Wyrdsmiths: Magical-technologies – definitions

A basic definition

magical-technology is a technology in which anything is possible within the confines of the levels of reality being used. The practical limits to the technology are the materials – dependent on the level(s) involved – and the individual’s skill, experience and imagination. (Crowley’s definition of ‘magick’ as ‘the art and science of causing change in conformity with will’ is also a useful approximation here, but can lead to specific practical problems if misunderstood.) In effect, a magical-technology is one which inverts Arthur C Clarke’s well-known dictum: “any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology”!

Magical-technologies always work through more than one level of reality; the differences between the levels are resolved by and within the person doing the work. In many ‘western’ traditions, the available levels can be summarised as follows:

  • body (physical) – acting on a physical and/or sensed definition of the world
  • heart (emotional) – acting on a felt or intuited expression of the world
  • mind (mental) – acting on a conceptualised version of the world
  • soul (spiritual) – acting within a shared experience of the world, where ‘spiritual’ is best understood as ‘a sense of meaning and purpose, a sense of self and of that which is greater than self’

The model of levels is useful, but has practical limitations: some traditions would add many more levels (such as those described as the ‘devic’ or ‘angelic’ realms), whereas subdivisions of a level may be more practical for some purposes – for example, there is a useful split between the macro scale of the physical level (chemistry, physics, biology) and the micro scale (nuclear and sub-nuclear physics) because the technologies and expectations are fundamentally different.

Each distinct level of reality has parameters which define that reality, and that are radically different from those used to define other levels of reality: for example, the physical definitions of reality use similar and related parameters (some of them, such as units of time and distance, now formally locked together in circular and self-referential definitions), but all are incompatible with or denote a ‘special case’ of the mental world. However, the levels are inter-related, though not in a strict hierarchical fashion: each level is grounded in the ‘lower’ levels, but operates through and interacts with all the others.

The boundaries between levels are somewhat arbitrary, and for some practical purposes it is more useful to regard all the levels as a single continuum: the concept of the wyrd provides one such model. The danger with such ‘level-free’ models is that important distinctions between levels may become too blurred: for example, it is unwise to attempt to eat one’s words, or to solve personal differences by cutting through them with a knife…

In principle, physical (‘applied science’) technologies operate only within the single level of the physical world. In practice, however, even physical technologies always operate through multiple levels of reality, because they ultimately depend on human skill: as the computer consultant Gerald Weinberg put it, “whatever the problem looks like, and no matter how technical it is, it’s always a people problem”. Thus every technology is a magical-technology, or has a fundamental magical-technology component.

Most conventional technologies also depend on magical-technology procedures in order to manage change: for example, the use of a particular geometry is a straightforward single-level technology, but the process used to select the most appropriate geometry to use in a specific context – plane geometry, spherical geometry, Riemannian geomtry or whatever – is multi-level, and thus conforms to the definition of a magical-technology. Most magical-technologies use beliefs or conceptual models as tools, in order manage transitions through the mental level of reality: in this example, comparing physical phenomena to the expectations of a succession of geometric models, to identify the model which provides ‘best fit’ for the context.

Some useful definitions

Intuitive technology
A partial synonym for ‘magical-technology’; more precisely, a magical-technology which depends on holistic awareness, and which has little or no physical-level component to the technology. Most forms of divination are intuitive technologies: dowsing is one example which has a small physical component, whilst cartomancy (tarot and the like) essentially has none.
Anything which is experienced or perceived as existing. In that sense, everything is ‘real’ in one context or another: the practial problem is in deciding what type of reality a perceived entity has, and the relevance of that entity within the reality. Physical reality is only one type of reality: concepts and emotions, for example, are equally real within their own contexts, and often have echoes at the physical level – such as the social effects of advertising and propaganda, or the saliva generated on imagining a tasty meal.
Anything which is experienced or perceived as existing, but which may not have a direct counterpart at the physical level. A well-known technical example with practical applications in physical technologies is i, the square-root of -1. It is misleading and sometimes dangerous to regard ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ as opposites: imaginary entities are real at the respective level of reality, and may have strong echoes in physical reality – as seen in the fact that ‘imaginary’ fears can sometimes be fatal. It should also be noted that every product of a physical technology starts off as an imaginary entity – usually a mental image such as a design or conceptual model which is ‘real-ised’ through many different physical and other activities.
Synonym for ‘event’: a note that two or more threads of interest are perceived to coincide in space, in time, or in some other way. Any meaning to be derived from the coincidence is independent of the coincidence itself; instead, it is dependent on context, and/or on the interpretive model used. Dependence on single-mechanism causal models – such as often occurs in ‘applied-science’ concepts of technology – may lead to a common error to misuse ‘coincidence’ as a synonym for ‘meaningless event’ (as in “was that real, or was it just a coincidence?”). This is an error because the meaning of the coincidence is outside of the limited context delimited by the causal model: far from being ‘meaningless’, this may be extremely important, as it often indicates the presence and proximity of Murphy’s Law.
The focus of attention of the technology. By providing purpose and focus, intent is the means by which a single-level technology becomes a magical-technology: thought is converted to physical action, for example, or subjective emotion assessed through objective reflection.
A condition of need: usually one which transcends self. Most single-level ‘applied-science’ technologies ignore necessity, because of science’s claim to be based on truth, and hence ‘value-free’. For magical-technologies, however, practical experience indicates that necessity is often effectively a requirement for action and, especially, usually provides otherwise-unobtainable access to other levels of reality – as illustrated by the phrase ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Development of an ethical awareness is usually (but unfortunately not always) a functional requirement for increasing reliability in magical-technologies. Spontaneous paranormal activity is also often linked to a context which combines extreme necessity and unavailability of other ‘lower-level’ mechanisms.
An unwillingness or fear – sometimes bordering on terror – of experiencing or witnessing any event outside of the expectations of the current personal worldview: summarised by the phrase “this isn’t happening!”. (The term was coined by the psychologist Kenneth Batcheldor during his research on group-psychokinesis.) Witness-inhibition is a fundamental problem in all technological and social change, and – as a form of phobia – can only be reduced through personal support, education, and demonstration that the uncertainty of the unknown can still be managed safely. It is also the destructive and self-limiting force behind the sense of ‘insanity’ regularly experienced in skills-education, at the moment when “I can’t do it” and “I can do it” coincide. This is a significant problem in the development of any skill – particularly one which is experienced as personally challenging – but becomes increasingly problematic as divergences from ‘normal’ definitions of reality increase, as in some paranormal technologies, or even in radically new physical technologies (as in Arthur C Clarke’s phrase “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”).
An unwillingness or fear – sometimes bordering on terror – of acknowledging personal agency in any event outside of the expectations of the current personal worldview: summarised by the phrase “whatever it is that’s happening, it isn’t me that’s doing it!” (This term was also coined by Kenneth Batcheldor.) It is difficult, if not impossible, to develop a functional magical-technology without some means for resolving ownership-resistance: without the operator taking responsibility for actions and their consequences, events remain perceived as unfocussed phenomena without intent (or possibly as with hostile intent, if witness-inhibition causes excessive defence of an untenable paradigm). The traditional séance model provided a context in which ‘ownership’ for group-derived phenomena was accepted by the supposed ‘medium’; some religious contexts assign ‘ownership’ for paranormal phenomena to supposed ‘angels’, ‘demons’ or other entities; whilst some political and social contexts assign sole responsibility for ‘unacceptable’ social phenomena to arbitrary scapegoat-groups labelled in some way as ‘other’ – such as the ubiquitous concept of ‘the enemy’. However, functional magical-technologies invariably require operators to acknowledge and accept appropriate personal responsibility and personal agency; reliability of the technology increases with increasing precision of acknowledgement of the exact extent of that responsibility.

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