Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Rant In Support Of Magical Recipes and Formulaic Spells

I was just organizing the Documents folder on my Mac and came across an old gem I had saved. Back in the Stone Age of 2005, Judika Illes's totally awesome Encyclopedia Of Five BillIon Spells (ok just 5000) came up in discussion on a list of primarily Neopagans that I used to be on and someone was unfortunate enough to float this tired old uninformed canard in trying to diss this wonderful book (much better than anything the overly adored Scott Cunningham ever wrote I might add):

BTW, if anybody comes to me saying that they don't know how to write their own spells, then I'd tend to respond that they are unready to use anybody else's as well ...

My response for my public's edification and amusement was as follows:

This is elitist and I am completely opposed to this mentality. And it is not a very "folk magical" attitude either in my opinion.

And it makes no sense. Pedagogically speaking it puts the cart before the horse. How in the world can you "write your own spell" if you have never done a single magical work before? Where do you begin? Where would you propose someone begin?

**MAGIC IS FOR EVERYBODY**. It is a power that is all around us, in us, and in everything. Only in the Wiccan/Neopagan subculture is there so much elitism about who can use magic and how, and how much you need to know or should know, and you see it the worse among those who learned more from reading than from a family or community cultural tradition of magical practice, where the tried and true is passed from mother or aunt or neighbor to child like a precious family or cultural heirloom or cookie recipe.

In most cases all that is needed is a simple thing that is basic and yes formulaic, like taking a 3-salt cleansing ritual bath or hyssop or other bath, or cleansing with an egg. Or putting down a powder for something, it has certain ingredients and you lay it down in a certain way with a certain intention. There are not many ways to burn a candle for something, I mean you pick the color or shape of candle, you carve on it, you oil it, you set it down on your wish paper and you seal it and light it and tell it what you want, in a powerful cadenced tone of voice, from the heart and from your need. This is a more or less set, formulaic pattern that is known to work.

What the hell is left to write? I don't get it. I don't get what you "write your own every time" people are about.

If you think a "spell" has to be some complicated thing with rhyming quatrains and waving knives and other such extravagances, I'm sorry but that is a mistaken view. The most effective magics are the most simple and direct, and if you follow the basic formula, like in chemistry lab, you will get the desired effect. Magic is a science at its base, there is an art to it after a point, but you Neopagans seem to overemphasize the art side of it with a disregard of the fact that because at base it is a science, there are basic formulaic patterns that anyone can do, just like anyone can mix charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter in a certain order to make gunpowder, or make TNT from the residue of soap making from rendered fat and mixing with clay and rolling it up to make dynamite. You don't even have go that far.. you can buy the dynamite and simply follow the ritual of striking a match and lighting the fuse. That will be just as effective as if you made the dynamite yourself.

Soap making is a really good example because you can know all kinds of ways to make soap and add different scents, colors and herbs and everything; still the soap you buy from somebody else is going to be just as effective and getting you clean as soap you make yourself, as long as you follow the formula of mixing it with water, rubbing it till it suds, and spreading it all over and then scrubbing with a cloth then rinsing with water. The same formula will get you clean every time regardless of how the soap was made or by whom.

You can make your own candle from melted beeswax and all, you can even go all SCA and raise bees and collect the honeycomb to melt down to make the candles -- but someone else who doesn't know the first thing about raising bees or making candles can still light up their house just the same if they buy the candle at the candle shop and follow the ritual of lighting it with a match.

Traditions are passed down and repeated through the generations because they work, and use more or less local or easily available materials for the most part. This is what makes "folk magic" exactly that, the magic of a folk tradition.

There are variations on these basics but there are not so many, like making a cheese omelette, its just stupid to say you have to make up your own cheese omelette recipe to truly enjoy an omelette, there is only so much you can do with 3 eggs and cheese.

W**** brought up The Skeleton Key.. in the film the heroine uses a work given to her by a skilled hoodoo woman and she followed it and it WORKED, she didn't believe it would, and it was effective anyway because of her intention and because she was given correct instructions. This is how it is. It is an accurate portrayal of a folk-magical assumption and perspective. This is what people who grow up in a magical setting, like many African Americans and rural southerners, take for granted - while the more urban mostly white people who discover magic on their own have this more elitist attitude towards it all, that you have to know it all before you should even begin? And a regressive attitude at that --

*that if you aren't willing or able to constantly reinvent the wheel that you should not ride a bicycle*.

People learn by doing, and they learn at first by doing simple things that anyone can do. And how do you learn what anyone can do without doing what others have already done? Knowledge builds upon knowledge from one person to the next. Human knowledge progresses because we share what has worked in the past. Just think how things would be if there was the attitude that everyone had to learn on the own how to build a wheeled cart if they wanted to use a wheeled cart.. no we can BUY the wheeled cart, or we can buy the plans for a cart if we can follow the instructions and lack the engineering skills to design it. I don't have to be an electrical engineer to use an electric light, I just have to be able to screw in the bulb and flip the switch.

Anyway, with all these examples, I hope the silent majority of new or would-be magic users watching and reading will find encouragement to explore that various magical recipe books and resources that are available, experiment by actually using the spells, and learn from their successes and mistakes, building on the tried and true until one is well grounded in basic skills and feels confident to add personal flourishes.. let's be clear though that those personal flourishes are just that. They will not add anything to a work necessarily except for perhaps a certain artistic satisfaction.

There is no need to be discouraged. Professional rootworkers and other spiritual workers do just as effective work using premade ingredients and set rituals using 3000 year old Psalms and prayers as those who make all their own oils and powders from scratch and always speak spontaneously from the heart. You can too. The choice is a personal one, and will reflect one's own personal style and needs and preferences. There is continuum of involvement that has little to do with the outcome, and is purely a matter of personal taste.. even the people who infuse or blend their own oils seldom actually pressed the olives or jojoba seeds or almonds themselves as the base oil, for example.

And to say more great things about Judika's book, aside from just being nice to have as literature and history, in particular is especially good at explaining the process of magic and the mental aspect that goes into a spell. You could do much worse than if it were your very first book of magic that you ever bought.


I hope you enjoyed this little blast from the past. Comments!


Jason Miller, said...

This was pure magick Mike. Thank you for it. I am posting a link to it on my own blog right now.

Julia said...

yes. Yes. YES!!!

(thank you)

Mike Rock said...

Glad you like it Julia! Sounds like you've had your share of the "if you can't reinvent the wheel don't ride a bike" crowd yourself?

Great site and FAQs btw! Nice to see The Real Thang (tm) outside of my normal beaten path of Lucky Mojo + my New Orleans friends.

Julia said...

Thanks, Mike! Your kind words mean a whole lot to me.

I wish this article was plastered all around the internet, especially on non-conjure and non-folk magic sites. I lose my patience sometimes to see all the BS - the fake taboos, etc. - being spread about magic, something which should be accessible to all (or most).

Thank you for writing this eloquent article in support of something dear to both of our hearts. Bless you!

MoJo said...

Very eloquently written. I whole-heartedly agree!
Best regards.

BlackCat said...

After reading your article on recommendation from Miller's blog,I knew I had to follow your blog.It is amazing to know that there our others out there who have had enough of this self-rightous elitist cr@P! Thank-You

apikorsus said...

A breath of fresh air! I totally ignore the neopagan scene these days, not just over the elitism, fluffiness and delusional types, but also the Christian bashing. There's precious little tolerance shown for (broadly)Christian conjure folk, at least in British paganism.
Mind if I follow your blog? 'tis most refreshing:)
God bless.

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