What Counts As Success?

Chaos magic is results magic. Pete and Ray and company created it in order to get away from quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo and from psychotherapy in robes. The problem with both approaches was that you could delude yourself rotten about whether you were actually accomplishing anything. Whether you were building temples in the sky or managing your inner demons, you could while away your whole magical career dealing with Stuff That Isn’t There and having bugger all to show for it in the ordinary world except the magical grade you awarded yourself after your last meltdown-er, ‘initiation.’

And indeed, that was how Pete and Ray and company seem to have judged the prevailing occult climate of the 1970’s.

So they brought a bit of laboratory protocol to magic. They would write down what they were aiming to achieve with a piece of magic, do the magic, then match the results to the stated aim.

Telling success from failure is as simple as that. No excuses, no kidding yourself, no sleight-of-meaning. Result matches stated Intention or it doesn’t.

Pete Carroll even went as far as producing some ‘equations’ of magic in his book Liber Kaos. listing the variables as:

  • the probability of the event happening by chance

  • gnosis (i.e. the trance state of the magician during the magical act)

  • the magical link between action and event

  • conscious awareness

  • subconscious resistance

Don’t panic: you don’t need Pete’s maths in order to do results magic, as long as you’re aware of the factors involved. Just as well really, as none of those variables can be reduced to numbers that all could agree on.

A sigil, good to go

So what do we need to add to our understanding of results magic? The first thing is to remember what we are doing this for.

The second is to remember what we’re not doing it for. While we are magical sceptics, we are not enchanting in order to prove that it works. The pseudosceptics who rant about magic being delusion and fraud are a separate issue for another day. Their fantasy requirements of perfect laboratory conditions and strict protocols never satisfy them in the end so there’s no point in pandering to them. We are not doing experiments: enchantment is about making changes in our world.

For that reason we needn’t concern ourselves with whether or not the desired effect might have happened anyway. We want the result, not an explanation. That means that even our cherished “1 out of 5” benchmark of being effective at magic is no use to us. After all, if you enchant only for the practically certain, you should get 5 out of 5. But why would you enchant for the practically certain?

Speaking of effects, it doesn’t really matter how you think the magical act went. Did your ritual make the hair stand up on the back of your neck? Did you feel the energy pulsing through your body? Did you feel the presence of a hundred pressing spirits?

Doesn’t matter. Did you get the result? The feel of a magical act is irrelevant. You may not feel anything, a bit like those times in martial arts training where you just do the technique and your training partner goes flying into the corner and gets up glaring at you and you shrug and say “What? I hardly did anything!”

Timescale is a neglected factor of results magic. Extreme short-term focus means watching every single enchantment and frankly getting too attached to each one, starting while you’re still in the middle of the spellcasting. This anxious watching is sometimes called ‘lust of result’ and is generally regarded as a good way to screw up your magic. So, do your spell with the proper concentration, write it up, then leave it alone. Better still, do another ten spells. You’ll soon get over the first. The answer to lust of result is to turn to other things. Don’t worry: the parcel’s in the post.

Some spells take longer to do. If you’re doing a novena to Saint Expedite you’re revisiting it for nine days. The same principle applies though for avoiding lust of result.

Mid-term timescales offer you the chance to review and assess your general effectiveness. It’s where you’ve built up a written record of enchantments and had plenty of time for results to come in. You may finally be able to see a pattern forming of what works for you and derive some sort of batting average. You may even see how your average is improving. The magical sceptic will be interested in this phenomenon, because if you can get better at it then it isn’t just delusion, fraud and chance, is it? So analyse your records.

In stock market trading we all have stories of that quick trade that turned into a long term investment because the trade didn’t work out and we didn’t want to take the loss of real money. We hung onto that dog of a stock in the hope that eventually it would turn around, ‘cos stocks basically rise in price, right? Huh.

Similarly in magic, we all have that spell that still hasn’t worked ‘yet.’ Look, do yourself a favour: admit that it’s not going to happen, count it as a failure on your batting averages and move on. Keep your records honest.

That said, what about the longer time frame? Simple spells and divinations shouldn’t go there, but sustained magical campaigns can’t be judged by the success or failure of any one magical contribution. Once again it’s a matter of recording your ultimate Intention and your results. Each magical contribution should be a milestone, a step on the way to the ultimate outcome and its results should be observable.

You can attempt works of Metamorphosis over such a time frame, but you can put a deadline into the outcome frame. That is, choose how long you’re going to pursue your Metamorphosis, stop at that date, then observe what changes may have taken place.

Beyond that we start to move from outcome-based magic to direction-based magic, and that’s another post. See you then.

One thought on “What Counts As Success?”

  1. along with all this (well said btw)
    I found that it was helpful to keep an eye out, beyond stated intent, for unintended consequences, ways things seemed to move that were not in line with the intent, and anything else that seemed to be an effect, and experimenting with ways to utilize those tendencies- particularly in the realm of “kinda worked” or “seemed like it was working but then ultimately failed”
    A lot of my early manifestations were terribly imperfect. It would get me the closest thing to my intended result that was possible within my range of influence- now, there’s two pitfalls here. The first is confirmation bias which is supremely unhelpful, but the other is not recognizing what your magick Did potentially accomplish that can either be relied upon within this limitation, Or used to learn from to refine your focus for more leverage in this place reality seems to bend.

    The question “did it work”, as a simple yes or no, I find misses quite a lot of subtlety.
    And so I keep a “Maybe/Kinda” pile- neither putting too much weight on the result, nor discounting it entirely, and continuing to experiment with those to see if I can either improve or find a way use that effect that I can reliably achieve.

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