In my last post I wrote about the current ongoing magical revival where I focused on some of the issues related to that. One thing that I did not mention is that alongside it there are also a myriad of different online courses being set up which will promise to teach you all kinds of things. There is nothing wrong about that as such, but there are more than a few people out there who seem to be more interested in earning a few quick bucks.
I think that some of them setting up those courses genuinely think that they have something interesting to offer, but sometimes they seem to be a bit too eager to be coaching others. So my advice whether it is a magical course or a tarot course is to try and get an overview of the course material before signing up. Sometimes it can be difficult as we usually enroll into courses if we do not have any prior experience with the subject, but it is at least worth it to make the effort. These courses can be quite expensive, usually a lot more expensive than books and it would be a big disappointment when you enroll only to find out that it is not in the slightest what you expected and you end up giving up on it.
I have myself taken a few online courses – none of which I ended up completing. And I also considered taking a few others too that I probably also would not have completed. At first they may have sounded appealing, but when I looked at the course material I realized that 1) This is not what I am interested in or 2) I already have a lot of the material found here available in books that I already bought.
If it is a good and well set up course then it will structure and help you out with the material and perhaps give you the right motivation so they are not all bad. Still it is worth being a bit extra cautious so you do not jump aboard one of the many bad and expensive ones.
In my personal and non-commercial opinion (spambots please stop asking to send me traffic, I am not interested. I do not sell anything) the need for courses are highly exaggerated. It is far better to get some good book recommendations and set up your own syllabus for what you are interested in. Don’t know where to start? Start somewhere. If it is something you end up liking a lot of books often have a reading list for further reading. That is a stamp of quality as it also means that the author has done some proper research.
In recent years more and more people are coming to an agreement that we currently are in the midst of a magical revival. Compared to 15-20 years ago the amount of texts that were available have skyrocketed. This is of course something positive and there is no doubt that scholars are doing a tremendous job in making old texts accessible to the public, but in its shadow and mainly in social media, something else that is less positive has also emerged in its wake: a kind of unhealthy and competitive spirituality.
I am not of the opinion that everyone needs to agree with each other, but the aggressive tone of the various discourses goes well beyond that. And it seems to be the norm everywhere whether it is regarding Solomonic Magic, Witchcraft and perhaps the occult in general. This is why I have chosen to call it “The Tragical Revival” as the premises for making something better is there, but the general outcome is rather tragic and depressing.
One example of a discussion which tends to get quite heated is the discussion of methods within Solomonic Magic and perhaps particularly the method of Drawing Spirits Into Crystals (DSIC). On one side you have the grimoire purists and on the other side you have those with a more experimental view. I am not going to go into that discussion here. My point is rather that it quite clearly demonstrates a kind of competitve tone in the discussion between two sides who are not willing to settle on their differences.
Mysticism and Magic
Recently another discussion has popped up, which at least I have not picked up on before, that relates to mysticism and magic. In a recently published anthology called Circling the Compass by Anathema Publishing Dr. Stephen Skinner is quite explicit on that he does not see a place for mysticism within magic. That is of course a legitimate view, although I strongly disagree with it, and find it quite peculiar based on that the Magical Revival in the 20th century had a lot of mystical ideas in it. It remains unclear whether Dr. Skinner thinks that the leading occultists of the 20th century were practicing much magick at all. In any case, it is not a matter that is undisputed. Although I can agree that there seems to be limited interest within Solomonic Magic for mystical ideas.
However, this is not my main problem with his article in that book. My problem is with what he proceeds to say. He states that the techniques found in Solomonic Magic is similar to scientific methods where the experiments are repeatable and that he values this type of scientific enquiry also in magic. It all makes sense so far. But then he goes on to tell the reader about the supposed dangers of not having a proper circle. Okay, so he agrees on that the warnings in the grimoires about physical demon attacks are a bit too much, but he claims that he often hears accounts of people who shortcut the method and make careless mistakes. And then he, rather arrogantly, adds that they are mostly protected by their own incompetence.
I have two problems with that. The first being that “hearing accounts of…” is not very scholarly. I understand that this is not a scholarly work, but one cannot simply go from stating that scientific values are highly desireable in magic to come with such an unspecific example. Sure, I have heard “accounts” of people who have dabbled in the grimoires and horrific things happened to them. The problem is that none actually knows these people. It’s always that friend of a friend or someone distant. Taking away all those who have managed to scare themselves, there are not much to these accounts at all.
The second problem is quite revealing. It is obvious that Dr. Skinner cannot have an overview of what methods or what amount of knowledge these people supposedly have had. To me the whole thing sounds like an ad-hoc explanation, while at the same time trying to establish his own authority with cheap rhetorical tricks. I found it unecessary as Dr. Skinner is already highly regarded for his work. And I also find it disappointing that someone who has done so much for the occult scene feels the need to take part in that kind of competitive spirituality. It is definitely not a kind of behaviour that I associate with scholarly or scientific work. These types of formulations are things to be expected to be found in social media discussions (who unfortunately are way too toxic) and certainly not in a published anthology. The essay certainly left me with a feeling of left-hand work. Although this post is not meant to be a book review I can reveal as much as that there are several other interesting essays in there that may be worth getting it for. Dr. Skinner’s contribution however only left me with that I should be getting his other books and follow the formulas precisely, if not, I would be considered incompetent.
Let’s leave Dr. Skinner alone for now, but I am not quite done with the grimoire purists and their view of magick yet. Naturally, I cannot say that all the grimoire purists share the same idea as Dr. Skinner that magickal experiments should be repeatable similarly to how scientific experiments are, but my general understanding is that it is quite a common opinion to have among them.
That brings me to the Abramelin and the idea of the Holy Guardian Angel. It needs to be said that the Abramelin operation is not considered to be Solomonic Magic – yet for some reason it is still quite popular among the grimoire purists, First of all, the idea of a Holy Guardian Angel to begin with, is a mystical idea, secondly, everyone seems to have their own interpretation of what the Holy Guardian Angel is and thirdly because the Abramelin operation is extremely demanding in a modern society (it was already demanding enough back in the days), almost none can follow it by the book. Suddenly because of the great inconvenience of the method it seems to be okay to shortcut it. To me there seem to be just as much to that as that there is a gentleman’s agreement to that a bikini on the beach is okay while underwear is taboo. Personally I disregard the whole idea of a HGA as none can seem to agree on what it actually is anyway.
My point is not to take any experiences away from anyone, quite to the contrary, I just want to encourage people to not be so vocal about them and also refrain from commenting too much on what other people experience. There is a reason for why one of the powers of the sphinx is to be silent. I don’t think it is in the best interest for the continuation of magick within the frame of competitive spirituality. The original Magical Revival had a lot of mystical elements to it and that is why I find it tragic that they now are being left out.
Well, that is only partly true though. For starters I am not sure how one could claim that having contact with angelic beings and so on would not have some element of mysticism in it. The lore around which they build upon is quite mystical.
Then you have different brands of magic such as various traditions within traditional witchcraft. And surprise, some of them are highly mystical. Just look at the works of Andrew Chumbley, Robin Artisson, Nigel Aldcroft Jackson and several other writers and tell me that there isn’t any kind of mysticism in it.
The Witchcraft Issues
Witchcraft has also undergone a process of renewed interest, but the challenges it faces are quite different from what is currently happening within Solomonic magic. My main issue with witchcraft is that there seems to be so much nonsense going on. It’s so diverse that it is really difficult to get into and see what it really is about, but it seems like most of the Facebook groups out there are mostly busy with posting nonsense cat memes, getting advice for their own experiences in life (often completely unrelated to what I understand being relevant for witchcraft) and progressive political opinions (naturally these people are extremely offended if you would disagree with them). There is very little discussion of witchcraft practice in itself or in the very least the history of the various practices of witchcraft. Most people seem disinterested in that or they are just unaware. And don’t even get me started on the Wiccans who always seem to have the most fantastic and embellished accounts that I ever read across any occult tradition.
I find it tragic that with access to all this new information and possibility to connect and share experiences through social media, that it seems to be a step backwards rather than a real revival of anything. I am not so sure if it is the quest for truth that is the most important for everyone involved. If it was, then why spend so much time and energy on other people to try and influence their opinion? It seems like a self defeating thing to do and it does not have any place in anything that can call itself a true magical revival. And that is a great tragedy, as there is potential to be had out there. But in its current state it does not seem to be anywhere near fulfilled.
I am not here to decide what works or not for others. I am here to share my own experiences so that other people can decide if that works for them or not. That is also how I treat books by the authors I read and what I look for when connecting with other people. Right now I feel quite disillusioned about the whole thing. It seems to make more sense to just take a step back and only focus on my own stuff, because “everyone” you connect with on social media seem to be focused on anything but themselves. Except the likes they generate of course. Who knew that the meaning of life (and magic) after all is a number: the number of likes that you generate. At least we can agree on that isn’t very mystical…
In this post I will examine some pros and cons for choosing either tarot or runes for a few different purposes. You can of course choose to learn both, but as they are quite different from each other it would also mean it would take twice as much effort. For the purpose of this post I just assume that a standard tarot deck based on RWS is being used.
Both tarot and runes can be used for both magic and divination. I should probably also mention that there have been some attempts to combine the two by making various Viking or Rune tarot decks. I am not a big fan of such attempts for several reasons, but mainly I find that it complicates things if you try to force one system into another system. Let’s just leave it at that and keep them separate. Having that said, I don’t mind as much to bring some tarot knowledge into a runic system and the reason for that is that there are quite a few gaps to fill with the runes. I touch a little upon that subject in this post. Assuming that you have no prior experience with either tarot or runes, learning the runes will therefore take much more effort, but there are some good books to get you started. For example this one I reviewed here.
I have done tarot much longer than runes and personally I prefer tarot as it is a much more developed system. Runes are a lot less visual and they don’t give you many clues to their meaning just by looking at them. I also find that with runes you need to develop your own system and meanings a lot more. There is an abundance of information written on the tarot, but when it comes to the runes there is so little that we know that we have to close the gaps ourselves. It works too, but it requires a lot more effort.
In a standard tarot deck you have 78 cards in contrast to when you are working with the Elder Futhark runes you have 24 runes. My experience so far with experimenting with runes is that it feels less more like they function better on the bigger picture, while the tarot can be used on both the bigger picture and go a bit more into the details. If you only read tarot with the Major Arcana you would probably get a similar result.
I also don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense to do big spreads with runes. When you do the big spreads in tarot, you generally include the Minor Arcana, which make a lot of difference.
So when doing a rune spread, I would probably do something similar to a three card spread in tarot. For example: 1) What influences to let go of 2) What can I expect the situation to look like if I successfully let go of these influences and 3) What new opportunities should I be looking out for. Note that when I use this spread I tend to switch around the positions depending on what phase the moon is in with the first rune or card representing the current moon phase (in the example waning, new moon and waxing moon).
If you are only planning on doing these smaller, more general “big picture” spreads, I find that the runes can be a good tool. If you are looking to do divination professionally, and give readings to customers, I also think that adding rune reading to your repertoire would make you stand out a little bit more in the vast competition. There is definitely something exotic and intriguing about the runes that a lot of people are attracted to.
I cannot really say that tarot or runes work better than the other for magic. There are nearly infinite possibilties of how you could use them in your magical practice, and probably, it is more important how they are being used rather than what is being used.
If you are interested in tarot magic I can recommend Donald Tyson’s “Portable Magic”. It also goes under the title Tarot Magic – Ceremonial Magic: Using Golden Dawn Correspondances. There are a lot of interesting ideas in there.
Personally I find tarot a bit inconvenient if you are going to create talismans etc. As it may mean you need to remove cards from the deck and purchase new decks everytime you want to create a new talisman. It can be quite costly.
If you know the runes you can just carve them into something or paint them. I find that to be a great advantage. In my opinion it’s a lot more flexible and a fun, creative way to work. You can create powerful rune sigils that just look awesome, inspiring and feel magical in themselves. So for me, this isn’t even a close race. Maybe it is just me, but it makes me feel much more involved in what I am doing and everything that brings a little bit of extra enthusiasm into the magical work is usually a good thing.
Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. If you have the time and patience for it learn both. If you are willing to put in the extra effort the runes can really be worth it, especially if feel drawn to norse mythology, vikings and paganism. If I had to pick one of the two, it would be the runes because I consider them to be more flexible, but I do find tarot better for divination.
Edit: This has been in my drafts for a while, but I just never published it.
I think it is hard for me to avoid the mystery of the runes in the part of the world where I reside. So I decided to research a bit on the runes and learn how to use them for divination. It’s a bit cooler to be reading runes when you meet up with the local vikings, right? And for me with my heritage, it is simply something I see as must be done. So, I have decided to use the Elder Futhark runes, which is quite standard if you use runes for divination.
There are some fundamental things that I find important when it comes to reading runes for divination that I think would be useful for beginners to know. The ancient art of rune reading is unfortunately not something that history has preserved for us in an unbroken line. What we have today is an attempt at reconstruction and anyone claiming anything else would not be speaking the truth.
Having that said, I don’t find that very problematic. If you look at modern tarot practice there are as many ways to read tarot as there are readers. There is no reason to believe that it would have been any different for rune readers back in the days. As tarot readers interpret the cards differently, rune readers probably also interpreted the runes differently. It is an art, and to be good at it, you have to make it your own (and practice a lot).
I don’t subscribe to any idea that there is a clear and definite meaning for the runes. When working with tarot we are working with archetypes and it is the same when working with the runes. The keywords for tmodern rune reading come from the rune poems: the Icelandic, the Norwegian and the Anglo-Saxon rune poems. And this is also where it is appropriate to point out that the rune poems aren’t actually based on the Elder Futhark. There are 24 runes in the Elder Futhark and the rune poems describe 16 runes in the Icelandic and Norwegian versions and 26 in the Anglo-Saxon version. The Anglo-Saxon version also shows influences from Christianity. So this means that the rune poems are based on the Younger Futhark and all that we have left for the Elder Futhark is an attempt at reconstruction. There may have been an older rune poem for Elder Futhark, but if so, it never survived.
There are various sites out there on the divinatory meaning of the runes, and I think it is important to realize that many have added their own personal interpretations. That is not to say that it is a bad thing, but it is important to know so that you don’t get stuck with what each rune means. It is the very same thing that make a lot of people struggle with tarot cards. Runes are arguably more difficult though, as there are no images to support your reading. My suggestion is to first start with memorizing the names of the runes and just a couple of keywords for each rune. Start with a notebook where you note down all the runes and the keywords and later on you can add your own if you find that it makes sense to you.
The reason I am writing this is that there has been a lot of false information over the years. Particularly during the 80s with New Age movement and pagan revival. Books and systems were being made without being completely honest about the motivation behind them and the origin of the material.
I think it is much better to be open about that it is a constructed system (tarot is also a constructed system), but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. In fact it means that magic is very much alive today. Perhaps it is meant to be something that is living and evolving and only then can you unlock the true potential and secrets of the runes. I will leave it at that and write another post about the nice set of runes that I got for myself. And perhaps later will I share some spreads that I find useful that I have created myself.
Once upon a time in my younger days I had to struggle myself through a book called “The Making of the Modern Mind” by John Herman Randall, JR. Or at least parts of it. I was nineteen years old at the time, and I was studying history of ideas. It’s an old book first published in 1926 and then edited and released again in 1940. It’s an excellent book, but perhaps not the easiest to read for a 19 year old with English as a second language. What I learned from reading it was how the worldview gradually changed to a mechanistic worldview where the world was treated like a dead object. It was during this period in the history of mankind that science as we know it today emerged. This led to a lot of technological breakthroughs and eventually the industrialization of the world. “God is dead” Nietzsche claimed. And many thought that eventually religion and spirituality would vanish. Today, we know that is not the case.
There is a thriving magic community alive today, and there are probably more books on the subject of spirtituality published now than ever before. In the magic scene old texts have been rediscovered and been put back together again by scholars then they are published so that they become available to anyone. People, read, discuss, argue and try to practice themselves.
When doing so, people are reading and reconnecting with a very different worldview than what is predominant today. They are discovering that there once was a very different world where it was not treated as a dead thing. In a historical perspective, modernity, which is roughly the past 500 years, is only a very brief moment in time. Science has given us many technological breakthroughs and greatly improved the standard of living for most people in the world, but the need for spirituality seems to be unchanged through all of it. Many people seem to think that spirituality and/or religion is contradictory to science, I personally, don’t think it is. Science is basically just a method of proving theories wrong (note that it is about falsifying and not confirming anything) based on experience. What science doesn’t offer is spirituality or a more complete understanding of the world. It is fragmented and often in disagreement with itself (which it has to be, or else science could not evolve further). There are some people who seem to think that science offers an explanation for everything and are even willing to use inadequate scientific models to construct their reality. I would refer to that as “Scientism”. Ironically though, that is exactly what science should avoid, so “Scientism” isn’t really a proper scientific view of the world.
What most people tend to get mixed up in the debate of religion/spirituality vs science are the criterias for what will be accepted as truth. A spiritual or religious understanding of the world is usually more fluid and less precise than what a scientific understanding of the world is. Therefore it doesn’t fit into the scientific model (and it never will). The problem though is that the scientific criterias are too strict. Religions and spiritual experiences are not something that can be shared and observed by multiple people at the same time and written down in a journal with precise language, which would be a requirement for it to ever be described properly in scientific terms. As I said, science is just a method and that method is not directly connected to our own human sensory experiences. We may have sensory experiences that would be very difficult to put down in scientific terms (or even in proper language). Dreams we have may be a good example where our senses can be distorted and when we wake up and remember the dream we rationalize it and try to make out what really happened in the dream, even though the experience itself felt hazy and distant. Only after we have processed it, it becomes a tangible memory.
So why am I bringing all of this up? Primarily, because it helps sort out my own thoughts on the subject and I find it very interesting. What I think will happen long term though is that the “collective consciousness” if we can call it that is going to change. It will no longer be purely scientific or religious/spiritual, but it will merge together and exist side by side (today it is more like you have to choose between one or the other). 500 years are nothing when you look at how long this world has existed. In a historical perspective paradigms are often thesis and antithesis to eachother and eventually they merge together in a synthesis (check out the Phenomology of Spirit). This is also what I think eventually will happen with science and religion/spirituality. And by that I don’t mean that they necessarily will merge into the same thing, but rather that there will be a way that they can co-exist and people have learned that they offer different criterias for truth and that it is actually possible to shift between them.
Having that said there is no denying that there are religious and spiritual groups out there who blatantly ignore science and what it stands for. This post is absolutely not for defending these people. I am of the opinion that any kind of spirituality that doesn’t take science into consideration, doesn’t have the right to exist.
I also realize that what I have written this far is merely the introduction to the topic. I think it is necessary though to explain the background before I start exploring what I think is a living and dynamic spiritual world. I will have to continue this later…