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Author Topic: Magic and Hubris  (Read 24946 times)
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« Reply #105: July 21, 2009, 09:42:10 pm »

Allegedly within human capacity, you mean?
No, I did indeed mean "actually", since I was referring to what you seemed to be excluding:  since you disbelieve magic is within human capacity, that which actually is within human capacity must not be magic.

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I don't understand how spells can have reciprocity. Instead of telling me how ever so naive I am, please enlighten me Wink
I suspect my bit about "why are you accepting those people's definition?" came across as more sarcastic than I intended - it was a frustrated but sincere request for info, not snarking at you as naive.

I can't answer your question as it's asked - I've never been saying "spells have reciprocity"; the closest I came was to say that magic isn't a way to evade consequentiality.  I mentioned reciprocity as one of your criteria - while I could speak of reciprocity in context of magic, I'm not; your usage of the word seems to centre on the reciprocity in our relationships with the gods, and that's largely irrelevant to magic as I understand it.

Also, you seem to be treating the words "magic" and "spell" as synonyms.  Spellwork is one sort of magic - is that part of the communication issues here, that you meant that spellwork in particular was hubristic?

Quote
I get that the practice of magic is popular among pagans, and I'm not telling anyone they shouldn't do it. I just don't see how spells are compatible with the concept of kharis within Hellenismos for reasons I've mentioned.
I don't think anyone who has posted to this thread has done so because they believe you're telling them what to do - every one of us is someone who so deeply loves veracity that we react quite strongly whe we see information that appears to be false-to-fact.  I do not mean that the core thesis you cite here (about the incompatibility with kharis) is false-to-fact - it's a very different sort of thing, for which factual true/false is irrelevant - but that some of the reasons on which you base that thesis include misinformation.

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« Reply #106: July 21, 2009, 10:01:55 pm »

I can see where the problems lie, but still wonder if it might be worth trying to put together one of those dictionary definitions that gives a range of alternates, without assuming that they are simultaneously applicable. I am thinking in terms of a genuine dictionary entry that seeks only to capture the most common ways that the word is used within the specialist community(ies) here represented.

I doubt it can be done as what is magic and what isn't is at least partially cultural.
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« Reply #107: July 21, 2009, 11:19:14 pm »

I doubt it can be done as what is magic and what isn't is at least partially cultural.

I absolutely agree with the cultural contextivity. I think that there are other similar issues related to specific traditions that would prevent ever reaching a singular definition, such as the one that TC uses for 'pagan'. It is also an endeavour that lends itself to the presentation of definitions that the proposer does not hold, or cannot attest to within a closely relevant use (e.g. a commonly used primary source reference). That sort of definitional debate can be fun for those of us sick puppies that go in for it Cheesy It's not inherrently useful though and not what I imagined. What would be intersting IMHO is that the definitions would be supported by informed reasoning and would represent usages that we know to be current within the community. The understanding would always have to be that it was representative not definitive.

I imagine also that it would be a useful self-education tool for some and would underline why TC avoids monolithic statements in debate. It might even give some people a more easily engaged appreciation of the diversity within the TC community. An accompanying thread for discussion of proposed additions and for spin-off discussions could be fun and periodically busy as well Smiley
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« Reply #108: July 22, 2009, 12:56:32 am »



I'm aware magic and sorcery were practiced in ancient Greece, but that still does not mean it isn't impious. As far as I know, ancient magic was far different than visualizing and chanting over a candle and expecting all your dreams to come true. Yes, Hekate was a goddess of witchcraft, which was not the "love and light" practice of modern neopagan traditions, as Hekate ruled over herbal poisons and necromancy. It doesn't take a PhD to conclude that the use of poisons is immoral and that conjuring the dead is dangerous. The main sources for Hekate's "witchcraft" associations are the stories of Medea and Circe, women who turned men into animals, and cut people up and brought them back to life in a cooking pot. If you can do that, be my guest.




I would suggest reading Hekate Soteira by S.Iles Jhonson o shed light on few imprecisions : beforehand, Hekate did not rule epecially over poisons,but over the use of herbs-for both healing ad anything else- and secondly, her patronage over magic and shape-shifting arent limited to the extent ofening you seem to be aware of.
Hekate taught  and represented the connection with both the subhuman and  the superhuman, and necromancy was really a little  part of Her arts...witches of Thessaly apparently had a tradition to ' draw down the  the moon and they had not a reputation of violence or immorality.

There's not a reason , as far I know, to believe that your reasoning was common in Ancient Greece before Platonists begun to theorize that the only pure form of magic was the one allowing to commune with Gods in order to receive revelation and enlightenment.

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« Reply #109: July 22, 2009, 12:19:38 pm »


I think the best anyone's going to be able to come up with is going to be pretty vague.  Here's my proposal:

"Magic:  causing change through symbolic, ritualized action.  The symbolism, the ritualized action, where the power to cause change comes from, the involvement of deities, the perceived social status of practitioners, and the distinction between magic and religious ritual or prayer are all highly variable by cultural context and individual preference."

Like I said, vague.   The bit listing cultural variables is longer than the definition itself!  Smiley
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« Reply #110: July 22, 2009, 05:15:41 pm »

Like I said, vague.   The bit listing cultural variables is longer than the definition itself!  Smiley

And I'm not even sure that covers all the variables. Sad
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« Reply #111: July 22, 2009, 07:18:47 pm »

And I'm not even sure that covers all the variables. Sad

You're right.  Smiley  How about, "Many elements, including symbolism, the ritualized action, where the power to cause change comes from, the involvement of deities, the perceived social status of practitioners, and the distinction between magic and religious ritual or prayer are all highly variable by cultural context and individual preference."
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« Reply #112: July 22, 2009, 09:06:44 pm »

You're right.  Smiley  How about, "Many elements, including symbolism, the ritualized action, where the power to cause change comes from, the involvement of deities, the perceived social status of practitioners, and the distinction between magic and religious ritual or prayer are all highly variable by cultural context and individual preference."

Might it work better (and more accurately reflect a dictionary approach) to split the definition into seperate definitional propositions whose mutual exclusivity (or otherwise) is simply not addressed?

Magic:
- causing change through symbolic action;
- causing change through ritualized action;
- the hypothetical agent or medium of change caused through magical action;
- causing change through manipulation of subtle energies;
- causing change through the direct action of personal will;
- etc.

Something that looked a little more like that, but maybe with sources/references, locality information and other interesting metsdata.
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« Reply #113: July 22, 2009, 09:09:34 pm »

And I'm not even sure that covers all the variables. Sad

Pretty sure it doesn't Smiley and willing to be convinced that it couldn't. I'm really not sure that there is a single set of attributes that are shared by everything that the word gets used for, even in our limitted community. At best we could hope for a list of common definitions in use within the pagan community represented by TC.
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« Reply #114: July 22, 2009, 10:21:10 pm »

At best we could hope for a list of common definitions in use within the pagan community represented by TC.

If a concensus can be reached, I'd be willing to add it to our introductory info.
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« Reply #115: July 23, 2009, 01:59:49 pm »

Why are you so insistent on defining magic solely as either a) neopagan chanting over candles, or b) deliberately fantastical stories taken from the myths and legends of hero/ines and demigods, intended to illustrate the awesomeness of their powers?  Magic is a much, much more varied set of practices, and the actual magic practiced on the ground by ordinary people, in both ancient times and the present, encompassed a huge range of attitudes and practices.  You're using straw man arguments.

Relax, there's no need to be catty.

I have said several times that SPELLS are impious, while other types of "magic" (charms, blessings, divination, oracles) do not fall into the hubristic "witchcraft" category.

You have yet to provide any indication that your attitudes concerning magic are informed by anything other than a combination of bad neoPagan books with a few cherry-picked ancient texts, with a nice serving of fundy Reconstructionism sprinkled on top.

*sigh*

Once again, basic religiosity, virtue, kharis through reciprocity... concepts that don't include the use of ritualized actions and incantations to influence unseen powers in the same cosmology.

"Magic:  causing change through symbolic, ritualized action.

...and how exactly is change accomplished without influencing spiritual/supernatural forces? You mentioned the involvement of deities and cultural context as variables, and since this is in the Hellenic board, we are discussing this from a Hellenic perspective. From a cosmology in which only the gods have universal influence and sway over fate, a human attempting to command supernatural forces would be considered religiously offensive. If one believes that the gods animate the universe, and that events in the world are shaped by the influence of the gods, this leaves little room for spells and "symbolic, ritualized action" which cause change. It assumes a lack of faith in the gods, or the belief that they can be influenced by such actions.

Soooooo ... the overwhelming majority of magic as actually practiced in my experience of the real world is .... just fine.

I guess so. They would probably fall under the "new age" heading (not that there's anything wrong with that), and would not be compatible with reconstructionist religious practice, but that isn't the same as being impious. It's more a question of separate systems and worldviews.

Here's a quote from this very website, that I wanted to share:

"Is magic(k) part of Hellenismos?

It might be more accurate to say that magic was, and is, a part of Hellenic culture, but not part of mainstream religious worship. We have considerable evidence of ancient Hellenic magical practices, many of them highly syncretistic and a fascinating subject in their own right. In addition, during the Roman Empire, several philosophical schools, particularly the Neoplatonic school of the Syrian Iamblichus, developed an elaborate system of ritual designed to elevate the individual human soul to its divine origins. These practices, known as theurgy, were distinct in intent, if not in method, from "low magic" or thaumaturgy.

Literary sources suggest that common sorcery was viewed with suspicion by the average Greek, as it was in so many cultures—even though people did not hesitate to use it when faced with a recalcitrant lover or a nasty lawsuit! Theurgy, on the other hand, was the province of a tiny philosophical elite, never achieving any sort of general practice or acceptance.

Today some Hellenic pagans do work magic, but this forms a part of their private spiritual practice, not public ritual. Many Hellenists do no magic at all, believing it to be hubristic or simply unnecessary, while others do not believe in the efficacy of operant magic in the first place."

http://www.ecauldron.net/dc-faq.php#4

This was written by Drew Campbell, author of Old Stones, New Temples, the most complete introductory book on Hellenic polytheistic reconstructionism. The practice of magic within Hellenism is varied, although clearly I'm in the "hubristic or simply unnecessary" camp, as that's what makes the most sense to me. Of course, it all depends on how a person defines magic. Amulets, evil eyes, charms and other magical means were practiced in ancient Greece, although they were separate from the mainstream religious practices, and not considered very respectable (Mikalson. Ancient Greek Religion, page 194). Spells and more impious forms of magic are more syncretic in nature, occurring in later periods.

According to Campbell's book, Hekate's associations with magic are absent in the Archaic period, not occurring until the the dramatist portrayals of Medea in the later half of the fifth century, and the Neoplatonists of the Roman Imperial period went so far as to equate her with the cosmic soul (page 74). I personally prefer to go with the more traditional, purely Hellenic views of Hekate, and magical practice. Not that there is anything wrong with incorporating beliefs from later periods, as long as people are honest about it not being "traditional" or strictly "Hellenic" (due to Roman and Egyptian influence).

I just wanted to clear that up. I'm getting tired of this discussion.
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« Reply #116: July 24, 2009, 07:50:54 pm »

Relax, there's no need to be catty.


Pointing out logical fallacies is not catty. 


I have said several times that SPELLS are impious, while other types of "magic" (charms, blessings, divination, oracles) do not fall into the hubristic "witchcraft" category.


Most understandings of "spellwork" include "charms, blessings, divination, oracles" within its purview.  You are working from a very limited understanding of the history and nature of magic, and applying it outward, making bald assertions that the relevant scholarship doesn't support the way you claim it does.

Once again, basic religiosity, virtue, kharis through reciprocity... concepts that don't include the use of ritualized actions and incantations to influence unseen powers in the same cosmology.

...and how exactly is change accomplished without influencing spiritual/supernatural forces? You mentioned the involvement of deities and cultural context as variables, and since this is in the Hellenic board, we are discussing this from a Hellenic perspective. From a cosmology in which only the gods have universal influence and sway over fate, a human attempting to command supernatural forces would be considered religiously offensive. If one believes that the gods animate the universe, and that events in the world are shaped by the influence of the gods, this leaves little room for spells and "symbolic, ritualized action" which cause change. It assumes a lack of faith in the gods, or the belief that they can be influenced by such actions.


For the last time:  *Hellenic culture itself* contained *numerous* variables, depending on the time, the place, the education level, the social group, and the individual.  There is *no such thing* as a singular, unitary, monolithic "Hellenic" perspective.  Your particular cosmology, etc., is definitely found in ancient Greece.  But the problem is the word "particular": you are projecting *one particular belief* -- a common one, at least in a lot of surviving sources, but certainly *not* the only one -- about the gods, the nature of the universe, etc., onto the whole of ancient Greek culture.  No one is questioning the historicity of your beliefs; your strain of belief is well-attested.  What I am pointing out is that the scholarship *proves* that there were a *variety* of beliefs about the gods, prayer, ritual, *and magic* floating around.  Greece wasn't quite as promiscuously pluralistic as Rome, but they got around a lot, and were constantly importing ideas, philosophies, shiny new gods and cults, etc., from everywhere they traveled:  "purely Hellenic" *anything* is a fantasy, so basing one's ideas on some notion of purity is a fool's errand.  The other factor here is that the Greeks were professionally contrary:  coming up with new schools of philosophy -- including new takes on religious belief and prayer -- was practically a blood sport. If anything, that variability and penchant for absorbing other stuff is the closest thing to "purely Hellenic."

And *again*, not everything that various ancient Greeks in various times and places understood as "magic" involved "influencing spiritual/supernatural forces":  the entire logic of "natural philosophy" runs counter to this.  And moreover, not all of this "influencing spiritual/supernatural forces" was considered a bad thing:  Sarah Iles Johnston's book Restless Dead deals with the figure of the "goes," a magic-worker who specialized in problems caused by the dead.  These figures, the "goetes," as experts on death and the Underworld, were often very strongly connected with mystery cults:  Orpheus, and the Orphic cult, are the major examples here. 


I guess so. They would probably fall under the "new age" heading (not that there's anything wrong with that), and would not be compatible with reconstructionist religious practice, but that isn't the same as being impious. It's more a question of separate systems and worldviews.

Yes.  And part of the reason I'm having this discussion is to point out that the Reconstructionist worldview -- or, more specifically, the *fundy* Recon worldview, which many of your statements about magic align with -- is, in many forms, a highly selective cherry-picking of ancient material that a) has solidified into a near-orthodoxy in many places, and b) often misrepresents its highly selective cherry-picking as The Whole Truth About Ancient Greek Religious Belief and Practice, The End.  In *direct defiance of the scholarship they claim to prize.*

A major chunk of Recon -- usually fundy, but not always -- attitudes about magic are *not* shaped by actual knowledge of the scholarship concerning the gazillion different kinds of magic in ancient Greece, and the gazillion different attitudes toward it.  Instead, they are driven by the political desire to differentiate themselves from Wiccans, who are the most visible Pagans.  There's nothing wrong with pointing out the differences:  ancient Greek religion, and Greek Reconstructionism, are nothing like Wicca, and not enough people are aware of that.  However, that is no excuse for the denial of Greek magical practices, or the misrepresentation of the ways in which it could and did interact with Greek religion.   


*Long quote from Campbell*

I know who Drew Campbell is, and have read and enjoyed his book.  *However*, Campbell is quite explicitly adapting public, theoretically "mainstream" practices -- for the good reason that we don't know nearly as much about private practices, but still.  Which is absolutely fine, if that's what you want to do.  But magic, while not usually considered a part of generic *public* religion, was widely practiced:  J.C.B. Petropoulos says, "[W]hile Plato was expounding his (rather peripheral) philosophical religion, mainstream Athenians were cursing their neighbours through magical means" (Greek Magic:  Ancient, Medieval and Modern, p. 3).  Not surprising, as magic was often considered a private practice -- and when it called upon the gods, etc., it was doing so in a private context.  But goetic magic, according to Johnston, Luck, and many of the other scholars whose names showed up on that bibliography I posted, was a strong element of the various mystery cults, with the goes often serving as initiator into the cults. 

Since Hellenic reconstructionism is not a polis-based system (right now, certainly, and probably never will be), and the majority of practitioners are solitary, and therefore private, practitioners, it doesn't make sense to declare only that public, polis-based stuff -- which is itself quite variable by time and place -- the Only Right Way, and everything else is "impious."  And then there's the obvious:  the people *performing* the magic -- and there were *lots* -- had no problem integrating it and understanding it through their religious beliefs and practices, so clearly it *could* be done, and *was* done.  And the practices are *way* too complex and widespread to be summarily dismissed as deliberate "impiety," like teenage Satanists wanting to freak out their parents.  The existence of the goetes and their connections with the mystery cults clearly indicates that not all explicitly religious thought considered magic impious.  Disapproval from certain quarters obviously wasn't stopping magic practitioners of any variety, and *their* religious lives deserve to be considered a part of ancient Greek religious thought, too.         


I just wanted to clear that up. I'm getting tired of this discussion.

I get tired of the misrepresentation and dogmatic dismissal of ancient Greek magic, especially since the scholarship that Reconstructionists claim to prize provides a great deal of information that complicates or outright contradicts certain fundy Recon orthodoxies.  So we're both tired.  And now, I am completely finished here.
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« Reply #117: July 24, 2009, 10:15:09 pm »

I get tired of the misrepresentation and dogmatic dismissal of ancient Greek magic, especially since the scholarship that Reconstructionists claim to prize provides a great deal of information that complicates or outright contradicts certain fundy Recon orthodoxies.

Stuff like this is one of the reasons I've always called myself a Hellenic Pagan as opposed to a Hellenic Reconstructionist. Too many in the recon community are unwilling to strongly question fundy recon dogma.  I'm sorry but there was a lot more to Hellenic religion than what was practiced in Athens in a particular 100 year period.
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« Reply #118: July 25, 2009, 01:29:25 pm »

Stuff like this is one of the reasons I've always called myself a Hellenic Pagan as opposed to a Hellenic Reconstructionist. Too many in the recon community are unwilling to strongly question fundy recon dogma.  I'm sorry but there was a lot more to Hellenic religion than what was practiced in Athens in a particular 100 year period.

Yeah, me too -- I got the term from you.  Cheesy  I mean, from the perspective of trying to come up with a working system, reducing the *vast* complexities of Hellenic religious culture into bite-sized chunks makes sense.  The problems happen when a) one particular reduction of a specific set of material becomes the One True Way; and b) that particular reduction gets projected back outward onto ancient Hellenic religious culture as a whole.  I *love* Reconstructionism as a methodology:  study the scholarship, and base your religious practice on the way things were done in ancient Greece.  Great idea!  However, Reconstructionism as a *belief system* gets really fundy, really quickly -- there are a *lot* of possible ways to "do things the way they were done in ancient Greece," but Reconstructionism as a belief community only allows a very narrow range of stuff.

In addition, and I've said this before, the way a lot of Recons approach scholarship bears *no* resemblance to the way professional academics approach scholarship.  There's a real... fetishization of scholarship -- but only of certain scholars, mind -- that is completely at odds with the way academics deal with scholarly texts; you can't help but treat scholarship differently if you're expected to *contribute* to it, rather than using it as a template for religious practice.  Again, nothing wrong with that *in theory*, as the texts are being used for different purposes.  But it leads to a whole bunch of people who take certain texts -- say, Burkert's -- and elevate them to the status of Holy Writ, and ignore or dismiss everything that says differently.  Problem is, it's the *job* of a scholar to "say differently":  go in a different direction, offer a different interpretation, look at different stuff.  Scholarship is *constantly* changing, because we're always learning more -- it isn't, and can't be, static.  

Which puts people who have invested a lot of their religious outlook in the readings of a few specific scholars or scholarly schools of thought in a bind:  they claim to revere scholarship, but here are other scholars saying differently!  The grown-up way to deal with that is to acknowledge that one's particular religious outlook is based upon a limited set of material and interpretations of that material, and that's okay, because it's what works best for you; no one can deal with *everything*, after all!  The fundy way is to ignore it, and still go around loudly proclaiming that your way is the One True Way, which causes real problems when actually confronted with that different scholarship.  
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« Reply #119: July 25, 2009, 05:43:08 pm »

However, Reconstructionism as a *belief system* gets really fundy, really quickly -- there are a *lot* of possible ways to "do things the way they were done in ancient Greece," but Reconstructionism as a belief community only allows a very narrow range of stuff.

And many recons don't even seem to realize that they have limited themselves to such a small segment of Hellenic religion. Those limits are fine if that is what one wants, but to not even realize that the limits are there and that there is still Hellenic religion beyond them seems counterproductive.
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Randall
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