Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Scary Dangers of Magic

Over on the Spiritus Mundi yahoo group, the topic of the dangers of magic has reared its fearsome head. It started with an Algol talisman, which Chris Warnock discusses in this post. To summarize, someone used a rootworker's technique with a traditional astrological talisman, and it backfired. They made an Algol talisman to ward off any magic worked against them, and then buried it where they ran into their main enemy the most. After this, they experienced a run of bad luck, and it was determined that the spirit of the talisman was upset because the magician had used the talisman wrong. (You're supposed to wear the talisman, not bury it.)

The analysis of the problem seems legit to me. It passes the book-check (sources support that the use was altered) and it passes the common sense check. (Medusa can be a touchy spirit to work with. She's got snakes for hair, you know.) And screwing around mixing up traditions and approaches can be dangerous. You get unwanted effects. You suffer maladies. You get ill, you lose your job, your relationship hits the rocks, your car breaks down, and your kids talk back, with intent.

This experience prompted a Palero on the list to point out that MAGIC IS NO JOKE! and that is why you follow the instructions. Magic is real. It does stuff. It's not all pretend make believe that doesn't really change anything but your feel-feels. Magic works. That's important to remember.

John Michael Greer then wrote a post full of wisdom and common sense, exhorting people to follow the instructions we are given in traditional resources. He made an analogy between electronics and magic. You would follow the warnings and recommended techniques of an electrician when wiring a circuit, wouldn't you? It's your best bet to avoid electrocuting yourself or burning your house down. (I'm paraphrasing, except that last bit, that's a direct quote.)

I agree with him. Speaking as someone who burned their house down using demon magic that went wrong, I have an informed opinion on this subject. You really can burn your house down using magic. My house fire was the result of a really poorly phrased statement of intent, though, not a poor technique. The technique worked great, honestly.

The statement was fucked. "Get me the money by any means necessary, just as long as no one in my family gets hurt." That's a TERRIBLE way to do magic. It (probably) wouldn't matter if I'd said that to demons or angels, but the fact that the spirit I was Working with at the time happened to be from the lower spheres certainly didn't help. Angels seem to have a higher perspective based on living at a bit more distance from the hands-on material world than Bune does, but that doesn't mean they won't burn your house down to get you an insurance check, and prove a particular point about your use of magic at the same time.

But whenever people start talking about how dangerous magic is, I feel compelled to say, yeah, it's dangerous... but do it anyway! Burnt fingers are our primary teachers as we explore the books and figure out how it all works. There is no real life Hogwartz to attend. Some lodges may offer a curriculum that trains you in magical practice, but most are based on post-1899 magical theory. The only Order I know of that taught medieval alchemy and traditional Hermetics is pretty much defunct, and even they were open and honest about how they were experimenting and figuring out what the grimoires were all about on their own. They passed on the information that worked, and warnings about mistakes they made, but they were still front-line soldiers, pioneers exploring the wilderness with faulty maps and compasses that didn't always point North.

Modern magicians interested in learning how to do the magic recorded in the Picatrix and Agrippa's Three Books are going to, by necessity, have to explore and cover ground that hasn't been covered in recent history. Even the most comprehensive and detailed grimoires have gaps. The context of some of the manuscripts we've received is lost to history, and we're left to argue over whether all the spirits of a manuscript are called into Triangles of Art, or only the ones that specifically mention the Triangle.

Personally, I've never done anything with magic that messed up my life so badly that it couldn't be fixed with magic. It's dangerous, yes, but that's what makes it an adventure. Have courage, be bold!

Just be rational about it. Heed the warnings of those who have been there and done that, follow the instructions.

But don't be afraid to have fun.


  1. I'm probably being terribly unfair, or misunderstanding people's intentions, but I think there's a connection between this type of mistake and this motto that I've been seeing a lot of: "Whatever works." I suspect the "whatever works" philosophy of leading people to just tossing a bunch of spiritual/magical tools in their tool box without really examining the underlying principles - possibly increasing the danger of tool/technique/goal mismatch, and not identifying the magical load-bearing wall, so to speak. Just a cranky observation. I've been noticing a lot of comments and posts around the internet that sound like people assume if a method involves herbal magic or folk traditions, it's a quick and simple way to do the work, and I think they'll end up with a bad fusion.

  2. I'm with you. Also I don't read manuals for anything 'cause I'm a rebel like that.

  3. "Medusa can be a touchy spirit to work with. She's got snakes for hair, you know." HAHAHA! Brilliant.

    Great post R.O.

  4. Up to a point I agree. Do not mix traditions or cultural approaches when it concerns the spirits, word your intentions thoughtfully and always know who you are working with. Not to mention, magic is dangerous. But I don't agree with encouraging people to be bold and do it anyway. We are too liberal and free-caring in the world today when I feel that certain things should be off limits and that not everything should be open to anybody. If you're 'gifted' then you'd meet people, spirits and materials that'll put you on a way if you should do so but shouldn't be open to anybody just because they're a fan of a magic system.

  5. Wow, brother, you mean using different types of magic mingled without discernment is actually wrong and it will backfire, not creative, courageous and modern? Who knew.... who the hell know something like this wo t work, or bring trouble. Whoops, my sarcasm pot broke! Sorry :D

  6. @Nox, that's totally not the point of my post at all. I did not say, "Yeah don't mix traditions but do it anyway." I said, "Yeah magic is dangerous, but do it anyway." Keep it focused on what I said, not what you thought I meant by it, and you won't make erroneous conclusions.

  7. tMr. R.O. don't worry. I don't care if it's perceived as it being erroneous. It's how I see it and that's the freedom of being me; to express it. You have the freedom not to show it if it's off point to what you've wrote.

  8. @Nox, yeah, but if you're thinking it strongly enough to leave a comment, a few other people probably are too and just don't mention it. Hopefully they see the comments and it corrects the erroneous interpretation.

    But as Aaron Leitch wrote:

    Over the years that I have been an author and forum-poster I have learned two truisms:

    1) If people can get the wrong impression about what you write they will.

    2) People can always get the wrong impression of what you write.

  9. @OpusRufus, for the sake of argument, I've reread your post and my comment and I didn't see anything misinterpreted. Perhaps my perception not being typically what you're looking for is what's stoking the invalidation. No problem. It's your blog. I've made my point and there's no need for me to go on with this. But I am curious. "Erroneous"-really? Who talks like that?

  10. @Nox, literate people? :D

    "Stand back, my vocabulary takes large steps."

  11. I agree: Do it anyway. But know when you're doing something dangerous. Decide to do something dangerous because you'll learn from a new test, or because there's no good safe solution. The real problem is someone who thinks magick is all in their head, creates a ritual from components they don't understand, and heads off into trouble thinking that the world is full of bunnies and flowers.

  12. A toast to this post. There's nothing wrong with scraping your knees.

    And Nox? Stop being such a hipster.

  13. VVF, try to remember not everyone made it into AP English, and some people struggled to get through English 101. I spent years developing the ability to write an essay for those stupid AP English tests, and now all I can say is thank GOD for blogs, otherwise I'd never get to use the one thing I enjoyed doing in high school.

  14. The magic described in the Picatrix et al is embedded in its cultural milieu. The Medieval Grimoires were worked by Christian monks of devout faith who could read Latin. The Western Tradition in general is subservient to the Great Work, which necessitates annihilation of the Ego and false desire. This means that any 'working' for ego driven ends; so-called 'love' or material gain is LHP and certain to cause trouble. The thing is, this trouble may not be immediately obvious. It is very easy to lose something much more precious than what one thinks one has received - and not be aware this has happened. Consider Fate. Consider the Soul. Consider the horrors that this world contains and which seems to strike the innocent. What should be remembered is that none of us deserve anything AND that everything must be paid for! Strictly speaking, something received must be immediately given back otherwise one loses even what one had before...as it says in the Bible.


Thanks for your comments, your opinions are valued, even if I disagree with them. Please feel free to criticize my ideas and arguments, question my observations, and push back if you disagree.