mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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S Rioghail Mo Dhream. (66)

Victorian Occultism and the Making of Modern Magic by Alison Butler.

Black Rose, Thelema,
& Dawn is the Golden Rose
What's Gordon's Blue Rose?

I really enjoy a more scholarly look at the occult than the sort of participatory paradigm of something like Greenwood's Anthropology of Magic, so Victorian Occultism... really worked for me. Give me Jay's Throughout Your Generation Forever or Carlo Ginzburg's Ecstasies any day of the week, you know? Some meat for me to really sink my teeth into. Butler hits a home run here-- the scope is Victorian Occultism, but really that more or less translates to The Golden Dawn. Right off the bat, before we get out of the introduction, Butler defines her working terms:
    [M]agic is a particular way in which an individual interprets & participates in existence. This particular way is based upon an ordering of the universewhich enables the individual, once he/she has knowledge of this ordering, to interact directly with the universe & to manipulate aspects of this universe through the appropriate correspondences & through the use of the individual's will & imagination. This interaction & manipulation may or may not involve intermediary beings & such beings may or may not being supernatural (xii).
Once you wrap your head around the academic tone of it, I think it is a pretty good rubric, especially as the move into Victorian magical systems sheds things like John Dee's seer Edward Kelley in order to work directly with the supernatural a la the Abramelin style, without the means of a medium (52, 139). She also tosses of a casual definition of black magic as connecting things not meant to be connected that has a strength to it (20). More to the point, Alison Butler boils down an essential concept of Victorian magic, an idea I think is core any good system: magic as a means of self-improvement, of becoming & being, of true & higher selves (41, 52, 89, 147-151, 178). If I had to say there is a thesis statement for the book, that might be it.

Discussing the founding of the Golden Dawn my MacGregor Mathers, William Woodman & William Westcott is all well & good. Following it as MacGregor Mathers claws his way to the top of the pile is fascinating. Watching his paladin Aleister Crowley betray him is just perfect. That is all history, context for the insights Butler peppers through-out. She links in the influence of Freemasons & of Rosicrucians without devolving into any undue speculation; all above board & proper. Anna Kingsford tried to kill Louis Pasteur with sorcery because she considered vivisection to be black magic (114). Well, if that doesn't illustrate the relationship between occultism & science in a nutshell, I don't know what does. The role of women in the Order & in the occult is addressed-- there is a surprising parity-- as is the tension between occultism & spiritualism. Lovely stuff.
Tags: books, bulter, haiku, magic

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