DIY Magic by Anthony Alvarado: Counting Coup – part 1

Acts have power. Especially when the person acting knows that  those acts are his last battle. There is a strange consuming happiness in acting with the knowledge that whatever one is doing may very well be one’s last act on earth. I recommend that you reconsider your life and bring your acts into that light.
– Don Juan, Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan

Having recently survived a jaw rattling, RV-sideswiping, ocean cliffside-edged, 800-mile bicycling trip along the Pacific coast, from Portland to San Francisco, my thoughts turn towards the concept of honor and danger. It is an old idea: we must stand at the edge of safety & comfort, & flirt with the possibility of death to fully recognize the boundaries of life.

The Plains Indians practiced the art of Counting Coup. To Count Coup you must sneak up to an enemy warrior and touch them with a coup stick . . . and then run for your life! This ritualized combat had little to do with warfare as we understand it in modern terms. The point was not to kill or incapacitate the enemy—although by counting coup the warrior has demonstrated they could have vanquished the foe if they had wanted. It had nothing to do with the modern point of an attack: lessening the forces of the other side. It was instead a form of warfare on a personal level. Do not make the mistake of thinking this merely some sort of game! The stakes for Counting Coup were exactly life & death. This is what gave the act its meaning and power. Honor was once seen as a very real thing, & as something that could be strengthened, fostered and grown by one’s own feats. Tag an enemy warrior, earn a notch on your coup stick.

Nowadays deadly enemy warriors are scarce, but it is still possible to skillfully flirt with risk and danger, and learn from the doing. The simplest example I can think of—short of running up to a group of tough-looking strangers, smacking one on the head with a stick and then running—is to find the biggest, steepest hill in your town and then bomb down it on a bicycle with no brakes . . . but there are an infinite number of ways to Count Coup. I can imagine, my gentle readers, some of you may protest – What!? How is this to be considered magic!? Slapping strangers? Bombing down hills? This sounds more like a bad episode of Jackass. Point taken, but keep it mind that magic is a much larger and more holistic system than we might at first give it credit for, and also that both honor & magic are very ancient concepts, ones which to some degree modern civilization has lost touch with but that I believe to be interrelated. In other words, if it doesn’t make sense, trace back up your family tree far enough and it does. On a simplistic level, when we talk of magic we often are talking about ways of reconnecting to lost & archaic ways of life.

Of course the idea of honor (a real thing that may grow or lessen according to one’s feats throughout life) extends beyond something just practiced by the Plains Indians. It has been a primary attribute of primitive cultures – and by primitive I mean cultures without guns, where combat and war took place on a personal level. Across cultures and history, in all of our oldest literature, from Beowulf to Charlemagne, from Gilgamesh, to King Arthur, to Odysseus defiantly shouting at the blinded Cyclops – we see tales of honor, tales of  the hero attempting to gain personal power and renown through acts of bravery, that is to say through acts of survival. The lesson is repeated again and again; you are the sum of your actions. Nothing more, nothing less. This is a fairly alien concept to us in western commercial capitalism, where we are taught that we are our clothes, our food, our cigarette and shoe brand, the music we listen to the car we drive & etc. ad nauseum. Had that always been the case, Homer’s Odyssey would have featured lots of lengthy chapters detailing what rad sandals the hero wore and what great mileage he got in his luxury class leather interior war ship. Modern media claims that you are what you buy. All the old legends say you are what you survive.

In honor of this dictum, today’s spell is Counting Coup: do something genuinely a bit dangerous!

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DIY MAGIC : How to get lost in Paris on your bicycle

How to Get Lost in Paris on Your Bicycle

– or –

Randonneur Psychogeography

by Anthony Alvarado

That the environment should respond to human thought. That is the core of magic and the oldest dream of mankind.

The Death of Doctor Island, Gene Wolfe

Tools required:

a bicycle

a map of Paris

Here it is! I will tell you the big secret, what it all boils down to, the heart of the matter. I know, I know, this column is still pretty new and I should probably hold off on bringing out the big guns until later. But I feel (& hopefully acolytes of this periodic grimoire have already experimented with the lucid napping & Ganzfeld techniques, as proscribed in the previous two issues) you are ready to grasp the core issue here; the fundamental concept of magic to which we will return again and again.

That which is below is as that which is above, and that which is above is as that which is below.

That’s it. The quote is from Hermes Trismegestus. Rather then get side-tracked with an investigation into the musty pedigree of the quote (a rabbit trail that too many texts on magic become entangled in) we can take that statement — as above so below, and as below so above – as a jumping off point. On the surface it seems simple enough, almost a tautology. However, like all big truths, it grows in profundity as we approach it, and like Zeno’s arrow we are always only halfway to fully reaching the truth.

This idea of correspondence between the above and the below is of course referring to the link between the self and the world, the microcosm and the macrocosm, the interior/exterior. The accomplished magus is one who realizes that by changing the one, she changes the other. It is as simple and powerful as balancing algebraic equations – what is done on one side must be done on the other.

(In the realm of magic this law is as basic as Newton’s 3rd law of motion, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; it is likewise elegant. Interesting to note that Sir Isaac Newton was himself an alchemist and well familiar with the writings of Trismegestus – even writing his own translation of the Emerald Tablet!)

Now let’s begin with a basic example – if you were to walk around the block with a pebble in your shoe, it would change not only the way you walk, but also the way you think and feel. That’s too obvious perhaps. Let’s zoom out. Picture yourself commuting to work. Do you drive? Then imagine yourself taking the bus. Already take the bus? Imagine if your commute took place by subway or train. Would you like it better, less? If you currently ride the rails, then imagine what it would be like getting there by horse. Now imagine bicycle. Depending on the distance and route you travel daily, some of these means of transport might sound preferable, while others would totally suck. We are affected not only by our environment but by the way we navigate it, and of course it flows the other way around. Take your bicycle for example: what is healthy for us is also healthy for the environment. It is cheap, efficient and contributes 0% pollution – it bears mentioning that at this point in human history if everyone on earth used a bike as their main mode of transportation it just might save the ecosystem of the planet. That is the Macro level. We could also go down one level and talk about what your hometown or city would look like right now if every car was replaced with a bike – no roads, just trails! Picture how that would change the dynamics of day-to-day life. Roads would be replaced with what? Promenades? Parks? Goat trails? The change in infrastructure this would have on everything from grocery stores and markets to shopping and business centers would be beyond revolutionary.

My point is not to rally y’all to tear down urban blight … not just yet … but to consider the ramifications that change on the micro level proportionally affects the macro, i.e. more bikes = less pavement. The equals sign in the previous statement may be thought of as Psychogeography. A term which Guy Debord defined as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”

Finally, let us consider the profound effects that biking–not driving–has upon oneself:  mind, spirit and body. You travel much more slowly on two wheels than four. You notice things. The spirit feels the freedom inherent in self-sufficiency as the body is strengthened rather than atrophied. With this in mind, I present today’s magic spell:

How to Get Lost in Paris Regardless of Where You Are

This experiment works just as well with a group as it does solo. It can of course be done on foot as a flanuer as well. It just depends on how much time you have. Really getting lost on foot, or at least finding yourself in a place you normally wouldn’t be, is hard. It’s easier on a bike since you travel faster. I can get lost on my bike in less than an hour! On foot, it takes all day. This spell will force you to see bits of your macrocosm (ergo yourself) that you are not used to seeing, as you don’t seek them out. If you can become completely lost while performing this spell, then consider yourself an adept – the trick of such magic is to be able to trick yourself.

There is of course a rich history to the art of the flanuer, the on-foot version of this exercise. It is the lost art of sauntering. Also known as going for a stroll. The potency of this magic is verified in that it is illegal – No Loitering signs are the most commonly posted law in the English language. “YOU MUST WALK WITH PURPOSE & DESTINATION; IT IS THE LAW,” sayeth the law. Therefore when riding or walking, we may meander and lolly-gag with mutinous anarchy in our steps. Take the time to experience just the “going” part without the “somewhere”.

For brevity’s sake, this tool for tweaking your psychogeography is focused on the art of the radonneur, which I am going to redefine for my own purposes as “sauntering on a bicycle”. The spell itself is quite simple.  Take your map of, say Paris, in honor of the Tour de France (or anywhere where you are not).  Now carefully consulting this map, choose a start location and an end location, e.g. the Champ-Elysees to the Eiffel Tower, and use the directions as dictated by the map to navigate your way from where you are, transposing the navigation of another place onto your current location.

Since you aren’t in Paris (if you are, use a map of Paris, Texas) you should hopefully be helplessly lost after a few turns. If not, keep going until you are. The map you choose and the directions are incidental, as long as you try to follow a route that is sufficiently complicated. You can even replace the map method with any number of means, such as rolling dice or flipping a coin at each intersection, or better yet, asking strangers for destinations rather than directions.

With a little bit of practice, you are ready to experience your environment as though you were a visitor. See it not as a place to traverse, but as an environ to explore and experience . . . go as slowly as possible. Unless you’d like to go fast; that’s good too.

* Have a burning question about magick? Email questions to for our upcoming Q&A issue.

DIY Magic: The Ganzfeld Technique

The Ganzfeld Technique or the Poor Man’s Sensory Deprivation Tank

Tools required :
2 ping pong balls
sharp scissors or knife
an am/fm radio or a suitable recording of white noise
a drawing pad and pencil

As a child I could spend many content hours studying the whorls and curlicues in the wood grain of my bedroom door. The arabesque patterns needed only the smallest prompting from my imagination to take on a fecund life of their own and blossom into a fantastic bestiary of mercurial faces and creatures, dragons, imps and gnomic animal heads, each knot of wood providing one eye. How easy it was to slip into the realm of pure imagination then; I practiced the art of daydreaming continuously in the classroom, grades k-8! Some might say this ability, to see forms amidst randomness, is only easily accessed with the imagination of childhood, but I propose this skill is still available to one and all—as adults we simply must approach the realm of the fantastic with a bit more intent. We must make the effort to clear away the clutter of the everyday mundane.

The Ganzfeld effect is one of easiest, quickest, and simplest methods for scrying that I have ever come across. Although it was originally developed for use in Gestalt psychology in the 1930s, and then used mainly in ESP research in the 1970s, its simplicity makes it perfect for our purposes of using it as a pattern generator for practicing Pareidolia.

[Pareidolia: the art of seeing something where there is “nothing.” Animals in the clouds, a man in the moon, Jesus on a tortilla, etc.—widely recognized as a sign of psychosis, and indeed many of the topics we shall discuss here are precisely that—a carefully modulated means of producing lucid madness. (In other words, depending upon the fragility/rigidity of yr own super-ego, proceed w/ these experiments at your own risk!).]

The images available to us with this technique are invaluable—Leonardo Da Vinci himself was a fan of the method.

You should look at certain walls stained with damp or at stones of uneven colour. If you have to invent some setting you will be able to see in these the likeness of divine landscapes, adorned with mountains, ruins, rocks, woods, great plains, hills and valleys in great variety; and then again you will see there battles and strange figures in violent action, expressions of faces and clothes and an infinity of things which you will be able to reduce to their complete and proper forms. In such walls the same thing happens as in the sound of bells, in whose strokes you may find every named word which you can imagine.

A Treatise on Painting


Preparing the goggles

Recipe: Take two ping pong balls and cut them in half; you will need two since they tend to have a small logo on one side, and you just want the blank half of the ping pong ball. Begin by cutting the ball in half. You can use a razor or penknife. They cut easily along the seam. The only other requirements are some headphones and white noise. You can use a radio tuned to a dead station, but be careful to avoid picking up bits of interference from stations, as well as EVP. I have come to rely on a free iPhone app called White Noise lite, but you could use pretty much any white noise source—a fan in the background, a passing rainstorm, etc. The idea is simply to block out the usual sonic distractions. You could also fashion a way to hold the ping pong balls in place, tape for example, although I have found that leaning back in a comfortable recliner or a field of grass works fine. Once you have the “goggles” & white noise ready to go, then congratulations, you have constructed a fully portable and efficient miniature sensory deprivation kit!

Now try them on, kick back, and let your subconscious get rolling. Be patient, because nothing usually happens for the first 15 minutes or so. Soon a flowing series of imagery will coalesce out of the static. Your brain is expecting to hear and see stuff because you are still taking in noise and the visual stimuli of a light source. Eventually it will begin creating images to make up for the lack of stimula. Note that in the original experiments red light was used. I have not found this necessary, but a rear bike light makes for a great ad hoc red light source if you want to try that.

I believe this to be one of the most elementary/introductory means for scrying. Later on we will address more advanced methods—such as reading tea leaves, or my personal favorite, Ornithomancy—but for now take some time to familiarize yourself with the feeling of turning off the ego and seeing what the rest of your brain is up to. Be receptive to the images that float to the surface, mold them gently; they are like downy feathers on the surface of a pond and the slightest disturbance will send them reeling. I recommend that for this exercise you don’t worry about trying to verbalize anything, but DO keep a pencil and sketch pad handy to capture any interesting imagery you experience.

I have appropriated this technique from its original usage in parapsychology. The Ganzfeld technique comes to us from Gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Metzger’s studies in the 1920’s on the perception of a homogenous visual field. Ganzfeld being from the German for “entire field”. The most well-known Ganzfeld experiments were conducted at the Maimonides Medical Center in the 70s by Charles Honorton as a means of investigating ESP. In these experiments the person on the receiving end of the telepathy experiment would enter into the mild sensory deprivation of the Ganzfeld technique for about half an hour at a time, while the sender would focus on a randomly chosen target image. No doubt this means was also chosen as a way to combat cheating. Hornorton reported a statistically significant success rate (achieving 32% rather than the chance probability hit of 25%). For our purposes here, the effectiveness of the Ganzfeld as a means of telepathy is beside the point. If anything we intend to use this technique in a manner more aligned with its Gestalt origins, a holistic mode of psychology with roots in the ideas of Goethe, a truly original and holistic thinker, in many regards the first modern or last classic great Magus.

In case I still haven’t convinced you to give this a serious whirl, here is a teaser; the myriad riches available by staring at our own brains, as it were, are reminiscent of the epiphany Flaubert ascribes to his hero in The Temptation of St. Anthony where, at the end of the book, the saint peering into an ocean tide pool, experiences a rush of Pareidola stimulated by the brack and flotsam of the cradle of life itself:

A phosphorescence gleams around the whiskers of seals and the scales of fish. Urchins revolve like wheels, horns of Ammon uncoil like cables, oysters set their hinges creaking . . .

Vegetable and animal can now no longer be distinguished. Polyparies looking like sycamores have arms on their boughs. Antony thinks he sees a caterpillar between two leaves; but a butterfly takes off. He is about to step on a pebble; a grey grasshopper leaps up. Insects resembling rose-petals adorn a bush; the remains of may-flies form a snowy layer on the ground.

And then the plants become confused with the rocks.

Stones are similar to brains, stalactites to nipples, iron flower to tapestries ornate with figures.

In fragments of ice he perceives efflorescences, imprints of shrubs and shells – so that he hardly knows whether these are the imprints of the things, or the things themselves. Diamonds gleam like eyes, minerals pulsate.

And he no longer feels any fear!

He lies flat on his stomach, leaning on both elbows; and holding his breath, he watches.

DIY MAGIC: "Dropping the Spoon"

From the Editor: Let’s have a warm Arthurian welcome for Anthony Alvarado, whose “DIY Magic” column—first installment below—will be appearing every other week on the Arthur Magazine website. Anthony comes to us via a recommendation from Arthur’s comics editor, Jason Leivian of Floating World Comics (thanks Jason!). Anthony has published a handful of poetry chapbooks, most recently “Throwing Bones,” an illustrated short story collection of aleatory writing, derived from words chosen by chance. Previous employment includes work in theater and turns as a telephone psychic, a forest firefighter, and a high school science teacher. But it was the lonely and haunted hours working the night shift guarding an empty deer field that proved to be the best place to study the arcane, which will be the subject for his column. Take it away, Anthony…

Dropping the Spoon
by Anthony Alvarado

Tools required:

1 comfortable chair, preferably of the cushy recliner variety
1 metal spoon
1 metal bowl or large ceramic plate
notepad and pencil
time – about half an hour depending on current state of alertness

It grants visionary states of consciousness, enhances creativity, and is not currently regulated by U.S. federal drug laws. No I’m not talking about Salvia divinorum, but hypnagogic imagery. Before you go looking for that at your local headshop, take note you already experience it every single day (well night).The trick is remembering it.

You know the feeling. You are laying in bed, or even better napping on the couch; and the images of the day, the background thoughts which are always there, a constant hum, begin to take on a certain Cheshire cat-grin leer, fanciful and odd images begin to swim by as effervescent as soap bubble rainbows, fairy wings, a blue stag, patterns of red and blue (for me there is often a tunnel or kaleidoscope quality to the imagery) all swirl about, just as your consciousness relaxes its grip on reality.

Hypnagogia in Greek means roughly abducting into sleep, or leading to sleep, depending on how you would translate it. It is that liminal in-between state where you are just beginning to dream but are still conscious.

The most famous example we have of hypnagogia fueling the creation of art is perhaps Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s best known poem, “Kubla Khan,” which came to him after his reverie was broken by a knock on the door, some might blame his visitor for interrupting the creation of the poem, but the truth is without the knock on the door Coleridge would not have been cognizant enough to begin writing anything down. Creative types from writers to inventors and scientists have long been aware of the rich trove of insight from our unconsciousness which can be made available to us through hypnagogic imagery. The list of inspired people who have made use of hypnagogic imagery is impressive; Beethoven reported obtaining ideas while napping in his carriage, Richard Wagner was inspired by hypnagogic imagery to write his Ring Cycle, Thomas Edison reported that during periods of “half-waking” his mind was flooded with creative images, the philosopher John Dewey said creative ideas happen when “people are relaxed to the point of reverie.” My personal favorite is the French Surrealist poet Gérard de Nerval (the guy with the pet lobster) who in Aurléia described it thus:

A vague subterranean world reveals itself, little by little, and there the pale, grave, immobile figures that dwell in limbo loosen themselves from shadow and darkness. And thus, the tableau shapes itself, a new clarity illuminating and setting into play these bizarre apparitions; the world of spirits opens itself to us.

Other geniuses knowledgeable of this technique include Carl Gauss, Sir Isaac Newton, Johannes Brahms and Sir Walter Scott, but the person perhaps most successful at harnessing the creative energy was Salvador Dalí.

A well-read student of Sigmund Freud, Salvador Dalí—who never used drugs and only drank alcohol (especially champagne) in moderation—turned to a most unusual way to access his subconscious. He knew that the hypnologic state between wakefulness and sleep was possibly the most creative for a brain.

Like Freud and his fellow surrealists, he considered dreams and imagination as central rather than marginal to human thought. Dalí searched for a way to stay in that creative state as long as possible just as any one of us on a lazy Saturday morning might enjoy staying in bed in a semi-awake state while we use our imagination to its fullest. He devised a most interesting technique.

Sitting in the warm sun after a full lunch and feeling somewhat somnolent, Dalí would place a metal mixing bowl in his lap and hold a large spoon loosely in his hands which he folded over his chest. As he fell asleep and relaxed, the spoon would fall from his grasp into the bowl and wake him up. He would reset the arrangement continuously and thus float along-not quite asleep and not quite awake—while his imagination would churn out the images that we find so fascinating, evocative, and inexplicable when they appear in his work…” —from Provenance is Everything, Bernard Ewell

How simple, how obvious and elucidating this is! To think that those images of towering giraffes, lions stretching out of pomegranates and 4-dimensional tesseract crucified Christs were in fact straight of out dreams makes one realize that the mojo of the king of surrealism (not to mention a potion for creativity strong enough to intoxicate the likes of Newton and Beethoven) is in fact available to us right here and now, and the only cost would be trading in a nap for a drowsy state of temporary self-denial, the hardest part is simply not letting yourself go all the way to sleep.

My experiments have shown that a ceramic plate works just as well as a metal bowl. Of course some may prefer trying this experiment with a tape recorder instead of a pencil but I have found operating “technologically advanced” equipment to be counter-productive towards fostering the desired dream state. Obviously if you are hunting for images rather than words then only a pencil and paper will do. Another tip—you may want to dim the lights or even try writing with eyes closed. You will be surprised at how easy this is, you don’t need to watch your hand to be able to scrawl somewhat legibly, your hand knows what it’s doing!

So, it is as simple as that. And best of all there is absolutely no hangover, or come down to this trip. It is most pleasant, however, if you allow yourself the time to take a full and proper nap after you have gotten your notes and sketches down.