Friday, May 14, 2010

Laws of Magick?

The Question About What is Real or Is Magick Wiggly?

[Frank the Rabbit - from Donnie Darko]

“Pooka. From old Celtic mythology. A fairy spirit in animal form. Always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one. A benign but mischievous creature. Very fond of rumpots, crackpots...and ‘How are you, Mr. Wilson?’”
Mr. Wilson, reading the definition of “Pooka” from the dictionary, in the movie “Harvy.”

[This is actually a very effective definition of how magick works.]

“Often times, everything that we think is consistent or subject to laws and rational perception, only conforms to that perception out of a deep seated vicious sense of humor, whose irony shows us from time to time how our laws and perceptions are deceptively thin and full of holes. This is especially true when attempting to define laws about magick, mysticism and the paranormal.” Frater Barabbas - discussing the characteristics of Uncle Wiggly to friends.

Recently, I have found on the web that many practitioners of magick appear to have fully embraced the three laws of magick, which were popularized rather ignominiously by James Frazier in the late 19th century. Although the source of these laws originally came from Neoplatonic writings, Frazier believed that magick was a superstition practiced by primitive people whose poor grasp of causality caused them to believe in the efficacy of magick instead of science. Frazier believed that science was the correct and modern apprehension of causality, stating his opinion that magick couldn’t possibly work. Since that time, many of Frazier’s theories have been shown to be inaccurate, and that his use of evidence to support these theories was highly flawed and misrepresented by a kind of subjective ad hoc methodology. In short, Frazier ironically violated the very premises of science that he sought to glorify in contrast to so-called primitive modes of thinking and acting.

However, subsequent anthropologists, psychologists and philosophers have used many of Frazier’s initial theories to judge all magickal activity, whether done by supposed primitive peoples or by sophisticated modern western practitioners, as an unscientific causal reasoning that proposes ideas such as the mind has power over physical reality and that correlation is mistaken for causation. (You can find a good article on this subject here.) These kind of irrational thought processes are called by scientists “associative thinking” or “magical thinking.” It’s a thought process where symbols have an inherent power, and the use of metaphor, metonym and synchronicity is used to give correlation, personal meaning and significance to events that are coincident and produced by random chance. It would seem, then, that a practice of magick would entail a defective and even delusional perspective of causality and the belief in how physical phenomena occurs.

Since I am a modern practitioner of ritual magick living in the western world and not some supposedly primitive tribal witch doctor, then I would be doubly condemned without excuse, as being either overly romantic with my subjective notions or just plain deluded with psychotic tendencies. I, therefore, have to explain my practices in a simple and rational manner or admit that I am quite absurdly irrational and living a lie, as I pretend to have some kind of power or impact on the world with my supposed magickal abilities. Or do I?

So it might seem that I have two choices. I can embrace the supposed laws about magick that Frazier and Neoplatonism proposed or I can come up with a completely different approach and explanation for what I do. Unfortunately, a number of magickal practitioners have opted to embrace these laws and find a way of rationalizing them without examining any corroborating perspectives from science or thinking about any other alternatives, which I find quite troubling. Doing so only makes occultism in general, and magick in the specific case, look like something that the scientific community can point to as being an unforgivable modern obsession with gross superstition. In other words, embracing these laws without giving them any kind of nuance makes us look like idiots to the rational and empirical world of science, not to mention the general public. (Since these notions could likely be shown to be false in a laboratory.) I also have a problem with having anything to do with James Frazier, and I find it odd that Aleister Crowley lionized his work, even though Frazier would have thought Crowley was a lunatic.

Much has changed in the scientific world since the turn of the 20th century when Frazier’s theories were considered laudable. The advent of quantum mechanics, string theory and chaos theory have profoundly changed the way that scientists perceive the physical world. What was considered impossible in Frazier’s era could now be perceived as not only possible, but even highly plausible. The fact that magick does appear to work, although not all of the time and certainly not to the consistency where it could be shown to be an empirical fact proven in a laboratory environment, needs to be explained. This fact alone would show that whether we are talking about a supposed primitive witch doctor (whose beliefs and praxis are hardly either simple or primitive), an urban witch practicing in the U.S., or a Golden Dawn ceremonial magician practicing in some European town, the methods and techniques that they are employing do produce physical and psychological results. Such practitioners are neither deluded nor suffering from a distorted sense of causality. So there must be a reason why the empirical model of physical reality fails to explain why magick and mysticism are operationally valid.
Frazier proposed three objective laws used by those who practiced what he called “sympathetic magic and contagion” - these are the laws operating in a mental process that is called “association.”  He then spent quite a number of pages examining these three laws in great detail, to show how they were steeped in erroneous and superstitious beliefs and practices. These three laws were called the Law of Similarity, the Law of Contagion and the Law of Opposites. I shall briefly state these laws, distilling what Frazier put down more than a century ago.

Law of Similarity - or like causes like. The basic premise of this law is that appearances equal reality. This means that a magician may, by manipulating a symbol or simulacrum, through the power of sympathy, also manipulate the very thing it represents. This is the basis of sympathetic magic. For instance, it was once considered bad luck (or good, depending on the situation) to whistle while on the deck of a sailing ship at sea, since a person whistling was analogous to a fierce wind whistling through the sails. The belief was that whistling would cause a gale wind to unexpectedly blow, causing harm to the ship and crew. Similarly, a shaman could pour water on a sacred stone to make it rain, or imitate the sounds and qualities of a storm to make one actually occur. In a more modern usage, a magician can manipulate a symbol of something or someone and cause analogous effects or changes to the target.

Law of Contagion - once in contact, always in contact. The basic premise of this law is that there is some mysterious essence that is associated with a person or thing, that if that person or thing has contact with an inanimate object, that object possesses the quality of that thing or person, even when separated by great distances. Contagion is what is operating when one uses personal attributes, such as hair, nail parings, blood, etc., to build what I call a gross link to affect that person in some manner - the ubiquitous fithfath or voodoo doll.

Law of Opposites - causes are the opposites of their effects. This is analogous to the Law of Similarity, except it has the opposite effect. This means that if you want something to happen, do the opposite. This practice typically occurs more rarely, except when dealing with children and juveniles, then it is called reverse psychology.

Curiously, the most obvious of these laws found in a modern society is the law of contagion, which appears to have been bolstered by the scientific revelation that microbes are the cause of diseases. However, contagion can also manifest in an irrational manner, when individuals refuse to wear a shirt that has been worn (and subsequently washed) by a serial killer. Yet even before science had confirmed microbes as the cause of disease, the supposed irrational fear of clothes and belongings that had belonged to individuals who died of an epidemic was very much in evidence, even when medical doctors erroneously assured people that there was nothing to fear. So it would appear that part of this aversion was based on intuitive survival instincts, which turned out much later to have a scientific basis. Yet in many situations, science does not have any explanation as to why such behavior persists, even in a post-modern culture.

Strangely, the most basic concepts taught in any form of operational magick are the use of symbols, metaphors, metonym (to represent real objects), and the associative structure or mechanism of the contagious (magickal) link. The link presupposes that all material things are in some manner joined into a union, so there is a cosmic web of infinite relatedness. From the perspective of the ritual magician, all things are connected, and under certain states of consciousness, the symbol of something is that something. So you can see some basic laws of magick operating in these practices and phenomena, and they could be the laws of similarity and contagion. However, in all of these basic concepts of magick, a fundamentally altered (exalted) state of consciousness makes it true. This is a critically important fact in the belief system and practice of magick, and we will examine why that is so later in this article. Suffice it to say that in order to test these hypotheses, one must be able to adopt a higher than normal state of consciousness.

If we consult the latest theories that are currently considered in vogue by physicists, both the laws of contagion and similarity seem to have some basis in the areas of quantum mechanics and quantum biology. Quantum mechanics is the study of the behavior of particles at the sub-atomic level. It has been shown that particles actually exist in an indeterminate state until they are measured, representing that all possible variations are present until the act of measuring forces one possibility to manifest. This theory, which is well represented by the mathematical equations for Wave-function produced by Erwin Schroedinger, would seem to indicate that reality consists of fields of probability until an observer makes a determination, and then only one specific possibility arises, which would seem to say that the observer determines reality. This perspective produced the famous theoretical analogy of Schroedinger’s Cat, which we won’t get into here, but other oddities were also discovered as scientists continued to fathom the mysteries of quantum mechanics.

Another discovery was about something called “quantum entanglement”, where when two particles interact with other in such a manner that the spin of one is the opposite of the other, that they will produce exactly the same probable outcome simultaneously when just one of them is measured. One could also factor in that the expectations of scientists as well as what they choose to measure (or not) may also powerfully influence the outcome of an experiment.

Quantum biology is currently engaged in a controversy about something called the “non-trivial” role of quantum mechanics involved in biological systems, which would explain such phenomena as bird navigation (sensing magnetic fields), the circadian rhythm and other behavior related factors. Certainly, with these new discoveries in science over the last century, it would seem that attempting to explain how and why magick works would not be so outlandish. Quantum biology has successfully explained such phenomena as photosynthesis, the conversion of chemical energy into physical motion and brownian motors in cellular structures.

Yet science is still working out all of the details of these various theories, building up a large body of laboratory proof that would seem to verify them. How quantum mechanics would affect probabilities on a large scale has yet to be completely explained, although there is no shortage of theories and controversy. Science, despite these unusual discoveries and seemingly illogical theories, requires the verification by measurement and repeatability. If there is nothing to really measure and the results are highly variable, as they are with magickal phenomena, then science is reluctant to engage in any kind of theoretical speculation, since it would be impossible to falsify.

All of these laws, whether philosophical or scientific, seem to successfully explain a single aspect of magick and its associated phenomena, but fail to explain all of the other phenomena. In fact, I have found that many laws, models and theories of magick come up short. They seem to explain some things, but can’t be applied to explain other things. Perhaps it may be that psychology, philosophy and science have not achieved the level of advancement required to make sense out of this complex and variable phenomenon. Or, it might be that any theory or explanation, no matter how advanced, will never be able to explain something that is intrinsic to human nature. It would like attempting to understand and predict the qualities of love in human nature by examining brain chemistry alone.

In short, I am of the opinion that the reason that these disciplines are unable to effectively explain the nature of magick is because magick is actually a sentient field, not a thing, but a being itself. There is another law that has been popularly disseminated around various intellectual circles, and that is the Law of Intelligence, which is defined as any energy pattern of sufficient complexity will act sentient if it is treated as an entity. What I am proposing here is that magick is not a physical phenomenon that can be measured or consistently tested in a laboratory, although it can produce such phenomena, and the changes it renders can be noted anecdotally. It would seem that magick is a kind of being, but what kind of being it would be is the real question. This leads me to my definition of Uncle Wiggly and the belief that chaos does indeed have a face, although it can be a frightening one, large, furry, with twisted rabbit ears, bug eyes and large rodent teeth - perhaps a lot like the fairytale Pooka.

When I work magick, if the results are highly unexpected, even uncanny, perhaps strange and a bit scary, then I have successfully produced a magickal effect. If what happens is completely expected and totally within the script of the ritual, then I have probably not connected to the level of realizing true magick. Also, if I have managed to enter deeply into an alternative state of consciousness, then the effects of the ritual will be more pronounced, as if magick resided like some disembodied entity at the upper end of the spectrum of consciousness. Some have proposed that merely having the barest of outlines for a magickal ritual allows for the greatest inclusion of the unexpected. I have found that elaborate or simple rituals can work equally well, producing results that are startling and even astonishing. Not every ritual that I perform works and never are the same results produced each time. Often magick seems to have a mind and will of its own, and sometimes it manifests in a decidedly ironic and satyrical manner, whether the individuals involved get the joke or not. There are a lot subtleties to how magick operates, in fact, subtleties within subtleties. The more deeper in you get, the more sentient and strange it seems to become. (Much thanks to Frater Julian the Apostate for clarifying these thoughts.)

These realizations have led me to propose what I and some friends have called the Uncle Wiggly Law of Magick, whose basic premise would be stated as such:

“Whatever laws, models or theories that you propose about magick, there will always be something that will occur while working magick at some point to not only falsify that law, but will show itself to have a very nasty sense of humor, the least of which will be irony or satire, the worst of which may even take your life. Never assume that you have all of the answers or have all of the contingencies of magick covered, because shit happens!”

Blessed Be the Wiggly Way -

Frater Barrabbas


  1. Nice site, very informative. I like to read this.,it is very helpful in my part for my criminal law studies.

  2. "What I am proposing here is that magick is not a physical phenomenon that can be measured or consistently tested in a laboratory, although it can produce such phenomena, and the changes it renders can be noted anecdotally..."

    Have you taken a glance at Ramsey Dukes' "SSOTBME: Sex Secrets of the Black Magician Exposed"? He makes a lot of the arguments above in a very concise manner.