Wednesday, March 23, 2011


When my politicians tell me to rest assured, I usually start to worry. If anything, I can rest assured that my views will be ignored, unless they match the view of the politician. I'm hearing that a lot from my Congress representatives lately, and it's a bit unsettling.

Life is a bit unsettled these days. Spring begins, and we promptly have a week of snow. Car trouble (now fixed), the sudden prospect of surgery--it reminds you that things can change at any moment. I remind myself that things could be worse--look at the situation in Japan, for instance, and what those affected by the tsunami, the nuclear difficulties, and the shortages have to deal with. It's back to the story of the angel and the field of rocks (a man complains to an angel that his life burden is too heavy. The angel shows him a field of rocks and tells him he can choose any of them as his "burden". He picks the smallest pebble he can find, only to be told that this was the burden he'd just put down). My friend Phil's father told that story. To which Phil's mother retorted, "Don't minimize my burden."

It's not the big things that get us, it's the little things. Physiologically, our bodies jump into action and everything just flows when big things go wrong. But little things are like a paper cut--minor, but still hugely annoying, and more painful than serious wounds.

Being the strange person that I am, I'm unwinding this week by reading D.P. Walker's "Spiritual and Demonic Magic." He starts with two articles on Marsilio Ficino and his works on magic. Ficino was a philosopher at the time of the early Italian Renaissance, and is one of main threads in the continuation of a magical tradition that starts with the Hermetica and Hermes Trismegistus. Walker notes Ficinio and Giovanni Pico's distinction between "good astrology" and "bad astrology", with similar distinctions regarding magical practice. The difference revolved around whether either practice "safeguarded or infringed human responsibility and divine providence." (p. 55).

It is interesting that the Church used to allow such a distinction, and allowed the practice of certain types of magic and astrology. Ficino suggests that magic should be reserved for those who are more educated and holy, as the poor and common folk would tend towards demonic magic and materialistic aims. (I am reminded of the introduction to Geosophia here, and the reason for goetia's ill reputation). Walker gives the original Latin in the notes, and the word for demon is "daemon". The translation as "demon" is interesting--you may think it's evident, but not really. We think of demons as agents of Hell, minions of Satan. But "daemon" had a different meaning in classical times. Plato defined "daemon" as a beneficent spirit, existing between mortals and gods. It would be interesting to know the history of the word and its connotation by the time of the Renaissance. (Can any linguists out there offer any insight?)

In any case, the ambiguity of the word makes me wonder about the author's premise. I generally agree with his conclusions, but I'm not sure I agree that "daemon" refers to demons. Of course, if we're talking Catholicism--the doctrine is that any spirit not in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory is necessarily demonic. Since Ficino was a Catholic, it may not be a stretch to assume this meaning. But--if certain types of magic were acceptable at that time, that may also throw the "daemon as demon" idea into doubt.

Walker devotes a great deal of the first section to idea of music in magic, referring in particular to the Orphic Hymns. It's not strange to any magical practitioner that one would use incenses, colors, stones, and talismans related to the planetary influence they are trying to evoke. Ficino adds music to the mix, though he is unable to give any kind of practical advice on its use.

Here is a modern interpretation of one of the Orphic Hymns:

In thinking about music and magic, I found myself listening again to "Voices of Thelema" by K-11 (Pietro Riparbelli). Riparbelli's work is fascinating. He records short-wave radio signals inside various places--cathedrals, parks, and in the case of the CD I was listening to, Crowley's Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu. He then took those short-wave signals and made them into compositions. Here is a sample from "The Sacred Wood":

You can check out more of Riparbelli's work and philosophy here.

That's all from me until next time.

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