The Byzantium Flyers

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Exotica Noir

I once ran a dance club event called Byzantium at NowBar on Fridays in the West Village of Manhattan. It was my third weekly event, and arguably the best. Unlike the two which preceded it, I used the event as an opportunity to perform magical experiments related to publicity and mental influence of benevolent kinds.

The venue helped define an eclectic but strangely coherent musical style. It had Moroccan lamps, leading me to think we could lean into the Arabian Nights imagery which cropped up in the Goth genre (which generally was one of our major ingredients.) It also had futuristic furniture, tiki torches, and an artificial waterfall. Trip hop, techno, medieval revival, ethereal, shoegazer, industrial, and world music entered the sonic tapestry. The upper level had a lounge and we had poetry readings there at first, then art installations and live bands. It was thoroughly weird and unlike anything that had come before.

Magic was a part of my thinking from the start. I had been ruminating on the Orientalist imagery in Victorian magic, particularly that of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis, the Theosophical Society, and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. The artificiality of the usage of the exotic and the Other fascinated me; the forbidden and the liberational aspects as well. I saw strange parallels between this and the embrace of the Other in alternative cultures, and parallels between the remixing of cultural artifacts to alter consciousness and the blending of styles in contemporary World Dance and World Music. (I am entirely guilty in overthinking club promotion, but I really do think it is an unsung art form.)

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A member of the Golden Dawn was William Butler Yeats, better remembered as a great poet than as a magician. He wrote two poems, “Byzantium” and “Sailing To Byzantium,” which helped inspire the naming of the event. Yeats’ notion of Byzantium was of a distant land of opulence and the exotic, where all cultures blended and anything was possible. It was a fantastic realm somewhat unlike the historic Eastern Roman Empire, yet vastly more alluring and powerful than the reality. I wanted to sail away to Yeats’ Byzantium and bring my friends along for the ride. Every Friday night we embarked upon adventures.

I could wax nostalgic all day about the event and never quite capture its essence, or list all of the amazing people who made it possible. That’s not my point here, though. What is relevant is that while we were doing something innovative, we had a lot going against us.

Friday nights had been a dead night for Goth scene events at the time for several years. The fact that we were not truly a Gothic event only protected us somewhat. Our venue was small and we were in a part of the city most of our patrons visited infrequently. When we debuted, we had only one competing event. A few months later, we had eleven. Twelve events all competing for the same attendees and dollars. It was a swarm hungry for limited resources. Some were actively unfriendly and unprofessional to us. And try as we did, we were losing ground. We had to fight for every single attendee.

My prior two events had also struggled to get traction, and eventually ended. I was an accomplished magician, but had rarely used any magic to give my projects a competitive edge. So when Byzantium debuted, one of the first things I did was enchant the heck out of our flyers. And how I did that requires a bit of personal history.

Rootwork and the Greater Key of Solomon

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Years prior, a magical colleague of mine returned from a trip to New Orleans and began to whisper about something called “rootwork.” It took me a while to realize this was an alternate term for Hoodoo, which I had been practicing in a somewhat bastardized form for many years. I recognized that my knowledge was fragmentary, and so was hungry for every legitimate scrap of knowledge that I could find.

One of the things she told me was that the pentacles of the Greater Key of Solomon could be incorporated into Hoodoo candle magic to great effect. I did not believe her. I knew the grimoire well and the pentacles it described had to be created very precisely, according to the instructions. She urged me to try it her way before dismissing the notion entirely. I respected her, so I suspended my judgment and decided to give it a whirl.

At the time I didn’t know anything about petition papers, but nearly all of the magic shops in Manhattan used pull out candles and dressed them and carved them up, often also adding glitter. Since I couldn’t afford that on a regular basis, I used plain pour-in novena candles bought at dollar stores and supermarkets and used paint markers (mostly gold and silver ones) to carefully replicate the pentacle designs on the glass. I dressed the candles with Hoodoo condition oils and stroked around the paint to prevent them from smearing.

After three or four candles like this, I was convinced and converted. It was impossible for me to ignore how effective the Solomonic pentacles on the candles were. It was so effective that for over a decade it became a quickie solution for magical work. The method certainly wasn’t as potent as full Solomonic pentacles, but it was a lot cheaper and easier, and could be made rapidly as the need arose.

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I have made several conclusions from working this hybrid system of Hoodoo and GKOS pentacles. The pentacles of the Greater Key almost certainly precede the grimoire and its elaborate instructions, and are of the kind of power that even if created in imperfect conditions (like using paint markers on the side of a candle) they will still produce diminished but powerful marvels. I sometimes call them shadow effects.

Since then I have used this as a method of evaluating grimoires; if their pentacles or sigils activate a candle in a noticeable way, they’re probably really powerful when made with the full ritual requirements. If nothing happens after several attempts, the system is quite probably weak and ineffective. It saves me the effort of spending a year or two and thousands of dollars working through a grimoire to determine whether it’s magnificent and miraculous or merely a dusty hoax.

The Flyers

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After working through this method for a number of years, I was introduced to the usage of petition papers in Hoodoo, and other grimoires more popular in Hoodoo such as The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses and The Long-Lost Friend. I was slow to make the transition from using paint markers on glass to petition papers of pentacles under candles because I was, frankly, concerned about fire safety. But when Byzantium launched I had an idea of how I could experiment with a variation of this.

One of my long-term goals had been to coax the Goth scene overall away from the centrality of dance clubs and towards a salon culture by way of the literary gothic. I knew that the dance clubs were dying a slow and painful death, and having poetry readings at the event—very much a novelty—inspired me to design the Byzantium flyers as bookmarks. At the top was the Byzantium logo, a scan of some mysterious looking byzantine jewelry edited heavily in Photoshop. The middle plugged the various DJs, bands and musical styles of the week. And at the bottom was my experiment: the Mathers Greater Key of Solomon’s Fifth Pentacle of the Sun. On every flyer.

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“The fifth pentacle of the Sun. It serveth to invoke those spirits who can transport thee from one place unto another, over a long distance and in short time.”

Mathers notes: “The versicle is from Psalm xci. 11, 12: ‘He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands.'”

So, why did I use that particular pentacle? I suppose I could have used one for gaining wealth, but I was impractical at the time and didn’t see that as a pressing issue. I also wasn’t sure whether this would make the bearer of the flyer wealthy or me. If some of those flyers were in the possession of my rivals, it might even work against me.

What I did want was to ensure that my flyers were distributed far and wide. Getting flyers to as many people as possible back then was key to the survival of an event, and some promoters had been known to track down and destroy flyers of their rivals in the music shops where they most often could be found. Flyer saturation was key to the survival of an event, particularly one in an unfamiliar venue with an odd theme, which Byzantium certainly was.

I also liked the design, I admit. It looked mysterious. I didn’t want people to realize the flyers were actually magical; I wanted people to think I was just being artsy. I didn’t want my competitors to copy my idea. Aesthetics can be important, but they also can conceal one’s methods or intentions in magic.

Magic was my biggest edge over the competition. I’m good at a lot of things, but magic is what I’ve always been best at. When I’ve forgotten this, I’ve always regretted it; when I’ve made mundane aspects of my life magical, they’ve soared.

Things Get Weird, Things Get Wonderful

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Around the time Byzantium began to get hit by the worst of the competition, the magic began to manifest in earnest.

There had been signs of something strange happening earlier on. NowBar was a trans bar on most nights of the week, and was across the street from Meow Mix, a famous lesbian bar. Whenever our financial situation seemed to be in peril, we would unexpectedly get flooded by the regular clientele, but the lesbian bar would also empty out and drink our bar dry. At first I just thought lesbians and transpeople loved our event, but it did seem a little excessive—albeit very welcome.

Then the ancient famous photographer turned up. He worked for a major NYC magazine and his wartime work was spoken of with reverence by many in his field. He was in awe of Byzantium and assured me repeatedly that he’d never seen anything else like it, and that it was something he wanted to preserve for all time. I asked him where he’d heard of my event, and he told me that everyone was talking about it. I inwardly wondered who everyone was, where they were, and what were they saying. Hopefully nice things, right?

They weren’t the only ones talking, however. Our competition multiplied over and over, eventually to utterly absurd levels. A few of them had it in for us– the scene was very cutthroat back then– but most promoters just assumed there was some hidden untapped market that they wanted a slice of. Everyone and their cousin seemed to be opening up a new Friday event. Our attendance started to take a hit, but then strange things started to happen.

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For example, this highly fashionable couple approached me one night at the event with expressions of delight and wonderment. They told me that they were from Switzerland and had flown to America just to come to Byzantium. They had to tell me this several times before I realized they were sincere. I asked where they had heard about Byzantium. They told me that everyone was talking about it, even in Switzerland. Wow. Really? Fascinating.

Then an Asian man approached me at the event and told me he’d picked up a Byzantium flyer in Tokyo. He’d just had to come; it sounded amazing. Someone else found a Byzantium flyer on an airplane, and he changed his vacation plans to get off in New York instead to check it out. Over and over I began to hear about people discovering my fairly small event with a modest budget all around the world, largely through the instrument of my enchanted flyers turning up in the most unexpected of places.

To this day I have no idea how the Byzantium flyers ended up scattered across the world. I have no idea how the buzz about my event went so strangely viral on the eve of the year 2000 AD. But I certainly have strong suspicions of a magical nature.

What I am quite sure of is that the somewhat inexplicable buzz about our event which had spread across the entire world ultimately fed back into local attendance. It kept our struggling event alive for months and months, when everything seemed to be going against our little passion project.

Night Work

The enchanted flyers weren’t the only magical work (by far) that I integrated into Byzantium, but I still use those today and think of them as trade secrets. The other ones weren’t focused on publicity but making the environment fun, uplifting, and sexy. Considering how many people got laid in the NowBar lavatory and how fondly Byzantium is still spoken of today—all over the world apparently—I think they were pretty darn effective too. If you’ve been to my Green Fairy Parties in California, you’ve seen some of that other sorcery at work.

In spite of my magical and mundane efforts, Byzantium did not last forever. It might have done better if I hadn’t been so keen on lowering the cover charge to allow more people to attend; that gave us very poor financial reserves. The management at the venue expected us to become profitable sooner than we realized. The competition remained somewhat fierce to the end. Perhaps if I had focused on the business end more than the creative end, things would have lasted longer. But they wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

It was a very successful event in creative terms and that’s what I really cared about. it was unforgettable and it injected some creativity into a scene which was stagnant. Our staff and regulars had also become a family. When management told us it was to be our final night, the head bartender– hired by the venue management– was so outraged that he quit on the spot. People really loved us, and I’m grateful for it.

Hopefully this little tale can inspire you to experiment magically, to improvise, and find new ways to make your life more magical and marvelous. Magic permeates everything and insinuates itself in the gaps between; this is where your hidden strength dwells.

 

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Fearless Magical Protection @ ConVocation 2017

 

Clifford Hartleigh Low’s lecture on “Fearless Magical Protection” at ConVocation 2017. This class covers a broad array of spells and magical practices which protect the practitioner from mystical and mundane dangers; including powerful techniques of shielding and defense which do not appear elsewhere.

If you find this video useful, please subscribe to http://sorcerer.blog and http://www.youtube.com/GrimoireTV , give thumbs up and Like posts. Your feedback matters.

February 2017 Convention Schedule

I will be lecturing at both PantheaCon in California and ConVocation in Michigan this February, along with many other esteemed colleagues and friends. Please consider attending either or both.


PantheaCon 2017

On Saturday, February 18th at 1:30pm–

Eat Me: Magical Recipes in Medieval Astrological Magic

Though better known for the creation of talismans, medieval and Renaissance astrological magic texts contain further recipes and instructions. Many are intended to be consumed, buried, or burned, with numerous purposes and means of creation. Yet they all point towards a forgotten view of the universe and magic. From counting olive pips to cure illnesses to the creation of wax talismans or incense pills for evocation and influence, such mysteries depend on the philosophies of Al Kindi and his contemporaries. Explore how the outlook of the ancients can enhance our spiritual practices.


ConVocation 2017

On Thursday, February 23rd at 8:30pm–

DIY Talismans

Astrological talismans from the Scholastic Image Magic tradition often seem as challenging to make as they are powerful. After electing the window of time in which a talisman can be created, one must confect incenses, select appropriate sigils, and obtain tools and materials for the talismans. We will discuss how to create a talismanic laboratory, the process of practical considerations including choosing the best combinations, knowing which substitutions do and don’t work, and time and money saving strategies. Take the theory of talismans into real life creations and applications.

On Friday, February 24th at 4:00pm–

About Time: Basic Chart Calculation

Invaluable to numerous systems of magic, the astrological horoscope is a Swiss army knife for divination, classical medicine, and much else. One of the most advanced achievements of the ancient world, the horoscope can often be perplexing for beginners. This class will focus on the basics of erecting a horoscope chart. We will attempt to demystify the process and render the math easy, while also explaining the essentials of its parts, some of history of its development, and the rationale of the chart from the traditional (pre-1750 AD) perspective.

On Saturday February 25th at 4:00pm–

Fearless Magical Protection

It’s a jungle out there. In most magical systems one of the first things you are taught is basic protection against spiritual attacks, and for good reason. A magical life is a perilous one at times. As you become more proficient, the need for protection grows and takes new forms. This class will survey practical methods of protection from a variety of spiritual systems and methodologies. Some of these techniques are unpublished anywhere and likely to be unfamiliar, but have proven very effective. Magical protection will help secure your success.

 

The Vast Power Within You Is Mostly Crap

I usually start my astrological lectures with a version of “everything you know about astrology is wrong.” That also applies to magic to some extent, especially magic which uses astrology as a key mechanism.

My friend John Michael Greer says that Eliphas Levi revolutionized magic by distilling it down to two principles; Will and imagination, together bending the universe into submission.

The problem with this is that he almost completely pulled this out of his ass. Levi was much more of a theorist than a practitioner, and there’s no proof (or even earnest claim) that he performed more than four spells/rituals/incantations in his entire life.

That’s not to bash him. He was a genius. But he invented what I call Victorian Magic, which is what most of you practice today. Its main tools are gestures, visualization, and sonorous gibberish.

In spite of its relative newness, it does some really cool stuff and I use some of it every day. But it’s not what the ancients called magic.

It may be what the ancients added to magic to help it work a little better, like MSG in take out Chinese food.

There’s a thing in Agrippa (if I am not mistaken) which says that magic is helped and hindered by the mindset of the magician. That downgrades the role of the magician’s internal states enormously.

In Scholastic Image Magic, magic does not come from within.

Did you ever see that movie Willow? With the little person actor discovering (spoilers) that the finger which was most magical was his own? And it was a great revelation?

Well, Scholastic Image Magic is the total opposite of that. It’s a great big fuck-you to the notion of magic promoted by DisneyCorp, as a metaphor for imagination and wishing. Because imagination and wishing can only get you so far. “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

Scholastic Image Magic operates on a very basic truism. Humans are pretty damn weak sauce. We are unique in the hierarchy of spirits in that we inhabit ambulatory matter, but that kind of makes us freaks. Though there are some big footnotes and exceptions here, even the greatest of magicians is still basically just a weird monkey with a knack for deforestation. In the hierarchy of living things, we’re somewhere in between God and e.coli– and probably a lot closer to the latter.

The universe is full of power. People are mostly full of seawater.

In order for us to overcome our incredibly limited nature we need to obtain help from outside ourselves. Even moreso, help from beings higher on the cosmic ladder than us. Help from our peers won’t allow us to go beyond our limitations in any meaningful way, because they share our weaknesses. Beings beneath us may occasionally come in handy, but there’s a risk of getting dragged down. (Please immediately refer to Aesop’s Fable about the scorpion and the frog, and apply this to all instances of demonic evocation.)

Nevertheless, using metaphysical semaphores (which is what I jokingly refer to the LVX gestures of the Golden Dawn) or the pentagram rituals, or the hexagram rituals, the intonation and vibration of YHVH or M.I.C.K.E.Y M.O.U.S.E. or whatever, is at best a bit of flourish and filigree in Scholastic Image Magic and astrological petitions.

You’re welcome to do it, but if you’re like me you’ll recognize it’s a waste of effort and discard it in favor of the many many other things you should be focusing on when creating talismans, making petitions, or even electing.

Scholastic Image Magic is much more physical than Victorian Magic. Words are important in petitions, inscriptions, statements of intent; but it’s even theoretically possible to have entirely mute rituals, and have talismans created by some sort of machine and remove the human element almost entirely from the system.

(It probably impairs a talisman to create one silently or without any visualized intent, but it still would be a real talisman and it would definitely work. Considering that elections are often at 4am, I’ve definitely made quite a few talismans on autopilot that worked very well.)

The fact that astrological talismans by way of SIM are so material by emphasis is an advantage. Because it appears to be connected to the fact that when you need to use one, it doesn’t care whether you’re asleep or in a state of panic or unaware of the movements of the stock market; it’s always looking out for you, calmly doing its job.

Getting you out of the equation is sometimes the best thing. You are not such hot shit.

After all, you’re a weird monkey living on a speck of dirt in a very big universe. In order to get superpowers, you’re going to have to do things which are very un-monkey-like.

A monkey can gesture wildly and hoot. Calculating time, using symbols, making tools, and asking for help from more advanced beings is beyond the scope of lesser lifeforms.

This is how you become a magician. This is how you get real superpowers.

(At least, in Scholastic Image Magic.)

A Warning Against Demonic Magic

Soapbox: Once a week I pay homage to the ancestors, but I have a pretty loose definition of these. I don’t just include relatives, but also pets, friends who have passed beyond, and even a few inspirational figures.

Of the friends who are dancing jigs amongst the stars or in Valhalla or whatnot, a lot of them were magicians who engaged in what I call unsafe practices or what I sometimes describe as not practicing “clean.”

The list of things I consider unsafe is lengthy and controversial, but they include traffic with demons and objects contaminated by the same. (As per Al Biruni, demons cast rays.)

Most of these friends died young. The causes of death were sometimes fairly ordinary, sometimes pretty exotic, yet never something like spontaneous human combustion. I would not make calls to their spirits if I did not think they were remarkably good and pretty capable persons, but ones whose reach exceeded their grasp– and perhaps met the dooms akin to Faust or Solomon.

I also know many living practitioners whose practices have floundered for decades, ever trying to find the right combination of factors to turn their enterprises into great successes but mysteriously blind to certain things. I often discover these individuals rely on demons or engage in unsafe, unclean practices. I wish them the best, but do not wish to work with them.

I do not come at this attitude out of fear or prejudice for religious reasons. I have abundant experience.

My first two magical acts were demon summonings, the second of which resulted in a full apparition that was tangible and in front of two witnesses. Full apparition is quite rare. I will not identify the entity but merely say it was one of the most powerful of its kind.

I spent the next ten years trying to undo the damage resulting of having a horrific demonic infestation in my own home, because nothing would make it go away. I learned several traditions of magic between 1981 and 1993 because it was necessary for my own survival. Nobody who I spoke to during this period could figure out how to fix this; I had to do it all myself. So much for the experts.

When the demon was finally banished, upon departing it told me that it hadn’t encountered anyone as tough as me in a very, very long time (presumably centuries or millennia.) Then again, demons are liars. Since then, a lot of stuff which ought to have killed me has mostly rolled off.

Not quite learning my lesson, I participated in a large group magical ritual which evoked a powerful demon in Chicago. Most of the people actively participating in this ritual were damaged horribly by the experience; two of which ultimately died and a third may well have suffered a fate worse than death. (I honor the two as ancestors.) I had been promised that everyone involved was an expert in their specialty of magic and nothing could go wrong. This was the second domino to fall which led to my extreme skepticism regarding the purported competence of occult community’s leadership and experts.

Still not learning my lesson, a close friend and colleague taught me a safer version of practicing the Goetia, and I spent much of the following year attempting to summon the vast majority of demons in that book. Results were strong, but after a working with a Solar demon a visit to my eye doctor informed me that my corneas had become perforated and were on the verge of bursting and permanently blinding me. Apparently the Solar demon had penetrated the magical circle (which they most definitely can do if they’re inclined) and decided to scratch my eyes out. He nearly succeeded.

This ended my career as a demon-summoner. I learned my lesson at that point. I concluded that demonic magic could not be conducted safely, that magic circles were easily penetrable, and that once a demon is called upon it basically runs the show and only lets the magician believe he’s in control. Because demons see arrogance both as a vulnerability and a food source. They encourage it through their behavior with magicians.

Demons did provide me boons. Every last one of them were poisoned or perverted in some capacity so that I ultimately wished I’d never asked for them. Ever heard of the Monkey’s Paw? Demons can no more do good than a fire elemental can serve you a nice glass of iced tea. It is against their principal nature. Even when used as weapons, the victory is inevitably pyrrhic.

Sometime later I met a young woman who claimed to have a demonic familiar of great power. I did not believe her. She decided to prove me wrong. One morning I woke up and the entity was in my head for about 24 hours. I learned more about how demons behave and think from that terrible experience than all of my prior years of experimentation. Three friends got together and helped rid me of the unpleasant passenger.

Nowadays my only interactions with demons are exorcisms, or unbinding demons attached to sorcerers so they get devoured by their own supposed servitors. (They do kind of ask for it.)

I have so many more stories to tell about the follies of my friends. Nearly everyone who engages in unsafe practices gets hurt.

Frequently, people close to them die as well. That’s one of the things the books don’t tell you. If you act like a moron, innocents are actually more likely to get hurt. I was always puzzled why my pets died so horribly, until I realized the connection.

When it comes to my own practice, I’m actually a bit of a daredevil when it comes to experimentation. At the same time, I know that fire will burn my fingers pretty reliably the fourth or fifth time I’ve tried to touch a bonfire, and see no benefit in any further tests.

I see no value in demonic work, except the voyeuristic kick of watching my worst enemies become damaged by demonic parasitism and beguilement while thinking they’re great successes. The schadenfreude factor is immense.

What I do know is that my magic has become in every way superior since I learned that the real power does not emanate from spirits of disobedience and corruption.

If you are an active proponent of demonic magic, I do not believe you are evil or wicked or whatever. You’re probably a nice guy. Just a little too trusting, a little too optimistic. You are a victim. You have been tricked into swallowing tapeworms to lose weight, to drink radium-laced beverages to make your complexion more brilliant, arsenic for greater pallor, and things of these kinds.

The compassionate side of me wishes you would stop, to save yourself and your loved ones some heartbreak.

The misanthropic side of me hopes you hurry up and finish the inevitable, because I plan on using you as a negative example. And if you’re particularly nice, adding you to my list of “ancestors.”

I do hope that there will come a day that demonic magic will be considered obsolete, and an ugly phase magic had to mature its way out of. I hope to further things in this direction as best as I am able.

I should also mention I have a long track history of encountering magicians who scoff at these things I say, and then they come around to my point of view after a catastrophe of some kind– often with me applying bandages and mopping up the blood. Sometimes quite literally.

In any case, I don’t talk about this every day but these are my strong opinions.

I don’t usually personalize these things. I can get along with you just fine, even while potentially believing you’re completely and awfully wrong.

If you strongly disagree enough to find my views offensive however, do whatever you need to. I believe it is unethical to conceal my viewpoint on this matter, but rude to be a pest about it.

Magic Versus Creativity

Highly creative persons are no more magicians than they can levitate or raise the dead at will. Occasionally there will be overlap; a practitioner of magic will also be a highly creative professional in another unrelated realm. This is the exception rather than the rule.

Yet when you think about it, is it really a big asset for a self-proclaimed wizard to be talented at making shit up with ease? It might actually be a strong negative, like a “creative and whimsical” brain surgeon. It helps arm those who claim magic is deceit, or the product of an overactive imagination.

I blame Walt Disney, who helped popularize the notion that magic and the imagination were the same thing. There is too much conflation, and too much redefinition; and it is making clean research difficult. Magic is not a metaphor for something else. It is what it always has been; the mortal production of marvels by spiritual means.