Books are Magick

Is there a greater magick in the world than books?

Think about it, they are collections of symbols, that our minds put together to make meanings that transport us to other worlds, teach us things we need to know, remind us that there are others like us in the world!Tegumai bobsali

What is magick? Crowley defined Magick as “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.”

I will go with that. The “will” involved here is the intent of the writer to communicate an idea. This is hard enough when we’re speaking one to one, but books, writing, adds another layer- the symbols. The alphabet that we’re using consists of shapes that we have learned represent a sound. Language itself is combinations of sounds that stand for concepts, whether as simple as “apple”, or “run!” or as complex as “red” or “happy”. I’ve always loved Kiplings “Just So” stories about How the first letter was written, and How the Alphabet was made by a Neolithic girl and her Daddy. (If you have never read them, do it now, they are marvelous!) At some point someone realized that if two people can agree on what a mark stands for, it has become a symbol, and useful for communication. If you can get a LOT of them to agree, than the same set of marks will be able to give the same meaning to all those people even when they aren’t there, even if you are no longer there. That’s freaking huge!   Things remind us of other things, sights, sounds, smells. At a very basic level, the sound of a bird’s call informs us that the bird is near, and if we have learned it, which bird, and what that particular call means. More than that, because of how memory works, an object will remind us of one who’s used it, a place where something is missing will remind us of what was once there: things represent other things. But things mean different things to different people (who’ve had different interactions with similar objects), without even getting into the questions of accurate portrayal of an image (as Kipling so beautifully expressed).

Using phonetic representations of sounds allows us to write for whoever understands our language (and that symbol set). Because we feel literacy is natural, it usually surprises people to learn that even the great scholars of the Classical world and Middle Ages, were not as fluent in reading as we are. Saint Augustine was amazed that St. Ambrose could actually read without moving his lips, something we expect our second graders to have mastered. (I’ll give them that since books were hand written, it was probably more of a challenge, and since there was no “spelling” as we understand it, you needed to read out loud so you could hear what the words “sounded like”, and the writer intended. Now, we are blessed with both regularized (if not consistent or logical) spelling, and legible type that’s easily available. For most of us, we can slip into what another has written and go straight for the meaning without stopping to decipher the sound of the words.

A person writes a story and you are there watching the person deal with problems, come up with solutions, try and fail, or succeed. Empathy leads us to feel the homesickness, the frustration, the fear, the anger that the protagonist is experiencing (if the writer has done his job- and so many do!). I have my favorite books to go back to so that I can feel those feelings again, so that I can vicariously believe that keeping up the good fight will result in the reward at the end. These experiences are as much a part of me as what I’ve learned in waking life, and they inform my decision making processes, and have made me what I am.

So the author, who (these days) without even thinking about it puts symbols on paper (or hyperspace), is communicating directly with those who read. S/He provides information, and also creates “experiences” for the reader. While if one is writing about a craft technique, the person who reads it is going to have to try it himself and practice until his skill is where he wants it, the written information may prevent dangerous or unpleasant mistakes for the reader. Similarly, with fiction, the mental images of scenes of danger or triumph will cause many of the same biological responses that actually going through the experience would. In ancient Greece the Theater was created as a religious rite. theaterThe audiences watching the plays were carefully brought to a catharsis by the stories and music on the stage. This catharsis was considered important, much in the way that the experiences of an initiation in a mystery cult was designed to create a change in the way the initiate saw himself in the world.

These days, our authors may only be looking to share a good story, to get the reader to understand something that they want to share. (We’ll assume for the moment that getting paid for their time is a side issue.) It may not be intended specifically to bring the reader closer to God, but it is still much of a piece.

A Ceremonial Magician  use symbols to invoke other world beings, contain energies in a circle, and make use of the natural properties of stones and cycles of time.  A hedge witch or shaman will similarly take advantage of herbs, and properties of colors and sounds to create her spells, or go into a trance to perceive other realities. If Magick then, is changing the world through manipulating energy in conformity to your will, what a writer is doing by putting symbols on a page for others to read is magick. And oh the huge amount of magick that has been made over the years! From the well researched impact of books like  Das Kapital to seemingly more humble books like Little Tom’s Cabin, people are changed, and the world is changed by the manipulation of symbols by writers.


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