Is magic inherently moral?


The other day I got into a conversation about magic and morality. I mentioned that one of the systems of magic I'd learned was chaos magic and the person mentioned that s/he had heard that chaos magic didn't have a system of morals attached to it, which is accurate, but as I pointed out to her, it's how a person chooses to use magic that matters. I don't think there's a given moral force that polices magic, nor do I think a person gets 3 times the outcome of what s/he chooses to do.

Magic isn't an inherently moral force. It is something that anyone can work with, and there are limitations to what a person can do with it, but those limitations have more to do with the laws of this universe than any moral polarity. Any such moral polarity is human made, derived more as a statement of the values of the person as well as his/her culture. Each person must decide what his/her own morals are, both in terms of magical work, and mundane actions.

When we ascribe morality to a system or practice, we need to do it carefully and question the underlying values. Even if it seems like a "good" morality, there is always human agency behind the assumption of that morality and its application to other people's actions. When we recognize this we can look carefully at whether or not we should take on the morals of a given spirituality and/or determine if we should apply our own instead.

Naturally there are consequences for what a person chooses to do. Each person has to decide if the consequences are worth the desired result, but just as importantly we need to decide if the moral codes we ascribe to are ones we really agree with or ones we hold to reflexively because others have told us to. The latter choice is a disservice to ourselves, and ironically an amoral choice, for we are ducking out of our responsibility to determine for ourselves what our morality really should be, as well as how it should inform our actions.

The Metaphysics of Ethics

I'm reading Ethics and the Craft by John Coughlin. It's a good read and its gotten me thinking about the metaphysics of ethics, or if you will, how ethics are enforced. Consider for example the idea that if you do something you'll get back three times what you put out. So if you do harm to someone, you'll get 3x the harm back on you and if you do good you'll get 3x the good visited on you. I've never subscribed to this particular law, but as Coughlin notes, there are people who believe it to be a literal reality, while there are others who teach it, but relate it to three degrees that are part of Wicca. I understand the latter interpretation, but the former interpretation strikes me as unrealistic. Nonetheless I could also see how it could be a reality for the people who believe in it.

So why it is a reality for those people (and no one else)? It's a reality because they believe in it, and because they will subjectively find proof to support the belief  that they will get 3x the benefit or harm, they put out. This is especially true when it comes to harm, and the reason for that is that typically harm is emphasized, in order to discourage people from doing magic for harmful purposes. That emphasis consequently encourages a fixation on the experience of 3x harms moreso than 3x the benefit.

Belief is a powerful tool in magic, but it is double edged, and the beliefs we hold can sometimes cut us, precisely because we believe them and give them power to effect our lives. This is why it is important to examine our ethics (whatever they are) carefully to really determine how those ethics impact us.

I'll admit that I am not the most ethical magician out there. I think one of the reasons I am more "ethical" in my life these days boils down to doing the internal work and working through the dysfunctional beliefs I've held that contributed to the chaos in my life. Doing that work has helped me realize how much the rules we hold ourselves to can be helpful or harmful depending on what we believe. Perhaps this is why I base my ethical decisions on situations as opposed to an overall code for living life. I look at every situation and evaluate how I will respond based on the situation and the contexts and variables effecting the situation. That makes me ethically flexible, which some people would frown upon, but I'm satisfied with that flexibility, and it allows me to factor in my beliefs in, in a way that causes me to examine how those beliefs will impact me.

Why the 3 Fold law doesn't work for me

I'm reading When, Why...If by Robin Wood. It's a book on magical ethics and I thought I'd finally read it as I've had it for years. She mentions the 3 fold law which states that what you do, good or bad, comes back to you 3 times over. In Wicca, in particular, this specific "law" is observed. The author treats it as a natural law of reality and notes that if you harm someone you need to make it up to them three times over in order to avoid the consequences. I've never been Wiccan, and I've never agreed with this kind of "law".

I definitely would agree that there are consequences for one's actions and sometimes those consequences aren't fun to deal with, but I've never really seen anyone get three worse or better what they did, and indeed if the 3 fold law is a natural law of the universe then who ever is enforcing that law is slacking off majorly (especially when it comes to politicians). Similarly I don't agree with the concept of harm none, and do what you will, because the reality is that life is just not that clear cut. Lets say you do magic to find a job. You are harming the chances of other people getting the job you get by using magic. You may not intend to harm them, but nonetheless by choosing to do magic to help yourself, in just about any circumstance there is a potential for harm. For that matter simply walking around or taking a breath is harming life you may not see or be aware of.

I don't advocate going out and harming people maliciously. And there are consequences for your actions and choices, including ones you may never be aware of. The ones you are aware of are the ones you have to take responsibility for. How you take responsibility for them is up to you and thus it can be valuable to put some time into creating your ethics, as well as exploring ethics in general. Nonetheless, it's also important to recognize that there's no deity or law that's going to hold you accountable or keep tally of your actions and who those actions have effected. The only being responsible for that tally is you, just as you are responsible for what you choose to do or not do about the consequences.

In my approach to magical work, I advocate not just being clear about your desired result, but also the consequences could occur. If you are comfortable with those consequences, then do your magical working. If you aren't comfortable, then its time to do some internal work and discover what is making you uncomfortable. You may end up choosing not to do the working and that's perfectly acceptable as well. Whatever choice you make should be one done with conscious awareness and intention and acceptance of your responsibility.

Banishing people

Over time, I have found it occasionally necessary to do a banishment working to banish people from my life. I've found that continuing to tolerate their influence, energy, or presence in my life makes me unhappy and so instead of continuing to compromise the overall value and happiness in my life, it's easier to just banish the people. When I talk about banishing someone, I'm not talking about harming the person. While I may not like the person and may not want him/her in my life, I also don't want the person harmed. I just want him/her gone. For me, its not a matter of harming, so much as removing something that no longer belongs in my life. I wish them the best (even the people I don't like), but I don't need to continue to put up with them.

There are several techniques I've developed for this purpose. One is to create a sigil web and include in it all the people, experiences, events, etc that I currently have in my life. The ones I want to keep, I strengthen and the ones I want to banish, I cut out of the web. I then burn their symbols and put the ash on the road. I don't want it on the ground I live, since that would invite them back into my life.

The other technique is somewhat similar, but also different Instead of creating a web, I create a sigil for the person I no longer want in my life. I put in that sigil all the feelings I have about the person. Then I burn the sigil take it off property. By putting the emotions I feel toward the person into the sigil, I'm able to free myself of an feelings I have toward that person. This is a good technique to use for someone you don't like.

I think its healthy to banish people from your life. You can't and won't necessarily be friends with everyone and it's important to maintain your boundaries and protect yourself from undesirable influences. Banishing allows you to do that and also allows you to ground yourself.

Time Experiments, Ethics part 2

On Friday, my group and I did some work with time magic. The first two experiments we did were based off of Jean Houston's book The Possible Human. We did one experiment, where we would experience our consciousness as a unit of time, such as a second, minute, year, 100 years etc. Eventually you lose track of the units of time and enter into a non-linear state of experience with time. Each of us who did this exercise experienced a very similar state of mind.

The second experiment was one where we worked with three segments of time on a yardstick, as it were, but altered which segment of time (past, present, or future) was more prevalent during the meditation. It was an interesting experiment, again because of the state of mind it put us in, moving us out of a linear state of mind and into a non-linear state of mind.

Both of these exercises are useful ones to do, to put you into a very receptive state of mind for doing time magic. They don't take very long to do, but they condition your mind to push itself outside of the constraints of linear time.

The final exercise was done with the Goetic Daimon Purson. In the mythology I've created around my own use of time magic, Purson is a guide on the silver strands of time. I introduced him to my group last night, partially as a way of thanking him for his services and patronage and partially as a way of helping the people I work with learn a bit more about my own approaches to time magic. We used the tesseract board to evoke him and my experience with was of two trees twisted together. I thought that rather odd until late that evening, I came across Ipos, another Goetic Daemon of I'll be contacting him soon.

So an update on the Ethics book. I've started working on chapter one and it's coming together nicely. I got some responses on the first post, both from commenters on this blog and from a blog entry by Augogeides along the lines of arguing that magic is a technology and puzzlement that there's a need to write about ethics as it pertains to occult culture. It was also argued that ethics as they applied to magic boiled down to being able to determine if an action was ethical or not, regardless of whether it was a magical action or a non-magical action. That's the gist of it, or at least what I got from what was said.

When I talk about ethics and magic, I'm talking about taking a proactive approach to ethics, which incorporates practical magical techniques into how one approaches ethics in his/her life. However, I don't think merely determining if an action is ethical or non-ethical, and then making your choice to follow through on that action or not, is really ethics...or rather I think of that as reactive or cover your ass ethics, ethics utilized as a way of making sure you aren't doing anything wrong (or aren't getting caught). I don't really think of that as a useful approach to integrating ethics into one's life because it doesn't make ethics part of your life process and growth. Instead it's just a convenient code to check on occasionally to make sure you are in the clear. I have a lot more to say about this, but I'll save it for the book. Suffice to say my and Vince's approach and outlook on ethics and their role/integration in magic is decidely different from what I've usually encountered in the occult community.

Book Review: The Evolving Self by Mihayli Csikzentmihayli

I wish I could say this book really represented an evolution in psychology or how we conceive of the self, but the truth is, it really doesn't. If you read this author's other works, then this work can be thought of as half a step beyond those works. At times the author is judgmental, condescending, and whiny, and he doesn't offer much in the way of a concrete definition of self. The final few chapters predictably focus on flow, but don't  provide anything significantly new to the theory that he hasn't offered anywhere else.

Two out of five


Ethics and magic Pt the one

I've recently started work on another co-written book project, since the project with Bill W is temporarily at a lull and I've been meaning to get started on this new project for a while anyway. This new project is an interesting one for me as it deals primarily with ethics and magic. I'm working on the first chapter and poring over the very few books I know of that deal with questions of ethics and magic (including your work Gerald) to any degree of length. It's rather odd to realize just how few books there are on ethics and magic, and to note as well that most of what I have come across is rooted from a Wiccan perspective on ethics. I've found a couple other works that deal with ethics and magic from other perspectives, but the majority of western occult texts mainly seem to deal with practical applications of magic, with little concern as to the ethical ramifications of said practices. Chaos magic tends to take a fuck off attitude to ethics and magic, and a lot of ceremonial magic seems to be far more concerned with pomp and pageantry than examining the ethical underpinnings of what's being done by who. Even where I have found some focus on ethics, it's been written in a rather vague way, which speaks to a decision to abstract the issues, as opposed to dealing with them concretely.  It confirms quite a bit to me, in terms of some of the concerns I have about the occult subculture and where it is or rather isn't going in terms of evolving.

Is there such a thing as ethical magic? That's a rhetorical question by the way. I actually think there is such a thing as ethical magic...but how to define it or explain what it is...well that's the subject of a co-written book I and Vince Stevens are working on. Stay tuned for more information, as I'm sure I'll be posting more details and considerations as I continue this work.