Here is the entirety of the “Applied Magic(k)” column by The Center for Tactical Magic in Arthur No. 34/April 2013. The illustration below is by Aaron Gach.
Anarcho-Occultism or, A Society Gets All the Magic(k) It Deserves
Like some digital cauldron, our email was all a-bubble this past month with some particularly savory notes. “Do you believe in occult conspiracies?” “How can I meet others who are interested in magic(k) and aren’t batshit crazy?” And, perhaps our favorite of the bunch: “What’s the relationship between magic(k) and anarchy (or anti-capitalism)?” Any one of these questions is worthy of inspiring a volume in its own right; however, we’re going to use a bit of invisible thread to tie them altogether at once.
First off, there’s not one, single relationship between magic(k) and anarchy, in part because there are many different aspects of anarchism and many, many magic(k)s. As a starting point, let’s use some of the principles of stage magic. Capitalism is an illusion. Or, more properly put, it is a system based on illusory means and ends. In the current economic paradigm, corporations increase their wealth through several illusions: by manufacturing and marketing phantom “needs” (i.e., the magician’s “force”), by the engineering wizardry of planned obsolescence (i.e., the use of gimmicked props), by conjuring commodities out of basic necessities (i.e., misdirection), and by manipulating public policy to ensure that would-be costs are mysteriously transferred to taxpayers via so-called “externalities”, often in the form of weakened labor laws, cut-rate resource extraction, government subsidies, and environmental loopholes, to name but a few (i.e., the use of “dupes”). These sleights are but parts of the capitalist repertoire performed in a much larger theater of conflict. The grand illusion is the one that aims to convince the audience that the status quo is the only show in town.
By comparison, several of the main tenets of anarchism—mutual aid, self-sufficiency, autonomy, non-hierarchical organization, sustainability, and social justice—are in keeping with the stated objectives of numerous occult orders, fraternal lodges, secret societies, witch covens, and other metaphysical affiliations, both historical and contemporary. In some instances, like Cagliostro’s famed Lodge of Egyptian Freemasonry, occultists worked to covertly establish egalitarian and self-validating networks across borders of nationality, gender, and class, which led to the creation of health clinics, alternative forms of social organization, and quite probably, a dynamic role in the French Revolution.
But Cagliostro was not alone. His contemporaries were forming numerous other lodges, orders, and initiatory societies around the same time period. Some guilds and Masonic orders simply served to improve business relationships among men, while other so-called “androgynous masonic orders” sought to circumvent the mores of Victorian society. The Parisian order of the Knights and Ladies of Joy, the Order of the Defoliators in Brittany, and the German order of the “Mopses” were among many organizations dedicated to improving more libidinal associations amongst their male and female members.
On a more political front, the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston played host to the Sons of Liberty as well as other clandestine associations of pre-revolutionary American patriots. During roughly the same period of time, according to Charles William Heckethorn (The Secret Societies of All Ages & Countries, 1897), the Goats were a secret society in Belgium whose radical members numbered in the hundreds. “The country people [of Limburg, Belgium] were trying to shake off the yoke feudalism had imposed on them. During the night and in the solitude of the landes, the most daring assembled and marched forth to perpetrate these devastations. …and the cry was heard, “The Goats are coming!” …On such nights the slave became the master, and abandoned himself with fierce delight to avenging the wrongs he had suffered during the day. In the morning, all disappeared, returning to their daily labour, whilst the castles and mansions set on fire in the night were sending their lurid flames up to the sky.”
Many similar examples abound, and in nearly every age of popular struggle one can find instances of an occult organization or school of thought that was attempting to complete the so-called “Great Work” of unleashing the creative power of the multitude in an effort to manifest positive, social transformation.
That some are not so well known should come as little surprise considering that they were not the only secret societies organizing at the time. The activities of such groups as the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, and the Knights of Malta have received far greater attention, much of it speculative and embellished. For conspiracy theorists, the topic of secret societies is fertile territory. But, for those who care less about speculation and more about actionable knowledge the territory merely smells like fertilizer. We live in a society of secrets, so it makes sense that people would be drawn in by tales of secret societies; yet, too often these accounts do little more than perpetuate a fearful suspicion of powerful legions who control our fate.
Don’t misunderstand. We’re not saying that there isn’t an international finance cabal manipulating the global economy. On the contrary, there appears to be many. The protuberance of recent banking scandals clearly demonstrates that people in positions of influence and power are conspiring behind closed doors to profit at the expense of others. When HSBC and Standard Chartered knowingly helped Iran, Syria, and Mexican drug cartels to bypass US financial laws there was clearly some shady shit going on. And, when US regulators decided not to press criminal charges against these banks it’s pretty damn clear that Eyes Wide Shut was being re-enacted at a party that the public wasn’t invited to. However, we want to emphasize a way of looking at occult conspiracy without getting consumed by the demons of disempowerment.
There are several reasons to explain how we came to live on a capitalist planet, but there are really just two main reasons that help to perpetuate this horrific absurdity: 1) people don’t believe that there are viable alternatives; and 2) brute force. To overcome either of these obstacles, an understanding of the notion of “counterpower” is useful. Counterpower can exist as a direct confrontation to established power vectors (Black Bloc vs Riot Cops), but it is more commonly used to refer to social approaches that simply do not play by the hegemonic rules (i.e., Food-Not-Bombs, shareware, or a community garden). Of course, this concept can be put to use by anyone. When corporate interests grew tired of navigating the laws of sovereign nations, they conspired to create their own form of unaccountable governance to oversee international, liberal economic policy in the form of the World Trade Organization. The lesson there is to create self-validating structures that suit your own needs rather than relinquish your power in exchange for someone else’s permission to manifest your desires in the world.
So, fear not; all is not lost. We’re not in the business of selling rainbows to the damned, but neither are we inclined to abandon umbrellas when the heavens start to weep. History has shown us evidence of past struggles that have yielded positive results. So perhaps we, too, can imagine an improved state of affairs. And if you can see it in your mind, then the next step is manifesting it in reality. It may not unfold overnight, but getting there is likely to be more entertaining than watching the current shadow show on the evening news.
1) Magic tricks are broken down into method and effect. The effect is how the audience experiences the illusion, while the method is how the trick was accomplished. The job of a good magician is to create a strong effect while concealing the method. Now, if we use these distinctions to look at conspiracy theories, we can then differentiate between how the conspiracy occurred and the effects that followed. In most cases, conspiracy theories try to uncover the methods – who did what, when? – and consequently get lost in a labyrinth of tenuous guesswork. But the effects are not the least bit abstract or debatable. Quite the opposite, the effects are what we see and feel as a direct result. The next time you find your resolve shaken by a mysterious method, try turning your attention to the effects instead, and ask yourself, “How can I produce a better effect?”
2) Remember: the term “occult” simply means hidden, and in a society of secrets there will always be secret societies. This perspective need not drive one into the conspiratorial abyss. We simply ascribe to the notion that there’s more than meets the eye. At the same time, we recognize that the histories of occult practice are rooted in individual and collective desires for reality experimentation, discovery, and self-liberation. Form your own secret society. Get together with a group of friends (or friendly strangers) and devise your own mission, charter, and initiatory rites.
3) How can you meet others who are interested in magic(k) and aren’t batshit crazy? Clearly not everyone’s going to want to hang out in dark robes fondling their swords and chalices, but everyone loves a masquerade. Throw a “magic(k)”-themed party and see how people interpret the theme, then recruit from the ranks. Once you realize that magic(k) is built on experiments in consciousness, you can begin to craft group experiments in public or private. Think about your desires, but don’t try and over-determine the outcome. Let the experiment show the results for what they are.
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