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There's a famous exchange in the recent Star Wars sequel The Force Awakens in which Han Solo announces to the young rebels Rey and Finn that the Force and the Jedi-- mystical concepts that had come to be seen as superstitious nonsense by most people-- were all real. That the legends about them were "all true."
Han says "I thought it was all a bunch of mumbo-jumbo," but that, "the crazy thing is that it's true. All of it."
This is a great tagline for a popcorn movie, a rallying cry for all those real-life Jedi out there. But there's a flip side to the equation, maybe one that a lot of people might not factor in to their calculations.
Han's benediction can't help but remind me of a warning passed on by rocket scientist Ed Forman-- close friend and confidant to Jack Parsons-- to his daughter when she cracked open one of the magical texts Forman inherited from Parsons.
“It’s all real, it all works,” Forman said about Magic. “Don’t touch it. You’ll get yourself in real trouble."
Words to live by.
You see, if the Jedi and the Force are real so too are the Sith and the Dark Side. If the Aeons are real so too are the Archons. If angels are real so are demons.
Consumer economics have conditioned we moderns to believe that we pick and choose among the endlessly-expanding menu of options and discard the bits we find problematic. But if you believe that Magic is a science- or even religion-- then you have to follow its rules.
Magic is like any other system, you can't go and randomly chuck out huge chunks of code and expect it to work properly. Look at how religions tend to collapse once they start trying to discard all the nasty bits of programming- the Devil, sin, punishment and the rest.
PRINCES AND PRINCIPALITIES
Magic, as we've come to understand it today, is based in no small part on Medieval grimoires, a good number of which are essentially handbooks for coaxing the princes, dukes and earls of Hell into doing your bidding.
This all dates back to Babylon when Pazuzu- yes, that Pazuzu- was regarded by magicians in the Near East as a nasty but useful demon you could enlist in your wars against other demons.
Babylonians had a lot of problems with demons.
Now I don't know about you but I don't see a "prince of Hell" as a pushover or a soft touch. I'm thinking they drive a hard bargain for their services. Whether you see demons as objectively real or as unconscious projections doesn't really matter once they figure out where your tender points lie.*
HOT CAN BURN
Magic is "hot," or so they tell me, and the we're seeing the kind of curatorial custodianship applied to it that a generation raised on a libraries of data available with a mouse-click from birth apply to every single cultural epiphenomenon that bubbles to the surface. The scope and breadth of the ability to process and collate data once considered trivial or irrelevant can boggle the mind when viewed from a distance. But where is it really going?
Interest in magic seems inevitable to a generation raised on Harry Potter and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, which made Magic so palpable and seductive, but one has to wonder if this is just the latest ephemeral obsession-- like vinyl collecting or organized skepticism-- or something more durable?
The reason I ask is that I'm old enough to have lived through a couple of occult revivals now. I can't question the facility or intellectual firepower of a lot of people who've applied themselves to magic (certainly not the people who've committed themselves to it), most of them are a lot smarter than me.
But I do have serious reservations about the power of Magic itself. If you believe that it's real and that it works you have to understand that it's not something you can walk away from once you get tired of it. And Magic is something that's fucked up the lives of some of the best and the brightest the world has ever known.
The history of Magic is like a Greek tragedy, a parade of incredible minds who paid a heavy price for trying to crash Olympus. John Dee is a good example. Paracelsus is another. More recently, we have Crowley and Parsons. All of these guys were brilliant polymaths and under different circumstances probably would be sitting in the history books next to the Newtons, Galileos and Einsteins. It didn't work out that way.
A lot of otherwise brilliant magicians seemed to break or ignore a cardinal magical rule somewhere or other and end paying a steep price for it. You could add even John Keel and Robert Anton Wilson to the list if you want to grow the category a bit.
I'm not trying to discourage interest in or involvement with Magic. I'm not trying to pretend that I could. What I'm saying is that I think it's a lot more powerful- and potentially destructive- than the fluff pieces in the lifestyle sections of mainstream media outlets would lead you to believe. Chalk it up to the power of suggestion if you prefer but the results will probably be the same.
I'm probably preaching to the converted here but it seems to be worth repeating nonetheless. If it's real and it's powerful than it can cut your fingers off, just like any power tool. And given how deep this new generation of curators have gotten with it, the potential for damage only grows.
There could be entirely materialistic explanations for Magic's reality; the power of suggestion again or the subtle and complex machinations of the Unconscious. But that doesn't make the effects any less real or potentially dangerous.
Which is why I think anyone who takes Magic seriously is better off in the hands of an experienced practitioner, someone who knows where all the bodies are buried and the traps are laid (see note for humble suggestion).
I bring all this up because Magic- however you choose to define it- seems to pop its cheery little head up in times of chaos. And we seem to be tiptoeing on the edge of a volcano of chaos this country hasn't seen in a hundred and fifty years. Not just America but around the world as well. The conditions are rife.
And this chaos is being stoked and manipulated by all kinds of players on all points of all different spectrums; political, cultural, economic, etc. You may have noticed that the spy war I alluded to shortly after the 2016 election has gone mainstream now and we've been bombarded with all kinds of meme magic and agitprop ever since.
I'm sure it will all end well.
Have you noticed how the one-two punch of Trump's "Obama spying" tweetstorm and Wikileak's Vault 7 CIA surveillance revelations seem to have knocked the extremely well-funded, extremely highly-coordinated and extremely well-aimed "Russia Hacking" media campaign down for the count?
You think that wasn't its own kind of magic spell? Think again.
So Trickster magic is alive and well in Washington, apparently. If you look you'll see a new class of magicians out there, who are using very weird and highly-attuned sigil magic as weapons in this not-so-secret war we're seeing play out in the media.
So now what? Is the Trickster ascendant or is Chrononzon rising too?
Chaos magicians see the Dweller of the Abyss as a liberating force and I'm worried that a lot of others may too, even if they don't necessarily acknowledge Chrononzon by name. The world may look much the same in your daily life for the most part but you can just sense that spinning vortex at your periphery, can't you?
Yeats prophesied a Center that no longer held and it's become de rigeur among the smart set to "rebel" against that Center. So much so that "rebelling" is now mainstream. But how do you rebel against a Center that no longer objectively exists? Is it a meaningful gesture or just an empty ritual of a fading past, when rebellion had actual consequences?
Maybe we'll come to learn that a collective Center is as important to the body politic as your "center" is to your physical body. It will be too late by then, of course.
It's at times like these-- when faith is lost in the old certainties, or centers-- that Magic and the paranormal poke their heads up from the sand. When the gods break their contracts it seems there are always ambitious understudies willing to do a little business on the side.
The Greek Magical Papyri date back to a time when the Empire was collapsing and religious conflict was erupting into street battles all over major city centers. Mesopotamia was the venue for a never-ending struggle of nations and subsequently produced some of the most startling Magic history ever recorded (Babylonian religion and Babylonian magic are inseparable). The grimoires arose during the times of the Crusades, against the backdrop of an epic struggle between Christendom and Islam.
The spiritual supermarket of New York's Burned-Over District can be traced back to the Great Disappointment, when everyone seemed to whip themselves up in anticipation of a Second Coming that never came. Similarly, the occult revival of the 19th Century took place under massive dislocation, human misery and uncertainty, despite a large-scale Christian revival.
With societal and economic pressures building everywhere you look it's inevitable that Magic is going to find a new audience. The question then becomes what is Magic, and are there new forms of it ready to emerge, and can it operate without belief in a supernatural agency.
Meme Magic is certainly one, Chaos Magic is recent enough to still be considered new and of course there's Synchromysticism, which bridges the two, arguably.
But there's also that distinctly American Hermeticism (as Gordon White calls it) that stuck its neck out during the darkest days of the Depression and that's Positive Thinking. Mitch Horowitz has written extensively on this, tracing it back to the New Thought movement of the late 19th Century.
In fact I was reading some Napoleon Hill recently and was thunderstruck by its flat-out, no-apologies magical character. I mean, flat-out wishcraft. Hill was even known to traffic with spirits, that's how magically-oriented he was. Positive Thinking and its tributaries get a bad rap in the New Age age but I still think there's some suitable power there.
There's so much negative thinking in the air a little bit of positive might just be a nice corrective. I don't know about you but I sure could use a bit myself, maybe not as a staple but as a side dish. And it might be a damn sight healthier than cutting deals with demons.
NOTE: Gordon "Gandalf" White at Rune Soup is offering online courses at his site and already has a number of modules up for you to study. This isn't all just a long-winded ad for his services, just a humble recommendation of a place to go if you're looking for a serious teacher whom I implicitly trust.
* This is exactly my brief with Satanism. A lot of apologists want to excuse it all as harmless fun, and it probably is for the educated Bohos who toy around with the trappings. But its iconography and messaging have a habit of inspiring others to take all the death-and-sacrifice signaling not so much as a LARP and more as a license to kill.