River across from my Greenwich Street loft, greeting the dawn with a hit of speed.” After a time, he shifts to the book-publishing side of the business, where he finds a home.
Aleister Crowley’s magickal heirs are deeply involved with texts — and some of the best tales of this memoir involve books, manuscripts, correspondence, and libraries, complete with international court battles over rights, burglaries of occult libraries, leadership struggles within the O.T.O., and Wasserman’s own adventures in magickal pubishing and with heroin. Some times I wonder if you can have Thelemic magic without heroin; Crowley himself certainly could not.
Wasserman’s recounting of his highs and lows through the Seventies and Eighties are brutally honest. A lot of what he tried, e.g. open marriage and the heavy drinking, simple did not work. They usually do not work long-term. Maybe what carried him through so many destructive periods was the magick — and yet, I have seen others on the same path sink to the depths and never rise. He sank, but he rose. In the Center of the Fire is an honest book, and it stands in contrast to many occult memoirs I have read where I felt the author was hiding all the unpleasant stuff and making his or her life look like a sequence of triumphs.
It should interest anyone interested in the late-20th century history of the O.T.O. (including how more of a place was made for women than Crowley had anticipated) in the American esoteric publishing and bookselling scene, and in the bohemian life in New York in the late Seventies and Eighties. You could put in the same shelf asBull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan or even with Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids (Smith makes a brief appearance in Wasserman’s book.)
Maybe witches, magicians, and esotericists of the future will look at 1980s New York the way that would-be Hemingways and Fitzgeralds regard the Paris of the “Lost Generation.”.
They did have a lot of Crowley’s books, and if I had been more attuned and had had some extra money, I could have bought them all from the member who ended up with them, held them a while, and re-sold them at a profit. But I didn’t. I just wanted to move on.
One warning. Real-estate listings always lie. The Pour House coffeehouse has moved out, so you will need to find a new tenant for that ground-floor commercial space. You can easily find another antiques dealer to rent it — more income for building upkeep, purchase of new regalia, and printing elaborate esoteric books.
As for the Masons, sources tell me that they are about done for. They sold the building, and I think the few elderly members left have consolidated with another lodge in a nearby town.
Now my favorite podcasters, J. F. Martel and Phil Ford of Weird Studies, have produced the episode on Hellier and related things — with them, there will always be related things. Usually they send me to the library website with a bunch of interlibrary-loan requests.
On the night before this episode of Weird Studies was released, a bunch of folks on the Internet performed a collective magickal working. Prompted by the paranormal investigator Greg Newkirk, they watched the final episode of the documentary series Hellier at the same time — 10:48 PM EST — in order to see what would happen. Listeners who are familiar with this series, of which Newkirk is both a protagonist and a producer, will recall that the last episode features an elaborate attempt at gate opening involving no less than Pan, the Ancient Greek god of nature. If we weren’t so cautious (and humble) in our imaginings, we at Weird Studies might consider the possibility that this episode is a retrocausal effect of that operation. In it, we discuss the show that took the weirdosphere by storm last year, touching on topics such as subterranean humanoids, the existence of “Ascended Masters,” Aleister Crowley’s secret cipher, the Great God Pan, and the potential dangers of opening gates to other worlds … or of leaving them closed.
No, I haven’t listened to it yet. Weird Studies episodes are saved for long drives, and M. and I are going to the city tomorrow.
When I was a kid, I read some condensed version of the Iliad for young people. I did not understand the gods.
After all, I was raised to be a Christian. In the Bible, YHWH was supposed to take care of his special people, the Jews, although sometimes he expressed his care and concern . . . oddly. The Christians continued that idea with themselves as the special people, and so on with other monotheistic religions. Obviously, God favored the “good guys.”
In the Iliad, the Greeks are the “good guys,” near as, although the Trojans are not especially villainous, just the other team. But the story is told from the Greeks’ point of view. Yet some of the gods favored on side and some the other. How could that be?You don’t really hear about the Trojans’ religion as a separate thing.
That is the polytheistic view of life. The world is a mess. The world is beautiful. The gods are eternal (or as good as). The gods work at cross-purposes, and sometimes humans are caught between them.
Meanwhile, I see some Pagans convinced that they know how the gods vote — or would vote, if they could produce a photo ID at the polling place.
Are these the same Pagans who sneer at that subset of evangelical Christians who apparently think that Jesus is a Republican?After 2,000 years of worship, he is definitely a god. And maybe he is a Republican. Or like in the TV version of American Gods, there are multiple Jesuses and one is a Republican.
If you are really a polytheist, then you must accept that the gods do not vote. Their values are not always aligned with our day-to-day political values. Really, what does Aphrodite care about Colorado’s proposal to change the redistricting process or about who wins the race for Pueblo County coroner? Should I consult Hekate about my congressional candidates?
In the context of discussing a Heathen theological question, Galina Kraskova puts the issue this way:
This “history” is apparently quasi-sentient and going somewhere other than to its own destruction. It is no coincident that the statement is attributed to a Unitarian minister.
Some Pagans I know (or know of) are working with various American archetypes I use Salmon too! in the sense of asking protection and blessing, which is OK. It’s like always ending a spell with “Or something better.”It is always good when you can rid yourself of annoying people by blessing them. That means not ordering the gods around: “[Deity], cause [Candidate] to win the election!”
In the mundane world, stories like “Witches Hex Kavanaugh” are great clickbait.For readers outside the USA, the article refers to Judge Brett Kavanaugh, recently added to the US Supreme Court after a contentious confirmation process in the Senate.
Here is the old-line conservative magazine National Review, suffering from a drop in circulation, taking a clickbait-ish shot at “progressive” Witches:
The Harry Potter series made magic wands kind of popular and trendy, but wands have always been around. There are two kinds: ceremonial wands and working wands. Today, Teacher Annie is going to tell you how to make a working wand!
Before I address the complicated question of how magic wands work, I feel like I should offer my credentials as a Pagan, so you’ll know I’m not a phony or anything. I see faeries. I worship vultures. I am crackerjack at explaining weird dreams.
So now we find ourselves at perhaps the #1 reason that young people want to try wands and spell work: love! Of course! You need supernatural help to get that certain someone to look your way! Okay. Before you do, please read the following cautionary tale. I didn’t write it. My good friend Anansi the Trickster Spider God didn’t write it either (although He wouldn’t mind taking credit for it).
If you’re a regular tourist on this site, you too might want to consider making a working wand. I’ve been writing “The Gods Are Bored” since 2005, and I’ve been alive a lot longer than that, and I have never known a time when I was more in need of a magic wand.
Read the series and learn what to do with that wand on the shelf — or how to make a new one.