Astrology by Hand Week 15

Magic Versus Technology

Last week I mentioned Aleister Crowley’s definition of magic, which was not very different from the definition of technology in general. It is ”the art of bringing about change in conformity with the will.” All technology is an effort to will change. Yet most people would agree that there is some essential difference between ”building a better mousetrap” and magic. Even though popular definitions of magic are far from rigorous, there is something about our notions of ”magical” that preclude ”the better mousetrap,” or at least most mousetraps.

(Author's Note: The following section has been changed from the original posting. In mentioning certain materials regarding a better rat trap, I inadvertently introduced copyrighted material belonging to my friend, Christopher Warnock, an attorney and traditional astrologer in Washington, D.C., who performed the original experiment. I was unaware that he had an article that was about to be published about the incident, and that article, "A Legacy of Magic: Traditional Electional Astrology in the Renaissance" will appear in the December 2000-January 2001 issue of The Mountain Astrologer. My apologies to my friend Chris, and I refer the reader to his forthcoming excellent article.)

What would a ”better mousetrap” be like? If I could answer that question, I would be the inventor of one, and I would (according to the prevailing American mythology) be on my way to wealth. But let’s suppose for a moment that we were planning to build one. We might examine the behavior of mice and find out what they really like, and what attracts them. We could check out better baits—do mice really like cheese all that much, and if so, what kind? Could we create the mouse equivalent of the ”Roach Motel” where the mice ”check in, but they don’t check out?” Whatever we would do, we would look at known, observable criteria, accessible, more or less, to all who might care to look at the phenomena involving mouse behavior, and exploit this information to design the better mousetrap. The main point is that everything that we would do would be basic mechanical, cause-and-effect reasoning.

The Nature of a ”Spell”

Instead of manipulating the physical universe directly, magic uses ritual and spells. I think that most readers are sufficiently familiar with magic to know what a spell is, at least in general terms. The word ”spell” is actually derived from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning ”play.” Casting a spell is a kind of psychic theater in which the intentions of the operator are focused on bringing about a certain kind of result. Here is where the will comes in. The spell can be a ritual, the creating of an amulet or charm, the recitation of magic or ritualistic words or other things as well. It is extremely open-ended in its structure. What a spell typically is not, however, is a manipulation of physical-plane, ”real-world” conditions so as to bring about an intended outcome.

Here is an example of what a magical operator might do. Suppose someone were to desire to improve his thinking, writing or basic communications skills. The modern person would no doubt take a class. According to Cornelius Agrippa in Book Two, chapter 43 of his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, he would create an image of Mercury for an amulet to wear, perhaps.

They made an Image at the hour of Mercury, Mercury ascending in Gemini, the form of which was an handsome young man, bearded, having in his left hand a rod in which a serpent is twyned about, in his right carrying a dart, having his feet winged; They report that this image conferreth knowledge, eloquence, diligence in merchandizing and gain...” [Spelling and punctuation as in original.]

Everything is done to evoke the symbolism and energies of Mercury, it being the principle ruling the qualities the operator wishes to enhance. But what is even more interesting is that the images are made under certain astrological conditions. The ritual act of creating the image of Mercury is elected astrologically.

And There’s More

Later on, in chapter 50 of Book Two, Agrippa describes very detailed techniques for electing times to make images and to perform rituals for bringing about all manner of results, making someone fortunate or unfortunate, making someone fall in or out of love, bringing about the downfall of cities and even driving away vermin. All of these involve just simple electional astrology. And what is it electing but an act of will? Like the rituals it may time, it has no obvious mechanical interaction with the physical world, even though the intention is to bring about change in the physical world ”in conformity with the will.”

The only obvious thing about this magical practice is that the will or intention by itself seems to be acting as a mechanism, albeit a psychic one. (Yes, at this point I would have to agree that a psychic mechanism is from the point of view of ordinary language, an oxymoron. An oxymoron is a statement that contradicts itself, such as ”jumbo shrimp.”) The astrology involved here is intended to make sure that the intention of the operator is to a maximum degree in accordance with the symbolism of the cosmos. The astrology does not make the act of will happen.

So here we have two factors that seem to distinguish magic from non-magical technology: 1) There is an act of will. 2) The main channel of the act of will is not some concrete action on the physical plane, but the direction of what seems to be a psychic energy toward an intended aim. No ordinary mechanism is involved.

We will continue this a bit more next week, and then look at another definition that is related closely to Crowley’s.



Rob Hand, author of Planets in Transit and other works, is now involved in the translation and publication of texts regarding ancient and medieval astrology through ARHAT Media Inc.


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