Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster

Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster
"Sorry guys...you haven't seen a small metal ball with wings flapping around by chance, have you?""

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Everything I needed to learn about magic, I learned from Frank Sinatra

(This is by far one of my favorite songs of all time. Even if you don't read the rest of my essay, listen to the song. There's a reason why crooners' music never fully died out.)

I know you've been waiting for it...magic! There are people who call themselves witches who do not practice magic. I am not one of those people. I love magic and do practice it. Before I talk about magic, I should probably try to define it. I will not insult your intelligence, as many witches have done, by beginning with a disclaimer that we don't shoot lightning out of our fingertips or fly on broomsticks. No shit, Sherlock. To quote Carole A. Smith, a Wiccan fired by the TSA after being accused of casting a spell on her colleague's car, “If I had that kind of power, I wouldn't be working for the TSA”. I humbly think I have a better employer than the TSA, but the statement stands and is applicable to me as well.

What is magic then? I think there are three principal elements. There are many definitions, but the first element present in all definitions of magic is the real world manifestation of the practitioner's intent. Obviously, we all do that to some extent or another in our own lives, but we wouldn't describe our each and every action as magical. Hence, another ever-present element in any definition of magic---that it be a facilitating factor. Even in fictional accounts of magic, telekinesis, for example, is only impressive because it allows someone to move an object with much less effort than it would take to do so physically. Can you imagine if it were more difficult? What would be the point of that? So on to the third element....The third element that exists in almost all definitions of magic (albeit not all) is that magical actions must also be symbolic in nature, at least partially.

So if we put it all together, magic is
symbolic action meant to facilitate the manifestation in the real world of the magician's intent.

I thought of how to explain magic and how it works, at least according to my point of view. And I thought, why not use the song “Witchcraft” by Sinatra?

  1. Magic is not supernatural, and is available to varying degrees to anyone.
    “Fingers in my hair”, “sly come-hither stare” are natural movements available to anyone who has eyes, hair and fingers. Anyone can carry out symbolic actions meant to facilitate the manifestation of his or her will. It is the principle behind traditions such as blowing out a candle on your birthday. Another fact about these actions are that they are also explicable in purely natural terms. The performance of magic and its effects do not require belief in or intermission of the spirit world. This post on chaos magic refers to the main models used to explain magic, of which the main ones are spiritual, energetic, and psychological. The problem I have with the spirit model is that it's unfalsifiable. Anything achieved psychologically or energetically could be attributed to one's connections in the spirit world, and no one would be able to refute it. So I consider the spirit model indistinguishable from the other two. The energy model seems to be one that is widely accepted in the Pagan world. It's not impossible, but I don't think it can be proven as such. I've never put a Geiger counter next to my altar, and the results of magic seem to be much to personal and varied to chalk it up to a measurable type of "energy". To me the only model that has been substantiated is the psychological one.

  2. Magic is personal and depends on the psychology of the person or people involved.
    Magic is kind of like sex. Everyone can do it, but some people do it with more or less skill, more or less frequency and more or less success than others. Everyone has their own style. Hence the "craft" in "witchcraft". Also like sex, magic is very personal. What works for one person might not work for someone else. Would he have "no defense for it" if "it" was coming from her? Doesn't give a gay man the urge to switch teams, I must say. Similarly, magic depends on the psychological makeup of the practitioner. In many books about magic, there are set formulas but many contain disclaimers. They say that if you hate those ingredients, regardless of what their magical properties are supposed to be, don't use them because it won't work. In fact, many witches highlight the benefit in writing and performing one's own spells and some deride those who "think speaking a few words out of a book over a candle is how one makes magic."1

  3. Magic on other people is most effective if they participate and give their consent.
    He may say that he's "got no defense for it", but his heart says "yes, indeed", "proceed with what you're leading me to". Clearly, he wants to be bewitched. Sympathetic magic can work, but probably only if the person is willing to let it work. That to me explains why people can find any reason not to accept even the most perfect person who happens to fall in love with them. They don't really want to fall in love, so they don't. This is also probably, sadly, why it is said that one cannot help a substance addict until they admit that they need help. If they don't want to change, they won't. Same goes for magic.

  4. All magic has an effect on the magician.
    The witch in Sinatra's song wouldn't be giving him "come hither stares" if she didn't want something out of it. Wiccans call it the Threefold Law, which means that everyone feels the effect of all of their actions three times magnified. (This was sampled from the concept of karma, a phenomenon I referred to in a previous post). If taken absolutely literally, this idea goes against the laws of thermodynamics. However, we are all human beings and I'm assuming that if you're reading this, you were not born yesterday. You've come across both good people and bad people. Both actively loving and actively hating have effects on the human psyche. Focusing mostly on hurting people, or mostly on treating them well will generally have different effects on the person who chooses to do one or the other. If those different intentions have an effect on the person who has them, why would it not be the same for the symbolic manifestation of those intentions?

  5. Magic is fun.

    The bouncy beat played by an optimistic band, the flirtatious tone and the unmistakeable last line of “there ain't no nicer witch than you” are unmistakeable signs of how much fun Sinatra is having in being bewitched (or bewitching himself). Some people would say that rituals to affect change in one's life to be superfluous. What is the point of it if no supernatural entities exist? My answer? Because it's fun dammit! There's a reason why religions often have things like candles and incense built in—because people enjoy it! Christianity was a pain in multiple sphincters before the management got wise to the power of ritual on the human psyche. That's why Sinatra is not going to "switch" that "ancient pitch". (And why should he with all of that "heat" and "arousing the need" and whatnot). Neither will I.

(And once again, do listen to the song....It's worth listening to.)

1 Noble, Catherine. "Fluffy Bunnies". Wicca for the Rest of Us. Web. 15 Nov. 2011.


  1. I'm fuzzy on the "facilitating factor." What does that mean? What does it do? What are some examples?

    I like the naturalistic tone of this view of magic. But to be clear, what kinds of effects in the real world are you talking about? What are examples of effects one can reasonably expect magic to produce? What would be unreasonable to expect? Where is the line (admittedly, the line may be fuzzy)?

    Last, the final paragraph seems to undermine the rest of the piece. Yes, fun is a valid and valuable end to pursue in and of itself, but everything written up to that point suggests ends going considerably beyond entertainment. Are there also other ends to which magic may be used?

  2. Hey B.T. Thanks for the visit.

    I used the term "facilitating factor" to differentiate between magic (in both its modern and past definitions) and any other action meant to manifest one's will.

    From my observation, people tend to use magic, ritual or prayer only when there is a significant probability of not successfully manifesting their will. I've never heard of anyone praying for their tea to fall from the teapot into the teacup, for example. Why? Because most people are reasonably assured they will accomplish this task anyway, so performing any other ritual or symbolic action to “facilitate” this outcome would be superfluous. However, it is common for people to pray or do magic to find employment, for example. To me, that is because people are not reasonably assured of the outcome; they realize that it can go either way and they realize that they may not have the power to make it come about. Magic, according to any definition, raises the probablity of one's will manifesting in situations where a significant probability exists to the contrary.

    Now, in the latter example, let us say that the person the night before a job interview does a ritual. This ritual includes meditation about the job and his or her qualities. This meditation is facilitated by the presence of candles, incense, and perhaps music of some kind and additional elements representing certain aspects of nature. The particular colors, incense, etc. are pleasing and relaxing to the senses and the symbolic concentration of nature around him facilitates introspection. He and his “issues” are the only things in the world at that time. The symbolic representation of them makes them visible, present, and engageable. He focuses on the job, how he is qualified for it, and what he would have to improve in order to perform it as efficiently as possible. He destroys some symbolic representation of his unfounded and counterproductive thoughts about his inadequacy, by burning, burying or freezing it. He then concentrates on his intent in a very intense way while performing some action which appeals to his primitive nature and/or is ritualized (i.e. dancing, drumming, humming). When he has reached a point of extasy he rests. Then he prepares some camomille tea. He has come to associate camomille with abundance because of the sun-like appearance of its flowers. In addition to triggering a mental association with abundance, the camomille also exerts its anxiolitic effect thus helping him get a good night sleep. The next day in the interview, since his entire psyche, from the most primitive to the more advanced parts has been “re-aligned” towards his goal, he is not burdened by the stress of the interview and instead can more easily access all of his mental resources. This leads to him making an impression on the interviewer as a competent, confident, eager, ideal candidate for the position. So he gets the job, which is what he wanted. Just like magic. Could he have obtained the job in another mental state? Perhaps, but if his psyche had been less “aligned” he would be fighting with himself in addition to the other candidates. But performing those actions made it easier for him to adopt the necessary mental state to do so.

  3. This leads to how I could answer what would be unreasonable to expect through magic. If the idea is “aligning” one's self fully towards a goal, it would not make sense to expect from magic something that is contrary to what one's most easily accessible parts are able or willing to do. If someone casted a love spell to facilitate finding a mate, but they shunned all human contact and lived like a hermit, it would be unrealistic to expect that spell to have any effect. If one's most easily accessible parts do not work towards the goal, then what difference will it make that the least accessible ones will? It could even potentially be dangerous, because one would then be purposely unbalancing oneself. Perhaps instead of saying a “facilitating factor” I could have used the term “corollary” factor. As a naturalist, I would also say that is unreasonable to expect magic to achieve anything which is impossible in nature. Magic could not help me shoot lightning from my fingertips, no matter how “aligned” I am, because that's not possible in nature.

    I was trying to be cute and light-hearted in the last paragraph. Maybe I got a little carried away. The point I was trying to make is that since magic is often done to improve one or another's life experience, it makes sense for the magic itself to be an enjoyable experience. But you bring up an interesting question---can magic be used to other ends? Well, it could argueably be used as a coping mechanism for when one feels overwhelmed by the realization that he or she has literally no control over a situation. The idea would be that since the magician associates magic with greater control, performing it in that situation would lead to a sense of control and thus temper feelings of inpotence. “I did all that can be done and now I can move on with my life”. But that use of magic is not without potential drawbacks. If the outcome of the situation is then unfavorable, the reverse could happen and one could associate magic with a lack of power or even a harmful power, and thus lose any benefits which might have existed to help one achieve his or her goals. Preventing that outcome would require having a very clear disclaimer in one's mind from the beginning: “This will not influence the outcome, it will just make me 'feel' better. That's all”. But some people might not be able to draw a benefit from the use of magic under those conditions. It's hard to say.


  4. "impotence" I obviously meant to write. Beyond the fact that I've gender-bended again and again through the comment.

  5. Cool. That's exactly the view of magic and its potential effects that I have. So to sum up: magic can't reasonably be expected to make you do things you are strongly disinclined to do, or things that violate nature.

    What about this: if a job applicant did a ritual to influence the results of a resume previously submitted, but there was no interview and no communication apart from the previously submitted resume. Would magic then have any influence?

  6. There's no reason to expect it would have an influence on him or her getting the job. But magic could be a peace offering to the rational and irrational mind.

    It appeases the irrational mind by convincing it that action has been taken which will effect the outcome. It appeases the rational mind, by saying with shrugged shoulders, "Well, it can't hurt. You know that better than anyone." It depends on the person involved and whether he or she is willing to play along. Most of us do so on our birthdays when we have a cake and candle in front of us. I've never suffered or caused any harm through that, as far as I know.

    So I say why not if the individual wants to?

  7. That makes sense then. We're on the same page. Thanks. :-)

  8. Hello A.W., I find it very funny that us Atheist/Naturalist/Humanist pagan witch type always talk about stuff with such detail. But I guess that is who we are really. Trying to maintain a yin / yang like balance between rational and irrational. I am a fan of D.T.’s and have corresponded with him some. I currently use the title of a Humanist Pagan like DT, but at times use terms like godless heathen, humanistic witch. I really like your definition of magic. I really don’t use the term magic anymore, I usually call my practice either Craft, the Craft, or Spirit Work. A number of years ago when I came out to people as a humanist, I really go some negative flak from the theist in my life, including my Christian wife, who did in time come around to respect my decision. I was fortunate enough to study under Dr. John Josef, PHD in college. He was working at the University of Tennessee and taught 3 of the last classes I took before I completed my B.A. in Sociology. That summer was the summer he changed my life as well as two fellow classmates who had an occult study group. He was a Humanist who had one time was a theist of some sort, he in the 60’s was a part of a Gardinarian group out west, and left it to study and practice with Draja Mickaharic who has written a number of books on magic and the occult. After Josef left his studies with Mickaharic in the 80’s after his wife passed away which is something he only hinted about in our conversations. He at some point studied meditation and after completing his PHD in Social Psychology, traveled and taught. My first class with him was an undergraduate class at a local community college in which I took an intro sociology class. To start off I have been a student of meditation, contemplation, and the occult ever since I could remember. At first I as a way to piss my parents off (who were and are overtly religious). Later on I began to read anything I could get my hands on from pagan philosophy (mostly Greek) to the witch trials in Europe and here in the US. Well to make a long story short, like Morpheus in the Matrix, he offered me a method of study which taught me more about magic or craft than what I could imagine. He stated that humans by nature pick up on different things and have different interest. Meaning we all get different things from reading and studying text. With the ability of following our gut and our instincts, along with a meditative / contemplative approach, we could use craft practices (as you have described in your own definition of magic) to align ourselves to be in a better position of achieving our goals. At first being interested and skeptical I was like this guy has been playing Dungeons and Dragons way too much. But after hearing his methods, I thought what the hell, I will give it a try. He uses a Christian scripture to prove his point, FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD. Easy enough, you can believe in something, but if you don’t work toward it, you will reap no positive result. So I ask, with all of the books out there, how can we come up with a practice which feels authentic to us and something that can move us towards our goals. He stated that if you pick up a book on Wicca, read it, and whatever jumps out at you and resonates (which RESONATES was one of his catch phrases), the he said go with it, adapt it, incorporate it. He stated, even go beyond books on Wicca, Witchcraft, use anything that inspires you in your practice, be movies, television, hiking, nature, a walk through a grave yard, etc… I started off my practice with Tarot cards. I would draw three out, flip them over, place them in whatever order I would think they should be in, and study them, not taking a book meaning on the card, but meditate on what each card means, put together a meaning. (via free association, free thinking and our own intuition). He used the term Nonbinding Personal Gnosis, meaning our reading would only be based on us and is not binding to someone else. [cont below]

  9. Easy enough… Let’s just say, with some trial and error, my magic became very real and very spiritually satisfying. As it states in the Deathly Hallows Book, because something is all in your head, does not make it any less real. Following my gut and interest, I have practiced my Craft for a very long time. I offer common since advice to others which is natural and down to earth. I don’t believe one can go against natural law. So if I conduct a ritual to make me rich, and yet am unable to work my way toward that goal, it will never happen. For me, my natural spiritual way or Craft has taken me down the crooked path, and has lead me through the laws of cause and effect, I have Forrest Gump’ed my way into meeting some very fascinating folks, both theist and non-theist. Many of whom I now consider lifelong friends. In the end, I think the ultimate goal of our Craft, is to improve on ours (others) quality of life. If it is not for this, than why bother. Self-improvement, kind of a Crafty Bodhisattva’esque way of life. Andra Dean Van Scoyoc the author of a book on primitive witchcraft, once said that the Craft is a lifestyle not a practice. For me this resonates in me and I agree, though I don’t agree with 100% of what she said in her book. But hey, ones Craft is piecemealed from the work of others, as it has always been. We learn what works for us and discard the rest. But that is my two cents worth. Hope your holiday has been a peaceful one. Peace & Harmony to you and yours, –kelley-

  10. Kelley,

    Thanks for sharing your story and following the blog. I have to say I agree with or identify with pretty much of what you've said and I look forward to exchanging with you further.