flimflam

The Art of Flimflam

June, 2009

Jargon and specialized vocabulary are used for nearly every trade or system in the world.  Sometimes this results in the general population taking on part of this way with words, such as the use of the term, ‘download.’ But more often than not, most people can listen to some conversations between two people who work or play at the same thing and not understand what the heck they’re talking about.  For instance, I sat next to a table that held three accountants one time.  They were not trying to keep their conversation quiet or secret in any way; I heard every sound uttered by them.  But for the life of me, I don’t think I understood more than twenty words in the half hour I sat four feet away.  No wonder those guys get paid lots of money: nobody can understand what they are talking about!

One of the things I’ve always used as a measurement of how well somebody knew something is what I call the simple-words gauge.  The math behind intergalactic navigation is pretty wild and difficult, no doubt.  But if somebody wanted me to understand what needed to be done by that math, it could all be explained in simple language.  I know, because I once had a PhD mathematician explain it all in about fifteen minutes… and I understood it.  Rather than try to dazzle me with specialized words and esoteric concepts, he just drew from his vast knowledge and gave me the whole picture (with the pesky mathematical details left out, of course) in plain language; he did not try to flimflam me.

Flimflamming is in itself a specialized field.  It requires an extensive vocabulary of impressive Greek- and Latin-based words with perhaps some French phrases for color and a German colloquialism or two to add excitement (some flimflammers have even been known to go into ancient Sumerian and Sanskrit!).  It also requires many years of training the teeth and tongue to talk at an astoundingly fast rate while speaking these words so the listener can be put into a state of shock trying to understand how the words are related to the subject they believe is being discussed.  Flimflamming is an art, yes indeed.

We all do a little flimflamming for various reasons.  But there are really only two basic motives to flimflam something and they are not mutually exclusive: one, to confuse the issue and/or the listener; and two, to create an illusion of great knowledge where little or none exists.  Flimflamming, really good flimflamming is one of the main tools of the con artist. Which brings me to the subject of magic and esoteric, super-secret, ancient (ever notice that it’s always ancient?) knowledge.

Now, I would like to believe that the Egyptians knew how to levitate huge blocks of stone so they could build the pyramids, but something in me just can’t quite buy into that.  I would like to believe that aliens came down and gave us knowledge about everything from fire building to how to make beer.  But, once again, I think the truth of the matter is probably more pedestrian.  Life would be so much more exciting if I could somehow be let in on ‘ancient secrets’ that would make me rich and youthful and beautiful and powerful and… well, you get the idea.  But the problem is this: how come these ‘secrets’ are not known worldwide?  I mean, even the Masons admit their ‘secret’ handshake is not a secret any longer!  And anybody with internet access can find out how to build a damn atom bomb!

What really gets me boiling though is how some people will try to impress and confuse folks who are new and curious about the magic and spirituality we lump under the term ‘Pagan.’ The most common instance of this is the horny jerk who thinks he can get into a girl’s pants under the guise of ‘ancient magical practices’ or the guy who wants everyone to follow his orders and do his laundry because he is some high priest of Gumdrop Magic.  Give me a break!

It might be argued that the victims are asking for it by being so naïve, but that argument does not wash either.  Even though I would love to be instructed in ancient lore that would make it so I would never need Viagra or have to pay taxes again, I know it just is not going to happen.  But it is not because I would not want it to happen; it’s because I have not been told how to do these things in plain ordinary language.  All I have ever heard is the wagging tongue of the flimflammer and over the years I have grown to distrust it.

If, when asked to explain something, a person goes into a long discourse and uses specialized jargon, they are not necessarily trying to flimflam us.  Specialized words make a great deal of sense when used the way they’re supposed to be used and with people who know what they mean.  This sort of jargon is there for the purpose of reducing the amount of verbiage among folks who already know about the complex ideas behind the special words.  It takes a long time to explain the way kinetic energy acts when it is conducted along a curved line.  And, trust me, proving it in a physics class using Newton’s laws is about as exciting as drying your clothes.  But once the concept is understood, why waste the time going into all that when you can use the term ‘torque’ to call up all that information instead?  Even common, everyday tasks use specialized words.  Take cooking for instance.  Nobody knows what sauté means until they are told and shown how.  And you might think a person was talking about a type of cocktail lounge if they used the word ‘isobar’ and you had not learned anything about weather predictions.  See?  Specialized language has its uses.  But no matter what the words might be, they have a simple-word explanation behind them.  If you do not know that simple explanation, you would not understand the information behind the special words.  And anyone who uses the special words without that information will inevitably fail at having any semblance of understanding of the subject matter.

Unfortunately, a lot of the specialized words in magic and Paganism are bandied about without any real understanding by some who do Pagan-speak.  For example, take the word ‘energy.’ We talk about ‘the energy of that person’ or ‘we need to put energy into this or that.’ What is the simple-word meaning behind our use of this term?  Well, since you ask, I will tell you:  ‘Energy’ refers to the relationship between one thing and another (sometimes several others) that produces a change in one or more of those things… period.  And so we can use the word in many ways and it still retains this meaning.

‘Energy’ doesn’t have to be measured in any particular way.  We can measure it with volts, horsepower, degrees of temperature, calories, speed, torque (!), pounds of pressure, etc., etc.  Some things we can’t seem to find a unit of measurement for.  How can we measure love or pain or trust?  And yet these things are energy just as much as a jolt from an electrical outlet.  Pagans speak of energy in a lot of ways that can’t be measured by any instrument but recognize that these forms of energy are just as real as the horsepower under the hood of their cars.  And even though we don’t have a way of measuring those energies it doesn’t make them any less useful.  Pagans recognize the importance of these energies and attempt to use them in a wide variety of ways.  Our way of thinking says these energies follow the same general rules that the classic energies of physics do and there are ways to mimic the tools and methods that physicists use for exploring and controlling their energies.  For instance, when we use a magic circle to ‘contain and protect,’ isn’t that pretty much the same as using ‘insulation’ around an electrical wire?

If you’re using terms in your magic that you don’t understand, terms you can’t explain in simple words, you probably aren’t going to get much out of your magic (or maybe you will but it won’t be what you want!).  You may not be trying to flimflam anybody, but you most certainly are flimflamming yourself.  And if you are trying to impress others or con them with quickly spoken fancy language, don’t be surprised when your house of cards comes crashing down on you.

So, for those of you who are relatively new to our circles: don’t allow yourself to be drawn into something if you do not understand it you should always ask what something means if you are not sure?  If anybody gives you any static about your questions, just walk away.  Nobody is such a greenhorn that they aren’t due an explanation of the terms used.  But if the person you ask tries to answer but doesn’t have a good explanation, one that gives you an understanding in nice, simple language, then your question has served a dual purpose: you have found a gap in that person’s knowledge (and they should thank you for finding it) and you’ve caused both of you to search for greater understanding.

Magic is not rocket science.  But even rocket science can be explained in simple language.  If you wish to do magic, you must know what your words and ideas mean.  But if you are just trying to impress the newbie’s, be gone from our circles; flimflam artists are not welcomed here.