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Author Topic: What are the outer limits of magic?  (Read 3570 times)
ehbowen
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« Topic Start: February 21, 2010, 11:52:25 pm »

The "big two" monotheistic religions have clear and competing visions of the end of the world: Islam envisions the entire world conquered and ruled by a Caliphate and Sharia law (over my dead body, and I mean that literally); Christianity leaves room for the various nations to maintain their identity but asserts that Christ will rule them all from the throne of David at Jerusalem (which may not be any more palatable for the majority of members here, I realize). Secularism has its visionaries as well; the Star Trek universe comes to mind. What do you believe is the corresponding potential for magic and/or paganism in general?

The typical peasant of 2000 B.C. would have adjusted to the world of Caesar's era (or even Charlemagne's) with scarcely a burble. I venture to say, though, that he would not have adjusted to the 21st century (in the West, at least) without a lot of hard work and re-education. There has been real and substantial change since Gutenberg invented movable type, and especially since James Watt invented his improved steam engine. I'm not looking to hash out how much of that change is due to Christian beliefs and influence, but I will note that the Chinese had a form of printing (lithography) and that the ancient Greeks invented a (very) rudimentary steam engine. Would movable type have made the impact we know without Gutenberg's missionary zeal to publish Scripture and make it accessible to the common man? Was scientific inquiry and investigation jump-started by the religious worldview of early scientists and natural philosophers which held that the natural world was a creation of God, and therefore logical and knowable?

Be all that as it may. What do you think could (or should) have happened if Jesus Christ (and Muhammad) had never walked this earth and pagan/magical thought (of any particular pantheon) had been given the chance to progress unhindered? While I can't presume to read anyone's mind, I get the impression from the discussions I've followed here that most pagan thought is tied to the status quo and that (virtually) no one envisions great and radical changes from the world as it now exists. Would that have been true in any given place and time (Caesar's era, North America pre-1492, ancient Egypt, etc.)? Or am I mistaken in my impressions? While I don't expect anyone to respond that scientific and technological progress is an unmixed curse or blessing either way, if you could push a button and reset the world to the material, technological, and legal/political state of four hundred, five hundred, a thousand, two thousand years ago...would you push it?

For one specific example, I've seen discussions here on the astral. This is an area I have no personal knowledge of, nor am I trying to gain any; I feel my God telling me distinctly that he wants to work with me in this world (the occasional dream excepted). Can you envision any set of circumstances under which we (or you, meaning those who are interested) would be able to know, and map, and navigate the astral as certainly and repeatedly as we navigate the oceans? I sailed into Sydney Harbour twice while in the Navy, the last time over twenty years ago. Yet I have utter and absolute faith that with a suitably equipped and provisioned seagoing vessel and the proper charts and navigational equipment I could return to those exact same coordinates and find the Harbour, the Opera House and that big arched bridge in pretty much the same condition as I remember them. Is such a feat even possible for the astral, or is it fundamentally unplottable (at least in that sense)? If I gave you a suitable description, with nautical coordinates, of my trip around the world I believe that each and every one of you could successfully replicate it. Is the same feat in reverse even possible for the astral, or is it different for each individual?

I suppose what I'm getting at is, do you believe that there is some kind—any kind—of fundamental underlying absolute Truth to paganism and magic in general? I believe, on a fundamental philosophical level, that truth MUST be absolute, else it be not Truth...from which springs the missionary imperative of my own faith specifically and, IMO, of Christianity in general. I can accept that the majority of others here feel differently, but...if you had things your way, where would you take them? Are you happy with the status quo, the world pretty much the way it is...and, if so, would you be equally at home in the world of the 13th century or the 23rd century? If you are satisfied with things the way they are, does that include being satisfied with the fact that there is no (observable) justice for those who are caught up in the middle of famine, genocide and other horrors, such as those in Sudan? Or, if you would change things, what kind of change would you propose and what things would need to happen to (at least in your plan) make it work?

I know that this is kind of a rambling OP, so feel free to focus on any one area or to start a spinoff thread. But if your religion and your deities had their way...what would happen?

« Last Edit: February 22, 2010, 12:09:03 am by ehbowen, Reason: Correct error in date: 1492 not 1942 » Logged

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« Reply #1: February 22, 2010, 12:07:58 am »

Would that have been true in any given place and time (Caesar's era, North America pre-1942, ancient Egypt, etc.)?

I meant 1492, not 1942... [/channelling Randall]
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« Reply #2: February 22, 2010, 08:35:05 am »

I suppose what I'm getting at is, do you believe that there is some kind—any kind—of fundamental underlying absolute Truth to paganism and magic in general? I believe, on a fundamental philosophical level, that truth MUST be absolute, else it be not Truth...

I believe there are absolute truths, but we have no sure way of determined which proposed truths are absolutely truth -- especially if they cannot be tested by neutral parties. For example, any proposed non-physical truth that one has to first believe to test cannot be shown to be absolute truth, only truth for those who believe it. Also, I'm not sure that many things we consider to be absolute truths are really truth outside their own limited realm. For example, even the physical constants that define the universe may not absolute truth -- just truth within the observable universe. 

Also, things that seem to be absolute truth, may only appear to us to be so because of the limits of our ability to observe -- the real truth may be something much different. Quantum mechanics is an example of this -- it is true even though it does not match our everyday observations of the world.

When it comes to religious beliefs, it is often hard to separate the claims of the deity or deities from the claims of the followers of those deities. The actual claims of the deities would have to be non-contradictory for multiple pantheons to co-exist, however, the claims of the followers of those deities need not be. The claims of the followers about the universe and the deity could even be completely inaccurate and that would have no effect on the existence of their deity or deities.
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« Reply #3: February 22, 2010, 09:42:41 am »


I suppose what I'm getting at is, do you believe that there is some kind—any kind—of fundamental underlying absolute Truth to paganism and magic in general? I believe, on a fundamental philosophical level, that truth MUST be absolute, else it be not Truth...


I have hard time with this part. I guess what I believe, is yes there has to be some sort of universal truth to everything humans are capable of believing, but I don't think a way exists,  or ever will, that will allow us to understand it. We as humans can try and find means to analyze patters of the world and universe around us, but in the end we'll still be interpreting our analysis through rudimentary human means to understand it. All we would be doing is bringing the outer areas of life into our own world views.

The problem with the idea of scientific advancements, is that it comes with the question of how many of them were necessary. Clearly I'm not against science, or I wouldn't be using the internet. But for all the great things we have had throughout the years, that have helped advance our knowledge of ourselves and bring us together as humanity, we've had quite a few bad things result. Nuclear weapons, world wars, totalitarian regimes capable of hurting more people in less amount of time, and what I would argue is the greatest travesty, more affective means of propaganda that can be channeled through more resources in less time. One almost has to believe in some sort of universal law in order to have hope for tomorrow, because we have entered the age where we can create subjective truth, even through massive lies. I'll be honest, that scares me.

As what could have happened if Jesus and Muhammad never walked this earth, I mean no offense to you or any of the monotheistic believers that may be on this board, but besides the prevention of the threat for nuclear war or some other travesty every day in the middle east, I don't think too much would have happened. Given the political agendas of Constantine and Rome, another religion would have been used as a basis to hold together the Roman empire, in which their system of government would have implemented ways of keeping their people in check and happy enough in order to survive. Sure, history wouldn't have run it's course, but scientific advancements would have been achieved anyways, although in different manners. Keep in mind a number of the earliest scientists in western society were persecuted for being heretics against the church. Had another religion been in place, they may have been persecuted by that religion instead.

The problem is, this is all theoretical. When it comes down to it in the end, we can only base our interpretations on the materials, and understanding of such materials, we have at the present. I thank you ehbowen for being a prime example of what followers of the Christ should be, in that you haven't resorted to casting stones here, and can only wish for you the best in your personal spiritual journey.

One more thing, in response to your question about navigating around the world, as opposed to the stars, that too is subjective. The physical places are the same, but the individuals experiences and interpretations of the events around them will be different. If you give me a map of your world trip after you completed it, and have had no problems, but I follow it and run into some tornadoes, earthquakes, etc, we're going to have had different experiences. The magnitude of the journey, be it physically or even spiritually, will inevitably change the conditions of the journey itself as well as the outcome. The guidelines may be the same, and lead to the same visible place, but everything else will be different for the individual.

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« Reply #4: February 22, 2010, 09:44:14 am »

I suppose what I'm getting at is, do you believe that there is some kind—any kind—of fundamental underlying absolute Truth to paganism and magic in general?

I think the question is incoherent.

To start with:  "Is there any kind of fundamental underlying absolute truth to magic?" is a question roughly equivalent to "Is there any kind of fundamental underlying absolute truth to hammers?"  Tools have no innate philosophy.

Paganism in general has no overriding truths much like non-Europeans do not all have the same opinion of cottage cheese.

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but...if you had things your way, where would you take them?

I think it would be nice if people would follow their own religious strictures about treating people humanely; most religions appear to mandate a better job of that in theory than happens in practice.  Hell, I think starting from freakin' "Bill and Ted" would be a good go - "Be excellent to one another."


As to whether I'd be perfectly happy in the 13th century ... I'm female, for starters.  Not having a post-apocalyptic religious utopian vision does not mean that I am an idiot who is complacently pleased with the status quo, and who would be equally passively pleased to have smallpox, uncorrected vision, or being dead by my current age because of repeated childbirth.

Post-apocalyptic utopias strike me as fundamentally magical thinking, to get back to hammers.  "Come the revolution, those people will be up against the wall and MY PEOPLE will rule the world RIGHT."  That magical moment when suddenly a god steps in or some other Unpredictable Epic Event happens counter to the evidence of how the universe works is beyond my capacity to believe in.  I don't believe in "the Singularity" either; talk about your cop-out excuses to duck out of decent worldbuilding in fiction. Tongue  ("And then everything became different!  Technology did it and nobody understood!")

Utopias always suck for anyone who doesn't fit the cookie-cutter vision or who isn't willing to pay the price - see also "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas".  I consider anyone who thinks it's a good idea to implement a utopia pretty much three steps away from descending into the heinous (this is not limited to religious utopias, I actually run into this much more banging my head against certain forms of mostly-leftist politics).  And when people consciously put forward a path that trends towards the villainous, I am not likely to trust them not to be villains.

The Abrahamic tradition even recognises this, obliquely: Lilith was, after all, condemned to watch a hundred of her children die each day she did not knuckle under to that god.  Which I'm sure is a fine thing from a human perspective, given that Lilith's children are canonically demons and monsters and the like, but historically speaking humans stink at treating other people as human.  Which means I'm left knowing that Come The Revolution I have damn good odds of being numbered among the demons, no matter what Revolution actually Comes.

(And no, I don't believe that suddenly Come The Revolution humans will - shazam! - suddenly be kind, fair, and just to people who aren't like them.  Some people may hold that as some absolute Truth, but it really hits my "Suspension of disbelief does not mean 'From the neck until dead'!" point.  Too many people consider the prospect of running the world in terms of getting theirs and seeing what those bastards will suffer, and that's without considering things like racism, sexism, homophobia, cissexism, ablism, religious bigotry, classism, and all of those other ways in which people have a bad habit of failing to be excellent to each other.)

So, no, I don't have a vision in which MY PEOPLE will rule the world RIGHT, because the world will still be ruled by people.  I have no interest in establishing some sort of religious hegemony; my gods don't give any evidence of thinking that They want to play pokemon with humanity in the first place, and on top of that I think it would be counterproductive to wipe out systems by which other people might best learn better to be excellent to one another.  (Because not everyone needs the same stuff to learn how to be excellent, a fact which can be derived from a huge variety of things starting from 'Are you an audio, visual, or kinesthetic learner?' or variations in aesthetics.)

If people got the hang of being excellent to one another, I suspect we'd all be doing a lot better - and be able to apply our resources better to addressing whatever other issues come of having corporeal existence rather than spending huge chunks of them on lack of excellence.  Megalomania (such as "my religious vision will run the world") is rude, and thus cannot be excellent.
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« Reply #5: February 22, 2010, 11:14:09 am »



Thank you.  I would not have said it as politely or as well.
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« Reply #6: February 22, 2010, 04:12:25 pm »


Yes.  What she said.

But also, I don't understand how this:

I suppose what I'm getting at is, do you believe that there is some kind—any kind—of fundamental underlying absolute Truth to paganism and magic in general?

relates to this:

if you could push a button and reset the world to the material, technological, and legal/political state of four hundred, five hundred, a thousand, two thousand years ago...would you push it?

or how either of those relate to this:

if your religion and your deities had their way...what would happen?

and the OP seems to be going back and forth like they're variations on the same question, which makes me suspect I'm completely missing whatever the point is.
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« Reply #7: February 22, 2010, 04:27:04 pm »

If people got the hang of being excellent to one another, I suspect we'd all be doing a lot better - and be able to apply our resources better to addressing whatever other issues come of having corporeal existence rather than spending huge chunks of them on lack of excellence.  Megalomania (such as "my religious vision will run the world") is rude, and thus cannot be excellent.

I think Wheaton's Law ("Don't be a dick.") blurs into Bill and Ted's Law ("Be excellent to one another.") Probably not a bad way to sum up almost the entirety of my ethical code.
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« Reply #8: February 22, 2010, 05:43:10 pm »

I think Wheaton's Law ("Don't be a dick.") blurs into Bill and Ted's Law ("Be excellent to one another.") Probably not a bad way to sum up almost the entirety of my ethical code.

LOL  All in all, that's a good code.
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« Reply #9: February 22, 2010, 11:19:40 pm »

and the OP seems to be going back and forth like they're variations on the same question, which makes me suspect I'm completely missing whatever the point is.

Well, the point (inasmuch as there is one) is to try to gain some insight into your religion's and your own vision of the future. I know the ways that I would like to see the world change...how do others feel?


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« Reply #10: February 23, 2010, 01:10:22 am »

Well, the point (inasmuch as there is one) is to try to gain some insight into your religion's and your own vision of the future. I know the ways that I would like to see the world change...how do others feel?

I know this is going to sound kinda Pollyanna-ish, but the major way I would like to see the world change is to be more (well, actually, perfectly) egalitarian.  What I mean by that is that everyone would have access to and the means to acquire what they need -- food, shelter, health care, education, etc.  That might sound like socialism, and I guess it is to an extent, but I don't really have a huge problem with some people having more than others.  My problem is with some people having more than others at the expense of the others.  So we have billionaires while we also have people who are homeless and starving.  I want some way of evening it out.  I want some way of putting into practice the principle of equality.

What I don't know is whether any particular religion could get us there.  I don't really think it can, primarily because humans are so diverse.  I don't think it's possible, or desirable, for everyone to hold the same beliefs.  I think it's a dangerous situation when nobody challenges the thinking of the majority.

The deity to whom I'm dedicated is Brighid.  I have no idea how She would do things "if She had Her way."  I get the impression that She is interested in encouraging and supporting us in the quest to better our own world, but I have no idea if She has any hopes or plans to intercede in human affairs.  My concept of Brighid is a little different than my understanding of the Christian God.  I tend to not see Brighid as primarily anthropomorphized.  Although I have "seen" Her in a human-appearing form, I think of Her as more of a force or an energy.  And I don't think She -- or other deities, but I have no direct experience of any others -- thinks about our world or anything else the same way we do.  All that is to say that I'm not sure your question really applies to my understanding of deity.

And no, although I find the world of the Bronze and Iron Age Celts to be interesting -- at least what we know about it -- I would definitely NOT want to live there.  I highly value the advances we've made in science, medicine, engineering, law, architecture, communication, transportation, art, entertainment, etc.

So, basically, I guess I share Darkhawk's desire for people to just be excellent -- or at least tolerant! -- of each other.  But I think I might take it a baby step forward in looking for some way to implement true equality -- or at least the individual potential for equality.

I don't know if any of this makes sense, but you asked for our thoughts, so here's my $0.02.  Cheesy
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« Reply #11: February 23, 2010, 07:18:12 pm »

Well, the point (inasmuch as there is one) is to try to gain some insight into your religion's and your own vision of the future. I know the ways that I would like to see the world change...how do others feel?

As one of the few people here that belongs to a religion that DOES have a religious view of the future - I'm going to try to answer this.  Though I'm not sure it's what you're looking for.  (also, for the record, I'm on cold meds, so I may not make a lot of sense)

Flamekeeping's view of the future involves the idea that we are all Divine.  anything that does not embrace that, clearly, doesn't fall into the view of what Flamekeeping sees as a good future.

I don't believe in utopias.  I believe one can STRIVE for utopia, but I think there's also no way to actually achieve it.  And any "utopia" that does not START with the concept of humanity being inherently Divine doesn't mesh with Flamekeeping at all.

I have no interest in reliving the past.  Indeed, Flamekeeping focuses on the future - while where we come from matters, what is important is the future we create.  Too much focus on the past neglects the fact that we inherently are a species of change, and while change can be scary, refusing to embrace it goes against what we are.

I believe in a future where we can celebrate each other's differences as Divine - where we can each be the best of ourselves.  I don't know if this is a possible future, but I think it's one worth striving for anyway.
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« Reply #12: February 23, 2010, 11:25:31 pm »



Actually, I think that we can come close to a point of agreement on this. I strongly believe [both doctrine and UPG] that all men are created in the image of God, and as such have infinite worth and value.

In my opinion, however, it needs to be tempered with the sentiment expressed so pithily on a bumper sticker: "Two basic rules: 1 - There is a God. 2 - You are not Him." While it might seem that I am picking a fight, what I see in that idea is a fundamental affirmation of the fact of Otherness. If we really are mere facets of some Cosmic All...then where is the room for uniqueness, for accomplishment? Where is the room for individual accountability and justice? It would mean that the Muslims are right when they say "Insha'Allah"...we are no more than puppets and everything—war, famine, poverty, the Third Reich—is God's will. This I reject emphatically. We are, eternally and forever, individuals. With individual freedoms and individual accountability for how we use that freedom.

And yet, again, we are all beings created in the image of God. I think that the truth is arrived at with a fusion of those two streams. Perhaps C. S. Lewis expressed it best: "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."

[If you want to discuss the "horrors or splendours" bit, I'd prefer that we do it in a new thread. I believe I have elsewhere expressed my opinion; in accordance with Orthodox Christian Doctrine I believe there is a Hell; in response to very persistent and very clear UPG I believe the eventual goal is to empty the place out.]
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« Reply #13: February 23, 2010, 11:45:00 pm »

Actually, I think that we can come close to a point of agreement on this. I strongly believe [both doctrine and UPG] that all men are created in the image of God, and as such have infinite worth and value.

In my opinion, however, it needs to be tempered with the sentiment expressed so pithily on a bumper sticker: "Two basic rules: 1 - There is a God. 2 - You are not Him." While it might seem that I am picking a fight, what I see in that idea is a fundamental affirmation of the fact of Otherness. If we really are mere facets of some Cosmic All...then where is the room for uniqueness, for accomplishment? Where is the room for individual accountability and justice? It would mean that the Muslims are right when they say "Insha'Allah"...we are no more than puppets and everything—war, famine, poverty, the Third Reich—is God's will. This I reject emphatically. We are, eternally and forever, individuals. With individual freedoms and individual accountability for how we use that freedom.

And yet, again, we are all beings created in the image of God. I think that the truth is arrived at with a fusion of those two streams. Perhaps C. S. Lewis expressed it best: "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."

[If you want to discuss the "horrors or splendours" bit, I'd prefer that we do it in a new thread. I believe I have elsewhere expressed my opinion; in accordance with Orthodox Christian Doctrine I believe there is a Hell; in response to very persistent and very clear UPG I believe the eventual goal is to empty the place out.]


I believe the 'facet' definition allows us to be different, not confining us to the control of the whole.  Why would everyone being part of the divine require that there be no individual independence or accountability?  I would say it rather brings us into the divine, fully a part of it, while still being ourselves, with all our faults and failures
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« Reply #14: February 24, 2010, 03:29:25 pm »

Actually, I think that we can come close to a point of agreement on this. I strongly believe [both doctrine and UPG] that all men are created in the image of God, and as such have infinite worth and value.

I apparently hit "modify" when I meant to hit "reply" and replied to this post by editing it. I've restored it as best I could by copying the quote in mandrina's post which has all of ehbowen's original post -- I think. My apologies to ehbowen for messing up his post. I hit the wrong "button" and did not notice until it was pointed out to me in the staff area.
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Randall
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