ON DRONES by the Center for Tactical Magic (from Arthur 35)

Originally published in Arthur 35

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Column: Applied Magic(k)
Author: The Center for Tactical Magic
Title: “The Deception of Robot Demons”
Illustration: Aaron Gach

Seldom used in stage magic today, automata (self-operating mechanical figures) featured prominently among conjuror’s acts before the 1900’s. Skillful craftsmen offered public demonstrations of elaborate clockwork characters that could perform entertaining miracles. Perhaps the most famous automaton of all time was the chess-playing spectacle known as The Turk. From the late 1700’s through the mid-1800’s, the turban-topped, robe-wearing, moustachioed machine amazed audiences in Europe and the Americas as he defeated the majority of his opponents, including Ben Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Despite an intense amount of public speculation and scrutiny, the mystery of its inner workings remained a closely guarded secret for many years. Although some correctly suspected that The Turk was in fact a mechanical illusion that concealed a human chess master, these theories were particularly difficult to prove since The Turk was opened up at the beginning of performances to provide the audience with a view of its interior.

In crafting illusions, it is essential for magicians to deflect suspicion by guiding audience perception. This may occur through misdirection, camouflage, patter—or, in the case of The Turk—a combination of all three presented through a carefully orchestrated sequence of events that gives a false appearance of reality. The final effect in this case was an amusing battle of wits apparently between man and machine that was way ahead of its time. Resonating with some of the earliest fears and hopes of the posthuman condition, it predated Mary Shelley’s techno-angst classic, Frankenstein, by nearly 50 years, and IBM’s Deep Thought chess computer (which lost to chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1989) by more than 200 years.

Somewhere between the horror of Frankenstein and the hubris of Deep Thought a melange of other mechanistic mayhem has emerged with far less entertaining implications. Although Nikola Tesla first conjured the notion of a squadron of remotely piloted warplanes in 1915, it has only been in the past decade that drone warfare has moved from from the shadows into the spotlight. In this “theater of conflict,” we find ourselves once again presented with the illusion of intelligent machinations. As with The Turk, we are often presented with a well-choreographed display intended to subvert our logic through partial truths and deceptive patter.

Drone strikes (particularly when they run afoul) are frequently discussed by government spokespersons as if the machines were making their own decisions, with zero accountability for their human operators, strike teams, or the officers and officials who authorize and oversee these missions from an air farce base outside of Las Vegas. When US missiles kill people in countries that we’re not even at war with, should it even matter if the aircraft had a human being sitting in the cockpit? Continue reading


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. Please support this work by procuring a copy of Arthur from a kindly local retailer or directly from us. It costs $5 — not too bad!

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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. Continue reading


From The Center for Tactical Magic:


Daddy was a bankrobber,
But he never hurt nobody.
He just loved to live that way
And he loved to take their money.

Some is rich and some is poor,
And that’s the way the world is.
And I don’t believe in lying back
And saying how bad your luck is.

—from “My Daddy was a Bank Robber” by The Clash

Everyone knows that robbing a bank is illegal. But, there’s no law against fantasizing about it. Popular culture has long relied on this fantasy to promote a wide array of bank robber tales, often romanticizing the lawbreaker as a clever hero outsmarting the agents of economic oppression. The old American West was populated with such infamous desperadoes as Butch Cassidy, Frank and Jesse James, Black Bart, Joaquin Murrieta, and Pearl Hart. And, the Great Depression gave rise to the likes of Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, “Slick” Willie Sutton, and John Dillinger to name but a few of the most notorious.

Although the current economic conditions are frequently compared to the desperation of the Depression era, many law-abiding citizens would finger banks as the biggest criminals in our society today. Upon further scrutiny, it becomes clear that this heightened antagonism towards the big banking establishment deserves a creative outlet. As many people battle rising unemployment, increasing food costs, exorbitant health care fees, and bank foreclosures, the “get rich quick” narrative comes head-to-head with the “make ends meet” social conditions that have cultivated the legendary heists of the past.

Can planning a bank robbery really pay off? Yes, it can. The Bank Heist Contest is offering $1000 to the best bank robbery proposal. Period. No need to assemble a team or snag a getaway car. Applicants just need plan it out, draw it up, and describe it as best as possible. If it wins, they’ll be $1000 richer. And the best part: no risk of jail time.

The Bank Heist Contest is a participatory cultural endeavor designed to re-visit the romantic representation of bank robbers in relation to the current economic and social crises, including: income disparity, unemployment, housing foreclosures, federal bailouts, the LIBOR scandal, and a wealth of other egregious economic indicators. It is organized by the The Center for Tactical Magic with support from Southern Exposure, a non-profit arts organization in San Francisco. For inquiries, please email: heistcontest@tacticalmagic.org



Psychic Surveillance: Hi-tech wizardry and ESP come together at this mystic parlor in Stockton, CA. How can you augment your powers of perception?

Applied Magic(k): Magic(k) Calls
by the Center for Tactical Magic

Originally published in Arthur No. 24 (August 2006), available from The Arthur Store

The ancient oracles of Greece, which served as messaging centers between the gods and the mortals, did not shy away from associating metaphysical affairs with technological wizardry. Visitors to the oracles marveled as doors opened, fountains poured forth, and lights flickered all of the their own accord, thanks to an innovative use of hydraulics, pneumatics, levers, weights and balances. Such high-tech engineering (for the times, anyway) not only served to set an appropriate magical tone, but also held the potential to assist in conveying messages from the gods. Although more than 2,000 years old, this blend of magic(k) and tech stands in stark contrast to many of today’s expressions of magic(k). What is it about technology and magic(k) that leaves so many magic(k) practitioners hiding in the folds of their anachronistic robes and tuxedos?

Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the inventor credited with the notion of global satellite communications, once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” At the surface, such an assertion may seem simple enough; however, there are a few layers to excavate here. Some interpret this to mean we have reached an age where we are quite impressed by our own inventions. The workings of our gadgets have become increasingly imperceptible, if not due to sheer miniaturized size of the parts, then surely due to the veils of specialized knowledge. In the end, we don’t know how a given technology, a cell phone for instance, even works nor do we particularly care so long as we can talk on it when we need to. We take it for granted that there is a technical logic behind the engineering of a cell phone.

For some, that brief insignificant moment of faith in technology is comparable to magic(k)—after all, many (if not most) magic tricks are successfully performed along these very lines. Any enchantment whatsoever is overpowered by the puzzle that remains to be solved. The audience does not wonder if it is “real” magic(k); they wonder at how it is accomplished. While the overall effect may still be enough to satisfy and entertain, the method remains cloaked in secrecy and illusion. Likewise, when a technology performs its prescribed function, we tend not to ask any questions, and thus the mysteries of its inner workings are obscured to all but those with specialized knowledge. This certainly has some parallels with the way some view magic(k), equally in the realms of the occult, entertainment, and perhaps politics as well.

However, the magic(k) of a “sufficiently advanced technology” is not simply manifested solely by its ability to perform its prescribed function without one’s understanding of how it works. Magic(k) teases questions of “what?” and “why” just as much as “how?” Aside from the general mystery of its inner workings, a cell phone appears to be no more magical than a wristwatch or a solar-powered calculator largely because of our familiarity with it and the banal circumstances under which it is used. But when we take a moment to really consider what a cell phone does, we begin to scrape away at another layer of meaning. Continue reading

How to Subvert Institutional Authority Through Graffiti and Other Tactics in 13 Steps

Applied Magic(k): Sigils, Logos and Lucky Charms
by the Center for Tactical Magic

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (June 2006), available from The Arthur Store

One of the first lessons of magic(k) that we learn as children is that words and symbols have power. Abracadabra. Hocus Pocus. A five-pointed star. A four-leaf clover. As we get older, this primary notion quickly degrades and often becomes the source of one of the first dismissive tendencies towards magic(k) that arises amongst adults. Too many hokey movies and failed attempts to levitate with an utterance conspire against us. Soon the lesson is forgotten; magic(k) words and the power of symbols sneak away to party with Santa and the tooth fairy.

But words and symbols continue to work their magic(k) regardless of whether or not we believe in them. Look at the recent outcry against Madonna singing from the cross or riots in response to Mohammed cartoons and we begin to see that the power of symbols is anything but make-believe. For those who insist that religious sensitivities are an easy shot, consider this secular example: For over 150 years the United States had a Department of War. During much of that time U.S. foreign policy consisted of “neutrality” and therefore the DoW did not lend any direct military support in foreign conflicts. World War II put a definitive end on U.S. neutrality once and for all, and in 1947 the DoW was renamed the “National Military Establishment” or NME (pronounced “enemy”). Realizing the error of their acronym, politicians again changed the name in 1949 to what we know today as the “Department of Defense.” More than half a century after “war” became “defense” the DoD sits deep within the Pentagon planning “pre-emptive defensive strikes” while waving a flag with 50 pentagrams on it.

Okay, so spin-doctoring isn’t exactly the same thing as witch-doctoring. Still, most performing magicians (conjurers) won’t deny the power of language. And few will debate the fact that word choice makes a difference when presenting a trick. Many will even insist that the “patter” makes or breaks the illusion. More to the point, the strength and efficacy of a trick is often closely tied to the audience’s ability to relate both specifically and abstractly to the overall illusion. This is precisely why magic with money tends to hold people’s attention more than tricks with handkerchiefs. Money is already a loaded symbol, whereas how many people revere a silk hanky? If you still maintain your doubts, try first performing card tricks over lunch and then later in the middle of a poker game. Any guesses on which audience gets more riled up when you magically produce four aces from up your sleeve?

Admittedly, the ability to make a scrap of green paper covered in Masonic symbols disappear doesn’t quite live up to our childhood expectations of magic(k). Perhaps this is especially true because we become adept at making dollars disappear all the time. Continue reading


Applied Magic(k): Donut Power
by the Center for Tactical Magic

Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (April 2006), available from The Arthur Store

Although people often associate the word “occult” with secret magical orders, demon-worshipers and ancient alchemical scrawlings, its root definition is simply “secret, concealed, or hidden.” But strangely enough, “occult” is rarely associated with those who are perhaps most invested in secrets and concealments: that is, government, military, corporations and even performing magicians. Perhaps this popular tendency to view “occultism” through an anachronistic mist is ultimately a concealment of its own accord.

If we regard an occult force as “that which is hidden,” it should come as no surprise to realize that we are constantly surrounded by the occult. Everywhere we look we don’t see it…at least not at first. Otherwise it wouldn’t be occult; it would be obvious and apparent. Unseen forces are indeed at play all around us. We often fail to recognize their presence for any number of reasons: the forces may seem insignificant to the situation, we are distracted by other factors, etc. Whether one favors ritual magick or performing magic, the first challenge is to recognize which forces are present, hidden or otherwise.

Fortunately, occult forces sometimes have a funny way of revealing themselves. In 2001, members of the Center for Tactical Magic were enjoying a leisurely tromp through downtown San Francisco with a few thousand other people protesting the 21st Century’s first major display of government occultism: George W. Bush’s inauguration. At the end of the trolley line at Powell and Market, the march lost momentum and gradually slowed to a jiggle. Some protesters scurried into cafes to get their latte fixes while others started break-dancing to boom boxes in the streets. Meanwhile, riot police began to huddle in the doorways of the GAP. There were other big department stores and icons of global capitalism nearby, but for reasons unknown the GAP seemed to be getting the bulk of police attention. (Perhaps it was one of those rare instances where Power reveals itself, as if the cops were hinting, “You’re already gathered to fight injustice, you might as well protest conformist fashion produced by sweatshop labor, too.”) At first, no one seemed to care, except possibly the few shoppers who hurried away at the first signs (namely, armored cops) that something might be amiss. Gradually though, activists seemed to take to the idea, and soon a small group settled down at the feet of the police line to sip their lattes and eat their lunches.

Please see exhibit A, the photo we’ve provided for your entertainment…

To most observers the scene appears obvious: two opposing forces have squared off against one another; protesters staging a sit-in were blockading the entrances to the GAP, and riot police had formed a security perimeter to protect GAP’s assets from looters and vandals. While this is true to some degree, those who understand magic(k) know better. Appearances are often deceiving. The nature of a good illusion is to cloak information by providing a specific perceptual framework. And the tendency to filter information leads to a hasty, oversimplified conclusion.

Upon closer inspection, one quickly realizes that the scene in the photo evidences no opposing forces whatsoever. In fact, the cops and the protesters are rather harmoniously accomplishing the same task. Both groups are blocking the doorway. Both groups are preventing patrons from entering. Both groups are preventing the GAP from doing any business whatsoever.

If you missed this dynamic at first glance, don’t worry. You’re not alone. The cops and the protesters lived it, and they didn’t get it. In fact, whenever this photo is shown in talks, lectures, and workshops, the audience response is almost always the same. People are so keyed in to a perceptual framework dominated by dichotomies and binary analysis (protester vs cop, good vs evil, black magick vs. white magick, etc) that it’s easy to miss what’s happening right before our very eyes.

Indeed, it has long since become a cliché of consciousness studies to say that at every instance our senses are bombarded by more information than our minds can process. In order to navigate the world around us, we learn how to filter information that we regard as unimportant. However, the act of filtering is not only influenced by matters of survival (predators, food, attraction, etc) but also by social cues and priorities (herd behavior, notions of productivity vs. leisure, conspicuous consumption, etc). Since the filtering process begins at such an early age and occurs at much the same time as socialization, it is often difficult to step outside of one’s perceptions and recognize exactly what is being filtered when and/or why. At best, we can occasionally inhibit our filtering processes (either through drugs, meditation, dancing, sensory deprivation, or other “unproductive” activities) or we can make concerted efforts to focus our attentions in areas less considered. Even the harbingers of progress have to admit that the latter option yields positive results. After all, modern medicine owes a great debt to those who were willing to peer through microscopes at bits, mites, motes, and droplets that are regularly ignored by the naked eye.

So where does this keen analysis get us? For starters, we become less inclined to take things at face value. While some would say this is a skeptical or even cynical approach to the world, we prefer to think of it as riddled with opportunity. The refusal of a static worldview opens one’s eyes to the dynamic occult forces swirling around us. The next trick is to figure out how to work with these forces.
After a few more hours of chanting, “Whose streets?…Our Streets!”, the miracle of the unified GAP blockade persisted, but the rest of the protest began to march down a reliable path. Buses pulled up and more riot cops in even more armor poured out. Tensions on both sides escalated, and the enjoyable expression of first amendment rights wavered under the immanent threat of the inevitable activist/authoritarian clash. For anyone who has ever been to a protest, this is familiar territory. This is the part where ugliness happens. Out come the batons, pepper spray, and plastic handcuffs. And anyone who gets beaten up also usually gets arrested and charged with assaulting an officer in order to justify any police misconduct.

Some would declare that this is merely a timeless confrontation between opposing forces. Perhaps. But we at the Center for Tactical Magic feel that occult forces were also present, active and largely unaccounted for. (No, we’re not referring to cops dressed as protesters… we’ll save that for our column on “disguise and infiltration”). Protesters and cops both fell victim to the same forces: they steadily grew tired, cold, hungry, and even a little bored. The activists want to leave, but of course can’t, because, well, they’re our streets. If we leave, then they’ll be their streets again. We can’t exactly let a hard day’s work go to waste now, can we? And the cops want desperately to make it home in time for Fox Sports, but they can’t exactly leave, because, well… how would it look if they let a bunch of anarchists run around an empty financial district thinking that they own the streets? Besides, double (or even triple) overtime pay is hard to say “no” to. For the cops, growling stomachs, Fox Sports and a can of Bud ultimately win out over a fatter paycheck. Out come the batons.

It was precisely at this moment that we decided to conduct a little experiment. Please note Exhibit B: the second photo provided for your entertainment.

Foregoing any ceremony, we quickly acquired a few boxes of donuts from a nearby Walgreen’s and began passing them out to protesters and cops alike. The action performed was the same for both groups; however, the responses were predictably dissimilar. Protesters responded with eager gratitude; happily stuffing their faces with the meager nourishment after a long day outdoors. The cops on the other hand were not so happy. They wanted the donuts. You could see it in their jaws-gone-slack and their craven eyes bursting out from behind mirrored glasses. But despite their hunger, they couldn’t take them. Pride and professionalism prevented them from doing so.

Obviously, cops are sensitive about donuts. It’s an old, played-out joke, and had we passed out cupcakes, maybe things would have been different. But isn’t that one of the crucial points of magic(k)? To work with what’s around you in such a way as to produce a desired outcome or effect? Within just a few moments, a single gesture shifted the dynamic between opposing sides. As activists giggled and jeered, the police officers shifted uneasily in their boots. Eager aggression and pumped-up adrenalin ebbed in the wake of sheepishness, annoyance, and humility. It was like watching a bully rip the seat of his pants in front of everyone.

In an effort to grab control of the situation, the commanding officer approached one of our agents (see photo) and threatened, “If you pass out one more donut, I’m taking you to jail!” To which our agent responded, “For what? Handing out food for free?” The officer then replied, “Not for handing it out. For distributing it!” Clearly, reality and rationality had shifted in mysterious ways. Please don’t misunderstand. We at the Center for Tactical Magic love a riot as much as anyone, and we’re not claiming that this one act of impromptu hijinks saved the day or anything. But shortly thereafter the cops stood down. The police lines withdrew. And many of the activists left feeling like they preferred their kitchens and their bars to their streets.

Throughout the long histories of magic(k) and religions, food has often played a transformational role. Whether consuming “the body and blood of the Lord” or making bowls of rice appear from thin air, food has a power that reaches beyond the symbolic. And the roots of its power are concealed by its relationship to such hidden forces as hunger, nutrition, comfort, repulsion, and social relations to name a few. Like so many other hidden forces, these have the ability to shift perceptions, priorities and outcomes. But to do so we must recognize their presence and figure out how to work with them. The following exercises are designed to encourage further exploration of hidden forces. You can treat them as magical experiments, interventions, or alternative forms of entertainment. Have fun and good luck, and please let us know how it was for you by emailing to: goodluck at tacticalmagic dot org

1. Go to the grocery store without the intention of buying anything. Bring a pad of post-it notes and a pen. Respond to the products you see by writing a note and sticking it to the product. You might consider the following: the packaging/marketing strategy used to encourage your purchase; the way the product makes you feel when you see it, use it, or eat it; a message or a question to another potential consumer or store employee; a critique of the product or the company; a creative suggestion for alternate uses of the product.
* This is an exercise that shifts perception by changing the activity performed in an otherwise familiar environment. Like graffiti responding to a billboard, it also encourages a dialogue in an otherwise one-way relationship and breaks the illusion of a “neutral” exchange.

2. Once a week for at least a month, prepare a meal that uses ingredients for their symbolic value. Start by considering a desired outcome (a different wish, goal, etc for each meal). Next, consider the events that have to unfold in order to accomplish your goal. Associate one ingredient for each event. Your associations may be literal or abstract. Perhaps you’re not even sure why the ingredient reminds you of the event. The ingredients don’t all need to be cooked in the same pot, and it’s ok to use spices for flavor. Eat as much as fills you up.
* This is an exercise which relies on a natural survival behavior to process and manifest a desire through mental and physical consumption, digestion, and excretion. It works best if you find a way to make strange foods tastefully coexist on the same plate.

Most magic illusions are based on visual deceptions; however, the Oxford Companion to the Mind insists, “All the senses can suffer illusions…” Everyone knows the old trick that involves tasting an apple and a potato while holding pinching the nose closed. What other illusions rely on deceiving the sense of smell? If you come up with any answers, please let us know.

The Center for Tactical Magic is a moderate international think tank dedicated to the research, development and deployment of all types of magic in the service of positive social transformation. To find out more, check out tacticalmagic.org


Ancient diplomacy: Moses’ brother performs magic(k) before the pharoah and his court of magicians in this depiction of Exodus 7:12. What was the pharoah doing with all of those magicians anyway?

Applied Magic(k): Adult Witchcraft
by The Center for Tactical Magic

Originally published in Arthur No. 21 (Feb 2006), available from The Arthur Store

Like “art,” the word “magic” can be very confusing for people. It simultaneously conjures notions of trickery, witchcraft, illusion, mysticism, fantasy, and a vast array of products, services, and popular culture references. Many of these notions evoke a dismissive response from people when they encounter the term, partly because they tend to immediately latch onto a single notion of magic that they reproach—cheesy Las Vegas sideshow; dreadlocked Wiccan hippy; Dungeons & Dragons wannabe; Satanic drug fiend; pet psychic; reality escapist; and so forth. Of course, by conjuring such characters as Gandalf, Harry Potter, Sabrina and John Edwards, popular media does its best to fantasize, infantalize, and capitalize on our collective desires for more than another sequel to “Life as We’re Told It Is.” The Center for Tactical Magic does not exclusively align itself with any one interpretation of “magic,” in part, because the vastness of the interpretations of “magic” is what gives magic its power in the world of meaning. Therefore this column is likely to exploit many of your preconceptions of magic(k) in an effort to dislodge your comfortable sensibilities.

In nearly all of the permutations of magic(k), the conventions of presenting information are completely fucked with. A stage magic trick is a good example on many levels. For starters, a magician often uses “patter” or a story to provide a context for the audience’s experience of the illusion: “Ladies and Gents, as a special treat for you tonight, I’m going to make the president disappear. Now before anyone gets too excited, it’s an already dead president—Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill—our racist, Indian-killer president.” In the patter, the magician may or may not lie, but the intention is always to manipulate the audience’s perceptions. This is done easily enough because the information presented in the form of patter appears to coincide with the visual information presented through the magician’s movements and use of props. (Andrew Jackson does appear on the twenty dollar bill; however, historians debate whether or not he killed more Native Americans then some of our other racist presidents. And the $20 in the magician’s hands will disappear… from view, but not likely from material existence since s/he needs it for rent). And of course, the magician’s movements are deceptively “natural” in appearance: a well-placed cough or a hand on the hip doesn’t generally attract attention. Similarly, the props are shown to be beyond suspicion: an audience member inspects the bill; the magician’s clothing looks normal enough; the hands are shown to be empty; etc. If performed successfully, a good magic trick will have a convincing effect largely because the magician has presented several forms of discordant information in a harmonious manner. The verbal info, the body language, the sequence of events, and the overall physical appearance conform to the audience’s expectations of normalcy (i.e. the magician used a hidden gimmick to ditch the bill half way through the performance, yet kept a closed hand in plain view while continuing to discuss the merits of vanishing racist presidents). When the magician finally opens the fist to reveal not a twenty but a handful of pretzels the audience will attempt to bridge the gap between what they believe they have witnessed and what they formerly believed was possible.

In the Western traditions of ritual magic(k) and occult practices there is often a “lust for results” that demands linearity in the form of cause-and-effect. In such cases, practitioners become ill at ease when they summon a demon to defeat racist presidents and no one shows up to take the job. That said, nearly every other expression of magic across the globe regards the magical act as a liminal space that appears during the performance. This is a zone of transformation; a place where the rules of everyday life are suspended and alternative realities can trickle in. In some cases, a shaman will perform a conjuring trick as a way of illustrating the zone of transformation. Thus, it is not the “trick” which is magic, but the performance/perception. The tricks are part of a performance that leads the audience to a mental state where the real magic can take place: the shift occurs in the perception of the audience rather than in the hands of the shaman. The best stage magicians also recognize this dynamic among their own audiences and perform accordingly by designing and performing illusions and/or rituals that are relevant to people’s lives: Houdini emphasized self-liberation from the constraints of everyday life, such as prisons, handcuffs, safes, ropes and packing crates. Likewise, Cagliostro defied the strict 18th-century norms of society by allowing both men and women, aristocracy and commoners, to join a vast European network of Egyptian Masonry and partake in rites not likely described as modest even by today’s standards.

One goal of the following exercises is to create this meaningful shift in consciousness; to locate and inhabit this secret pocket. The shift may be immediate or in the form of a mental time-bomb. You can treat these magic exercises as experiments, interventions and alternative forms of entertainment. Have fun & good luck, and please let us know how it was for you by emailing to goodluck@tacticalmagic.org


1) Plant three seeds of a vegetable plant of your choosing. Label each container respectively: positive, negative & control. Provide each plant with equal amounts of water, soil, and sun. Dedicate at least six minutes of each day (three minutes per plant—positive & negative only) on focusing positive & negative thoughts. Record your results and enjoy the fruits (vegetables) of your labor.
*This is an exercise in developing your telepathic abilities, exploring modes of unregulated communication, collaborating with non-humans, and bringing your thoughts and desires to fruition.

2) Write your own survey to elicit responses from other members of the general public. You may decide to pose questions, ask opinions, or provoke thought. Then, conduct the survey for at least three hours in a public space of your choosing, or until the “authorities” inform you that you are trespassing on public property.
*This is an exercise in activating public space, determining the limits of public space, and generating a non-commercial exchange of ideas among strangers. Most people are happy to express their opinions when asked, especially when they are informed that their participation does not involve a sales pitch, future mailings, religious conversion or product development.

3) Get a rope (at least 30 feet) and a friend (or a friendly stranger). Take turns tying each other up and escaping.
*This is an exercise that explores restriction, control, and self-liberation. You’ll be amazed to find how easily one can liberate oneself!

4) Get a group of friends together at night and find a public space to beautify as you see fit. Consider the site beforehand and plan your action thoroughly (but don’t bring along any evidence of your conspiring). Your materials should not be cumbersome, or they should be well-disguised. While some friends are in the act of beautifying, others should be posted on the lookout for “authorities” since they might not have the same sense of aesthetic appreciation as you and your friends. (If they don’t like it, they can make their own art!) If you decide to document your actions, it’s best to do it at a later time, and be sure that none of your friends’ faces are visible.
*This is an exercise in collaborative acts of meditation, willful engagement, and material transformation. You can do this in the daytime too, but nocturnal operations tend to be more mirthful and help induce perceptual shifts (both spatially and experientially).

5) Create a disguise for yourself that allows you to navigate everyday life without drawing much attention. This should be different from your normal attire. Spend the day in disguise performing leisurely or mildly adventuresome activities. Possibilities include:
a) Choose someone at random and follow them from a distance for at least 15 minutes. Then follow someone else. When you grow tired of following people, find someone who looks lost and try leading them to their destination.
b) Visit a factory or place of industry and ask for a tour. Ask lots of provocative questions, and then ask for a job. Tell them you can’t do much, but you’re interested in something at the executive level.
c) Go to at least three different places of worship. Check out the interior design. Explore a little. If someone is in attendance, strike up a conversation about the “afterlife” or “special religious foods.”
d) Go to a bank with your video camera and begin recording the bank interior. When the security guard or branch manager stops you and asks what you think you’re doing, explain that you’re trying to determine how many security cameras they have installed. If they ask “why?” tell them you’re “just doing research” or “conducting a survey of banks” or “interested in security.” Then say, “If you really want to be helpful, you can just tell me how many cameras you have and save me and the boys’ the trouble of watching this recording later and trying to count ‘em all.”
*This is an exercise in shape shifting, personal transformation, and casting illusions, as well as observing how “authorities” respond to subtle challenges beyond the status quo. The disguise will help empower you to act “out of character;” besides, if you can’t change yourself how do you expect to change the reality around you?

The Center for Tactical Magic is a moderate international think tank dedicated to the research, development and deployment of all types of magic in the service of positive social transformation. To find out more, check out tacticalmagic.org