Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Book Review: The Practical Art of Divine Magic - Patrick Dunn

The Practical Art of Divine Magic: 
Contemporary & Ancient Techniques of Theurgy – 2015 by Patrick Dunn

Let me begin by saying that I have enjoyed all of Patrick Dunn’s previous works on magic (he consistently drops the modern ’k’ from the spelling). In “Magic, Power, Language, Symbol” he brings a linguistic and semiotic approach to magic, and in “Postmodern Magic” he introduces the ‘information model’ of magic, to stand next to the ‘energy’ and ‘spirit’ models. All of this is informed by a thorough understanding of modern and traditional magic, clearly supported by personal practice.

In this book Dunn turns his sharp mind to one of the most well-documented systems of ancient magic – divine theurgy. ‘Theurgy’ roughly means ‘divine work’, and it grew from the late-Pagan need to take the worship of the gods out of the temples and into private chapels, living-rooms and gardens. This makes it well-suited for those same spaces in our Pagan revival. Dunn breaks a complex, multi-century tradition into usable bites and explains each sufficiently for a beginner audience.

In this he begins with Neoplatonism, giving a good simple summary of both Plato himself (and his cave of shadows) and the Neoplatonist mages such as Iamblicus. His understanding is based on Neoplatonic hierarchy – not of archangels and angels, but of Numen-logos, and the layers of manifestation and symbolism that lead spirit into manifestation in matter. His explanation of how all this produces the classic ritual forms of things done, things said and things thought is both simple and elegant.

By going back to the roots, Dunn is able to explain several classic ‘occult’ ideas in their directly theistic Pagan origins. The discussion of the nature of the gods, and of their manifestations and extensions into manifestation, and of sub-deific spirits, runs as a thread through several chapters. He attempts to discuss the gods both as cosmic principles and as their multiple manifestations in symbol and form, both in mental  realms as stories, songs, etc and into the ritual realm in idols and images, and into the natural realms as the ‘correspondences’ of herbs, stones, colors, sounds, etc. The explanations of ‘correspondence’ take a fresh and inspiring direction that reminds me of things I have heard from non-European polytheisms.

The book is complete with a set of exercises that lead from basic trance to full simple rites of offering and blessing. Tools, framing ritual forms, purification are explained and lightly-scripted. The work of the invocation of deity is dealt with in detail, from an intellectual familiarity with a god through formal ritual invitation and reception of power, to the consecration of talismanic idols for longer-term personal cult. Methods of divination are discussed; the method he most thoroughly teaches is the seeking of omens in the natural (and/or urban) world. In a culture of cards and dice it is good to see the basics of intuition emphasized.

His chapter on Daimonology – the lore of the sub-deity spirits that serve both the gods and magicians – concludes with a full rite for meeting one’s ‘personal daimon’ or ‘supernatural assistant’. His spends some time parsing the nature of such a being, without prescribing any conclusion. The rite is based on a famous falcon-rite from the Graeco-Egyptian papyri, well-adapted for a modern altar-top. It is the most fully-developed rite of ‘ritual magic’ (as vaguely distinct from Pagan religious rites) in the book, the culmination of the several small rites and forms that have been previously taught.

The chapter on thaumaturgy (spell work) focuses on written invocations and inscribed tablets, but also provides a good basic rite for consecrating a talisman for any purpose, under the proper deity. Dunn explains that the book isn’t focused on practical magic, but the material here compliments the system taught very nicely.

I heartily recommend this book for Pagans and polytheists interested in adding depth and occult power to rites of worship. It is probably the best general book on Pagan occultism for those working modern polytheism that I have yet encountered. By ‘occultism’ I mean, here, the use of the hidden angles of influence, of invisible connections between material objects and spiritual principles to turn ritual from a heartfelt performance to a machine of blessing. I recommend The Practical Art of Divine Magic to ritual leaders and working clergy, and to those working alone who desire to become the priest/ess of their own temple.

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