25 January 2021

Magick vs. Magical Thinking

 There are many things that separate effective magickal practitioners from mediocre ones, but it’s not necessarily the things that immediately come to mind.  It’s not about having the shiniest crystals, an abundance of rare herbs, or the stamina to stay up into the wee hours of the night to do a spell at the *exact* auspicious moment.  It’s about understanding.  One of the most important, yet overlooked, aspects of what makes a great practitioner is a full understanding of the difference between magick and magical thinking.  

Magick, as defined by Aleister Crowley, is "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will."  More concretely, performing magick is when a practitioner has an intention that they deliberately charge with focussed energy and then direct to a target in the world to manifest that intention.  For example, a simple act of magick would be to hold a small candle while focusing on improving luck for oneself, allowing that focussed energy to flow into the candle, and then lighting the candle so that it releases that energy into the world to manifest better luck.  Real magick is the work of raising energy, tuning it to an intention, and then directing it to a target to create change.  

Magical thinking is believing that one event happens as a result of another without a reasonable link of causation.  They key words there are: “reasonable link of causation.”  When someone plants a seed and then a plant grows from that seed, there is an obvious link of causation between the act of planting and the subsequent plant growth.  Whe, someone plants a seed and suddenly a car backfires down the road, there is no reasonable link of causation between the planting and the car backfiring.  If someone were to believe that the act of planting a seed could make a car backfire, that would be magical thinking, as the two occurrences have nothing to do with one another.  A classic example of magical thinking is a sports fan believing that their team cannot win unless that fan wears their lucky socks.  Of the myriad factors that influence the outcome of a sports match, what one fan sitting at home has on their feet cannot “reasonably” be counted among them.  

On the surface it’s easy to blur the lines between magick and magical thinking.  They both involve something far removed from a situation being attributed with influencing the outcome of  that situation.  The distinction lies in what constitutes a “reasonable link of causation.”  Let’s return to our sports fan.  In the magickal thinking example, the sports fan simply puts on their lucky socks and watches the game.  There is no effort to set an intention, raise energy in any way, or to direct it (beyond shouting at the television).  Absolutely nothing about that behaviour can reasonably be seen as having a causal link to the outcome of the game.  However, if that sports fan were to deliberately set an intention for their team to play their very best and have good luck, raise energy to charge those lucky socks with that intention, and then wear them and use watching the game as a mechanism to send that intention to the team; that would be magick.  Magick requires effort to create a causal link, magical thinking does not.  Magick is a way of working towards achieving a goal, magical thinking is wanting something and just expecting the universe to give it to you.

To further muddy the waters, it is possible to employ magical thinking while actually practicing magick.  This is most often seen in the grandiosity of what a practitioner aims for in their workings.  Expecting to manifest a laptop out of thin air with a mere incantation is magical thinking.  Yes, the practice of magick takes the view that nothing is impossible, but that doesn’t mean that magick is limitless.  Real magick is about nudging probabilities; making the possible more likely.  An effective working to find a new job might involve something to help you find the best jobs to apply to or making your resume more attractive to recruiters; simply lighting a candle while taking no mundane actions to find a job is unlikely to manifest the result you desire.  Magical thinking is believing that magick will do all the work for you while you sit back and have a latte.  Magick is work and it requires a lot from the practitioner to be truly effective.  It goes back to the “reasonable link of causation” idea.  Subtle energetic manipulations (a.k.a. magick) can reasonably make subtle energetic shifts, such as nudging something from a 85% probability to an 87% probability.  Such acts cannot reasonably nudge probabilities to change from 10% to 100%.  Sure, there are long term spells that can achieve monumental results, but they’re doing so one tiny achievable step at a time.  If you want to change your life, magick can help you determine which actions to take, strengthen your will to enact the changes, even weaken obstacles in your path, but it cannot make all the changes for you - you will not do a spell and simply wake up a different person the next day.  

Magick is a wondrous and empowering tool to help you achieve your goals.  However, just as buying fancy knives and a toque won’t instantly make you an expert chef, simply reading a few words from a book while wanting something won’t make it yours.  True magick requires deliberate and palpable effort and can only deliver something reasonably attainable. View your magicks as a support to your mundane actions, rather than substitutes for them.  Think rationally about what you want, do what mundane actions you can to bring your desires to fruition, and then do magick to push your efforts over the line.  Do this and you will avoid the trap of magical thinking and only do true magick.

14 October 2020

Spell for Free and Fair Elections

2020 has been a dumpster fire and things aren’t getting any better.  A lot of folks have been asking me what they can do magickally to help things get better.  The answer is easy: vote.  Vote like your life depends on it, because it does.  

I can hear the complaining already, “but voting isn’t magick.”  Hell yes it is.  You take your intent, infuse it into a ballot, that energy joins that of countless others, and then it changes reality.  Pretty much the definition of magick.  You want to take it further: get your friends to vote, get your family to vote, your co-worker, your barista, the person down the street.  Every vote is deliberate energy tuned to create change and we need every last drop.  

You want to take it further still?  How about some spellwork for free and fair elections.  The news is drowning in stories of voter repression and downright fraud trying to prevent people’s votes from being counted.  It’s an affront to justice.  This is the time to pull out the big guns.  Call on your gods, ancestors, and allies to assure that justice is served and that people’s voices are heard.  Take the time to do a full ritual.  Cross every T and dot every I.  This is important.  Do whatever working is strongest in your tradition to ensure that every vote counts and that the published results are the truth and that they are upheld.

Not sure what to do?  Here’s a sample spell you can use.  Feel free to modify it to best fit your practices.

Spell for Free and Fair Elections 

Get a small blue or white candle.  If you have them, grab your voters guides and/or ballot (if you don’t consider finding your local voters guide online and pulling it up on your phone or tablet).

Place your voter’s guide and/or ballot in front of you.  Hold the candle in your cupped palms, hovering over the voter’s guide/ballot.  Recite the following incantation:

Spirits of justice and liberty, hear my call and aid me this day.
Guard the sanctity and security of our elections.
Every person that should have the right to vote will be allowed to do so.
Every person who casts their vote shall be counted.
The results of the election will be published fairly and without bias.  
The true choice of the people will be acknowledged and accepted.
Let justice be served; let our voices be heard.
By our will and action so mote it be!

Place the candle (in an appropriate holder) on the voter’s guide/ballot, light it, and let it burn all the way down.

Repeat as necessary.

Vote by Karen Hallion

10 July 2020

Decolonizing Magick

On Sunday 7/5/2020 I presented an online workshop on decolonizing magick.  I've made my presentation notes available via download for attendees.  I also wanted to put them up here for anyone to reference. I hope these notes can help you spark discussion and action in your local community.

Decolonizing Magick
Sunday 7/5/2020 1-3pm
Presented by Emily Carlin

As the world around us turns its attention to anti-racism and decolonization, the magickal community must actively engage in this same work.  It is not enough to simply light a candle for black lives and declare ourselves allies.  We must look at the inherent racism that has been built into our own practices and beliefs and dismantle it.  In this workshop we will focus on exoticism, cultural appropriation, and the demonization of BIPOC practices common to mainstream magickal communities.  The goal is to engage in good faith discussion and begin the process of concrete change for the benefit of all. 

  • Land Acknowledgement
    • We acknowledge that we are on the traditional lands of the first peoples of the Puget Sound region, the Coast Salish people, the traditional home of all tribes and bands within the Duwamish, Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations.  We honor, with gratitude, the land itself and the traditional stewards of the land.
  • Rules of Conduct
    • Assumption of good faith - Don’t be a dick
    • No misery poker/oppression olympics.  We all have problems; we’ve all faced hardships.  Someone else’s pain does not invalidate yours, but today we’re not talking about you.
    • This is not comfortable territory, please be kind to yourself and others.
  • Scope - This is a big topic, today we’re just going to talk about systemic racism and its direct effect on our magickal practices - and what to do about it.
    • We’re not going to talk about community structures and power imbalance
    • We’re not going to talk about gender/sexuality/consent issues - this is a whole week’s worth of discussion at the very least
  • We’re all guilty of at least one of the things we’re going to talk about
    • Change is a process, not an event.  This is not about perfection, this is about doing better one step at a time.  This is about acknowledging our faults, committing to doing better, and then actually engaging in positive change.
    • You don’t get to decide if you’re being appropriative/fetishizing/demonizing (if you’ve misstepped), the culture you’ve inadvertently (I hope) offended does.  This is one area where your personal gnosis does not matter.  You don’t get to decide if you’ve hurt someone/a group - they do.
    • If they say you are: stop the appropriative practice, apologize, change/do better
  • Our history.
    • Every mainstream magickal tradition in the Western world was built by affluent white people, mostly men (early 20th century).  Even the women and queer folx were still white and mostly affluent or at least comfortable (mid-20th century). 
      • Yes, this is changing...a bit...in certain circles.  Not enough to invalidate this point.
    • No matter how good their intentions or levels of enlightenment, these people were all products of their time and environment - which was systemic white supremacy.  No “buts,” no exceptions. 
    • Our founders were problematic on a number of levels.  All of them.  That doesn’t mean we throw everything away and start from scratch - it means we need to take a critical view of our foundations and reassess what’s really important. 
    • We are not responsible for the systemic racism insidiously built into our spirituality, but we are accountable for what we do with it.  It is our duty as human beings to do better.
      • Don’t drown yourself in guilt, just shut up and do the work - then you can stop feeling bad.
  • Exoticism - “tendency to adopt what is exotic. exotic quality or character. anything exotic, as a foreign word or idiom.”
    • Just because something is new to you/from elsewhere/mysterious/hard to understand doesn’t mean it’s any better than something local and familiar.  [Quite the opposite really - why make your life difficult for no good reason?]
    • Fetishiziation - to have an excessive and irrational commitment to or obsession with (something).  To make things worse we tend to fetishize and demonize the same damned people (think Voudou or Romani).
      • “it’s Native American so it must be better than any other option” or
      • the magical negro [eg The Green Mile][this is tokenism at its finest and happens to pretty much any minority group] or
      • “why the hell does everything need a Hindu name?” - b/c Theosophists
    • Universalizing - eg “Native American” includes many incredibly diverse tribes, and includes Central and South Americans.  Dreamcatchers are Ojibwe alone.  “Smudging” is done by SW, Central, and Southern American tribes - but they all use their own special blend of plants to do so.
    • Stereotyping - e.g. African Americans can work in any tradition, not just African or diaspora ones, worship any deity.
  • Cultural appropriation - the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. (think Bindi or native headdresses at cochella - also the smudging and dreamcatchers mentioned above)
    • Who gets to say if you’ve been appropriative - members of the non-dominant culture do.
    • Appreciation (benefits all cultures) vs appropriation (disproportionately benefits only the dominant culture while giving little to nothing back and sometimes doing harm - Cinco de Mayo)
      • “The problem of cultural appropriation is not in the desire to participate in aspects of a different culture that you admire.  The problem of cultural appropriation is primarily linked to the power imbalance between the culture doing the appropriating and the culture being appropriated.  That power imbalance allows the culture being appropriated to be distorted and redefined by the dominant culture and siphons any material or financial benefit of that piece of culture away to the dominant culture, while marginalized cultures are still persecuted for living in that culture.” So you want to talk about race, Ijeoma Oluo p147.
      • Banana bread vs. Great Aunt Marge’s Banana Bread™ - or spiritual fumigation vs smudging.  You can't copyright a concept, but you can copyright a certain execution of a concept.  Anyone can smoulder herbs to impart their energy into a space, but don't call it smudging unless you're engaging in a particular Native American practice.
    • The personal gnosis problem
      • Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) - any spiritual beliefs, truths or revelations experienced or adhered to by an individual that is based on personal experience that differs from or does not exist in accepted lore.
      • No one can police another person’s UPG, but a member of a minority culture still gets to say it’s appropriative.  No one can regulate what you know in your heart, but they do have a say in your public behavior - particularly if it harms them.  (I don’t care if Coyote told you that you can wear feathers, maybe only do so in the privacy of your own private ritual rather than being appropriative in public - unless/until you earn that right from the local tribes you’ve offended - but dear gods don’t go barging in demanding they initiate you because your UPG said they should.)
    • Passive-aggressive overcorrection - If someone says you’re being appropriative don’t storm off in a huff whining about never being multicultural every again.
    • If you realize you’ve adopted an appropriative practice, take a look at non-appropriative practices that accomplish the same goal.  There’s always another way.
    • Closed traditions are allowed to be closed, you don’t have a right to them.
    • Conversely - don’t let this fear lead to lack of representation [overcorrection isn’t helpful either]. How are BIPOC supposed to feel comfortable in our communities if all the Gods are white.  [There is a happy middle, I swear.  It just takes mindful practice and community discussion.]
  • Demonization of indigenous or minority religions/practices - primarily motivated by fear, greed, and envy.
    • Huge media influence.  We did not come up in a vacuum.  We all watched horror movies with “evil” Romani or Bokors and no matter how “woke” we are, some of that will linger.
    • “Black” magick, “low” magick, looking down on impoverished traditions.  [If something is beneath you then you don’t have to be afraid of it.]
      • Combined with the exoticism/fetishization above we’ve got a real madonna-whore situation going on
    • Slave/indigenous/minority traditions were scary because they threatened the overlords’ power, not because they were “evil”
    • Sacrifice - animal or otherwise.  What it actually means to the community practicing it.  In context it isn’t barbaric.  You don’t get to look down your nose at poor people eating a goat after a ceremony.  It’s only barbaric when stupid edgelord practitioners do it for cruelty’s sake.
    • If you’re not comfortable with a practice don’t participate, but don’t go shouting that it’s evil.
      • Yes there’s a line to be drawn - consent, legality, minors, etc.  But make that decision very, very carefully. Don’t be the bitch that calls the cop on the black jogger for making them “uncomfortable.”  Think hard and critically about where your line is.
  • What to do moving forward
    • Do a self-assessment.  What of these things are you perpetuating?  Do you feel defensive about that, why?
      • Are you chasing authenticity and validation [imposter syndrome/feelings of inadequacy], looking to feel special, looking for power/money/influence?
    • Change your behavior.  There are always other ways of practice, so be creative.
      • Good intentions do not save harmful actions.  Change your behavior.
    • Mindfully check the behavior of groups/peers.  If someone/a group isn’t willing to discuss their behavior and change if necessary - do you really want to be a part of it?
    • Remember, this is not about you.  This is not about making yourself feel better.  This is about respecting all peoples and correcting the missteps of the past.  This is about stopping ongoing harm.  It is bigger than any one of us, but we all have our parts to play.

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

03 June 2020

Call to Action 6/5/2020

Please join me on Friday 6/5/2020 in doing spellwork, prayers, petitions, or any other magickal/occult practice for healing, protection, and justice. Let's take advantage of the full moon's energy and do our part. There is no excuse not to.

31 May 2020

I Feel Sick

A dumpster labelled "2020" on fire
Well, 2020 has been quite a year so far.  I won't belabor the varying hellscapes we've all been dealing with.  We all know.  I don't have anything new to add.  However, since silence is complicity I just want to state, for the record, this blog believes that black lives matter.  White supremacy is bad.  Fascism is bad.  I feel physically ill that these statements can still be considered even remotely controversial.  As a human being, I care about other people.  This should not be a radical stance. 

Santa Muerte Blessing for the Marginalized
(written by me, originally posted on Tumblr as BlackSunMagick in 2016)

Blessed Santa Muerte
Protect the forgotten, the rejected, the unloved
You most holy death, whose love knows no bounds
Who truly embraces all regardless of who or what they are
You who comes to all equally
Let your love and protection flow to those that need it most
To those whom society has abandoned and rejected
Protect those who are most vulnerable with your mighty scythe
Let those who would take advantage, the bullies and usurpers, know your wrath
Protect those with no strength left to protect themselves
Protect the ones who need you
Oh might Santa Muerte, protect us
Most holy Santa Muerte be with us
We thank you highest one, Amen