What Is Technomancy?

I etch a pattern of geometric shapes onto a stone. To the uninitiated, the shapes look mysterious and complex, but I know that when arranged correctly they will give the stone a special power, enabling it to respond to incantations in a language no human being has ever spoken. I will ask the stone questions in this language, and it will answer by showing me a vision: a world created by my spell, a world imagined within the pattern on the stone.
—W. Daniel Hillis, The Pattern on the Stone:
The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work

The word technomancy is a neologism constructed from techno- (Greek τέχνη, tékhnē, “skill, art, craft”), meaning “relating to technology,” and -mancy (Greek μαντεία, manteía, “divination”), denoting “a form of divination” (Wiktionary). Like necromancy, however, technomancy connotes more than divining with technology. It could mean technology so advanced it is indistinguishable from magic (à la Clarke’s Third Law), e.g., the Technomages of Babylon 5 and the Technomancers of Mage: The Ascension. Or it could mean a magic-like ability to control technology, as with the technomancers of Shadowrun. Or it could mean a weird combination of magic and technology, such as in GURPS: Technomancer, and the Cybermages of Nightbane.

Technomancers can be found in many science-fiction and fantasy games such as Starfinder [3PC]
Adeptus Mechanicus Adept
Adeptus Mechanicus Adept from Warhammer 40,000 [3PC (source)]

For the purposes of Technomancy 101, technomancy means performing acts of magic with modern technology, and people who practice technomancy are called technomancers. This is akin to technopaganism, although pagan has religious connotations in addition to magical ones (many pagans practice magic as part of their religion or spirituality). By magic I mean the stuff that sorcerers, wizards, and witches get up to; not legerdemain (but see below, s.v. “Sleight of Mind”). Although there are many modern technologies whose use in the magical arts may qualify as technomancy, Technomancy 101 focuses on computers and computational media because they are often implied in popular usage of the the word technomancy and related words such as technoshamanism, techgnosis, and technoetic; and because the computer is such a wonderfully versatile medium with which to explore the coniunctio of magic and machine.

As computers are the primary technology through which I shall demonstrate technomancy, I could also call this cybermagic, hence the subtitle of Technomancy 101: “Advanced Cybermagic for Beginners” (which is also a nod to Alan Chapman’s Advanced Magick for Beginners). The cyber- prefix is “used to form words relating to the Internet or cyberspace, or to computers more generally” (Wiktionary).1 Some people have trouble seeing any connection between magic and computers; others see different connections than I; so I shall begin by clarifying what I mean by the words magic and computer.


Deep underground where no light dared to come, beneath my pyramid, I stood in Hell, a mortal man, between Belial and Satan, and still before my audience entranced with stark, cold fear; I cured or struck with sickness, death, or made insane my foes.
—Black Widow, “In Ancient Days”

The Magician
“The way of the magician is the manifestation of spirit within matter, and his primary technique is gnosis, the focusing of consciousness by physiological means.” —Peter J. Carroll [3PC]

Magic is a frequently controversial subject that means (sometimes radically) different things to different people. Unsurprisingly, there are many definitions of magic, from people who practice it, who study it, or who trivialize or demonize it. Attempts to very rigidly define it tend to reduce its complexity2 so much as to exclude examples of how magic is actually practiced here or there in the world.3 There is also a sense in which magical potential (from potens, “able, potent, mighty, strong, powerful”) is entangled with wonder, and may be diminished by explaining or demonstrating magic too plainly.

My intention here is to communicate a basic idea of magic that is complementary to technology in a way that renders technomancy plausible, and to that end the definition I find most appropriate comes from Jesper Sørensen’s A Cognitive Theory of Magic: “Magic is about changing the state or essence of persons, objects, acts and events through certain special and non-trivial kinds of actions with opaque causal mediation.”4 Allow me to unpack that a bit.

changing the state or essence of persons, objects, acts and events

Magic is always about change, whether that be transformation in the magician herself or of something in her world. The difference between essence and state is debatable but generally goes something like this: I am the same person, i.e., my essential character remains, whether I am standing or sitting or sleeping, which are states I can be in (cf. Aristotle’s substance). ‘Persons, objects, acts and events’ covers many nouns, to which we might add ‘places’, e.g., sacred or ritual spaces. There could be more things that are appropriate, but the gist is that magic changes things.

through certain special and non-trivial kinds of actions

Sørensen’s definition emphasizes action: magic is something people do. A desired or needed change shapes the intention (see also purpose, goal) that the magical act is about, and the intention in turn shapes the action. Pick an intention, any intention: consider there are usually many ways to go about realizing it, but there are always many more ways not to get on with it (if your intention is to eat a sandwich, there are many ways to do that but there are always many more ways not to eat a sandwich than there are to eat one). The same is true of magic: the intent of a magical act shapes how it is performed and what or whom it is performed with. The selection of an appropriate and efficacious act of magic from the variety of possible acts is usually governed by a combination of tradition, intuition, and ingenuity, with some magicians favoring strict adherence to magical “laws,” and others preferring a looser creativity.

Like many activities, magic is often done with physical objects such as ritual tools and paraphernalia and other materials. Even the most so-called primitive rituals are a kind of technology (i.e., applied knowledge, and often technical knowledge, whether esoteric or otherwise), and some modern magicians have mapped magical activities onto new technologies such as digital media. Although technomancy as presented here involves computers, I would not describe it as being chiefly concerned with information technology, for while that may be true for some applications or at some levels of analysis, the technomancer is not primarily interested in using computers for data processing per se but rather for performing magical (often ritual) activities. In this way, the technomancer is more like a computer, digital, or electronic artist than a computer scientist or electronics engineer.

Materia magica [3PC]

John Michael Greer said, “[…] although there is more to magic than ritual, the art of ritual makes up the heart of magical technique in nearly all the world’s traditions. We can define ritual as symbolic action5 (his emphasis).6 The idea that ritual is primarily symbolic has been rightfully challenged; however, in semiotics,7 a symbol is a particular type of sign, and while not all magical signs are symbols, most acts of ritual magic involve signs, and in many cases are themselves indirect in quite the same way a sign is. Consider the trite but true voodoo doll: it is a representation of the magical activity’s intended recipient, and not the recipient itself, but the act of manipulating the doll is not merely symbolic; it is intended to have an actual effect on whatsoever the doll represents.

with opaque causal mediation

While magic has been called a “science” and an “art,”8 this bit gets at why magic is occult and not exactly science or art or any other discipline. The metaphysical, paranormal, supernatural, or spiritual forces that seem to mediate between an act of magic and its effect remain open to esoteric investigation but closed, or at least elusive, to materialistic analysis.

Magic is often distinguished from other paranormal activity by involving ritual or ceremony. There is undoubtedly a psychological dimension to ritual, and many people today see magic as being primarily a way of communicating with the unconscious mind, a.k.a. the “deep”9 or “cthonic”10 mind.11 Two modern-day magicians, Isaac Bonewits and Peter Carroll, have both written about the equivalence of magic and psi (“the unknown factor in extrasensory perception and psychokinesis experiences that is not explained by known physical or biological mechanisms”—Wikipedia), and both see the ritual of magic as a means of transitioning the magician into an altered or extraordinary state of consciousness.

What happens when a magician […] "does magic," is that the magician's state of consciousness is altered. Sometimes this is done through dancing or chanting or singing, sometimes through the use of herbal potions, and sometimes through meditation or other methods. Most commonly, the magician creates a multimedia psychodrama, which is a sort of theatrical performance using sounds, sights and smells designed to create a certain mood within the magician (and any onlookers) and to focus attention on the target and goal […] of the ceremony. […] The wands, staves, chalices, rings, plates, swords, daggers, sickles, divining rods, gazing crystals, candles, robes, funny hats, gestures, written words, geometric designs, etc., are props, costumes, cues, and scenery designed to help the magician get into and properly tune a desired state of consciousness. (Emphases in original.)12

Some would limit the efficacy of magic to psychological or (by extension) sociological effects, however I am not so quick to constrain the weirdness of sorcery (perhaps I am just dissatisfied with where the boundary of the mind is ordinarily drawn). My own experiences and experiments have been too “crowded with unlikely incident.” As I see it, the magician’s sense of agency, her beliefs, desires, and intentions, her actions, the things she interacts with, and the mysterious powers or relations those things possess or represent, all together comprise a network of occult agency the fundamental mechanics of which we may never fully comprehend (conflating them with quantum mechanics does not satisfy). But just as you can do things with a computer without complete knowledge of how computers work, we seem to be able to do magic without necessarily knowing how it functions in the final analysis.

The fruits of magic, then, are “contriv’d by art,” and they bear the duplicity of all things contrived and artificial: on the one hand, they are deliberately created according to a plan, often ingeniously or artfully devised, rather than occurring naturally or spontaneously;13 on the other hand, they may be viewed as forced, faked, or fraudulent.

Enter the world of the digital computer.


When asked to draw a computer, most people will draw the same elements: screen, keyboard, and mouse. When we think “computer,” this is the image that comes to mind. In order to fully explore the possibilities of computing, you have to get away from that stereotype of computers. You have to think about computing rather than computers.
—Dan O’Sullivan and Tom Igoe, Physical Computing:
Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers

If you ever code something that “feels like a hack but it works,” just remember that a CPU is literally a rock that we tricked into thinking. Not to oversimplify: first you have to flatten the rock and put lightning inside it.
—Ben Driscoll (@daisyowl), Twitter

Although people commonly use computers for a variety of non-arithmetical activities, it is not uncommon to conflate computation with calculation, but as Margaret Boden pointed out, “It is essential to realize that a computer is not a mere ‘number cruncher’, or supercalculating arithmetic machine […] Computers do not crunch numbers; they manipulate symbols.”14 Compare that to the Greer quote, above, and also this from cybernetician-cum-magician Heinz von Foerster:

Harmlessly enough, computing (from com-putare) literally means to reflect, to contemplate (putare) things in concert (com), without any explicit reference to numerical quantities. Indeed, I shall use this term in its most general sense to indicate any operation (not necessarily numerical) that transforms, modifies, rearranges, orders, and so on, observed physical entities ("objects") or their representations ("symbols"). For instance, the simple permutation of the three letters A, B, C, in which the last letter now goes first—C, A, B—I shall call a computation; similarly the operation that obliterates the commas between the letters—CAB—and likewise the semantic transformation that changes CAB into taxi, and so on.15

Like magic, computers transform things. Most people are familiar with personal computers or workstations, but iPhones and Android phones and tablets are also computers, as are video game consoles, and many modern appliances (including televisions, video recorders, MP3 players, alarm clocks, microwave ovens, and “smart” appliances such as washing machines that automatically adjust wash cycles to load sizes) have computers embedded in them, as do many cars, airplanes, automated teller machines (ATMs), lighted display signs, and robots, to name a few non-appliances. Special-purpose computers such as microcontrollers and programmable logic controllers are used to control manufacturing equipment, traffic lights, home and office automation and security systems, and other things that do not require a general-purpose computer. Indeed so many things today are computerized that they are getting an internet of their own.

Continuing to emphasize action, we can think of computers as actors following a script (program) intended to coordinate a series of inter-actions. To coordinate means to synchronize or match things; computers match inputs to appropriate outputs, thus producing useful or meaningful interactions. We can observe this in all the above examples. The ATM‘s computer matches button presses on the machine’s keypad to text on the machine’s screen or mechanical movements that dispense cash or return the user’s ATM card. An aircraft’s autopilot matches data about the aircraft’s speed, position, and rotation, to changes in the flight control system guiding the aircraft. As with magical activity, the intention shapes the interaction, informing which inputs, outputs, and relationships between inputs and outputs are fit to actualize the intent.

We can frame input and output as sensing and acting (what Joseph Decken called the “sensation/action paradigm” of computing16), such as with robotics and physical computing, which emphasize greater interaction with the physical world. In order to make a computer responsive to changes in light, sound, movement, temperature, &c., we must make it sensitive to these phenomena, which we do by converting (transducing) their energy into electrical signals the computer can “understand” (such as via analog-to-digital conversion). This is exactly what sensors do. Actuators, on the other hand, convert electrical signals from the computer to other forms of energy: light, sound, movement, heat, &c.17

Human-computer interaction as symbol manipulation
The usual way that humans interact with computers via keyboards and monitors is informed by a cognitivist model of HCI. Artificial and virtual reality pioneers such as Myron Krueger and Jaron Lanier sought emancipation from the harsh constraints of this kind of computing by involving more of the body and the space in which the body is situated, and embracing a more embodied cognition.
What a human might looks like to a computer based on inputs and outputs we share with it
Dan O’Sullivan and Tom Igoe have suggested that if a computer could see what humans look like based on what inputs and outputs we share with it, we might look like this homonculus (Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the World with Computers, Thomson, 2004, p. xix; cf. the cortical homonculus). O’Sullivan and Igoe have recently pioneered the physical computing movement, which has antecedents in Krueger’s work with artificial realities. [3PC]

Computers facilitate a wide range of activities, from word processing or editing photos, to running scientific simulations or playing video games, to automating tasks or managing communication networks, to virtual reality or artificial intelligence. Any of these may be related to magic, but for me, technomancy is more than using word processing software to write a spell, a paint program to draw a sigil, or a chat application to plan a ritual. The computer is not just a tool, but a medium,18 and what most distinguishes computers from other media is interactivity.19 Computers can be programmed to respond to the push of a button, the utterance of a word, the enactment of a gesture, a change in the weather, &c. Technomancers learn how to program computers because programming is what makes computers and computational media responsive and interactive.

“Ordinary mortals do not understand. You hold the power to create worlds… alternate dimensions… LIFE.” (recruitment advertisement by Sierra Entertainment) [3PC]

Technomancy 101 focuses primarily on interaction, but other aspects of computing also present:

  • Calculation — Although many computer applications require advanced mathematics, there is much you can do with very little math. However, the idea of calculation as “a deliberate process that transforms one or more inputs into one or more results, with variable change” (Wikipedia) is fundamental to nearly everything a computer does, and is involved in one way or another with every Technomancy 101 project.
  • Animation — (From Latin animāre, “to bring to life,” derived from anima/animus, “soul,” cognate with Greek ánemos [ἄνεμος], “wind.”) In order for there to be an interaction, the computer must react in some perceptible way, and moving images are often the response. Locomotion (movement from one place to another) is only one kind of change that may be animated. Aristotle recognized several additional kinds of motion (kínēsis [κίνησις]), including generation, destruction, increase, decrease or diminution, and alteration. We may extend such movements to audio &c.; a change of sound, e.g., can also bring a computer program to life.
  • Automation — There are two aspects of automation: automatic activity (from Greek autómatos [αὐτόματος], “self-moving”), i.e, performing a programmed sequence of actions; and autonomy (from autónomos [αὐτόνομος], “self-governing”), i.e., acting without human assistance or intervention. Automation is sort of the opposite of interaction with respect to the magician as inter-actor. However, examples of automation are plentiful in traditional magics: spells that work “automagically” upon being spoken; talismans, dressed candles, and prayer wheels; and servitors that operate more or less autonomously on the conjurer’s behalf.
  • Representation — Much like a painting represents a person, landscape, or bowl of fruit, computer applications represent actions; e.g., Microsoft Word represents creating or modifying a document, Photoshop represents many ways to alter a photograph, and Grand Theft Auto represents many ways to commit felonies.20 Such representations are not necessarily simulations, although they can be. You may paint things that do not exist in the “real world,” and Photoshop can do things with digital images that would be (actually or effectively) impossible in a physical editing room. In the same way that Photoshop represents altering a photo and, by using Photoshop, you are actually editing a photo, so, too, do technomantic designs represent occult actions and, by enacting them, you are actually casting the spell, reading the signs, &c.21 Beyond mimesis, art and computers may express a feeling or idea, which is arguably representative of that feeling or idea within the mind of the artist or engineer, but the artifact can assume a kind of agency of its own: an ability to affect.

High Tech, Low Magic

Some folks may disdainfully call this approach “low magick.” However, if you compare magick to computer technology, it’s the low-level coding that is the closest to the source. The higher you get, the more you are moving away from the source, altering the language to suit other purposes.
—Laura Tempest Zakroff, Sigil Witchery: A Witch’s Guide to Crafting Magick Symbols

Sorcery, as defined by Phil Hine, “(also known as Results Magic, or Spell-casting) is generally understood as the use of magical techniques and perspectives to bring about a change in one’s material environment.”22 One could debate Hine’s use of ‘material’ in this context, but nonetheless sorcery is typically performed to bring about some change in the world that should be plainly observable and is usually practical or pragmatic. Typical sorcerous acts include healing, cursing, binding, attracting love or wealth, and obtaining information about future events or things hidden. Like witchcraft, sorcery has often been conflated or identified with maleficium, but magic is like technology in that it is neither inherently good nor evil but to what ends it is practiced makes it so.

Sorcery is also often associated with so-called low magic vs. high; cf. thaumaturgy vs. theurgy, natural or image magic vs. ceremonial magic, operative vs. ritual witchcraft, &c. Different people may mean different things by these distinctions, but usually some difference between spiritual and practical or material aims is meant. In my experience binary contrasts do not withstand analysis in most cases, and even the most “down-to-earth” thaumaturgy may involve something of the numinious. Historically meaning “of or relating to a numen” (OED)—i.e., divinity or divine will, or a presiding spiritual power or tutelary spirit (from numen inest: “there is a spirit here”; cf. genius loci)—numinious has evolved to mean also, “giving rise to a sense of the spiritually transcendent; (esp. of things in art or the natural world) evoking a heightened sense of the mystical or sublime; awe-inspiring” (OED). The numinous is a sense of the presence of Other(ness): the strange powers and personalities populating the daimonic reality that ordinarily goes unnoticed by most people (if for no other reason than to be persistently consciously situated among numina would be tantamount to madness). Even magical rituals that do not call on particular numina may involve altered states of consciousness such as ecstasy, a sense of the sacred, or even just a feeling of wonder or delight (see religious experience), and there are countless examples of sorcery having attendant numina, such as when a sorcerer aligns herself with higher or alien powers (toward apotheosis or transmogrification) in order to reap the material or practical benefits of so doing, or when a shaman journeys to the spirit world to retrieve medicine for a sick person, or when a coven of witches invokes their deity to assist them in the casting of their spell.

If numina are where magic and religion overlap, then sorcery is where magic and technology overlap. As an introduction to doing magic with computers, Technomancy 101 focuses on sorcery, and the projects are organized by the following categories (not intended as the definitive taxonomy of magic, but simply a convenient way to organize the projects), symbolized by the five classical elements and their corresponding instruments:

  • Enchantment (Fire, Wand) — eliciting intentional change in the world via occult means
  • Divination (Water, Cup) — acquiring knowledge or making decisions via occult means
  • Evocation (Air, Sword) — calling forth entities for divination or enchantment
  • Invocation (Earth, Pentacle) — calling in entities for divination or enchantment
  • Illumination (Æther, Lamp) — eliciting changes to the magician herself

High Tech Low Magic

Way of the Tinkerer-Sorcerer

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.
—Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Any sufficiently advanced work is indistinguishable from play.
—Seb Paquet (@sebpaquet), Twitter

Like most things, magic and computers both require effort to become adept at them, but no one need already be an expert in either in order to begin down the path of technomancy, and even adepts would do well to keep what we call in Zen, “beginner’s mind.” The word tinker originally denoted an itinerant person who labored at tinsmithing and simple metalworking such as mending household tools and utensils. It evolved to connote (sometimes pejoratively) unskilled labor, but as a verb tinker has also come to mean the activity of people (tinkerers) who repair or invent mechanical devices. Such people often pick up tinkering as a hobby, motivated by their inquisitiveness about machines.

Massimo Banzi, one of the inventors of Arduino, said this is the best definition of tinkering he has ever found:

Tinkering is what happens when you try something you don't quite know how to do, guided by whim, imagination, and curiosity. When you tinker, there are no instructions—but there are also no failures, no right or wrong ways of doing things. It's about figuring out how things work and reworking them. Contraptions, machines, wildly mismatched objects working in harmony—this is the stuff of tinkering. Tinkering is, at its most basic, a process that marries play and inquiry.23

Technomancy is similar to alchemy in combining magic and technology. Just as an alchemist must know her way around a laboratory, must know enough physical science, especially chemistry, to do the physical part of her Work, the technomancer must know enough computer science to interact effectively with computers and design effective magician-computer interactions. But also, just as a neophyte alchemist need not a physics degree before she can begin distillatio, the novice technomancer may start out with simple things that do not require a high degree of education in order to begin working with them.

Some people are born into magic, but many of us practice because, allured by its mysteries and wonders, we dared to try some spell or evocation, and lo! it worked—or something happened to make us want to do it again. It was an experiment, albeit informally, and the very notion of experiment implies uncertainty and demands that some things not be known already but rather discovered through the process of doing the work. Computers are new media, and technomancy is new territory. Much of it today remains terra incognita, and the technological landscape is shifting rapidly. Learn what you can from Technomancy 101, but inspiration will serve you better than imitation. Feel free to copy, riff off, remix, hack, improve, or otherwise do as you wish with any of the projects given in these pages.

Sleight of Mind

The great Oz has spoken! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
—The Wizard of Oz

We call magic whatever is done by man, by which sense and spirit follow by its action in all their parts, or by which marvelous things are done so that the senses are led by them, contemplating and marveling. (That is, magic can either bind the human mind and spirit by its own subtle power, or the magician can make the appearance of something wonderful and use that appearance to catch and guide the mind.)
—John Michael Greer & Christopher Warnock (Trans.), The Picatrix

Instead of deducing that we are ‘nothing but’ machines, let us increase the mechanical world to embrace mystery. […] If I create a machine that can full-bloodedly suffer the agonies of falling in love, then I have done something wonderful: I have revealed ‘soul’ in the motions of matter. If consciousness is totally the byproduct of chemical reactions, then the rudiments of consciousness lie all about us: I can once more say that a flower turns towards the sun because it ‘loves’ the sun. The universe is now a living being. If, however, someone else chooses to take the same evidence to prove instead that love is ‘nothing but a chemical reaction’, then I feel sorry for that person in his smaller world.
—Ramsey Dukes, Words Made Flesh: Virtuality, Humanity, and the Cosmos

The phrase “sleight of mind” is sometimes used in the occult to denote practices that prevent the magician from thinking consciously about the object of her desire while performing acts of magic.24 In technomancy it has a similar but even more idiosyncratic denotation: it means allowing yourself to be carried away by an interaction without thinking about the “real” nuts and bolts of it. The maker of SIBOR, e.g., knows on some level that when SIBOR nods or shakes its head, what is “really” happening is that a computer program is changing the Cartesian coordinates of a digital image displayed on the screen. The motion is an illusion of sorts, and more so is the intentionality the motion suggests. She also knows the Vital Energy Accumulator that charges SIBOR with ætheric energy is “really” just a bit of metal attached to a USB dongle that transmits a “space bar” key sequence to a computer whenever said metal is touched.

The technomancer-as-tinkerer must know such things, but—cleverness or elegance of design aside—they are usually more trivializing than enchanting as they reduce the system being interacted with to “just a machine” (this is really no different from seeing a magic wand as “just a stick,” a sigil as “just a doodle,” &c.). The technomancer-as-sorcerer must allow herself to be charmed by the illusion; must be open to and stay with what is apparent to her senses and what she feels about that. To this end, it helps to engineer the interaction to go smoothly and not break down lest it become present-at-hand. This often requires an iterative design process that involves testing the interaction many times and making adjustments to make it more fluid and robust before it is enacted “for real.” This is especially important for group interactions. Participants other than the person who engineered the interaction may be more easily enchanted by it, but they may also more easily become disenchanted by a break in the flow.

  1. Many people know that cyber comes from cybernetics, but not many people know that cybernetics does not necessarily have anything to do with computers. For more about cybernetics proper, I refer you to Paul Pangaros’s excellent introduction to the subject. It should also be noted that my use of the word cybermagic differs appreciably from Frater U∴D∴’s so-called models (or paradigms) of magic (see High Magic: Theory & Practice).
  2. By which I mean the complexity of its manifold forms. Many of the fundamental techniques of magic are quite simple—so simple, indeed, that they may require years of training to strip away the unnecessary complexity that obfuscates them.
  3. See Michael D. Bailey, “The Meanings of Magic,” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, Vol. 1, No. 1, Summer 2006, pp. 1–23.
  4. Jesper Sørensen, A Cognitive Theory of Magic (AltaMira Press, 2006) 32.
  5. John Michael Greer, Circles of Power: Ritual Magic in the Western Tradition (Llewellyn, 1997) 3.
  6. On the subject of ritual magic apropos of technomancy, see “Ritual as Algorithm.”
  7. For an introduction to semiotics, see David Chandler’s excellent Semiotics: The Basics, much of which is available to read online as Semiotics for Beginners. There have been many articles written about semiotics and magic or ritual, and a few books including Sørensen’ (ibid.) and Naomi Janowitz’s Icons of Power: Ritual Practices in Late Antiquity.
  8. E.g., Aleister Crowley’s famous definition: “Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will” —”Magick in Theory and Practice,” Liber ABA, Book IV. Indeed, Alan Moore has gone so far as to conflate magic and art, and Peter Carroll has proposed that science is a really a subset of magic.
  9. Paul Huson, Mastering Witchcraft.
  10. J. Finley Hurley, Sorcery.
  11. N.b., this is not a universally accepted idea, particularly among neo-animists or those who just reject Freud’s model of the unconscious mind. However, there are other ideas about the unconscious mind, from Jung to N. Katherine Hayles’ Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious.
  12. Issac Bonewits, Authentic Thaumaturgy (Second Ed., Steve Jackson Games, 1998) 19, 21. Cf.: “It is here to be particularly noticed by us, that, in forming of a charm, or amulet; it will be of no effect except the very soul of the operator is strongly and intensely exerted and impressed, as it were, and the image of the idea sealed on the charm, or amulet; for, without this, in vain will be all the observation of times, hours, and constellations; this I have thought to mention, once for all, that it may be almost always uppermost in the mind of the operator, for, without this one thing being observed and noticed, many who form seals, &c., do fall short of the wished-for effect.” Francis Barrett, The Magus, 1801.
  13. “Often synchronicity comes to us unbidden, but magic is about taking an active role in the process and creating synchronicity.” Vivianne Crowley, Everyday Magic: Discover Your Natural Powers of Intuition (Penguin, 2004).
  14. Margaret A. Boden, Artificial Intelligence and Natural Man (Basic Books, 1977) 15.
  15. Heinz von Foerster, “On Constructing a Reality,” in Understanding Understanding: Essays on Cybernetics and Cognition (Springer, 2003) 216.
  16. “[…] a framework of dynamic contact with the environment, and internal feedback processes, in which a brain, whether human, animal, or silicon ‘wakes up’.”—Joseph Decken, The Electronic Cottage (Bantam, 1983) 95.
  17. The word actuator has often denoted a motor, but it is increasingly said in the context of physical computing and interaction design to mean the “output” side of an interaction even if that does not involve motion in the typical sense.
  18. Brenda Laurel, Computers as Theatre.
  19. Myron Krueger, “What Should You Wear to an Artificial Reality?”
  20. The idea that computers represent action is proposed and examined in Brenda Laurel’s book, Computers as Theatre.
  21. A greater discussion deserves to be had, regarding virtuality, actuality, magic, and computers. A voodoo doll, e.g., is virtually the thing it represents, but the act of manipulating the doll is intended to have an actual effect on that thing. The doll is a kind of model, and we can model many things in computer software, including dolls. The act of manipulating a material doll is quite physical and embodied. What happens to that interaction if you replace the doll with a simulation of a doll? What if you replace the act of manipulating the doll with an automated simulation of manipulation—would the magic still be effective? Is any expression of intention enough, or must something more be conserved across waxing abstraction? Can a representation become too abstract to be magically efficacious?
  22. The word sorcery derives from sorcerer, from the Latin sors: lot, share, fortune, condition, &c. The word’s evolution suggests the sorcerer as someone having an uncanny ability to alter or determine fate and fortune (cf. wyrd). Historically, sorcery is not “usually restricted to those operations which rely upon the use of material bases,” as it is sometimes employed today (see e.g. Andrew D. Chumbley, Opuscula Magica Vol. 2, Three Hands Press, 2011, p. 57; cf. Peter J. Carroll, Liber Null & Psychonaut, Weiser, 1987, p. 61). Another modern use I sometimes see is denotation of working with spirits (bewitchment, fascination, &c., and communication with or exorcism of spirits, are often found together throughout history). Chumbley conflates the word ensorcel with encircle (op. cit.), but they are derived from French words having different etymologies: ensorcelersorcier → Latin sors (sort, lot, fate, &c.) → Proto-Indo-European ser- ‎(“to bind”); and encerclercercle → Latin circulus (circle, orbit, &c.) → Greek kírkos (“circle, ring”). However, those earliest roots are connected by the idea of binding a thing by encircling it (the circle is the fundamental mark that distinguishes a thing from the Void and brings it into being—see George Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form as explained in Yair Neuman’s Processes and Boundaries of the Mind: Extending the Limit Line, Kluwer Academic, 2003, chapter 12), and of sorting fate or fortune by fixing it, and Chumbley’s definition of sorcery as “a means of control and influence within the manipulative procedures of Magickal Power […] [embodying] the technique of ‘Binding’ as the means of controlling Magical Forces” is cognate with my usage in the present work which may be correctly viewed as binding magical “forces” to computational media. Sorcery as magic with spirits, and as magic with materials, are also appropriate.
  23. Quoted in Massimo Banzi, Getting Started with Arduino (Make, 2008) vi–vii.
  24. So far as I know, the phrase in this context was coined by Peter Carroll in Liber Kaos, but the essence and importance of the technique were inherited from Austin Spare.