The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #21

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #21


A column by Gerald del Campo, The Dictionary of Traditional Magic and Etherical Science features ten author-selected definitions per issue. The definitions included in Mr. del Campo’s Dictionary do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators or other contributors of this magazine.


(Gnostic) Someone who claims that they do not know or are unable to know whether God exists.


(Philosophy) Actions performed for the sake of others are altruistic. Altruism is the hypothesis that morality involves acting for the sake of others.




(Magick, divination) Literally, “clear seeing,” also known as skrying or scrying. The astral art of acquiring visions, images and other information. The actual technique used is very similar to Astral Projection. Clairvoyance has been taught by numerous magical orders in order to investigate the archetypal nature of magical symbols, or to view real-life locations. It was extensively used in England during WWII to spy on the Nazis and again in Russia during The Cold War to spy on the U.S.


(Philosophy) An epistemological view which maintains that there are two kinds of knowledge or beliefs: basic beliefs, which are obvious or self-justifying, and non-basic beliefs, which are justified by basic beliefs. The basic beliefs explain why the justification of knowledge does not involve an Infinite Regress.

Hatha Yoga

(Yoga) Sanskrit. Gives mastery over the breath, and leads to the control of the physical body and vitality.


(Alchemy) The third and final stage of alchemical transformation. Because it is marked by the purpling or reddening of the material during the Coagulation operation, it is also known as the “Purple Phase.”


A ray, star, digit of time, radiance, essence, perfume. The vital psychosomatic essence which is manifest as a result of Maithuna (linking, joining, as in Tantra), these are considered to be 16 in number, 8 manifesting from the female and 8 from the male. The Tantric “glow” of the Kala will be different according to the digit in time where, when, and with whom the Tantra is worked.


(Philosophy) The branch of philosophy that deals with the formal properties of arguments and the philosophical problems associated with them. Central questions in logic include: What is a good argument? How can we determine if an argument is good or not? What are paradoxes? Can they be resolved? How can we talk meaningfully about objects that don’t exist, such as God or fairies?


(Ecclesiastic) A plate, usually of gold or silver that is used to hold the host during the Mass. Also called a “patina.”

©2008-2013 Gerald del Campo. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Gerald del Campo has authored three books on the subject of Thelema: A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed. He is a photographer, musician and CEO for the Order of Thelemic Knights, the first Thelemic charitable organization. You can visit his blog at and his websites at and Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #20

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #20


A column by Gerald del Campo, The Dictionary of Traditional Magic and Etherical Science features ten author-selected definitions per issue. The definitions included in Mr. del Campo’s Dictionary do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators or other contributors of this magazine.


(Alchemy) In alchemy, the top part of a still. Often used to refer to a complete still. An instrument used for distillation.


(Gnostic) The “first begetter”. A Greek reference to Yaldabaoth.


(Ecclesiastic) A member of a religious order choosing to dwell within a convent, monastery or a community, as opposed to a hermit, who lives in solitude.


(Magick, Religion) Literally, “calling out.” Evocation is the application of magick to cause the physical or astral guise of a spirit to appear. See Invocation.


(Alchemy) A process of separation, in which material is passed through a sieve or screen designed to allow only pieces of a certain size to pass through. In alchemy, the procedure is illustrated by the sign of Sagittarius.


(Yoga) Sanskrit The Gunas are the three basic principles in Ayurvedic medicine that represent the process through which the subtle becomes gross. They are defined as consciousness or essense (sattva), activity (rajas), and inactivity (tamas). These principles also correspond with the alchemic principles of Mercury, Sulfur and Salt.

Psychological Egoism

(Philosophy) The doctrine that a person actually pursues nothing but his own interests. Note carefully how it differs from Ethical Egoism.


(Philosophy) The doctrine that genuine knowledge is not established by sense-experience, or at least not by sense-experience alone, and so is wholly or at least to a significant extent A Priori. Contrast Empiricism.


(Alchemy, magick, general usage) One of the most stable geometric designs. In alchemy, the triangle represents the three alchemical principles: Mercury, Sulfur and Salt. In magick, demons are invoked into a triangle.


(Alchemy) One of a class of fabled female water spirits. They have the advantage of receiving a human soul by intermarrying with a mortal.

©2010 by Gerald del Campo.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Gerald del Campo has authored three books on the subject of Thelema: A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed. He is a photographer, musician and CEO for the Order of Thelemic Knights, the first Thelemic charitable organization. You can visit his blog at and his websites at and Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.

The Study of Magic – Plato, Meet Frazer

The Study of Magic - Plato, Meet Frazer

In my last column, I suggested that the western magical tradition can be seen as a response to Plato’s theory of Ideas. If we imagine that magic interacts with a world of more primary forms than our physical senses can detect, we are Neoplatonic. If we argue the opposite, that there is no such Ideal world, we are Aristotelian and, usually, materialists who do not do magic at all. However, even if we are Chaos Mages who suggest that magic is mostly a matter of internal belief, and that there is no world of Ideas external the mind of individual magicians, we’re still responding to Plato.

If Plato is right, and there is an essential world of Ideas, for magic to be real would mean that it must appeal to that essential world. If such an essential world exists, its essential truths must be universal. Perhaps the shape of those truths would be different, but any culture of any time that perceives that truth, will perceive the same.

For example, every culture that looks into the geometry of a circle will discover that the diameter of the circle encircles the circumference of the circle 3.14 times. If they have sufficient mathematical sophistication, they will even recognize that this number is irrational and continues an infinite number of nonrepeating digits after the decimal point. It doesn’t matter if we call this number pi, or Liu Hui’s constant, or the Archimedes Constant. It remains true, regardless of our ideas about it. We cannot legislate pi.

Even though we cannot know pi in its totality, we do not propose that there is not, for example, a ten billionth digit of pi. In fact, we know there is, and we know that it is one of ten numerals, although we may not know which one. And since there is no perfect circle in the physical world, we also know that it does not rely on any physical object whatsoever to calculate.

Similarly, if magic is real and we believe in the Platonic ideal, then we know that there should be some things about magic that are essential, and some that are incidental or contingent. Those contingent things will change, from society to society or even from practitioner to practitioner. But the essential things, for real magic, for magic that works, will remain the same. Of course, some people may do magic that doesn’t work, just as someone might try to calculate the area of a large circle using the approximation that pi = 3, and find themselves receiving an incorrect answer. At the same time, we cannot suggest that the essentials of magic boil down to a popularity contest. If a million people think that pi = 3, they will be wrong, no matter how persuasive they are. It doesn’t matter how many votes it gets: pi is not a popularity contest.

Yet we can say, with some certainty, that diverse cultural practices operating on the same principles may be pointing to an underlying essential truth to magic. Of course, they could also point, as a skeptic would argue, to an underlying flaw in the capabilities of human reason.

For my purpose I am content to point out a few of the similarities across cultures as possible pointers toward an essential truth about magic. I am not pretending to be exhaustive, and certainly there is room for argument.

Fortunately, my work is done for me by Sir James George Frazer, whose The Golden Bough (1922) was one of the most influential books of the twentieth century. Frazer pointed out several similarities between the magical practices of diverse peoples. He did not suggest, as I do, that these may point to some underlying truth about magic, but he did suppose that it represented an underlying structure of culture.

Frazer identifies two principles of the practice of sympathetic magic: the law of similarity and the law of contagion. The law of similarity says that any two items that appear the same are, in some sense, the same. This recalls Iamblichus’s practice of using symbols of divine forces to direct those forces. A hawk is Horus, because the two are similar. Similarly, gold is the sun, because they partake of similar signatures. In non-western magic, we see the same thing: a plant with a human-shaped root might stand for a person, or a mantra might be regarded as the God it invokes. Contagion suggests that any two objects in contact remain in contact. We see this practice in the Christian mass: the bread that Jesus broke is still in contact with all other bread, which is itself in contact with the flesh of Christ, and therefore is the flesh of Christ. In nonwestern practices, it’s common enough to require hair or other leavings of someone for or against whom one wishes to work magic. Frazer regards both of these ways of thinking as “mistakes,” of course, but really they represent the very basis of fundamental symbolic thought.

Symbolic thought is that ability of abstraction that allows us to say “this word ‘water’ represents this substance.” Moreover, it allows us to say “this substance in this cup is the same as the substance in the ocean; I can abstract them with the same symbol.” We find, then, that one of the roots of magical practice, the world over, is symbolic thought. Magic cannot work unless the world is abstracted into ideas.

It’s worth noting that it is the process of abstraction, not the result of the abstraction, that matters. In other words, it doesn’t matter what collection of sounds you choose to use to represent the concept of water: “water” or “agua” or “mayim.” What matters is that you do the abstraction and that you share that abstraction with others. Of course, if you say “mayim” and no one around you speaks Hebrew, you’ll be in trouble. But “agua” isn’t an inherently better word than “mayim.”

Looking back, I find it interesting that I ended up using language as my metaphor. Of course, it makes sense: what are words but symbols? And what are symbols for, if not to communicate? The importance of communication brings me to the next universal of magic: magic operates on the principle that we are communicating with something or someone outside of our physical perception. Ancient Greeks threw tablets down wells to communicate with the chthonic gods, while medieval European magicians conjured angels. Yoruba magicians make offerings to gods. Tantrikas invoke protector deities. Even our etymologies betray the magical importance of communication: evoke and invoke both contain the root “vocare,” meaning “to call,” and “enchant” means “to sing into.”

We also, in looking at magical practices the world over, find the notion of separation nearly everywhere. The Shaman is separated from society, the medieval wizard draws a circle, and the “hedgewitch” lives on the border (the hedge) of the village. This separation amounts to a cutting off not just of society but of the physical world; there is a turning inward which is in its final analysis a turning outward into the world of ideas, a mental world no less real than the physical. Physical objects are merely means to that end, symbols that are meant to stir something in the mind.

Few magical practices fail to emphasize the importance of mental preparation. Even medieval magic focused on mental preparation, although the grimoires we have seem more concerned with the proper furniture and clothes in the temple. If one looks farther, at the works of — for example — Giordano Bruno, one quickly finds that there’s an emphasis on mental training. That mental training is not simply trance work, either, although that is certainly present. There’s also training of memory and philosophical training.

It’s easy to imagine that our culture’s practices are, in essence, absolute. But obviously we must have some ways of thinking of things that are curtains on the window, and not the light itself. We must have decorative notions that are not essential to magic. It’s worth while, in looking at the commonalities, to look at what is not common to all cultures as well.

The first thing that sticks out for me is “energy.” Few cultures recognize the concept of energy as essential to magic. Certainly, Chinese magic has qi and Polynesian magic has mana, but neither of these are energy. Qi literlly means “breath,” and could probably better be translated “life force.” Force is not a synonym of energy, as any basic physics student could tell you. Similarly, mana means something a lot more like “embodied authority” than “energy.” And if you doubt that our ancient predecessors lacked a term for energy, do try to translate the term into Latin. You may find yourself stymied: the closest similarities to the word in even its mundane sense fall short of what we mean by it. The ancients did not have the concept of energy divorced from work or power (which are, again, distinct concepts).

So why do so many magicians in modern America talk about “magical energy?” It’s not ignorance and it’s not laziness. Just as the word “agua” means “water” in Spanish, the word “energy” represents, in a magical context, one of the essential characteristics of magic. It’s not some mystical energy that any physicist will ever discover in any lab, be her instruments ever so advanced. But “energy” in western magic fulfills a simple role, easy to determine if you read this signifier in context. Every time a book on magic mentions “energy,” it hastens to point out that this energy responds to intention. It’s not like electricity, or light, or heat, or kinetic energy, or anything else, because unlike those kinds of real literal energies, it pays attention to what we want. In fact, it represents a quality essential to magic: willful action.

Magic, always and everywhere, is not an accident; it is a willful action. Of course, there are accidental powers that we would classify as magical, and seem to share some similarities. For example, in Timor some people believe in a malignant power which comes out of an unsuspecting woman and does harm to the community. And of course there are spirits or other entities who might act according to their own wills. But, like fire, while it may get out of hand and do damage, magic is a technology that we use, like all technologies, deliberately.

Energy is a symbol of that intentionality. Other cultures provide other symbols. Ainu shamans sit under cold waterfalls, for example, as a sign of their willingness to suffer to heal others and speak for the dead. And we can see that mana and qi are, then, similar to the symbol of energy in that they represent, in culturally specific and different ways, the intentionality of magic.

Obviously, there may be more essential shared characteristics; it would take a book to examine them all. But we can sum it up in a simple definition: magic is an intentional and symbolic act of communication with a nonphysical reality.

If magic were only the wishful thinking of deluded people, we would not expect it to share any similarities across culture. And we can expect the trappings to differ, as long as the essence remains the same, just as we can expect the name of “pi” to change from culture to culture, while its value remains the same. At the same time, one could argue that magic is delusion, but that delusion has some essential quality, and so shares similarities from culture to culture. This possibility, while perhaps appealing to skeptics, would be hardly any less amazing than magic itself. Both possibilities point toward some essential quality of the human mind, or perhaps of consciousness itself.

©2009 by Patrick Dunn.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Patrick Dunn has written two books on the occult, Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age and Magic Power Language Symbol: A Magician’s Exploration of Linguistics. He lives near Chicago, where he teaches and writes. You can find his blog here.

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #19

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #19


A column by Gerald del Campo, The Dictionary of Traditional Magic and Etherical Science features ten author-selected definitions per issue. The definitions included in Mr. del Campo’s Dictionary do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators or other contributors of this magazine.

Akashic Record

(Yoga, Theosophy) A term invented and popularized by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. The idea is that the Akasha is a thought substance which can be imprinted by experience, making it possible to retrieve otherwise inaccessible information from the past, such as a person’s past life. This is remarkably close idea to the concept of Jung’s Universal Unconscious and may in fact be a reference to the same phenomena.


(Gnostic) Literally, “Unreason.” The act of misusing thought.


(Alchemy) A naked child symbolizes the perfect intelligence, the innocent soul. In alchemy and in magical tomes, the child represents the Union of Opposites. A crowned child or child clothed in purple robes signifies Salt or the Philosopher’s Stone.

Descriptive Meaning

(Philosophy) A statements or declaration whose meaning is shown in terms of reporting or describing actual or possible facts have descriptive meaning. Compare to Emotive Meaning.


(Alchemy) The egg represents the hermetically sealed vessel of creation. In alchemy, corked retorts, coffins, and sepulchers represent the same principles.


(Alchemy) The most perfect of all the metals, gold in ages past represented the perfection of all matter on any level, including that of the mind, spirit, and soul. The Sun is often used to hint to gold.


(Qabalah) Hebrew Master or teacher. Synonymous with the Holy Guardian Angel, Higher Self, etc.


(Alchemy, Roman mythology) The smallest of the inner planets and the one nearest the sun. The Roman god of pranks, thievery and commerce, which says something of how Romans conducted their business affairs. Called Hermes by the Greeks, Mercury is the messenger for the other gods, as well as being the god of science and travel, and patron saint of athletes. He is typically represented as a young man wearing a winged helmet and sandals and holding a caduceus. Mercury is also a heavy, metallic silver poisonous element that is liquid at room temperature. Often used in scientific instruments. Also called also quicksilver, alchemists acquired it by roasting cinnabar (mercury sulfide). The mercury would sweat out of the rocks and drip down where it could be collected. When mixed with other metals, liquid mercury has a tendency to bond with them and develop amalgams. These properties seemed to make mercury the master of duality in solid and liquid states; earth and heaven; life and death, and the Above and Below.

Philosophy of Science

(Philosophy) The branch of philosophy which scrutinizes the nature and results of scientific inquiry. Central questions include: Do scientist describe reality or just appearances? Can we have good reason to believe in the existence of unobservable entities (e.g. quarks)? What happens when one scientific theory replaces an older theory?

Ruach ha Kodesh

(Qabalah) Hebrew The child of the Supernals, she is the unmanifested essence that lingers like a curtain beneath her parents. Marked on the Tree of Life by the illusive, non-Sephirah Daath, or Knowledge. It is a portal through which the Absolute may enter to intervene directly with existence. Mystic Christians think of Daath as The Holy Spirit.

©2009 by Gerald del Campo.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Gerald del Campo has authored three books on the subject of Thelema: A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed. He is a photographer, musician and CEO for the Order of Thelemic Knights, the first Thelemic charitable organization. You can visit his blog at and his websites at and Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.

The Study of Magick: It All Started in a Cave

The Study of Magick: It All Started in a Cave

I’m pleased to offer myself as a regular columnist on these august though entirely electronic pages. As those who have read my books or know me personally know, I’m an academic through and through, and so my conversations have a tendency to turn to lectures, and my dinner parties often become seminars. This column therefore will play to my strengths. My goal, ultimately, is to trace the connections between occult practice and schools of academic thought. I’m hoping to make this less boring than it sounds on its face, and at the same time offer something practical that the working occultist can take away.

It’s fitting that this first column begin at the beginning, the foundation of most Western occultism. Many people will tell you that Western occultism began in Egypt, and even the ancients thought so. But really, most of western occultism began in a cave, and not even a real cave but an allegorical one.

Socrates was perhaps the first professor. He liked to walk around and profess his own innocence and ignorance, and ask probing questions that quickly revealed that everyone around him was just as ignorant. He was eventually asked to kill himself, possibly because he was tedious at curriculum committee meetings. One of his students, Aristocles, a jock who no doubt offered a letter from his wrestling coach every other Friday excusing him from class, ended up rising to the top and writing quite a few books of his own. We know him by his wrestling nickname: “Fatty,” or, in Greek, “Plato.”

Now, Fatty had a problem, aside from an embarrassing nickname. He couldn’t figure out perception. It was common knowledge, of course, that we perceived the world by engaging it with our senses, but Plato had learned from his old professor to question common knowledge. And in doing so, he dug up a few problems that have plagued philosophy ever since. For one thing, he realized, we can’t really see the whole of anything we look at, touch, taste, or smell. We get only a momentary perception. Sure, we could turn a pot over and over in our hands really fast, but how do we know that the side away from us doesn’t turn another color, or even disappear entirely? Common sense, of course, but how do we come by that common sense, and how is it that everyone has it?

Plato said, or rather reported that his teacher said, Imagine a cave. In it, you are chained next to a group of like people, all facing a wall. You grew up in this cave, chained up thus, and no, Xenophon, it doesn’t matter how that happened, just shut up and listen. Now, behind you is a big fire, and people walk between you and the fire holding objects. But you are chained such that you cannot see behind you, so all you see are shadows. Now, being raised in this cave, all you know of the shape called “elephant” or “horseshoe” or “vase” are the shadow shapes on the wall, and if you could be freed and look suddenly at the real thing, you would be amazed that it looked as it did, not to mention how they fit an elephant into the cave.

This allegory describes perception. We seem to see things, but really we see their shadow, and another, more perfect world than this contains those real items. So we know that the pot continues around to the other side not because we can perceive that it does, but because we remember the ideal pot, the Form of pots, of which all other pots are mere shadows. And that’s how we can also recognize the pot-ness of a squat pot, a tall pot, a wide pot, a purple pot, and a blue pot. We know that they are all pots because, just like the shadows on the wall, much depends upon how we look upon that ideal.

Plato had a student of his own, Aristotle, who threw the whole thing into the soup by saying that there was no such perfect, ideal world. Aristotle argued that we know the Form of pots only because we have seen a heck of a lot of pots and called them all “pot.”

Thus began the epistemological (meaning, the study of knowledge) split between magic and what would eventually become empiricism. But I’ve written about that before, and so will let it go for now.

Aristotle opened a school and wrote some deeply influential books of his own, and eventually we hit two interesting fellows who founded much of what we now imagine to be magic. Conveniently, these two figures stand as symbols for two paths of magic, two ways of knowing the unseen, ideal world. We call them “Neoplatonists,” because they began with Plato’s idea that there was such an ideal world, a world of Forms, and pushed it to its natural edge: if such a world existed, and we could perceive it, could we also perhaps interact with it? Could we, in fact, use it to change this world? Could we reach behind us, as it were, and grab that elephant and yank it around, so that we could make its shadow in this world dance?

Plotinus answered, essentially, in the negative. That ideal world was perfect, and perfection by its very nature cannot change. But what we could do, according to Plotinus, is change ourselves to rise up to that world, and thus gain a clearer image of ultimate reality. If we understood what was going behind us, we could manipulate things in this world of shadows more sagaciously.

For Plotinus, and his student Porphyry, the way to do this consisted of contemplation. Sadly, we lack descriptions of what to contemplate specifically, but we can reconstruct some of it by understanding what he taught. He taught that all reality, this world of shadows, was an emanation from a perfect reality. The highest perfect reality was the One. This One was beyond all characteristics, because all characteristics imply their opposite. If the One is big, then it’s not small and therefore not perfect — by which he meant something closer to “complete.” It has to be beyond bigness or smallness. From the One comes the Nous, or Mind. This is the first thing that can be given characteristics, and the characteristic it has is “goodness.” From Mind comes the rest of the world of shadows in a successive series or ladder of emanations.

This contemplative approach survives in a lot of practices we might regard as Eastern. One contemplation, in the spirit of Plotinus and Porphyry, would be to take one’s perception of oneself and begin deleting things. For example, try to remove your sense of physical position by sitting very still. Then try to remove your emotional feelings. Then abandon mental activity and remain as pure awareness. In other words, we climb the ladder of emanations back upward to the One.

We also see Plotinus’ influence in the contemporary understanding of the Qabala, and there’s some convincing evidence that the Qabala was Neoplatonic before it was strictly Jewish. Whether you believe that or not, it cannot be denied that a ladder of emanations really does describe most understandings of the sephiroth. And the practices of traditional Qabala — recitation of names, permutation of letters, and so on — smack of the contemplative practices of Plotinus.

On the other end of the teeter totter we have Iamblichus, one of Porphyry’s students, who suggested that contemplation was fine and good, but also difficult and impractical. Most people, he said, are so engrossed in the shadows that they simply can’t get anywhere with contemplation; it’s like trying to grow eyes in the back of your head. Better, he suggested, to turn around, and the way we do that is through ritual action. That ritual action, of course, was accompanied by contemplation, but contemplation alone could never apprehend what was not rational. If you tried the previous contemplation, you may have found it incredibly difficult; Iamblichus would say, “exactly.” Ritual provided an easier way.

Ritual action for Iamblichus consisted of recognizing the symbolic relationship between ideas. After all, if we can recognize a picture of a pot as a pot, it must be partaking of some bit of pot-ness from the world of ideas. If we manipulate this symbolic image, we can begin to train our minds to perceive and perhaps manipulate the ideal Form as well. How this worked exactly we don’t really know, but certain objects were thought to embody the ideal more intensely than other objects, just as a profile of an elephant is easier to recognize in a shadow. These objects or symbols included such things as the tools of ritual sacrifice, as well as — probably — various objects held sacred to deities. By ritually manipulating these objects, one could gain a clearer view of the ideal world.

A ritual in the style of Iamblichus might involve a series of ritual sacrifices of bread or wheat, each of which represents a return of some faculty to the One. So we might symbolically enact a sacrifice of our passions so that we can more easily contemplate the One as an Ideal without passions. Of course, we don’t know exactly what Iamblichus’s rituals looked like, but we can imagine that they looked quite a lot like the ordinary religious rituals of the time, but accompanied with appropriate contemplations.

Now, of course, most occultists mix these two approaches, the contemplative and the ritual. But the old argument between the two schools still exists. Some contemplatives talk scornfully of rituals as “crutches,” for example, an idea that might well have come out of Porphyry. And even those occultists who do not profess an ideal world of forms still engage in ritual actions in which a concrete object (the athame, say) represents a mental idea (will, or defense). Finally, most occultists will decry mindless ritual for ritual’s sake. We are to remember, as Iamblichus would argue, that every ritual action is an action in the world of Ideas as well.

No matter which approach you take to magic, whether you regard it as a contemplative practice or a ritual one, you are — if you’re involved in the western magical tradition — a Neoplatonist. Of course, chaos magicians might argue that there is no actual world of ideals, and a postmodern magician might argue that ideals are just clumps of self-referential symbols, and not meanings in themselves. Yet every school of western magic must situate itself in regards to Neoplatonism; they must begin by affirming or denying the central insights of that chubby wrestler.

The root of the whole endeavor of magic is in Plato, as is the root of all Western philosophy. Magic, then, rather than being a fringe effort of a few strange men and women, is a branch of philosophy itself, with its own epistemological and ontological claims. We diverged from philosophy in the same way that chemistry and alchemy diverged, or where mathematics and engineering diverged. Where philosophy began to dedicate itself to the analysis of ideas, we began to learn the practical arts of manipulating them. In future columns, I hope to explore some of those issues of knowledge and being, with an eye toward the practical implications of the philosophical positions we take.

©2009 by Patrick Dunn
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Patrick Dunn has written two books on the occult, Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age and Magic Power Language Symbol: A Magician’s Exploration of Linguistics. He lives near Chicago, where he teaches and writes. You can find his blog here.

The Magical Choice: One Witch’s Musings upon Existentialism

July 19, 2009 by  
Filed under chaos, magick, mysticism, philosophy, witchcraft

The Magical Choice: One Witch's Musings upon Existentialism

The study of magic is, by and large, the study of paradigms. The Witch — by whatever title she or he may adopt — steps beyond the default worldview presupposed by the surrounding society, and instead cultivates a unique paradigm which resonates with her or his deepest intuitions. This line of inquiry constitutes an ever present challenge for the practicing Witch. Our sisters and brothers who practice Chaos Magic may well find this interpretation of magic resonates with their approaches. For the Chaos Magician, paradigms are tools which the enlightened soul can adopt and abandon at will. Dancing from one worldview into the next, ever light of step, the Chaos Magician draws from some particular paradigm what she or he requires before moving on. Key to this approach is the conviction that all paradigms are merely artificial constructs by which we organize and render intelligible an essentially ineffable cosmos, yet herein we discover the key dilemma of Chaos Magic: If all paradigms are ultimately expendable, then where can we hope to ground the very conviction all paradigms are expendable interpretations? Thus presented, the argument becomes paradoxical, which may prove no obstacle for the practicing Chaos Magician — or for the Mystic, should we care to explore beyond the boundaries of the purely rational.

Still, the rationalist inside me, who has yet to surrender all hope for an intelligible universe, questions whether Chaos Magic simply sets up one meta-paradigm that encompasses all other possible paradigms. My concern here is simple: If the meta-paradigm thus proposed resolves into an essentially existentialist position, and I fear Chaos Magic indeed reverts back into existentialism, then how do we overcome or sidestep — or even incorporate — existential angst into our magical paradigms?

Allow me one step back. For those less versed in postmodern philosophy, existentialism proposes that existence precedes essence. That is, there is the world, eternally cold and mechanical in its manifold operations. These operations are pure existence, subsisting without reference to meaning or essence. Essence is what we add, the significance which conscious thought projects into the mechanical process. This essence can be thoroughly uplifting and optimistic — witness Soren Kirkegaard’s essentially Christian answer to the existentialist question! — yet whenever one takes up the mantle of existentialism, there lurks the spectre of nihilism. If all the universe is cold, mechanical process, devoid of any meaning apart from what we decide, then there can be no intrinsic meaning subsisting within anything. The universe simply grinds along, oblivious towards even the possibility of some deeper meaning. This scenario, as presented by existentialist philosophers like Sartre and Camus, becomes the source of existential angst, the pervasive and disquieting suspicion that any significance or teleology to things remains, at bottom, false.

It may remain possible that the Chaos Magician can refer all lesser paradigms back towards one primary reality which has meaning, transcending the merely mechanical. Certainly the irrepressible ebullience of Discordian thought suggests the possibility of one such meta-paradigm. Still, the question of whether reality is truly devoid of meaning — apart from what we add — remains.

This question turns especially vexing if we regard magic as something essential — that is, an essence — as opposed to something purely mechanical. If magic consists of the meaning we add into otherwise purely mechanical motions, then magic seemingly has no truck with reality at its most really real. (I recognize that if you do not perceive magic as the art of paradigm bending, I may have long since lost your attention, and if you regard magic as straightforwardly mechanical process, then existential angst constitutes no threat towards your magical paradigm. For those few readers as crazy as me, or for the morbidly curious, I shall continue this line of inquiry just a little further.)

While I am not deeply opposed to the existentialist project, I do regard their central proposition as essentially misleading. To assume that existence precedes essence means to assume an unobservable existence, for all observation imparts some meaning or essence, however slight and however poorly articulated. We simply cannot observe without becoming drawn into the connection between observer and observed. We are inexplicably entangled with the things we observe, and from this entanglement we derive the essence of the observed. Indeed, we might just as well say this entanglement — the way we think and feel about the observed — actually constitutes the essence in question. And there can be no unobserved existence.

Let me reiterate this point: There can be no unobserved existence. To say an existence is unobserved constitutes a manifest contradiction, since the supposition of the existence in question is itself an observation. Moreover, everything exists precisely by the virtue of being observed, by itself in the barest sense if nothing else. (For those familiar with my metaphysical views, my pantheism does allow for other forms and degrees of perception, but these I shall pass over presently in the interests of constructing the simplest argument possible.) Within everything there is essence, both the essence from self-perception and the essence from an outside observer. Existence and essence are forever and inescapably entwined, just as every being has both material and spiritual aspects. (Indeed, existence and essence are respectively much the same things!)

If spiritual essence always and everywhere coexists with perceived existence, then our next set of questions must revolve around what kind of essence we will or should intermingle with matter. Essence, consisting of a qualitative connection between observer and observed, depends in large part upon the choices we make when interpreting our world. Kirkegaard makes this very point in Works of Love when he suggests we are forever confronted with the choice between belief and mistrust. Love, argues Kirkegaard, is unique among the virtues in this: Love can only thrive within us when we believe in — indeed, unconditionally presuppose — the presence of love within others, from the first moment clear unto the last. Forever the mistrust endemic to nihilism raises the terrible possibility that there is no love within others, and whenever we choose this mistrust, we remove from ourselves the very possibility of finding love. Believe, and we find love, perhaps within others, yet more crucially — more gracefully — within ourselves. The tension between these two possibilities, between which we are eternally poised, lies at the root of existential angst.

Something of this same dilemma confronts the practicing Witch, I should think, for the quality of being magical, much like the quality of being loving, turns precisely upon finding without that which we seek within. To be magical means finding the magic inside those things around us, discovering the connections of meaning and correspondence which empower our spells. I’m not unaware that this position seemingly inverts the traditional formulation of the “Charge of the Goddess” — though in seeming only! Near the end of the Charge, the Goddess observes, “If that which you seek you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.” These are powerful words, words which counsel the Witch to look inward for genuine power and wisdom. To suggest we should seek the magical in the world around us, should we hope to discover the magic within, seems at odds with this Wiccan saying. Still, the choice to discover the magical inside things is itself a choice which dwells within the Witch, the same choice between belief and mistrust which Kirkegaard proposed nearly two hundred years ago. Magic is an essence, and essence depends upon the relationship between observer and observed that we ourselves choose. “Seek and ye shall find,” says the Christian. “As above, so below,” answers the occultist. And so our world takes shape. Seek love, and you will find love within. Seek magic, and magic you will surely possess. Seek the coldly mechanical universe, of course, and this you’ll find, as well.

Kirkegaard suggests we have no more reason to doubt the goodness within the world than we have to believe in things life-affirming, and I see no reason to doubt this essentially hopeful position. Indeed, the Chaos Magician can happily accept this argument, and then skip between the two positions as she or he desires, perhaps a little more mindfully than most everyone else who blend belief and mistrust in daily life. Still, this paradigm bending fails to escape the spectre of angst that existentialism suggests, and while I’m hesitant to jettison this pervasive sense of angst entirely, I am eager to arrive at workable terms with this metaphysical uneasiness. My solution returns to the central issue of ontological primacy. Simply stated, does existence precede essence? As an idealist, I simply don’t grant matter any existence independent of our ideas of matter. (Taking a page from George Berkeley, “To be is to be perceived.”) Furthermore, I believe every perception includes some qualification, some interpretation — in sum, some essence. Therefore, I cannot grant that existence precedes essence in any meaningful sense. This break from existentialism, however, becomes perhaps the greatest boon for the Witch, because every last sensible thing thus becomes pregnant with the possibility of magic. With every interaction, indeed with every bare perception, there arises the question of essence, whether this especial thing is something magical. And to this question, we Witches can answer with a resounding YES!

The nihilist will suggest we are simply fooling ourselves, choosing to make meaningless qualifications of an impersonal and mechanical universe. They will argue the underlying angst of existentialism points towards the one great truth, that everyone ultimately suffers alone within the cold void of reality. I don’t suggest we should remove all doubt about the nature of things, for such not only blinds us against genuine interaction with the world, but also removes the very emotional urgency which gives our Craft its power. In truth, the nihilist perceives reality through filters just as obscuring as those adopted by their magical brethren; the nihilist cannot cheat around our fundamental inability to grasp directly the ineffable nature of reality. All reality — everything that is — constantly forces us to choose between belief and mistrust, between the magical and the mundane, and this choice speaks most of all towards what we seek within ourselves. I choose to walk with belief, to walk with the magic around and within me. Such is the choice — and the power — of the Witch. And so with this choice I leave you, my dear readers.

Blessed Be!

©2009 Grey Glamer
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Aristotle and Galileo: A Story of Two Ways of Knowing

July 19, 2009 by  
Filed under magick, mysticism, philosophy, theory

Aristotle and Galileo: A Story of Two Ways of Knowing

The teacher heaved himself from his stone seat. “Enough sitting. My knees are aching. Let’s walk and talk together,” he said to his few disciples. Other teachers had more — some as many as thirty students — but Aristotle took his pleasure in selecting the six or seven students who could best understand his teachings.

Used to their teacher’s habit of wandering while he lectured, the students gathered together styli and wax tablets and a few closely spaced sheets of lecture notes painstakingly copied from their teacher’s own notes. They gathered in a close circle around their teacher as he walked, trying as best they could to prick out a few salient notes on their tablets. Walking, talking, and juggling the material of learning forced them to listen carefully to their teacher.

“An object falls through the air,” the teacher says. “Imagine two objects — a section of that column here,” he tapped it with his staff, “and a blade of grass dropped from a height. They fall toward the earth. Why?”

“Both contain Earth in their nature, and so are drawn to the greatest concentration of that element,” said Eudemus.

“And why does the column fall faster?” Aristotle asked.

“It is heavier,” blurted out Phanias.

“Which just means that it contains more Earth than the grass,” Eudemus put in.

“And Earth is another name of mass, so we can say that objects of greater weight fall faster than objects of lesser weight. Yes?”

The students tossed their heads back in agreement.

“But why do they fall at any speed at all? Why not simply contact the ground instantly as they leave the hand? What holds them back from their affinity with Earth?”

The students thought for a while, and finally Phanias ventured an answer, hoping to redeem himself from his earlier stupidity. “The element of Air pushes against them, and Air is inimical to Earth. Every falling object is a war between Air and Earth.”

“Exactly so. Now, reason this out. If there were no Air to push against falling objects, how fast would they fall?”

“Infinitely fast,” put in Eudemus. “Which is an absurdity.”

“Therefore?” Aristotle’s “therefore” was always devastating. It meant you hadn’t finished your chain of reasoning.

“Therefore there can be no place without air. There can be no void.”

“Because if there were?”

“It would lead to a logical absurdity, and the universe is rational.”

Aristotle smiled, pleased. “Exactly so. So now let us explore this idea of the rational . . . ” And the students walked with their wise teacher into two thousand years of fame.

* * *

Galileo huffed his way up the stairs of the tower, his secretary in tow lugging not only the necessary writing equipment but a heavy bag that made a low clunking noise with every step.

Galileo had done the arithmetic and it had all worked out, but for it to work out required something nearly unthinkable. Aristotle had to have been wrong. And not just Aristotle, but everyone else stretching back between that time and this — and that of course included the holy church.

Finally, at the top, he fished two cannon balls out of his bag. Aristotle was right about the air, at least partially — air resistance would slow down an object as it fell, which is why a feather did, indeed, fall slower than a cannon ball. But two cannon balls, one of a large caliber, another of a smaller caliber, should cut through the air at more or less the same speed, being spherical. He sent his secretary to the bottom to watch as he dropped the two objects, and call out whether they hit the earth at the same moment, or different moments.

He conducted the experiment over and over, with both him and his secretary watching on the ground, and in every instance, the two balls struck the ground at the same instant.

Rather than being elated, he found himself a bit disappointed. He felt cut adrift, like a boat whose rope has finally frayed beyond control. But no, that was the wrong analogy. He was more like a horse who has realized that the line that seemed to be securely tied was, in reality, merely draped over a twig. From here, he could go anywhere.

* * *

I’ve fictionalized these two incidents because they illustrate an important shift in the way that humans thought, and this story is one central to the history of science and — I wish to argue — magic. Because I wish to argue that contrary to magic being a science, magic and science are both two ways of knowing, compatible, but independent.

But the stories I’ve told are not stories of compatible ways of knowing, but two warring systems of knowledge.

Aristotle began with the commonly held assumption that our senses can be deceived. In fact, we know this to be not simply common sense, but quite true. A simple optical illusion can reveal that our eyes don’t always see what we think they do. Our ears can hear things that aren’t there, or mistake things that are; even our taste and touch can be confused. We can drink a soda and believe we’re tasting cherry, when really we’re drinking sugar and apple juice colored red and flavored with chemicals. Our senses are inadequate.

So Aristotle joined the tradition that, since senses are faulty, we must rely on reason. This idea led to mathematics, where senses are not only faulty but useless. One cannot see “two” — the best one can do is see symbols about twoness, or two of something. But arithmetic, not to mention the higher branches of mathematics, is abstract well beyond the range of sense. So we must rely on pure reason. We know that 2 + 2 = 4, to employ the hackneyed example, because if it doesn’t everything else we know about mathematics falls apart. In mathematics, we can have certain knowledge. Of course, that certain knowledge is of an abstract system, and as later mathematicians discovered, if you start with slightly different assumptions it’s easy to end up with a different system, in which 2 + 2 does not equal four but, perhaps, eight. Yet Aristotle would argue that the real world, while not the perfection of mathematics, clearly partook of it. After all, maybe the idea of right triangles is all just an abstraction, but just try to erect a house without it. The very concrete and sensory house is built of abstract numbers.

If pure reason led to truth in mathematics, Aristotle reasoned, and mathematics led to truth in matter, then surely we could come to truth about the physical world without relying on our senses at all. We could simply reason it out from first principles. Select the right set of first principles, apply rigorous reason, and knowledge would result like a nice buttery baklava. And if we avoid the engagement of the senses, we avoid the faults that senses are heir to.

Galileo began with a different set of assumptions. While accepting that senses could be deceived, he worked from the premise that this deception could be evened out by having multiple people observe at different times. In the fictionalized (and probably apocryphal) account above, both he and his secretary make observations, and they do not stop with just one but do it again and again. In addition to building up excellent calf muscles by lugging cannon balls up the leaning tower of Pisa, this method has the benefit of certainty. We know it works because we can see it working.

I’m not a philosopher, so what I’m attempting here is a bit arrogant of me, but we can summarize Aristotle’s underlying assumptions about knowledge and compare them to Galileo’s. For Aristotle, observation is secondary to reasoning. For Galileo, reasoning is secondary to observation. For Aristotle, we make a prediction based on reasoning from first principles. For Galileo, we define principles by reasoning from observation.

The scientific revolution was a war between these two ways of knowing the world. In the end, the latter system of reasoning conquered the former, usurping it to its own purposes. Pure reasoning still has a place in the sciences — mathematics, after all, is core to all sciences and still employs reasoning that Aristotle could understand, although he might not follow all the advanced concepts of modern mathematics. Now, scientists observe the physical world and create models of reasoning to explain and predict the behavior of that world. These models are called theories. It’s easy, therefore, to laugh at Aristotle’s naiveté. He simply had the incorrect method for gaining knowledge about the world, and now we have the correct method, and so we’re done. Give us enough time and observations, and we’ll figure it all out. And, in fact, we’ve come quite far in just a few hundred years after the scientific revolution. We know — with some certainty — more about the structure of reality than Aristotle could have imagined, and we even understand how to manipulate it to some degree. Aristotle’s explanation of a magnet from first principles was clumsy and inadequate. Scientific explanations of electromagnetism allow me to use this computer to write this essay, which some of you may be reading on an electric screen that would baffle Aristotle.

The problem is, the above isn’t entirely true. Aristotle didn’t have the wrong method, because Aristotle is still quite relevant. Virtue ethics as Aristotle described them, for example, are still relevant, and literary criticism classes still often begin with his works on the structure of tragedy. Obviously, those fields have advanced in volume of books if nothing else, but we still read Aristotle there not to ridicule him but to appreciate his insights. Yet physics classes rarely — if ever — begin with Aristotle’s Phusis. It seems he got some things right — in ethics, literary criticism, and other areas — and other things wrong. We cannot simplify then and say, “this system of knowledge is the right one, and his was the wrong one.”

The war between Aristotle and Galileo was misguided on all sides. On the side of Aristotle stood the church, which had long since reconciled that pagan philosopher with their understanding of the world. On the side of Galileo stood — at first — Galileo. Then the Royal Society of London and other groups of scientists who struggled mightily and won (the Church recently surrendered by apologizing to Galileo). The Church was wrong in that indeed Galileo had the right idea about gravity and the right notion about planetary motion (with some fuzzy details). But the church wasn’t arguing that — they were arguing about his method. If human observation could discover truth, what purpose remained for God? Their error was assuming that the truth of planetary motion is the same truth as the nature of the divine. Similarly, newly minted scientists made the same error, assuming that religion existed only to explain what science has not yet gotten around to on their grand to-do list.

The reality is more complicated.

The current state of this war is between two fronts: science and religion. Science, represented (or perhaps more accurately co-opted) by militant atheists like Richard Dawkins, argues that religion is inherently absurd and even deluded. Religion, on the other hand, argues that science cannot answer the questions that religion approaches. In this war of words, it is hard to tell who is winning, but the atheists are making some headway with the same sort of spurious and fallacious reasoning that they decry. It’s not my goal to enter this war in these pages; instead, I want to suggest another approach, as an inhabitant in that neutral country of magic. After all, we lost this war long ago — and yet a few of us still remain, quietly doing what the dominant culture no doubt regards as eccentric at best.

What magic offers is the model, not of war, but of a toolbox. Perhaps instead of imagining that one way of knowing the world is right and all the others are wrong, we could imagine that one way of knowing the world is very good at accomplishing a certain task, and other ways are good at accomplishing certain other tasks. The skeptic picks up magic and says “look at how empirical examination of astrology proves that it’s bunk. How can you still believe it?” This skeptic is like the do-it-yourselfer who picks up a wrench to pound in a nail. If you approach a system of knowledge, you must do so first by understanding its use.

Each system of knowledge begins with certain assumptions, axioms if you will, and has certain strengths. To understand and employ that system of knowledge you must understand its assumptions and strengths. Moreover, our toolbox must contain more than two means of knowledge about the world. In fact, magic teaches us a myriad of ways to understand the world. Most magicians pay their bills, do their taxes, and go to work like normal people living in an empirical world. But at the same time, they recognize that associational thinking — linking diverse symbols to create new ideas — can affect reality in a fundamental and concrete way.

If we imagine that associational thinking is the only tool in our box, we become superstitious and become paranoid at a world too fraught with meaning. On the other hand, if all we have is empiricism, we never examine our underlying assumptions about knowledge, our philosophical foundations, and so we can never move beyond a naive empirical view of the world into meaning. Meaning, if empiricism is the only tool in our toolbox, is reduced to data collection.

It’s clear, then, that different mental tools suit different life-tasks better. What is needed, in both science and magic, is cognitive flexibility and willingness to experiment meaningfully. I think that science can teach us something about magic, maybe even investigate some of its claims, just as magic can help us create meaning out of the discoveries of science. Yet science is not just magic that we’ve learned to understand, and magic is not just unexplained science. If that were the case, we would be the poorer for it. Our minds understand the world physically and metaphysically, and we need to honor both in order to make full use of our toolbox, and we must avoid the errors of both Aristotle and Galileo, while simultaneously respecting their unsurpassed contributions to human thought.

©2009 Patrick Dunn
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Patrick Dunn has written two books on the occult, Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age and Magic Power Language Symbol: A Magician’s Exploration of Linguistics. He lives near Chicago, where he teaches and writes. You can find his blog here.

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #16

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #16


A column by Gerald del Campo, The Dictionary of Traditional Magic and Etherical Science features ten author-selected definitions per issue. The definitions included in Mr. del Campo’s Dictionary do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators or other contributors of this magazine.


(Alchemy) One of the Four Elements of alchemy believed to carry the archetypal properties of spirit into the visible world. It is linked to the process of Separation and corresponds to the metal Iron.


(Ecclesiastic) A full-length gown with sleeves and collar worn priests, bishops and helpers.


(Qabalah) Hebrew The animal soul that corresponds to animal/ vegetable levels of consciousness. It is said to reside at the level of Yesod and Malkuth. It is mostly corresponds with the automatic bodily functions and ego. Also known as the automatic consciousness. This body does not survive death, as does the Ruach and Neshama. This really upsets people who practice Astral Travel as a way to cheat death, since the Astral Body is a projection of the Nephesh.


(Qabalah) Hebrew Corresponds to the purest aspirations of the soul and the Soul itself and corresponds to Binah on the Tree of Life. It is where the individual Soul merges with the Oneness or God. From this plane we may approach the collective unconscious. The Neschama is composed of three parts: Yechidah, Chiah, and Neschama.


(General religious, Philosophy) Omnipotence is all-powerfulness. Many religions view God as omnipotent. Descartes (and most Gnostics) postulated the possibility of an omnipotent demon who could manipulate our thoughts and deceive us.

Path of Zadek

(Qabalah) Hebrew A reference to the path illustrated by the Temperance tarot card between Yesod and Tiphareth. This path traverses the path of normal consciousness between Netzach and Hod. It is the border line between the ego and the true Self. It is called “the path of the honest man” because it is only accessible to those rare individuals who have liberated themselves of self-deception and psychological slothfulness.


pl. Qliphoth (Qabalah) Hebrew Literally, “shells” or “excrement.” A reference to the remnants of the previous, failed universes. The pieces of these shattered vessels are said to have fallen into Assiah, where Malkuth is now engrossed in them. In their present state, they serve to test and prove worthiness. The Qliphoth project the illusion of duality, making it so that we perceive one another as separate and isolated individuals. Largely due to superstition and a lack of understanding of the purpose of duality, the Qliphoth have been unfairly labeled as evil.


(Qabalah) Hebrew Literally “breath.” It is one of the three parts of the human soul corresponding to personal self-awareness or false self, the emotional self, intellect and ego. It resides within Sephiroth 4 through 9, between Meschamah and Nephesh. The Neschamah seeps into the Ruach, but it is rarely noticed by the ego, which is a shame since the effects of the Neschamah can only observed by the Ruach.

Samadhi Yoga

(Yoga) Gives mastery over the self, and leads to the control of the powers of ecstasy.


(Astrology) An area of the sky (sometimes called a “belt”) divided into twelve parts through which most of the planets appear to move. Each part has a name and symbol, and is connected with an exact time of year. According to Hermes Trismigestus, “As Above, So Below” indicates that the direction of the stars correspond and allude to the course of human evolution.

©2009 Gerald del Campo
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Gerald del Campo is the author of A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed, among other works. You can visit his blog at and his website at Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #13

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #13


A column by Gerald del Campo, The Dictionary of Traditional Magic and Etherical Science features ten author-selected definitions per issue. The definitions included in Mr. del Campo’s Dictionary do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators or other contributors of this magazine.


(Alchemy) An earthenware condenser used in the sublimation process of alchemy. It is a symbol for the last stages of transformation. Also known as a Hermetic Vase, or the Philosopher’s Egg.


Pre-existing powers that have the potential of transmuting, changing, and restoring. In alchemy, the “One Mind.” Synonymous with the secret workings of the mind of God and/or the Greek logos. In the tarot, the arcana manifest as symbolic drawings that the reader must work out through meditation. In the Qabalah, the arcana manifest as the obscure properties of the Hebrew letters and their relation to the Tree of Life. In the I Ching, the arcana appear in the form of sixty-four trigrams. In alchemy, the arcana are hidden everywhere, particularly in chemical compounds, metals and the transmutation of one thing into another.


In Taoism, the vital force believed to be inherent in all things. The unhindered flow of Chi and a balance of its negative and positive energies in the body are held to be essential to good health in traditional Chinese medicine. Similar to the Hindu prana.


(Ecclesiastic) A wide-sleeved garment worn by Deacons over the alb during the celebration of Mass.


(Qabalah) Hebrew “Those who dwell above.” A reference to the angels and archangels that exist in the three higher worlds in the Tree of Life. A reference to the Elyonim is made in Genesis 1:26 in the form of “fish” and the “fowl” that swim in the Waters of Yetzirah and fly in the Air of Briah.


(Psychology) Opposite of persona. An unconscious aspect of the self, neither good nor evil, which the ego has never acknowledged or repressed. The realization of the shadow is inhibited by the persona. Repressed desires, uncivilized impulses, fantasies, resentments, even positive moral values: anything the individual does not like about himself has the potential of becoming a shadow. If these qualities remain suppressed, they can often be experienced in others through the mechanism of projection, and this is the greatest tool at the hands of the magician for discovering them. There is no sure operation for absorbing the shadow; it is more a matter of subtlety and diplomacy. The first step is to accept the existence of the shadow. Next, one has to become aware of its nature and purpose through the observation of one’s moods, fantasies and impulses. The magi can then Qabalistically interpret its nature to find a manner in which the shadow can be creatively expressed. Another, more risky method which should not be used without guidance is to allow the persona and the shadow to utterly destroy one another, thereby allowing a new form of consciousness to arise from the ashes; this is illustrated in the Phoenix myths. The shadow often makes its appearance in dreams, as a member of the same sex.


(Philosophy) A form of skepticism, the belief that nothing exists except my mind and the creations of my mind.

Sufficient condition

(Philosophy) X is a sufficient condition of Y, if where there is X, there is also Y. Therefore, raising a child is a sufficient condition of being a parent, and having a driver’s license is a sufficient condition of knowing how to drive. Contrast with necessary condition.

Zel Shaddai

(Qabalah) Hebrew The Shadow of God. The visible world and natural occurrence are regarded as the consequences of God’s concealment. Nature is regarded as God’s shadow. For example: Shadows divulge the existence of light. Death is what gives our lives meaning.

©2008-2013 Gerald del Campo. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Gerald del Campo has authored three books on the subject of Thelema: A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed. He is a photographer, musician and CEO for the Order of Thelemic Knights, the first Thelemic charitable organization. You can visit his blog at and his websites at and Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #12

The Dictionary of Traditional Magick and Etherical Science #12


A column by Gerald del Campo, The Dictionary of Traditional Magic and Etherical Science features ten author-selected definitions per issue. The definitions included in Mr. del Campo’s Dictionary do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators or other contributors of this magazine.

A posteriori

(Logic) The opposite of a piori. A posteriori knowledge can be established only by experience or reasoning from experience. Example: There are nine planets in the solar system. Empirical is a synonym for a posteriori.


(Logic) A branch of philosophy that involves the study of knowledge.


(Philosophy) The assertion that only material things exist. Often used in Philosophy of Mind, in response to the claim that mental objects and events cannot be reduced to physical objects and events.


(Qabalah) Hebrew The serpent in Genesis that convinced Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. It is the power which imprisons and sets free.

Necessary condition

(Philosophy) X is a necessary condition of Y if there cannot be Y without X. Therefore, being a parent is a necessary condition of raising a child. Compare with sufficient condition.


(Qabalah) A way of creating acronyms and/or new words from other words or phrases that are believed to contain magical powers. For example: The biblical phrase “Thou art great forever, Lord” — Ateh Gibor Le Olahm Adoni can be summed up as AGLA.


(Philosophy) The branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence. Some central questions include: What kinds of objects exist? What does it mean for something to exist?


(Alchemy) A circulatory container with two arms feeding condensed vapors back into the body. It has a cunning similarity in shape to a pelican pecking at its own breast.

Political Philosophy

(Philosophy) The branch of philosophy that discusses freedom, justice, rights, democracy and other political issues. Central questions include: Is democracy the best form of government? How can we balance rights and responsibilities?


(From the author’s personal lexicon) 1) The present day phenomenon of grabbing as much as the Crowleyan pie as possible, such as copyrights and the status that “knowing” Crowley endows upon the insecure, culture-lacking pseudo-intellectuals. 2) a popular board game played by Crowleyites where the object is to use ones Crowleyness to grab a big a part of ThelemaLand as possible at any cost.

©2008-2013 Gerald del Campo. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Gerald del Campo has authored three books on the subject of Thelema: A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed. He is a photographer, musician and CEO for the Order of Thelemic Knights, the first Thelemic charitable organization. You can visit his blog at and his websites at and Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.

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