Towards a new idea of magic that escapes occultism and formalized rituals in place of interactive responses with your everyday experiences.
Even though I love to bicycle, hike, swim and take part of lots of activities that involve exercise, I have never been able to get into exercising for its own sake. There is something about divorcing necessary tasks or amusements from exercise that just makes it entirely unappealing to me, and even when I pick the habit up for a few months, it eventually always falls by the wayside.
Since I first attempted practicing magic twenty years ago it has gone just about as well as regimented exercise. There were periods of intense interest characterized by further studies, practices and rituals. Those periods were punctuated by even longer periods of apathy and inactivity. But unlike regimented exercise, regimented magic never seemed to produce any really satisfying effects.
A couple of years ago I decided to drop the label ‘anarchist’ and replace it with ‘alchemist’ thinking that it better described my position, which was not one of opposition to something, but a desire for transformation. As a result I ramped up my occult studies and started trying to piece together a new magical system that reflected where I was at mentally and ideologically during that time.
At about the same time I began noticing that the same occult studies that I was trying to incorporate were being used by a bunch of neo-fascists sporting a cartoon frog emblem. Since I was uncomfortable sharing symbolic ground with these folks, I decided to investigate further and found that the branches of magic based on studies of older magical, mythological or religious systems had a troubling history of problematic ideologues going a long way back. Dismayed and disgusted, I packed my magic bag up and put it in indefinite storage.
And then one day as I was walking through the woods getting blitzkrieged by bugs I remembered a passage from the novel ‘Earth Abides’ by George R. Stewart (1949).
“When once they stalked deer, or crouched shivering in the mud for the flight of ducks to alight, or risked their lives in the crags after goats, or closed in with shouts upon a wild boar at bay- that was not work, though often the breath came hard and the limbs were heavy. When the women bore and nursed children, or wandered in the woods for berries and mushrooms, or tended fire at the entrance of the rock shelter- That was not work either.
So also, when they sang and danced and made love, that was not play. By the singing and the dancing the spirits of forest and water might be placated- a serious matter, though still one might enjoy the song and the dance. And as for the making of love, by that- and by the favor of the gods- the tribe was maintained.
So in the first years work and play mingled always, and there were not even words for one against the other.
But centuries flowed by and then more of them, and many things changed. Man invented civilization and was inordinately proud of it. But in no way did civilization change life than to sharpen the line between work and play, and at last that division had came to be more important than the old one between sleeping and waking. Sleep came to be thought a kind of relaxation, and “sleeping on the job” a heinous sin. The turning out of the light and the ringing of the alarm were not so much the symbols of man’s dual life as were the punching of the time clock and the blowing of the whistle. Men marched on picket lines and threw bricks and exploded dynamite to shift an hour from one classification to the other, and other men fought equally hard to prevent them. And always work became more laborious and odious, and play grew more artificial and febrile.”
I was struck by inspiration and began to devise some form of placating song to appease the biting buggers. When I presented this idea to my partner, she told me of a magician whose podcast she enjoys who had bug spells that did not prohibit them from feeding, but from injecting histamines and toxins as part of the exchange, so I decided to incorporate that into my song. You can read more about that, as well as my follow up experiment (ritual generosity magic) RIGHT HERE. Both of these actions are still producing the desired experiences.
Since then I have added a few other magical experiments to the mix.
A very simple one is to go out and buy some “Hello My Name Is” stickers and every day write a message that you need to remember yourself, as well as wanting to pass on to other people – then wear it out in the world. The first one I made said, “Be Super Chill”. I definitely noticed a calming effect on myself. Simply not wanting to appear a hypocrite had a powerful effect on my willpower to chill-out. And although I cannot say that other people I encountered had a similar calming internal effect, I did not have any encounters involving tension on the days I wore it. Those who noticed the sticker and appreciated and commented on it were pretty fascinated by my explanation, and a few of them showed potential interest in repeating the experiment for themselves. Other stickers I made were of generally the same message. “Peace & Prosperity” “Nice Smile” etc.
I have mostly been using magic to change my own experiences, and not others or the world in general. Because I no longer expect fireworks, it has begun to feel more effective to me. My empathy magic is a good example.
Whether in a good or bad mood, when I am out among people, I try to imagine them at their most vulnerable. I visualize individuals (especially those who rub me the wrong way for no discernible reason) dying right in front of me and imagine the sort of comfort and reassurance I would want, and then visualize myself giving it to them. It may sound grim, but do this a few times when you are stomping around with a fuck the world attitude and you will quickly change your perspective. Maybe?
You might counter that these are not magic, but just psychological hacks, but I see no difference. The kind of magic which claims to be able to accomplish powerful and universally recognized effects seems entirely fraudulent to me. Whereas stage magic produces legitimate change of experience in others, but is admittedly psychological. Perhaps magic will one day be able to produce more pronounced effects, and maybe by moving beyond old ideas this can happen. In the meantime magic should be thought of as a science of experience, wherein we discover ways to achieve higher possibilities of desired personal outcomes, especially in the way of our own attitudes and behaviors.
To this end I suggest that you stop thinking of magic as something you do on schedule, like Meatloaf Monday, with roughly the same recipe each week. Instead try changing your perceptions and responses by devising nifty tricks that work in the course of your day to day lives. Create good habits instead of rituals. Forget everything you ever thought you knew about magic and make stuff up off the top of your head. You don’t need specific symbols or spirits or archetypes, you need mental discipline. Don’t go looking outside yourself for ways of achieving it, but instead work with what is already happening in your life.
Magic as a method of producing novel experiences suffers under the predictability of tradition. Instead the practitioner should seek novel forms of magic derived from their own ideas and experiences. Where a connection to the past and working with continuous ideas may be helpful in ‘normal’ activities, magic is not a normal activity. Get creative and keep it abnormal!