A Poor Magician Is A Poor Magician

A Poor Magician Is A Poor Magician May 11, 2014

“A poor magician is a poor magician.”

I hear this phrase from time to time.  Sometimes it’s proclaimed as a self-evident truth:  if your ordinary life is a mess, you obviously aren’t much of a magic worker or you’d do something to get it in order.  Other times I hear it slammed as victim-blaming of people who are dealing with economic or other problems not of their own making.

Right or wrong, the phrase remains in use and it’s worth exploring in a little more depth.

First of all, if the stories of our ancestors teach us anything, it’s that we are not defined by our circumstances but by our responses to them.  A hero is someone who does great things in difficult situations.  Simply looking at someone’s circumstances – or looking at your own – tells you nothing about his or her character and competency.

But circumstances are temporary and constantly changing, and the classic definition of magic is the art and science of creating change in accordance with Will. It is reasonable to expect that if magical people find ourselves in unfavorable circumstances, we will practice our art and science and create changes to make things better – at least within the limits of what magic can and can’t do.

None of us have perfect lives – by anyone’s standards – including those who are highly skilled magicians or devoted priests.  To dismiss someone as a “poor magician” because their lives aren’t what we think they should be is arrogant at best.

But over time, circumstances become patterns and patterns become character.

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
― Lao Tzu

A magician whose life is in constant chaos needs to look for the cause of the chaos.  Does he need to put the grimoire down and pick up a book on home finance?  Does he need to cut back on walking between the worlds and start walking in this world – both figuratively and literally?  This isn’t just a Pagan thing – my Baptist father used to rant against people who were “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.”

I rant against “Pagan Standard Time” not because I’m a slave to the mainstream culture’s infatuation with efficiency but because habitual lateness is a sign of failure to properly plan.  If a ritual starts late because the leaders underestimated how long it would take to get ready, what else did they underestimate?  What’s the likelihood they made the ritual as good as it could be?  What’s the likelihood they spent the necessary time in meditation and prayer with the deities and spirits they intend to invoke and honor?

I’ve yet to do a perfect ritual, and I cut beginners a lot more slack than I cut experienced magicians and ritual leaders.  But a consistent pattern of lateness and disorganization tells me I’m dealing with a poor magician.

A magician who has sacrificed material comfort to concentrate on her practice and her craft is a different matter.  There are only so many hours in day and so many days in a life, and while it is possible to bring magic and spirituality into a mundane workplace (someone has to make corporate environments less toxic!), if you want to be an artist or an activist you are likely to have to accept a lower material standard of living to find the time your art requires.

This isn’t a question of “working” vs. “not working.”  All of us have an obligation to provide for ourselves and our families.  It’s a question of deciding what we’re going to work on, what we’re going to work for, and how long we’re going to work on it.  Monks agree to live in great simplicity and at times in depravation.  It’s a hard life that’s not for everyone, but most of us can recognize the monks’ poor material condition is a sign of spiritual maturity, not weakness.

A magician who has little material wealth and constantly complains about it needs to re-examine his priorities.  Does he really need more than he has to be content?  Maybe he does – nobody can say how much is enough for someone else.  But maybe he needs to accept that he already has enough and his true happiness won’t come from more stuff but from deeper spiritual practice and more devoted service.

It’s worth thinking about the converse, too:  maybe a wealthy Druid is a good Druid and maybe he isn’t.  We aren’t Puritans – material wealth isn’t a sign of the favor of the Gods, or a sign of skill with magic.  Neither is it a sign of selling out.  It’s worth remembering that Gerald Gardner was able to be a full-time writer and promoter of Wicca because he was drawing a civil service pension from his years working for the British government in Asia.

So, is a poor magician a poor magician?  Maybe – it depends on whether she’s made different trade-offs from what society expects or whether she isn’t paying enough attention to the details of her own life.

Are you following a leader or a teacher who’s a poor magician?  Is your role model demonstrating behaviors that are unhelpful and unwise?  Or does he simply need less stuff than you do?

Are you a poor magician?  If your life is in disorder, start getting it in order one thing at a time.  If you need more, start taking steps – both magical and mundane – to obtain what you lack.  But if you have what you truly need, perhaps all that is required is to recognize that blessed fact and dive head-first into the calling of your True Will.

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  • I have never heard that phrase.

    I hope never to hear it uttered within earshot of me. The notion that you can judge the extent of someone’s spiritual connection by their wealth is abhorrent, and fits precisely into the perpetuation of Capitalism. Gross.

    • PhaedraHPS

      At its core, magic is not about ‘spiritual connection’, it’s a set of techniques that can be used by people of any religion, or none. One can objectively judge whether someone is technically competent or not. If you are not a competent magician, you are “a poor magician.”

      John isn’t necessarily taking wealth=competence, either. He seems more to be talking about the difference between a life in perpetual chaos and one where the magician has his or her crap reasonably together. You can do that even if you are far from rich.

      There’s an old joke I heard in the eighties: how do you know someone is a ceremonial magician? They say, “I never use my magic for mundane purposes. Oh, can I crash on your couch for a few weeks?” I think that’s more in the neighborhood of what John’s talking about.

      • “He seems more to be talking about the difference between a life in perpetual chaos and one where the magician has his or her crap reasonably together.”

        Yes, Phaedra – that’s exactly what I’m saying. Thanks.

        • Sorry (and I respect you to pieces, John!)–I guess it still worries me greatly. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “she’s an addict/homeless/on state-assistance/a starving artist/hiv+/mentally-ill/lost her children/can’t find a job/etc., etc. because she can’t [or didn’t] get her life together.” A person’s inability to succeed in Capitalism is not a sign of personal sin or faulty beliefs/practices. This is our Calvinist inheritance, and it ought to be eradicated from Pagan thought.

          Also, “Pagan Standard Time” echoes a similar complaint that has been made about every colonized people (particularly Africans, where you still hear it echoed in the complaints of western financiers, bankers, business-owners, and even NGO’s.) I’m worried we might be re-inforcing Capitalist norms here, as countless Marxists and post-colonial theorists have pointed out that the industrialized Capitalism requires each individual to embrace (and embody and re-inforce in others) a standardized time.

          • Alley Valkyrie

            ^^ This.

          • Rhyd, I respect you greatly, and I support most of your ends, even though I think many of your means are unworkable outside of small, philosophically-homogenous societies.

            Blaming the conditions you list on “not getting your life together” is lazy and self-centered – it absolves the person making the proclamation of any responsibility for helping correct the situation. So I’m in general agreement with your first paragraph.

            But I will argue all day long about punctuality. Your point about colonized people is valid – in some societies it’s not a big deal. And when we go camping, dinner is ready when it’s ready. It’s not like we have anything pressing to do. But we don’t live in that world day in and day out.

            Time is valuable in our society. If a ritual doesn’t start on time because the leader isn’t organized, that holds up the other participants. It shows a lack of respect for the others involved, forcing them to wait around. One individual is not more important than the group.

            You can argue that we should slow down our society where it’s like a camping trip and everything is ready when it’s ready. That might be a better way to live. But until I can live all my life off the clock, I want my religious activities to get the same priorities I give my other activities.

          • Absolutely understood. But may I complicate this slightly for you?
            There’s an inherent expectation regarding time and punctuality which ignores class, and without using the “p” word, I’d point out, for instance, that most rituals occur on weekends or weekday evenings. The setting of the time itself presumes and assumes Capitalistic (and particularly “middle class” or bourgeois norms) and becomes a re-inforcement of those norms.

            Why is that a problem? I, and the majority of the people in my economic class, must work weekends and evenings because the majority of the jobs we are able to get are in the service industry. Rarely are rituals scheduled for a monday morning at 10am or sunday evening just before midnight; rather, they are scheduled in order to accommodate the obligations and demands of Capitalist exchange.

            As such, there is already an assumption about the economic class and work-habits (including time-discipline) within such scheduling–that is, the Capitalist work-ethic is inscribed within the people planning the rituals. Like “privilege,” the demand for punctuality is invisible and assumed as a universally-attainable moral. But I don’t mean to blame or accuse anyone in this, only to point out that time-discipline (punctuality) is a Capitalist-created method of control and one we risk re-inscribing when we demand it of others.

          • The setting of the times for rituals occurs when the majority of people can make it. That’s why weekend nights, usually Saturdays, are the generally selected night, the ability to accommodate more people is the reason for it, plain and simple. “Capitalist work-ethic” or not, when you run a group you have to make scheduling calls, simple as that. If the demographics were different scheduling would be different.

            You can rail against punctuality for whatever reason, but it is useful for performers, useful for students, useful for teachers, and useful for meetings. Punctuality is important, and when you can’t show up on time people stop relying on you real quick (and if an actor gets a reputation for showing up late to calls? Well, someone won’t be getting cast in much.)

          • yewtree

            Most of the people I know rely on public transport to get to rituals. The ones who are late are usually the car drivers. And sometimes it is because they have a demanding job; and sometimes it is because they are just badly organised. If I had someone in my coven who had the kind of job that involved working evenings & weekends, I would seek to accommodate that. Yes, indeed, punctuality is not universally attainable – but lack of it is a pain in the arse if it makes you miss the last bus and you end up freezing said arse off in the middle of the night waiting hours for a night bus.

          • Rhyd, you raise a valid point, but a different one from punctuality.

            It is impossible to schedule a ritual when everyone can attend. We go with the times that accommodate the greatest number of people. It’s possible to change that, but only if our society is willing to give up, say, grocery shopping in the evenings… which means two spouses can’t both work day jobs, which opens up a whole different can of worms of inequality.

            A hundred years ago Evangelical churches began holding Sunday evening services so shift workers could attend church on a regular basis. Pagans don’t have the numbers for that – yet.

          • You make a lot of good points here. I don’t disagree, but would add that there are other factors that determine whether or not punctuality is important to you, factors that aren’t so much about class per se.

            Pagan events are rarely scheduled to meet the needs of families with small children. That means, for me, that I wouldn’t be able to attend without the support of community (usually in the form of my covenmate who often takes care of the baby while the rest of us do ritual). I don’t even attempt more public events right now, but if I did, it would require me to pay someone for childcare. So what would happen for me if rituals didn’t go start and end on time? If the baby is being cared for by my covenmate and the ritual starts and ends late, all the planning I put in to make sure the baby is rested and fed may well end in him being overtired and throwing a screaming fit that will disturb everyone. If I leave him with a child care provider, then I end up not respecting that person’s time and/or their need to get to their next gig, go home to their own kids, or go to sleep so they can get up and do another job. Then there’s a cascade effect that can create problems for a whole other family. Child care workers are not in any kind of economically privileged position, but it’s understood that if you respect them and their work, you do NOT pick up your kid late (that’s a good way to make it so that child care provider is just never available when you call).

            So all of that is to say, punctuality isn’t just important to people in an economically privileged position. I don’t mean this as a systematic argument, just a case study.

          • PhaedraHPS

            I don’t get the conflation of punctuality and scheduling. They are two separate issues.

            Scheduling things on nights and weekends does disproportionately
            affect lower income brackets, but there are well-paying jobs that also
            have non-9-to-5 hours. IT people for one example may work crazy hours, too. My sister was a bank officer in IT and she worked nights for years and was on call many weekends and holidays. My ex, who did CAD design, worked nights and even if on the day shift could work well into the evening. I personally gave up on teaching and organizing large events because for a long time I worked rotating shifts, weekends and holidays, and I often didn’t know what my shifts would be until a week in advance.

            There simply isn’t a single way to accommodate a lot of conflicting schedules. It would be nice for the 9-5 people to present an event on a Monday morning, oh, but they’d be at work then, wouldn’t they? Who isn’t? Why, you’re not! So maybe you could set up some off-hour events for folks who can’t get to the other events. I’d imagine that 9-to-5 people who found themselves available might attend too.

            Punctuality is a whole other issue. If, in my shift-worker days, I went to a 10:30 AM Monday morning event, and it started late so I had a hard time getting to work in time for my 1:30 PM Monday afternoon work shift, that would be a huge problem. As others have said, there is a cascade effect. If I was working regular days, and an evening event started late and I had to be at work in the morning, that’s a problem. If a group’s leaders regularly started late or regularly accommodated late-comers, I’d probably stop attending.

            To tell people that they’re buying into some Capitalist conspiracy is just plain not helpful. It’s not like people have a lot of options. Get to work on time/don’t feed the kids, don’t keep a roof over your head. Yeah, that’s a valid trade off. The Revolution hasn’t happened yet. Been waiting for it since the sixties–no luck so far.

            And if you want to be precise, it’s an Industrial Revolution conspiracy, not a Capitalist conspiracy. Workers in Communist countries were/are expected to arrive on time, too.

          • Hi Phaedra,

            The mention of scheduling isn’t an indictment (as I said); rather, it was introduced in order to delineate the point that we re-inscribe time-discipline into our rituals not at the behest of the gods or some universal morality, but because of our existence within Industrialized/Capitalist societies.

            I greatly appreciate your point about not having options, which is precisely what I think both Alley and I are on about here. Her point about wealth is very important–a middle class white person with a savings account or a credit card and a home practicing magic is more prepared to deal with the calamities of life than a homeless transgendered black woman also practicing magic (and there are lots of them!–I was a social worker for homeless folk for four years and got to meet many such folks, and many of them don’t get invited to our rituals…)

            You bring up an excellent point regarding Communist time-discipline. I’m currently writing a book on Paganism and Capitalism because there isn’t much knowledge regarding the historical processes in many Pagan circles–Communism operates on all of the same logics of Capitalism but merely displaces ownership. This is why Lenin and Stalin rushed the Soviet Union through a “Capitalist” phase, because they (falsely) believed that Capitalism was a natural stage in the progress of humanity which would then be followed by Communism. The falsehood there is the belief in progressive stages in humanity, which John Michael Greer has done extensive work to show is an article of “faith,” rather than a historical truth. It’s the same thing which leads people to believe that the current state of affairs (including Capitalism) was an inevitability, and that future technology can undo the mess we’ve made of the earth through technology.

            Regarding waiting for the revolution…you may find the piece I wrote for The Wild Hunt regarding precisely that point interesting? http://wildhunt.org/2014/05/into-the-traumatic-breach-radicalism-paganism-and-sexual-liberation.html

          • Ms. Cell Machine

            While I am not entirely unsympathetic to your points here, I still have to disagree on matters regarding talent and competency. This does not mean that fate is fair especially in this society, it isn’t, and certainly a lot of people with even with potential never find their away and go on to do different things. However, if one was to write and sell books on a subject they should at least have the real world experience and knowledge in order to earn their reputation, at least ideally. Not everyone can or should do that regardless of prestige or class background and what economic structure we live in. Competency matters.

            Imagine a student at a community college pastry school who has poor motor skills but dreams of being a great chef making fancy plated desserts. They might have great ideas for recipes, taste in food, the whole nine yards, but not everyone is cut out to make in the food industry even non-disabled people, even if the food service industry is still less cut throat than it is today. There are some physical problems out there that can mean an eager and ambitious student isn’t cut out for to make it regardless of intelligence or income level and kitchen work demands a lot of fast physical work. Maybe they’d be better off writing cookbooks for home bakers after they drop out, and/or look in to a different vocation, but front lines in the kitchen, this is not for everyone.

            Similarly I don’t think everyone is cut out to be a magician specializing in financial & wealth magic. This isn’t a judgement on their spiritual worth ethic, far from it, it’s just that not everyone has the opportunity and/or talent to be able to perform every task out there, or even most people. We need diversity anyway, and perhaps someone not good and money magic may be better at love or healing magic or weather magic. I don’t think one can usually choose what you are good at, but the other way around.

            This is not to say that I agree with some of the bloggers here either, given some objections I have done my best to be polite about in an other threads previously. I find a lot of people not as progressive or radical as they might like to think, much less interested in the overthrow of the current economic system.

          • Friday

            I don’t think there is a complaint that some ‘magicians’ aren’t ‘demonstrating compency at wealth and financial magic’ but still going uncompensated for trying to sell books on the topic, (Though arguably I’ve learned a few things about it cause I *can’t* have that sort of thing for myself that way , which someone else might be able to put to use. Though that’s not enough to hit the lecture circuit about, surely. In an entirely different way, just cause I’m sterile myself doesn’t mean I don’t have a kickin’ fertility blessing with a great track record. )

            I think the critique here is very much *about* the notion that if one isn’t wealthy one must not be a ‘very good magician’ the same as the dominant culture says ‘You must not have a very good work ethic or be otherwise deficient if you don’t have the bank.’

            “Specializing in financial and wealth magic?” What *is* that, anyway? Some aetheric cheat on an already nasty system? 🙂 Maybe not all magic, never mind *Spirit* is about ‘manifesting bank balances,’ you know?

            I think we’re perhaps speaking on different notions. I suppose I was good enough at what I do to not be on the street anymore, but it’s sure not cause of anything like that, never mind capital to try monkeying finance with. May as well run around Anderson Park without a football and expect the NFL to drop money on me if I tried hard enough. 🙂

            The problem with the current ‘financial’ system is it is *not* the actual ‘economic system’ we live in, never mind related to our material skills, never mind our subtler ones. It’s also not anti-capitalist to point out that we’re in a *credit* economy, not one where most regular folks actually get more capital to play with than they can pull out of an ATM this week and afford to lose. 🙂

            I wouldn’t base my assessment of someone’s mystical acumen on that financial system, either.

            I learned a lot of skills, magically-and-materially-practical, when I was even poorer than now. If they *paid* well I guess that’d make a lot of people not poor who are, either way.

          • Ms. Cell Machine

            I agree, at least in that I don’t believe a magician should have to be wealthy, but they should at least should not be destitute. And I am suspicious of anyone claiming to be a magician who is rolling in millions, since its often scammers and cult leaders who got that much money by selling ludicrously high priced services.

          • Friday

            Personally, I think being destitute can constitute quite the crash course in what magic you can pull off. 😉

            (Also what you’re willing to, come to think of it. Nothing like great duress to figure out where you really are on some things. 🙂 )

            Also, I’ve got to rest. I’ll point out though that we live in a society that seems to think that more people will win if they simply make the punishment for ‘losing’ worse and worse. But that never works, magic or not.

            (Guess the real magic would be playing some other game or something, you know? Maybe an honest one. Magic and dishonesty don’t mesh for long, after all. 🙂 )

          • Ms. Cell Machine

            I doubt that, and honestly I think certain types of systems are rather elitist, and I’m saying this as a low income person who is lucky to have no dependents because that’d kill my access to supplies and where the rituals can be performed. Luckily I’m also just really starting out the past year in that I can’t make any claims on skill level yet (some failures though I blame on bad advice from an ex-mentor…). I am also not the type of person who would function at all on the streets.

          • Ms. Cell Machine

            One more little thing, resource requirements aside, magic doesn’t equal goodness or honesty. If it did there wouldn’t be a history of grimoires out there with spells for doing horrible things to other people, and I am afraid that much of magic can and does involve the use of glamor, and I’m not even speaking of Celtic of Fairies.

            Anyway, I am not Wiccan or in to any type of Neo-Witchcraft, so I am afraid I probably have little to do with what you speak of much less world views.

            I will not argue there are problems with the fantasy about punishing people for losing, but that still has little bearings on capabilities and competency. One s in that not everyone can have access to resources, but if one can not have them available when they want to work with a client there’s not much that can be done and they can go elsewhere to find one who does.

            One last thing:

            “Guess the real magic would be playing some other game or something, you know?”

            I’d say no, real magic should involve actual change in the physical world, and you’re either capable or you’re not, or you’re ignorant of the techniques that can help you do so.

          • kenofken

            Magic is like any other force or technology. It isn’t good or bad inherently.

          • Ms. Cell Machine

            Forgot to add before I sound like a real dick here-this isn’t to say Magic Solves Everything, it doesn’t, I just have a problem with Atheist worldviews imposed on the discipline.

        • Alley Valkyrie

          Chaos and poverty go hand in hand. Wealth helps to create stability, as well as maintain stability in trying times. Wealth also insulates people from the consequences of bad choices, choices that can and will throw the impoverished into chaos.

          • Friday

            BTW, Alley, appreciate your work. I’ve been noticing. 🙂

    • I’ve encountered this sentiment more in working class contexts than in middle class contexts, especially in communities where people believe in operant magic and are willing to pay for those services. If you want a money spell, in other words, you don’t go to the rootworker who’s worse off than you. (As well off or slightly better seems to be okay.) This kind of theology also pops up in evangelical circles, like with the whole Prayer of Jabez thing about fifteen years ago — a book attempting to biblically justify praying for material wealth. Pretty sure that book was marketed heavily to working-class people (and bought by them, to the tune of nine million copies). So, it’s probably an area for consciousness-raising all around, but given that it’s as least as likely to come out of the mouth of someone who’s economically vulnerable as someone who’s comfortable, I wouldn’t want to lead off with condemning it too strongly.

      • I was in a 4000 person evangelical Southern Baptist church 22 years ago (damn, I’m getting old!) with a median income of 100k/year and an operating budget of 30k/week when the prosperity gospel hit hard there. Unfortunately, my developmentally-disabled and schizophrenic single mother (yearly income 8k/year not including my contributions to our household income) fell equally hard for it (as well as signing entire paychecks over to that church).

        So, you’re right. Prosperity as a sign of grace hits all classes, but I think it hits the vulnerable most brutally.

    • Joseph

      Capitalism is the most successful economic system on Earth for good reason. It has led more people out of poverty, enabled more people to realize their potential, than anything else in history. Try to get past the occupy wall street mindset.

      • You’re right! No system has more success destroying the planet, alienating people from each other, displacing people from homes into the streets, and destroying the ways of life of billions of brown people!

      • kenofken

        The overall concept of capitalism is sound – private property and enterprise. The problem is that the current model is not sustainable and does not exist to serve people. We exist to serve it, and it’s less of a system of capitalism than of plutocracy and a sort of perverse cradle to grave socialism for the wealthy. The other problem is that the system does not assign value to honest work and production of anything real. It rewards those who simply leverage their entrenched (or inherited) positions for rent-seeking, collecting fees for moving money around and for chopping up and selling industries and eliminating jobs, which basically exploits our economy as a strip-mined extractive resource.

      • When poverty is designed and defined by the system that values quarterly profits above the quality of water, earth, and air, then I question the system’s values, morality and understanding of what wealth actually is.

  • PhaedraHPS

    It’s an interesting question. Some of the issue has to do with people’s innate talents and abilities. I would love to be a musician, but years of trying to learn to play an instrument led me to the inescapable conclusion that I am not a musician, not in this lifetime. But I have other abilities in other arts.

    For a lot of artists and magicians, they have the problem that the one special thing they’re really, really good at is a skill that is not particularly valued by modern society. After all, in monetary terms, nothing is worth more than someone else is willing to pay for it. It goes for skills as well as things.

    I’m not all that good at a lot of things that earns one a decent living in this society. When my fellow workers in the retail trade and I complained about
    working conditions, we’d be told, “This is retail. That’s what you get
    for picking retail for a career.” We thought that was hilarious (in the
    sick to your stomach, painful sort of way). “Picked”? “Career”? All of
    us were there because it was the only job we could get. Back 30-40 years ago, a lot of people said, be a commodities broker! Commodities brokers make lots of money! Yes, they do. But it’s absurd to think that the successful ones made money simply because they got a job as a commodities broker. They made money because they had a talent for trading commodities. I barely understand the concept of commodities trading. I don’t think it makes me a bad person, but it does make me not a commodities broker.

    Plus, sometimes progress flies past your skill set. You could be the best repairer of vacuum-tube devices that ever lived, but you won’t get much work these days. Isaac made a decent living at times in his life doing DTP, but then he got sick. By the time he was well enough to work, the software had changed so much he couldn’t get work.

    If we look deeper into magic, we can see it’s not a monolith field, either. A magician can have talents in some facets of magic, but not in others. Maybe you’re great at herbs and candle spells but terrible at finding lost objects. Or vice-versa. (My ability to predict the sex of unborn babies is pathetic. I’d do better flipping a coin.) Isaac, later in life, would remark that he had to accept that whatever talents he had, money magic was not one of them. (One could say he did pretty well to conjure up me for a partner, as I had marginally more marketable skills than he did, but then again, there are a lot of people out there who would have been better providers than I was!)

    I think the “poor magician” meme comes as much from our idea that nothing has value unless you’re making money from it. And at the same time, people are often shamed for charging money for magical things. As I said above, what if that’s the only thing you’re really, really good at?

    • Friday

      Ah, I guess I was just saying much the same thng. Even, I suppose, if not especially, about music. It’s not as though I never put in the work at things I’m good at, (and no, they don’t pay just like that) but I’ve often tried at music precisely because it *doesn’t* come easily. Not the structure, anyway. So much else really did. I think everyone needs something in their life like that.

      You’re right to say about *value,* though. Some musicians can play technically well and get jobs, struggle to get feeling into it. Some people sneeze at equations and calculations in physics and can’t get their heads around the concepts behind them. And get jobs. Magically speaking, even, some people spend thousands trying to get out of their own heads at New Age seminars and to me that’s often been simpler than falling off a log. 🙂

      And I guess what I mean there is how much people don’t value anything *subjective* but expect someone to come along and do such things for free. Or pay someone in a nice suit to do so cause they sold that notion. “Look how rich I am, obviously this makes me right. If it doesn’t work, something’s wrong with *you.* ”

      It’s like if you were in a bike courier, maybe you just rode miles in traffic for one quarter, not even covering the calories you burned, and you’re in elevators with suits who went through the most-conformistest elimination process ever, practically tearing their hair out going ‘Why can’t we think outside the box!? Gee, I wish we could afford to go bike-riding right now,’ Then you look around the elevator and go, “I’m only visiting this box, sports. Maybe that’s got something to do with it.”

      I think that’s what’s behind the erroneous carpentry of ‘The master’s tools won’t tear down the master’s house.’

      At least while there’s a lot of easier options, none of us are Pagans cause we don’t have at least a couple of skills. Fact is they don’t hire generalists these days. and they don’t often support the local shamans.

  • Thanks, this makes some great points, many of which I’ve heard my own teacher make at times (who was also Phaedra’s teacher!). About the quote though: it isn’t Lao Tzu. The story of that quote, however, IS interesting and can be found at: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/01/10/watch-your-thoughts/

    • Thanks for the link. I’ve seen that quote attributed to everyone from Lao Tzu to a 12-year-old kid in 1973. The source I grabbed it from listed Lao Tzu.

  • This is a great conversation starter. In my life I’ve spent years at lower paying jobs or temp jobs to free my time to do community work or to write. At a certain age I decided to make refocus on material well being and got a career. Now I’m trying to hold a corporate job *and* do community work and write, and there aren’t enough hours in the day.

    But deciding to focus on community is different than simply neglecting the material basis for the work. We used to say to our students “Get a life, then get a Craft” :-). If we are able-bodied we have an obligation to care for ourselves, as well as our families and the community. A couch-surfing magician is rather self-indulgent, eh?

  • Morgan

    Most of the chaos in my life has been orchestrated by others who were close to me. I have had to learn the hard way that whatever is not working in your life, be it a job, personal relationships or health problems, you either find a way to deal with it as best you can or sometimes, as in the case of toxic relationships, eliminate the problem by ending the relationship. It gets harder when you’re dealing with a perpetually needy, negative family member, and sometimes even that isn’t enough to continue putting up with being victimized. Wisdom comes with knowing when to “fish” and when to “cut bait.”

    • Constant Reader

      I know what you mean. It has taken me half a lifetime (if I’m being honest, probably more than half) to learn to pay attention not just to what people say, or what degrees they hold, or what seminars they’ve attended, but to what they actually DO — and whether or not the words and actions tend to match up. The less often words and actions match, the more chaos people tend to strew around them.

  • Fritz Muntean

    There used to be a whole lot said about this, back in the early days of Contemporary Paganism. There seemed to be plenty of people around who used pompous magical-sounding nicknames in public, who claimed exalted trainings, initiations, and proficiencies as a mage or thaumaturge . . . but whose car wouldn’t start and whose UI or Compo had run out. Some of us used to say of these folk that “their North Altar is broken.”
    I think I remember reading somewhere that Uncle Aleister wouldn’t accept anyone for advanced training who wasn’t an award-winning athlete (Crowley was a mountain climber of note), couldn’t read or write several classical languages, and wasn’t capable of outfitting a scientific laboratory and conducting experiments worthy of publication. According to him, “our mental hospitals are already full of those who’ve tried to master the extraordinary without first mastering the ordinary.”
    So the real issue isn’t about ‘poor’ as in lacking wealth and riches, but ‘poor’ in lacking competency. Which, in the case of magical usage, most often implies that a person with poor coping mechanisms and substandard interpersonal skills is trying to solve the problems these incompetencies create by magical, rather than mundane means.

    • “I think I remember reading somewhere that Uncle Aleister wouldn’t accept anyone for advanced training who wasn’t an award-winning athlete (Crowley was a mountain climber of note), couldn’t read or write several classical languages, and wasn’t capable of outfitting a scientific laboratory and conducting experiments worthy of publication.”

      Wow, those all sound like things that cost money and lost of leisure time, so they’re probably not all that great if you’re trying to make the ‘poor competency’ versus ‘financially poor’ argument. (And, seriously, I don’t think bringing up Aleister is a good example of someone who had good coping mechanisms or great interpersonal skills.)

      • kenofken

        Until he squandered it (which he had to work hard at), Crowley had the benefits of inherited wealth and a rich 19th Century liberal arts education. He had more than his share of personal dysfunction, and if you caught him at the right moments, he’d freely admit that. At the same time, he had the gravitas to be able to refuse to suffer fools and dabblers. For his many faults, the guy walked the walk, and he produced a body of work of great quantity and depth and (mostly) quality that has yet to be surpassed. Some of it, like the Thoth Tarot, he accomplished near the end of his life when he was essentially broke.

      • >>(And, seriously, I don’t think bringing up Aleister is a good example of someone who had good coping mechanisms or great interpersonal skills.)<<

        Aine–you rock. : )

      • Ms. Cell Machine

        I have heard he wasn’t a good magician anyway, but it’s not like I ever cared for what he thought. I suspect most of his appeal was due to shock value, not good advice, and I never cared for his definition of magic much less the impact on the magic and occult community.

      • yewtree

        The reason Aleister Crowley was majorly dysfunctional is because he was brought up in the Plymouth Brethren. That is not necessarily going to be the outcome for everyone brought up by the Plymouth Brethren, but it certainly increases the likelihood.

        And I don’t think Fritz was equating wealth with magical competency. He was saying that life competency is unrelated to wealth.

    • Friday

      I think a big part of the problem actually *is* some people expecting ‘good magicians’ of any sort to be superheroes who work for free but have to somehow be wealthy (or fix their own cars among everything else, anyway.)

      In reality, we all have our talents and gifts and areas we’ve studied and worked on to good results. Not all of them *monetize* in the real world, at least without a great big head start and a lot of others paying the price for you.

      A lot of this comes from the same ideologies used to justify certain economic failures not even connected to Pagan ways, but really, American Calvinism. Of all notions that modern Pagans have been subjected to from the ‘New Age’ and the like, that’s a big one. Simultaneously expecting professional quality clergy for free… while thinking there’s something wrong with them if they aren’t also ‘successful’ by the standards of the very society we ain’t supposed to be about.

      In many of our ancestral societies that we hearken back to, yer shamans and ‘witches’ in the good sense were the very people that often could do that well cause they might *not* be able to be particularly ordinary. Actually, we’ve inherited a lot of the wrong ideas from the times of Christian domination and such. Including some idea that clergy necessarily are on some pedestal that involves plenty of funding passed down from somewhere else. Even practically-speaking, our best ritualists aren’t often our best healers (or walkers or mechanics or bookkeepers or accountants or poets.) Really, a lot of the point is we *aren’t* a hierarchy, never mind one with imaginary funding.

      We’re rightly a little suspicious if it ever even looks that way.

      As a type of popular religion, of *course* we’d be doing a lousy job if we weren’t helping people live competently. Perhaps expecting standards of omni-*mastery* are part of why the Pagan movement *isn’t* a bunch of people trying to be the Magician card, nor bow to one….. what we’re trying to do, among us all, is be the whole darn deck, as possible, and live the minor arcana, too. Arguably it’s someone else’s deck to get shuffled into, anyway. The fact is, we’re just not *supposed* to be various degrees of failure to live up to some monolithic ideal. Sure ain’t what I’ve been learning in this life, that. Coulda knucked under to Catholicism for that. 🙂

      The funny thing about ‘rugged individualists’ is they tend to end up the most conformist people you could know. All trying to be the same thing to the point it’s only relaly a question of winning or losing at it, and all. If we cooperate, that’s when we get a chance to be viably-different. And, yes, we still all need day-jobs. Those would work better, too, if we learned our own lessons about diversity being a strength, not a weakness… *if* we organize things that way. (As opposed to being like ‘Let’s all go earn money individually and see how much time, effort and resources we can put in the stone soup afterwards.)

      Community. We know we need it. It’s just not an argument to work out abstractly ahead of time. It’s something you kind of do, with the people and stuff you have to hand.

      • Fritz Muntean

        There’s an interesting op-ed article in this morning’s NYTimes about the problems created by overconfidence.
        Much of what’s said applies here. Read past the 1st couple of paragraphs, which cite the (apparently unfortunate) under-confidence displayed by many women. But it turns out that under-estimating one’s abilities is more constructive and has more long-term benefits — and is less fraught with debilitating pitfalls — than over-estimating.
        No long-time observer of the Pagan scene could disagree with THAT, eh?

        • Ms. Cell Machine

          Link broken, but from what I know of the Dunning Kruger affect it makes me feel somewhat better about myself. I believe it’s a very good idea to look at oneself honestly, especially at past methods and how they relate to one’s failures in order to avoid repeating future mistakes and creating future successes.

  • kenofken

    John, you are dead on with this. Wealth by itself has no inherent connection with magical ability or personal worth. At the base level of whether a person is able to take care of themselves, it is a marker for whether the person has the attributes of creative power – will and focus first among them, to create anything worthwhile magickally.

    The bottom line for me isn’t someone’s net worth, it’s whether they demonstrate mastery of themselves and the ability to adapt and endure and create things for themselves even in adverse circumstances. Especially then. Except for those born to serious wealth, we all are confronted at one time or another which will seriously set us back financially – depression, health problems, radical economic shifts, being American in the 21st Century….

    The issue becomes what you do with that? Is the person engaging that and owning it and working on a long-term plan, or are they being forever owned by it and whipsawed by circumstance and blaming others and chronically mooching (as opposed to asking for help and honoring what that entails)? Are you dealing with your (shall we say “stuff”)?

    Sometimes dealing means you have to step back from the festival circuit or the scene for a while. Sometimes it means you can’t retire to a full-time gig of curating your pagan book collection, full-time authorship, unpaid clergy work and running the world’s largest stray cat sanctuary. Sometimes it means buckling down and finishing the degree even though it’s an arbitrary indicator of someone’s knowledge and scholarship. Sometimes it means you have to suck it up and cut your hair, leave the sewer-lid size Pent at home and endure that soul-killing corporate cubicle job for a while. Sometimes it means taking your mood stabilizers or antidepressants even though they enrich “The Man” and dull your self-perceived brilliant flow of ideas.

    As we’ve built our own coven/family circle network over the years, I’ve notice basically two types of people. One has their share of problems like any, sometimes life takes them down for a long count, but over the long haul, they’re doing someplace between treading water and well financially and elsewhere in their lives. The second group are folks who either have a sort of conditioned helpless resignation to poverty and personal problems, or else thing paganism should be a refuge from reality and a celebration of dysfunction. I’m sorry if it sounds elitist, but I have no use for the latter. I’ll help them where I can, but I won’t take them as magickal partners or circle mates or teachers. They are in no position to do serious workings, and they are drains on energy.

  • Henry Buchy

    Lots of good points, despite some of the political slants, seems to me, folks are conflating religion with magic. Most pagans aren’t magicians. Most public ritual is religious, not magical, per se. Sometimes they may overlap, and sometimes it does require being ‘on time’, more so with magic, and sometimes that punctuality isn’t dictated by societal conditioning, or society’s ‘standardized’ time.

    as far as ‘wealth’ goes…. here’s a little tidbit that’s guided me as a witch:

    “Now if the Witch does not usually take money, though this is allowed.10
    More often he takes that which he needs for the work, and perhaps a
    little sustenance. If he takes money, he has a good reason. If he has
    no good reason, save that he is greedy or is poor, most likely his
    magic will not work. For the spirits, too, demand their tithe.

    You, who would become a Witch. Do not expect to become wealthy; only rich. If
    you would do magic for money, you do it to sustain yourself and your
    work. You will not live in luxury, perhaps not even in comfort if you
    are a professional. That is for a rare few who write books for the
    laity, or for those who have wealthy clients. But again, these are
    rare, and even so should not be sought after.

    Expect only that you may help a few who are superstitious and ignorant. The
    sophisticated, and therefore the rich, are not likely to come to you,
    unless it be to milk your secrets from you. And would you be so cruel
    and monstrous as to demand excessive payment from the poor? I know no
    Witch who would. I expect you will be of this more humane variety as
    well.”- Gwydion Pendderwen- Anatomy of a witch.

  • Henry Buchy

    oh and good coping mechanisms and interpersonal skills have no relation to whether one is a good magician or not, lol.

    • Ms. Cell Machine

      ‘course a lack of interpersonal skills may mean they might not be the greatest candidate to be a teacher of magic no matter how good they are.

      • Henry Buchy

        perhaps, given a choice, I’d rather learn from an excellent magus with mediocre interpersonal skills, than a mediocre magus with excellent interpersonal skills…

        • Ms. Cell Machine

          False dichotomy.

          • Henry Buchy

            not really, I’m not ruling out the possibility of an excellent magus with excellent interpersonal skills, nor am I positing an either/or. Nor am I trying to convince you of anything, just stating what my own personal choice would be, based upon my own experiences.

          • Ms. Cell Machine

            It really depends, but some people have anger problems where it always ends in some kind of nastiness, or related issues. I’m not talking about painfully shy people or archetypical social cluelessness much less neurodevelopmental disorders (which have nothing to do with being an asshole anyway), I’m speaking of different kind of issues and problem where it clearly can’t end well, so I have to set boundaries. I’m speaking of the type of people who may fit in to the archetype discussed in the book Asshole: A Theory. I think not being an asshole is a very important interpersonal skill.

  • There is something useful beneath this phrase. A competent mage is a competent person.

    What ‘competent’ means is a value judgement. But we can work to excel at whatever it is we do. Does this mean we must aspire to the Middle Class? Of course not.

    Magic can teach us to touch an underlying reality. The everyday and the magical need not be opposed. Neoplatonism’s great illusion is that the spiritual is greater than – and dualistically opposed to – the everyday world.

    In my experience, instead, both the spiritual and the physical stem from the same ineffable source. But if we try to redefine the world and deal with the it in a wholly spiritual way, it’s like fighting with one arm tied behind our backs.

    ‘A poor mage is a poor mage’ might be cocky and narrow, but it touches on a deeper truth.

  • I guess I’ll jab a big toe into the waters…

    Re: Magic — I can’t really comment on what makes a poor magician or a rich magician. I eschew magical workings for the most part – though I do acknowledge that is something that is important and works for others. Its just not my cup of tea, so to speak.

    Re: Time Issues — Being on-time is a good thing. There are always many issues that can arise concerning not being on-time. Traffic – particularly here in the giant DFW Metromess – can be problematic even under the best circumstances. Then there’ unfamiliarity with a particular area – I know that I have issues in areas of the MetroMess that I do not live or work in (such as West and South Fort Worth). So, I would hazard a rational guess that circumstances are always something to take into consideration. Habitual tardiness is another issue altogether…and one that *MIGHT* suggest an issue in one’s magickal Life.

    I’ll add a final caveat – I don’t work magick, just not my thing. I am a Solitaire by choice – even though there are several very good groups near me. A small portion of that (VERY small) has to do with the issues concerning the so-called Pagan Standard Time concept. I see both sides of the issue…and I understand the arguments pro and con…I just think that there’s a lot more towards determining what makes a poor [insert title or position] than a single issue. And if I might say…I believe that John understands that well, as evidenced by his essay here.

    –Tommy /|

  • Khai Fox

    He’s not saying that you’re shitty at witchcraft if you’re poor. He’s saying that if you are never able to take charge of your circumstances and change them according to your will, you aren’t really practicing witchcraft, since you aren’t actually making “magic” which is the spiritual imposition of will on the material plane. I agree completely. I am extremely broke and have come from horrifying circumstances. The worst in fact. And I let people destroy my power because I was a child who didn’t know. But I have made great strides and progress. I CAN take responsibility and power and change my life. That’s magic. That’s my power.

  • Etain

    Thank you for your words on this, you have reminded me that self responsibility and positive reinforcement is key to having a stable life, and if desirable, a stable financial life. I’ve been really bogged down from financial struggle at the moment, and feeling really tired of it. If I could add a few things however, I would be grateful for your ears and thoughts in return!

    I agree that we need to be motivated towards a solution, and also that we should not abdicate self -responsibility in favour of a bitterness towards external circumstances that have impacted our situation. But I also think it is important that we support each other, and listen to each other, about financial difficulty.

    I went through care, and since I was taken away from the last dysfunctional foster home at 16, I was on my own with my finances. I never had a parent or relative to give me money in tough situations, anything I’ve ever had from there was something I’ve had to work for. I am one of the lucky ones though – I had developed a knack for communicating well with people and so have always been favourable to employers, because I managed to carry myself professionally. This isn’t something a lot of people in my position have the skills and confidence to pull off. In fact, care leavers or not, for lots of different reasons, people of a variety of backgrounds find it difficult to play ‘the game’ that enables them to attract money, and feel disheartened by the process. And that’s ok. It’s ok to feel upset, frustrated, angry and tired out about financial stability, and the stress it creates is a very real thing.

    Magic is a means for changing and creating balance in your life, I understand that. So a good magician has balance in all areas. But part of balance is allowing yourself, and other people, to express stress. Being a good magician is also about being to be a good listener, I think. When and if people are financially struggling, which a lot of people are, we need to support and listen to each other’s difficulties, not just tell them the answer to it. Sometimes people don’t need to be given a solution, because sometimes the solution is to feel encouraged and supported by being listened to.

    If this is the case, then we are all involved in how good the other is as a magician. We have a collective responsibility to support people in need, by accepting their struggles as real, not just by telling them what they haven’t done to achieve their ends, I think. I think maybe this is why people have become defensive about this topic – I think a lot of people are in a position where they feel very alone in their financial situation, and it can be difficult to be told that you are somehow to blame for that, especially when like me, you work hard and have had further to throw for the catch. This doesn’t mean it’s ok to simmer in mire about it, or become bitter, as I said earlier. I view my experiences as beneficial to my spiritual growth, and so I am sure do many other people. Do the things you need to do to get your life in balance, financial or otherwise. But also let’s listen to the people who are struggling, and encourage them too.

    I just wanted to add this, as although I agree with everything you say (and I’m sure you are a great listener!) there are other approaches to assisting people who are having a tough time getting things in balance.

  • Allison

    LOVE LOVE LOVE. I love my fellow Pagans, but sometimes, it bothers me how much dependency we have on “fate” and letting our lives “fall into place”. As much as magick is something to be cherished, we often rely on it solely for the purpose of bettering ourselves. We need to realize that we are capable to changing our own lives. Our physical manifestations of desire are just as important as our metaphysical ones.