Like, at all? Here we are, blithely assuming that we can go straight to discussing what-for and how we do magic, and never does it occur to us whether we should be doing magic. At all. But here we are, doing the Wise One bit and examining our presuppositions. Again. It’s good to check from time to time.
1) “Do you really want to be associated with this lot?”
A major demoraliser to our involvement in magic is the reputation of magicians themselves. For thousands of years magicians have been abused as evildoers and charlatans. Now I’ve come across a few evildoers and charlatans over the years, and I’m guessing you have too, and I’ve come to distrust occultniks on principle: frauds, thieves, bullies, wannabe puppet-masters; deluded, deranged, vindictive and laughable. No wonder Plato wanted them locked up. No wonder the law of Moses ordered they be put to death. Classical writers railed against them, laws were passed against them, and as for the Christians …
Down the centuries magicians have been both despised as superstitious and yet feared, presumably in case their superstitious practices might be effectual after all. Dubious characters abound in history, from Simon Magus to Saint Cyprian the Sorcerer, from Edward Kelley to Cagliostro to Casanova and of course, Aleister Crowley, described by one contemporary scandal-sheet as ‘the wickedest man in the world.’ The great moral cautionary tale in European folklore and literature is the story of Faust, who sold his soul for success.
What a shower.
And it is their greasy spectres that hang over us whenever we declare ourselves as magicians, their collective reputation staining ours and marking us as targets. Doctor John Dee’s status at court was always edgy: he had barely left the house on a mission for Queen Elizabeth when that house was burned down by the torches and pitchforks mob. Cyprian was characterized and canonized as a repentant sorcerer who had the good moral sense to die for his new faith. Cornelius Agrippa first recast magic as ‘natural,’ then recanted his magic in the hope of gaining respectability and patronage. That didn’t work. Sir Isaac Newton kept his head down about his alchemical experiments until he finally succeeded in turning base matter into gold when he was made head of the Royal Mint. Nice one, Zak.
2) “You should stick to spiritual concerns.”
Introduce ‘spirituality’ and it’s worse for us magicians. I sometimes like to sum up the things we use magic for as:
“Get rich, get laid, get even;
be safe, be well and be successful.”
‘Spirituality’ criticises these aspirations on three counts:
1) “You shouldn’t be wanting these things anyway.”
Well okay, not everybody feels comfortable with the getting even stuff, and many would consider love spells coercive and therefore on a par with abuse. But who objects to having sufficient wealth? And why? This seems more like our dying culture’s Christianity hangover insisting on the value of ‘holy poverty.’ And as anyone who is in actual poverty can tell you, there’s nothing holy about it.
Likewise, being safe at home and on the streets and enjoying good health are the kinds of things that no sane person would object to. After all, if you’ve got an infection are you going to shrug and say “God/Allah/Fate/etc. wills it” or are you off down the doctor’s pronto? And if you’re cool to use modern medicine, why not to use magic?
Yeah, there are those who will indeed take their entirely curable disease as the will of Someshit, but they’re not magicians. And they can keep away from me: I don’t want to catch anything from them. Inconsiderate sods.
The many ways in which people self-sabotage short of success suggests that the abovementioned poverty wordvirus from the decaying corpse of Christendom has infected their thinking on the worthiness of wanting success too. For those who need to know, there’s nothing praiseworthy about being a failure. It’s a fixable problem. That’s all.
2) “Magic is a distraction from spiritual practice.”
After the Christians had established that magicians were messing with demons that are evil and false gods that don’t exist and that those are in fact one and the same thing (Huh? Dunno. Don’t ask me to make sense of what doesn’t), their next move was to remove miracles, healing and so forth from the access of ordinary Christians. So when I was a Catholic kid those things were the preserve of saints and nobody else should presume to wish for them. You had to pray instead to the God Whose Will be done (see point 1 above).
Me, I started fraternizing with Pentecostals. Next thing you know; prophecy, healing and so forth. Hah. Who says we can’t have miracles anymore?
Meanwhile, the western Christian mystical tradition had mystics doing miraculous stuff by the ton. They just weren’t allowed to expect them, partly since they are traditionally regarded as graces, gifts of God, like the occasional bunch of flowers and box of choccies and the believer should not presume to get them regularly or on demand, but mostly due to a conflict of purpose. As Evelyn Underhill wrote in her book Mysticism:
“(True mysticism’s) aims are wholly transcendental and spiritual. It is in no way concerned with adding to, exploring, re-arranging, or improving anything in the visible universe.”
In fairness, this isn’t just Christendom’s problem. The Hindu tradition has long known of psychic powers enhanced by certain forms of practice, the siddhis, and in both Hinduism and Buddhism there is acknowledgement that these may be useful aids to liberation, but they’re not encouraged.
You can see why Pete Carroll dismissed the transcendental and spiritual when he and his mates were devising what became Chaos Magic. Amputating any limb infected with those skanky spirituality wordviruses.
3) “Magic is cheating.”
Damn straight magic is cheating. Same as getting educated is cheating. Same as learning and applying skills is cheating. Same as planning and carrying out the plan is cheating when you could be just giving up and trusting to Luck. Here’s a thing: ever noticed how often Luck drops the ball?
And so the magician answers Hamlet’s
“To be or not to be, that is the question
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
or to take arms against a sea of troubles
and by opposing end them”
by taking up those arms and doing that opposing of the slings and arrows of outrageous bloody Fortune and its sea of troubles.
And can we? Well, wouldn’t you like Fortune to a bit less outrageous for you and those you care about? It’s been a feature of the traceable Western Magical Tradition from its beginnings in the priestly magic, or Heka, of ancient Egypt. For example, here’s a how-to-be-a-pharoah handbook called The Instruction of Merikare, which dates from 2025-1700 BCE. As far as I know this is the first recorded justification of magic:
“Provide for men, the cattle of God, for He made heaven and earth at their desire … He gave the breath of life to their noses, for they are likenesses of Him which issued from His flesh. He shines in the sky for the benefit of their hearts; He has made herbs, cattle, and fish to nourish them … He has made for them magic to be weapons to ward off what may happen.” (italics mine)
Our magical tradition is made of weapons to ward off what may happen. With it, we challenge Fortune itself. But it’s not just Luck or Fortune. There’s intelligence out there.
You’re trogging away on your little path to the Otherworld and there’s six lanes of traffic coming towards you. Any halfway decent medium knows what it’s like to be trying to contact just one spirit and be fighting the buggers off with a shitty astral stick. Our world is fascinating to the what’s-out-there. They meddle, as it were. We can benefit greatly from such encounter, but be aware that they’re not taking ‘Sod off’ as an answer and if we can’t deal with them as equals we may be dealt with as inferiors.
Myths abound of allies who resource and equip us for Otherworld engagement. The Egyptian sun god gives heka, Hermes gives learning, Odin fetches the runes, and so forth. Even Lucifer sheds light on the Otherworld. Bonus: my native Wales has literature describing the complex relationships of earthly kingdom to Otherworld and how they can be negotiated. And then there are the gateway spirits; Papa Legba, Ganesha, Scirlin- the list goes on.
We assume nothing but control over the vagaries of our lives. And when the Otherworld starts sticking its nose into our affairs we are not left powerless. Yes, we should be doing magic.