Monday, April 19, 2010

Trouble With Models

I recently read an article by Jason Miller who complained about other writers using the term “model” when talking about a type of magick that they work. You can see his article here. I would have to say that I agree completely with what Jason said, but whenever I have used the term “model” I have always made certain that my audience knew that I was talking about a theoretical construct. In short, a model, in regards to magickal practice, is just a heuristic device, which is a fancy way of saying that it is a learning tool. I have often said that no one works with just one of the several models of magick that I have proposed, and that in the real world, magicians work magick using several of them simultaneously. It’s useful to talk about magickal models because it allows one to see a distinct quality of magick that may or may not be operating in what a person really does when they work magick.

The bottom line is to not confuse a theoretical discussion of a magickal model with the real thing, which is more complex and dynamic than what a single model would entail. Like all mental structures that are useful for classification, they have their uses and limitations. In the area of magick, one should never confuse a model, diagram or structure for what it is representing. We are dealing with phenomena that is difficult to classify, so if we simplify things to better understand it, then that doesn’t mean that the simplified explanation or theory is the thing itself - it is a theory that is useful for understanding something, nothing more.

When I discuss the energy model, or the spirit model, the psychology model, the chaos model or the rhetorical model of magick, I am discussing theoretical approaches to understanding magick. No one uses just one model, and even if they did, there would be more to what they were doing than what is understood by the model. However, using models as a theoretical construct allows us to see the various aspects or techniques of a magickal system, which otherwise, would be opaque and incapable of analysis. The purpose of classifying something is to categorize it in a general manner so it can be compared to other analogous things.

I believe that I set the tone for this discussion early on in one of my articles, where I said:

“Like the analogy for food, there are also several different theories about magic, and all of them take a very specific model and methodology and apply it exclusively. So there is a theory of magic that is based on Spirit, another one based on Energy, and still another one based on Psychology. All of them are correct as far as they go, but all of them are limited to a single model and their associated assumptions. I would also consider them to be gross generalizations, but models are good learning devices, since they challenge and help us to accurately think about the way something really works.”

And also, the statement:

“Witchcraft has the unusual advantage that liturgy and magical crafts blend together to form a single praxis. Devotional invocations to the gods can also be magical spells meant to cause changes in the material world. As we will see when examining the other theories, witchcraft is a hybrid, combining many theories into a blended and practical perspective.”

So as you can see, I have been careful about talking about the various models of magick. I never state that a true system of magick conforms to just one model, and in fact almost all of them have at least three or more models active in them. Yet I will be certain to state this fact from time to time when I talk about models so no one gets any ideas that they are anything more than a learning device.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. I'm with you 100% on the sentiment.

    But -funnily enough- I just posted something similar to this about how I don't think we use the word or the idea of 'model' correctly.

    There is probably a lot to be gained from having a big ol' bloggy discussion about this.

  2. Thanks Gordon - I was just ensuring that I was understood. What I would like to do is put together a list of all of the models that folks think are relevant to the theoretical perspective of magick. I started this out on my Face Book fan page for this blog. If you have a face book account, then just search for "Talking About Ritual Magick" - and look down the posts for the last few weeks.

  3. there is, however, a 'metamodel', as there is also a 'correct' way of looking at reality. The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon, though it is semiotically relative to it.

    With enough inner experience, there comes a point where the analysis of paradigms and models becomes moot. For we live in a multiverse, an ultraverse, yet it is composed of a limited number of primitive elements. these elements may be combined and recombined into a vast variety of combinations, which then may be aggregated to create the formations of structures.

    Of course, it may be argued that even this is simply a 'model', but there is nothing one can say to a person who enthrones doubt as a ruling principle. the operative imperative in experiential understanding is Faith.

    There is an overarching superstructure that may be percieved with strenuous effort, but it stands outside of all magical systems. Along the initiatory path of Sophia-Scientia, the unfoldment of the Mystery involves the experience of reconciliatory paradox ( as well as its necessary opposite) and the experience of certain, shall we say...'inconvienient truths'.

    truths such as the fact that magic has no effect on the highest level of being, which is superior even to the most exalted magical practices, and must come to us of its own will as a gift of God.

  4. Wow - four paragraphs of demonic babbling...