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Author Topic: Magic and Hubris  (Read 24973 times)
Carnelian
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« Topic Start: July 12, 2009, 09:59:25 pm »

Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism usually has a negative stance on the practice of magic/witchcraft/spells, but it can be rather fuzzy about what falls under the "magic" heading. For example, things viewed as "witchcraft" due to Christian propaganda, such as herbal healing, midwifery, and divination, would not be considered "occult" or magical to the ancient Greeks. Spellcraft, on the other hand, is usually understood to be hubristic because it involves the magician imposing his or her will on the gods and the universe.

Coercive sorcery is definitely hubris, and shouldn't be practiced by a pious Hellene, but are all "magical" practices coercive and impious? Magic and sorcery was suppressed in the Classical age, but it was done before that. I read that a priest of Zeus could perform an act of sympathetic magic to make it rain after making an offering to Zeus. I guess it can depend what time period a reconstuctionist practitioner is focusing on. The Classical Athenian Greeks were definitely more conservative about this kind of thing than maybe earlier Greeks of other poleis might have been.

I'm not really sure, I haven't done spells in years, so magic isn't a topic I know much about. I'm curious about what other people's opinions are.
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« Reply #1: July 12, 2009, 10:15:35 pm »

Coercive sorcery is definitely hubris, and shouldn't be practiced by a pious Hellene, but are all "magical" practices coercive and impious?

Personally, unless one is trying to force the Gods to do something, I'm not sure it is always hubris.  What's the difference between forcing your will on the universe with magic and forcing the universe to provide without magic? Both impose change -- perhaps even the same change as most things can be accomplished by either with or without magic. If accomplishing one with magic is hubris, then accomplishing it without magic should also be hubris.
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« Reply #2: July 12, 2009, 10:33:56 pm »

Personally, unless one is trying to force the Gods to do something, I'm not sure it is always hubris.  What's the difference between forcing your will on the universe with magic and forcing the universe to provide without magic? Both impose change -- perhaps even the same change as most things can be accomplished by either with or without magic. If accomplishing one with magic is hubris, then accomplishing it without magic should also be hubris.

That's a good point. I think what makes the use of magic hubris is that the practitioner is presuming they have supernatural power that only the gods truly have. As the Delphic maxim states: "know thyself." I guess it is more pious to be humble and to know your place in the universe, as a mortal and not a god.

Elaion (http://www.elaion.org) has interesting things to say about the issue:

"Magic that is not acceptable within the Dodekatheist life includes "ceremonial magic", Wicca, "witchcraft", Hermeticism, "theurgy", or any practice in which a person believes or attempts to enact their will using human "magical" powers, or most especially the divine powers of the gods at their command. We do not accept this as pious behavior, nor do we accept it as mentally healthy."

They seem to pass the practice of magic off as occult superstition. Sometimes I agree with them, and other times I'm not so sure.
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« Reply #3: July 12, 2009, 10:51:25 pm »

That's a good point. I think what makes the use of magic hubris is that the practitioner is presuming they have supernatural power that only the gods truly have. As the Delphic maxim states: "know thyself." I guess it is more pious to be humble and to know your place in the universe, as a mortal and not a god.

There are quite a few magical systems that don't involve deities at all.  And some could argue that anyone could cast spells if they wanted to.

Quote
Elaion (http://www.elaion.org) has interesting things to say about the issue:

"Magic that is not acceptable within the Dodekatheist life includes "ceremonial magic", Wicca, "witchcraft", Hermeticism, "theurgy", or any practice in which a person believes or attempts to enact their will using human "magical" powers, or most especially the divine powers of the gods at their command. We do not accept this as pious behavior, nor do we accept it as mentally healthy."

They seem to pass the practice of magic off as occult superstition. Sometimes I agree with them, and other times I'm not so sure.

I'm not going to comment on Elaion myself because, in my exeriance, most of the "Dodekatheism" groups tend to be more on the fundie side so I'm a bit biased.  However, for some reason I wonder why people who say they beilieve in gods also say they don't believe in magic and vice versa.  Mainly because their are both at the same level in terms of valaid evidence.
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« Reply #4: July 13, 2009, 12:32:24 am »

Elaion (http://www.elaion.org) has interesting things to say about the issue:

"Magic that is not acceptable within the Dodekatheist life includes "ceremonial magic", Wicca, "witchcraft", Hermeticism, "theurgy", or any practice in which a person believes or attempts to enact their will using human "magical" powers, or most especially the divine powers of the gods at their command. We do not accept this as pious behavior, nor do we accept it as mentally healthy."

I'm not going to comment on Elaion specifically either. Every group has a right to define their own rules and guidelines, but I don't think that belief applies to everyone in the community outside of that particular group.

I recently got into this same debate on another forum. Yes, I agree there is writing to suggest that the ancient Greeks frowned upon magical practices as hubris (yes, what falls under "magic" is fuzzy, then and now), but at the same time there is also examples of people practicing various sorts of magic suggesting the belief that it was hubris and offensive to the gods, or completely ineffective because humans have no such power, was probably not a universal one. I think that leaves you free to make up your own mind myself, and if previous discussions on the topic have taught me anything, what conclusions you come to will depend a great deal on what you believe about magic itself, divine omnipotence and inescapable destiny (those seem to be the three big points of disagreement between the magic is okay and the magic is not okay people).

Although I do agree with you on coercive magic. Trying to threaten and bully beings far more powerful than you is disrespectful and can't lead to anything good. But not all magic contains such elements, and as someone else pointed out, not all magic requires deities at all. 
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« Reply #5: July 13, 2009, 01:37:55 am »

Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism usually has a negative stance on the practice of magic/witchcraft/spells, but it can be rather fuzzy about what falls under the "magic" heading. For example, things viewed as "witchcraft" due to Christian propaganda, such as herbal healing, midwifery, and divination, would not be considered "occult" or magical to the ancient Greeks. Spellcraft, on the other hand, is usually understood to be hubristic because it involves the magician imposing his or her will on the gods and the universe.

Coercive sorcery is definitely hubris, and shouldn't be practiced by a pious Hellene, but are all "magical" practices coercive and impious? Magic and sorcery was suppressed in the Classical age, but it was done before that. I read that a priest of Zeus could perform an act of sympathetic magic to make it rain after making an offering to Zeus. I guess it can depend what time period a reconstuctionist practitioner is focusing on. The Classical Athenian Greeks were definitely more conservative about this kind of thing than maybe earlier Greeks of other poleis might have been.

I'm not really sure, I haven't done spells in years, so magic isn't a topic I know much about. I'm curious about what other people's opinions are.


I took a class a couple of years ago on magic and its use in ancient Greece and Rome, and the last year or so, seeing so many discussions on this topic, I really wish I had kept better track of the notes and materials from that class because it was very clear that the use of magic, and how it was accepted, and what constituted "magic", "religion" and "superstition" varied from time to time and place to place. I do remember that it was very clear that at certain times and places in ancient Greece, it wasn't really that big of a deal, or was considered generally acceptable- this was from ancient source material, and I am trying to recall, at the very least, which of the ancient writers this may have come from so that I can quote sources.

I have a copy of Arcana Mundi kicking around here...hmmm....

In any case, regarding non-coercive spellcraft and the idea of it being the user imposing one's will upon the gods..I think that first of all requires one to know the will of the gods regarding the particular situation for which one may be casting a spell. If one doesn't actually know the will of the gods, then to cast a spell for a particular desire may or may not be trying to change that which is their will.

As far as I see it, the act of casting the spell isn't hubristic. What I do see as hubristic is if the user is one who believe that every little act of magic that they do is going to have an effect on the outcome of everything. I see magic as another means of doing things, another tool in one's belt, and if one is willing to try to get something done by non-magical means, it only makes sense that they would, if so inclined, also be willing to use magical means (conversely, I think that one should only be willing to use magical means if one is also willing to use non-magical means.) but, much like pushing on a very stubborn horse, you may or may not accomplish your desired ends- if you can accept that it may still not work out in your favor, that it's just another way of trying to get the job done- that it's a means, not the means- then I don't see it as so problematic.

If one has gone so far as to attempt to divine the will of the gods on a given situation and the result is not in one's favor, then I think it may start to be bleeding over into hubristic territory if one decides to employ magical means despite a divination indicating that it's not in their will, particularly if the diviner/method of divination is a well-trusted one.

That's just some of my own thoughts on magic. Is this appropriate to Hellenic reconstruction? Honestly, I think it is, but until I can find the sources again to back it up, i can only give you my thoughts and vague recollections to back it up.

One another vein in the subject, I've seen someone on another forum who is against the use of magic in Hellenic Reconstruction say that he thinks it's hubristic because the gods, being perfect, have inescapably predestined everything to their will, and to try to perform magic is to try to change that...which is a bit of a paradox because if everything is predestined, then performing an act of magic in a given situation must also be predestined, so how can the gods be angered by that which they have already willed to happen?

All right...off to find my copy of Arcana Mundi...
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« Reply #6: July 13, 2009, 08:04:37 am »

That's a good point. I think what makes the use of magic hubris is that the practitioner is presuming they have supernatural power that only the gods truly have. As the Delphic maxim states: "know thyself." I guess it is more pious to be humble and to know your place in the universe, as a mortal and not a god.

This assumes that magic is "a supernatural power that only the Gods have."  The problem I see with this assumption is that magic seems to work for mortals. If it works for mortals then it is not a power only the Gods have. The acceptance of magic in ancient Greece seems to have varied a lot with time and place -- just like the Greek religion itself did. I don't think there is one answer valid for all times and places.

Quote
Elaion (http://www.elaion.org) has interesting things to say about the issue:

While others seem reluctant to comment on Elaion, I'm not. They are a fundamentalist Hellenic group and I treat them just like I do fundamentalist groups from other religions. That is, I respect their right to their views and beliefs, but I do not consider their views at all authoritative.
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« Reply #7: July 13, 2009, 08:20:44 am »

While others seem reluctant to comment on Elaion, I'm not. They are a fundamentalist Hellenic group and I treat them just like I do fundamentalist groups from other religions. That is, I respect their right to their views and beliefs, but I do not consider their views at all authoritative.

I can only speak for myself here, but my not commenting on Elaion stems mostly from the fact that they're defunct and I don't see the need to go into "Well there used to be this group and they thought magic was wrong...".

It just doesn't seem to have much of a point. Their website is still up, and I know that at least one of the founding members still holds such beliefs and has an active Yahoo group, but I also know that another one of them no longer even really believes in the gods, and there really isn't an existing organization in existence to speak of.

ETA: As has been said, they never were an authority over anyone besides themselves, so I don't see the need to look for them for guidance. Even if they ever were though, any authority would have ended when they kicked it.

(hope that I didn't wait too long to add that last thought.)
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« Reply #8: July 13, 2009, 08:54:10 am »

While others seem reluctant to comment on Elaion, I'm not. They are a fundamentalist Hellenic group and I treat them just like I do fundamentalist groups from other religions. That is, I respect their right to their views and beliefs, but I do not consider their views at all authoritative.

I agree with you, and that is one of the big reasons why I opted not to comment on them. While I respect their rights to their opinions, their guidelines don't extend beyond those who have chosen to follow them. Never been a member myself (for obvious reasons), I don't look to them as any sort of an authority. Their beliefs were posted for all to read, I didn't see any reason to comment further than to say I disagree and here's my own opinion.
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« Reply #9: July 13, 2009, 11:09:55 am »

Coercive sorcery is definitely hubris, and shouldn't be practiced by a pious Hellene, but are all "magical" practices coercive and impious?

I don't think all magic is of a necessity hubristic, coercive, or impious.  Like any other action, it can be any of those things or none, and I don't see much point differentiating magical work from taking any other form of action, at least in this context.
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« Reply #10: July 13, 2009, 11:44:15 am »

Sorry, I didn't know Elaion was defunct. I just find their website informative and I like what they have to say about a lot of things. Maybe I'm a closet fundie.  Grin

This assumes that magic is "a supernatural power that only the Gods have."  The problem I see with this assumption is that magic seems to work for mortals. If it works for mortals then it is not a power only the Gods have. The acceptance of magic in ancient Greece seems to have varied a lot with time and place -- just like the Greek religion itself did. I don't think there is one answer valid for all times and places.

I don't know. Personally, I'm not convinced magic and spellcraft actually do anything than provide a "placebo effect." It's really all about chance. If, by coincidence, what the spell was supposed to have accomplished happens by coincidence, it's credited to the spell. If the spell doesn't "work," then it is rationalized that "it wasn't supposed to." That said, I do try to keep an open mind, since I certainly can't presume to know how the universe works.

I think that leaves you free to make up your own mind myself, and if previous discussions on the topic have taught me anything, what conclusions you come to will depend a great deal on what you believe about magic itself, divine omnipotence and inescapable destiny (those seem to be the three big points of disagreement between the magic is okay and the magic is not okay people).

Absolutely. There is no commandment that says, "thou shalt not do spells." It's up to the person to determine what they feel is pious based on the primary sources we have. For example, the Delphic maxims are vague, and a person has to decide whether or not the practice of magic goes against the "Know Thyself" maxim and the Hellenic concepts of virtue. A lot is left up to personal interpretation. Although sorcery was generally considered a vice in ancient Hellenic society, it varies.

One another vein in the subject, I've seen someone on another forum who is against the use of magic in Hellenic Reconstruction say that he thinks it's hubristic because the gods, being perfect, have inescapably predestined everything to their will, and to try to perform magic is to try to change that...which is a bit of a paradox because if everything is predestined, then performing an act of magic in a given situation must also be predestined, so how can the gods be angered by that which they have already willed to happen?

Yeah, you make a good point. Still, Hellenismos/Hellenic reconstruction is not a "magical" religion, and we don't have a "magical" worldview in which casting spells is not a "normal" aspect of Hellenic religious life. I think it's deviant, but I don't know if I would go so far as saying it's unethical.

My main objection to magic and sorcery is that I don't really see it as necessary. There are so many gods ruling over all aspects of life, if a person has a need, all they need to do is approach the appropriate deity. Theoretically, it is more pious to pray and make an offering to the right deity, and leave it up to them whether or not your desire comes to pass, rather than assuming you have the power to make the universe do your will yourself. In that way, it is irreligious and atheistic.
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« Reply #11: July 13, 2009, 04:50:07 pm »

Elaion (http://www.elaion.org) has interesting things to say about the issue:

"Magic that is not acceptable within the Dodekatheist life includes "ceremonial magic", Wicca, "witchcraft", Hermeticism, "theurgy", or any practice in which a person believes or attempts to enact their will using human "magical" powers, or most especially the divine powers of the gods at their command. We do not accept this as pious behavior, nor do we accept it as mentally healthy."
Sounds to me more like, "don't get that icky modern neoPagan stuff on my nice, pure, noble Reconstructionism!" - the specifics they list are very much focused on neoPagan aproaches to magic.

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« Reply #12: July 13, 2009, 05:52:26 pm »

Yeah, you make a good point. Still, Hellenismos/Hellenic reconstruction is not a "magical" religion, and we don't have a "magical" worldview in which casting spells is not a "normal" aspect of Hellenic religious life. I think it's deviant, but I don't know if I would go so far as saying it's unethical.

Magic need not be religious at all. Wicca is one of the few religions that makes magic a part of the religion.  Magic is more often something like science or playing baseball or building airplanes -- something that one might do but is not a part of one's religious practice.
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« Reply #13: July 13, 2009, 07:16:32 pm »

I don't know. Personally, I'm not convinced magic and spellcraft actually do anything than provide a "placebo effect." It's really all about chance.

Some people do consider magic to be mostly about tipping the scales of chance a little more in your favor (this is my current working theory anyway). I used to be a lot more skeptical when it came to magic, that's been largely eroded away the past year or so, but it hasn't been so long that I don't completely understand the other side of the argument. If a person casts a spell and gets the job they wanted, they wouldn't be able to prove definitively that they would not have gotten the job without the spell, and another person wouldn't be able to definitively prove that they would have gotten it anyway.

Quote
If, by coincidence, what the spell was supposed to have accomplished happens by coincidence, it's credited to the spell. If the spell doesn't "work," then it is rationalized that "it wasn't supposed to." That said, I do try to keep an open mind, since I certainly can't presume to know how the universe works.

True. Although that same sort of rationalization crops up whenever people are dealing with something they can't concretely prove. Like with the existence of the gods and answered prayers: what I prayed for came true, the gods exist; what I prayed for didn't come true, it wasn't meant to be. For people that believe in gods, that's just the way things work, for atheists its a point they feel they can use in their favor.

Quote
Yeah, you make a good point. Still, Hellenismos/Hellenic reconstruction is not a "magical" religion, and we don't have a "magical" worldview in which casting spells is not a "normal" aspect of Hellenic religious life. I think it's deviant, but I don't know if I would go so far as saying it's unethical.

Well, I don't think anyone was saying that Hellenic Religion was a magical religion or that magic was a central part of religious practice. Its definitely not, and anyone that doesn't want to practice it doesn't have to. The question was is it unethical for a Hellenic Religionist to practice it at all. There is a big difference in saying, "This is a side practice at best, and not one I believe in or see as necessary myself," and saying, "What you're doing is immoral and offensive to the gods and you'll be punished for it."
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« Reply #14: July 13, 2009, 10:23:02 pm »

Sounds to me more like, "don't get that icky modern neoPagan stuff on my nice, pure, noble Reconstructionism!" - the specifics they list are very much focused on neoPagan aproaches to magic.

Sunflower

That's very true, but I think they are justified in their attitude towards neopagan ideas. They really don't have a place in reconstructionism, and most recons would probably be very conservative regarding neopaganism infiltrating reconstructionist practice. Not that there is anything wrong with neopaganism, reconstructionism is just a separate entity.

Magic need not be religious at all. Wicca is one of the few religions that makes magic a part of the religion.  Magic is more often something like science or playing baseball or building airplanes -- something that one might do but is not a part of one's religious practice.

But there was no distinction in ancient Greece between what was religious and what was not. Religion was manifest in all aspects of life, and gods were believed to be in everything. Weaving, was an activity sacred to Athene, as metalwork and engineering were sacred to Hephaistos. Commerce was the domain of Hermes (as was science), etc. There was no part of life that wasn't of the gods.

Well, I don't think anyone was saying that Hellenic Religion was a magical religion or that magic was a central part of religious practice. Its definitely not, and anyone that doesn't want to practice it doesn't have to.

No, I hope I didn't imply that anyone was saying that. When it comes to paganism, a distinction often has to be made between what is a neopagan "magical" religion, and reconstructionism, which is more oriented towards the worship of deities in their original cultural context.
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