The Body of Fate composed of people and books

“It is likely that no one ever masters anything in which he has not known impotence; and if you agree, you will also see that this impotence comes not at the beginning of or before the struggle with the subject, but in the heart of it.”—Walter Benjamin, “A Berlin Chronicle” in Reflections (4)

Finding this quote set me to flipping pleasantly through the pages of Reflections. Ah, Benjamin, such a pleasure. The double movement of Benjamin into the city and into his past, the opacity of its material forces and the opacity of his family wealth…well, if I wonder down this side street, I might never get to what I want to write about.

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[NB] Rite and Record

There are two things that I am thinking about right now that are trying to come together, so I am going to try to write my way to that.

First thing: one of the challenges of talking about spiritualist-driven practice entails attending to the concrete reality that underpins it, namely the way in which the diversity in our personal constitution has a direct impact on the way in which we can most effectively interact with the world of spirit. The point of identifying a person’s spiritual court, for example, derives from the sense that it varies from person to person and that the variation demands accompanying variations in practice.

Second thing: that historically, most forms of marginal spiritual practice has been magpie. I was thinking about this in light of my last post, in which I mentioned the way in which a single grimoiric ritual broke free of its grimoiric context and proceeded to circulate through numerous distinct occult practices, varying to accommodate the practices. And, too, in light of the way it makes sense to talk about the unity of the grimoires in a statistical sense, in terms of overlapping patterns of names and rites that are broadly shared by many grimoires alongside a set of rites and names that are particular to this or that grimoire.

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The Gifts of the Magi

The three magi and I go back a ways. They form the center of one of my earliest coherent childhood memories. I couldn’t have been much older than five and was afraid that I would die. I was shivering and sweating beneath a simple red, white, and blue quilt my grandmother had made commemorating the bicentennial and my birth. It was dark and the world had contracted to the mattress and the wall the bed was pushed up against. Then that world drifted away from me and I found myself curled up on desert sand, three men standing around a fire in the distance. I couldn’t see them clearly, but I had a clear sense that they could see me. I knew they were the three magi, though I couldn’t say why. One of them directed his attention (though not his face) to me and told me clearly not to worry, that I would see them more clearly before I died, but that was not soon. I was comforted, and drifted in and out of that desert until my fever broke.

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Through Home’s Window

Die Vergangenheit führt einen heimlichen Index mit, durch den sie auf die Erlösung verwiesen wird. (The past carries with it a homing index by which it is referred to redemption.)(Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte/Theses on the Philosophy of History)

It’s hard to live in the market, it’s hard to live in this world. Sometimes, thoughts of home are all that get us through it. I haven’t talked a lot about home, though. There are reasons for this, first among them that we don’t all share the same home. The elsewhere, the heaven, to which one of us returns may not be identical to the heaven to which another returns. I share the market with you, I might not share home.
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Truth and the Market

Otit de ja, o ku ta; owo l’w li nra eke. (When truth is offered for sale in the market, it finds no buyer; but lies are bought with cash in hand.)

(Yoruba saying, quoted and translated by J. D. Y. Peel, Religious Encounter and the Making of  the Yoruba)

Okay, let’s turn our attention away from the witches a little (not too far, mind you) and talk a little more about the market that is the world. We’ve talked about how unsettling this association between market, wealth, and home really is, but this quote highlights another axis of concern, truth and lies.

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Witches and Markets

When I talked about the world as a marketplace, I was leaning heavily on a Yoruba conception. I want to keep leaning on that and start talking about an important aspect of the spiritual world in the marketplace: witches. The Yoruba imaginary associates witches with the marketplace and moreover with the women who circulate through it. The more esteem and authority a woman possesses within the market, the more likely it is that she will accrue a reputation for witchcraft. Some of this has to do with a simple distrust of excessive accumulation–they who have much are suspected of having supernatural power that makes their success possible (compare this with the Kongo conception of ndoki). I don’t think this exhausts the issue, though.

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