A collection of ConjureMan Ali's thoughts about magic, the occult, and spirituality.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Appropriation In Magical Traditions

The magical blogosphere is a buzz with inter blog debating. It began with the topic of energy work as put forth first by Frater AIT. Naturally, the paragon of the spirit-model, Frater RO responded. Even the good Scribbler got in on the action.

 Jason Miller stepped in to take the middle ground, but his approach touched on the subject of doing whatever works to which my friend, Balthazar responded by taking the subject to debate over appropriation of magical traditions.

Frater RO responded by pointing out that a great deal of our current traditions are actually the result of a syncretic approach to magick.

So the question that gets begged is what is the different between appropriation and a syncretic approach?

It all comes down to the way in which it is gone about. Appropriation is the insenstive act of taking a technique or concept and ripping it out of its tradition and context. This is often done with a sense of entitlement that shows no concern for the tradition that is being butchered. We see this quite frequently in today's post-modern world where we view everything as up for grabs.

The issue is that not are things being taken out of context it is that they are being taken without a single bit of acknowledgement to the tradition of origin. But more than an issue of who gets the credit, appropriation in this matter targets someone's spiritual tradition, something near and dear to them, and rips it apart as if it were nothing more than a "thing." In the academic world we call this plagairism.

The syncretic approach is different. The syncretic approach is where cultures or traditions meet, cross-pollenate and through this both sides are enriched. This is called synthesis. Common ground or points of interest are found between the spiritual traditions which are then nurtured and grown into beautiful paths of their own. From this we get such beautiful traditions like hoodoo, the ATRs, Hermeticism, and much much more.

Each of these spirittual traditions came into contact with another tradition, learned from it, found points where their paradigms met, were found copaseptic and as a result grew. This isn't the haphazard mixing of ideas, but the natural spreading of thought that instigates further growth and evolution. In the academic world we call this building on someone's thesis by encouraging further investigation and research, but always ensuring to cite the source.

In spiritual terms, synthesis takes away from its parent traditions and helps preserve part of the parent tradition while continuing to grow. It is a marriage that produces a beautiful baby with the eyes of the dad and hair of the mom, but also something individual.

Spiritual traditions that fail to do this die out. Hoodoo is alive today because it was syncretic and remains so today.

Appropriation is vastly different. Rather than a marriage it is an insensitive dissecting of parts and pieces with little understanding or care for the traditions it takes from. The result is a Frankenstein monster.

I personally follow many paths. I am a conjure doctor, a hermetic, a conjurer of djinn, a goetic and much more. My approach is very traditional. Anyone familiar with my work can attest that as a conjure doctor I am familiar with urban hoodoo as birthed by the mail order supply shops, but that my work is more in line with old school ways of working. I am a strict traditionalist-- I am a powders, jars, crossroads, and graveyard type of guy. Yet, my approach is still syncretic. I find points where my paths merge into crossroads and from it try to nurture life. The recent manifestation of this approach is my work with the Grimoire Verum. Yet, this is always done in a manner that doesn't rip parts from its root, but rather cross-pollenates as carefully as a skilled botanist. As a root doctor, these roots are important to me ;-)

The ultimate manifestation of the syncretic approach is seen in the development of Sufism and its mystical doctrines. Sufism as it developed in al-Andalus and in eastern parts of the Islamic empire held the core perspective of Islamic mysticism, but as it came in contact with other spiritual traditions it grew and learn from the encounter. It adopted Graeco-Egyptian Hemetic thought, Hindu Numerology and breathing, Christian monasticism, Chaldean astrology and others. What resulted was a synthesis so powerful and compelling that it inspired the Picatrix, the European Renaissance and its subsequent interest in hermeticism.

Yet, this synthesis ensured that its parent traditions remained preserved and intact. It didn't gut them, but enriched its parent traditions. Hell, hermeticism exists today because these Sufis preserved it. Sufism learned from the parent traditions, it did not steal from them.

The ultimate differentiation is shown in the results. Syncretism produces growth, the evolution of a tradition, and smart and effective magick.

Appropriation produces degredation of previous traditions, muddied ideology, and weak and diluted magick.


Balthazar said...

Ali, this is music to my ears. Thanks for posting this very thoughtful and articulate response!

Unknown said...

hmmm, I think synthesis is what modern day observers are calling the appropriation of the past.

ConjureMan Ali said...

Hello Brother Christopher, as you can tell I believe there is a distinct difference between the two. Did appropriation happen in the past? Sure.

Synthesis however is different. Synthesis is a natural process that we study in intellectual history. As ideas travel they come in contact with others ideas and what results is a sharing that grows, nurtures, and enriches the ideas involved.

This simply doesn't occur in appropriation. Instead you get a haphazard mixing of ideas, philosophies, and practices that leaves a jumbled mess.

wolfspider said...

I can see where you're coming from, but isn't the sort of appropriation that you're talking about naturally discouraged by the fact that it simply doesn't work very well?

Then again, there are people out there who are more interested in posturing (even to themselves!) than doing magick.

Rev. Sister Pixie Snakes said...

thank you for posting this! My anthropology prof was always good about making us aware of appropriation, colonialism and imperialism, and I ended up writing my thesis along those lines.