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The Myth of the Magus [Jun. 30th, 2016|10:22 pm]
De Horror Vacui
The Myth of the Magus, E.M. Bulter:

The Myth of the Magus is an academic-like investigation of the lives of sorcerers from antiquity to early modern times... literally from the Magi before Zoroaster to the last resurgence of sorcerers in the Flagellants like Rasputin. Bulter, of course, has a theory. Actually about three theories. The basis is that the mage is always related to fertility, crops and weather -- the ancestral myth is shamanic in nature, and it has been modified for larger and more sedentary groups. Next is that there is a ten-stage template on which the particulars of the mage's life is told. And finally, that Christianity modified the magus myth by moving the sorcerer's role from that of the folk hero to that of a villain subordinate to the Satan and all his little wizards.

Or, I guess, get to be one of his little wizards.

The heart of the book is the ten stage process of the mage story:

1. Supernatural Origin
2. Portents and Birth
3. Perils Menacing Infancy
4. Initiation to the Rites
5. Distant Wanderings
6. A Magical Contest (Wizard's Duel)
7. Trial and Persecution (Often, a literal trial)
8. A Last Mystic Scene
9. The Violent Death
10. A Resurrection of Ascension

When I was reading all this I said, "Jesus." And I was right. Of the many different wizards that Butler investigates, only two completely fits the template, those being Zoroaster and Jesus. Many of the others come close: Moses, Pythagoras, etc., but even the best seem to be missing 2 to 4 of the scenes. The known Median Magi don't even do that well, although I suspect there aren't that many of them, but other Biblical figures do much better, like Solomon.

The most interesting set of people in the book to me form a set that spans the centuries: Pythagoras, Virgil, Joan of Arc, and Bacon -- real people who became legendary magical figures. Roger Bacon, in particular is presented as the anti-Faust...and Faust seems to be one of Butler's major focus (Butler was a professor of German languages, I think).

Even the real Faust and the real Bacon were opposites. Faust was a tavern magician and confidence trickster, and Bacon was obviously a highly trained logician and religious persona (Friar Bacon was his title). Faust is literature became a magician for the Christian age: someone who for middling purposes sells himself to a devil -- at first Mephosophiles ("No Love for Faust"), who became Mephistopheles -- and can't find a way out of the deal.* Bacon was always doing benevolent things. And so on.

And the Faust tale becomes famous...even though he isn't the master magician of antiquity. He's just a conduit for a devil.

The final part of the book, Part III, is the Return of the Magi. This part discusses historical figures involved in or associated with Masonry (or Rasputin). Possibly the best story of these was the Count of Saint-Germaine -- The Man of Mystery. He traveled around Europe passing himself of as a nobleman, living off of the rich, and handing out a mild laxative called (in 1948 England) "Russian Tea" without charge and claiming it solves all manner of illnesses in the best Snake Oil tradition.

Since Butler wrote this in 1948, she couldn't do anything with strange mystical people that came out of the later half of the twentieth century. I don't know if those guys would count.

"It is doubtful if the weight of skepticism will ever be enough to sink the magus myth beyond men's sight forever."

Other books, 2016:

52. Language Implementation Patterns, Terence Parr
51. The Myth of the Magus, E.M. Butler
50. Elric of Melibone, Michael Moorcock
49. Physlets: Teaching Physics with Interactive Curricular Material, Wolfgang Christian and Mario Belloni
48. Elephants Can Remember, Agatha Christie
47. Faery Lands Forlorn, Dave Duncan
46. Inevitable Illusions, Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini
45. Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Usability, Steve Krug
44. Matrix and Tensor Calculus, Aristotle D. Michal
43. The Magic Casement, Dave Duncan
42. A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley
41. Hogfather, Terry Pratchett
40. Five Easy Lessons: Strategies for Successful Physics Teaching, Randall D. Knight
39. The Living God, Dave Duncan
38. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Jesse Schell
37. The Maker of Universes, Philip Jose Farmer
36. Javascript Web Applications, Alex MacCaw
35. The Stricken Field, Dave Duncan
34. JavaScript: The Good Parts: Douglas Crockford
33. A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Raph Koster
32. An Introduction to Hilbert Space and Quantum Logic, David W. Cohen
31. Magic in the Middle Ages, Richard Kieckhefer
30. The Silver Warriors, Michael Moorcock.
29. Engines of Creation, K. Eric Drexler
28. Prince of Chaos, Roger Zelazny
27. Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
26. Sparkling Cyanide, Agatha Christie
25. Knight of Shadows, Roger Zelazny
24. Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie
23. Feynman Lectures on Computation, Richard Feynman
22. Effective Computation in Physics, Anthony Scopatz and Kathryn D. Huff
21. How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams
20. Sign of Chaos, Roger Zelazny
19. Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy Sayers
18. The Mythical Man-Month, Fredrick Brooks
17. Blood of Amber, Roger Zelazny
16. Understanding Computation, Tom Stuart
15. Social Class in the 21st Century, Mike Savage
14. Design for Great-Day, Alan Dean Foster and Eric Frank Russell
13. QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Richart Feynman
12. SciPy and NumPy, Eli Bressert
11. Elementary Quantum Mechanics in One Dimension, Robert Gilmore
10. The Trumps of Doom, Roger Zelazny
9. Your Code as a Crime Scene, Adam Tornhill
8. Upland Outlaws, Dave Duncan
7. Identity Economics, George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton
6. The Courts of Chaos, Roger Zelazny
5. Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
4. The Cutting Edge, Dave Duncan
3. The Nature of Software Development, Ron Jeffers
2. The Death of Chaos, L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
1. Kivy -- Interactive Applications and Games in Python, Roberto Ulloa

* Prior to Faust, the tales always have stupid devils who are always outsmarted in the end, according to Butler.

[User Picture]From: cincinnatus_c_
2016-07-03 02:51 pm (UTC)
When I was reading all this I said, "Jesus."

Heh, yeah. Which makes me wonder what her agenda was. Jesus was just another magus, Jesus was the one true magus of which the others are pale imitations, ... ?

Prior to Faust, the tales always have stupid devils who are always outsmarted in the end, according to Butler.

Reminds me of Foucault's claim that prior to Descartes (or a point for which Descartes is a handy marker) you had to be good to be smart; from Descartes on you could be an, uh, evil genius. Which appears to coincide with the rise of the Faust story.

(Since I was watching some clips from Homicide last night it also reminds me of the line from the first episode that "crime makes you stupid" ... hadn't occurred to me until now that the false hope that that's true is a pretty big theme of the show.)
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[User Picture]From: de_horror_vacui
2016-08-03 06:11 pm (UTC)
I did think about what her real objective was more than a few times. At points, I felt like I was reading a "Bible as Literature" text where the source material's sacredness is acknowledged once and then ignored. For the first half of the book, I was just waiting for something that clicked as an agenda, but strangely, it didn't come there... even with the magi of the first millennium AD.

Even with her description of Jesus as a magus, most of the other magi were missing so many items from her checklist that only Jesus or Zoroaster could serve as a paradigm. Jesus, or at least his story, remains pretty special in the treatment, but a long way from divine.

Although she had a lot of things that were probably original to say about the previous magi, I think her main Focus is the buildup to Faust, his comparison to Bacon, and his aftermath with modern magi, some of whom acted as 18th - 19th century secret agents.

I don't know if there is anyone who would really qualify as one of her magi later that Rasputin, but it would be interesting to know. I've known a few people who would categorize themselves that way, but they'd fare poorly in Butler's scheme.

Would someone like Deepak Chopra count? Even if not, it might be fun to try to pigeonhole him in there just to see the reaction.


Television never seemd to do bleak well (although I'm sorta watching Mr. Robot, which may get there). In fact, neither to movies. It looks like they can deal in a saccharine hope (even when they try to be edgy, like Battlestar Galactica, which for every difficult choice would show that it was a necessary choice) or they can go the route of oppressive villainy (like the last sting of Batman movies, which seemed to beat you over the head with the dumb sort of evil).

But, no one's going to write a police procedural where one out of five murders even has a suspect charged with a crime, let alone convicted of it.

But that's the world we live in.
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[User Picture]From: de_horror_vacui
2016-08-19 08:22 pm (UTC)
And how does this all relate to the Devil in "Titties and Beer?"

That's what I want to know.
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[User Picture]From: cincinnatus_c_
2016-08-22 03:43 pm (UTC)
Heh, never knew Highway 61 was inspired by a Frank Zappa song.
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[User Picture]From: cincinnatus_c_
2016-08-22 03:41 pm (UTC)
Hmm, well, as far as that goes, the first big ongoing case on Homicide is never solved. So there's that.

Funnily enough, around the time you posted this reply, I suggested watching Birdman to a friend and she asked if it was ... I dunno whether "bleak" was the word, but something very close if not. I said it wasn't, but then watching it again, I realized that it would be obviously bleak as hell if not for the ending.

Never seen Battlestar Galactica, but B and I have been watching new Doctor Who this year and that kind of thing has really caught my attention--the horrible choices that turn out not to have been horrible choices at all, because history can always be re-written.
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