Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: psychology

Magic Use Elicits Strong Reactions

December 19, 2022

Pondering one of my book excerpts, Performing Miracles, led to some jotted-down thoughts:

  • Public use of magic elicits strong reactions from everyone.
  • Usually fear but sometimes awe.
  • First impressions are critical.
  • Must overcome—or confirm—initial doubt and anxiety.
  • Awe can be just as troublesome as fear.
  • Consequences either way.

(I frequently take notes in bullet-point format.)

Power of Reflection

November 20, 2022

Human nature is so formed that any power I may have to resist my animal desires—indeed what stops me from becoming a mere animal—derives from my capacity for thought and reflection. Venus was traditionally depicted holding a mirror, but not out of vanity as is nowadays supposed. The mirror was a symbol of the power of reflection to modify desire.

The god of reflection was the god of the great reflector in the sky—the moon. In all ancient cultures the moon regulated not only fertility but thought.

The Secret History of the World, pp. 95-96

Author’s emphasis.

Heroes Always Emerge In A Time Of Dying

October 26, 2022

Heroes always emerge in a time of dying—of self, of social sanctions, of society’s forms, of standard-brand religions, governments, economics, psychologies, and relationships. In answering the call of the eternal, they discover the courage to perform the first great task of the hero or heroine—to undergo all the gestations, growth, and trauma required for a new birth. This occurs so that they can then serve as midwife in the larger society for the continuum of births necessary to redeem both the time and the society in which they live and bring them to a higher level of functioning.

Thus, the second great task of the hero or heroine—as The Odyssey and many other myths show us—is to return to the world. Plato tells us that, after receiving illumination in the vast world of eternal realities, philosophers must go back into the cave of ordinary society. In just such a fashion, Jesus comes back from the desert. The Buddha returns from his ascetic meditations. And Odysseus returns, at last, from his voyage into the depth world. All are deeply changed; some are transformed. And they immediately begin teaching the lessons they have learned of palingenesia, of life renewed and deepened.

The Hero and the Goddess, p. 73

Author’s emphasis.

Tricking Monsters To Death

October 24, 2022

Another way to deal with monsters is to trick them to death. Almost any creature can be a mythic Trickster—an insect (grasshopper, spider, ant), a prey animal (rabbit, muskrat, mole), or even a small carnivore (lynx, fox, coyote, raven). All that’s required is that the creature display some trait or behavior that allows it to trick or confuse a predator (eye spots, crypsis and dynamic camouflage, autotomy, ingenious escape patterns, deftly hidden dens, the ability to misdirect predators by play-acting at being injured). By using these naturally occurring mimetic survival mechanisms, the mythic Trickster honors the life-sustaining cleverness of escape artists wherever they are found in nature.

Deadly Powers, p. 183

Author’s emphasis.

The Terrain Is Not an Obstacle

July 2, 2022
Sergeant Hazard:
From here on in, you guys are Charlie. Glide through this shit; you don’t clomp through it. Feel the terrain. Feel it, don’t fight it. This jungle is not an obstacle. It’s your friend. Use it. Let it help you. Love it. Love it, and it’ll love you back.

— “Gardens of Stone” (1987)

Monsters Are Both Real and Metaphorical

March 31, 2022

To modern sensibility the fact of a story’s being allegorical makes it less likely to be an accurate depiction of real events. Modern writers try to drain their texts of meaning, to flatten them out in order to make them more naturalistic.

To the ancients, who believed that every single thing that happens on earth is guided by the motions of the stars and planets, the more a narrative brought out these ‘poetic’ patterns, the truer and more realistic the text.

So, it may be tempting to view the journeys into the Underworld made by Hercules, Theseus, and Orpheus as mere metaphor. It is true that on one level their adventures represent the beginning of humanity’s coming to terms with the reality of death. But, as we try to imagine the adventures underground of Hercules, Theseus, and the others, we must not conceive of them as to be purely internal or mental journeys, such as we might contemplate today. When they battled with monsters and demons, they were confronting forces that infested their own beings, the corrupted human flesh, the dark labyrinth of the human brain. But they were also fighting real monsters of flesh and blood.

The Secret History of the World, p. 146

Cowardice, Sloth, and Mendacity

February 2, 2022
Thetis:
What a dangerous precedent! What if one day there were other heroes like him?
Hera:
What if courage and imagination were to become everyday mortal qualities? What would become of us?
Zeus:
We would no longer be needed. But for the moment there is sufficient cowardice, sloth, and mendacity down there on Earth to last forever.

— “Clash of the Titans” (1981)

Everyone Lies

February 2, 2022
Michael Garibaldi:
He’s lying. I can tell.
Jeffrey Sinclair:
Everyone lies, Michael. The innocent lie because they don’t want to be blamed for something they didn’t do, and guilty lie because they don’t have any other choice. Find out why he’s lying; the rest will take care of itself.

— “And the Sky Full of Stars” – Babylon 5, Season 1 (1994)

Warmth and Competence

September 18, 2021

What are the two things that are most important to know about a stranger? Or a group of strangers?

Social psychologists know. But so did the early authors of D&D.

The stereotype content model, elaborated by Susan Fiske and other social psychologists, describes how we organize beliefs about other people and social groups—traits and stereotypes. Over the past 20 years, dozens of studies have supported the idea that two key traits, warmth and competence, are major players in our attitudes and behaviors toward other groups.

Warmth is how cooperative the group appears to us. Competence is how strong—how able to do meaningful things—they look. So, jolly halflings might be seen as high in warmth but low in competence. Dour dwarves are the other way around, not very warm but very good at what they do. Kobolds, maybe, are low in both.

When two groups meet in an adventure, the rules of most early forms of D&D have them sizing up each other precisely on these two dimensions….

Morale and Reactions – Roles, Rules, & Rolls

A Wildly Unstable Environment

September 17, 2021

…[The] soldier’s view [on a battlefield] will also be much more complicated than the commander’s. The latter fights his battle in a comparatively stable environment—that of his headquarters, peopled by staff officers who will, because for efficiency’s sake they must, retain a rational calm; and he visualizes the events of and parties to the battle, again because for efficiency’s sake he must, in fairly abstract terms…. The soldier is vouchsafed no such well-ordered and clear-cut vision. Battle, for him, takes place in a wildly unstable physical and emotional environment; he may spend much of his time in combat as a mildly apprehensive spectator, granted, by some freak of events, a comparatively danger-free grandstand view of others fighting; then he may suddenly be able to see nothing but the clods on which he has flung himself for safety, there to crouch—he cannot anticipate—for minutes or for hours; he may feel in turn boredom, exultation, panic, anger, sorrow, bewilderment, even that sublime emotion we call courage….

John Keegan, The Face of Battle, p. 47

Emphasis mine.

The Odyssey Is a Grand Metaphor

March 6, 2019

[The Odyssey] is not a poem about then and there, but now and here. The poem describes the inner geography of those who hear it. Every aspect of it is grand metaphor. Odysseus is not sailing on the Mediterranean but through the fears and desires of a man’s life. The gods are not distant creators but elements within us: their careless pitilessness, their flaky and transient interests, their indifference, their casual selfishness, their deceit, their earth-shaking footfalls….

Adam Nicolson, Why Homer Matters, p. 8

Dragon as Amalgamated Uber-Predator

December 2, 2013

Let’s begin by looking at the most widespread and celebrated of all mythic monsters—the dragon. This creature, in one guise or another, appears in almost every mythology and has been the subject of many books and countless articles. Perhaps the most intriguing of these examinations is An Instinct for Dragons by anthropologist David E. Jones. Jones argues that the image of the dragon is composed of the salient body parts of three predator species that hunted and killed our tree-dwelling African primate ancestors for about sixty million years. The three predators are the leopard, the python, and the eagle.

Deadly Powers, pp. 162-63

Monsters Eat Humans

November 1, 2013

Regardless of their different sizes, features, and forms, monsters have one trait in common—they eat humans. Whatever else they may do for us psychologically, monsters express—and ex-press—our dread of being torn apart, eviscerated, chewed, swallowed, and then shit out. This shameful fate of those who are eaten is confronted in an African myth in which a giant predatory bird swallows the hero whole day after day and then excretes him. Myth after myth confronts the stark facts of being consumed by a larger creature, obsessively depicting in graphic detail what both monsters and animal predators naturally do—turn humans into excrement. The stories express “the most basic anxiety of every living being”: “being swallowed and eaten.” One sees this anxiety throughout world myth.

Deadly Powers, p. 158

Author’s emphasis.

In Personal Terms Rather Than in Abstractions

November 8, 2012

The Bronze Age was an era that preferred to put things in personal terms rather than in abstractions. Instead of justice, security, or any of the other issues that would be part of a war debate today, the Bronze Age tended to speak of family and friendship, crime and punishment. Near Eastern kings proclaim in their inscriptions that they fought to take vengeance on their enemies and on rebels; they fought those who boasted or who transgressed their path or who violated the king’s boundaries or raised their bows against royal allies; they fought to widen their borders and bring gifts to their loyal friends. A Hittite king says that his enemies attacked him when he came to the throne because they judged him young and weak—their mistake! Allies are royal vassals, obliged to have the same friends and enemies as the king.

Barry Strauss, The Trojan War: A New History, pp. 17-18

Psyche Was Not a Thing But a Process

August 30, 2012

For the ancient Greeks, psyche was not a thing but a process, a dynamic continuum and relationship among humans, gods, and nature. The Greek notion of psyche was one of radiating but personalized fields that cross-fertilized all structures of reality, making archetypes available to men, and making intimate the universal patterns found in nature and story alike. As Charles Hampden-Turner observes about the Greeks in his splendid book Maps of the Mind:

They walked with Truth [Apollo] and Beauty [Aphrodite] at their sides. They raced with daemons of excellence, the spirits of past athletes running beside them, urging them on. They travelled with Hermes, danced and drank with Dionysius, and sailed the seas under the guardianship of Poseidon. They fought for the rights of married women, children and the home with the tenacity of Hera and harvested the crops with Demeter beside them… The concept of psyche gave the Greeks their infinite love and delight in nature and an extraordinary courage in exploring it. Into every nook and cranny of the world the spirits of gods or heroes had already ventured. Men crossed the seas in the path of Odysseus, entered labyrinths of mind or nature wherein Theseus had already slain the Minotaur…

By perceiving psyche as a resonance phenomenon, a radiant field of living energies that include gods and cosmic principles, the building blocks of mind, myth, and nature, the human being has the capacity within his or her mind and body to become an instrument through which the world can be re-created and the soul of humankind can touch the creative Source of all becoming.

Jean Houston, The Hero and the Goddess, pp. 59-60

Polycentric, Polytheistic, Polyphrenic, and Polyocular

August 24, 2012

How different indeed was the psychological world of these Greeks from our own. We in the present day persist in looking for cause and effect and remain monotheistic (having one god or supreme principle), monophrenic (having one personality), and monocular (having one way of seeing) in our epistemology. We tend to think that everything can be known in a straightforward, linear fashion. All we need do is accumulate enough facts and look at them rationally and the truth—of which there is only one—will reveal itself….

But the Homerically-inspired Greek mind, which found its finest flowering in the Athens of Pericles, was polycentric (having many centers), polytheistic (having many gods), polyphrenic (having many selves), and polyocular (having many ways of seeing), conceiving of many different causes—all of which provided a rich weave of explanation. They viewed reality as a field of unity in diversity with the One, deriving its Oneness only from the interconnecting patterns of the many.

Jean Houston, The Hero and the Goddess, pp. 55-56

Quality and Resilience Determined Victory in Ancient Battles

April 21, 2012

Victory in ancient battle did not go to the ‘big battalions’, as the processes of combat were very different to the mutually devastating firepower duels of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [C.E.]. Fatalities from missile fire or mêlée seem to have been remarkably light until one force turned tail and exposed itself to one-sided slaughter. When victorious armies did suffer significant losses, these were usually concentrated in parts of their force that had given way before the eventual triumph. Hence, raw numbers were much less important than fighting spirit and a fearsome reputation, as good troops could stand firm even against great odds and could sometimes panic less-resolute adversaries into flight even before physical combat was joined. By far the most important variable in the model is troop quality, to reflect this psychological factor and also to show how good troops like Spartan hoplites and Roman legionaries could use their superiority in drill and discipline to achieve tactical advantage.

…Although combat did not involve heavy mutual fatalities, it does seem to have revolved around shorter-term attritional mechanisms such as wounds, exhaustion, psychological strain and ammunition depletion, so the distinction between fresh troops and those who have become ‘spent’ becomes a key means of tracking the progressive loss of resilience.

Philip Sabin, Lost Battles, pp. 221-22

The Appeal of Magic

October 1, 2011

The appeal of magic was twofold: it identified the cause of your troubles and it promised hope in even the most desperate situation. Magic was described by Malinowski as ritualized optimism. In the sense that it satisfied the participants, Egyptian magic worked. Protective magic presumably gave people the comfort of believing that they had taken all possible precautions. This may have made tragedies such as the death of a child a little easier to bear.

Geraldine Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt, p. 16

The Mythological Realm We Carry Within

September 30, 2011

The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images up into the mind—whether in dream, broad daylight, or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives. And they may remain unsuspected, or, on the other hand, some chance word, the smell of a landscape, the taste of a cup of tea, or the glance of an eye may touch a magic spring, and then dangerous messengers begin to appear in the brain. These are dangerous because they threaten the fabric of the security into which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self. Destruction of the world that we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful reconstruction, of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life—that is the lure, the promise and terror, of these disturbing night visitants from the mythological realm that we carry within.

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 8

Control of Attention Is the First Skill of a Magician

September 28, 2011

Attention is selectivity applied to perception. It is an inward decision, usually made unconsciously, about what is worth perceiving and what isn’t. Attention both finds meaning and creates meaning. When we adopt the principle of “separate the subtle from the gross,” we are deciding on purpose where we want our attention to go, temporarily withholding it from what is obvious and bestowing it instead on what is inconspicuous and elusive.

In the world of spirit, attention is the equivalent of physical movement. It carries us toward the knowledge and acquaintances we seek and away from influences that we have determined to be harmful or useless. If you can’t control your attention, you can’t move properly, can’t get where you want to go when you want to go there. To the extent that you allow your attention to be jerked around by whatever happens to be manifesting most insistently, you look to other spiritual beings like a spastic. Control of attention is thus the first skill an aspiring magician must master, and perhaps the most important.

On Becoming an Alchemist, pp. 52-53