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SirPalomides

Benebell Wen's ~The Tao of Craft~

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This book has been mentioned elsewhere but I figure it deserves its own thread. I'm about a quarter through it and so far find it to be really good, even if I could quibble on a number of historical or philosophical points. Wen doesn't pretend to be a scholar but nonetheless really does her homework and loads the book with citations, something I suspect is pretty rare in books of this type aimed at Western occult practitioners. Its basic purpose is laying out the methods and rationales of creating fu and in the process she gives what seems to me a fairly comprehensive overview of Chinese cosmological concepts.

 

One thing she acknowledges is that, in Chinese culture, it is usually assumed that a fu needs to be empowered by a duly initiated member of some magical lineage. She makes what seems to me a convincing argument that the principles that go into crafting effective fu are open to anyone who takes the effort to study them, and that the importance of lineage was in protecting people from charlatans and giving a  certification that the producer of a fu had been trained and done the work. I think there is an element of Western individualism in the way she presents her argument- which fits her intended audience- but it also seems to fit with what I've seen of folk Chinese magical practices.

 

Anyway I was wondering what others thought of the book (or Daoist magical practice by laypeople).

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Wen was actually recommended to me by a friend when I first got into daoism because of my background in the occult and paganism. I absolutely love her videos and am planning on buying her book once the ole paycheck comes in.

 

i actually used her resources to make my jiaobei.

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2 hours ago, SirPalomides said:

Are jiaobei supposed to be specially empowered?

at least according to her, but im not sure it's "empowering" in the same way a european occultist would think of it.

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11 minutes ago, Dame Du Lac said:

at least according to her, but im not sure it's "empowering" in the same way a european occultist would think of it.


The equivalent Chinese term is kaiguang or opening the light. It is used for blessing objects as well as inviting deities to reside in images. I actually don’t know enough about western occultism to say how close the concepts are.

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yeah thats more or less the kind of process i was referring to. i consider it the antithesis to "empowering", at least in the way its usually used in western magical spheres. That's essentially what i do for the idols on my altar, just using a different method.

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Yeah I guess the equivalent is the rite of statue animation as found eg in the Neoplatonist Iamblichus. The Byzantine iconodules also attached significance to the moment the saint’s name was painted on the icon though I’m sure they would vigorously deny any commonality with pagan statues.

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6 minutes ago, SirPalomides said:

Yeah I guess the equivalent is the rite of statue animation as found eg in the Neoplatonist Iamblichus. The Byzantine iconodules also attached significance to the moment the saint’s name was painted on the icon though I’m sure they would vigorously deny any commonality with pagan statues.

 

With all due respect SirPalomides, the equivalent rite would be that described in the Hermetic Aesclepius. As I recall Iamblichus is very critical of the "makers of efficacious images", and has something else in mind with "Neoplatonic" Theurgy.  Assuming that the descriptions found in Prof. Jerry Alan Johnson's books are accurate the analogy of the Aesclepius is very exact.  However I am working from memory here, and while my memory is good, I can't provide exact citations right now, but should it be necessary, I could at some time in the future.

 

ZYD

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Fair enough, my knowledge of those guys isn’t very deep at all. My foggy memory is that it was Iamblichus’ teacher (Proclus?) who disdained the animated images while Iamblichus defended them; also that Julian the Apostate was convinced of paganism when he saw a statue come to life. But I may well be mixing things up.

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1 minute ago, SirPalomides said:

Fair enough, my knowledge of those guys isn’t very deep at all. My foggy memory is that it was Iamblichus’ teacher (Proclus?) who disdained the animated images while Iamblichus defended them; also that Julian the Apostate was convinced of paganism when he saw a statue come to life. But I may well be mixing things up.

 

I am afraid that you are mixing things up a bit.  Proclus is a couple of centuries after Iamblichus who is a contemporary of Plotinus' disciple and editor Porphory.  There is some connection between Iamblichus and the Plotininian school, though in many ways Iamblichus is a reaction against Plotinus' version of Platonism.  The issues at stake are complex and I would have to do a little review of sources to say more about the exact connection between Iamblichus and the Plotinian school.  Unfortunately Iamblichus is not that clear about the practical details of his Theurgy, though Gregory Shaw has written both extensively and convincingly on the matter.  I have not had time to sit down with the latest translations of any of these things, though I have many of them in my library, to be able to say much more about contemporary opinion in these matters.  As a final note Julian is as I recall in the Iamblichus line through Maximus the Theurgist.  I just did a quick search to confirm on that, the site cited is an excellent source for this type of material.  I have mentioned it before on Dao Bums.

 

ZYD

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So for those who are curious, I pulled Wen's "how-to" on jiaobei up now that I'm home, and she does in fact refer to the process specifically as "empowering". In a western sense, I associate the word more with "imbuing with energy/intent" but, a the risk of sounding a little more abstract, the document reads more as "imbuing with personality". I'm also going to mention when I first read the document, I was a little skeptical, because the resemblance of this ritual to a wiccan or generic ("non-denominational") pagan one is absolutely uncanny, but I read more about and more that she wrote and I heard good things so I went ahead with it. I'm not sure if it's a traditional process or one she made herself for her audience, though.

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8 minutes ago, ilumairen said:

@Zhongyongdaoist

 

Do you mind if I link to your previous write up of the book here?

 

Thank you for mentioning it.  I was going to refer to it myself at some point, but I have been busy and had not had time to come back here to do so.  I hope to have time to write a little more in this thread when I can make the time.

 

4 minutes ago, SirPalomides said:

That's an excellent review ZYD

 

I am glad you, and apparently,  judging by the number of likes it seems to have gotten, other people appreciated it.

 

ZYD

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Love that book! I picked it up when I was fairly new to the idea of magick as a thing and i was still a little too intimidated by it to work with it, but I do think the book does exactly as promised: provide a set of tools, ideas, and historical info for a practitioner to incorporate daoist work into their ritual practices, especially for westerners. It's nowhere near as detailed as you'd get from learning in person by a practitioner and chooses an overview approach instead of a more detailed look into one specific fu talisman work's school of thought, but it still good for people wanting to check out the idea. 

Also, @bell I didnt know you were on this forum lol. I love your work and I'm gonna sign up for your new Eliphas Levi course this weekend, the first lesson was already great!  

Edited by blackturtlesnake
forgot to finish my thought on the book

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6 hours ago, blackturtlesnake said:

Love that book! I picked it up when I was fairly new to the idea of magick as a thing and i was still a little too intimidated by it to work with it, but I do think the book does exactly as promised: provide a set of tools, ideas, and historical info for a practitioner to incorporate daoist work into their ritual practices, especially for westerners. It's nowhere near as detailed as you'd get from learning in person by a practitioner and chooses an overview approach instead of a more detailed look into one specific fu talisman work's school of thought, but it still good for people wanting to check out the idea. 

Also, @bell I didnt know you were on this forum lol. I love your work and I'm gonna sign up for your new Eliphas Levi course this weekend, the first lesson was already great!  


Bell doesn’t come here often as she has a lot of projects, but she will get to you when she gets notifications. We can nudge her if need be. :) 

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1 minute ago, SirPalomides said:

She hasn’t visited since May 2018 so I’m going to wager she’s seen enough of this madhouse. 


She still gets notifications in her email. I speak with her personally on a semi-regular basis, and she will respond if it isn’t something she’s already said on her blog.

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I haven't had time to write anything specific for this thread, but I have been reviewing my posts in general and have some further comments about some issues that I raise in my review of Benebell Wen's excellent work as mentioned above:

 

On 3/12/2017 at 11:11 AM, Zhongyongdaoist said:

While the notion of final causes is a Western idea, being part of a system called "the four causes", which was explicated and formalized by Aristotle, I have found it very useful in thinking about magic in general and talismanic magic in particular, and while Chinese philosophy doesn't have these four causes worked out in detail, many aspects of Chinese magical practice lend themselves to such analysis, especially since the Chinese already have as an important part of their thinking the notion of li (理, principle, inner essence), a fundamental part of Chinese cosmology, which corresponds to what in the West are called "formal causes", which are part "the four causes", which I mentioned earlier.  I have posted on this is several places on the Dao Bums, and in particular its importance to understanding traditional Western magic here:

Agrippa and Aristotle: the Aristotelian background of the Occult Philosophy
 
Which among other things analyses the Daoist concepts of De or virtue and Wuwei or nonaction in terms of the four causes to demonstrate the usefulness of such ideas for the integration Chinese and Western esoteric philosophy and practice.

 

I needed to keep a review short and so I did not reference this thread:

Agrippa's Doctrine of Occult Virtues, a core concept examined and explained

Which deals with the most important important, and importantly, most misunderstood, aspects of Traditional Magic, which is the notion of "Occult Virtues", which is just Latin for "Hidden Powers", and is an aspect of Traditional Magic that was left out of the Nineteenth Century revival of Western magic because its philosophical basis in Plato and Aristotle was no longer understood by the people who were researching magic and trying to understand it in terms that seemed "reasonable" circa 1800, but which had already been seriously corrupted by the Seventeenth Century revival of Epicurean materialism under the guise of "Corpuscular Philosophy", and which meshed well with nominalist version of Christianity, which are the antecedents of modern fundamentalism, as opposed to those influenced by Western Philosophy, which were suppressed even by the Roman Catholic Church during the polemical war with Protestantism, which through the Patrisitc writings had been strongly influenced by  not only by Plato and Aristotle, but also by "esoteric" writings, such as the Hermetica.  The result being that Occult Virtues were simply dismissed as quint superstitions that owed their influence to the suggestibility of the practitioner and not to any inherent  power which they contributed to the practice of magic.  The astrological aspects of magic suffered a similar fate, and the result was the creation of "Ceremonial Magic" as a standalone practice based solely on the will power and imagination of the practitioner.

 

So, what does this have to do with Chinese Talismanic Magic?  It points back to the importance of these Occult Virtues to the practice of magic in general, which should be rooted in what Agrippa calls "Natural Magic", the subject of the first book of his Three Books on Occult Philosohy, and thus the dependency of magical practice in general, and talismanic magic in particular on the nature, and thus the occult virtues, of those things used as the basis of the talisman.

 

Now the important part of Aristotle's theory for Occult Virtues and thus for Talismans is the Formal Cause, the Form, or in the Greek, morphe, is the source of the inherent potential to become an active "Occult Virtue".  Now where this ties in which traditional Chinese practice and its root in Chinese Cosmology is in the traditional Chinese Li/Qi or Principle/Substance Cosmology and its relation with the Aristotelian Hylye/Morphe or matter/form cosmology, which I examine in detail in the posts in the "A Science of Wu Wei?" thread beginning here:

 

 

While I have mentioned the similarity between Li/Qi and Hylomophism many times in the past on Dao Bums, in these posts I examine it in detail with quotes from the Neiye, Dao De Ching, and the Zhuangzi, and establish the importance of Li, and thus of Li/Qi as an explanatory concept to traditional Daoism.  I may also quote some from the Huainanzi, but I can't remember offhand whether I do or not, but I do reference and possibly quote from an essay by Harold Roth in which he basically argues the some point and even cites some of the same references to Zhuangzi's writings as I do, as well as quoting extremely suggestive quotes from the Huainanzi which indicate that the idea continues to influence Daoist thought into the middle Han.

 

That these ideas are important is confirmed by Professor Jerry Alan Johnson's:

 

Daoist Mineral, Plants & Animal – Final Edition

 

Which is basically a text on Chinese "Natural Magic".  In his discussion Professor Johnson seems to take the notion that the power or occult virtue of the mineral, plant and animal agents with which he is concerned is inherent in them and is only activated by the practitioner.  This impression is confirmed when one looks at his ritual for opening and activating a mineral, i.e. page 101 and elsewhere in a ritual that occupies pgs. 89-101.  While some of Professor Johnson's language "imprinting" and "programming"; could be used to give a reductionist interpretation, such as the practitioner is only creating a stone as a physical focal point for a thought form, he also uses the word activate in a way which implies that he is activating something in the "Stone of Power", and that his imprint/programming is only a direction to fulfill one of several possible powers of the stone, such as protect, heal or spiritual development.  How one further interprets this is going to depend on their personal ontological commitments, but from a perspective of both Daoist and Western magical tradition, a belief in the Occult Virtues is just as "rational" a belief as any reductionist one, which would write off Occult Virtues on a priori grounds.

 

As a person who has spent decades practicing magic in both Western and Chinese modes, and also understands both the details and implications of post 1900 physics and the history of "the Scientific Revolution", as well as the basis of the earlier worldview and it implications, I favor a belief in the efficacy of Occult Virtues, but I am not going to further debate the subject in this thread.  I have addressed it to a certain extent in my posts over the years, and may create a more detailed summary of my criticisms of a reductionist framework.  My criticism of reductionism are founded on the potential usefulness of a revival of the notion of formal causes in physics and difficulties with the notion of chance and chaos, and the problems presented to cognitive psychology by the notion that the brain is an "organic computer", based on implications of the mathematics of computability related to the notion that "machines can think", all of which lead me to the strong conclusion that formal causes are by far a more rational approach than reductive materialism and any approach to magic based upon it.

 

Finally, what is the importance of the similarity between Li/Qi and Hylomorphism?  These two seem to have arisen independently of each other, they occur at roughly the same time, around 300 BCE, and there is little concrete evidence for, and thus little reason to believe, that they are the result of "cultural diffusion".  As independent discoveries they reinforce and tend to confirm the notion that, from both East and West there is a magic and spirituality friendly cosmology based on Formal  Causes which has arisen because of the experience and reflection of two different cultures, and that as such it could be argued that these similarities arise because they are a "true" account of the fundamental nature of reality, and that reductionist materialism is a fallacious misdirection in human thought and cultural development and should be abandoned.  Taken by themselves these similarities are not enough, but do add weight to the notions I mentioned before for rejecting reductionist materialism.

 

 This post has been longer than I originally intended, but I hope that these ideas are interesting and helpful.

 

ZYD

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