Acep Hale


magic magic magic

It's night, I've got a bottle of red wine in front of me and The Staple Singers on the stereo. This seems oddly appropriate given what I want to write about.

Every so often when I'm performing I'll hear a voice going, "But what about real magic?"

I have to admit, when I hear that, I get excited. I love magic, and every time I hear that question there exists the possibility that I've found another fanatic. However, inevitably, my hopes are dashed. After finishing that show and having the opportunity to talk to the person who posed the question, their response is invariably of the, "I'm an intuitive and a empath," stance that so characterizes the "new age" movement.

There's a couple of problems with this. First of all, what type of narcissistic, self-absorbed dill-weed do you have to be to think that being intuitive and empathic marks you as somehow special? Welcome to the human race Copernicus! Those are coping mechanisms the rest of us have enjoyed since birth. In fact, I'd be willing to lay short odds that those two qualities are the strongest traits ensuring humankind's evolution in the first place. After all, learning to trust your instincts that right now might not be the best particular time to go beyond the edge of the campfire's flickering light and take a piss was probably an incredibly powerful survival trait, and if you're banding together to stave off saber-tooth tigers, hyenas, and maybe, just maybe, take down a bison or two, knowing when and where it was okay to make fun of Muggs the Mighty Hunting War Chief would probably come in just as handy.

The second disappointment with these people is the lack of knowledge or even the desire to study their own history, which is simply mind-boggling to me. I believe magic is the one true art, the art from which all others sprang, and that doesn't make you curious? Even though they build their entire lives around magic, there's no interest in finding out where it comes from, who were the earlier practitioners, and how have these ideas changed and evolved over time?

I'm not engaging in hyperbole here. Anyone that is the slightest bit politically involved quickly becomes aware that there is a secret history to this world. Half an hour in the library studying labor history will overturn years of public school indoctrination. Start tracing those threads back further and further into the past and the lies become larger and more transparent. Rogan P. Taylor wrote an amazing book called, "The Death and Resurection Show: From Shaman to Superstar" that I wish everyone could read. Unfortunately it is out of print and prohibitively expensive - around $200 last time I looked - so take advantage of your public library and put in an ILL. The thrust of Taylor's argument is that all performing arts derive from early practices of magic, and as civilization pushed nomadic tribes out from easily habitable areas, those nomadic tribes turned to performing acrobatic feats and magical tricks to maintain not only their ways of life but their religious beliefs as well. These wandering performers laid the groundworks for theater, music, comedy, and every other form of art that we now hold so dear today.

(For those of you following along, I have now switched from The Staple Singers to Mazzy Star for the next section. Just in case you wanted the soundtrack.)

I do realize I'm skipping willy-nilly but I'm giving a broad overview into issues I wish to explore more deeply as this blog goes on. This rambling is more my own road map than for the benefit of anyone else.  Also, I realize I make no attempt to separate magic from "magick". There's a simple reason for this and that is there is no difference between the two. It used to bother me when people made such a big deal about spelling it "magick" and then I realized it was actually a blessing in disquise because the only people that felt the need to do so didn't actually practice magic in the first place. It's a shorthand, a quick visual reference that the article, book or monologue that follows is 9 times out of 10 written by an armchair occultnik with little to no practical experience. More so, it's also a quick reference to the extent and depth of their reading and interest within the field. (Sadly, most of them still think Crowley coined the term which just goes to prove my point.)

One thing I find interesting about this is how the '60s new age movement put such an emphasis on the individual, an emphasis we have yet to shake off. I've read a lot of books put out by the old Rosicrucian/New Thought/Theosophical societies and I've always loved the fact that in the front pieces or  introductions to those books, they always stressed that the knowledge contained therein was presented with an eye towards making the entire world a better place, to uplifting society as a whole. These people sincerely believed that by engaging in this work, by instructing others, they were helping the world take a step towards universal equality and hopefully, enlightenment. I have yet to see one modern book on these very same topics contain such a sentiment.

This is mirrored in the role of shamans in modern 'occult' writing. As Taylor and most anthropologists point out, the role of the shaman was to transport their entire tribe into another world. Contrast this with most of the popular writing you're liable to run across today, where the role of the shaman is not to transport the entire tribe, but to journey all by their lonesome and then come back and tell his or her tribe members what they experienced. It goes from a communal experience to an authoritative declaration, a dynamic not usually found anywhere else within that very same tribal structure.

Should it surprise anyone that we see this shift when our very own occult groups have gone from focusing on elevating society to elevating the individual? Of course not. In fact, it illustrates how magic came to be practiced in the first place. The shaman, tasked with carrying his audience into another world, used any and all techniques necessary to convince people that what they were seeing was 'otherworldly'. His fellow tribe members, having grown up in the same cultural milieu, would be familiar with the same legends, the same stories, and be able to follow those references into the very same experiential areas. Someone from outside would need proof, miracles they could see with their eyes in order to be convinced of other lands where animals could talk and miracles could occur, and so the shamans made dolls dance, voices fly about the room and come up from the ground. They escaped bonds no mortal could escape, they walked on ropes, held coals in their mouths, they proved the gods were present at that very moment and in doing so gave the doubting onlooker permission to escape reality.

Anthropologists, critically watching tribal séances, introduced the observer effect decades before physicists became aware of it.

So what do I think magic is? I think magic is a set of techniques, a techné that has been handed down through generations, a codified collection of observations that speaks to our position in the world and the commonality of our experiences. Proust once observed that all human motivation can be written on the back of a postage stamp and given that restriction the 78 cards of the tarot suddenly seem immensely expansive. I use Giordano Bruno's art of memory on a daily basis to remember my routines and patter. Each morning I get up and do yoga which keeps both my mind and body sharp. After that I do a set of exercises from The Golden Dawn, and any time I doubt the efficacy of those I simply recollect Zen Master Seung Sahn's reply when asked about the importance of mantras, "The words don't matter. You could repeat 'Coca-Cola Coca-cola' over and over and it would have the same effect." After that I do a tarot reading to get a different perspective, a change of view on situations I'm currently facing. Following that I meditate, and then perform a banishing to clear out the morning and get ready for the day. It's a clear demarcation that I've gone from sleep to waking and now it's time for an entirely new start.

The most important thing is the repetition. Magic is not knowledge hoarded, it's a living practice. That's what has kept it going down through generations. Repetition is key, Gertrude Stein knew it in her bones. Repetition is what leads to research. Through research we uncover the links to our past. When the Golden Dawn drew up their rituals, there was very little knowledge of Hermetic Magic. The Graeco-Egyptian papyri hadn't even been discovered yet, most of their writings and rituals came from Francis Barrett's 'The Magus or Celestial Intelligencer' which would probably nowadays be called, "Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy for Dummies". Now we have an entire field of Papyrology to draw from, and from that research, we come closer to understanding our ancestors as they truly were.

Most of all, magic is resistance. It's a resistance to the status-quo. No one practices magic because they're satisfied with the way things are. Magic is practiced to change ourselves and the world around us. It starts with the knowledge that the world is not right, we were not meant to live this way, and it's the constant search to right those wrongs outside of accepted means. Magic has always been the angry upraised middle-finger to an apathetic acceptance of injustice, and it will always be the weapon of choice for the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, and the downright disgusted.

Most of all, it is goddamn beautiful.