01 November 2006

Magic 101 for Marxists

Okay. I think in the last two posts I gave a comprehensible account of how Marxists see the interaction between the "infosphere", people's ideas, and the physical world. Now I'm going to have a go at it from the point of view of occultists, magic(k)ians, "metaprogrammers", or whatever else they might call themselves. I do note for the benefit of all my occultist readers that I am simplifying and generalising to an incredible degree for those who are utter n00bs to the subject - your corrections and additions are welcomed.

Perhaps the central tenet of the magical worldview is the Hermetic formula - as above, so below. To put it another way, the microcosm is the same as the macrocosm; to put it a third way, symbolic changes can cause physical changes, if the symbol is "powerful" enough; or a fourth way, that perception is to a large degree reality. (This last might be recognized as also the central tenet of modern public relations and politics.)

Traditional magic worked with the symbols of the various discarnate entities of the various religions - gods, demons, angels, what-have-you. With the breakdown of the traditional societies in the age of capitalism, the modern occultists such as the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society began piecing together new symbolic systems, usually out of remnants of the old. The infamous Aleister Crowley is perhaps most famous by attempting to apply the methodology of science to the material of magic, creating a new system that would correlate and include all traditional systems of "magick". (The k was added by Crowley himself, to distinguish what he was doing from card tricks, pulling rabbits out of hats etc.)

Since Crowley we have had what you might call post-modern magic. This follows Crowley in attempting to reconcile cutting-edge science and the traditional Hermetic formula. It is also distinguished by an insistence that what is important in an act of magic is reprogramming the psyche - i.e., changing the consciousness of the magician. The "acid missionaries" of the 1960s, who systematically attempted to explore altered states of consciousness via what Frank Zappa called "trendy chemical amusement" are a huge influence. Many occultists also work from modern ideas such as quantum uncertainty, Carl Jung's theory of synchronicity (i.e. when random events are connected by their significance to the observer), and chaos theory - hence "chaos magic".

The neo-pagan witch Starhawk defined magic as "an symbolic act done in an altered state of consciousness to produce a desired effect". Another way of putting this might be "introducing information in a matter which evades the filters erected by the subject's rational mind". For the occultist of today, magic can be boiled down to the following:

- inducing an altered state of consciousness (by mediation, breath control, drugs, a catchy tune in the background, sex, the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy fiction etc) in which the subconscious mind becomes more susceptible
- imagining the desired goal in symbolic form
- investing the symbol with energy; or, to put it another way, fixing the symbol in the subconscious via repetition or association with some kind of intense experience
- "banishing" (dispelling from consciousness) all counteracting symbols.

By this process, the subconscious mind is reprogrammed; and, since "above is below" (perception is reality) so will reality be transformed for the practitioner in accordance with will. Alternatively, some kind of psychic energy will be sent out that will actually rewrite the material world according to desire. Sometimes, both explanations are used. (You could also sum up these steps in the words of the old jingle - "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, don't mess with Mr Inbetween".)

In these traditions, the gods and demons of earlier belief are often reinterpreted as manifestations of the individual or collective psyche, Jungian archetypes, discarnate beings alien to this planet or even this plane, or even consciously-constructed figments of the magician's imagination. Often it will be claimed that these distinctions are not important - what is important is how the practitioner behaves in regards to what she perceives in the altered state of consciousness, and what is accordingly imprinted on the subconscious.

Increasingly, complicated traditional tables of magical symbols such as Crowley used are being supplemented or even replaced by images from modern mass media and popular culture, or even ones which the practitioner makes up herself. In the chaos tradition, serious belief itself is seen as counterproductive. The practitioner is encouraged to discover the symbols and the belief systems which are most effective to change her consciousness in the required way, and then "invest them with personal energy". Sexuality is perhaps the most vital source of this energy - deliberate violations of personal taboos are also seen as a "path to power". This is in essence exactly the same process as advertising, psychiatry, brainwashing, rhetoric, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and what those criminals in the "Church" of $cientology do. (L. Ron Hubbard stole most of his good ideas from Crowley.)

The place where this kind of magic comes into contact with Marxist ideas of ideology is the increasing acceptance that corporate capitalism and imperialism are not only destroying the physical world but playing merry havoc with the symbolic realms, with their advertising, propaganda and other mind-control techniques. Also, occult theory follows the insight of Marxism that activity determines consciousness, not whatever the conscious mind happens to believe. A Marxist might call a picket line or a militant demonstration "an altered state of consciousness", since it takes place in an area not acknowledged to exist by the dominant paradigm of reality - an effective political or advertising slogan has all the same characteristics of a meditative mantra.

In general, modern occultists still have faith in the possibility of individual action against this tyranny, as opposed to the Marxist insistence that only collective mass action will be effective. In addition, the Hermetic formula is in itself a profoundly idealist idea, based on a vision of ideas directly determining physical reality (as opposed to Marxist insistence on physical action as the nexus between idea and reality). Chaos magic is often called "materialist" by other occultists. This seems a bit strange, since the famous chaos author Peter Carroll has written a lot specifically attacking the materialist worldview! On the other hand, this tradition's explicit rejection of any permanent or fixed beliefs no doubt seems screwy to more traditional, quasi-religious occultists.

Therefore, the politics of the anti-capitalist occultist current are to a large degree anarchist, liberal or libertarian - precisely the politics of the social group (information professionals) from which they come, as a Marxist analysis would predict. But modern occultists and Marxist revolutionaries share an interest in challenging the thought-forms of modern corporate culture, and combatting them with "memes" and ideas that can lead to real human consciousness and empowerment. It is the purpose of this blog to facilitate discussion and common action between both camps.


*gasps with exhaustion* Questions? Comments?

ETA: Just one more thought: the "other side"'s PR/magic works on a "brute force" principle - repetition, repetition, repetition, funded by massive capital expenditure - as well as the principle of mimicking as closely as possible what's already in people's heads. We don't have the budget to replicate this from our side. So whatever memetic action (cultural work, agitprop or magic) we do, it has to beat them for being clever, for being passionate, for speaking to those people who have a vision of a better world and just need a bit of encouragement to start fighting for it.


  1. One of the reasons that Chaos Magic is branded materialist is because it begins and ends with material reality. You observe what you want to change, you take action, you check to see if the results have manifested in the observable world.

  2. The more I look at this stuff, the more that chaos magic seems to work along exactly the same principles as dialectical materialism. I am also increasingly interested in the possibility that the connecting link might have already been made by the Situationists.

  3. Can Someone Grow Taller (from 5.11'' reach 6.4'') and change eye colour (from brown to blue) through Chaos Magic ??? Thanks

  4. Yes. Yes, someone can. But I'm not going to tell you how. It's actually the First Initiation Ritual into our super-secret Order, and if you can figure out how to do it on your own, then we will know that you are worthy. Good luck!