Friday, June 19, 2009

Zero Sum Mojo

There have been rumblings in the blogosphere the last few days over Christian Black Magick and Who Practices Magick. This is a topic that has interested me for a long time. Not so much that Christians or people of various other “normative” religions practice magick but the trend among “counter-culture” magicians to belittle and dismiss the magickal prowess of the practitioners of mainstream religions.

This brings to mind a statement once made by a follow Gnostic Bishop in a discussion about the Pentecostal Holiness Churches and ecstatic ritual (snake handling, etc.): “It is really too bad we can’t just take all of that energy. They aren’t using it.” I beg to differ! I consider myself a pretty kick ass magician and have yet to meet the spirit I was too timid to take on in a fair deal but I DO NOT have the cojones to French kiss a rattlesnake. That is some intense mojo right there! Snake handling in and of itself might not be a magickal act, it is debatable, but the magick behind it is the proof of unquestioning faith in their God and their own righteousness. When that kind of faith is harnessed into spirit channeling (speaking in tongues) or energy healing (faith healing) it is a force to be reckoned with.

I am a big believer in the power of ecstatic ritual but I have rarely met the magician who could muster the unwavering faith and belief of Holiness Christians. Granted, this is a pretty small section of the population. To find a larger population one needs go only as far as their local Catholic Church. Transmutation is the ultimate alchemy! Screw gold, they physically transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Not even Aleister Crowley, the most egotistical (“counter-culture”) magician to ever walk the Earth, dared to claim an equal feat. Jason Miller discusses Catholic saint magick in his blog post on the subject so I won’t go into that as it would be repetitive.

This only addresses magick use within a Christian context though. What about all of the people, everywhere, who practice simple sympathetic ritual magick on a regular basis completely outside of the context of religion? Baseball players who always wear the same socks because they are their lucky winning socks, for example. I have seen many an ex-Catholic cross themselves as a funeral procession went by. That is basic protective magick that is ingrained so firmly in their minds that no matter how far from the Church they stray the practices stick.

Scott says, The remarkable thing is that if their philosophy is at all consistent conservative Christians should be condemning this guy, but so far I haven't come across any statements to that effect from any of the organizations that normally have harsh words for magical practitioners. Does this mean that if I call what I do "prayer" it suddenly becomes mysteriously okay?”

The answer to that is: If you are praying to the right God, yes.

Scott also says, Normally conservative Christians don't have a lot of magical aptitude simply because the best practical magicians usually don't fit very well into non-mystical spiritual systems. . .”

Well, if anyone knows anything about non-mystical spiritual systems and who needs to be vetted from the ranks it is the O.T.O. Oh, sorry – bad blood slipping out there. Seriously though, Christianity began as a mystery cult. It might have buried those roots deep in the cellar but they are still there. Christ, (the man or historical amalgamation, no matter), was an amazing practical magician – if he had not been there would be no Christianity today. As for “conservative” or “literalist” Christians, they are best practical magicians because they hold tighter to the mythos, have a deeper faith, and most importantly hold to a stronger sense of righteousness than your everyday, run-of-the-mill, Easter Sunday Christian. That gives them tremendous power. It gives them the power to bond, to incite, to agitate, to motivate large numbers, and so much more. When was the last time you saw an E.G.C. mega-temple complete with shopping malls? How many magicians have their own public access television shows complete with devout followers who faithfully send in 10% of their income?

Eh. Reading over this I realize I got off topic. I am arguing their point rather my own, which is: Why do “counter-culture” magicians dismiss the magick of mainstream religious people? From my experience, it comes from an “us versus them” attitude toward their own communities and even their own past. Many have escaped the restrictive bonds of mainstream religion and need to hold on to the idea that what they left behind is impotent and powerless. They need to believe it is powerless against them and ineffectual against the world they strive to create for themselves. If what they are doing is, in essence, no different than what they left behind then have they really escaped?

Thelema (as trademarked by the O.T.O) is a perfect example of this. I was fortunate enough to belong to the O.T.O. pre-U.S. Grand Lodge. Thelema was a philosophy and the E.G.C. was a separate entity. We were more-or-less autonomous bodies of individuals. We saw ourselves as libertines, indulging in the pursuit of our True Wills. Today the O.T.O. will not stand for autonomous bodies, much less libertines. Thelema is quickly becoming a religion, replete with modern day saints, prophets, and martyrs, and the E.G.C. is its Church. (All hail Pope Billy and his Arch-Bishop Dave.) New rules have been passed about when, where, and how the official rituals can be performed (I am mainly referring to the Gnostic Mass, not initiations). Magickal experimentation has been thrown over for rigid dogma. Mediocrity is the new aristocracy. An order that was founded on the idea of personal liberty is excommunicating long standing members for pointing to the Emperor’s naked ass. All the while, die-hard supporters deny the similarities to the Catholic Church, or any other organized religious movement, and hold their magickal prowess up in defiance of the mainstream. I have news for you, when Grand Lodge signed the documents to incorporate as a 501c non-profit religious organization you joined the mainstream and became just another “rigid spiritual system.”

I am not trying to pick on the O.T.O. in particular; it is just the example with which I am most familiar. There are many pagan groups who have traveled the same road.

You just can’t be “counter-culture” and cry for mainstream acceptance and religious equality at the same time. I think this belittling of mainstream religion and the denial that “they” can practice powerful mojo too is a direct reaction to the cognitive dissidence caused by this new direction.

I, personally, prefer my libertine ideals and wicked ways to the evils of “normalcy.” I acknowledge their mojo and don’t give a damn if they acknowledge mine or not. This is not to say I don’t defend my civil rights to practice as I will but I don’t need to project a zero sum game attitude on them in order to feel empowered.




  1. I've yet to see a Neopagan or Thelemic mystic whose accomplishments match St. Teresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross. I've yet to see a Pagan holy place whose record for healing illness can match Lourdes or various other holy places. (When people start going to Boleskine to get healed of cancer -- and find the trip worthwhile -- I'll be most impressed).

    Whether or not you like the theology, it's silly to claim that Christians are incapable of powerful magic. I knew a few Jesuits when I went to college who would wipe the floor up with the "magus living in mom's basement" types who typically spout this kind of nonsense.

  2. I think it is the music. No pagan tradition has decent "gospel" music. You can't have great ecstatic ritual without the proper music.

  3. I guess maybe my comment needs further clarification. I already edited it once because apparently it gave the impression that I believe:

    (1) "Real magicians" are counter-culture people. I was thinking nothing of the sort when I wrote it - actually, Jason's reading of the comment that way really blindsided me, to tell the truth. I was writing specifically about natural aptitude for practical magick without any consideration whatsoever of the cultural aspects.

    (2) Christians of any sort are incapable of doing powerful magick. I also know that's not true - I'm familiar with Roman Catholic mysticism and Pentecostal Christianity, both of which I consider to be schools of magick.

    Maybe a second update is in order because it sounds like the revised statement is still being read the same way.

    What I think is this - people with the most magical talent tend to be drawn to spiritual systems in which they can practice magick or mysticism and avoid systems that tell them their abilities are evil. I think that this creates a statistical tendency in favor of systems that embrace those abilities.

    In is however certainly true that a Pentecostal can decide that their magical ability to heal people is the result of prayer and that they are therefore working miracles. A magically talented Catholic can decide to develop those abilities within a monastic framework, or as a priest or nun.

  4. "What I think is this - people with the most magical talent tend to be drawn to spiritual systems in which they can practice magick or mysticism and avoid systems that tell them their abilities are evil."

    I still think that is a biased generalization. I also have a lot of different thoughts on "natural aptitude" and "magickal talent" that I am saving for another post. I need to hash those thoughts out a bit more.

    FYI - this post was a combine response to you and Jason, not your post alone.