Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, Robert Cochrane, and Helena Blavatsky: each of these people invented, recreated or discovered a system of magic and spirituality in the early part of the twentieth century, and all of them were modernists. A modernist believes that symbols mean things; each symbol has a true meaning. The problem for the modernist is that many people in the early part of the twentieth century were questioning those meanings. Modernists saw this as the breakdown of society, and it lead to things like Crowley's New Aeon, an attempt to repair the growing gap between symbol and meaning.
In contrast, the postmodern worldview (the dominant worldview of the later part of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first) argues that symbols represent other symbols, which also represent symbols, and so on. To say something has one meaning, therefore, is to ignore the rich web of meaning—the semiotic web that underlies all of our symbols. For authors and artists, this idea leads to radical experimentation in art and literature. Anything goes, and the author recognizes that she herself is a symbol in the text, just as much as the characters are, and just as fictional.
For the magician, however, the implications are somewhat wider. If reality is manipulated with symbols, and symbols do not have a firm foundation besides with other symbols, then there's no real way to draw a line between the mundane and the magical. Magic isn't something special, but something so ordinary that it maintains all matter and energy.
The postmodern mage can reverse some preconceptions. For example, the modern mage assumed that the mind and body were separate, or that the mind arose from the body (as most people believe today). However, there is no reason not to assume the opposite: that body arises from mind; that mind existed first, and gave rise to matter. The individual consciousness is a dirty window through which shines the light of consciousness itself.
Instead of relying on metaphors of energy or spirits, the postmodern mage can choose what metaphors he or she makes true. For example, imagine that instead of thinking about moving energy or commanding spirits, you think of magic in terms of sending messages. What new ways of doing magic can you create with that metaphor?
Finally, where the modernist mage regards magic as work (often referring to magical performances as workings), the postmodernist regards magic as play. Not in its whimsical sense, but in the sense of freedom, pleasure, and exploration.
The modernist has much to offer, and it would be arrogant and foolish to discount the contributions of the great occultists of the early twentieth century. But the advantage of a postmodern approach is that we can take the best things of modernism, and use them in new contexts.
For example, here is a technique you can use for many purposes.
It is based on the idea of the "glamour," an illusionary appearance. In this case, you will create an "illusion" that will impact people subconsciously. Some modernist authors describe similar methods that take hours of ritual work. This one will only take a few minutes, and can be done anywhere.
The glamour will not usually be visible to others, but it will affect their subconscious perception of you. After you finish using your glamour, make sure you strongly re-assert your own identity by imagining stepping back into your own self-image. Be aware that sometimes glamours work too well. I had a friend who used a teddy-bear glamour to increase his tips. He claimed that the tips almost doubled, but that people had begun to talk in baby talk to him!
The Modernist mage would look upon the above exercise as nonsense.
It couldn't work. It doesn't call upon the proper names of God; it doesn't have the proper (or any!) tools; it doesn't even take place in a properly consecrated circle. Those who cling to metaphors of magic such as "magical energy" would also scoff. How could this work if it's not "charged" with "magical energy?" Yet many occultists today use such methods to good effect, worrying less about what symbols mean, and more about what we can make them mean if we are creative, clever, and having fun.
Making a Glamour
Patrick Dunn (Chicago, IL) is a poet, linguist, Pagan, and a university English professor with a PhD in modern literature and language. His understanding of semiotics and the study of symbols arise from his training in ...