Functionality of language, as made possible by computers, can hardly be imagined by those who have not experienced it. The computer does what you say.
—Joseph Decken, The Electronic Cottage
Where a man’s word goes, and where his power of perception goes, to that point his control and in a sense his physical existence is extended. To see and give commands to the whole world is almost the same as being everywhere.
—Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings:
Cybernetics and Society
Technomantic enchantment involves computers to do magic that effects change in the world. The magical act seems to cause something to happen that manifests the intentionality of the act (i.e., the reason the act was performed), which we typically call a result although we may not be able to plainly show efficient causality between the act and its consequence (recall Sørensen’s ‘opaque causal mediation’). We might think of enchantment as engineering synchronicity, i.e., acausal, meaningful connections. A magical result is a sign of magic at work, and those who recognize the signs are witnesses to magic in the world—not by simply mistaking correlation for causation, but by embracing something that is profoundly weird.
The word enchant is akin to the Latin incantāre, whence incantation: “The use of a formula of words spoken or chanted to produce a magical effect; the utterance of a spell or charm; more widely, the use of magical ceremonies or arts; magic, sorcery, enchantment” (OED). Cf. spell, which also has linguistic connotations. Verbal magic has been practiced since ancient times; e.g., the voces magicæ and ritual lamenting in Greek mageía (μαγεία) and goēteía (γοητεία):
Then [Medea] sang songs of incantation, invoked the dæmons of death, the swift hounds of hell that whirl around the air everywhere and fall on living creatures. On her knees she called them three times in song, three times in prayer. She put herself into a sinister mood, and with her own evil eye she put a curse on the eye of Talos. She gnashed at him her devastating fury and hurled forth images of death in an ecstasy of rage.1
The words of such enchantments are sometimes devoid of literal meaning—cf. barbarous names. Some charms involve material objects, and the word charm, originally from the Latin carmen, “song, incantation,” has come to mean also “a physical object […] that has naturally or magically been imbued with a magical power,”2 and synonymous with talisman, amulet, and fetish, which are often used interchangeably but have different connotations in light of their differing etymologies.
Some spells and charms involve ritual actions, and may not include words at all, but although they need not be linguistic per se or entirely linguistic, all are semiotic—being symbols, icons, or indexes of occult power—and all express or represent the magician’s intention in ways that are simultaneously distinct from and yet similar to instrumental action, and which may be related to correlations between language and tool use3 (cf. speech acts). E.g., nailing a horseshoe to a door frame while saying the magic words in order to ward off evil is not merely a symbolic activity; it is intended to have an actual effect.
Enchantments can bless, curse, repair or prevent injury, bring luck or good fortune, attract love, change the weather, &c. Spells and charms may be translated from traditional to computational media, allowing us to invent new enchantments.
In accordance with the theme of enchanting or casting a spell using one’s voice, several of the projects to follow respond to vocalized sounds, but we need something to interact with, something to do the responding. What better than one of magic’s most recognizable motifs: the sigil—itself an enchanting device.
A sigil (from Latin sigillum, diminutive of signum, “sign”; cf. Hebrew segula) is “an occult sign or device supposed to have mysterious powers” (OED), or “a sign, image or symbol considered to be magical” (Wiktionary). In practice, sigils are typically glyphs or seals that often incorporate glyphs, which represent one or more occult subjects. The presence of sigils so connotes occultism that they are often found in popular media in ways that are clearly specious to actual practitioners of occult arts.
Sigils may be inherited from antiquity or authority, received via dreams or visions, or constructed according to diverse formuæ. During the last quarter of the 20th century, Chaos magic helped to popularize Austin Osman Spare’s techniques for sigilizing a sorcerer’s desired outcome. Although sigils are usually conflated with symbols (many of them actually are symbols), Spare’s techniques purposefully obscure or omit symbolic or iconic relations between a sigil and its referent because both interpretation and resemblance facilitate conscious awareness and rumination of the sigil’s referent.
Sigils may be displayed during magical operations in order to summon or invite the powers they represent to influence the work, or they may be interacted with as though they are the things they signify. Computer programming facilitates diverse means to generate, manipulate, animate, or otherwise interact with sigils, and many of the projects in Technomancy 101 involve sigils in one way or another.
If you are new to sigil magic, here are a few resources to help you get started:
- The first few chapters of Jan Fries’s Visual Magick provide an excellent introduction to sigil magic.
- Frater U∴D∴’s Practical Sigil Magic
- Spare’s The Book of Pleasure describes his philosophy and techniques of sigil magic.
- Sigil Witchery: A Witch’s Guide to Crafting Magick Symbols by Laura Tempest Zakroff
- Sigil Athenæum — a collection of sigils and FAQ about sigil magic
Following are a few books about charms, spells, and other enchantments, which I have enjoyed. Try these with the mapping exercise from the introduction.
- Magic Charms from A to Z by The Witches’ Almanac
- Dictionary of Ancient Magic Words and Spells and Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing by Claude Lecouteux
- The British Book of Spells and Charms by Graham King
- The Wicked Shall Decay: Charms, Spells, and Witchcraft of Old Britain by A. D. Mercer
- Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, as quoted in and transcribed by Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds, second ed. (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006) 103–104.
- Graham King, The British Book of Spells and Charms (Troy, 2016) 30.
- For more about correlations between language and tool use, see this and this.