- What is technomancy?
- Is this about robots?
- What does technomancy have to do with Frater U∴D∴’s “cyber magic”?
- Does magic really need another “101” lesson?
- Why don’t you write a proper book about this stuff?
- Isn’t technology antithetical to magic?
- Isn’t magic just technology we don’t yet understand?
- This or that program you’ve written isn’t optimized.
My answer. Your magic may vary.
Not exactly, although it is not not about robots.
Technomancy 101 grew out of some tutorials I was developing for my forthcoming robomancy project, combined with parts of stuff I had done earlier such as the Beginning Interactive Multimedia Ritual Design course. In a sense, robomancy is a subset of technomancy; it is more specialized. I wanted something with broader appeal and application to help bridge the gap between magic and robotics. Separating the technomancy stuff out into a standalone set of examples has allowed the robomancy project to achieve a depth I had not anticipated when I embarked on it. It is a natural successor to Technomancy 101, and when it is published I shall update this site with links to it.
Nothing really. U∴D∴ (a.k.a. Ralph Tegtmeier) published a document in 1991 in which he described a taxonomy of magical models or paradigms that became popular in Chaos magic. Briefly, the four models are: (1) the spirit model, in which magic works through the actions of or inter/actions with spiritual entities; (2) the energy model, in which magic works through manipulating esoteric energy; (3) the psychological model, in which magic works through the activities of the subconscious or unconscious mind; and (4) the information model, in which magic works via information transfer (n.b., computers are not at all involved except at a metaphor for information storage and retrieval in the brain). This last is also called by U∴D∴ “cybermagic (from ‘cybernetics’ or the ‘science of control systems’),” but there ends any similarity between U∴D∴’s idiosyncratic use of the term and cybernetics as I have come to know it after many decades of study. For more about U∴D∴’s models see the article previously linked or High Magic: Theory & Practice (Llewellyn, 2005) 373–287 and 407–415.
There were some other occult works published around the same time that also use cyber to refer not to computers but rather cybernetics, including Mike Morgan’s Introduction to CyberCraft and Frater Choronozon’s (a.k.a. Charles G. Brewster) Liber Cyber; however, none of these works indicates a firm grasp of cybernetic concepts.
While there are countless introductory books about magic (I include several in the recommended reading list), very few of them are written about technomancy specifically. I created Technomancy 101 because I frequently encounter questions and discussions about technomancy, cybermagic, &c., online, and they are usually dominated by conjecture or hyperbole and contain very little demonstration of practice. Most published literature about the subject suffers from the same misfortune, and those that do include didactic content quickly become outdated (as will my own). William Gibson said, “The future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed.” The world of contemporary computational arts seems to me largely unknown to the world of people working in the arts magical, and I hope Technomancy 101 can help bring those worlds together for anyone who seeks their coniunctio such as I have.
The kind of technology that Technomancy 101 is about advances so rapidly that much of it soon becomes ephemeral. While some of my technomantic theory might hold up for a while yet, Scratch and the other technologies by which I put that theory into practice will change, and likely sooner than later (Scratch underwent two major revisions, and many lesser ones, just in the few years it took me to make this website). By publishing online I can make changes to the content as the technology evolves, keeping it current for as long as I am able to. No need to wait for a second edition to be published. Publishing online also makes the content accessible to anyone in the world who can get online, and it allows me to embed hyperlinks and multimedia content.
I see three possible downsides to my decision to publish online:
- Books tend to last longer than online content. The latter is notoriously ephemeral, but as I already said, so is my creative medium. I am not sure how that will play out in the long run as more and more things go online (on a long enough timeline, books too become extinct). More importantly, although a few of my ideas may be timeless in some sense, the majority are very here-and-now or perhaps near-future, but not likely to be very relevant to the magic people will be doing one or two hundred years from now, therefore I have no need of a medium that will endure for two or more centuries.
- Some people might take books more seriously because of the perception that being published implies you have been vetted and edited by a publishing authority. Frankly, since I am writing about doing magic with computers, the likelihood of my being taken seriously is already in considerable peril.
- Some people prefer to read books and may even have difficulty reading online content. This is really the only disadvantage I am concerned about, and if you are one of those people who really has a hard time reading on a computer, then I sincerely apologize to you. Given my subject matter, I expect most people who are going to take interest in it will be accustomed to reading on a computer screen of some kind. That said, I give you my permission to print anything I have written here (you just may not sell it, but you can give it away).
No, I do not think so. In a sense, magic is technology, in that is an application of knowledge, and often a technical application. Recall that techno- comes from the Greek tékhnē meaning “art” or “craft.” Magic is sometimes called the Craft or the Art (Magical), and has often to do with the manufacture and use of tools or works of art including objets d’art. While some magicians prefer to work with traditional or archaic tools, there have always been sorcerers who made use of the technology of their day.
In the modern sense that technology is defined as (from OED)…
- The branch of knowledge dealing with the mechanical arts and applied sciences; the study of this.
- The application of such knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry, manufacturing, &c.; the sphere of activity concerned with this; the mechanical arts and applied sciences collectively.
- The product of such application; technological knowledge or know-how; a technological process, method, or technique. Also: machinery, equipment, &c., developed from the practical application of scientific and technical knowledge; an example of this.
…and by extension, electronic and computing machinery, the merging of this modern technology and magic—like the merging of technology and art—in some ways transcends, and in some transgresses, older ways of doing things, ways people sometimes get attached to. Magic and paganism may be archaic and atavistic, but neither is defined by being archaic or atavistic, and a computer is no more “unnatural” than a wand, cup, sword, pentacle, or deck of Tarot cards, if by natural we mean that which was not manufactured by humans. It is perfectly fine to prefer the forest to the factory, but either can yield enchanted fruit.
I concede that modern technology can have undesirable consequences, such as its environmental impact. There is also some genuine concern about the possibility of technology trivializing magic (I use the term trivialize here in the same sense as Heinz von Foerster‘s distinction between trivial and non-trivial machines), which I address in my reply to the following question.
This is a popular corollary of Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I was once asked about Clarke’s Third during an interview for Disinformation, and so I repeat my reply here.
I suppose that depends on what kind of magic we are talking about. There is something people who do magic do that is its own thing, its own activity. It has its own jargon, its own laws (although not everyone who does it shares the same ones), its own culture. And in many ways it has not changed much for hundreds of years. Look at how much transportation and communication have evolved in the last century, but today the same person who flies across the world or talks to people on the other side of it through a computer network, still goes out into the wilderness, gets naked or puts on a robe, lights a fire and incense, and sings and dances their intentions to old gods. Which is not to say magic has not advanced at all or there are not people doing things other than what I have just described, but that magic in this sense is its own thing. And while some people might see it as primitive, it is not merely a primitivism. It interacts with technology, and in a sense it is itself technology—an application of knowledge—but it is not defined by being technology we do not yet understand. It might be that or it might not, but either way it is more than that.
Magic has always been associated with extraordinary abilities and hidden powers. There was a time when we had no technology for flying across the world, but we fancied magic carpets and witches’ brooms, and we dreamed of flying. And today it is still magical to dream of flying. The fantasy of lifting myself into the air by conscious intention alone, no machine, continues to be very different from the reality of air travel. Wizards do not suffer layovers in Chicago. But also, the experience of flying on an airplane can be extraordinary, and it is something our ancestors could only have dreamed of. We get to actually do it.
Modern technology is largely about trivialization. Complex problems are analyzed and broken down into smaller problems to be solved algorithmically. We seek efficiencies; we look to automate processes. We want to reduce the amount of time and effort between intention and manifestation. I do not want to walk across the room to change the channel on my television set, so I build a “magic wand” that lets me do it while continuing to sit in my chair. That is sorcerous in a sense, right? The model sorcerer is someone who can just think something and it happens like snapping your fingers. So it is interesting to me that the tools and techniques of actual magic are so often non-trivial—to the point of appearing absurd to someone who doesn’t practice. Look at how much work is involved in Solomonic evocation: the deliberate preparation and attention to detail; the cultivation of sacredness. But now some ideas about technology are influencing magic. Most modern books on evocation strip out much of the older stuff not because it is become irrelevant due to religious changes, but because it is inefficient! It takes too long. I use a Tarot app on my phone because it is more convenient than a physical deck of cards. But success with evocation or divination still requires special states of consciousness and modes of interaction that I think continue to differentiate magical activity from any other technology. So my interest is in designing human-computer interactions that involve those states and modes.
That is a statement, not a question, but I will allow it. My response is: I know—sometimes.
It is possible for a program to be functional without being optimal (see spaghetti code). Sometimes, program optimization requires more abstraction than I like to use when working with novices, and sometimes I just do not care to optimize a program that functions well enough as it is. In many instances, the example programs in Technomancy 101 are also not very well encapsulated, for the same reasons. I tried to strike a good balance between writing smart and efficient programs and writing programs that novices would be able to understand, but I am certainly not infallible. If you can think of a better way to do something than I have done here, please do it better! Just don’t tell me about it; I abhor criticism. Just kidding; I would love for you to share what you come up with.