Magic is making something out of nothing. But this cannot happen unless you prime your mind to something first. Let us call this something ‘tradition.’ This means that if you can see it, it exists. Priming your mind to seeing demons or angels is working with fiction. You need fiction in order to get to the significant and workable ‘nothing’. If magic didn’t come out of nothing, it would not be magic. It would be ‘tradition’ alone.
If magic works it is not because you read some formula in an old book, but because you allow for the fiction in your head to let ‘nothing’ pass through. If magic were not ‘nothing’, it would be borrowing. Without ‘nothing’ magic is other people’s claims; their thoughts, not yours. Without ‘nothing’ magic is impersonal. Without the personal magic is nothing, where ‘nothing’ here means highlighting the unsuccessful operation.
We need tradition as tradition primes our minds to the ‘something’ that helps us with our workings, whether for a spell, conjuration, communion with the forces of nature, or more modestly, reading cards. But we also need more than tradition. Tradition means using a system of thought or a method that will get you going, or that will put you on your path. But what is this path, or where exactly is it that we are going, the self-proclaimed magicians of the world? The good magician moves towards ‘nothing’ because it is in this very nothing that she gets a sense of what she can do ‘outside’ of the tradition or the teachings that she has been through. Anything else is stealing, being worth something because your master is worth something, or having a name because your master has a name. This is called being able to perform half-magic. The magician that relies on tradition alone for her workings is half the magician her master is. A good magician is the magician who, when she snaps her fingers, talks to nothing. She asks ‘nothing’ to assist her in her working as this working in the ‘nothing’ is unmediated by dogma, influence, or by second-guessing the master. The magician who uses tradition alone, and has never travelled to the land of ‘nothing’, has neither imagination nor courage.
Now, what is this nothing? I identify this ‘nothing’ with ‘the thing itself’. You can learn to ride with Death by snapping your fingers every time you travel to the so-called upper world, in shamanic parlance – as a good friend of mine does – but if the snapping of the fingers doesn’t put you right there at the core of the thing itself, then you’re merely imagining things, not experiencing them. You can do magic theoretically, or in principle, or because you strongly believe in your grimoire, but it still amounts to nothing, ‘nothing’ here in the sense of your magic being worthless. Magic that comes to you by way of tradition alone, and without the ‘nothing’ of the thing itself and which is not the ‘something’ of your tradition, is even less than half-magic. It is no magic at all. Just an insistence on your own low esteem. An insistence on not knowing what you do know. A claim to a connection that is not even your own.
You can only use tradition to say NO to it. You must learn tradition so that you can be adamant in saying NO to it. This NO is part of the magic of NOthing. Without this NO your magic is a stale preservation, a tin can where you safekeep your master’s bones.
Magic is detachment from being concerned with what people think of you, especially what other magicians think of you. When we say, ‘do your own thing’ we mean ‘do your nothing’. This nothing is your very backbone, your spine and stamina, your triumph over tradition and the witch that came before you. This nothing is also the ultimate way of connecting with your masters. You honor their ‘something’ for you with your own ‘nothing’. If you can achieve your own ‘nothing’, you get to the thing itself. That’s the ultimate magic: To perform your own thing, and not what any tradition dictates. Anything else is a pathetic cry for attention. A fumbling. Fear of not being good enough.
But merely being good enough is not good enough at all. You must be sovereign in magic. In your strong, sovereign magic you are above tradition. You refer to tradition, and point your little finger to it, and you can even wear an elegant glove, but you must do more than perform. The function of drama and costume is to make you and everything you hide behind it transparent. The magician that’s above tradition is not transparent. That magician that’s above tradition works with all the four major elements at once. She moves everything with her breath. Together they are beyond negotiation. There’s no settling for merely ‘good enough’. Together – fire, water, air, and earth, and which the magician also embodies – they acknowledge each other’s sovereignty, and in that equilibrium the thing itself emerges out of nothing. Tradition can’t compete with that. Tradition teaches, but ‘nothing’ achieves.
I am a magician of NOthing. I work with the thing itself, and this is way better than good enough, better than any tradition that is itself only an invention. I aim for magic of the most perfect caliber. My magic is my butterfly in my gun. Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend tells us that with a butterfly in your gun you can’t possibly miss the target. That’s right. This is an old superstition. I take what’s good from it. But how I get my gun to hit that target by using what tradition prescribes, namely the putting of a butterfly in the mouth of the gun, is based entirely of my centering on nothing. ‘What is your place?’, I ask myself, and I can decide that my place is among the best shotguns in the world, perhaps because I’ve had good schooling. But that is only good enough. If I can decide that my place is in the opening of the gun itself, where the butterfly sits, then I can achieve something that I can call magic. Without such trespassing of rules, ‘hold your gun like this and press it like this with your finger’, and without transgression, ‘but I want to stick my own head in the line of fire’, there’s only superstition. And who needs that? Who needs to waste their time explaining again and again what the function of tradition is vis-à-vis any magical working?
Magic is the act of disobeying tradition while being able to spell tradition’s name in your name.
Here come a few musketeers that have inspired the above thoughts. All of them are quite known in magical circles. I allow for their thoughts to flow here on Taroflexions, as they have come randomly on a random post on my wall on the infamous Facebook. This is the kind of writing on the wall that smacks you in your face.
I thank you grand magicians, Rachel Pollack, Aidan Watcher, and Fortune Buchholz. Keep them coming, these thoughts, these magical acts, and these nothings, so that we can all get a better sense of the thing itself without having to worry about who might endorse us.
Rachel Pollack: Camelia, just read your amazing “interview” in The Magiculum. So much to take in, use, steal… I love that you used the Lenormand for a Wisdom reading.
Camelia Elias: Rachel, thanks. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed my essay in The Magiculum. About the use of cards either for practical or more abstract concerns, I have to say that I make no distinction between the way in which I approach the cards. Cards are cards. In my opinion you can divine with anything, and with any cards. It’s all in the method and the question you pose. I can pose wisdom questions to a door, or a cabinet with many drawers, or a line of trees, or monograms on a handkerchief. That’s the beauty of divination. That it can turn any ordinary object into an extraordinary tool, a life saver, if you will. But you know all this already. Your own wisdom is an inspiration for me, all the time, actually. So thanks for that.
Rachel Pollack: As you know, Camelia, there is a strong camp in the Lennie world that denounces any variation from tradition as NL, Not Lenormand. With the Burning Serpent Oracle I focused on traditional meanings and ways of reading. But I also added other levels of meaning, still connected to the traditional but opening up to mythology, and I also showed, at the end of the book, how you can create a kind of vivid dream using the images of cards drawn at random. Now I’m working on an article about a “dream” I created with the Burning Serpent cards, which I then interpreted with the Shining Tribe Tarot deck.
Camelia Elias: Rachel, you are a wise woman. What you did with the Burning Serpent oracle is what any wise woman would do. I keep saying that the traditionalists have a hard time grasping two facts where the Lenormand is concerned: First, this deck was used for parlor games. Do you know what that is? That is the highest form of frivolous game you can imagine and that well-off women of the bourgeoisie played because they were bored out of their skulls. Second, when this deck was used seriously in order to derive some wisdom from it, as with all oracles, I can assure you of one thing, namely, that the fortuneteller, while relying on a system of transmission, probably would arrive at her ‘truth’ in that unmediated form that is specific to all working oracles. For what is magic indeed, if not the ability to detach yourself from what your neighbor thinks of you. By the same token, I can assure you that a good fortuneteller is very little concerned with what the witch that came before her did and how she did it. A good fortuneteller is one who is grounded in her own privately arrived at connection with the cards, spirit, the devil, light, or demons, or whatever would work for her. Personally, therefore, I’m always very suspicious of all who claim lineage and an ability to stick to some purported rules only. Such nonsense. Knowing history is a good idea, but if history is all you do as a fortuneteller, then I feel sorry for you. It ain’t history that makes us good, but rather the ability to see through the cards like you would though the dense matter of this earth we all tread upon. Looking forward to your book.
Fortune Buchholtz: Rachel Pollack – let me chime in just to say as someone who is living in the German-speaking world right now, that Regula Elizabeth Fiechter also added meaning to her decks, and so far as I travel here, I have heard only 1 person disparage her deck because “tradition.” All other readers – and I’ve spoken to the bookstore owners here as well – love love love her additions and consider them valuable. One bookstore owner tells me she still outsells the RWS here, and her works are re-ordered more often than even any other card author’s. If you look at the flyers available around town here for various cartomantes, about 1/3 are illustrated with her cards or mention having taken her workshop. And some advertise a mixture of lennie & Thoth. So clearly advancing lennie is highly accepted by the German traditional readers who are actually German traditional readers.
Aidan Wachter: Camelia, what you wrote is the finest version of the conversation I am always having! I knew I liked you!
Camelia Elias: Well, good for you. You know, I have come to learn that the reason why some insist on dogma that they ultimately invent themselves, but which they claim comes from ancient sources, is the classical reason. People don’t trust themselves to know what they know. And you know what that means? That means that they don’t have enough confidence in how strong their working is. And you know why they don’t don’t know how strong their working is? For the simple reason that they don’t have a well-rounded and grounded connection. That’s all. I like you too.
Fortune Buchholtz: Aidan Wachter – I’ve always found Eliade enlightening on etiological myths. People constantly deploy and re-deploy them in succession to form a psychological construct, what Goldhill calls “sedimentation,” to allow them to link themselves to some kind of “sacred time” or “sacred location.” Resulting in a strange overdetermination. We can observe that the Greeks treated myths as related to historical time (as opposed to say, the Australian Aborigines), and this Western tendency has perpetuated, particularly in those influenced by the hermeticism and the Western Esoteric “tradition.” So folks search actual history to find extra support for their “sediments,” which history they will also then overdetermine. Thus leading to a construct around the myth and the historical fact, ossifying the science or even art of history into dogma. Maybe instead of ossifying I should use the technical term reify here.
Fortune Buchholtz: Camelia Elias, your “connection” there immediately brought to mind Heidegger’s concept of “uneigentlichkeit,” that which has not made itself its own, the self that is not herself. This brings us into the notion of “ereignis” or event and Appropriation, in which the inauthentic self struggles to distinguish a false individuality by rooting it to the event.
Rachel Pollack: Wonderful discussion. I’ve read a fair amount of Eliade, and while he manages often to discern valuable themes he also over-intellectualizes, as if shamanic practices, or magic, were purely philosophical performance art. As for claiming that something is ancient when in fact you made it up, this is the traditional way anything was put forward in Western culture. The Bible is the obvious example. The Zohar was attributed to Yokhanan bar Zakkai, some 1000 years before it was written, and even today traditionalists will get very worked up if someone suggests that in fact Moses de Leon, who called himself its publisher, actually wrote it. But in its own time this was known. In fact, a group worked on it, with de Leon the leader, so clearly it was not a secret. I’ve read that after he died his wife was asked directly, did he write the Zohar, and she said, more or less, “Oh, sure.” So to say it was created by bar Zakkai was a stance, a way of saying this was coming through them, and to remove their egos. Later generations not only took it as literal but developed a rigid stance, impervious to historical information.
Camelia Elias: Hilarious, Rachel. What I find so intoxicatingly ridiculous is the fact that most traditionalists resist the factual information about the very tradition they try to uphold. That’s why I like Fortune’s point above, about the strategies and reading protocols that the inauthentic self makes recourse to when caught in the act of having to admit to fact. Now I’m thinking, perhaps I should upgrade this wonderful thread here to a post on Taroflexions, where I can append just the Lenormand images to go with all this. A deck in my collection that many don’t have a clue it exists. Not a so-called ‘historical’ deck, of which I also have quite a number, but one that’s made in 1980. Stay tuned. And thank you all for these great insights. Keep them coming.
Aidan Wachter: Rachel – I love this. I just can’t take the ‘traditional’ concept very seriously, whether in magic, or in culture/politics. It’s like all the 50’s nostalgia in the US in some parts of the political discussion, nonsense. It never actually was ‘like that’ so how can we go back to it? And Camelia – My wife and I talk a lot about these things. I can make up stories about ‘how’ I do what I do, but they are only stories. I ‘make a connection’ and follow that line ‘home’ is the truth. Perhaps not very helpful to someone hoping to try to repeat my approach, but true!
Fortune Buchholtz: Definitely eager to see your thoughts on Taroflexions, Camelia Elias!
Well here they are folks, the thoughts. Many thanks for your wisdom and generosity. Now let us make some magic.
LE CARTE DELLA FORTUNA, Serie d’arte.
Giancarlo Carloni, Rizzoli, Anna Bella
Corrierre della Serra, 1980.