ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
[personal profile] ecosophia
Magic FailRegular readers of this journal may remember the series of entries in the spring of this year about the attempt by opponents of the current US administration to cast hexes on President Trump and an assortment of other people and causes they hate. Well, they took another shot at it, in an attempt to keep Brett Kavanaugh from being confirmed as a justice of the US Supreme Court. You can find the ritual posted in full here, and of course the success of this latest working can be measured quite precisely by the latest headlines.

When one of my readers brought this latest working to my attention on Thursday evening, my immediate response was to say that Kavanaugh would be confirmed shortly. Several readers have asked me to explain what it was about the ritual that made me so sure it would fail. That’s a worthwhile question, not least because it touches on some important details of magical theory and practice, and so seems worth a discussion here.

Magic, after all, isn’t just playacting and dress-up games. It’s meant to make things happen. If a given working doesn’t get results, it’s worth taking the time to understand what went wrong—and if a whole series of workings don’t work, it’s crucial to figure out the flaws that made that happen, so you can do something else instead.

That’s crucial here, because the magical workings done by the self-proclaimed “Resistance” have been abject failures. There’s the working to keep Kavanaugh from being confirmed, which flopped so noticeably; there was the working to hex the NRA, after which the NRA had its most successful month of fundraising in many decades; and there was the attempt to put a binding on Trump himself, which has had no effect worth noticing.

Snce his inauguration, after all, Trump has brought North Korea to the negotiating table, forced Mexico and Canada to accept a new trade agreement in place of NAFTA, imposed tariffs to protect American industries, abolished the individual mandate for Obamacare, carried out a far-reaching program of deregulation, resumed the enforcement of US immigration laws, and had 76 federal judges confirmed so far (with many dozens more working their way through the confirmation process), including two Supreme Court justices.  That’s a very substantial scorecard for the first two years of a first term, especially when you remember that he’s done this against the concerted opposition of the entire political establishment and the corporate media.

What’s more, there’s some reason to think that these workings might actually have helped the causes they were intended to harm. Notice the timing: the binding spell on Trump went noisily public on February 16, 2017, and it’s been since that time that Trump has racked up most of the accomplishments just described. The curse on the NRA went online on February 15, 2018, and March 2018, as already noted, turned into a banner month for donations to the NRA. Even more to the point, when the attempt to bind Kavanaugh’s confirmation was published on the web on Wednesday, October 3, the outcome was still very much in doubt; promptly thereafter, the Republican holdouts fell into line, a Democratic senator joined them, and Kavanaugh was confirmed.

This kind of thing is far from unknown in magic.  Those of us who’ve been around in the magical community for a while have all seen our share of love spells that ended up making the target hate the caster, prosperity spells that resulted in poverty and bankruptcy, and so on. Magic isn’t whatever you want it to be; it has its laws and its limits, and if you ignore those you can very easily get results that are the opposite of those you intended.

Broadly speaking, there were two major problems with the Kavanaugh binding. The first, a problem that pervades the entire genre of heavily publicized online magical workings, was precisely that it was public. If you’re doing magic in a controversial cause, one in which you have reason to know that there are other people working magic for the other side, publishing all the details of your working for everyone to see has precisely the same effect as showing your cards to all the other players in a poker game.  If the other side knows what you’re doing, and how, and when, and where, and why, they can easily construct workings of their own to mess with your ritual and make it ineffective.

Every time I’ve mentioned this in relation to the current fad for political magic, proponents of the workings in question have denounced my comments in strident terms, insisting that the old rule of magical secrecy is outdated, inaccurate, and just plain wrong. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, though; with Brett Kavanaugh sworn in, the NRA sitting on a fat pile of unexpected donations, and Trump chalking up yet another victory, it’s kind of hard to treat the denunciations just mentioned with any degree of seriousness.  Something about the magic of the “Resistance” clearly isn’t working.  Yelling that it just ain’t so, and the mere fact that Trump is getting nearly everything he wants doesn’t mean anything, isn’t exactly a productive response to that reality.

The failure to maintain operational secrecy would probably be enough to sink the Kavanaugh binding all by itself, given a sufficiently skilled and motivated group of mages on the other side. There’s an even more serious problem with the binding spell, though: it contradicts itself.

There’s a difference, after all, between truth and justice on the one hand, and partisan hatred and prejudice on the other.  If you’re going to invoke truth and justice in a magical working, you need to behave in a truthful and just manner, or the results won’t be good. In particular, if you invoke truth and justice and the rest of your spell makes it clear that what you really want is to destroy someone you hate, that working is going to blow up in your face like a well-flung hand grenade.

The entire logic of the ritual linked above, and of the shrill and furious diatribe that introduces it, assumes in advance that every accusation and every scrap of partisan polemic flung at Brett Kavanaugh must be true, because Trump. That’s hardly just, nor is it truthful. Neither you, dear reader, nor I, nor the author of the spell have any way to know whether the accusations against Kavanaugh are true or not. While it does seem to be the case that the great majority of women who accuse men of sexual assault are telling the truth, it’s emphatically not true that all such accusations are honest; there have been a number of well-documented recent cases where accusers have recanted, or been proven beyond reasonable doubt to have lied.

Assuming that all such accusations must be true is as prejudiced, and as far from justice, as assuming that all such accusations must be false. Insisting that a given set of accusations must be true because you hate the person who appointed the target of the accusations to the Supreme Court, in turn, has nothing to do with truth or with justice; it’s politically motivated hate speech, and nothing more.

You can do an effective magical working based on honest hate. I don’t recommend it, because I guarantee you won’t like the blowback, but it can be done. In fact, doing such a working and accepting the blowback in advance, calling it down upon you as the price you’re willing to pay to strike at the object of your hatred, is very potent magic indeed. (Just don’t try to wiggle out of the blowback when it shows up; you won’t escape the consequences but you might succeed in weakening your spell.)  If you’re going to do magic based on the kind of seething hatred and frustrated rage that’s so visibly on display in these workings, then, you’ve got a choice. You can accept the truth about your motivations and, at least in the privacy of your own skull, drop the pretense that you’re guided by anything better; alternatively, your magic will fail. Take your pick.

This is one of the reasons that traditional occult schools in the Western world, and in many other cultures as well, stress the attainment of self-knowledge as an essential first step in magical training. To become an effective mage, it’s crucial to learn how to get past the fancy labels we all use now and then to dress up our hatreds, our cravings, and our fears. You can learn that by paying attention to the teachings of traditional occultism; you can also learn it by slamming face first into the consequences of your mishandled magic until sheer pain forces you to notice. Those who won’t learn the lesson the first way can pretty reliably count on learning it the second.

I've had a couple of people try to post screeds of varying length about Justice Kavanaugh and the like. That's not what we're talking about here, folks; the subject of this entry is the spell meant to stop his confirmation and the implications of its failure. There are plenty of places online where you can post diatribes for or against Kavanaugh, and so attempts to drag the discussion here back to partisan political issues will land straight in the trash can. Thank you. 


Date: 2018-10-07 02:22 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm curious what you make of the news about the financial problems in the NRA that did the rounds in August?
Couldn't this be argued as that particular working having the intended effect?

(no subject)

Date: 2018-10-07 03:38 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thanks for this.

There's also an unintended consequence of the blown up spell that might be trending. It likely also has something to do with the sheer venom and underhanded tactics of the Democrats during the past week or so, in addition to the fact that the original letter was held until the last second. About one week ago, had it as 83.3% chance that the Democrats would win a majority of the House. That is now down to 73.9%. Remembering Nate Silver's explanation right before the 2016 Presidential election, although his formulae gave Hillary about a 60% chance of winning (IIRC), he figured that because the prior 3 weeks' trend had been for the odds to get significantly closer, the election was probably a toss up. So, the trend for the House forecasts at 538 may be worth paying attention to. 10 points in a week appears to show a change, perhaps.

(no subject)

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-07 05:27 am (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 2018-10-07 03:39 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
So they keep on pouring more and more energy into a failed enterprise, when they could be doing something far more productive with it --- even (let's get radical here) something that might actually contribute toward their declared goal.

But instead they've soldered their eyes and ears shut and insist that they're succeeding brilliantly and Trump will be impeached any minute now. (It's been well over a year and a half. I'm waiting.)

I wonder how they'll respond when the blue wave doesn't show up for the midterms? And if Trump sails into a second term of office without breaking a sweat, as it's looking likely that he will, what then?

(no subject)

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-07 10:23 am (UTC) - Expand

wasn't that a prediction?

From: [personal profile] syfen - Date: 2018-10-07 06:28 pm (UTC) - Expand

Just a reminder

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-08 08:58 pm (UTC) - Expand

Publicity stunt

Date: 2018-10-07 09:40 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Clearly a publicity stunt attempting to capitalise on the indignation of leftward millenials to sell books.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-10-07 10:19 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
When doing workings for some kind of external effect, how do you decide whether to aim for a particular result or ask for 'best possible outcome' and leave the specifics up to the universe?

(no subject)

Date: 2018-10-07 10:24 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I reckon Michael M Hughes must've earned the Iron Cross by now, for his services to magically further the cause of the far right. Perhaps one of the darkside lodges can oblige.
From: (Anonymous)
Sigh. You know, there's a lot of potential angles one could take for messing with Trump through magic, but for some reasons his avid detractrors choose to focus on a nonprofit supporting people's right to be armed and ready to defend themselves and now a milquetoast judge he nominated for the Supreme Court. Why? Because the media tells them that they're rapists and terrorists. And they eat it all up. Sigh.


Date: 2018-10-07 01:38 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Interesting comments.

I wonder if the idea of open spells comes from a misunderstanding of the open source movement in software development, as well as the idea that "security by obscurity" is not an adequate security policy.

Both of these are good ideas - for software development, not necessarily for other realms. In software, anything you distribute can be reverse engineered from the compiled artifacts, although it requires a good deal of effort that may well be better spent elsewhere. This isn't really possible for magic.

Re: Public

From: [personal profile] avalonautumn - Date: 2018-10-08 05:54 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: Public

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-08 08:35 pm (UTC) - Expand

Public spells

Date: 2018-10-07 01:39 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Oops - I forgot to sign my comment on public spells and the software open source movement.

John Roth

Honest Hate

Date: 2018-10-07 02:30 pm (UTC)
scotlyn: a sunlit pathway to the valley (Default)
From: [personal profile] scotlyn
"Doing such a working [one based on honest hate] and accepting the blowback in advance, calling it down upon you as the price you’re willing to pay to strike at the object of your hatred, is very potent magic indeed."

Reminds me of Judges 16:28-30, where it looks like that was exactly what Samson accomplished.

"And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life."

Re: Honest Hate

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-07 05:32 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

Date: 2018-10-07 03:04 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Then there's also the major issue of invoking Venus and then binding genitals. She doesn't like that very much, and again, blowback is likely to be quite ugly, even before you factor in people who want to cause the casters harm.

(no subject)

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-07 05:16 pm (UTC) - Expand

anti Kavanaugh spell

From: [personal profile] ritaer - Date: 2018-10-08 12:18 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] jpc_w - Date: 2018-10-07 07:52 pm (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 2018-10-07 03:08 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Do you think part of the blowback is going to be seeing a lot of men on the political left get whacked over the head with sexual assault accusations that, regardless of whether true or not, they have no way to defend themselves against?

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Date: 2018-10-07 04:01 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I think it’s possible that Hughes is a Trump supporter and sending these workings out to sabotage the “resistance”. I find it hard to believe someone could be so competent and then become so clueless so quickly, but then again people have surprised me a lot since Trump showed up.....

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] ganeshling - Date: 2018-10-07 11:47 pm (UTC) - Expand

Any-Trump Rhetoric Damaging Masonic Lodges

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-14 10:56 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

Date: 2018-10-07 05:44 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I wonder how much the Republicans paid these people to cast the anti-Kavanaugh spell? 😄

question from an outsider

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-14 12:16 am (UTC) - Expand


Date: 2018-10-07 07:58 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] avalterra

The kek workings, which you wrote about *so* well, were "public" (well, posted on the chan boards). What was different about them that allowed them to be effective even though they were not secret.
Or, more broadly, what is the opposition to the resistance doing "right"?


What goes around comes around

Date: 2018-10-08 05:51 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] deborah_bender
I did not watch the final round of confirmation hearings live, but I watched some cable news excerpts from Kavanaugh's opening speech that evening. One excerpt that got a lot of play on the network I watch was Judge Kavanaugh, full of righteous indignation, saying "What goes around, comes around."

I saw him putting a spell on himself, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the TV cameras, and the entire nation. Or to put it in vernacular English, he's really asking for it.

Re: What goes around comes around

Date: 2018-10-08 06:04 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Assume a moment that he's totally innocent. What effect would such a spell have?
It stikes me as coming closer to the nature of what Brother Greer mentioned about being willing to accept the blowback, and if one were innocent of wrong-doing then that blowback might be palatable.

But I would expect that it's more an indicator of how closely he will scrutinize the actions brought up to the court backed by Democrat power players.


Re: What goes around comes around

From: [personal profile] deborah_bender - Date: 2018-10-09 05:06 am (UTC) - Expand

Re: What goes around comes around

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-14 11:12 pm (UTC) - Expand

Religion and Politics

Date: 2018-10-08 06:11 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
What you contemplate, you imitate...does the Neopagan scene run the risk of becoming the mirror image of the Evangelicals, both obsessed with politics and power, and trying to use spirit to serve those ends, rather than tend to people's spiritual needs?

Re: Religion and Politics

Date: 2018-10-08 07:05 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] deborah_bender
The Neopagan scene is pretty amorphous. It does not attract many people who want to join a congregation that meets at fixed intervals in a building. Many are are refugees from Evangelical Christianity and have an aversion to being asked for donations or told what to do. The people who make enough money from the Pagan community to quit their day jobs are writers, some craftspeople, merchants selling supplies in brick and mortar shops or on the Internet, the owners of large annual festivals, and lecturers who travel the festival circuit. There are some groups that have enough internal cohesion to lead or participate in political action on a regular basis, but the majority of people are either solitary practitioners or involve themselves with small, informal, apolitical groups. Their relationship with the "scene" is primarily as consumers. You can't mobilize them to do anything, because they don't follow leaders.

Edited Date: 2018-10-08 07:08 pm (UTC)

Re: Religion and Politics

From: [personal profile] deborah_bender - Date: 2018-10-09 05:30 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

Date: 2018-10-08 01:35 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
A minor quibble. "Notice the timing: the binding spell on Trump went noisily public on February 16, 2017, and it’s been since that time that Trump has racked up most of the accomplishments just described." He'd only been in office three weeks, so I don't think you can "scientifically" ascribe his success to the working, as it's been in place effectively throughout his Presidency.


(no subject)

Date: 2018-10-08 02:56 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] fluiddruid
But Archdruid, I think the spell on Kavanaugh worked well. The man got accused, no credible evidence or witnesses were produced on the scene to prove the accusations. The witches demanded truth and justice in their ritual so he was found innocent according to the presumption of innocence. Which is very much in line with the principles of truth and justice. I say it worked like a charm. ;-)

I'm starting to think that all the genie stories where a genie takes the wish and grants it in the most literal fashion were meant to be warnings to practicing magicians.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-10-09 03:52 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] walt_f
My estimation of how much of magic consists of honesty and paying attention continues to increase.

(Not that either of those things is easily achieved. Indeed, the higher that estimate goes, the more it explains why magic is difficult.)

Maybe it did work as written!

Date: 2018-10-09 06:14 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I had to laugh at this line: "you shall never sit on the highest court!"

What sort of hubris does is take to equate the US Supreme Court with the vague phrase "the highest court"? The "highest court" could mean any number of things, real or metaphorical - including, in traditional religious thinking, the eternal judgment of the higher power(s), or who-knows-what-else.

Perhaps the spell worked, and US Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh is now bound from ever sitting on The Highest Court...whatever the heck that may be!


Re: Maybe it did work as written!

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-13 03:50 am (UTC) - Expand

Re: Maybe it did work as written!

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2018-10-13 03:22 pm (UTC) - Expand

The Weaponization of Social Media

Date: 2018-10-10 11:58 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The first book I'm cataloging today at work is: "Like War: The weaponization of Social Media" by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking. It looks like it will be a fascinating read.

From the dust jacket: "Two defense experts explore the collision of war, politics, and social media, where the most important battles are now only a click away. Through the weaponization of social media, the internet is changing war and politics, just as war and politics are changing the internet. Terrorists livestream their attacks, "Twitter wars" produce real world casualties, and viral misinformation alters not just the result of battles, but the very fate of nations. The result is that war, tech, and politics have blurred into a new kind of battlespace that plays out on our smartphones. P. W. Singer and Emerson Brooking tackle the mind bending questions that arise when war goes online and the online world goes to war. They explore how ISIS copies the Instagram tactics of Taylor Swift, a former World of Warcraft addict foils war crimes thousands of miles away, internet trolls shape elections, and China uses a smartphone app to police the thoughts of 1.4 billion citizens. What can be kept secret in a world of networks? Does social media expose the truth or bury it? And what role do ordinary people now play in international conflicts? Delving into the web's darkest corners, we meet the unexpected warriors of social media, such as the rapper turned jihadist PR czar and the Russian hipsters who wage unceasing infowars against the West. Finally, looking to the crucial years ahead, Like War outlines a radical new paradigm for understanding and defending against the unprecedented threats of our networked world"

--Justin Patrick Moore

(no subject)

Date: 2018-10-10 09:40 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"While it does seem to be the case that the great majority of women who accuse men of sexual assault are telling the truth"

Part of the predicament we face is that there is no way for anyone to tell for sure about that. I agree it looks like it, but we can't tell. The studies which claim to back it up tend to have a massive flaw in them: they assume all accusations which aren't proven false are true.

Likewise though, I doubt for a minute anyone who claims that all, or even most claims are false, for similar reasons. In the vast majority of cases we just don't know.

building outrage?

Date: 2018-10-11 01:35 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I try to ignore all the news that doesn't touch my immediate family/town/community, just to increase my personal happiness and productivity. I think the magic did have a lot of power, even if it went sideways. Here's why:
I saw people out at shops on the day of the testimony, physically wracked by the existence of rape and violence, sharing their stories, pain and outrage with perfect strangers.

Personal friends felt compelled to publicly post their own stories. It seemed like everyone had at least one story.

The day he was confirmed, I kept checking the news (unusual for me). I actually expected to read that DC was burning, that people were rioting from the very affront of the process. I talked to friends about how, in advance of the French revolution, the king and politicians bickered back and forth about keeping the system afloat, making it work, all the while ignoring the pitchforks being sharpened by the working class. "Can't they hear the pitchforks now?" I asked, checking again to see if DC was on fire.

That night I dreamed Loki came to me, very friendly, just for a chat. In the morning i realized that I had been embodying his anarchic self. He and I aren't a natural fit, though. So there must have been powerful magic afoot, just maybe not aimed well? Unless the real goal is violent revolution, and these are steps to get us there.

I'm not a practitioner, although I'm intrigued.


ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)John Michael Greer

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