John F. Becket makes a valiant attempt at unpacking the statement “A poor magician is a poor magician.” In particular I like how he emphasizes that the standards for gauging “success” are subjective and that a person who is fully devoting themself to their calling (be it spiritual, magical, artistic or activist) simply isn’t going to have the time or inclination to participate in the rat race. (Like Hannah Arendt, I am deeply suspicious of people who have a strong desire to be normal.) On the other hand, someone who cannot manage their life to their own specifications probably isn’t going to be a very effective magician. Now I need to walk that term back for a moment, as I am using it in a very specific sense. For the ancient Greeks a magos (like the priestly class in Persia) was a specialist in songs, divination, herbal lore and rituals who, by means of these, could effect change in the world on behalf of their clients. In other words not everyone who does magic is a magician. (One of the defenses raised by Apuleius in his Apologia was that although he had a philosophical interest in the subject he did no work on behalf of others.) Since a large part of magic in the ancient world involved imposing one’s will and setting things to right, I believe that a certain amount of functionality is a prerequisite of this profession. I’m not going to approach someone about helping me get my finances in order when they can’t pay their rent because they blew all their money on junk food and video games any more than I would ask a celibate cleric for marital advice. Mind you, this has nothing to do with conformity to society’s standards: it’s about competency, plain and simple. (If I were a petty man, at this point I would include links to all of the Tumblr trash who have publicly cursed me and remind folks how good my life is going at the moment: seriously, the only frustrations I have are around organizing the Polytheist Leadership Conference, but you’re bound to be frustrated whenever you’re dealing with people.)
My only real objection came with this passage:
I rant against “Pagan Standard Time” not because I’m a slave to the mainstream culture’s infatuation with efficiency but because habitual lateness is a sign of failure to properly plan. If a ritual starts late because the leaders underestimated how long it would take to get ready, what else did they underestimate? What’s the likelihood they made the ritual as good as it could be? What’s the likelihood they spent the necessary time in meditation and prayer with the deities and spirits they intend to invoke and honor?
I don’t object to what’s actually said there – but rather to a serious omission on John F. Becket’s part. The primary reason why I strive to be punctual is that it shows respect to others and fidelity to one’s word. If you say, “I’m going to be there at X o’clock,” then you have made a promise and there better be a damn good reason for you to break it. Even so you have broken it and need to make proper reparations because your actions (or inaction, as the case may be) have impacted others. Showing up late without blood on your hands demonstrates that you prioritize other things beyond the activity you are about to be engaged in and that you have no regard for others. Now I understand that most people lead empty, meaningless lives and if they weren’t presently so occupied chances are pretty good they’d be plopped on the couch stuffing their mouths with potato chips in between guffawing over reality television or “liking” posts about funny cats on Facebook – but that’s simply not true of all of us. If I am choosing to socially engage with you that means that I am putting you above all of the dozens of other things I’ve got going in my life at any given moment. I could be doing private ecstatic communion with my gods and spirits, helping a client, researching obscure mythological and historical topics, writing scathing rants or impenetrable verse, going for walks in nature, getting high, masturbating to clown porn or any number of things I’m not doing because I’m giving you my time and attention. And I’m doing that with a respectful awareness that you are making a mutual offering of equal worth. All of us walk this planet for a finite span – so giving someone moments of your life is kind of a big deal.
And if it isn’t to you, if you can’t even muster that minimal amount of respect for another sentient being – why the fuck are you inflicting yourself on others?
I spend as much time as I possibly can in altered states of consciousness, dancing beyond the confines of temporality – I don’t just like this shit, I need it to maintain proper mental health. (The deeper you come into contact with other worlds, the more you are changed by them.) Because I recognize this about myself I have created ample space for it in my life. Humanity weighs too heavily upon me while in many of those states – therefore I minimize my exposure to others when there is a need to go there. And when I am with other people, I make an effort to actually be there with them.
People who are profligate with the time of others violate the social contract which is called into being whenever two people agree to share the same space. You cannot assume that these stipulations are void simply because it is inconvenient for you to abide by them; this contract may be renegotiated to the specifications of both parties but that actually has to happen. If neither person cares about punctuality it’s fine to say, “I’ll show up around X o’clock or whenever I get there.” That creates fluid expectations whereas pinning it down does not. Being careless with the boundaries of time isn’t much different from being careless with the boundaries of space. Would it be permissible for me to reach out and touch a woman’s breasts because I find them pleasing to the eye and am curious about what they’d feel like in my hands? No. Because monism is a lie. Beings exist external to us; as such their autonomy must be respected, and we must give consent for any dissolution of distance between us. Forcefully disregarding that (as one does when their inability to adhere to a schedule impacts others) is a personal violation and bad manners to boot.
And despite what Rhyd says in the comments to John. F Becket’s post, this has nothing to do with colonial oppression or Capitalist ideology – it’s about respect.
If you like this piece or the work I’m doing here at the House of Vines please consider donating to Julian Betkowski so that he can attend the Polytheist Leadership Conference in July.