Thaumaturgike, is that Art Mathematicall, which giueth certaine order to make ſtraunge workes, of the ſenſe to be perceiued, and of men greatly to be wondred at.
// John Dee

ART ∩ MAGIC ∩ TECHNOLOGY

I am a new-media occultist and magician-computer interaction designer (cf.), which just means I do much the same sort of thing as new-media artists but primarily for reasons of magic and occultism rather than æsthetics or other raisons d'art. I apply the digital computer as "a new active medium for art,"1 to the ars magica. The crux of what I do is mapping between a domain of magical activity (i.e., a set of related actions that are structural, meaningful, or practical in a context of magical thinking) and a domain of activity involving computers and computational media. My work is greatly informed by my study of cybernetics and related ideas including communication and control theory, feedback, requisite variety, the mapping of organism and environment onto each other,2 autopoiesis, and constructivism. I am especially interested in cognition of magical and occult phenomena.

The twin pillars of magic are power (δύναμις) and self-awareness ("γνῶθι σεαυτὸν"), by which I mean not merely awareness of the self (ego) but also an inward-looking consciousness and especially a consciousness capable of examining itself. Some powers are intrinsic while others are extrinsic, and the focī, locī, or nexī of occult powers may be found in or among agents, actions, or objects, or networks thereof. My work seeks to discover or situate occult powers within or amid computational media (media magica), and to illuminate new occult knowledge in light of these new media.

Most of my work oscillates between cyberspace and robotics. By cyberspace I mean not only virtual reality or online spaces such as the Internet or "the cloud," but also: the space between a computer and its user; the space wherein a computer acts on, reacts to, or interacts with the physical world (see physical computing); and the space in which the potential of a computer program is realized through kinesis (κίνησις), which may or may not conform to the programmer's intention (see hacking). Here, magician merges with machine as the living grimoire—"bound in books of skin and blood"3—is analyzed and then synthesized (solve et coāgula) with the Body Electric, transmuted into the cyborg sorcerer who transduces electricity and code into feats of genuine thaumaturgy.

My robotics work (which I dub Robomancy) explores and examines sorcerous applications of robots primarily through a trinity of aspects: the Robot as Tool, Actor, and Fetish, which correspond variously to objects, actions, and agents of occult agency. The Robot-as-Tool begins as an extension of the sorcerer's body and proceeds toward waxing automation (from autómatos [αὐτόματος], "self-moving, moving of oneself, self-acting, spontaneous") and autonomy (autonomía [αὐτονομία], "self-governing, independent, sovereign"). The Robot-as-Actor is not necessarily autonomous (automatic and teleoperational forms of robot thespianism are know—cf., puppetry), but is typically distinguished by performing sorcerous actions usually under the guise of various rītuālis persōnæ. The Robot-as-Fetish embodies Spirit (or other occult agent) but is differentiated from traditional forms of the Art (e.g., idols, amulets, and talismans) by virtue of its physical kinesis: the Robot of Art is a moving occult image, and its changes in the physical space become signs of its indwelling spirit in much the same way as do morphological features of the traditional fetish (n.b., the Robot's morphology may also tell of its occult character).

The three aspects relate to how robots in general materialize in part as imitations (simulacra) of life, but the Robot of Art is more than a simulation: like any work of art (art-ifact), it is an expression of something, often an idea (ἰδέα; cf., eídōlon [εἴδωλον]). The robot's animation (from anima, "soul, spirit, life, breath") and embodiment of vital activities such as sensing and acting not only simulate life; they are expressions of the animating principle—the spark of life. By recognizing this spark (pyr [πυρ]) through ritual acts intended to carry over into the robomancer's laboratory, Robomancy reconnects the Robot of Art to the animism of our ancestors,4 and restores the engineering of automata to the company of sacred arts.5 As the robot emerges also from the human desire to have machines labor in locō hominis (the word robot comes from the Czech robota, meaning "drudgery, servitude"), the Robot of Art is too an apt medium for contemplating sacred work and the re-enchantment of labor (cf., the alchemist's laboratory). Ultimately, my work with robots aspires to a sort-of "robotheosis" (cf.) or emancipation of the Machine Soul (Anima Machinæ; cf., Pierre de Latil's Machina Liberata6).

Rather than trivialize sorcery by reducing it to something to be done by a "mere machine," my work seeks to non-trivialize and re-enchant technology by reconnecting it with the deep or cthonic mind.

I do most of my work with Processing, Python, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and Parallax microcontrollers and robots.

 

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Following is a brief selection of books that have informed or inspired my work, or which I feel are kindred spirits and so worthy of recommending to anyone who would tread a path similar to mine.

  • Ascott, Roy. Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology, and Consciousness (2003).
  • Braga, Newton C. Electronic Projects from the Next Dimension: Paranormal Experiments for Hobbyists (2001).
  • Davis, Erik. TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (1998, 2015).
  • Dixon, Steve. Digital Performance: A History of New Media in Theater, Dance, Performance, and Installation (2007).
  • Dukes, Ramsey (a.k.a. Snell, Lionel). Words Made Flesh (1988, 2003).
  • Fauconnier, Gilles and Turner, Mark. The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending And The Mind's Hidden Complexities (2002).
  • Foerster, Heinz von. Understanding Understanding: Essays on Cybernetics and Cognition (2002).
  • Hurley, J. Finley. Sorcery (1985).
  • Huson, Paul. Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks and Covens (1970).
  • Imaz, Manuel and Benyon, David. Designing with Blends: Conceptual Foundations of Human-Computer Interaction and Software Engineering (2006).
  • Laurel, Brenda. Computers as Theatre (1991, 2nd ed. 2013).
  • Laurie, Duncan. The Secret Art: A Brief History of Radionic Technology for the Creative Individual (2009).
  • Luck, Georg. Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Collection of Ancient Texts (1985, 2nd ed. 2006).
  • Maturana, Humberto and Varela, Francisco. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living (1979).
  • Mueller, Robert E. The Science of Art: The Cybernetics of Creative Communication (1967).
  • Noble, Joshua. Programming Interactivity: A Designer's Guide to Processing, Arduino, and openFrameworks (2009, 2nd ed. 2012).
  • O'Sullivan, Dan and Igoe, Tom. Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers (2004).
  • Reas, Casey and Fry, Ben. Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers (2007, 2nd ed. 2014).
  • Reichardt, Jasia, ed. Cybernetics, Art and Ideas (1971).
  • Schulke, Daniel A. Idolatry Restor'd: Witchcraft and the Imaging of Power (2013).
  • Sconce, Jeffrey. Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television (2000).
  • Shiffman, Daniel. The Nature of Code: Simulating Natural Systems with Processing (2012).
  • Sørensen, Jesper. A Cognitive Theory of Magic (2009).
  • Truitt, E. R. Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (2016).

 

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  1. Noll, A. Michael. "The Digital Computer as a Creative Medium" (1967).
  2. "If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever he chooses to learn; and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him everything it has to teach." Spolin, Viola. Improvisation for the Theater (1963).
  3. Chumbley, Andrew D. "What Is Traditional Craft?" (1996).
  4. "[O]ur environment, and I mean our man-made world of machines, artificial constructs, computers, electronic systems, interlinking homeostatic components—all this is in fact beginning more and more to possess what the earnest psychologists fear the primitive sees in his environment: animation. In a very real sense our environment is becoming alive, or at least quasi-alive, and in ways specifically and fundamentally analogous to ourselves." Dick, Philip K. "The Android and The Human" (1972).
  5. "He that ſeketh […] in the Creatures Properties, and wonderfull vertues, to finde iuſte cauſe [just cause], to glorifie the Æternall, and Almightie Creator by: Shall that man, be (in hugger mugger) condemned, as a Companion to the Helhoundes, and a Caller, and Coniurer of wicked and damned Spirites?" Dee, John. "Mathematicall Præface" to Euclid's Elements of Geometrie (1570).
  6. Latil, Pierre de. Thinking by Machine: A Study of Cybernetics (1956).