An Open Invocation
by The Center for Tactical Magic
illustration by Cassandra Chae
originally published in Arthur No. 31 (Oct 2008)
“Magic(k) works.” This declarative statement was recently hurled in our direction with a cautionary tone rather than a celebratory one. The sender of the warning was concerned that we didn’t take magic(k) seriously enough; that we were advocating its use willy-nilly like some sort of fun, new fad. But fear not. Although we don’t believe that fun and magic(k) are at odds with one another, we are nonetheless advocating its use very pointedly and with much consideration. And we are advocating its use precisely because it works.
As we’ve said in the past, one of the primary reasons why people don’t engage in magic(k) in the first place is out of a sense of dismissal. They dismiss magic(k) because they doubt it will produce results; and, they dismiss magic(k) because they fear it will produce results. Indeed, much of the bullshit that fertilizes the grand magic garden reeks of these airs of dismissal. Occult conspiracy theorists will even tell you that such bullshit is built up to protect the fruit from those who would dare set foot in the garden at all. Layers and layers of foul fluff and rotten rhetoric are woven into a formidable pile of vapid New Age-isms, Hollywood cheese, religious warnings, and occult elitism.
In theatrical magic, conjurers also get accused of elitism. After all, their obstinence in maintaining the core of the magician’s code (i.e., never reveal how a trick is performed) is legendary. And with good reasons. First and foremost, the revelation of a magician’s method often reduces an amazing magical effect to mere trickery. The mysterious experience that the magician worked so hard to create is now lost amidst a less profound experience of mere puzzle-solving. Secondly, the trick is not the trick. The presentation is what brings about a convincing illusion. While the solution to a trick might involve a sleight, a gimmick, or smoke and mirrors, hours and hours of practice go into performing a successful magic presentation. And it is this intangible aspect of a magician’s performance that goes unappreciated when a magician simply reveals the secret to a trick. And lastly, livelihood becomes a factor. An illusionist who reveals all of her secrets not only sabotages her own career but her colleagues’ as well.
Within occult magic(k) there is also often a code of secrecy, but for varying reasons. Like the theatrical magicians, their ritualistic counterparts have also placed a high priority on survival. The historical oppression, repression, and suppression of ritual magick, alchemy, herbalism, divination, and the like (even conjuring & juggling!) provide ample argument for maintaining a low profile. The Inquisition, along with a broad geographical spread of witch trials throughout the past five centuries, may seem like ancient history. But even less than 100 years ago, all but a few occult organizations in Germany felt the Nazi boot upon their throats shortly after it kicked down their doors.
Although the Nazis often get linked to the occult in various ways, much of the supporting research simultaneously tends to consolidate a broad range of magical practices, groups, and societies into one condensed notion of the Occult (with a capital “O”). This broadly painted Occult is then demonized via its association with Nazism in much the same way that it commonly gets demonized through an association with Satanism. Again, we see another layer of shit in the magic garden that serves to frighten away those who might mistake the fruit for the feces. For those of you who do not scare so easily and still prefer not to swallow a bunch of crap, hopefully we can agree that not all magic(k) is evil and move forward.
Magicians on both ends of the magic(k) spectrum (from theatrical magic to high ritual magick) will often insist that sifting through the shit is part of one’s initiation. And within that initiation comes a whole host of pitfalls, obstacles, failings, and revelations that help build the fortitude and character of a magic(k) practitioner. Along the way, the neophyte magician also builds a repertoire of useful skills and proclivities, which some observers choose to label either “black” or “white.”
In theatrical magic, conjurers seldom make such a distinction, but when they do it frequently refers to a magician who has performed a particularly dishonorable act. For instance, he’s used his talents to commit a crime such as fraud or pick-pocketing. Alternatively, he may have used his abilities solely for personal aggrandizement rather than to amaze and entertain the audience. In such instances, he may even perform tricks that inflate his ego by belittling others who have generously volunteered to unwittingly assist in their own public humiliation. Or finally, the magician may get accused of practicing “black magic” for simply taking insights and secrets from other entertainers without sharing any of his own in return. To some degree, such values as consideration, selflessness, humility, responsibility, and reciprocity parallel occult distinctions between so-called “black” and “white” magic(k).
Ignoring for a moment the colonial (and even outright racist) connotations associated with the black/white magic(k) dichotomy, we are still left to wrestle with notions of good and evil. Part of the problem lies with the fact that one witch’s wickedness might very well be another magician’s miracle. For example, some make the black/white distinction by asserting that white magic(k) helps others, while black magic(k) is used for personal gain. By this standard we might be led to conclude that a health spell cast for oneself is “black” while the same spell cast for another is “white.” Accordingly, one might assume that a relaxing homemade potion brewed from catnip, chamomile, and valerian (or water, malted barley, and yeast, for that matter) would amount to black magic(k), while a pro-bono astral hit-job qualifies as white magic(k). Some will attempt to account for this moral paradox by insisting that white magic(k) hurts no one while black magic(k) causes harm to another. However, we are then left with the counterintuitive conclusion that any act of self-defense (or even selfless defense) is ultimately an act of black magic(k). This begs the all-too-predictable ethical questions, “If an act of black magic(k) is used to prevent a greater act of black magic(k) from harming others, is it acceptable? Does it make the first act an act of white magic(k)? Do the ends justify the magic(k)?”
If we choose to stay in the Magical Ethics 101 class, we’ll soon be so juiced up on post-post-modern moral relativism that we will begin asking questions like, “If a witch casts a spell in the forest and nobody’s there to feel it, does it really make a metaphysical reverberation?” So let’s skip class and head for the streets.
The streets are an excellent place for applied magic(k). Yet, over the past eight years, the streets have largely been occupied by the vehicular harbingers of the 21st Century’s two great rallying cries: “Oil War!” and “Global Warming!” Seldom has the sea of motors parted to make way for an active, organized, and empowered citizenry to march their demands for social justice into reality. Certainly this century has seen some righteous moments: in 2006, half a million people marched in LA for immigration rights; and in March of 2003 the world witnessed the largest protest in history with more than 10 million people demonstrating around the globe against the war in Iraq. But these two events—along with a scattering of marches in a few major metropolises—hardly constitute a movement that can be lauded for its efficacy in bringing about positive social change. On the contrary, the annual rally on the anniversary of the Iraq invasion has all but become a holiday. We may as well call it “Free Speech Day”—the one day out of the year when we can gather in public space (providing you have the proper permits) and decry the injustices of a blatantly criminal government. In addition to all of the Free Speech Day sales, and low-interest car loans, there may even be some news coverage.
Even a little news coverage would be more than the zero news coverage of the recent protests in Minneapolis/Saint Paul surrounding the Republican National Convention. “What protests?” you ask. “Rubber bullets? Tear Gas? National Guard? And not even a mention in the news?”
Exactly. Perhaps part of the reason that you didn’t hear much about the protests is because large groups of activists were raided in their homes, rounded up, arrested, and charged with “felony conspiracy to riot” even before the protests really kicked into gear. In fact, some protest support groups such as medics, legal observers, and documentarians were placed under house arrest or chased from one place to another by local police. Even Amy Goodman from Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now” ended up getting arrested for asking the cops questions. And still no significant media coverage.
It’s precisely this sort of secretive clampdown that shadows the pages of history books. While the clandestine magic(k) of secret societies may have honorable motivations, what we are confronting instead is the vulgar manifestation of a society of secrets. Perhaps the dismissive tendencies that so often surround magic(k) have also tainted our present attitudes towards achieving social justice: we fear that our actions will have no effect; yet, we fear the effects of our actions. In the end, we are paralyzed by fear and fail to act at all. This is exactly the spellbinding effect that such intimidation hopes to achieve. And those who would warn against taking action for fear of consequences or results are already caught in their snare. After all, there are consequences tied to spectating just as there are consequences tied to acting. By choosing not to act you are making a willful decision to let others determine the outcome.
Although the Center for Tactical Magic doesn’t generally buy into the black/white magic(k) dualism, there’s no denying that there’s some pretty grim mojo bubbling away out there. On the brighter side, we can use their crap to make the garden grow. And considering how much shit is getting shoveled these days, there ought to be enough fruit to go around for anyone who’s not afraid to get their hands a little dirty. By planting some magic(k) seeds we might end up with thorns, or berries, or both. However, if we don’t sow the seeds, the weeds take over. And history has shown us what that looks like.
Comparing our present times with those of Nazi Germany, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Spanish Inquisition may seem overly-theatrical, but it’s our sincere hope that the stage is set for a great transformation rather than a vanishing act. Either way, the show will go on, and there seems to be little room left for spectators in this theater of conflict. And so we refute the notion that what we are calling for is some sort of magical moral relativism. Because what we are truly calling forth is nothing short of the complete and irrevocable unleashing of the creative and prophetic power of the multitude. Why? Because it works. And because we can have fun doing it.