Defining Magic

Throughout the coming year, I will be posting a series on European magic, as I know it.

My conception of Magic (Note 1)

Magic is many things to different people. I see it as a method to participate in the Cosmos with the forces of the Holy Powers. I do this through my rituals, prayers, and devotions. My magic shapes my experiences with the non-human beings of the cosmos. I see that we are all a part of the ecology of the Universe.

My first working definition of magic was based on Gordon White’s ideas. Writing in “The Chaos Protocols,” he explains that magic is exploiting the reality that the magician finds themselves in. The magician works to change the probabilities for having something else to occur. Since reality has a question mark after it, the magician can work within the cracks, and change it to be more to their liking.

My favorite definition of magic is by Kurt Seligmann in his “The Mirror of Magic.” He writes “Magic operation is the application of the practical use of wisdom…acquired in contemplation of the inner self and of nature. Magic endeavors to explain every phenomenon in life, in nature, in the invisible… unity of the universe with its endless entirety.” This matches my Roman sensibilities of piety and my modern sensibilities of changing probabilities. John Michael Greer at his blog adds that magic is participating in the spiritual forces of the cosmos. This is how I see magic.

I am a Roman Polytheist. For me, magic is a part of my religion. Ritual, prayers, and devotions at my altar are magic that show deep piety towards the Gods. For Romans, rituals need to be done correctly to ensure the blessings of the Gods. However, Romans do practice all forms of magic including curse tablets (tabulae defixiones).

After I researched the various discussions of magic from magicians and non-magicians, I realized that magic is undefinable. Each author had their own concepts about magic, and did not agree with any of the others. According to Peter Maxwell-Stuart writing in the “Oxford Illustrated History Witchcraft and Magic,” the desire for a specific and separate definition for magic came in the nineteenth century. At that time, Western European intellectuals wanted a precise difference between the rational versus the irrational. As science became the way of relating to the world, the line of demarcation between that and magic became important. Maxwell-Stuart, himself, noted that the categories of magic, religion, and science remain fluid.

Official Roman ideas about magic is that if it benefits the community, it should be encouraged. Magic that benefits the individual is discouraged. The legacy from the ancient Romans led people to split magic into black and white in the Middle Ages. Black magic was working with demons or conjuring up the infernal powers and holding them in servitude to the magician.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the association of magic to mean “black” (i.e., bad) became common. “White” (i.e., good) was absorbed into the Monotheistic religions, and not regarded as magic. “Magic” was then defined as the control of or gaining power over the universe. Magic was regarded as bending reality to the will of the spellcaster.

How my concept of magic differs from a wizard of the Renaissance is nuanced. On one hand, Alchemists and Hermetics regarded their magic as a part of the cosmos. They saw it as “All is contained in All,” and that “All is One.” On the other hand, they sought through their works to unite with the Divine. These magicians surfed the great currents of wisdom that flowed into the Divine. I do not want to unite with my Gods, since I do not see myself as being Divine.

Notes:
Note 1. I do not add a “k” in my discussion of magic since there is no difference to me between “magic” and “magick.” In the writings of various books on magic, none of the magicians refer to “magick,” except in reference to Aleister Crowley.

Works Used:
Davis, Owen, ed. “The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft & Magic.” Oxford University Press: Oxford. 2017.
Greer, John Michael, “The Occult Book.” Sterling: NY. 2017.
“The Way of Participation: A Response to Paul Kingsnorth,” Web. 29 September, 2021. https://www.ecosophia.net/the-way-of-participation-a-response-to-paul-kingsnorth/.
Hutton, Ronald, “The Witch.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 2017.
Seligmann, Kurt, “The Mirror of Magic.” 1948. Inner Tradition: Rochester (VT).
White, Gordon, “The Chaos Protocols.” Llewellyn: Woodbury (MN). 2016.

Astrology and the Tarot: Sevens

In comparing the Seven of Wands and the Seven of Pentacles, there are similar qualities which may not be apparent. To begin with as “sevens,” these cards are in the last Decans of their respective Signs. The Seven of Wands is in Leo, which is ruled by the Sun. The last Decan of Leo is ruled by Mars, the Lesser Malefic, who throws the energies of the Sun in disarray. Because of this, the Seven of Wands is known as the “Lord of Valor.” Meanwhile, the Seven of Pentacles is in Taurus, which is ruled by Venus, the Lesser Benefic. The last Decan of Taurus is ruled by Saturn, the Greater Malefic, who restricts indulgent Venus. Therefore, the Seven of Pentacles is known as the “Lord of Success Unfulfilled.”

At first glance, this would make each card different, but underneath is the same current that runs through each. According to Anthony Louis in “Tarot Beyond the Basics,” the Sevens in the Tarot are the last Decan of the Fixed Signs. During the time of these Decans, the fullness of their seasons are coming to an end (Spring for Wands and Autumn for Pentacles). During this time, the need is to let go of the equilibrium of the Sixes. To enter the final stages of the Pips, the thresholds presented as the Sevens have to be crossed.

In “21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card,” Mary Greer describes the progression of the numbers of the Minor Arcana as climbing a mountain. After reaching the peak at the Sixes, the Sevens begin the descent to the completion of the Tens. Going down the mountains can be as difficult as the ascent. Since the Sevens will test the person, completing them, according to Greer, will be the “True Victory” for the seeker.

Since the Sevens cause self-doubt, they encourage the Seeker to give up. For the Seven of Pentacles, the brooding gardener is depressed over the volume of work that needs to be done. The Seven of Wands has the weary warrior fending off the staves of his attackers. He is trying not to surrender to despair. As Sevens, both the gardener and warrior summon their inner fortitude to continue on.

The elements of each suit are reflected in the subject matter of the Sevens. The fire of Wands is stubborn and determined as the defiant warrior. The earth of the Pentacles is patient and working as the determined gardener. As the fixed Signs (Leo for Wands and Taurus for Pentacles), the Sevens represent steadfast and stable energies in these respective suits.

Works Used:
Chang, T. Susan and M.M. Meleen, “Tarot Deciphered: Decoding Esoteric Symbolism in Modern Tarot.” 2021. Llewellyn: Woodbury (MN).
Drury, Nevill, “The Tarot Workbook.” 2004. Thunder Bay Press: San Diego (CA).
Fontana, David, “The Essential Guide to the Tarot.” 2011. Watkins: London.
Greer, Mary “21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card.” 2006. Llewellyn: Woodbury (MN).
Hall, Judy, “The Astrology Bible.” 2005. Sterling: New York.
Louis, Anthony, “Tarot: Beyond the Basics.” 2014. Llewellyn: Woodbury (MN).

PERSONAL GODS OF THE MONTH: OCTOBER

Like many Polytheists, I have personal Gods whom I offer devotions to. To that end, I have developed a personal ritual calendar based on when They came to me. Also, I also consult when They are celebrated in their respective cultures. It is a part of my personal practice to deepen devotions to various Gods during specific times of the year. My calendar follows the equinoxes – vernal and autumnal. The balancing of day and night signal a new orientation of either light or dark.

October is an important month for me since I honor many of these Gods at this time. It is the month of my brain injury when The Wall fell on me. Anubis and Hekate (Gods of the Dead) came to me during my coma, and enlisted me to help with the Dead. They aided me in adjusting to life after my traumatic brain injury. Since October is the beginning of the dark time, I feel Anubis and Hecate keenly.

Because my Anglo-Saxon Ancestors wanted an altar to their Gods, I have observances for these Gods also. The Norse Winternights (the beginning of the winter – October 29 to November 2) is a time for me to honor these Gods. Also during this time, I have special observances for those Ancestors.

October is the beginning of the Wild Hunt by Odin, the All-Father of the Norse. Since the Wild Hunt continues through the winter, Odin (Woden) is a God of the Dark Season. When I was a young adult, I had a close encounter with the Wild Hunt. I am grateful to be passed over.

In addition, I honor Nana-Suen of the Babylonians between the autumnal and vernal equinoxes. Because the night is greater than the day, the God of the Moon, Nana-Suen reigns during this time. This God has asked me to sleep under the moon, so He can speak to me. I say specific prayers for each phase of the moon during this half of the year.

Babylonian Month: October-November

The eighth month of Mesopotamia calendar is focused on the ending of the ploughing season. In Sumer, this month was called “Apin Du-a,” “the month that the seed plough is let go.” During the afczta festival, the plough is taken in a procession to its “home” – the shed where it is hung until the next ploughing season. (This farming implement is used only from the fourth month to the end of the seventh.) The “Disputation Between the Hoe and the Plough” is read as part of the festival.

Another festival held during this month is the Na-ab-ri-um. The focus is on divining for the coming agriculture year. Babylonians are well-known for their divination by liver (extispicy). Other divining methods used are oil in The Water (lecanomancy) and incense (libanomancy).

The name for the eighth month of the Standard Mesopotamia Calendar is odd. Usually the months are named for what happens during that time. However, this month is simply named, “Arahsamna,” the eighth month. Samsu-iluna, King of Babylon, created this luni-solar calendar to standardize time across the region. Other city states in the area used lunar calendars, all of them different. In constructing his calendar, Samsu-iluna selected various months from these other calendars. This name for this month was a corruption of the Old Persian Calendar for their name of the “eighth month.”

ROMAN GODS OF THE MONTH: OCTOBER

My devotional calendar is an organic thing that grows and changes, as I learn more about the Gods who I venerate. Since I follow a Roman-centric practice, I use many sources for Roman festivals (fasti). Starting with that basis, I work out the Gods of the Month.

For the Romans, October is a month to focus on the affairs of the state and of the community. Fides (Good Faith), Felicitas (Good Fortune) and Venus Victrix (Venus Victorious) are honored for the protection of the people and the continuing favor of the Gods. Di Penates (the Gods of the Pantry) are also given sacrifices for protecting the food stores.

Also, October is a month of transitions. The campaign season is over and soldiers return home. They and their weapons need to be purified before they can rejoin the civilian population. Meanwhile, welfare of the people are prayed for by offerings to springs and drinking the first wine for health.

GODS AND THEIR FESTIVALS

FIDES PUBLICA: The Goddess of Good Faith and Trust, Fides Publica has sacrifices made to Her on October 1. This Goddess presides over oral contracts both political and social. Roman priests make offerings to Fides with gloved hands, to show their absolute trust in Her.

MANIA and DII MANES: The Opening of the Mundus (the Well to the Underworld) is conducted for the second time in the year on October 5. At this time, the Dead (Dii Manes) go amongst the living. I say prayers to Dii Manes and Mania, who is Guardian of the Underworld, to protect my family from the restless Dead.

FAUSTA FELICITAS: On October 9, a festival is held for Fausta Felicitas, the Goddess of Good Fortune. As Felicitas Publica, She is the Divine Force of the State. People pray to Her in both aspects to keep the commonwealth prosperous and successful.

VENUS VICTRIX: The Roman Goddess Venus has many aspects. One of them is Venus Victrix (Venus Victorious), who protects the State. As Venus Genetrix, She is considered to be the Ancestress of the Roman People. As the Evening Star, Venus led her son Aeneas to Latium to settle. Her festival is also on October 9.

MEDITRINA: The Meditrinalia, the Festival of First Wine, is held on October 11. Cups of new wine mixed with old wine is drunk to Meditrina, Goddess of the First Wine and Healing. She is the daughter of Aesculapis God of Healing, and the sister of Hygenia,

FONS: Fons, the God of Springs, is honored at the Fontinalia on October 13. I make offerings for clean The Water at a neighborhood stream.

DI PENATES: On October 14, Romans honor Di Penates, the Gods of the Pantry. Along with the Lars, Di Penates protect the household. Since They guard the food stores, Di Penates can be considered the Gods of the Food Banks. Taking canned goods to a food bank is one way to honor Di Penates.

MARS: In October, the Roman armies came home from the wars. They and their arms had to be purified, and Mars thanked for another campaign season. The final sacrifice to Mars for the season was the October Horse. The Armilustrium was the purification of the weapons and trumpets (tubae). At this time, I honor Mars and say prayers for veterans on October 18.