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Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley via Tumblr

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was an English magician who called himself “the Beast of the Apocalypse.” He claimed to be in touch with astral realms and beings, including his guardian angel, with whom he allegedly conversed with.

Emphasizing the two different spellings, he made a distinction between purportedly real magick and stage magic.

A bisexual, Crowley’s methods often entailed sex, garbed rituals, and blood sacrifice.  This scandalized some and attracted others. Believing (or perhaps just saying) he reached the highest level of spiritual attainment, Crowley took a dim view of those who pegged him a black magician. He, in fact, sued Nina Hamnett, an artist, for describing him as black magician in her book, Laughing Torso (1932). However, Crowley lost the case and was plunged into bankruptcy.

Perhaps revealing the subconscious hypocrisy of the era, the judge who ruled against him spoke thus:

I have been over forty years engaged in the administration of the law in one capacity or another. I thought that I knew of every conceivable form of wickedness. I thought that everything which was vicious and bad had been produced at one time or another before me. I have learnt in this case that we can always learn something more if we live long enough. I have never heard such dreadful, horrible, blasphemous and abominable stuff as that which has been produced by the man (Crowley) who describes himself to you as the greatest living poet. —Mr. Justice Swift ¹

Crowley’s books remain somewhat popular today, especially within some circles of the New Age and contemporary Gnostic movements. And the British, in particular, uphold him as an important figure.² However, some see him as embodying all the worst characteristics of the upper class Victorians; that is, a racist sense of superiority mingled with a fascination with people of color.³

Whatever the case may be, it seems doubtful that Crowley reached the highest high of spiritual attainment. One can’t help but compare to Jesus, who patiently endured slander, flogging and murder to prove a point—namely, that there’s more to life than what’s down here.


² In 2002, a BBC poll described him as being the seventy-third greatest Briton of all time.

³  wiki/Aleister_Crowley, op. cit.



Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Witches on the ...

Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Witches on the Heath, Chassériau 1855 via Wikipedia

The root of the word glamour (or glamor) comes from the Scottish glaumour (a corrupt form of grammar) and the French grimoire

Glamour originally refers to knowledge of the occult, such as the questionable art of black magic found in the Middle Ages. This could have involved magical spells cast by witches to make ugly persons or things appear beautiful.

Interestingly enough, the three witches in Shakespeare‘s Macbeth (1603 and 1607) proclaim that the young Scot will become Thane of Glamis.

While there doesn’t appear to be any strong etymological connection between glamis and glamour – especially since the first (surviving) written appearance of the English word glamour is 1720 – it’s possible that Shakespeare is playing on known words² that hadn’t yet been written. Or possibly he was intuiting future usage (after all, many creative geniuses do seem to get glimpses of the future).

Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more!”³

While this connection might seem a little far fetched, maybe it isn’t. Scholars suggest that the three witches use their otherworldly wiles to subtly tempt Macbeth through prophecies of worldly power and glory.

While the witches do not tell Macbeth directly to kill King Duncan, they use a subtle form of temptation when they tell Macbeth that he is destined to be king. By placing this thought in his mind, they effectively guide him on the path to his own destruction. This follows the pattern of temptation used at the time of Shakespeare.4

In any case, Macbeth’s worldly success didn’t do him much good. He ended up beheaded and his name became “a hotter name than any is in hell.”5

¹ “glamour | glamor, n.”. OED Online. December 2011. Oxford University Press.

² Just as modern writers make a play on, for instance, history and herstory.




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J. M. W. Turner's painting of the Golden Bough...

"The Golden Bough" by J. M. W. Turner via Wikipedia

Broadly speaking, magic is the use of supernatural power to cause an effect on or gain knowledge of people, souls, animals, vegetation, objects, the elements and events. Magical procedures may involve elaborate ritual and are variously directed towards the past, present, future and afterlife or some combination thereof.

A distinction is usually made between white and black magic. White magic is allegedly intended to help people. Black magic is revengeful with the intent to harm others and thus more clearly evil.

The celebrated anthropologist Sir James Frazer (1854–1938) made a primary distinction between sympathetic and contagious magic.

Sympathetic magic is the belief that one event causes another, so the magician imitates a desired outcome. A positive example would be painting animals on a cave wall in the belief that this will enrich the hunt. A negative example would be believing that a barren woman is the cause of a blighted crop.

Contagious magic is based on the belief that things once in physical contact or proximity continue to have a magical connection after they’re separated.

The most familiar example of Contagious Magic is the magical sympathy which is supposed to exist between a man and any severed portion of his person, as his hair or nails; so that whoever gets possession of human hair or nails may work his will, at any distance, upon the person from whom they were cut. This superstition is world-wide.¹

Another distinction is made between magic and religion. As Joachim Wach (1898-1955) suggests:

Religion differs from magic in that it is not concerned with control or manipulation of the powers confronted. Rather it means submission to, trust in, and adoration of, what is apprehended as the divine nature of ultimate reality.²

However S. G. F. Brandon says this is a biased perspective:

…such attempts generally rest on a priori definitions of the two entities concerned.³

Sociologists also point out similarities between magical and religious rituals. However, structural similarities do not necessarily entail equivalence.

We could, for instance, say that Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and New York are both big cities. Each has roads, buildings, people, movie halls and markets. But anyone visiting these two locales will be struck by their differences.

While an outsider may think that religious and magical rituals look the same and bring about similar results, to believers (on both sides) the numinous results differ dramatically. Modern magicians often say (or imply) that religious ritual is just an empty shell, cut off from any spiritual meaning it may have once had. Meanwhile, many contemporary religious persons shun magical rituals, often saying that the result brings about a kind of dark, gloomy, heavy and obscuring spirituality that is the work of evil.

Search Think Free » Abyss , Archetypal Image, Aztecs, Beowulf, Crowley (Aleister), Divination, Druids, Faeries, Frazer (Sir James G.), Glamour, Hero, Holy, I Ching, Justification, Kabbala, Numinous, Numinosity, Occam’s razor, Odin, Paranormal, Power, Steppenwolf, Taoism, Tarot, Ticket, Unction, Witch, Zombie

¹ Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941). The Golden Bough.  1922.

² Joachim Wach, The Comparative Study of Religions, ch. 2, Columbia University Press (1958), cited in The Columbia World of Quotations, 1996.

³ Dictionary of Comparative Religion, ed. S. G. F. Brandon, New York: Charles Scribners & Sons, 1970, p. 418.

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Sheldrake, Rupert

I almost changed the world today by PhotoGraham

I almost changed the world today by PhotoGraham

Sheldrake, Rupert (1942 – )

Former Cambridge biochemist raised in a British Methodist family whose overall work attempts to integrate scientific and spiritual issues.

In Seven Experiments Which Could Change the World (1994) Sheldrake outlines low-cost experiments that he encourages readers to perform.

One experiment deals with ESP perception as a form of ‘looking.’ Sheldrake asks why we perceive somebody looking at us from behind or even at some distance (e.g. through a window).

Sheldrake suggests that some type of perception other than everyday eyesight is involved.

This idea is followed up in Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (1999).

In keeping with this hypothesis, his subsequent book was called, The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (2003).

Sheldrake has recently conducted controlled experiments on telephone and e-mail precognition. He found significant results suggesting that people knew when others were about to call them on the telephone, with a sample size of 63. A similar kind of precognition was also found with e-mail, with a sample size of 50.

Most recently his website asks: Have you thought of someone who then sends you a text message? offering a link for visitors to report their observations.

Sheldrake continues to publish books containing his interviews and dialogues with other notables in the New Age / Holistic Health circuit, along with replies to numerous critics who say he’s lost touch with recent theories in neurobiology and, indeed, abandoned science in favor of so-called magical thinking.

Not all scientists are at odds with his views, however. The late physicist David Bohm said Sheldrake’s ideas were in keeping with his own about an implicate and explicate order.

For more on Sheldrake’s theories, see Morphic resonance, Morphic fields and Morphogenetic Fields.


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Parking Ticket by Sarah

Parking Ticket by Sarah


In urban legend some magicians, shamans and spiritualists use the word “ticket” as slang for an alleged type of metaphysical punishment or retribution that might result from boundaries being crossed or from other kinds of transgressions.

In the song “Suffragette City” pop musician David Bowie uses the word “ticket” to denote a potential punishment to be meted out in response to another’s undesirable act:

“Don’t lean on me man, ‘cos you can’t afford the ticket.”

As with much of Bowie’s material, there’s much room for psychological, social and metaphysical interpretation but, in this case, it’s doubtful that Bowie is portraying magico-spiritual instead of the more ordinary forms of retribution. However, his lyrics sometimes seem to connote several levels of potential meaning by virtue of his creative genius and, in the 1970′s, perhaps catalyzed by the use of mind-altering substances.

If this sounds like a bit of stretch, recall that Mexican shamans who speak of different metaphysical realms or grids of spiritual power have been using hallucinogenic peyote for many years, this being popularized by Carlos Castenada with The Teachings of Don Juan (1968) and subsequent works. » Space Oddity, Shamanism

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Witch in Trouble

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The word witch comes from the Old English wicca (male) and wicce (female).

From his study of African witchcraft, the anthropologist E. E. Evans Pritchard distinguished witchcraft from sorcery: Witches are physically born as such while a person may become a sorcerer later in life.

Both are traditionally associated with evil.

In legend witches use magical spells and potions to work their malice. Legends also tell of good “white witches,” as found in shamanism or fairy tales.

European witch hysteria became so pronounced in the 14th century that mass witch trials began in 1397 in Lucerne.

In 1326 Pope John XXII responded to Dominican pressure by proclaiming witchcraft a heresy.

In 1486 two Dominican monks wrote the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches or Witches Hammer). The book was a grisly, perverse ‘manual’ on how to identify and force confessions out of suspected witches, who in most cases were deemed guilty before their arrest.

Statistics reveal that in Essex of Southwest England 91% of the 271 accused of sorcery from 1560 – 1680 were women.

The Church could legally claim the land and economic holdings of convicted witches. Some believe that in convicting so-called witches, perverse clergy were more interested in worldly than spiritual gain. Most of the condemned were vulnerable women and therefore scapegoats–the poor, the single and those deemed unattractive or different.

In this regard, Carl Jung says the persecution of witches in Europe and North America was a mass projection of the shadow.

Witchcraft today has become a complicated phenomenon.

Many recognize it as an alternative religion. Aspiring women witches join covens and many practice what they believe is white magic.

A variety of commercial occult products has grown alongside the modern practice of witchcraft.

The idea of the ethically ambiguous witch has also been popularized and, to some degree, normalized through film and TV productions, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In the TV version of Buffy, the character Willow originally uses witchcraft for the good but becomes consumed by a quest for magical power and eventually allows evil to dominate her.

Although many religious fundamentalists might deplore such an apparently ‘evil’ program, the TV series closes with Willow regaining her humility (and humanity) by allowing love to enter into her life again.

» Ancestor Cults, Archetypal Image, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Glamour, Haensel and Gretel, Latin, Lewis (C. S.), Macbeth, Madness, Neo-Paganism, Odyssey, Psychosis, Scholarship, Walker (Barbara G.)

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Wach, Joachim

Wach, Joachim (1898-1955)

Influential German Christian scholar of religion who held a position at the University of Chicago from 1945 to 1955.

Wach asked important questions about the study of religion.

For instance:

  • Are researchers able to understand the essence of a belief system that they, themselves, don’t believe nor participate in?
  • Do researchers simply articulate some kind of marketable fiction that has little bearing on the intricacies of what really happens in the religious lives of so many unique individuals?
  • Conversely, are researchers able to discern a common thread among apparent differences in religious phenomena?

For Wach that common thread among humanity is the tendency toward religion, itself.

Theodore M. Ludwig further notes that

Wach repeatedly takes up the question of the “objectivity” of the interpreter, whether one who is not a committed believer can understand a religion, whether historical distance helps or hinders understanding, and the like. His position is argued at length: the scholar can by “bracketing” his or her own views enter into understanding of another religion, sometimes presenting it even more completely and accurately than believers can. But there must be, Wach argues, an empathy or sensitivity for religion on the part of the scholar, otherwise there can be no understanding.

Theodore M. Ludwig, “Review: Joachim Wach’s Voice Speaks Again” in History of Religions, Vol. 29, No. 3, Feb., 1990: 289-291, p. 291.

Wach is extremely interested in religious experience. As such he defines the term Ultimate Reality in terms of a personal experience, an approach not unlike that found in Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy.

Although it wouldn’t be politically correct to do so today, Wach differentiates religious from magical experience.

Religious experience is a continuous (with intermittences) response to a “powerful, comprehensive, shattering, and profound” experience of Ultimate Reality that must simultaneously involve the hierarchical elements of intellect, affect and volition, and which leads to definite and imperative action.

By way of contrast, Wach says that magical experience is a mere series of “unconnected thrills,” this perhaps paralleling Sri Aurobindo’s notion of ‘vitalistic’ energy which, for Aurobindo, stands definitely lower on the ‘quality scale,’ if you will, of interior experience.

Wach’s definition of action seems quite forward thinking in that it includes acts of contemplation, a perspective that we’re just getting glimmerings of today in our so-called enlightened age.

In differentiating contemplation from slothful indifference, Wach notes William James’ Christian pragmatism: “Our practice is the only sure evidence even to ourselves, that we are genuinely Christians” (Joachim Wach, The Comparative Study of Religions, Joseph M. Kitagawa ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958: 31-35).

One must ask, however, if even the so-called indifferent sloth is, in fact, doing some form of spiritual labor, if perhaps unwittingly.

This notion of different types of work, visible and invisible, echoes the Greek pre-Socratic Heraclitus’ conviction that

Even sleepers and dreamers are workers and collaborators in what goes on in the universe.

Heraclitus in Philip Wheelwright ed., The Presocratics, Indianapolis: Odyssey Press, 1982, p. 79.

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