Sessiomagus: The Armchair Magician

“Armchair Magician” is a term used to refer to an individual who has memorized countless metaphysical data and theories, yet hasn’t derived any of his information from actual experience. [1]  Similar to the Armchair Quarterback, the Armchair Magician sits in the comfort of his library and gladly explains the Way Things Work, What Went Wrong, What You Need to Do, and other life-guiding principles which he has read about in great detail but never actually tried out himself.  While offering a potentially good source of technical and theoretical information, the Armchair Magician is often ill-equipped to offer practical advice to those having difficulties with their magical practice, as he has little personal experience to guide him or those he seeks to counsel.

The Armchair Magician, or Sessiomagus, [2] is essentially a more sophisticated version of another potentially troublesome personality, the Know-It-All.  As the name implies, the Know-It-All, well, knows it all, and will continue to insist so in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  Know-It-Alls may indeed have accurate information, but often invest so much ego energy in knowing everything that they will pretend to know things that they don’t, and will rely upon their own authority as an informative source (and often simple strong-arm arguing techniques) to assert that anyone who disagrees with them is found to be in error.  Sessiomagi can show this same type of aggression, but often employ more subtle means, such as (mis)quoting obscure sources or obfuscating and overcomplicating what they are saying so they sound more profound.

Sessiomagi embody the archetype of the eternal scholar — always studying and analyzing, but seldom putting their information to practical use.  The pursuit of knowledge is indeed a noble one, but at some point knowledge needs to be applied in some way that is of use, or at least transferred to someone who can put it to use.  A failure to apply occult information — or any information — is the equivalent of amassing a huge library on mathematics and physics and then barring any engineers from perusing the material.  It may look impressive to those who see it as a mark of knowledge or other theorists who respect your collection, but it doesn’t help any buildings get built and doesn’t do much to improve the neighborhood.

Magic is very much about doing, and while abstract theory has its place, at some point magic must be done to be fully understood.  In that respect magic is a lot like sex — no matter how much you read about it and study the mechanics of how it works, you’ll never understand it until you experience firsthand the euphoria of success or the shame of failure.  This point can easily be missed by a Sessiomagus who forgets that abstract speculation and mental exploration can substitute for subjective experience, and who may assume that theoretical knowledge alone establishes him as a powerful magician.  In extreme cases, this assumption can generate delusions of grandeur, although a Sessiomagus of this type is usually seen for what he is and dismissed.  This self-image of power, however, can still be present in cases less severe (and obvious) than full-on delusion, and it becomes a very appealing incentive to continue magical study, as it allows the Sessiomagus to develop the image of a magician while putting little real effort into it.

The true drug of the Sessiomagus is not actual skill in the occult arts, but the image of possessing such skill.  Clinging to the glamour of a powerful magician allows the Sessiomagus to present himself as powerful and competent while providing a cover for social or personal inadequacies.  This image can be developed into a weapon used to stifle criticism in social circles, or simply as a means of acquiring social status.  In cases where the Sessiomagus adopts the role of a teacher, he may use this image to infatuate followers — as well as to keep them in line — and hence revel in the potential adulation of inexperienced neophytes who have been taught no real skills and are both ill equipped and afraid to challenge the pompousness of their teacher.

Projecting and maintaining an image of competence and power is vital to the well-being of the Sessiomagus, and the more successful he is at this, the less he will actually have to prove his abilities.  Sessiomagi eventually settle into abstract mysticism, from where they can claim that they are not allowed to demonstrate abilities or take action in certain situations because that would be succumbing to ego, violating some obscure application of karma, or any number of excuses which sound enlightened at first but make less sense when analyzed.  These tactics of vagueness and double-talk allows the Sessiomagus to avoid the possibility of failure while making himself seem more noble for doing so.

Typically, the Sessiomagus is reluctant to demonstrate any of the techniques he may claim to have knowledge of, and is usually reluctant to engage in anything other than the most basic magical work.  It is infinitely easier for one to hold on to an image of authority if one never has to demonstrate a basis for that authority.  Even worse, the fear of failure may override any interest in actually performing magic — losing face by failing to get a spell to work would serve to undermine a Sessiomagus’ authority, and is a risk too great to take.  On a more simplistic level, it may be that the Armchair Magician is afraid of interacting with occult forces, and settles for theorizing about that which he is too afraid to explore firsthand.

Of course, as with any field, abstract theory and speculation has an important role in the practice of the occult.  Sessiomagi often possess keen insights into why some things work and why some don’t, or what actions might give the best results.  In this respect, the Sessiomagus is often vital to the student of the occult, and can often point aspirants into the needed direction to find what they need.  It is not the intent of this paper to single out and criticize Sessiomagi as a class, but to point out that many of them fall into the rut of eschewing practice for theory.  This choice creates the awkward paradox of an expert who is out of the field for so long that all of his skills and knowledge are useless, and thus he is of little use to anyone but other abstract theorists.  The same pattern can be seen in the teaching profession, where the joke says “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”  By standing up and experimenting — just a little bit — Sessiomagi put themselves in a much better position not only to relate to other magical practitioners, but also to test and further their own theories.  Such experimentation benefits us all.

[1] The glossary at Chaosmagic.com (http://www.chaosmagic.com/discussion/dcs-glossary.shtml — link now defunct) describes an Armchair Magician as “Someone who practices the Art as a matter of mental exercise rather than getting down and doing the ritual.”  It is not entirely pejorative, but can easily be used to describe someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about but is trying to convince you otherwise.    It is with this more negative connotation that this paper is concerned.

[2] From the Latin “sessio” meaning chair or throne, plus “magus.”  I permit myself the luxury of bragging that I coined this myself.

© 2006 Chirotus Infinitum
Published on The Witches’ Voice December 2006

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