Saturday, September 22, 2018

Magic: Empowering the Disenfranchised or the Passive Aggressive?


   “No” is perhaps the most important word we learn as children.  The world will tell you “no” a lot.  You might lose a job, someone will break up with you, someone will disagree with you, a loved one may die, the crops might fail, you won’t always get what you want. We live in a world where “no” is common place. When our parents tell us “no” we learn how to manage disappointment, because you have to.  Sometimes a parent telling you “no” can be a kindness, because you are learning to manage disappointment in a circumstance where the stakes are low.  Not getting that toy or watching a movie, isn’t going to be the same as getting evicted because you cant adult.  Childhood is the training ground for adulthood, and learning how to manage the “no’s” life throws at you.  Not stopping them, but managing the circumstances of the “no” and your emotional reactions to them.  You have to learn how to deal with disappointment in life, its part of being an adult, its part of growing.

  So what happens when people fail to hear “no” enough, or develop the moral character to say “no” to themselves.  And what does it have to do with magic you might ask?  Well it has a lot to do with it.  Magic is a tool that takes the world’s “no’s” and turns them into “yes’s”.  And if you haven’t developed the discipline to say “no” to yourself that can become a problem. Because once people hear “yes” all the time they don’t want to hear “no” anymore, and they forget how to hear “no.”  That person who disagrees with your blog post, curse that bitch!  Cut ahead of me in the grocery store, curse their first born!  Not agree with some point minor point about the Gods and make me question my own beliefs, start a Witch War!

  I have heard it suggested that the consequence of learning magic outside of a mystery tradition calcifies us in a state of only wanting to hear “yes”.  Going through a mystery tradition, under the best of circumstances, forces us to deal with our own personal shit and grow.  Being someone who isn’t part of a traditional mystery system I would say working with my Gods as a devotional polytheist does very much the same thing - The Morrigan and gods like her won’t let you ignore your demons, not for long anyway. But it does raise an interesting thought:  Is magic more inclined to be misused when we become addicted to the idea of eternal “yes”?  

A mystery tradition is a structured set of “no’s” that gradually turn into “yes’s”.  Having an authentic dedication to one’s Gods is no different. And there is no coincidence that dedication is a word used in both cases.   A part of your dedication, your agreement with those deities is accepting the limitation that go with that dedication.  Those limitations could be a multitude of things.  For example a part of your dedication to a deity could involve accepting a geis, and not being able to cut your hair, not being able to visit a graveyard, or kneel, as just a few examples.  There is also the fact that Gods have their own agendas and sometimes they want us to learn or deal with something that we just want to sweep under the rug, and they have a habit of shaking our lives upside down until we listen.  These are all limitation, even if we don’t like admitting it.  They are all “no’s”.  And it forces us to accept the idea that “no’s” are necessary for growth.  

   Between working on a project about Taboo Magic and many of the classes I’ve done this year I’ve mentioned a time or two that I feel curse work has value and that it can be the last resource to the disenfranchised.   During one of those workshops we spent a lot of time going over the idea of stepping outside of yourself and your emotions to consider the work.  Are you in the right? Or are you just pissed?  If you step out of the emotions of the moment are your actions still justified?  Is this really just about me, and my “stuff”? Basically can you tell yourself “no” and distinguish whether the work is truly justified? Can you live with the consequences of what your work will manifest in the world?  

I really do believe curse work can be a moral thing. It can be restorative justice, and while I don’t believe in the Neo-Pagan version of karma I can respect the idea that sometimes we have to "be" karma instead of expecting the universe to fix a problem. 

The problem, of course, with that is most people are not familiar with curse work.  It usually plays out like this. 

Step 1. Person condemns cursing, says no one needs to do that, its wrong. How dare you suggest that is useful! 
Step 2 Someone get under their skin and pisses that person off. 
Step 3 They go from condemning such magical work to becoming Little Miss Curse Pants Supreme and they start doing magical things they have never done before and probably don’t understand the mechanics of.  

That can be a dangerous mix to all involved.  

   So in a discussion about such things during one class someone said something that got me thinking. In a kind of off handed joking way one person suggested when used for the wrong reasons curse work and magic in general becomes the art of the passive aggressive. Most of us laughed because, well, most of us know someone who has done just that; Or are aware of a situation where someone used magic as a petty way to manipulate a situation. Because magic works, plain and simple, and only you can choose if your Will is put to good uses or malicious ones.  

People seems to have the idea that universe or the Gods will cancel out “bad magic” that karma will strike down anyone who does anything harmful. Basically karma will handle the job of dealing with telling you “no” rather than us taking responsibility for our actions. And in my experience that just isn’t true. Magic is like a light switch, you flip the switch and the lights turn on. The electricity isn’t good or bad it just does what its suppose to do and goes where its wiring directs it.  You have to have a good foundation in your own personal ethics, instead of choosing to believe the universe will decide what is right and wrong for me.

   Another interesting point that came out of that conversation was that in the age of the internet where anything you want to find is at your finger tips that there are no more checks and balances.  Anyone and everyone has access to magical texts and can go off half cocked  and stir up trouble if they want to.  Back when one would have had to find people willing to teach them, there was the chance a group would turn you away. The knowledge you sought wouldn’t be accessible because, for whatever reason, the coven, trad etc didn’t feel it was safe to give you that knowledge. There are disadvantages to that model as well, but the point being, an unstable person would be less likely to have access to magical training. 

   So is having easy access to magical knowledge a bad thing? Does it inspire people who haven’t taken the time to perfect their craft or their ethics to just pick a spell off the internet and with the very best of intentions do magical harm? Does it make us addicted to the eternal “yes”?  Perhaps it does. I don’t have a good answer, but its something to chew on.  Because most of the time when people come to me with problems its another magician, Witch, or magical person is magically fucking with them.  And most of the time its not curse work, just good old best intentions and a lack of understanding that the person casting isn’t the center of the universe.  I think on some level it is healthy to understand that all magic is a kind of manipulation. Using our Will to shape reality is manipulating circumstances, and that isn’t always a bad thing.  It just requires us to take care, and think about what we are doing, think about what the ripple effect of our work can manifest.  Doing divination before any kind of work to get a sense of both if the work will be effective and what the larger effect will be is always a good starting point.  But the fact remains, for a lot of people out there, there biggest problem is not manifesting a new job or love, its dealing with other magic workers.