Posts Tagged ‘Metaphors’

3 Tips for Picking Good Terms

Monday, June 10th, 2013

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If you develop your own system of magick, you’ll need to pick your own terms. Especially if you want to share your system with other people. I’m no expert at picking terms, but I’ve done it a few times, and I have a few tips.

(Just want the tips? Skip to the bullets at the bottom.)

I think in words. My first terms were for myself, so I could take notes and remember my techniques. I’d notice that mages channel forces, and I’d give those forces a name, not for anyone else, but just for myself.

At first, the names won’t matter. Sure, you can hinder yourself with a bad name, like calling the force you channel, “The Universe,” then feeling awed and never thinking to ask how it operates or if you can reprogram it. Or you might pick a metaphor, like “talking to cells,” that glosses over much of the complexity involved in magick, and never think to ask how your intent turns into the chemicals that cells understand.

But as long as you choose empty, non-curiosity-squelching names and metaphors, you can’t go too wrong if you’re just writing for yourself.

When I started writing for other people, though, terms became important. Bad terms mislead readers with a connotation, or confused readers by being too empty, by not evoking the metaphor enough. A reader might think a term corresponds to a concept they already know, not realizing you intended an entirely different metaphor

A few examples:

What I now call “ethereal software,” I used to call “systems.” Everyone confused “systems you channel” with “systems of magick.” It was bad.

What I now call “ethereal muscles” (yes, I’m making that renaming official), I originally called “mental areas.” It was too empty, readers had to simply memorize the meaning, and I constantly had to re-define it each post for fear that no one remembered the term.

I briefly called them “magick muscles,” which makes sense if you know the metaphor, but sounds gimmicky if you don’t.

Then I went to “mental muscles,” which evoked other mental functions like reasoning and willpower. Readers thought they knew what I meant, but really, the words conjured up the wrong concepts in listeners. (Also, every time I’d talk about non-mages having atrophied mental muscles, I’d have to make clear I was just talking about magick, not about those other mental abilities.)

I’m no expert at picking names, but I’ve done it several times now. So, a few tips for anyone building their own system:

  • Metaphors are good. “Mental muscles” is better than “mental areas,” “ethereal software” is better than “systems.” I start with the metaphor (muscles, software), and let the terms come from there.
  • If you have to clarify your metaphor in beginner material, you have a bad metaphor. When I say that “Non-mages have atrophied mental muscles,” then need to clarify that I don’t mean reasoning and willpower, that’s a sign that my metaphor doesn’t quite align to the term.
  • Repeated words are good. They make sentences seem natural. “Engage your ethereal muscles to talk to ethereal software” just sounds obvious. “Engage your mental muscles to talk to ethereal software” isn’t bad, but it isn’t obvious either. And obvious is good — it means your terms shape the listener’s thoughts to naturally realize what you want to teach them.
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Magick Without Metaphors

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

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Yvonne asks:

If “magick” itself is not working with “metaphors” and symbols, then what else is it?

There are two approaches to magick, broadly speaking.

One is to focus on sending your intent to your unconscious, and letting your unconscious work out the details. Since your unconscious works in symbol and metaphor, this style of magick will often work with symbols and metaphors, too.

The other is to focus on what your unconscious does after it gets those instructions — how does it actually cause change in the world — and work to make those processes conscious. This type of magick focuses on energies, connections, magickal structures, sending instructions to ethereal software, and lots of other things I talk about here.

I do the second type of magick. It involves essentially no symbols, and metaphors only come into play when I’m explaining it to other people, like how I consciously chose the terms “mental muscles” and “ethereal software” to conjure the right ideas in the listener. I already had the model based on directly working with those magickal structures, and only then decided what metaphor to use.

It’s hard to move from the first type to the second type. The first type trains you to focus on metaphors and goals, and to make yourself believe an idea it long enough for the magick to work. But this is disastrous for exploring what the unconscious actually does.

The difference is, when you’re just sending instructions to your unconscious, there’s no right answer. Whatever your unconscious responds to is right for you, and so you can pick basically any metaphor or symbol and it will work.

But when you’re talking about what the unconscious actually does to cause the changes in the world, there’s exactly one right answer. It actually does something, and your explanation is accurate in as much as it matches that things your mental muscles actually do.

If you pick a metaphor based on “how natural it sounds” rather than actual observations of how your mind is causing change, chances are the metaphor will be fairly far from what’s actually happening. You would have been better off starting with a blank slate and making observations.

The second half of this post — about how it’s hard to move from metaphors to implementation — was something I hadn’t realized before. I’ll probably come back to it later, but I’m curious to know your thoughts on it. Leave a comment below.

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