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Thread: How are meanings assigned?

  1. #1
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    How are meanings assigned?

    I have a number of books that tell me what characteristics/properties crystals and herbs have. But I've been wondering, how are these characteristics/properties assigned?

    I imagine that they would develop over time for something like herbs. Their uses in day to day life may influence how people use them for magical purposes. But how are the characteristics/properties for things like crystals or wood assigned? I'm sure history plays a part - but at some point somebody made a decision, and I was wondering if there was a logic to it.

    How are the characteristics/properties for new crystals devised? Something like tanzanite doesn't really have a lore attached to it. And herbs not previously widely used, how do we decide what they should be used for?

    Is anyone aware of how these things are worked out?

    Thanks

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    I suppose they could be based upon what people used the herbs for and how they are/were viewed by people. Some produce different effects on you if consumed, many that can harm you. Others were probably used in healing, like the Tulsi plant in Ayurveda. And, if some are used as incense, they can produce a calm feeling to the person that might naturally be deduced as "this herb can remove negative energy and make the environment a calmer one"

    As for crystals, personally I think it's all psychological. If you assign meaning to something about any type of thing, it's going to work in some way...not because the crystal itself has any power, but because you are focusing on the crystal. Rose quartz is the stone used for love, but that could be for a number of reasons; it's color, it's lore (if any) or the fact that people just use the stone as a way to focus attention on finding their man (or woman). I guess the same could be said of some herbs as well if used in magic.
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    I think it has to do a lot with anthropology / culture, and with herbs more and more recently science (for medicinal uses anyways). Personal associations, practicality, geography, coincidence... I've recently decided to stop paying attention to the 'supposed' associations of various things, least I close my mind to what they might actually mean to me; different people/cultures make different associations and 'meanings' to the same materials.

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    In general, a substance usually acquires an association either by its physical properties or its appearance. For herbs, "properties" often means pharmacological effect, but an herb doesn't have to be a medicinal drug to have a magical association. Sacred psychedelics (ie. peyote) fall into this category, as do many reputed aphrodisiacs when the actual clinical effect is a warming or itching sensation.

    Appearance is a good indicator of magical properties, good enough that a substance with no lore attached to it can be used to magical effect just by saying "gee, that looks just like a ______." Amethyst, for example, gets its name from the belief that it cured drunkenness, a belief inspired by its wine-like purple color.

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    Quote Originally Posted by QOD View Post
    I have a number of books that tell me what characteristics/properties crystals and herbs have. But I've been wondering, how are these characteristics/properties assigned?
    Most traditionally, qualities have been assigned to natural things through what is called the 'doctrine of signatures'. This magical theory holds that the spiritual powers of the cosmos - especially the seven planets and twelve signs - place their 'signatures' upon natural things that share in their power. Thus a red stone bears the signature of mars, and will be concerned with physical strength and health, male sexuality, perhaps war and defense. An herb with sweet-smelling flowers might be considered to 'belong to' Venus, and thus be proper for love, money etc.

    If you look at herbals from the early modern period, such as Culpepper's, you'll find each herb assigned to planetary and astrological powers, as an explanation of their abilities.

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    How are meanings assigned?
    Pretty much any damn way you want

    Some of it's lore based

    Some of it's inuitive, otherwise known as Unsubstianted Personal Gnosis [UPG, an acronym that gets tossed around here every so often]

    A lot of times atributes are asigned on the basis of Cabala, which comes in handy for this sort of work
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    Quote Originally Posted by IanCorrigan View Post
    Most traditionally, qualities have been assigned to natural things through what is called the 'doctrine of signatures'. This magical theory holds that the spiritual powers of the cosmos - especially the seven planets and twelve signs - place their 'signatures' upon natural things that share in their power. Thus a red stone bears the signature of mars, and will be concerned with physical strength and health, male sexuality, perhaps war and defense. An herb with sweet-smelling flowers might be considered to 'belong to' Venus, and thus be proper for love, money etc.

    If you look at herbals from the early modern period, such as Culpepper's, you'll find each herb assigned to planetary and astrological powers, as an explanation of their abilities.
    The assignment of qualities also seems to have a fundamental basis in the Laws of Magic which were described and diagrammed by Isaac Bonewits in his book Real Magic:

    Issac's Laws of Magic page and diagram

    The traditions of a culture also contain tales and associations for how certain things were found to work and their effects are described in tales about them.

    I see where someone has stated that UPG is a source. Where that might be true, the actual working or effectiveness of this gnosis has to safely and effectively tested (kind of like how some governments test food, drugs and herbs for usefulness and safety).

    Searles O'Dubhain
    Last edited by odubhain; May 7th, 2011 at 11:59 AM. Reason: fixed link

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    It depends. The doctrine of signature is only a small part, and only in certain cultures, the ones that have these system to which they may refer. In modern times, ethnobotany is big, meaning modern herbalists (Culpepper included) just repeat what the local tribe says about a plant. That's not how they are given the association obviously, but it's how we find out about it.

    Probably the single largest factor, especially with herbs, is practical application. For instance, lemon juice is highly acidic and therefore acts as a solvent. It is used in many cleaning agents, and the same property leads to its use in energetic cleansing. Chamomile, as a nature sedative in tea, is also attributed the magical power to sooth and relax.

    This leads into symbolism. Butterflies symbolize transformation and awakening, because this earthbound, slow moving little bug called a caterpillar, spontaneously becomes a butterfly. Bloodstone has the power to cleanse and strengthen the blood, because the stone appears to have bloodstains on its surface. This of course is also were the lore comes from, that the blood on "bloodstone" (which by the way is actually just any red and green jasper) is the drops of blood that fell from the body of Christ as he was on the cross.

    There is another important aspect however, often neglected, but absolutely vital, especially with crystals. All atomic structures vibrate with a specific energetic frequency. This frequency can have an effect on the world at large, especially the human body. Some people are so in tune with these vibrations, that holding an object they can determine what effect its energy has on that of its surroundings. Apparently crystal author Naisha Ahsian is such an individual, and has done some work in assigning uses to newly discovered crystals. I believe she was personally involved with moldavite, tanzanite, and malachite, but I could be wrong. Herbs and crystals have their own very real power, even if you don't know what that power is. I've given people my charms without telling them the purpose, and they work anyway.

    In the case of plants, there is the additional aspect of the plant spirits, by whatever name you choose to attribute to them. If you know how to listen, they can tell you what a plant may be used for. I've done it.

    The "UPG" methods, as these last two are, should always be substantiated with a secondary source, but sometimes (especially in the case of crystals) the only source available is another UPG.

    In the end, if it works, it works, go with it. The philosophy of Discordianism tells us that if you get the same results with a rubber chicken that you get with a wand, it's a magic rubber chicken... Because I say it is, and subjective reality is the only reality that counts for anything.

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