Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Thoughts on Image Magic

Image magic, it turns out, is a subject much more vast than I had initially thought. Naively I thought I had a firm grip on what it was and what it entailed. Once I started to drill down and think about it in detail I realized that I had more questions than answers. One of the reasons for the subject to unfurl in greater and greater complexity is simply the vagueness of the word "image" itself. I remember in my younger days when I first heard that the act of writing was once considered a magical act. It surprised me that something so ubiquitous and common was imbued with the power to change reality and was once considered extremely dangerous and therefore inappropriate for the general public. Similarly it is hard to imagine that images have magical properties when I am surrounded by images in the culture in which I am immersed.

It is precisely this ubiquity that presents some difficulty in my understanding ideas about image magic. I have little doubt that there will be things that are too obvious for me to see. The gulf in contexts between myself now and some of the formative cultures integral to the development of image magic will also be challenging for my understanding. Neither of these challenges is insurmountable and the more I talk out these ideas, the more the proverbial puzzle pieces will fit together. I will make mistakes and I will hold on to mistaken assumptions so feel free to point these out to me as you see them. 

I have lots of ideas swirling around in my head about image magic. I am going to draft some of them out on this blog in no particular order. Let's work out some of these ideas together. What is image magic? What are the ways it was traditionally practiced and how is that the same or different from contemporary practice? What does image magic teach us about spirit communication and magic in general? What can we learn by examining the concept closely? How does it work? What are its limits? Who were the ones before us and what do we know of their methods?

To start with a purely arbitrary point chosen mostly at random, let's consider something the Picatrix tells us about image magic. It says that image magic is inextricably linked to the constellations and the 8th Sphere of Heaven (Book I, chapter 4). Does this mean that image magic outside the context of astrology doesn't exist? I don't think it does. Of course this runs counter to the idea that everything has its astrological correspondences and analogues but I think that I should try to not conflate the two ideas. The discipline of astrology is not the only possible source of images appropriate to image magic. Having said that, however, it is hard for me to truly conceive of a range of 10,080 (and probably more) separate images and how they may contain the full continuum of human experience. Perhaps what I should do is to make a postulate that astrology is a rich source of images but is not the only one. I am leaning toward the idea that one's imagination is the only real limit to what form an image takes. 

There are other sources of imagery in addition to astrology. The Greek Magical Papyri, the I Ching, tarot, mythology, and even popular, contemporary culture all have elements that can easily lend themselves to image magic. How then does one choose or invent an image to use in magic? This is going to be a subjective choice and dependent on the practitioner and their goals. The Latin Picatrix gives us a clue about making images in Book III, Chapter 5 where it says, "For example, if you wish to make an image for battles or to conquer and terrify enemies [make the image] of a lion or a snake." This is presumably based on the correspondences familiar to the author of the Picatrix, essentially a lion or snake is a symbol of physical danger. The thousand details of what this snake or lion might look like will be based on the intent of the magic, what spirits (like the planets, for instance) might be involved, and the media used (a painting, a sculpture, a performance, and so on). All of these decisions need to made in such a way as to support the intent of the image. 

Ultimately the depiction of an image in image magic is meant to create an emotional response. Our hypothetical lion-in-battle image will be quite different if it is meant to impart bravery, deadliness, leadership, or intimidation in the enemy. If it is done well a quick glance at the image will remind me of the intent, my bravery or how intimidating I am. This emotional response is a major part of the efficacy of an image. The Picatrix tells us this as well when it suggests that one of the essential elements of making magical images is a strong belief in its power. The more we can bolster this belief with emotion the stronger the magical effect will be. 

So let us end this little post by stating three postulates we have formed about image magic.

1. Emotional attribution is a strong part of the efficacy of image magic.
2. Images that can potentially be used in image magic are infinite and are shaped depending on the intent of the magician.
3. The Picatrix and other books of magic are rich sources of images but are not the limit of possible images. 

We will test these assumptions and postulates as I continue to form my ideas about image magic, adding to and subtracting from the list as we go. The postulates will be used to form hypotheses which will in turn be tested with experimentation. 

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