Joe's article on WitchVox is getting a bit of stir in the occult bloggy goodness community, eh? Jason, POS, Annael and the Scribbler have weighed in, even if in comments form only so far (see their comments on POS' post, good info).
I loved the article. Joe's points were valid and need to be made. Dogmatic enforcement of stupid ass bullshit sucks. I think the idea that people are upset with is that there are no "rules" or "laws" of magic in general, and I don't think he was saying anything as broad as that. I think he was referring to particular traditions and specific experiences he's had in the neo-pagan culture, and he's spot on right about what he has to say in that regard.
I think my ceremonial magician friends, whether they are practicing ceremonies of the East or the West, missed the frame of reference. Joe's a Wiccan, and he's writing an article about Wiccan magic on a primarily Wiccan forum. Audience and Purpose, Audience and Purpose. Who is he talking to, and what's the point he's trying to get across?
There are systems designed and taught by people who have never had a magical experience of their own in their lives, egocentric cults, and whole movements influenced by undisciplined new agers who pick up the ramblings of wandering nepheshim and attribute the voices to aliens from the stars. Then there are the real cazies. And they get all jumbled together in the neo-pagan community, and that sucks large, sweaty donkey balls. Joe's dedicated to his religious pursuits in a way that most ceremonial magicians should envy, and his article is important to his community. Rock on Joe.
Anyway, I thought the Kangaroo Magic example he gave was awesome. I'd have turned it into a rant about the posers that make up bullshit and pass it off as legit. Specifically, I'd warn against folks who pass themselves off as experienced magicians telling you something that's plausible that's only loosely based on something real. What I took away from Joe's example was that you've got to examine the sources, check the facts, and don't believe a good story just because it sounds good. Kangaroo Magic. Heh.
Joe's right, by the way: real witches didn't use colored wax across history. If you look at the Wise Women of Russian folk magic, for example, you discover they used blessed white candles from their local Orthodox church. They didn't have colored candles for specific rites, they used what they had and trusted in the spirits (angels, saints, names of God, allies, morphed forms of ancient pantheons, whatever) they worked with to consecrate the stuff according to the purpose. At the same time, there are other real witches that used specifically colored candles to represent specific forces based on revelations they received. But he's not talking about them.
I'd like to emphasize one thing that Joe doesn't mention, and I don't know where he stands on the issue at all. Magical praxis is developed by magicians as a result of their experiences with the spirits. Shamans gather info from their spirit allies, codify it and pass it on. Goets gathered info from the daimons they conjured, and passed it on. The GD gathered info under the influence of their Secret Chiefs, or the GD Egregore, and passed it on.
The magical systems that work are never just made up bullshit. They are always a revelation received from magicians' initiations, or observations of similitudes that came as they experimented with the Spirits. Shit that's just made up is about worthless. You can put together a magical system from any kind of fictional symbol set, but your results will be mediocre at best, or "fuck your shit up," as Jason puts it, at worst.
But if you put together a system based on your work with Raw Deity and its Manifestations (and how they relate to you), then you will have accomplished the Great Work.