Words are funny things. They have meanings but they can also be given meanings. I am a pushy and quirky sort, so when it comes to some words, I often care less about what they usually mean, than what they can possibly mean. That possible meaning takes place against the horizon of meanings they have had, but I aim to shoot past them.
It is with this attitude that I want to talk about how I like to use the terms ‘witch’ and ‘wizard.’ I know that the terms have a few centuries of struggle rolled up into them, and to a certain extent I am positioning myself in that struggle even as I try to move the line. Still, brass tacks, I can’t get into that other horizon if I pin myself down to fighting over the accrued meanings.
I use the two terms to describe a point of divergence; while they emerge from a common milieu, they organize and engage with it differently. Those of you who know a little Deleuze & Guattari will see some clear traces of my education under their work.
‘Wizard’ delimits a field that operates vertically and hierarchically. The Hermetic maxim “as above, so below” sits close to the heart of this approach. It distinguishes, for one, an above from a below and privileges the above. The implication is that the magician orders the below under the auspices of the above.
Command plays a prominent role in the work. The nature of occult assignment, the building of lists around correspondences, and so on, is not simply a matter of discovery, but also of assertion. You will serve as the vehicle for Mercury, not just you are a channel of Mercury. Tellingly, this showed up in Tumblr as I was putting this post together:
“This is the primary secret of Solomonic magic. As long as the magician remains plugged in to that which is above, he or she is simultaneously plugged into (and must begin to master) that which is below.” (Lon Milo Duquette)
There is a form of bad faith that can develop around the wizardly approach which elides the element of command through a form of naturalization. Rather than acknowledge the relayed command inherent in the work (as it is above, let it be below), it treats the result of the command as part of the natural order. It mistakes the disciplining of the lower order for the lower order’s ‘natural’ state. The wizard’s ars memoria is a record of conquest as much as anything else.
Wizardly bad faith, though, abuts the good faith of the witch. The witch delimits a mode of operation that supresses hierarchy and instead proceeds opportunistically within the horizontal plane. Whereas the wizard assigns, the witch captures, seduces, and startles. If the wizardly guides the ars memoria, the witchly manages an ars familiaris, an art of becoming familiar.
Above and below are here replaced by proximity and sympathy. This, here, sings with me. This, here, sings against you. With this, here, we may sing together. The witch’s bad faith tends toward spite. The witch work is intimate and its failures, too, are intimate. The failures of the witch’s work manifest as bitterness and cruelty rather than presumption.
The conflicts that flash between the witchly and wizardly can be seen against this background. The witch’s danger to the wizard is that she, through sympathy and alliance, violates heaven’s assignment. Even worse, the wizard must fear the witch that inscribes the wizard’s authority into the world as just one more thing that might be conquered, captured, or seduced. Contrariwise, the witch treats warily with the wizardly, lest the order of heaven tear down the bridges her work establishes or the wizard assign her work to the heavens, removing it from the opportunities through which it might leap and grow.
As styles these are subject to the substance against which they are deployed. There are dramatic instances, too, in which the substance remakes the style, as when the alchemical arts rent the wizardly limb from limb, remaking it as Saruman remade Isengard. Here the authority of the heavens becomes the authority of wizard cum scientist and ego mounts the throne once occupied by higher powers.
In Ceremony, Silko called Europeans witches, but the truth is darker than that. It is not the witch that sits atop the atom bomb and the sails the rising waters, but the wizard reborn. It is not with bitterness that they assault the world, but with self-assured dominance. It is, however, the witch’s work remade that drives the engines of innovation and discovery, that rules the alchemist’s oven cum scientific laboratory.
It is a most terrible hybrid, but it remade the world. I don’t see a way to return to the time before its dominance, so the question becomes one of how we live through and past it. I’m laying odds that the hope lies with the witches and the witch-ly, with the subversion of the hybrid from within. But, hey, you go with what you know, right?
That isn’t a pretty affair. It breaks the dominance of the global which has become our era’s image of the universal and the forces released by that will be exceptionally spite-prone witchy forces. But the spite can be treated, softened. If we greet bitter with bitter, it fans the destructive tendencies inherent in the moment. The bitterness is close to hand everywhere, and to draw forth the secret potencies of our time that bitterness must be soothed with the sweetness proper to it, specific sweetness that must be discovered.
Ars familiaris, the arts that make us familiar. That is the witchcraft we need though it will be harder than ever to achieve. The work of Venus under the auspices of Saturn, no mean thing my pretties.