Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age, by Patrick Dunn
Llewellyn Publishing, 0738706639, 251 pp., 2005
It’s been years since I spoke with Dunn via an online mailing list – indeed, I didn’t even realize he’d published a book! It was the book’s sensible tone, straightforward approach and material that lead me to connect the dots and finally recognize why it seemed so familiar. The list was a central focus for a chaos magick group which began in the mid to late 1990s that remains active today, in an sense, though most of the core members have moved on, as Patrick seems to have done, after a fashion, though echoes of its influence are still heard.
Dunn writes “[t]o adhere to a single symbol system is to close the doors of opportunity and enlightenment; it is for the stagnant and boring mage,” a very chaote-familiar sentiment. Rather, his post-modern approach strives to “dance between and among symbol systems”, noting that adherents will “gain creativity and expand the mind by remaining open to all opportunities;”1 this certainly has been my experience.
The works of several chaos magickians are referenced, such as Frater U.:D.:’s four (or five) models of magick, and advising to switch between them, and while Dunn acknowledges the need for self-discipline, he criticises Crowley’s more strict methods. He advises making glyphs to create one’s own alphabet of desire, which is described in Spare’s Book of Pleasure, and Carroll’s Liber Null & Psychonaut, but methods are not clearly presented here.
Dunn’s breaks magickal techniques down to three essential skills: imagination, introspection, and authority, making a sensible distinction between authority over and authority with, in regards to the latter. He warns against the lust for result, commenting that “[d]eadly grim mages are rarely effective,”2 and instead recommends a more care-free attitude towards the possible outcomes, stating that this ambivalence often leads to better results – another approach I can attest to in my practice.
It is in Dunn’s treatment of divination that he falters, and with the tarot in particular. Dunn writes that “[t]he origin of the tarot is an absolute mystery, and anyone who claims to know otherwise is lying.”3 This is, of course, not strictly true. Its rise in 15th century Italy is documented. Origin stories which place tarot’s root in Egypt, India, Atlantis, among the Roma, or other such fanciful places tend to be the result of romanticism and poor scholarship, and unfortunately there really is little excuse for it these days. Likewise foolish is Dunn’s claim that the Tarot is the source of our modern deck of cards – this theory was refuted in the eighteenth century, or that the Fool is the precursor to the Joker we use today – the Joker was invented in America in the 1880s. Tarot history may not be Dunn’s forte, but the exercises presented in this section are worth exploring.
Among the book’s most salient features are Dunn’s perceptions regarding aesthetics and their importance in magick. Many books on magick refer to gods or goddesses, for example, but there are few which acknowledge that a number of practitioners do not hold gods to be external entities. Which divinities do or do not appeal to us are a matter of taste; one’s appreciation or disregard for certain pantheons – or even the utter rejection of the entire notion – need not impair one’s magickal progress. Dunn explores a number of subjects with this in mind, such as symbols, sigils, talismans and amulets (noting the correct distinction between the two terms, but using them interchangeably). How one approaches each, or even whether one chooses to employ these methods, will depend on hir personal aesthetic preferences.
The appendices include a brief treatise on magickal space and banishing, and an example of a template for one’s ritual diary. Study questions and activities follow, along with a glossary and annotated bibliography.
Dunn has written a thoughtful and engaging book, though it strikes me as more post-chaote than necessarily post-modern. Recommended, especially for those interested in stepping out of one’s robes and effecting magick in the everyday world.