Saturday, August 1, 2009

Who can do magic effectivly?

Scott over at Augeides posted a rebuttle to some of what I had to say about the frequency of psychic attack in a recent interview I have to the SoulJournings blog. I want to thank him for bringing attention to the interview, and thus advertising for me; and for making well reasoned arguments in his critique rather than some of the silly criticisms that are sometimes made. I think he is wrong of course, but this is largely based on us having a very different experience. I am not going to draw that conversation over here exactly, those interested in the argument can check out his posts, and others in the past where we have debated the same thing.

In the process of making his case though, he touched upon a subject with larger implications. He states:

Casting a spell with a targeted, measurable macrocosmic effect is not easy. If it were the effectiveness of magick would be an undisputed scientific fact. Part of the reason that spells are so difficult to test empirically is that so few people can perform them in such a way that they produce noticeable, tangible results. An effective curse consists of a lot more than hitting up the local occult store for some Anna Riva war water and splashing it on somebody's doorstep. The power comes from the magician, the materials just help to focus the effect.

This is a topic worth exploring on its own: who can do effective magick? What does it take?

Here again, I respect Scotts thought process, but experience has taught me differently. I have two specific arguments to make, the first is about the power of the magician necessary and the second is about the role of material in magick.

My first few spell attempts were spectacularly successful; one of them frighteningly so. This beginners luck is something that other people have also observed, their first attempts at magick ended up being very successful. The strange part is that as they began to learn the art, their effectiveness actually decreased for a time. It is as if learning the rules of magick is counter-productive to the performance of magick until such a time as you have really integrated them.

This success has been accounted for in a number of ways. Simon once told me that it was because doing something mysterious and forbidden had its own energy – the energy of blind faith. You are told that a certain ritual will work and even if you don’t know why it will, you believe it will which is a heck of a lot of energy. Learning the actual rules of how it works takes some of the mystery and faith away, and thus requires the adept to channel it a different way.

Another explanation is pure focus. When a jilted woman buys a candle spell to get back at a lover, she lights the candle and just lets it rip. She doesn’t think about letting it rip. Trained magicians, especially Chaos and Ceremonial magicians go through a whole “statement of intent” process that takes the whole thing from the emotional to the intellectual. The spell has its balls cut off by you trying to stand their in perfect stance, and thinking about your intent rather than just intending. Chances are if you are there with a green pyramid candle, a bottle of steady work oil, and some desperate prayers that you don’t get laid off and go bankrupt, you are really friggin focused; you don’t need to tell yourself to focus, than breathe, than have some contrived moments to eye squinting fake telepathy.

Magick is so easily accomplished that most cultures acknowledge the idea that it can be done accidentally. In Africa for instance the difference between a Witch and a Sorcerer is that the Witch most likely doesn’t know what she is doing. In the congo for instance it is thought that the presence of a special gland is the cause of her magick. In Italy the evil eye is thought to be cast most often by jelous or angry women, not trained Strega. The idea that you need years of training to make a spell work is just incorrect. You need years of training to really be a magician and sorcerer, to travel the planes, to call the spirits and have them come, to channel energy as energy and not as emotional bile. BVut to just make a spell work? Nah, just a little inherent psychic gift, some good instruction, and than BAM!

The second issue that I have is about the use of materia magica. Scott say’s that the power comes from the magician, and the materials just help focus. Meh. While it is true that magical materials are mostly “dead” until brought to life in a spell by a worker, that doesn’t mean that they are merely focusers. This is a common attitude amongst many ceremonialists who do not fully understand magick that is worked with materials. Its also somewhat disrespectful. For years and years magicians and shamen have been painstakingly recording their formulas. How foolish of them! They could have just picked up any old rock and used it as a focus! Really? Is this what we think of any type of magick that doesn’t work the way we think magick works? I call Bullshit.

In short, there does NOT have to be anything more to a curse than a pissed off person going to the local botanica, buying a batch of war water and splashing it on someone’s doorstep. In fact I have seen people do just that and cause problems for a Thelemic ceremonialist that he had a very difficult time dealing with.


Lavanah said...

Oh, so VERY well said.

Ananael Qaa said...

While it is true that magical materials are mostly “dead” until brought to life in a spell by a worker, that doesn’t mean that they are merely focusers.

In fact, what I meant by my comment about "focus" was exactly what you say in the first half of your sentence. The power comes from the magician, but you are correct in stating that it can be picked up by the materials. They hold the power that is placed into them and can act as an anchor for the spell, but only in unusual circumstances will materials hold much magical energy that doesn't come from a caster. My point was that you can't go to an occult store, buy a bottle of war water, and dump it on somebody's doorstep without casting any sort of spell on it and still expect it to work. It won't.

I'm of the opinion that "beginner's luck" in magick is caused by improperly terminated spells. You have a certain level of magical power available at all times, and it gets divided among all of the concurrent spells that you have running. If you don't specify a time limit on a spell it runs forever or until you deliberately shut it down. But when you're just starting out you don't have any concurrent spells running and so if you are talented enough to make the spell work in the first place it gets your magical power's undivided attention.

I can't speak for anyone else but I have found that I can get that undivided state back by carefully shutting down spells that I cast without time limits, and once I do my magick works even better because I've had a lot of years of practice since I started out on this path. Magical work does slowly increase your total power, but with too much running it doesn't always feel that way.

Ananael Qaa said...

I should have re-read that comment one more time before saving it. By "any sort of spell" I am including concentrated attention combined with a natural psychic gift. In my mind a spell doesn't have to be a formal, scripted operation. I would think that would be what was going on in your example - If a gifted person is really angry enough that the thought of vengeance or what have you fills their whole consciousness, that can produce results similar to a more formal spell.

But that brings to mind another question. What percentage of the population do you believe have enough of a psychic gift to make the above example work? I'm thinking that your estimate and mine are probably quite different.

Dohmnaill said...

A nice post and an intelligent debate - a rare find online.

I don't want to detract from the debate, but would be remiss not to throw my two cents in.

I have always felt that reality exists in a series of concurrent variables. Some consider this "planes", but I feel that some live in realities with slightly different rules. Perhaps it is just a different mindset.

As both Scott and Jason seem to point out - their individual experiences give them different view points.

Jason started having people come to him for help almost as soon as he made the deliberate decision to study magick. It is his reality.

Scott mentions being a "crazy person magnet" - something I completely understand too well. It is how my reality works.

That being said, I wonder if "focus" really has anything to do with the ability to emit energies... plenty of unfocused folks out there. I have seen "poltergeist" activity manifest around certain coworkers and family. Of course, they are completely unaware of it.

At one of my old jobs I would often find myself having to do small banishings and cleansings. A few coworkers initially told me they thought the place was haunted. It was haunted by one of the workers. All such activity ended once this unfocused person left. Mind you this person was a rigid, type A, atheist, who had everything under control except for their personal life (that turned out to be completely in shambles.) People who didn't get along with this coworker had all sorts of problems on the job, and some off the job. Does this constitute Magick? I do not think so, as they would have scoffed at the notion of such "superstition", but the psychic energy was palpable - once I became aware of it, I was able to avoid affect.

Jason Miller, said...

see I disagree about them holding the energy that does not come from the caster. They actually hold energy that is unlocked by the caster. Sounds like a small thing, but its actually quite a big difference.

Also for long term spells, you should be able to channel them to power off of other sources such as the earths magnetic field, the sun, a river, etc. Try it.

Jason Miller, said...

Great point about unfocused people and magick Don. There is a sort of "wild field" magick that is done by some people. Also obsession is a type of focus that can lend itself well to magic.

Ananael Qaa said...

see I disagree about them holding the energy that does not come from the caster.

Yes, I believe we do disagree here. As I see it specific materials and mixtures of materials have affinities for certain types of energy and will hold and focus that energy particularly effectively. I hope I've managed to successfully explain that I am emphatically not of the opinion that all materials are the same and therefore it doesn't matter what formulas or materials you use for your spell - that would be a pretty ridiculous position to try and defend.

As always, I'd love to see an experiment that could resolve the question - but on something this subtle it would expect it to be pretty difficult.

Also for long term spells, you should be able to channel them to power off of other sources such as the earths magnetic field, the sun, a river, etc. Try it.

I have, and it works for me as well. You can also create a talisman in such a way that it has its own "spiritual channel" and powers itself off the chi that naturally comes its way. Neither method will deplete your magical power once the spell is up and running. But what I was talking about is the case of a beginner whose first couple of spells work great and whose ability then starts to seemingly decrease. It probably is because he or she failed to properly terminate one or more of those first few spells which continue to run on their own and keep drawing power.

And while we're on it, I should add that as long as you define your success condition properly that will also terminate the spell. What you need to watch out for are spells where the full intent is something like "bring me prosperity." That one will keep on running because you can always be more prosperous. "Bring me a hundred dollars in the next three days" is much better - it will terminate when either (1) you have your $100 or (2) at the end of the three days.

And Dohmnaill, I concur with Jason and thank you for bringing up that example - I've come across people like that as well. Those experiences are what tend to make me think that magick is more talent-based than training-based, though training can certainly help you refine and improve your natural abilities. And, of course, most advanced techniques require some study to figure out how to do them in the first place followed by practice and empirical testing to get them right.

Jack Faust said...

Oh man. Okay, here we go.

"who can do effective magick?"

Anyone, and everyone, day and night. And most people don't realize they're doing it. That is the only difference between the person that's manipulating reality and the Average Joe. While I see what Scott is saying, I disagree whole-heartedly.

William S. Burroughs once quipped that the best curses were the ones no one notices and in saying so, he was implying that the best curses also come from the people who aren't trained (self or otherwise) in any given system.

"This beginners luck is something that other people have also observed, their first attempts at magick ended up being very successful."

That was my experience as well. That said...

"Trained magicians, especially Chaos and Ceremonial magicians go through a whole “statement of intent” process that takes the whole thing from the emotional to the intellectual."

I believe Fr. UD and Pete Carroll disagree there. It's an attempt to unify both aspects. You're expected to learn to control your emotional states to a certain degree, and then shove as much emotion into the act of ritual as possible. Be it the "wank method" of sigilization or lighting eighteen small fires around you, throwing on a goat mask and then shouting, raving, and going near-nutty while visualizing your enemy's dismemberment while you charge the sigil; the emotional content must be there or it will likely end up being ineffective. Sitting around and "charging" up something without an emotional quality involved is often worthless in my personal opinion.

Intellect is supposedly the device of "severing" - but not of unleashing. Going over things logically is a banishing, and it's used before hand to narrow down specifically what you want. But once you know what your aim is? Unleash Hell (or paradise, or whatever form of gnosis you can jack into) in your wake.

Chaos magicians that forget that aren't normally very effective at the art of sorcery, nor will they make decent "open handed" sorcerers.

Jack Faust said...

As an aside, when I worked at Taco Bell (I was twenty, give me a break), a short term project before I left was to cause it to be "haunted" akin to what Dohm mentioned. My best friend (who worked with me), another local magician, and I all "seeded" the idea that it was haunted. That was it, really. Casual references.

Nothing happened for a bit; and then once I'd forgotten it, everything went to Hell. From phantom knocks reported, to a grease fire, to static interference on the headsets. By the end of it I had a New Age-ish co-worker begging me to exorcise the place. But at that point, I couldn't. (And hence I count the project as "backfire". I totally underestimated what would happen and gave myself much more of a headache as a result.)

About a year after I left, everything returned to normal; but by then 90% of the work force had left, and the power of the suggestion was long-gone.