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Magic FailIt's been a while since we've checked in on the efforts of the soi-disant "Magical Resistance" -- that is to say, the people who still haven't gotten over the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, and are expressing their rage and hatred by way of magical rituals rather than public tantrums of some other kind.  Partly, I'm glad to say, that's because they seem to have learned one of the basic lessons of magical practice, which is that being public about your workings is a great way to let other operative mages know how to mess with you. Since the spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to use magic to keep Brett Kavanaugh from being confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, the Magical Resistance has been much quieter about its intentions and ritual texts. I'm pleased to see this; any indication that the very low standard of magical competence in modern American society has risen a bit is worth celebrating. 

That said, the efforts of the Magical Resistance to hinder the Trump administration don't seem to have been favored with any greater level of success than before. The latest and most obvious example of this, of course, is the end of the Mueller investigation. For more than two years now, a great many of the people who hate Donald Trump have been insisting at the top of their lungs that Mueller would inevitably find some suitably gaudy collection of impeachable offenses in Trump's conduct in office. At least some of the people who were busy casting spells to bring Trump down, to judge from their comments on various online forums, loaded a great many of their hopes on Mueller -- and, to judge by the rituals they were using back when they were being public about it, an equally large share of their magical efforts. Those clearly didn't do much, and there's a useful lesson in operative magic to be drawn from their failure. 

The core of that failure comes from their choice of intention. Those of the Mueller-centric spells I encountered, back when such things were being made public, focused nearly all their rhetoric on the ideal of justice. That's a perfectly valid magical intention, but like most other perfectly valid magical intentions, it has a catch:  you really do need to be sure that justice is on your side. 

In a criminal investigation, justice includes such basic elements as fairness, impartiality, and a willingness to suspend judgment until all the facts have come to light. The goal of a just investigation is to punish those who are actually guilty of the charges made against them and to vindicate those who are innocent. If you say instead, "I hate the defendant, therefore he must be guilty of the accusations," that's unjust; if, more cynically, you say, "I hate the defendant, therefore I don't care what the facts say, I'm going to insist that he's guilty of the accusations," that's also unjust. The attitude of the Trump-haters toward the Mueller investigation was one of these two -- I'll let my readers make their own speculations as to which one -- and I can promise you that if you perform a magical working for justice motivated by one or the other of these deeply unjust attitudes, you are not going to like the results. 

And of course that's what happened. As far as I can tell, the outcome of the Mueller investigation was, technically speaking, a success for the Magical Resistance, in that justice did in fact happen. That is to say, an innocent man was cleared of false accusations made against him by his political enemies, and some of the people who helped to spread those accusations have suffered a great deal of public embarrassment. That's entirely just. If that wasn't what the Magical Resistance had in mind, why, that's what happens when you're insufficiently careful about the intentions you choose for your working. 

The moral to this story? Justice isn't whatever you want it to be, neither is magic -- and if you're not sufficiently careful with either one, you can very efficiently kick yourself in the backside. 
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Jim KunstlerSomething to keep yourself entertained on these cold winter nights...

James Howard Kunstler and me on his podcast, talking about politics, culture, and imaginative fiction. We always have great conversations and this one was even better than usual -- I think we barbecued a good-sized herd of sacred cows. You can listen to the conversation or download it here
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Hell freezes overYeah, it must have happened. Rhyd Wildermuth just wrote something I agree with. 

Longtime readers of mine will recall Mr. Wildermuth as the instigator of an attempted witch hunt against nonconformist groups within the Pagan community -- "nonconformist" here meaning both not conforming to eclectic American Neopagan orthodoxy, and not conforming to his personal ambitions as a Marxist agitator hoping to pursue some good old-fashioned entryism in the Neopagan scene. I'm pleased to say that his crusade didn't get far. I doubt my critique had much to do with that -- the people who read my writings are unlikely to pay much attention to his, and vice versa -- but the attempt to whip up a frenzy about sinister New Right infiltrators in our midst seems to have fallen flat. (My guess is that most of the people who were backing the witch hunt found something else to be upset about the moment Donald Trump won the 2016 election.)

But Wildermuth made his way back onto Pagan newsfeeds the other day by way of a fine thumping tirade directed at the social justice movement's insistence that all white men everywhere are evil, full stop, end of sentence, and ought to be exterminated for the benefit of everyone else. Inevitably, in the topsy-turvy world of social justice activism, Wildermuth's refusal to support the rhetoric of genocide immediately got him labeled a fascist -- a claim to which he responded with another solid diatribe. His sin, of course, was that he pointed out that it's just as preposterous to insist that every individual white male human being is personally responsible for all the evils in the world as it would be to insist, say, that every individual Jew is personally responsible for all the evils in the world. 

Wildermuth being Wildermuth, of course he phrased his critique in the theological jargon of Marxism; since that's his religion -- if I recall correctly, the guy literally has a picture of Marx on his altar as an intellectual and spiritual ancestor -- I have no quibbles with that, though it's not a jargon or a faith I find particularly appealing. Still, if he's going to be a Marxist, I hope he goes whole hog and takes in some of the very thoroughly developed Marxist critique of bourgeois moral crusades as a common hegemonic strategy in late capitalism. Along these lines, it wouldn't be too hard to show that the social justice movement functions exactly the same way the Methodist movement did in 19th century Britain: it provided a vehicle by which bourgeois interests excused and justified their treatment of the proletariat by insisting on the moral viciousness of the latter, and urging the working classes to reform themselves by conforming to bourgeois standards (and, not accidentally, supporting bougeois hegemony). 

There's a good reason, after all, why by and large the social justice movement is willing to discuss every form of privilege imaginable except class privilege. Now that that's being pointed out -- and Wildermuth is only one of the voices pointing it out, though he seems to have made more of an impact than most -- it'll be entertaining to see the fur fly. 
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Emerge Podcast logoMore raw meat for podcast fans! 

I recently appeared on Daniel Thorson's podcast Emerge, to talk about the Kek Wars and the role of magic in the 2016 US election. It was a good lively conversation and covered some fascinating ground. If you're interested, you can take it in here. 
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file found on reddit 
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Magic FailWell, the self-proclaimed Magic Resistance just scored another impressive own goal. Today's hex party at a Brooklyn pagan bookstore, dedicated to cursing Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (and everyone and everything else the attendees happen to be upset about), got plenty of advance media publicity -- and thus came to the attention of conservative Roman Catholics. (That's Kavanaugh's religious affiliation, after all.)  As a result, Catholics have broken out their own substantial arsenal of ritual weaponry to protect Kavanaugh: exorcists are performing masses on his behalf, and ordinary Catholic laypeople are fasting and praying the rosary with the same end in view. 

I'm not a fan of the Roman Catholic church, for a variety of reasons. (First among them: my wife is an ex-Catholic, and like nearly everyone else I know who's left that church, she bailed after watching repeated, appalling abuses of power on the part of Catholic clergy and religious, which were condoned and covered up by the hierarchy.) That said, we're talking about the world's largest single religious denomination, which has getting on for two thousand years of experience crafting rituals to deal with hostile nonphysical powers. The moral failings of the Catholic hierarchy, serious as they are, don't affect the efficacy of Catholic ritual forms or the potency that competent priests and devout believers can put into them. 

(This probably deserves a few words of further comment. An embarrassingly large number of people on the leftward end of things seem to think that their magic has to work because they're the good guys, y'know, and the other side is doomed to inevitable failure because they're so eeeeeeevil. That shows the bad influence of cheap fantasy novels on modern thought. One plumber, let's say, can be a perfectly competent plumber and and be a rotten person; another can be a really nice person with all the right opinions, and still do a lousy job of fixing your sink. The same is true in magic. Moral virtue is no substitute for competent ritual backed by a thorough knowledge of magical principles -- or vice versa, for that matter.)

In other words, by neglecting one of the basic rules of effective magic and blathering their intentions far and wide, the Magic Resistance has just recruited an 800 pound gorilla for the other side. You can bet that in the weeks and months and years to come, conservative Catholics will keep a sharp eye out for any other magical working aimed at Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, or any other conservative targets that attract hostile magical attention, and break out their own well-honed cache of ritual workings to counter it. I doubt the results will be particularly welcome to Trump's Neopagan enemies. 
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Magic FailTwo more tales from the ongoing story of the anti-Trump magicians...

1) On October 20, a Wiccan bookstore in Brooklyn will be hosting a hex party aimed at the newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. Tickets (already sold out) are $10 a head. Kavanaugh, according to the organizers, will be "the focal point, but by no means the only target, so bring your rage and all the axes you've got to grind."

I suppose that's one way to guarantee a successful fundraiser at a time when rage has become the most fashionable addictive drug, and it's also a good example of the particular return of the repressed I talked about last year on the blog; now that hate has become subject to the same kind of taboos that Victorians applied to sex, people are frantically looking around for excuses to hate and still feel good about themselves. Donald Trump has thus come to occupy a vitally necessary role in the emotional lives of a great many Americans, and events like the bookstore hex party play exactly the same role in today's culture that weekend spouse-swapping parties played in the 1950s. (We're still a few years out from people marching down the street chanting, "Say it now and say it loud, I hate and I'm proud.") 

In terms of magical efficacy, though, Justice Kavanaugh can sleep easy in his bed. Successful magic requires focus; if the 60 attendees at the hex party all bring everything that makes them angry and cast a group spell intended to curse everything on everybody's laundry list of hatreds, each target will get considerably less than 1/60th of a curse -- little enough that any residual effect will be drowned out by the ordinary workings of randomness. Mind you, the participants will doubtless go home smiling and relaxed, and I suspect that's the actual point of it all. 

2) On a considerably more serious plane, Celtic Pagan Morpheus Ravenna has been talking some practical common sense to the anti-Trump magical scene, pointing out that hostile magic is difficult and dangerous stuff that should probably be left to people who know what they're doing, that spiritual hygiene and protection are crucial in that sort of work, and -- most impressive of all -- that Trump is a symptom of a broader problem and those who hate him need to deal with their own contributions to that broader problem. These are excellent points; we're looking at a far more competent and knowledgeable occultist than the ones I've discussed in earlier posts on this theme. 

The problem with Ravenna's work is subtler, though no less lethal. She's smart enough not to give the details of her own working -- another mark in her favor -- but discusses the general focus of it, which is to try to use Trump's oath of office as the basis for a curse, in the belief that he's broken it and is therefore vulnerable. That's potentially a very clever move, except for one thing: Trump hasn't broken his oath of office. 

Here's the oath of office of the President of the United States: 

""I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

That's all. So far, Trump has carried out his duties as President, as specified by the Constitution, and none of his actions have violated the specific terms of the Constitution. Please remember here that the Constitution is a legal document setting out how the US government is to be run and, as amended, giving the citizens of the United States specific rights relative to the government. Nowhere does it contain a clause saying "The Democratic Party always gets its way," or allowing people to insist that additional rights must be enforced even though they're not enumerated in the Constitution. 

The difficulty Ravenna faces here is that the Celtic magical traditions in which she works have very specific warnings about what happens if you curse someone who doesn't deserve it. What happens is that you get whatever you're trying to send to the other person. Since Trump hasn't committed the offense she insists he has, she's in line for a whale of a backlash. 

There's a great scene at the beginning of Bruce Lee's film Enter the Dragon where he's teaching a student how to fight, and he makes a point about the difference between emotional energy and anger. Emotional energy is an important source of magical power, but if you're too deeply mired in an emotional state to think clearly, you probably need to set aside your magical tools until you've calmed down. That's true of any strong emotion, but it's especially true of anger -- and at a time when a great many people on all sides of the political spectrum are basically rage junkies these days, that's worth keeping in mind. 

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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. 
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throwing a tantrumI got forwarded a link today to one of the latest vagaries of the soi-disant "Resistance" -- for those who don't keep track of US political chatter, these are the people who haven't yet got over the fact that their candidate lost the 2016 election. You can read the original here if you like; the short version is that some of Donald Trump's opponents have convinced themselves that if they all stop spending money, that will bring the US economy to its knees within a few days and force Congress to either impeach Trump or force him to resign. 

Yeah, I know. Do you remember when you were two, and Mommy wouldn't give you a bowl of ice cream, and you told her that you'd hold your breath until you turned blue if she didn't give it to you? I thought of that too. 

What's more, they're not just going to stop spending money -- no, they're all going to run out and buy all the things they'll need for the next month, and then stop spending money. No doubt the retail sector of the economy will be shaken right down to its core by getting all that money in advance.

I'm frankly starting to wonder if somebody in the Trump administration is cooking up schemes like this and the comically inept project to cast a hex on Trump I discussed here a while back. I can't think of a better way to keep the Democrats busy spinning their wheels, so they don't do the things that might actually win them the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election: that is to say, figure out what cost them the 2016 election and stop doing it; and then get busy with some old-fashioned grassroots organization and outreach aimed at winning back the voters they ignored just that once too often. 

On the other hand, I really do hope that the people who are proclaiming this business on Twitter go ahead and follow through on their plan. Three or four days into it, when it starts to sink in that a few tens of thousands of disgruntled Democrats changing their buying habits won't even rise out of the statistical noise, it might just begin to sink in that we don't live in a tantrumocracy, where whoever shrieks the loudest about their hurt feelings gets to tell the rest of us what to do -- and that if you want to make change happen, you really do have to learn something about practical politics, roll up your sleeves, and get to work making the machinery of representative democracy do what it's there for. 
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Magic FailIn the debate in this journal a few days back about the public working against Donald Trump, a central point of disagreement had to do with the meaning of symbols. One of my four criticisms of the working focused on the incoherent symbolism of the ritual.  In response, the designer of the ritual, Michael Hughes, insisted that the symbol I’d discussed meant what he wants it to mean, not what the last few centuries of magical tradition says it means. Those of my readers who know their way around the debates between traditional occultists and the current crop of avant-garde postmodern mages know that dispute well enough to sing all the verses in the shower, and it didn’t get any closer to resolution this time than it ever does.

Fortunately there’s a convenient way of checking such claims. Magic is justified not by faith but by works; in less gnomic language, if you want to know whether your philosophy of magic makes sense, pay attention to the results. The jury’s still out on the working against Trump—he’s still in office, and the various media meltdowns directed at him don’t seem to be doing all that much to hinder his ability to advance his agenda, but the participants can still insist that eventually the working will show some sign or other of achieving its purpose.

As it happens, though, Hughes also launched a similar public working intended to slap a curse on the NRA. Those of my readers who want to read the complete spell can find it here.  The short form is that he had people take dollar bills, daub them with red ink to represent blood, recite a verbose and angry malefic incantation over them, and mail them to the NRA.  In other words, the working sent money to the NRA, having helpfully charged the money with magical force and painted it bright red, the symbolic color of life, strength, and vitality.

The results were exactly what traditional occult philosophy would predict. In the month after Hughes launched this working, the NRA’s fundraising arm raked in a record amount of money, mostly from small donors. Nice work, folks.

There are two lessons I’d encourage my readers to draw from this. The first is that magic works; the second is that if you don’t know what you’re doing, it doesn’t necessarily work the way you want it to. The reason traditional occultists rely on tables of correspondences is that it keeps embarrassing things like this from happening.  After all, it doesn’t matter a rat’s handbag what you think a symbol means, if the powers you’re invoking have their own ideas on the subject—which, as it happens, they do.

Oh, and by the way, it’s not just occultists of my particular tradition and cultural background who recognize red as a magical symbol of life, strength, and vitality. In Taoist magic, you use red to invoke yang, the solar, vital, and expansive energy; in traditional Southern conjure, you use red things for luck, health, vitality, and sexual potency, not for cursing; in the traditions of the First Nations of the maritime Pacific Northwest, the red tamanous are the healing spirits. I could go on. Magic is not whatever you want it to be, and symbols don’t mean whatever you want them to mean—as the outcome of this working demonstrates. 
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magic failRegular readers of this journal may recall that some weeks ago, as part of a broader project of magical instruction, I critiqued a loudly publicized attempt to attack Donald Trump and his followers with malevolent magic. (You can find my earlier journal entry here, and the original announcement here.)  Michael Hughes, who launched the working in question and continues to champion it, belatedly found out about my critique, and posted a lively (if, to my mind, woefully inadequate) defense of his project in the comments to that entry. The internet being what it is, resuming the conversation in a current journal entry struck us both as a good idea.

Since much of what follows will involve serious disagreements about the nature of magic—and, more importantly, the nature of effective magic—it’s probably worth taking a moment to talk a bit about my qualifications to speak on that subject. I started magical training as a teenager in the mid-1970s, when good practical guides to Golden Dawn magic first became widely available, and have kept at it ever since. Over the years I’ve completed the full courses of magical training and initiation offered by four Hermetic and three Druid orders, as well as receiving extensive training and certification in Renaissance astrological magic and traditional Southern conjure. 

Of my more than fifty published books, just over half are on the subject of magic and occultism, and these include such standard reference works as The New Encyclopedia of the Occult. I’ve translated, co-translated, and/or edited such magical classics as the Picatrix, Eliphas Levi’s Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic, and Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn. I also served for twelve years as Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA). All this is to say that I’ve studied and practiced a lot of magic, in a lot of different traditions, and know my way around the subject pretty thoroughly. Neither I nor anyone else knows everything there is to know about magic, to be sure, but I do know something of what I’m talking about.

One of the main things I’ve learned from all this is that magic isn’t whatever you want it to be. It’s easy and, these days, popular to slap together various notions extracted from a grab-bag of disparate systems wrenched out of their cultural and philosophical contexts, on the basis of the latest pop-culture fashions, and insist that the result is just as valid and meaningful as anything else. The resulting postmodern pablum is no doubt comforting to those who like to think that the past has nothing to teach them, but the results of such magic are generally far from impressive. Thus I tend to rely on those teachings and systems that have proven themselves over decades or centuries, even—or especially—when they contradict current pop-culture fads.

Two other points are worth making before we proceed.  First, there’s quite a bit to be said about the moral dimension of malevolent magic, but I don’t propose to say it here. It so happens that these days, a great many people like to insist, in effect, that whatever they want is justifiable because they want it, and such issues as the blowback from malevolent magic only apply to those who believe in them. This is a little like insisting that drinking Drano is only bad for your digestion if you think it is, but I don’t propose to pursue that argument here. What I propose to discuss, rather, are the reasons why the working we’re discussing isn’t going to accomplish anything—other, that is, than meeting certain emotional needs on the part of its participants.

The second point I want to make is that the moral character or political significance of Donald Trump and his followers are not the issues here. If your cure is ineffective, it doesn’t matter how bad you think the disease is.  In the same way, insisting that Trump is the evilest evil that ever eviled does not prove that a given working directed against him is going to work. The powers behind magic do not care what you think about Donald Trump, and the sense of cosmic entitlement that leads some people to believe that something has to strike down a politician they hate, just because they hate him, does not make for competent magical theory—or practice.

With that in mind, I’ll proceed to my four criticisms of the working we’re discussing.

First of all, the intention is badly chosen. In crafting a magical working, it’s crucial to have a clear, tautly focused intention; it’s even more important to make sure that the intention will actually bring you what you want.  Thus the first requirement of effective magic is to be very sure about what you want to accomplish, and to choose an intention with this in mind.

There’s an old story along these lines, much told in traditional occult schools, about a guy who wanted to get rich via magic. To do this, he did a working that involved visualized himself handling stacks and stacks of money. He promptly lost his well-paying job, and the only job he could find was in a bank, where he made a low wage counting stacks and stacks of other people’s money. He got what he asked for, in other words, rather than what he actually wanted.

That’s the first level of failure hardwired into this working. It focuses on binding and harming Donald Trump and his followers, rather than revitalizing American democracy, leading the country in some new and better direction, or even helping the Democratic Party pull itself together and win back the voters it lost in 2016. If the working succeeds—it won’t, for reasons I’ll discuss further on, but we’ll let that pass for now—there’s no reason to assume that the results would do anything at all to benefit the people and causes who have been getting hurt since Trump’s inauguration. If Trump falls, after all, the interests and demographics backing him can easily find another figurehead for their cause. What’s more, it’s entirely possible that the next one would be even worse than Trump.

The working does nothing to forestall that, where a working with a positive focus of the kind I just indicated would counter that neatly. That being the case, the fixation on malevolent magic is really rather odd—though it’s a familiar oddity. For decades now, people on the leftward end of the political spectrum, when they think of doing political magic, have tended to default immediately to malevolent workings even in situations when benevolent workings would be far more useful. The return of the repressed clearly has a lot to do with it, and so does the old but by no means outworn occult maxim: “What you hate, you imitate.” 

Michael, in our earlier interchange, I asked you whether you’d considered doing a benevolent working to strengthen American democracy or revitalize the Democratic Party. You didn’t answer. I’m going to ask it again, and I’d like you to answer it. It’s one thing to do a malevolent working when that really is the only option; it’s quite another to do one when there are many other options that will do more good for the causes you claim to support. The fixation on curses and bindings really does make it look as though the point of this working is to feed your hatred and rage toward a politician and a demographic sector you don’t like, rather than doing anything to help a democracy in terminal crisis.

Let’s go on to the next point:  the ritual is incoherent. An effective magical ritual combines carefully chosen symbols to produce an effect exactly in tune with the intention. If you want to do a love spell, you don’t use symbolism that evokes solitude and cold reason; if you want to do a prosperity spell, you don’t use symbols of loss and letting go. More precisely, if you do, you’re not going to get results from your working, because your intention and your symbolism are at odds with each other.

This working is so good an example of what not to do that I’m planning on using it in the future in teaching students about ritual design. The intention of the working is to bind Trump and his followers, but one of the core symbols of the working is the Tarot trump XVI, The Tower. Not only is this not a symbol of binding, it’s exactly the opposite, a symbol of the shattering of bindings. To use it in a binding spell is rather like trying to put out a fire by dumping gasoline on it, or knotting your shoelaces while cutting them with a knife. 

The incoherent nature of the symbolism is bad enough in itself, but it has another, far more serious downside. The working we’re discussing, after all, is not unopposed. There are plenty of people in the US who support the Trump administration, and a significant number of them know at least as much about magic as do the people who hate Trump and all his works. Using an incoherent ritual, one that includes its own antithesis in its symbolism, gives the other side an immense advantage in their countering magic.

One simple way to make the working ineffective would be to gather at the same time the working is being done, and redirect the symbolism of The Tower onto the working itself. That could be done in a simple way—say, by visualizing the lightning bolt striking the tower and bursting the bindings. It could also be done in a much more potent and effective way—say, by tying ten loops of thread onto a card of The Tower, linking them magically to the bindings the working is trying to place, invoking the ten spheres of the Tree of Life in the order of the Lightning Flash, and with each invocation, cutting one of the loops of thread with a consecrated working tool. There are other ways to exploit the incoherence in the ritual, too, and some of them are considerably more potent than the ones I’ve just described.

The powers behind magic, as noted earlier, do not care what anybody thinks about Donald Trump. They won’t make an incoherent ritual work anyway just because somebody happens to want that. Nor, crucially, will they take sides in a magical donnybrook between one set of mages that hates Trump and another set that supports him. That leads us to the next point.

The public nature of the working guarantees that it will fail. This isn’t just a matter of magical philosophy, though of course Eliphas Levi discussed it at some length in his writings. It’s a matter of basic common sense. If you were a member of the French Resistance in the Second World War, let’s say, would you go out of your way to make sure that the Nazis knew your plans? If you’re playing poker, would you show the other players the cards in your hand? Not if you wanted to win, you wouldn’t.

Michael, when I raised this point in my original journal entry, your sole response was to claim that you laugh at the mages of the alt-Right. No doubt you do, but they’re also laughing at you, and with considerably better reason. By publishing the details of your intention, ritual, and timing all over the internet, you’ve guaranteed that all the people who want to mess with your working have everything they need to do so, while you have no knowledge of what they’re doing and so are at a huge disadvantage if you want to counter it. Dismissing that possibility out of hand really makes me wonder how seriously you take this project of yours.

Finally, rituals of this kind consistently don’t work, and this one isn’t working either.  This is hardly the first time a few thousand Neopagans have gotten together online and organized a coordinated mass working, using a specific spell, to try to make something happen. In my original post, I mentioned one of the largest of these, the attempt to cure the late Isaac Bonewits of cancer by performing massed magical workings. It was a total failure. There have been plenty of other examples of the same kind of working, and the vast majority of them have been equally abject flops. Thus experience simply doesn’t support the claim that rituals of this kind are an effective means of causing change through magic.

Michael, you claimed in your earlier comment that the resignations of White House staff, the Mueller investigation, and the FBI raid on Trump’s lawyer show that your working really is doing something. To my mind, that’s handwaving, as the gyrations you’ve cited have occupied plenty of space in the media, and distracted many of Trump’s opponents from the hard work of building a political coalition that could defeat him in 2020, without actually doing anything to inconvenience Trump or keep him from pursuing his agenda.

The reality is quite the contrary.  Over the period that you and the other participants have been doing your working, Trump has gutted Obamacare by abolishing the individual mandate, begun deportations of undocumented aliens, breached the global free trade system by imposing massive tariffs on China, repealed thousands of federal regulations, and scored a massive foreign-policy coup by bringing North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un to the negotiating table. What’s more, according to recent news stories, his approval ratings are higher now than Obama’s were at the equivalent point in the latter’s presidency. So what exactly has your binding stopped him from doing?

I take a wry amusement in the fact that people who pursue mass workings of this sort nearly always dodge such questions, and insist that they’re succeeding even when the evidence contradicts that claim. I tend to see that as a tacit admission that what’s going on, down at the root, isn’t about magic—it’s about virtue signaling. While this working won’t do anything to inconvenience Donald Trump or his administration, it’s a great way to proclaim one’s identity as one of the “good people”—and of course it’s also one heck of a lot easier to spend twenty minutes or so once a month pouring out hate at a politician you happen to despise than it is to roll up your sleeves and get to work helping to rebuild the tattered remnants of American democracy from the ground up. 


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

April 2019

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