Practical Magic and Popular Culture

AODA Archdruid John Michael Greer has a new blog post titled “A Lesson in Practical Magic.” Like most of his Archdruid Reports, this entry follows the theme of Peak Oil. But this one deals primarily with Joséphin Péladan, a French writer and occultist of the late 19th century. Péladan is an interesting character – go read John Michael’s description of him.

My interest deals primarily with one of Péladan’s principles for becoming an effective magic worker. Greer translates it (from French to English and from 1892 to 2011) by saying “the first of those principles is to limit and control the channels by which the mainstream media and their wholly owned subsidiary, public opinion, get access to your nervous system.”

Like a fish in water, the mainstream culture surrounds us and envelops us to the point we forget it is there. We forget we live in a consumerist society: the point of all this culture is to sell us something, or more precisely, to get us to buy what they’re selling.

It is easy to forget we live in an incredibly wealthy society. Yes, there is real poverty in this country and yes, the distribution of wealth is inequitable and getting worse for reasons that are largely unacceptable, but the fact remains that most of us spend a fraction of our income on basic necessities. We have large amounts of disposable income and many people and organizations want to get a piece of it. They try to convince us we need their clothes, cars, food, entertainment and gadgets.

These things aren’t bad in and of themselves. But when we swim in the ocean of popular culture, it’s easy to get distracted – to spend far more time and energy worrying about them than they’re worth. Dressing well takes a little time and a little money. Dressing stylishly takes more time and more money. Keeping up with the latest fashions – much less dressing in them – can be a full time job and cost more than all but the very rich can afford. But this is what popular culture tells us we must do.

So, how do we keep popular culture from embedding itself in our nervous system? You can’t simply drive it out. If you do, something else – most likely a different aspect of the very same mainstream culture – will fill its space. You have to replace it.

This is yet another reason why daily spiritual practice is so important – it crowds out harmful habits and replaces them with exercises that promote spiritual growth. In particular, devotional reading is extremely helpful. Not only do you occupy your time with something meaningful, reading stimulates thinking and contemplation, which leads to more learning and more spiritual depth.

Another very helpful activity is participation in a religious community. At regular intervals, you gather with other people like yourself: people who are doing their best to follow a spiritual path while swimming in the mainstream ocean. Our religious services – whether Pagan circles or UU services or something else – are regular reminders of our higher values and goals.

But the most important thing you can do is simply to be aware of who you are and where you live. When you stop and think instead of mindlessly reacting to the latest “big thing” on TV or the internet, it’s easy to figure out when you need something, when you want something, and when someone is trying to sell you something.

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  • John, thanks for another discerning post. Good to find another reader of JMG's The Archdruid Report. Interesting also to see us posting on similar themes.