Do You Believe in Magic?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

My last tumblr post was a kind of collection of my thoughts Anton LaVey’s “Satanic Bible”. At the time of writing the post I was a little less than half way through the book- but now I’ve read everything, except the very end of the book which was dedicated to detailed descriptions of Satanic rituals and spell casting. Earlier in the book, LaVey states that the spells fall into three main categories- “compassionate”, “seductive” and “destructive”. A compassion ritual might be conducted in order to bring good fortune to yourself or someone else or ease suffering in some way. A seduction ritual may be used to try to attract some favorable sexual partner or encounter to yourself. A destruction ritual is reserved for your enemies upon which you want to inflict harm.

I found it very interesting that LaVey, who espouses no belief in gods or demons would have such a strong belief in magic. He says that the laws of magic are basically the laws of nature, and thus tries to detract from the superstitious quality of magic. He actually sort of mocks so-called “intellectuals” who have divorced themselves from a belief in magic, saying that they are therefore making themselves prime victims for its workings. Here is an excerpt, where he discusses how doubt on the part of the victim makes curses more effective;

“The emphatic conscious denial of the potential of the curse is the very ingredient which will create its success, through setting up of accident prone situations. In many instances, the victim will deny any magical significance to his fate, even unto his dying gasp- although the magician is perfectly satisfied, so long as his desired results occur. It must be remembered that it matters not whether anyone attaches any significance to your working, so long as the results of the working are in accordance with your will.”

In this same chapter, “The Three Types of Satanic Ritual”, LaVey uses the example of Christian stigmata (that is the wounds of Christ appearing in a believer) to explain how powerful beliefs can take on a physical manifestation. This makes the assumption that reported cases of stigmata can actually be believed to be true, but we can deal with that at another time.

In the next chapter of the book, LaVey goes on to outline the ingredients to successful spell-casting- desire, timing, imagery, and direction. Desire deals with the setting of one’s will towards the particular purpose that they want to execute. Timing involves the casting of a spell when the target is weakest, such as at certain points in the sleep cycle. Imagery involves the use of objects, pictures, words, and the imagination to “see” what it is that you want to accomplish. Direction is a little less specific, but it seems to deal more with not “dwelling upon” or “complaining” about the possible outcome of the spell. My interpretation is that the parallel would be “not doubting” or “having faith” from the Christian perspective. It requires a certain confidence and assurance in the effect of your ritual.

Of course, the idea that performing certain rituals or reciting certain words can bring about a particular outcome isn’t unique to Satanism- it exists in most of the world’s belief systems. Evangelical Christians believe that by plastering scriptures everywhere, and reciting Bible verses related to healing constantly, “having enough faith”, and invoking the name of Jesus, they can bring about recovery from illness. Many of them have performed these rituals with favorable results, but at the same time there are people whose prayers seem to go unanswered.

In Satanism, if the ritual is said to have failed then blame is ultimately put on the “caster” (or in Christianity, the “prayer warrior” or “believer”) The failure is said to sometimes be the result of someone not being aware of the “balance factor” which basically states that you shouldn’t try to perform a ritual that is beyond your ability. This includes but is not limited to trying to attract great sums of money to yourself when you’re only willing or able to put in a low effort, or having below average looks and trying to attract a gorgeous movie star. Magic, it’s said, won’t solve the problem of mediocrity. “Word of Faith” Christianity similarly states that saying all the right words won’t solve the problem of doubt or “God having a better plan.”

What about the assertion from LaVey that the laws of magic were basically the laws of nature? Many religious/spiritual people espouse a belief in something known as “the law of attraction” and many other similar “spiritual laws”. Apparently, if you doubt yourself, you are likely to fail- but is it some supernatural nature of your doubt that “attracts disaster”, or more the fact that if you don’t believe something will succeed you are less likely to put in your best effort, and therefore are less likely to actually succeed? Or what about the people that didn’t have much confidence that they would be able to overcome adversity, but still did? Or the confident people that were blindsided by pain and misfortune?

The more I study religion, the more I believe that we might give ourselves far too much credit, and maybe place ourselves as being more important in the universe than we are. True, there are things we can actively do to improve our lot in life, and having a positive outlook, utilizing “purpose and intent” (or “direction” as LaVey puts it) are very important. I think, however, that we delude ourselves if we think that we can “deserve” more than anybody else in this world. So many things in life are completely outside of our control. We didn’t decide where we would be born, or how we would be raised. We can’t protect ourselves fully from being affected by wars, food shortages, and natural disasters. Often we are “at the right place at the right time” or at “the wrong place at the wrong time” and want to attribute some cosmic significance to these events.

What I’m saying is, maybe there’s no such thing as “magic” to give us a leg-up over other people. (It’s especially hard to take LaVey’s brand of magic seriously when he talks about the “amount of energy need to levitate a teacup”.) For the practitioners of “white light” religions as LaVey called them, maybe there’s no “script.” Maybe you weren’t “chosen from the foundation of the world”, maybe you weren’t “a king in another life”, maybe there’s nothing waiting for us in the afterlife. Maybe this is the one chance we get. The truth is, we don’t have the answers.

The ancient Jews would say their prayers facing the direction of their temple, because that’s where they believed that God was. Jesus was said to have raised his hands to the heavens when he prayed. Other religious people focus inward, inclining themselves to the “god within.” To me, God isn’t in a particular place or location. I’m not even sure what kind of form or quality that “God” possesses. It would be all too easy for me, to along with rejecting a belief in “magic” reject a belief in all hidden agency. I’m not quite ready to take that step. Science has more or less ruled out the existence of a “God of the heavens”- we’ve been to the heavens and found them silent, and remarkably devoid of anything that could be considered similar to a god figure.

Another thing to notice, is that even though I don’t really believe in the effectiveness of a particular kind of prayer or ritual, I still felt disquieted when reading through the last part of the Satanic Bible. Being raised as an Evangelical Christian has made me wary of anything that could be considered “satanic” or of any “witchcraft” or “false religion.” I keep having this unshakeable feeling that “dabbling in the dark arts” is going to get my house “haunted” even though I know that such “hauntings” have never been scientifically proven. Furthermore, many “devils” of Christian demonology were the benevolent gods and goddesses of ancient religion. It could be that the true “pure” religion was actually the pagan religions of the past, especially considering that they pre-dated Christianity by thousands of years. It’s all about perspective. I’m sure to the Native Americans the God of the murderous white Europeans was considered a devil if there ever was one.

My theory is actually this- polytheistic religions were eventually more-or-less supplanted by monotheism. Atheism has existed somewhat quietly alongside all of the main theistic religions since almost the very beginning, but it has never really taken precedence and so I don’t expect atheism to become the “new” theism. Instead, I think that monotheism in the traditional sense is being replaced by something else- maybe a more undefined spirituality, or a belief in a nebulous “something” that undergirds and upholds the Universe. I believe that as we gain more scientific knowledge of our world, that we may find scientific reasoning behind many of the things that we consider “mysteries” or “miracles” today. That being said, I don’t think we’ll outgrow our widespread “need” for a god- of some sort- very soon.

So, do I believe in magic? Not really, but I don’t fully disbelieve either. I’m still a little superstitious; I would definitely feel creeped out if it was said that someone had placed a curse on me. When I’m in distress, I still find an impulse to pray. I still have a sense of things being either “holy” or “unholy” even with the aforementioned admission that I know that it’s all a matter of who’s talking. I’m confronting my personal biases every day. This isn’t easy work, and I’m very grateful to those of you who’ve decided to take this journey with me.

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