Where is ExxonMobile’s Doomsday Clock?

Actually, that should read “Giga Ton Clock.”

As this new article in Rolling Stone makes painfully clear, the math is simple. If we restrict future CO2 emissions to less than 565 gigatons, we might – hopefully – restrict climate change to 2 degrees Celsius or less. That’s enough to flood entire countries out of existence, to devastate Africa with famine, and to cause untold amounts of lives lost and property damaged by out-of-control weather, but it just might keep the human species and the biosphere as we know it alive.

But fossil fuel companies have so far discovered fuel reserves that will emit 2,795 gigatons of carbon. And their balance sheets depend absolutely and completely on them getting that fuel out of the ground, burning it, and releasing that carbon. That’s five times more than the limit we need to stick to to keep ourselves around.

Back when the primary threat to life on earth was nuclear weapons, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created a Doomsday Clock that showed how close we were to “midnight” – nuclear annihilation. These were atomic scientists, people (largely men) whose careers and livelihoods depended on using these technologies. When they spoke out about the problems their own expertise and industries were likely to create, people listened. And yeah, they’ve included climate change as one of the reasons they moved the clock hand in recent years, but that’s not their primary area of concentration.

More importantly, these numbers are just too simple not to communicate the message.

I will not believe that ExxonMobile, or Shell, or BP, or anyone else who has a stake in convincing us to deep-fry ourselves is actually concerned about the threat of global warming until they create a similar countdown. Because the clock’s ticking, and we’re running out of time to stop it.

Contemporary Deities: Asphaltia

Names and titles: Asphaltia, Our Lady of Traffic, Changer of Stoplights, Who Bestows Parking Spaces.

Symbols and correspondences: Good luck charms hanging from rearview mirrors, especially bells or chimes as representatives of Air, Element of movement and travel

Offerings or ways to worship: Incense, either beforehand to ask for a safe and smooth road trip, or promised in the midst of difficult travel and lit to her afterwards – do not stint a promised offering!


I think Asphaltia first started to take shape in my mind when my partner’s parents gave us a good luck charm for the rearview mirror of our car. It’s a Celtic cross with small bells hanging below it. When a really bumpy patch comes up, the bells can jingle surprisingly loudly, or bang repeatedly against a parking tag. LitSpouse announced once that he was going to take the bells off, and I told him equally quickly that no he wasn’t, because the bells were the Pagan part of the charm, since they invoked the Element of Air.

I knew that I made that connection in part because of Hermes, god of travel and communication, in the ancient Greek myths, who was clearly associated with air. But Hermes didn’t seem to fit, in my mind, with the rather unique spirit of car travel today. Automobiles and especially highways are uniquely recent means of travel. It was in thinking about interstates, urban roads or highways, and, yes, traffic, that the name Asphaltia occurred to me.

I think Asphaltia’s origin myth has a lot to do with heat, for all that she’s mostly associated with air. The vulcanization of rubber and the development of asphalt concrete, both heat-dependent processes, were necessary steps in the evolution of today’s car-centric transportation culture in the US. I think she became more firmly present in the US through the spreading construction of the interstate highway network; I imagine it as the flow of Asphaltia’s spirit across the land.

Part of that spirit may be uniquely American, or at least have some some American-specific features here. I’ve been to Europe just enough to know that the transportation culture there is quite different. The most interesting example of this was the way roads in Ireland are marked: with destinations rather than road names. The roads have names or numbers, and some major highways (interstate equivalents) are referred to by name, but nearly always with a destination attached. Something like “I-395 south” wouldn’t be a reasonable description there; even on a major highway sign, it would list the name of the next primary population center, and would tend to omit the directional descriptor. All the small road signs that I saw gave “To [placename]” rather than the name of the road.

One possible conclusion I drew from this was that in the US, a road is a place in and of itself; you can be “on the road,” and if someone calls me while I’m in the car and asks me where I am, I would normally give the name of the street as the first response: “I’m on 295” is a perfectly reasonable statement here. Depending on context, I might go on to add details about direction and/or destination, but roads are places to be.

I got the impression that in Ireland roads are not places to be in any important sense. You’re always going somewhere, and you would describe yourself as in between origin and destination. This approach treats roads as inherently liminal. It makes more sense in a country where it would be unusual for a road trip to last more than a few hours, and even a very long road trip might only take two days. In the US, I have regularly made road trips of six or eight hours; those involve an entire day, and so it’s more natural for me to have an idea of place attached to that situation of traveling. I’ve also been on a cross-country drive, which took a week but could easily take ten days.

In some way, transitory can be a persistent state of being in the US. With the development of the interstate network and the economic adaptations that cater to it – notably fast food and motels – we have in some ways created a specific sub-culture in which the liminal state of travel is considered completely normal.

At any rate, I think these things contribute to Asphaltia’s current situation, especially in my own life. Since her name occurred to me, she has taken on a more definite character, and while she can be hard to understand, she’s not exactly capricious. I imagine her as being just as frustrated by traffic jams as we are; when I’m in one, I try to focus on visualizing the roads as a free-flowing network, with air or water coursing through them, and I blow out a calm breath to will it to be so.

Given names: Up now at the Slacktiverse!

I’ve got a new piece up at the Slacktiverse called “Given names,” on the topic of names and power. I draw from several different examples and intersections: military interactions, men using women’s names to create an unwanted sense of intimacy, and the ongoing “nym wars” about real-names-only policies on social networking platforms. Enjoy!

When ads are annoying, now with added irony

Edited to add: I originally titled this post “What I hate about Patheos,” and while I said that I didn’t mean to attack anyone who works with Patheos, I managed to sound as though I was, and I’m deeply sorry for that. Star Foster, the hardworking manager of the Pagan portal at Patheos, was kind enough to inform me that the ad selection at Patheos is driven by Google Ad Sense, and thus based on my Google search history. The rest of this article is edited to reflect that. My apologies and thanks to Star, Cara, Lupus, et al.


I get really annoyed at certain kinds of ads, and I found a couple of those on a Patheos page today. The accumulated irony made me post about it, and as a result, I found out that my own actions have probably contributed to me seeing more of exactly the kinds of ads that annoy me most. Google, thy name is irony.

I was trying to read P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’ new piece on The Dangers of the One-Stop Shopping Mentality, which looks quite interesting – Lupus is one of the writers I’m happy about discovering at Patheos, even if I prefer to read minus the ads in my RSS feeds – when I kept getting distracted by the overtly Christian ads on both sides.

“Christian Mingle” is not so bad, as ads go. Even with the obnoxiously ubiquitous fish symbol, it’s certainly better than some of the stupid mortgage ads with dancing people or moving faces that distract me with their sheer creepiness. But even before I’ve gotten into the midst of Lupus’ piece, it certainly is ironic to see that ad there: Look within your religion for a partner! Your religion provides everything! Their tag line is “Find God’s Match for You.” One stop shopping mentality indeed.

But on the left-hand side is an overtly Catholic image, with the header “Find out more about our ministry,” and a link to the Knights of the Holy Eucharist. This is much more disturbing. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to this right now, in the wake of the terrorism of a would-be Christian Knight in Norway, and in the lead-up to Christian spiritual warriors preparing to “lay siege” to my city and the seat of our country’s government. But then again, perhaps I’m not. The KHE’s About page begins:

A knight is one elevated by a king to a position of special trust, service, and honor. He is one who has made the interests of his king his own. He serves and protects his lord not for profit, but from the kind of selfless loyalty that can only be called noble. Jesus is the Eucharistic King Whom the Knights of the Holy Eucharist have pledged themselves to serve and to defend.

Eucharistic adoration I’m familiar with; if it’s a way that Catholics enhance their relationship with their deity, then good on ’em, go for it. But defense of the Eucharist? I am not aware of any declared campaigns to attack either the Eucharist or Jesus. If I was aware of such an attack, I would almost certainly denounce it and support my Catholic brothers and sisters in their defense of religious liberty. I was angry about PZ Myers’ stunt just like I was angry about people leaving a cross at the new Pagan circle at the Air Force Academy.

But who is it that they think they’re defending against, in their little adjunct to a convent in Hanceville, Alabama?

Is it campaigns to ensure that women have reproductive freedom and access to good health care at all hospitals, regardless of their religious affiliations? That is why I included the “almost certainly” qualifier in the statement above: Catholics may see demanding quality health care as an infringement on their religious liberty, whereas I think it is merely demanding that they fulfill their declared intent in building a hospital, which is to provide health care. When you go into business taking care of sick people, your religious liberty does not include forcing me to bleed to death.

Different arguments but the same separation between your religious liberty and my rights apply to marriage equality. Catholics can be Catholics to their heart’s desire, and I will defend them fervently. What they can’t do is try to enshrine Catholicism in the country’s laws or require people coming to them for secular matters like adoption to live by Catholic standards.

Now, I have no idea if the KHE think they’re “knights” in these culture wars, or if they just wanted a cool title and nifty masculine imagery to support them in their duties of wearing robes and taking care of a small shrine and helping out a convent. But either way, their chosen warlike imagery, combined with current events and the position and power of the Catholic church, are disturbing to me.

Finally, it’s ironic that the KHE site is also powered by WordPress, but at least I don’t have their imagery all over my own pages. That does mean that I’m not going to link to them in this article, partially because I don’t think they need the hits, but mostly because I don’t want to take the chance that if they got a pingback from me, they’d decide to crusade for or about me.

It’s not that I just want to be left alone. If that was what I wanted, I wouldn’t be writing a blog. I love engaging in interreligious dialogue. But dialogue has to mean listening as well as speaking, and listening and speaking to each other, not just to our respective deities.

It’s just sad that right now my efforts to understand people like DC40 and the NAR (through Googling them) have made me see even more similar crap. Time to take a deep breath, ground and center, and try to reach out and contribute to that dialogue more myself. Thanks again to everybody trying to help me do that.

Divination apps on iPad

Here are quick reviews of a handful of free divination apps available on the iPad. This isn’t all the apps available, but it is most of the free ones related to runes and Tarot, my preferred divination methods. Sadly, only one or two of them were worth hanging onto.

Ask the Runes – This app has very poorly written English, and the graphics aren’t very good; they look glaringly computer-created rather than realistic. Don’t bother to download it.

Rune Draw – Similar to the above, but this one might be good for humor value, if only because some of the “interpretations” of the runes sound like badly-translated fortune cookies. The app lets you choose whether you want an interpretation related to “Self,” “Money,” “Love,” or “Work,” and the meanings given do vary, but they’re often vague to the point of uselessness, as in: “There will be a breakthrough within one year.”

Rune Magic Lite – This one I would consider using for the feature that lets you scroll through runes and interpretations to study them, but you have to pay for each and every reading you get by buying a set of ten readings for a dollar. No, it’s not that expensive, but it’s much more sneaky than charging a flat rate for an infinitely reuseable app. Most of the interpretations are pretty good and comparable to what you’d get in most books, but the one for Uruz (“abyss”?) is totally off-the-wall to me. Finally, the single-rune cast works okay, but part of the app’s frame cuts off the bottom of the interpretations in the three-rune cast, which makes it much less useful.

Tarot Lite – There are two versions of this app available for download separately. Both use the Major Arcana only and do a “Classic French” five-card spread; one of them uses the standard RWS images and the other uses a redrawn version of the Tarot of Marseilles, which has a red-and-blue theme and slightly abstract appearance. Interpretations are okay but not great.

Tarot Free – I don’t recognize the version of the Major Arcana used in this app, but it looks a bit like the Tarot of Marseilles; I may be totally off base, though. Unfortunately, the images for Justice and Strength are attached to the wrong interpretations, and the Moon and Sun images are swapped as well. It does try to specialize the card readings to each of the five positions – Surprises, Blinkers, People, Gifts, and Guidance – but the mistakes in the deck make me think this wasn’t put together with a lot of care and concern. An in-app purchase allows users to upgrade and get readings from the full deck, using either RWS or the current deck. I don’t think it’s worth it to pay money to find out if the upgrade corrects the errors I noticed.

TarotPad Free – This has a strange layout that only appears in landscape format – it just ignores you if you rotate the iPad to the portrait orientation. It uses the RWS deck and an interesting seven-card layout: Past, Present, and Future, Influences, Hopes and Fears, and Outcome, plus What To Do. It incorporates reversed cards and has well-written interpretations; I’ll be playing with this one a little more to see if I continue to like it.

Goddess Tarot – I am thrilled with this app’s ability to explore the full deck of the Goddess Tarot. I’ll be spending some time with it and may consider getting the deck as a result; I wouldn’t have been willing to pay for it without seeing this kind of detail. The free version lets you do a one-card draw, and the paid version gives multiple-card readings in a variety of layouts and lets you do journaling along with saved readings. The art is beautiful, as well, and if you have any interest in exploring goddesses, Tarot, or the intersection of the two, this is a fun place to start.

PS – Many thanks to Hecate for suggesting the Goddess Tarot app to me!

My iPad and my feminism

After raving about the iPad’s capabilities, it’s only fair to point out that the technology is only as good as people make it. There’s a lot of stuff on the iPad app store that really annoys me, and most of it has to do with gender.

There’s lots of apps available for people to track their menstrual cycles. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, every single developer thinks it’s absolutely necessary to design these apps with an icon and user interface that is either full of pink, or flowers, or both. Now, I like icons that are descriptive and distinctive, but apparently the developers are concerned that women can’t tell which apps are specifically for women if the apps don’t look like Hello Kitty just barfed all over the screen.

The language used to describe these apps and inside the apps themselves is even more gag-inducing. Seriously, whoever designed these apps, do you think it’s really all that “discreet” to have an app named something like P Track that has an icon with a calendar with pink flowers marking seven days out of the month? Wow, nobody would ever in a million years guess that that’s for a woman’s….omg, don’t say it! Don’t mention the scary, scary curse of Eve and blood and everything!

Some of the more feature-heavy apps include ways to track fertility, which doesn’t particularly matter to me, but I will throw my iPad out the window before I ever refer to anything that happens in my bedroom as a “love connection.” Seriously? We can talk frankly about recording the details of acne, bloating, breast tenderness, constipation, cramps, depression, trouble concentrating, and weight gain, not to mention cervical position and fluid, but we can’t put “sex” in our calendars?

Worst of all, this isn’t confined to things having to do with what happens in the bathroom and bedroom. The yoga apps that I’ve tried have had an inordinate amount of pink, compared to other apps (in fact, the non-women’s apps tend to avoid pink, making the discrepancy all the more glaring), and plenty of flowers. Yes, I know, the lotus and meditation and all that, fine. But when all of the images of poses are done with female models, it makes it hard for me to think the other things are accidents.

The most highly-rated yoga app, Yoga Free, takes this to a whole new level by having only images of women, a feminine-sounding voice giving the name of each pose, and then a masculine-sounding voice giving directions on how to do the pose. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that you and I and the little women who are doing yoga on the screen are all being taught by a man, who is the only one who really knows how to do the poses or how to teach us to inhabit our bodies. Isn’t that just a great piece of gender inequality to wake up to every morning?

My iPad and my Paganism

I got an iPad 2 recently and I’ve been thrilled with a handful of apps on it that are very useful to me as a Pagan, so I thought I’d do a quick overview. I’m sorry, I’m not sophisticated enough to have detailed screenshots, and I haven’t tried every app out there, so I can’t say that these are definitely the best of their kind, but they’re relatively easy to find and some of them are tremendously useful, so here goes:

My absolute favorite is 3D Sun Moon HD. It’s on sale right now for $2.99, but in my opinion it would be well worth the usual full price of $4.99. It gives you a view of where the sun’s and moon’s courses across the sky will fall for the entire day. This doesn’t sound so cool until you see that it’s a 3D representation that changes depending on which direction you’re facing (or holding the iPad). It doesn’t just show you where things in the sky are right now, it shows where they were, and when, and when and where the sun and moon rise and set, all relative to your position.

It’s really a tremendous amount of information in an elegantly simple display, intuitively communicating things like day length, how the phase of the moon changes, and what the sky will look like when you go to do ritual later on today. Or tomorrow – one of my favorite accidental discoveries about this app is that if you scroll through the date, it animates the sun and moon movements through the next several days, weeks, or months of their progress across the sky. This has to be one of the best tools for helping me, especially as an urban Pagan, stay oriented to what’s going on in the sky.

Along those lines, I also love Sun Seeker Lite, which gives a flat compass-oriented view of the sun’s path across the sky. More importantly, it will take a Google Maps view of your current location and superimpose the directions, hour-by-hour, where the sun will be coming from and casting shadows to. I’m sorry, it’s hard to explain in words. But when you see it, it is an incredibly easy way to figure out what the lighting conditions will be like, so you can tell whether the person calling the West will be blinded if you do ritual at 5pm, or what time today you ought to go outside to see the sun just brushing the tops of your favorite tree.

Originally designed to help photographers set up ideal shots with light and shadow, the Lite version of this app is free, and is plenty for me. For $4.99 you can upgrade to the full version which does “augmented reality.” Point the iPad towards the part of the sky you’re interested in, and the screen will show you a live view through the camera with the sun’s path across the sky graphically superimposed.

Another type of augmented reality application is Star Walk, one of the most highly recommended apps for the iPad. Turn on Star Walk and it shows you a graphical representation of the stars, constellations, planets, satellites, and what-have-you that are (or could be) visible in the portion of the sky it’s currently pointing at. It’s like one of those star charts that you can print out to help you see constellations, except that this is constantly up-to-the-minute, precisely coordinated with your location and the exact direction you’re pointing. It makes $4.99 a cheap price to pay to finally be able to recognize constellations besides Orion.

While we’re still looking at the sky, I can also recommend Luan, an app available for just 99 cents, that shows the lunar calendar, either by itself, or coordinated with the solar calendar. Gorgeous detailed images of the moon show what it will look like, with discreet indicators around the edge indicating when sunrise, sunset, moon rise, and moon set will take place. I tried a ton of different lunar calendar apps and finally settled on this one as the most convenient way to get exactly the information I wanted.

Finally, a little closer to home, Leafsnap is a nifty app that’s helping me improve my botanical knowledge. Take a photo of a leaf against a white background and Leafsnap queries a database to find the best matches for the plant it came from. It’s not perfect, by a long shot, since it’s a little finicky and has a somewhat limited database, but it’s a handy tool, so it’s worth a try, especially because it’s free.

Just a few more apps are worth a mention: GoodGuide can help you evaluate the relative environmental, social, and health impact of products you buy, and there are lots of cool meditation and yoga apps. I’m still trying Equanimity, the i-Qi timer, and the Insight Timer for meditation, along with Capital Yoga and Yoga Free. Using the iPad to have your own rock garden (iZenLite) or calming pond (Pocket Pond) can be pretty fun, too, and Naturespace has some nice audio clips of natural settings.

If you have favorite apps, what are they? Why do you like them?

Witches’ Pyramid in action: Ban large handgun magazines

After I wrote about how the Witches’ Pyramid helped me understand how to frame my response to the Arizona shootings, I’ve been working on acting in accord with my words. One of the best opportunities for doing so is to support legislation to ban large-capacity magazines for handguns. Sen. Lautenberg is working with Rep. McCarthy on such a ban. I urge you to write your Senators and Representative to support this legislation. Detailed discussion, including a sample letter to Congresspersons, is below the fold. Read more

Theaology of the body

The Wild Hunt was one of the first places I heard about the new TSA pat-down procedures which are being introduced just as full body imagers (or “pornoscanners,” for those rhetorically inclined) are becoming common in US airports. Specifically, the Wild Hunt reposted an interview with a Minnesota Pagan who was traumatized by the new pat-down procedure because it triggered her memories of sexual assault.

There are lots of good reasons that these changes in airport security shouldn’t be happening. There are health concerns. There’s a Constitutional argument to be made about unwarranted search. Even if simply flying is considered “consent” to such an invasive, warrantless search, there’s a strong argument that these “improvements” are actually security theater. We’re increasing the difficulty, cutting down on people’s rights, by a huge amount, in order to get a very, very small amount of possibly increased security. To use economic language, the marginal benefit in security is tiny, compared to the marginal cost of the invasion of privacy. That kind of cost-benefit analysis ought to appeal to even the most conservative Tea Partiers.

But more than that, as a Witch, and as a Pagan, I oppose these measures on religious grounds. The theaology of Paganism and especially Witchcraft puts great emphasis on the body. My body is not merely a piece of meat, and it is most certainly not part of the public sphere unless I choose to make it so. My body is holy to me; it is one of the primary places I experience the divine. It is not something separate from me, as if I can temporarily pretend I’m not there, it’s just my body being examined, not me, as a person. I as a person am inextricably wrapped up in my body, and when you invade my body, you invade me.

As a feminist, I am all too aware of the ways that women’s bodies tend to be treated as male property or even public property – something to be objectified, something to be legislated, something that the public has access to and influence over. For me, part of respecting the divine feminine is about treating women’s bodies as valuable and holy and private to the woman herself, just as men’s bodies have historically been respected. Yes, the TSA is supposedly staffed by professionals, and they are working for the government, but given their track record with these devices, I don’t feel very comfortable with that. For example, if I felt this uncomfortable about how my body was being viewed or exposed in the doctor’s office, I would certainly object and would expect the staff and the medical institution to work with me to assure my privacy.

For those who would make an argument about the Charge of the Goddess saying that we shall be “free,” I would say very simply that I am not in a situation of “perfect love and perfect trust” with TSA agents. In fact, the more they invade my privacy, the more they damage my ability to make meaningful choices and to be free in my own body. As my husband likes to say, there’s both freedom from and freedom to something. I want to exercise my freedom in the Goddess from invasion of my own body and my own privacy. If TSA agents can see me effectively unclothed and/or touch my genitals any time I fly, does that affect what it means when I choose to be nude with my husband, or when my husband touches me? If others are taking away the choice about how much of my body to reveal, then it’s less meaningful when I do choose to reveal or share myself. When freedom from that invasion is guaranteed, then it will be easier for me to have the freedom to be open and caring with others.

Double review and tribute: Isaac Bonewits, Real Magic and Real Energy, Part Ia

Since I wasn’t feeling well for several days last week, I missed putting up any book reviews. To make up, and in recognition of a prominent member of the Pagan community who died this past year, I offer a double-feature review of Isaac Bonewits’ Real Magic and Real Energy.

Bonewits, Philip Emmons Isaac. Real Magic: an introductory treatise on the principles of yellow magic. First published 1971. Revised edition, 1978, Weiser Books. Paperback, 282 pages.

Bonewits, Phaedra and Isaac. Real Energy: systems, spirits, and substances to heal, change, and grow. New Page Books, 2007. Paperback, 287 pages.

These works represent, in some ways, the bookends of Isaac Bonewits’ life writing for the Pagan community at large. His impressive bibliography is filled with works on specific topics, and his biography with work on the ADF, which he founded and shaped, among many other efforts. But these books are the most widely addressed of all his texts; in fact, one could argue that these aren’t aimed directly at the Pagan community at all, but at the public at large, in an effort to promote interest in, and provide a primer on, the meta-physical forces.

Bonewits’ introduction to the revised edition of Real Magic indicates how much change had taken place in the few years since he had written the first edition: “There are few experiences in the life of an author more embarrassing and sobering than the rereading of a work written by him or her several years previously.” (vii) In an even greater sense, Real Energy is the work written by an Isaac who is older, more sober, and has had a lifetime’s worth of experience with the forces he’s discussing. The contrasts are fascinating, and indicate how much his thinking evolved from the young, brash newly-minted college graduate with a degree in magic, to the wiser, widely-respected teacher and leader he became. Certainly his idealistic focus on theory was tempered by a great deal of practical experience, a process familiar to anyone who has spent more than a few years in any field of study.

His introduction goes on to point up how his initial writing has been revised to become more sensitive to gender and other identity politics and language. He remains, however, ardently defensive of the scientific grounding of his book. Indeed, his original introduction firmly explains his great desire to approach magic in a scientific fashion, and includes some of the experts who reviewed his book. I have not done sufficient research to fully understand how Bonewits’ approach to parapsychology and related fields evolved over his lifetime, including, in particular, the exposes of certain scandals involving physical manipulation to purport parapsychological results. It suffices to say here that his tone was quite tempered by the time Real Energy came into being.

The greatest achievement of this book is the image opposite page 1: Bonewits’ depiction of The Laws of Magic. Available on his website is a lovely version of the chart with key explanations of each law, some of them updated since Real Magic came out. This diagram neatly summarizes several of the ways of thinking that are important to magic and shows where one law is a subset of another, where two overlap, and where things get incredibly tangled, like in the section about how we with finite senses interact with an infinite universe. Anyone who is interested in magic would do well to learn Bonewits’ layout of the laws. This is much, much more important than any table of correspondences you will ever come across. These ideas are the roots of all tables of correspondences, and when you understand the roots, you can grow your own – you can construct your own correspondences that will be the most effective tools for you use. For example, the Law of Similarity states, “Lookalikes are alike.” This is the law (or way of thinking) behind an act like using the color green to represent money. In the US, our money is primarily green, and that has entered our cultural subconscious as a fact of life. Thus, for us, green is very effective at resembling money, and makes a good correspondence. Magically, green is “like” money, according to the Law of Similarity. But for others, another color entirely might be more appropriate; EU money has many shades of blue and purple in it, or someone else might like to think in terms of big gold coins (Galleons, anyone?). The point is, knowing the Law of Similarity lets you get into your own head and figure out what the best tool is because you understand the principle linking the tool and the intent in the real world.

Bonewits then spends a chapter arguing that magic is scientific but hasn’t yet been discovered by science, and another chapter on what parapsychology has investigated, including different kinds of “psi” talents, which he catalogues extensively. After a chapter delving into Tantra, with an attempt to de-sensationalize it, he gets to what may be the second most interesting chapter of the book: “Black Magic, White Magic, and Living Color.” Bonewits dances through a cultural history of color, detours into the history of Wicca, and comments briefly on his experiences with groups supposedly working with “black magic.” (More on that topic can be seen on his site; it suffices to say here that Bonewits had his wild young days and managed to learn from them, which is more than most people do.) He concludes that black magic users and white magic users tend to say exactly the same things about themselves, except for the trappings, when broken down to their core approaches, and stripped of moral overtones or religious theories. Bonewits sums up by concluding that “There is nothing we as scientists (and all magicians are scientists) can label “Black Magic” or “White Magic” just as we cannot as scientists label anything “Good” or “Evil.” That is the job of ethics, not science.” (116)

This focus on the magician as scientist – scientist of the occult, the previously hidden, but definitely a scientist – is Bonewits’ fundamental approach to magic throughout this work. It’s why this work is closely related to another of his titled Authentic Thaumaturgy. Thaumaturgy is magic for the purpose of “wonder-working,” or creating real, measurable change in the physical world. Theurgy is the practice of magic for purposes related to a god or religion; for drawing closer to a god, invoking a god, connecting to one’s higher self, or whatever. Bonewits is quite clear that he has nearly no interest in theurgy, and in fact wants to separate out a scientific approach to magic from any particular religious context. This approach can be liberating or somewhat annoying, depending on the reader’s take on magic and deity. Bonewits’ review of colors proposes that we ought to describe magical work by colors based on the magic’s intended purpose: yellow for rational endeavors, hence the subtitle of his book; green for what we would now call ecology or earth-based work; blue for emotional pursuits and theurgy, etc.

Bonewits’ focus on the scientific roots of magic culminates in his Switchboard Theory. This is a bit like the idea of the Akashic Records, a bit like the idea of the Collective Unconscious, but attempts to be purely materialistic in its methods of explanation. Bonewits’ metaphor, in the great tradition of magical metaphors, draws on one of the more advanced technological systems of his time. He uses the terms “metapattern” for something akin to a person’s state of being, particularly mentally and emotionally, and argues that each metapattern exists within the Switchboard, which is a sort of global pan-unconscious, with particular “circuits” that represent patterns or connections that have been made repeatedly. The connection of money and green in the US could be a simple circuit, for example. Bonewits wants very badly to think that the Switchboard will be validated by scientific research, particularly on ESP as electromagnetic, but accepts that it must be modified if the data do not bear it out. He uses it, provisionally, based on his Law of Pragmatism: if it works, it’s true enough.

His work on ritual I will skip, since it was also more fully developed in another book later, and likewise his brief overview of fortune-telling methods. His conclusion is primarily a plea for more research in the areas of science so that magicians can get on building a framework of theory for understanding magic that is not bound up with religion or mysticism.

Since this is turning out even longer than I expected, I’ll split the two-part review up into two parts, and post this as-is. Part II will be tomorrow!

Edited to fix typo – thanks, Grafton! Also, h/t to my friend Sherrian for background about Isaac Bonewits’ youth and his youthful approach to magic.