EXORCISE DAILY! (Arthur, 2008)

Vanishing Act
by the Center for Tactical Magic

from the “Applied Magic(k)” column in Arthur No. 32 (Dec 2008)

One of the oldest themes in magic(k) is that of death and resurrection. Recurring in the origin stories of numerous religions, death and resurrection also played an important role in the initiation ceremonies of early shamans across the globe. By first descending into the depths of sickness, disease, and even death itself a Siberian shaman would make allegiances with spirit allies who could be called upon to help the living. But in order to do so, the shaman would have to survive the ordeal and return to life before s/he could act as an intermediary.

Anthropologists have observed similar tendencies in shamanic initiation throughout geographically divergent cultures. Although the story of Jesus Christ is perhaps our society’s most familiar example, scholars of world religion are quick to point out that many aspects of the Christ story are reflected in earlier religious beliefs surrounding such deities as Osiris, Dionysus, and Mithras to name but a few of the more notable, regional examples. However, the list of dying-and-rising gods numbers well into the dozens and extends across the world map to include the likes of Quetzalcoatl (Aztec), Odin (Norse), Ishtar (Mesopotamia), Julunggul (Aboriginal Australian), and Travolta (Hollywood).

While Tarantino’s resurrection of Travolta might not qualify him as a “god” worthy of the aforementioned pantheon, themes of death and resurrection have long played out on the stages of popular culture and entertainment. Early performers in Native America and in ancient Egypt would amaze audiences by bringing animals back to life. While in India, fakirs performing the famed “basket trick” would stuff a child into a woven container before perforating the basket (and presumably the child) with multiple swords, only to reveal a short moment later that the child was still alive and well. More recently, magicians P.T. Selbit and Horace Goldin might not have the popular name recognition today that they once shared in the 1920’s; however, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t recognize their famed (and misogynistic) illusion: sawing a woman in half.

A resurrection routine in theatrical magic often takes one of several forms: a transposition (in which the assistant disappears from one place and reappears somewhere else), a transformation (in which the assistant appears to change into something or someone else), or a restoration (in which the assistant is returned to normal after first being subjected to some sort of ghoulish sadism). A vanish on the other hand (in which the assistant simply disappears) is seldom used for a resurrection act because the audience is left ill-at-ease wondering what happened to the body after the magician stabbed, shot, burned, or cut it.

More commonly, vanishes are employed as a metaphorical reminder for the ephemeral and illusory nature of life. Coin vanishes are among the more familiar tricks in a conjurer’s repertoire, and audiences seem to have no trouble relating to the disappearance of money even when it happens inexplicably before their very eyes. Thurston, the great Vaudeville magician and master Mason, took the vanishing act a step further by introducing the “the vanishing Arabian steed” followed a few years later by “the vanishing automobile” along with its passengers. More than simply illustrating the technological trajectory of transportation, Thurston’s vanishes demonstrated to his audience that coins, cars, or other symbols of material wealth possess a value that is not lasting. Later magicians failed to recognize the potential for multiple levels of symbolic relevance and focused only on scale as a determining factor for their illusions by vanishing elephants and water buffalo.

However, the same cannot be said for David Copperfield’s famed vanishing of the Statue of Liberty. With 1984 looming and Ronald Reagan busy conjuring his own “voodoo economics” the disappearance of Lady Liberty probably should have spooked audiences more than it did. Clearly more prophetic than Thurston’s vanishing horse, Copperfield’s vanishing Liberty should have been regarded not as prime time entertainment but as a dire warning of politics to come. If treated as an omen, we can at least take comfort in the fact that Copperfield’s illusion is ultimately a restoration and not simply a vanish. If so, and the mystical vision holds true, we can expect the return of our civil liberties, cell phone privacy, and perhaps even the freeing of those who have been disappeared by government contracted “extraordinary rendition” aircraft and in the CIA-operated secret prisons abroad.

In stage magic, vanishes may rely on a range of methods to achieve the desired effect. The use of mirrors, trap doors, secret compartments, and doubles might be used to restore an assistant to a healthy state. While politics also utilizes no short supply of ruses, deceptions, and misdirections, it takes much more to return to a healthy state. Although we witnessed the vanishing of George Bush from the White House in January of 1993, we were left dumbstruck when a second George Bush reappeared in the Oval Office in 2001. Unlike the shamanic ascension from the underworld that affords mysterious new powers for helping treat the ailments of others, this hellish return was accompanied by two wars, an exploding national debt, a devastating economic crash, and mysterious new powers for government surveillance and the executive branch.

Thankfully the curtain call has come for that sad act. The stage has been reset and we are now eagerly awaiting the next Bush vanishing act from the halls of government. Hopefully this time it’s a permanent disappearance. And perhaps when the curtain goes up on this next act we’ll witness the resurrection of the long-dead spirit of democracy that has recently begun haunting our hopes and dreams again.

Undoubtedly, politicians and governments will continue to perform much as they have in the past. Yet, the mass mobilization around the Obama campaign has given the audience new clues in determining the outcome of the show. The close of the Obama/McCain election represented a political shift in more ways than one. For the first time in eight years (if not longer), people poured into the streets not to protest an act of government but to celebrate one. The jubilation went far beyond party politics because the triumph went not only to the Democrats. People could feel their own political power. Whether or not Obama lives up to his campaign promises and our highest expectations remains to be seen; yet, the real victory here is the empowerment of the grassroots to accomplish a major political mission. Hopefully, the next eight years brings the political utopian equivalent of unicorns and demons sharing the last slice of birthday cake under a shimmering rainbow. But if it doesn’t, we now have a road map for organizing that doesn’t just look like another weekend march with placards and puppets in the financial district of a major metropolis. On the contrary, the mobilization around Obama was widespread, sustained, contextual, and media-savvy. It utilized multiple outreach strategies, creative tactics, and a model of fundraising that accumulated millions of small donations into a mega-fund for manifesting a collective vision. And now that we see what we can accomplish, there’s no reason why we should stop there. The show must go on – locally, nationally, globally. Or else we may find ourselves sitting once again in a dark theater awaiting the resurrection of our political nightmares.


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.

Forthcoming from Starfire: two previously unpublished grimoires by Austin Osman Spare

Wikipedia: Austin Osman Spare

Just spotted this announcement in the “Forthcoming” section in the Autumn/Winter 2009 catalog from Starfire Publishing (available as a PDF from here):

Two Grimoires by Austin Osman Spare — set for publication in Spring/Summer 2010

The early years of the 20th Century were a time of great creative ferment for Spare, and amongst the items which survive from these early years are two intriguing and sumptuous grimoires, each of which is a notebook consisting of fine pen and ink and watercolour drawings. These notebooks were unfortunately not completed by
Spare. There are a number of full-page and half-page paintings and drawings; other pages have embellishments, with spaces for text which clearly was to have been inserted later. From the addition of his bookplate, it is clear that both notebooks were at one time the property of Spare’s patron Pickford Waller.


The first of these grimoires, entitled The Focus of Life & The Papyrus of Amen-AOS, is dated 1905-6. Much of the lettering remains in pencil, some of it giving clues to the underlying meaning of the imagery. An important element of this grimoire is that it features an early form of the ‘exteriorisation of sensation’ which Spare subsequently developed into the Sacred Alphabet which is a feature of The Book of Pleasure.


The second, slightly later notebook is The Arcana of AOS & the Consciousness of Kia-Ra, dated 1906. This is in some ways the more finished of the two notebooks, and picks up some of the imagery from the earlier notebook as well as integrating some new elements.

These two grimoires by Spare are at once enigmatic and full of haunting beauty. The paintings and drawings from each notebook are here reproduced in full colour. With analytical essays by Michael Staley, Stephen Pochin and William Wallace, and an introduction by Robert Ansell, this publication adds to our understanding of Spare’s early years as an artist, mystic and philosopher, and sheds light on the early development of his sigilisation techniques.

LIONEL ZIPRIN: A remembrance by David Katznelson

David Katznelson (left) with Lionel Ziprin (date unknown)

A remembrance by David Katznelson

On the morning of Sunday March 15, 2009 Lionel Ziprin passed away. By nightfall, his coffin was riding on a plane to Israel, to be buried in Tsfad alongside his mother, grandmother and grandfather, the great Rabbi Naftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia. Tsfad was the home of the mystics, those Jewish spiritualists who dedicated their lives to the study of Kabbalah—the esoteric Jewish texts that were untouchable by most. The Abulafia family was one of the most famous families of Kabbalists.

I originally met Lionel because of his grandfather, a rabbi whose singing was recorded in the ’50s by pioneering musicologist Harry Smith (student of Alan Lomax and creator of the definitive collection of American folk music), because there were sacred melodies—bridging the gap of hundreds of years of cantorial practices—that were known best by him. I had read about Rabbi Abulafia’s recordings in an article by John Kalish, and contacted Lionel to license them for a non-profit Jewish reissue label I co-founded, The Idelsohn Society. Many before us had already tried to convince Lionel to allow the recordings to be released to the public; the recordings had become legendary for the very reason that Lionel refused all offers, other than allowing a single CD to be released, containing short bits of only a few masterpieces.

Four years ago my friend Roger Bennett and I started our trips down to Lionel’s apartment on the Lower East Side, situated in an island of olde Jewish culture that once flourished throughout the neighborhood. What started as skeptical conversations morphed into strange, deep discussions about Judaism, metaphysics, the otherworlds, and the angels that exist on this one.

Lionel was a born-again Hasidic Jew whose past was anchored in the artistic movements of the ’50s and ’60s. As a child he was plagued by epilepsy and rheumatic fever after which he had visions, seeing the bible come to life in his grandfather’s house. Later, he would translate these visions, along with his thoughts that came from them and his external worldly experiences, into his poetry. Ziprin as bohemian walked with the likes of Thelonious Monk, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Allen Ginsberg, Bruce Conner, and SF poet laureate Jack Hirschman to name a few; his apartment was a destination for the greatest underground artists of his time. He married a woman named Johanna, so famous for her beauty that her vision was immortalized by Bob Dylan in song. The couple had four children.

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"Form is the Graveyard of Conciousness" – Frank Haines opening at Lisa Cooley

Occultist artist Frank Haines debuts an installation of new paintings, sculptures, and situations tonight at the Lisa Cooley, located at 54 Orchard Street in Chinatown. Most of tonight’s work was made in the gallery space, utilizing a wide range of formlessness and abstraction. With heavy Theosophical influence, the exhibition invokes themes of duality, including one energetic sculpture of two two-tone dangling equilateral triangles. Also well known for his experimental music as one half of the duo Blanko and Noiry, Haines is offering attendees of tonight’s show first crack at a cassette tape limited to 500 of never-before heard music he created while studying in Austria.

If Haines’ style reminds you of Kenneth Anger, you’re not alone. Haines will present a new performance entitled Blood Transfusion for a Ghost at the Anger exhibition at PS1 June 20th.

The show runs from tonight to July 3rd. More of Haines’ art is featured here and here.

Today's Autonomedia Jubilee Saint — IOAN CULIANU

Martyred Romanian historian of religion, philosopher, magic.

*Feast of the Triple Scoop.

1471 — German artist Albrecht Dürer born, Nuremberg, Germany.
1690 — John Eliot, “Apostle to the Indians,” dies.
1844 — “Douanier” Henri Rousseau born, Lavalle, Mayenne, France.
1886— Universologist Stephen Pearl Andrews dies, New York City.
1904 — Jazz musician “Fats” Waller born, New York, New York.
1926 — Black Mountain, Beat poet Robert Creeley born, Arlington, Mass.
1935 — Hull House founder, social activist Jane Addams dies, Chicago, Illinois.
1956 — First aerial test of H-Bomb makes Bikini Atoll unlivable.
1991 — Romanian religious historian Ioan Culianu assassinated, Chicago, Illinois

Excerpted from The 2009 Autonomedia Calendar of Jubilee Saints: Radical Heroes for the New Millennium by James Koehnline and the Autonomedia Collective

MAY 21 —

MAGIC(K) IN THE STREETS: Applied Magic(k) column by the Center for Tactical Magic (Arthur, 2008)

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.

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TODAY: The Center for Tactical Magic's Tactical Ice Cream Unit at DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA in NYC


The Center for Tactical Magic’s Tactical Ice Cream Unit (TICU) rolls through the city in an act of intervention that replaces cold stares with frosty treats and nourishing knowledge. Combining a number of successful activist strategies into one mobile ice cream truck, the TICU is the alter ego of the police force’s mobile command center. Although the TICU appears to be a mild-mannered vending vehicle, it harbors a host of high-tech surveillance devices⎯including a 12-camera video surveillance system, acoustic amplifiers, GPS, satellite internet, and a media transmission studio capable of disseminating live audio/video⎯and of course, ice cream. With every free cone handed out, the sweet-toothed citizenry also receives printed information developed by local progressive groups…”

Encounter the Arthur Magazine “Applied Magic(k)” columnists The Center for Tactical Magic and their Tactical Ice Cream Unit at…


12 TO 10 PM DAILY*



*Open from 2 to 10 pm on September 21 and from 12 to 6:30 pm on September 23.

After traveling across the country to glean perspectives from artists and activists on the state of democracy, Creative Time’s year-long program Democracy in America: The National Campaign culminates in the “Convergence Center”: a major exhibition, participatory project space, and meeting hall mounted in New York City’s Park Avenue Armory. The Convergence Center at Park Avenue Armory will provide an activated space to both reflect on and perform democracy and will be punctuated by speeches by leading political thinkers as well as community leaders and activists throughout the run of its program. These orations are organized by Creative Time in collaboration with The Nation Institute. As one of the largest unobstructed spaces in New York, the non-traditional setting of the Armory features interiors—such as its vast drill hall and historic period rooms—that are ideal for artists presenting multifaceted visual and performing arts productions.

Work by more than 40 artists will fill the Armory’s period rooms on the first, second, and fourth floors as well as Wade Thompson Drill Hall. Creative Time will present the four performative national public art commissions made for Democracy in America in the Convergence Center at Park Avenue Armory. Some of the projects featured include giant, silvered surveillance balloons by Jon Kessler; wearable art by dBFoundation; an installation by Critical Art Ensemble and the Institute for Applied Autonomy of the physical artifacts of the 2004 FBI investigation of Steve Kurtz; a 20-foot-tall counter-surveillance tower by Jenny Polak; a nine-foot wooden hobbyhorse sculpture by Allison Smith; and Duke Riley’s functional replica of America’s first submarine. In addition, curator Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy organized the inclusion of work by four international artists that will offer incisive viewpoints on the notion of democracy and some of its core principles: nation building, freedom of speech, and labor rights. Three participatory projects will travel to parks in Queens and Brooklyn in early September before convening at the Convergence Center.

A diverse group of political thinkers, writers, theorists, and activists will be invited to deliver speeches on various subjects—including local city politics, the war on “terror,” the art world, and cultural production. Speeches will occur throughout each day the Convergence Center is open, punctuating the activity of the Wade Thompson Drill Hall’s participatory projects and social space. As speakers approach the front of the hall, they will be invited to select a podium from an array designed by artist Paul Ramirez Jonas—from a modest soapbox to an intimidating rostrum. A 40-foot backdrop by artist Chris Stain will frame the speakers in a social realist scene rendered through the technique of hand-cut stencils. In addition, select artists from the show—including Rachel Mason, and Pia Lindman—will give special performances. Lastly, local activist organizations will be invited to distribute information from tables set up throughout the space. ”

Erick Beltrán, Arthur Magazine “Applied Magic(k)” columnists The Center for Tactical Magic, Critical Art Ensemble and the Institute for Applied Autonomy, Annabel Daou, dBFoundation, Hasan Elahi, Feel Tank, Luca Frei, Chitra Ganesh & Mariam Ghani, Group Material, John Hawke, Sharon Hayes, Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, InCUBATE, Magdalena Jitrik, Matt Keegan, Jon Kessler, Olga Koumoundouros & Rodney McMillian, Steve Lambert, Ligorano/Reese, Pia Lindman, Rachel Mason, Carlos Motta, Angel Nevarez & Valerie Tevere, Trevor Paglen, Cornelia Parker, Jenny Polak, Steve Powers, Greta Pratt, Paul Ramírez Jonas, Red76, Duke Riley, Martha Rosler, Dread Scott, Allison Smith, Chris Sollars, Chris Stain, Mark Tribe, United Victorian Workers, Chu Yun, and more.