Lionel Snell & Ramsey Dukes
Any review of My Years of Magickal Thinking by Lionel Snell must point out that Snell is the real name of respected magickal theorist Ramsey Dukes. Dukes, best known for the chaos classic S.S.O.T.B.M.E.:An Essay on Magic is a prolific writer but is no armchair magickian. A lifetime of practice has always informed the theory in his books, and I found many practical lessons in S.S.O.T.B.M.E. While My Years of Magickal Thinking is not a book of ritual or magickal instruction, it presents a lifetime of daily engagement with magick, and that experience is the book’s greatest strength.
My Years of Magickal Thinking is an excellent addition to the growing genre of magickal autobiographies. Like Lon Milo Duquette’s My Life with the Spirits or Robert Anton Wilson‘s Cosmic Trigger (the best examples of the genre), it begins with exploring the life of the writer before magick entered it. Snell’s spends less time on the recreation of his life than he does on the development of his mind.
The first 12 or so chapters of My Years of Magickal Thinking explore the effects on one’s thinking when the openness and imaginary engagement with the world of childhood are slowly closed off by adulthood and education. This usually happens in two ways: one is an anti-intellectual cynicism which develops into various conservative, either/or ways of viewing the world. The second -if lucky- a deep engagement with the power of rational, scientific and philosophic thinking about the world, and a sense of joy, wonder, and power that comes when one starts taking thinking (and creating) seriously. Luckily, Snell took the latter path, and he traces his path through various models (science, mathematics, physics, C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures, the Aesthetic response to the world, etc) which widen his understanding of the world and how his mind interacts with it. As happened to Wilson in Cosmic Trigger, Snell’s willingness to keep building/expanding/changing his model allowed him to avoid dogmatic or reductive materialism and led him to a model that could allow for magickal thinking alongside scientific, aesthetic, or philosophic thinking about the world.
My Years of Magickal Thinking: Magickal Thinking at Last
What Snell does in the first section of the book is give the reader permission, and bring them to a place where they can engage in magickal thinking. The example he gives in Chapter 13 of how money magick might work is one of the better explanations of the difference between psychoanalytic wish fulfillment and magick (and why magick is no playground of escapist fantasies), and one of the bigger problems in magickal discourse: the way people think about attainment or success.
I have exaggerated – most people would be satisfied by a colossal lottery jackpot or surprise inheritance, to claim that the magic has “worked”. But there is a popular idea that magic has not “really worked” unless it delivers its results against at least extraordinary statistical odds if not outright defiance of the laws of nature. What happens in practice is mostly very different.
I am in complete agreement, and this area shows some degree of dishonesty in magick’s skeptics. A business person could spend years getting a degree or MBA, invest tens of thousands of dollars in a business, and work hard at it, almost around the clock, for years, and the business could still fail. An occultist might spend years learning ceremonial magick, a good deal of money making and procuring materials for the ritual, and spend days working hard on summoning a spirit, and fail at winning the lottery of finding hidden treasure.
In the former example, very few will say that one failed business proves that capitalism is a fraud (it is but for very different reasons), while opponents of magic will take this same failed ritual for wealth as proof that magic is complete bunk and a fraud.Snell’s description of ceremonial magick’s and more “new age/affirmation” magic’s approach to ritual work to attract or become wealthy (money magick) is a delightful read, and very clearly sums up the differences (but also the deep level they share) between the approaches. More importantly, he shows how having a realistic definition of success is crucial to the chances of the operation succeeding.
Snell’s description of ceremonial magick’s and more “new age/affirmation” magic’s approach to ritual work to attract or become wealthy (money magick) is a delightful read, and very clearly sums up the differences (but also the deep level they share) between the approaches. More importantly, he shows how having a realistic definition of success is crucial to the chances of the operation succeeding.
My Years of Magickal Thinking–Strongly Recommended
While Snell’s book is an occult autobiography, it is also one of the strongest attempts to apply scientific, linguistic/rhetorical and cultural studies to magick and magickal thinking I have seen. Snell provides a well developed theoretical approach to magick and science without privileging either one. Those new to magick will find models in the book which allow them to make room for magick in their worldview. Experienced occultists will be challenged by Snell’s argument to place magickal discourse alongside the discourses of science, philosophy, rhetoric, religion, and aesthetics. Snell manages to explain theory in simple, jargon-free terms readers will find very accessible. At the same time, those familiar with academic or scientific ways of thinking will still find Snell engaging them on a serious level. His ability to speak to both audiences at the same time is itself a magical feat. That he does so in a readable, enjoyable prose autobiography that spans close to 40 years of the “New Age/New Occult” culture makes My Years of Magickal Thinking a book I am happy to recommend.
Five out of Five Stars