Matt Perryman

A powerful new word learned from a dead French magician

By Matt Perryman

“Society is an anonymous enterprise for living a life of secondhand emotions,” wrote the magician and occultist Joséphin Péladan back in the 19th century.

I know little about this obscure man besides the two descriptions of him as a mage and occultist, the fact that he lived in Paris, and he was known as a flamboyant Oscar Wilde sort. That, and he wrote a once-influential book called How To Be A Mage.

It’s worth remembering that in those days, magic wasn’t thought of as a primitive sort of quasi-science, or a conduit for casting fireballs and summoning demons.

Magicians were concerned with influencing the life of the mind, building their own inner reserves of will and imagination, and (perhaps) affecting the greater consciousness of people around them.

If you’re sharp, you’ve gathered that magical works are powerful sources of practical and applied techniques for cultivating your own inner disciplines.

Which brings me to the word in the headline, which is “ethopoeia”,

You’ve likely never heard of such unless you’re a hard-core geek for acting and the theater.

First magic, now acting? Don’t be so surprised.

The word ethopoeia comes from two Greek words, ethos and poiesis.

Ethos, which probably rings a bell as the root of our word “ethics”, also means a doctrine or creed. Most translations into English would use the term “character”.

Now that’s interesting by itself, because we speak of a person’s character, and we speak of characters in fiction or on a stage, and we mean pretty much the same thing.

Poiesis means making, forming, or creating, the way a craftsman does his work.

Put them together and ethopoeia gets you “formation of (a) character”.

That’s the one thread weaving through theatrical performances, characters in works of fiction, and the work of a magician.

Péladan wrote like an early existentialist philosopher. He thought that society was an imposing, even corrosive force that stifled individuality.

His magic aimed to free the individual’s will, sensibility, and understanding from the chains of unthinking social habits.

What you want, feel, and think ought to be your own, not put into you by the mass wizardry of pop culture, or crowds of people in your life who are already seduced by the spell.

That makes the whole thing into an ethical project in the usual sense, meaning, the difference between good/bad and right/wrong.

There’s so much pressure to conform, to reach consensus and submit to it, that a single individual with his own thoughts and feelings is almost unthinkable.

It’s easy to go with the flow and allow the crowd’s wants and feelings to carry you along.

That’s exactly what you can’t do — if you want to be more than a meat-robot going through the motions.

The most interesting, remarkable, and memorable people are the ones that stood apart from the crowd’s herd-like instincts and dared to be their own person.

Matt Perryman 

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