Archives For Magic

[Today journalist Terence Ward shares an interview with a Pagan doctor who is helping other magic-workers and healers understand cancer. If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We are now at 44% with 10 days left. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a platform for our communities’ important news. What better way to celebrate the October season: Donate to a news organization that is, in part, for and about modern Witches. Donate today.]

PHILADELPHIA –For all the advances made in treating cancer, it still can be a terrifying diagnosis to receive. Many Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists will turn to magic and prayer to aid in the healing of a loved one with cancer, and there is at least one Pagan doctor who is willing to support that decision. Dr. Jennifer Hamilton, a Blue Star initiate who once co-wrote a paper called “Neo-Pagan Patients’ Preferences Regarding Physician Discussion of Spirituality” recently offered a lecture entitled “Oncology for Magic-Users” with the aim being to help energy workers and healers better understand the complexities of this disease.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

“When people are faced with a diagnosis and what to do next, and they want to help with magic, we have to believe we can do something about it,” she said. While not minimizing the pain and loss that cancer continues to cause, she is optimistic.

“It’s not as bad as it used to be. There is room for hope.”

According to Hamilton, those who use magic for healing, can more effectively move the health needle from “sick” to “well,” if they begin with the best possible scientific understanding of what’s going on in the body of a cancer patient.

The condition was named after an astrological sign because, as explained by Hamilton,  the first tumors discovered had tendrils reaching out from them. This fact reminded people of a crab’s legs. It is now understood that not every tumor with tendrils is cancer, and not every malignant growth has those little crab legs reaching into neighboring tissue. What makes cancer special is its ability to make copies of itself.

Hamilton was unafraid to dig into the scientific understanding of cancer, a condition that arises because something went wrong while replicating DNA strands.

“Something can go wrong while copying a base pair” of nucleobases — cytosine, guanine, adenine, and thymine — that can result in mismatched pairs. “That’s a mutation,” she explained, “an error.”

[Pixabay]

Environmental factors like toxins can make this occur, but it can also arise without any external influence. In many cases the cause of cancer is labeled idiopathic, a big word for “we don’t know.” Hamilton said that emotional and psycho-neurological factors could certainly play a factor in the onset, progression, and remission of cancer; research simply hasn’t confirmed or denied that.

“Like telephone cords, DNA strands can get coiled the wrong way. Chromosomes might jump to a neighbor.”

Entire sections of a DNA strand might fall off and reattach to another strand entirely. In other cases, the controller gets moved, which can be likened to how hard drives are erased: the data are not actually removed, only the marker the indicates what is stored where. Every copy made comes with risk of an error, but larger animals don’t actually get cancer more often, because of what Hamilton calls “nature’s proofreader,” a substance called P53.

“If a chromosome is smashed by radiation or chemicals, there is a system to repair them, but not any one cell has the big picture,” Hamilton said. P53 detects those mistaken pairs, grabs onto the suspect DNA strand, “smushes and twists it, starting a cascade of chemical messages.”

Those messages, then, stop the DNA in question from replicating while it’s repaired, at which point it is untwisted and allowed to resume. Elephants have four times the amount of P53 in their cells than humans.

P53 is not fully understood yet, but apparently it’s less likely to identify those errors if they are inherited. What’s known is that this substance is the reason why more mutations don’t turn cancerous. There’s also no evidence that too much P53 is a bad thing. In fact, P53 is only the most general of an entire set of proofreading substances in the body; most are specialized for particular cell types.

Cancer might be so dangerous because it is effectively an inside agent, familiar with the body’s defense mechanisms. Due to its faster-than-normal growth, more blood is needed to support that effort. Abnormal blood flow is one thing that antibodies should detect, but cancerous tumors have evolved ways to conceal the proteins that are the red flag.

Hamilton compared this process to quality control at a factory, where a certain number of products coming off the assembly line are tested to make sure they’re working properly. In the case of cancer, the only products (proteins) sent to the QC department are the ones that aren’t defective, fooling the body’s systems.

Dr. Jennifer Hamilton [Courtesy Photo]

Dr. Jennifer Hamilton [Courtesy Photo]

Part of what makes cancer treatment awful is chemotherapy, which brings a slew of terrible side effects. The primary purpose of early chemo drugs was to destroy fast-growing cells, but that definition includes not only cancers, but hair and stomach linings as well. Therefore, nausea and hair loss are two results. Newer drugs are more targeted, but patients still must be prepared for a rough ride during treatments of this type. Surgery remains a better option for solid tumors, at least to minimize what must be destroyed chemically.

Research, although it seems too slow, progresses in the direction of hope. Hamilton is mindful that this is a familiar track. Infectious diseases were once the most common killers in the U.S., racking up 80% of the deaths in 1900. That rate dropped precipitously over the following forty years due to things like the availability of clean water and use of window screens. Penicillin put the last nail in that coffin in the U.S. Around the world, smallpox has since been completely eliminated; polio nearly so; and guinea worm could be eradicated in the lifetime of Jimmy Carter, whose foundation has focused on that effort in recent years.

The face of cancer itself has also shifted. Lung cancer dominated diagnoses in 1971 before many toxins were eliminated, and the push against tobacco smoking had started. Cervical cancer was the top killer of women in the 1930s before the pap smear test. Testicular cancer dropped by a factor of five after chemotherapy using cisplatinum was developed. Stomach cancer’s biggest enemy was the refrigeration and preservation of food.

“Serendipity happens. Make room for it.”

When it comes to magic, Hamilton believes that more knowledge is better, but that doesn’t always translate into more specificity. “If you try to make someone’s immune system more aggressive, they could end up with arthritis,” she said.

A better approach, in her mind, is to recognize that the impossible can be possible. To illustrate her point, she handed out diamonds, rubies, and sapphires for audience members to take home. “These were once rare gems,” she said, “but these were grown in a lab. Once there is an opening for new healing modalities, it will grow, like a diamond in the lab. Think about what you want to grow, and release those positive intentions into the world.”

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When David Bowie died in January, there was a mass outpouring of emotion. Fans around the world shared memories, re-watched his movies, and listened to their favorite Bowie songs. The international media machine dug up stories about his life and influence. Bowie was, and still is, an icon representing a form of transgressive pop culture. Through that work, he pushed boundaries into the fantastic and was fully embraced for his oddity. In January, The Hollywood Reporter called him a “genre- and gender-bending British music icon whose persistent innovations and personal reinventions transformed him into a larger-than-life rock star.”

Three months later when Prince died, there was a similar collective outpouring of emotion. Once again, fans shared memories, cried, held vigils and shared their favorite songs. Cities and monuments were bathed in purple light; The New Yorker released an issue with a cover image of rain drops dripping down an all-purple background. Like Bowie, Prince challenged social boundaries, becoming an icon of transgressive pop culture, and he was also embraced for this oddity. In April, The New York Times wrote, “[…] his catalog of songs addressed social issues and delved into mysticism and science fiction. [Prince] made himself a unifier of dualities – racial, sexual, musical, cultural – teasing them in songs like ‘Controversy’ and transcending them in his career.”

For most people the two celebrities were only known through their work and fame. When each of them died, fans were essentially mourning someone they had never met. This single human being, who was neither in their immediate family nor in their larger circle of friends, was held in deep regard. After watching this tremendous public reaction, I began to wonder why and how people can mourn a perfect stranger with such a depth of feeling from a point of real truth. How is that possible?

I believe the answer is in the music.

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Shortly after Prince died, a friend relayed a story to me about how the film Purple Rain was playing repeatedly on the television system in the hospital where her ailing mother had been admitted. Over a period of days, she sat by her mother’s bedside repeatedly watching this movie. Many years later, after hearing the news of Prince’s untimely death, deep emotions stirred within her. The song Purple Rain evoked powerful memories of her mother – both of the many joyful times and the difficulties in an untimely death that happened not long after that very hospital stay.

For my friend and others, the song Purple Rain had become an unbreakable thread that tied the past to the present. And that scenario is not uncommon. Music does just that. It can touch us in places of deep privacy where nobody else can go, and remain there as an indestructible bond, a seductive path, and a powerful trigger. Music can move us into experience, not unlike meditation, trance work and magic.

And, through that emotional constant, we can develop deeply felt connections to the creator of the source. We feel personally connected to Prince or Bowie or whomever.  Music creates a sacred internal bond and, in doing so, it turns its creator into a friend and confidant, a lover, a teacher, or a even a god. Someone who really knows us.

” Flames – they licked the walls. Tenderly they turned to dust all that I adore” – Bastille

Growing up, I was surrounded by music. Some of my oldest memories are of my neighbor playing piano as his daughter and I danced to silly songs. “Put your right foot in and right foot out,” we would sing. I eventually was enveloped by music, through piano lessons, chorus, dance and musical theater. Music was everywhere I was and it still is. Every day begins with an overture, and every person has a theme song. I look for rhythm in my writing and in my magic.

Whether or not you live to the beat of music so obsessively as I do, music has been scientifically proven to have many positive effects on the brain. It can create pathways into places we might not readily be able to easily access ourselves, such as past memories, inner drives, and difficult community connections. These are three examples of  the way music works its magic.

“Once upon a time, once when you were mine; I remember skies, reflected in your eyes” – Moody Blues

First, music acts as a time machine. It creates powerful, lasting memory connections that can “transport us” to another time and place. According to scientists, music impacts what is called implicit memory, or the type that is tied to emotion and absorbed outside of direct consciousness. It is described as being “robust,” unlike conscious, or “explicit,” memory, which can be more fleeting and easily damaged. Diseases like Alzheimer’s or accidents affecting the brain can limit access to explicit memory, but not affect the more robust implicit memory, which includes music memory. Therefore therapy using sound can be very effective in reawakening lost memories in many patients.

Because of its ability to trigger memory through emotion, music has been used as a therapeutic tool, mnemonic device, calming activity, mood changer, and also a magical time machine returning us to times long gone.

When my grandmother died, I asked my grandfather to write down the story of his childhood. I didn’t know much about his early life growing up as an immigrant in Chicago, and I didn’t want to lose that part of our family history. He agreed, and after two weeks, he sent me a five-page handwritten essay, not about his childhood but about his life with my grandmother. He had probably never wrote anything in his life. But he wrote this – a cathartic tribute to the woman with whom he had spent his entire life.

[Pixabay / Public Domain]

[Pixabay / Public Domain]

My grandfather opened is story with, “The organ played ‘Because You’re Mine,” just one of the many songs which became a part of their lives. “Only You,” “You Belong to My Heart,” “You Made Me Love You,” “Didn’t We.” In the myriad of songs and lyrics encountered over the years, there was always constant reminder of the commitment.” Alongside each handwritten paragraph, he had scratched in the margins the name of a song. Listening to the songs as I read his story helped to transport me deeper into his memories, which began in Depression-era Chicago and went through his family life in Santa Monica to retirement in Carson City.

This is part of its magic. It transports you, if you let it.

Music attaches itself to our experience and remains dormant there until we hear the song again. Then, it acts like a trigger, taking us back in time.  And, frankly, sometimes you have no choice. As noted earlier, it affects our implicit memory; it seeps into our brains often without us consciously knowing. Ever start singing a song that you don’t like? I spent many years going to sleep listening to Air Supply. The walls of my parents’ apartment were thin and my neighbor was a big fan.  To this day, I know the lyrics to “I’m all out of love.”

Even when the song is not attached to a memory, music can reach deep into our souls, opening up doorways of perception that allow us to relax into ourselves. In magical circles, chanting and other sound-based rituals often help open the senses for deeper workings. But this type of connection is not relegated to spiritual work. For example, primary school teachers will use calming music in the class to settle young students and create a more effective learning environment.

This illustrates the second way in which music works its magic. Through our emotional connection to music, we can derive personal empowerment and the expression of our own deepest longings, thoughts, pains, struggles and ideas.  Artists with a musical gift help us to tap our inner world. The songs in my grandfather’s story helped illustrate his emotions better than his own written words.

“Strumming my pain with his fingers, Singing my life with his words” – Roberta Flack

Music reminds; it informs; it empowers. It makes us want to act and sometimes it even explains why. Music is magical in the way it dances through our lives, enticing us to join along. In doing so, it asks us to not be afraid of what it is, who we are, and what it evokes within our spirit. Just as music triggers memories, it triggers creativity. Just as it can transport us back in time; it can transport us to places of personal secrecy. Music can make us cry when we can’t, and dance when we are too tired.

“And now we got a revolution, Cause i see the face of things to come” – Nina Simone

Music can also help with magic. The very first magical working that I did was long before I ever picked up a Witchcraft book. This was long before I knew another Pagan. I was a secular atheist with no interest in religion, but I knew about magic, and I knew it worked. How? Because as long as I could remember, I felt the magic in the music. From a very young age, it transported me through its sound, and I was lost in its beauty. Therefore, it was a natural progression go from music being magic, to magic being music.

For that very first working, which I did as a preteen, I used the music of Madonna, which brings me to my next point. Whether music is rock, pop, classical, folk, alternative, punk, mystical or Pagan, it doesn’t matter. Whether it’s comprised of drum beats, flutes or an entire orchestra, it doesn’t matter. Rhythm, sound, instruments, vibrations, voices and words…. If in any combination, the resulting product opens a doorway into your personal being-ness, then it can serve the purpose and be your magic carpet into the past or an altered magical state.

“I sing the Body Electric. I glory in the glow rebirth, creating my own tomorrow, when I shall embody the Earth.” – Fame

Now to return to the original question of why we mourn pop music icons, such as David Bowie or Prince, we must look to the ways in which music affects our lives. These two artists, like many others, are the ones who, in essence, wove that “magic carpet.” They are the ones who were able to create the experience of music, which in turn allowed us to connect to ourselves, to our past, to our history, to our ancestors, to our gods, and to our magic.

A Psychology Today article accounts for the mourning saying that “When artists with decades-long careers like Bowie, [Whitney] Houston, or Michael Jackson die, they take a little piece of our pasts with them.” This applies to non-musical artists as well, such as Robin Williams or Alan Rickman. If a deep part of them can touch a deep part of us, we mourn their deaths just as we would our intimate friends, family and lovers.

In that same article, the writer also points to the third way in which music works magic. It bonds us together through a language that transcends the spoken word, even when there are lyrics. Music can unite us in a sort of social harmony, unlike anything else, because it does so through our sense of universal humanity. Psychology Today writes, “Discovering a shared fondness for a particular film or song brings us closer to others, because our cultural tastes often reflect our values and worldviews.” And when the artist dies we find ourselves in a “collective mourning [that] reminds us that we’re part of a [something] and helps us to celebrate the cultural touchstones that define us.”

Both David Bowie and Prince will live on through their music and their art. Their sound will continue to transport us, empower us, and connect us to others worldwide. Their music will continue to work its magic.  As we say, what is remembered, lives.

That is the magic of music.

Jean Genet’s text “The Criminal Child,” previously unavailable in English, was translated and published in December 2015. An anonymous commentary on the text, included as an afterword within the same pamphlet, reads “The Criminal Child” as an intricately coded set of instructions for magical initiation and ordeal.

criminal_child“The Criminal Child” was originally written in 1948 as a speech to be read on a radio show in order to address reforms to France’s youth prisons that had been proposed at the time. It was rejected and never read on the air. When Genet published the censored text the following year, he wrote in his introduction, “I would have liked to make the voice of the criminal audible. Not his plaint; rather his song of glory.” 1

Genet, who had spent two and a half years as a teenager imprisoned in France’s notorious Mettray penal colony (punctuated by a brief but glorious escape), clearly intended to prove himself the exception to Nietzsche’s observations that “the criminal is often enough not equal to his deed: he extenuates and maligns it,” and that “the advocates of a criminal are seldom artists enough to turn the beautiful terribleness of the deed to the advantage of the doer.” 2

Though perhaps expected to be supportive of prison reforms due to his own past experience, Genet instead recalled that he and his fellow delinquents took pride in the harshness of their treatment, and were ashamed to admit to light sentences: “It’s with a sort of shame that the child confesses that they have just acquitted him or that they have condemned him to a light sentence. He wishes for rigor. He demands it.” 3  From my own teenage years, I can corroborate this worldview.

Of course, Genet never claimed that all incarcerated youth share this adversarial attitude. As an adult and a well-respected writer, he (re)visited a youth prison where the director pointed out to him a “scout team he formed to reward the most docile children.” Scathingly, Genet wrote that these were not the “chosen” of whom he spoke:

Looking at those twelve kids, it was clear that none of them was chosen, elected, so as to take on some audacious expedition, even an entirely imaginary one. But I knew that in the interior of the Penitentiary, in spite of the educators, there existed groups, gangs really, where the bond, what made them stick together, was friendship, audacity, ruse, insolence, a taste for laziness, an air about the forehead at once somber and joyful—this taste for adventure against the rules of the Good.5

For this latter category of youth, Genet argued that imprisonment is an ordeal: “Their demand is that the ordeal be terrible—so as, perhaps, to exhaust an impatient need for heroism.” 6 The youth prison is imagined to be a “corner of the world from which you don’t come back.” 7 And this premonition conceals an underlying, occult truth: “In fact, you didn’t come back. When you came back, you were someone else. You had come across a blazing fire.” 8

His Unique Magical System

“Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,’ ” the exegetical essay published alongside Genet’s text, treats Genet as a sorcerer: “Here Genet details some of the workings of his own internal cosmology, the rites and methods of his unique magical system.” 9

Genet’s system of “criminal rites” offers initiation “not into an order, but into an adventure;” nonetheless, like any initiatory system, it is “ineffable to the uninitiated, but shared between himself and other youthful offenders.” 10

The author(s) of “Notes” fill five pages with their distillation of Genet’s occultism. I cannot quote them in their entirety here, so I must pour these words through yet another alembic:

The youth prison is Genet’s fountain of memory, but each of us has our own clandestine world into which we were initiated as youth. It was there in those spaces that we learned magic as a force of liberation, self-creation, and world-building. Though our childhoods are gone, we can access that space again in remembrance and invocation.11

Mercury, Barcelona [Photo Credit: Ed Uthman / Flickr]

Mercury, Barcelona [Photo Credit: Ed Uthman / Flickr]

This space is what Genet called “the nocturnal part of man, which you cannot explore, which you cannot enter unless you are armed, unless you are coated, embalmed, unless you are covered with all the ornaments of language.” 12 Genet’s “ritual work prepares the initiate to enter this nocturnal space.” 13

Drawing heavily upon Genet’s novel Miracle of the Rose, “Notes” observes that this “nocturnal heaven” is populated “with spirits, demons, deities, ancestors, and figures from his past with blue eagles carved across their chests, youths who stand ‘the way Mercury is depicted.‘” 14 You know the look.

And how does one arm oneself to enter this “nocturnal heaven?” The same prison director who introduced Genet to the “scout team” of “the most docile children” also showed him a collection of improvised knives, but patronizingly confided in Genet that he didn’t really believe in the need to confiscate the knives: they were made of tin, and therefore harmless.

In his mind, Genet could only laugh at the jailer’s obliviousness—confiscating the knives was indeed pointless, but they were far from harmless, and would only be replaced by more dangerous weapons:

Did he not know that, the more it deviates from its practical destination, the more the object is transformed, becoming a symbol? […] What is the point of taking it from him? The child will choose another object to signify murder, something apparently more benign, and if someone doesn’t take that as well, he’ll keep in himself, preciously, the more precise image of the weapon.15

Armed with symbols, the initiate must “pay attention to signs and signs and sigils carved and painted onto walls—M.A.V. (Mort aux vaches), B.A.A.D.M. (Bonjour aux amis du malheur)—and read these as you’d read inscriptions on the walls of an ancient temple.” 16 “Notes” instructs the initiate to build a temple within as well: “Build your inner temple here and consecrate it to ‘amorous passion.’ In this temple you can now face your ordeal.”17

[Photo Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

“Notes” recalls the eponymous flowers of Miracle of the Rose—in which Harcamone, convicted of murdering a prison guard, transformed “his chains into a garland of roses, one of which Genet clipped and concealed”—and further explicates the term “ordeal” by quoting Raven Kaldera:

Take the rose into your hands, and squeeze the thorns until your hands bleed, even as you smell the scent of Aphrodite. When you can understand why there is no contradiction there, the first step of the path will be open to you.18

To Insult the Insulters

If mysteries can only be understood through experience, why write of them at all? Sannion, of the Starry Bull tradition of Bacchic Orphism, writes that “There are two ways to keep a religious secret concealed: the first is to never talk about it at all and the second is to talk about it all the time.” Like the Starry Bull tradition, Genet opted for the latter approach.

Genet’s primary objective, of course, was to speak directly to the initiated:

This whole time I haven’t been speaking to the educators, but to the guilty […] I ask them to never be embarrassed by what they do, to keep intact inside themselves the revolt that has made them so beautiful. There are no remedies, I hope, for heroism.” 19

Once his speech was censored from the radio, he despaired of reaching his target audience, but decided to publish anyway: “I speak in the void and in the darkness; but even if it were just for myself, I would still want to insult the insulters.” 20 

For the uninitiated, Genet’s counsel is as harsh as it sounds: “Refuse all pity to the kids who don’t want any.” 21 He is explicitly and unapologetically hostile to mainstream society: “Let a poet, who is also an enemy, speak to you as a poet, and as an enemy.” 22 Even Edmund White, Genet’s biographer, found his “poetry” in “The Criminal Child” difficult to translate: “since for Genet crime itself is beautiful, he supports the cruelty of the unreformed prison system because it turns youngsters into hardened criminals.” 23 But that’s not quite right:

“Supports”White’s word—doesn’t quite fit here. Genet is explicitly in his enmity toward this society, its prisons surely included. He sees the prison as an obstacle to be overcome in a path of criminal becoming, a path of individuation.

This is the folly of trying to read him as “the political Genet.” To say that Genet supports (or doesn’t) any given state policy enmeshes his words in a political mode unbefitting the text at hand. Genet neither supports the prison nor desires to reform it. He seeks to escape it […] 24

Flammarion

[Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

Blinded by Their Brilliance

In Miracle of the Rose, Genet compared religion to prison, but his comparison was based upon the possibility that the bounded space of the finite (as opposed to the infinite) can lead to a “minute” exploration of the heart:

Abhorring the infinite, religions imprison us in a universe as limited as the universe of prison–but as unlimited, for our hope in it lights up perspectives just as sudden, reveals gardens just as fresh, characters just as monstrous, deserts, fountains; and our more ardent love, drawing greater richness from the heart, projects them on the thick walls; and this heart is sometimes explored so minutely that a secret chamber is breached an allows a ray to slip through, to alight on the door of a cell and to show God.25

Similarly, Genet wrote that prisoners “sentenced to death for life” (i.e. those serving life imprisonment) become hardened and brilliant in their captivity:

Living in so restricted a universe, they thus had the boldness to live in it as passionately as they lived in your world of freedom, and as a result of being contained in a narrower frame their lives became so intense, so hard, that anyone–journalists, wardens, inspectors–who so much as glanced at them was blinded by their brilliance.26

One recalls, of course, that Zeus’s name is etymologically derived from Proto-Indo-European *dewos, meaning “god,” is cognate with Latin deus and Sanskrit deva, and ultimately comes from the root *dyeu- meaning “to gleam, to shine.” The “deities” are “the shining ones.” And so the “shining ones” among the living are touched by gods as well.

Indeed, Genet canonized the prisoners he wrote of as saints:

The audacity to live (and to live with all one’s might) within that world whose only outlet is death has the beauty of the great maledictions, for it is worthy of what was done in the course of all the ages by the Mankind that had been expelled from Heaven. And this, in effect, is saintliness, which is to live according to Heaven, in spite of God.27

Genet hated Sartre’s biography of him (Saint Genet) and said of it, “In all my books I strip myself, but at the same time I disguise myself with words, choices, attitudes, magic. Sartre stripped me without mercy. He wrote about me in the present tense.” The “words, choices, attitudes, magic” that Genet spoke of are surely the same “ornaments of language” required to explore the “nocturnal part of man.” Sartre stripped Genet of his magic, perhaps because he was afraid of being blinded by it. We honor him for it.

The Ekklesía Antínoou honors Jean Genet as a Sanctus, especially on his birthday (December 19) and the date of his death (April 15). Similarly, Brennos Agrocunos has declared David Bowie to be “Saint Bowie, Patron Saint of Enchanted Misfits.” And at the shrine of Jesús Malverde (the unofficial “Santo de los Narcos”) in Culiacán, Sinaloa, women who have never met Joaquín Guzmán Loera (A.K.A. El Chapo, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and two-time prison escapee) pray fervently on his behalf: “I ask God to take care of him wherever he is, to take care of his sons, his wife.”

In “The Criminal Child,” Genet expressed the ethic of veneration in simple but elegant terms:

I don’t know of any other criterion for the beauty of an act, an object, or an entity, than the song it arouses in me, which I translate into words so as to communicate it to you: this is lyricism. If my song is lovely, if it has upset you, will you dare say that he who inspired it is vile?

You can say that there have always been words charged with expressing the haughtiest attitudes, and that I would have recourse to them so that the least appears haughty. But I can respond that my emotion calls for precisely these words and that they come naturally to serve it.28

Jean Genet, 1983. [Photo Credit: International Progress Organization / Wikimedia]

Jean Genet, 1983. [Photo Credit: International Progress Organization / Wikimedia]

Genet also castigated mainstream French society for its hypocrisy: “Your literature, your fine arts, your after-dinner entertainment all celebrate crime. The talent of your poets has glorified the criminal who, in life, you hate. So deal with the fact that, for our part, we despise your poets and your artists.” 29

TV shows and films portray outlaws as protagonists, but “those who were their more or less exact models suffered for real. […] You know nothing of heroism in its true nature, in the flesh, how it suffers in the same everyday way that you do. True greatness brushes past you. You ignore it, and prefer a fake.”30

Endnotes

  1. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” v.
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 4, Aphorisms 109 and 110.
  3. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 3.
  4. Ibid., 11.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 4.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 37.
  10. Ibid., 37-39.
  11. Ibid., 41-42.
  12. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 12.
  13. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 46.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 10-11.
  16. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 40. “Mort aux vaches” is translated as “death to cops,” “Bonjour aux amis de malheur” as “Greetings to friends of misfortune.”
  17. Ibid., 42.
  18. Raven Kaldera, qtd. in “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 43-44.
  19. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 14-15.
  20. Ibid., 25.
  21. Ibid., 16.
  22. Ibid.
  23. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 45.
  24. Ibid. Emphasis added.
  25. Jean Genet, Miracle of the Rose, 43.
  26. Ibid., 42-43.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 13.
  29. Ibid., 20.
  30. Ibid., 21-22.

Yesterday, on Facebook, Holly Allender Kraig announced that her husband, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. They are asking for prayers and magical assistance to help get rid of the cancer.

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I was able to contact Holly Kraig directly, and she sent this statement for Wild Hunt readers.

“Don was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in late 2013. It’s a diagnosis, not a death sentence. It is possible to put this into remission. That is the goal, remission. Don is a fighter and is adamant that beating this is already a done deal. I stand beside him as his wife and best friend to help ease him through the battle he’s facing. The community support is amazing. I know he will be healed through all the love, support and healing energies coming his way. This is a done deal!”

For those unfamiliar with Donald Michael Kraig, he is a very influential author and thinker in the realms of ritual magic(k), magical theory, and related practices. Kraig is perhaps best known for Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts, which was dubbed a “modern-day classic” by Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero. Other recent works include a remembrance of author Scott Cunningham, and an occult-themed thriller novelHe’s also an acquisitions editor at Llewellyn Worldwide.

Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig is not only a noted author and thinker, he’s also a charming, funny, and supportive individual. When I was invited to my very first festival as a newly minted “Big Name Pagan” I was very nervous, and felt completely out of my depth. My first talk during that weekend was attended by, like, 4 people, and very few people there had heard of me. Luckily, Don was there, and was very supportive. He attended my second talk (which was better attended) and afterwards praised my performance, saying I was a natural at public speaking. Now, whether this was true is up to debate, but perhaps he helped make it true by saying it to me, reminding me that I had done the work to be invited there, and that I did have something to contribute (magick!).

Just as Don had helped me, so he has helped many other people in his life, which is as good an argument for extending his remarkable life as any (that, and the amazing stories of his rock-n-roll past). Also, to be frank, the Pagan community can’t bear to lose a wit of his caliber. So, whatever your practice, belief structure, or method, let’s get in gear to help beat this cancer. Because cancer sucks, and I want to buy Donald Michael Kraig a drink at PantheaCon.

The (in)famous occultist Aleister Crowley once explained his theory on magic, “Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will,” by noting that the act of writing a book was a magic(k)al act.

“It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge. I therefore take “magickal weapons”, pen, ink, and paper; I write “incantations” — these sentences — in the “magickal language” ie, that which is understood by the people I wish to instruct; I call forth “spirits”, such as printers, publishers, booksellers and so forth and constrain them to convey my message to those people. The composition and distribution of this book is thus an act of Magick by which I cause Changes to take place in conformity with my Will.”

This has always been the definition of magic I’ve preferred when explaining its practice within modern Pagan religions to the uninitiated. These are exercises of our Will, we see our actions in this world as magical acts that create changes around us. For that reason I’ve often seen the activism of someone like Starhawk, as unified with her magical practice, something she asserts often in her writings. So it has been fascinating for me to witness the activities of my friend Alley Valkyrie here in Eugene, Oregon.

Alley is a Feri initiate and Witch who runs a small local gift and clothing business in town called Practical Rabbit, and has become a central activist regarding how the homeless are treated in Eugene, Oregon. This solidarity with the homeless rose to new levels when she became involved in the local Occupy movement a year ago, and continued as Occupy Eugene splintered into smaller, more focused, organizations, with the battles over Eugene’s controversial “exclusion zone.”

Jean Stacey said police use the law to harass and exclude homeless people from downtown. “We are ruining people’s lives,” she said. Alley Valkyrie said the ordinance provides the perception that downtown is safer. “Who are we as a people?” Valkyrie said. “Do we exclude? Do we really think it works or do we bow down to perception?”

Now, Alley is a part of SLEEPS which aims to “establish and maintain safe, legally entitled, emergency places to sleep for those who are currently unhoused and want or need such a place.” In Eugene, it is illegal camp on public property, and the homeless in Eugene are often cited for carrying camping equipment. As a result, Eugene’s homeless often sleep in isolated spots and are exposed to violence and environmental hazards. To draw attention to this issue a coalition of homeless and housed activists have been publicly camping at targeted public spots, including the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza, where Valkyrie was recently arrested after defying an order to shut down and vacate the space.

A Wiccan altar is erected at the SLEEPS camp in Eugene, Oregon.

A Wiccan altar is erected at the SLEEPS camp in Eugene, Oregon.

“Immediately after Valkyrie was arrested Thursday, the protest group that had camped outside the county courthouse earlier in the week returned to the Federal Building property and pitched about a dozen tents there.”

Alley Valkyrie holds up the front-page story of her arrest.

Alley Valkyrie holds up the front-page story of her arrest.

I recently sat down with Alley Valkyrie to talk to her about SLEEPS, working with the homeless, and the practice of activism as a form of magic.

I’m hoping to have a transcript of the interview up soon. In the meantime, you can follow the exploits of SLEEPS at their Facebook page, or their official website.

Obviously not everyone will want to become an activist in solidarity with the homeless, but I think Alley’s experience highlights how magical practice unifies with the choices we make in our lives, and brings a sense of sacred purpose to what we do. Magic is just as much about what we do, as what we believe or ritually practice. With magic we become increasingly aware of the ripples we create with the choices we make, and act accordingly, with intent in all things. You may not want to be arrested as a form of magic, but every magical act should be weighed as seriously.

For some time now there’s been a current of occult and magic(k)al elements within the arts, most notably in the worlds of fashion and fine art. An especially popular theme within this current today are the works of magician Aleister Crowley, most likely due to the influence of experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who introduced several famous actors and musicians to Crowley’s philosophies and practices. I mention Anger specifically, because a recent ritual performance of a Crowley working at L&M Arts in Los Angeles stems directly from his influence, involving Anger collaborator Brian Butler. Why is this of note? Because Butler was joined (and almost joined) by some rather famous names.

Noot Seear at The Bartzebel Working.

Noot Seear at The Bartzebel Working

“Tuesday night, artist/musician Brian Butler assisted by Twilight: New Moon actress Noot Seear, and actor Henry Hopper [son of Dennis Hopper] was supposed to  invoke Bartzabel, the forceful spirit of Mars into to the body of actor/hipster/James Franco at L&M Gallery to celebrate “For The Martian Chronicles” exhibit, honoring the work of sci-fi author Ray Bradbury. But UPDATE: JAMES FRANCO MISSED HIS FLIGHT AND THERE WAS AN UNANNOUNCED STAND-IN, ACCORDING TO COMMENTS AFTER THIS WENT TO PRESSWe have revised this post to reflect this. According to L&M Gallery, Material Basis was performed by Christopher Emerson.”

I’ll leave commentary on the ritual itself to Lisa Derrick, who noted that “despite the act of invoking and drawing a magical circle, at the end of the ritual, there was no closing or banishing–kinda like sterilizing a jar, making jam, then leaving it unsealed in a toilet.” What I’m more interested in are the larger cultural questions this poses. Is this just a closed cul-de-sac of the hipster famous (and semi-famous) slumming it with robes and a bit of Thelema to bring a bit of excitement to their lives (and the LA gallery scene), or does this represent something else? Are Seear, Franco, Emerson, and others earnestly interested in ritual magick? It’s not all that unusual to see an occasional “big name” become truly interested in Paganism or the occult, but it is unusual to see a number of them expressing their interest at once (publicly).

 

My second question is, if this is simply theater, a performance in tribute to Crowley and the mystique of magic(k), does this event signify a new resurgence of ritual as performance art? Performance art has often turned to religion and magical ritual as a vehicle for expression, Gina Ulysse’s recent avant-garde meditation, “Voodoo Doll, What if Haiti Were a Woman,” or the “Manhattanhenge” workings in New York, for instance. But both of those have a sincerity at their core that implies adherence to the underlying belief systems involved. While I have no doubt that Brian Butler is a sincere occultist, one wonders how Seear or Franco understand or experience events like this. In short, can you separate the art of magic(k), of religion, from its tenants or belief systems? One spectator at the event seemed dissatisfied with how the ritual performance seemed to want to both be a serious ritual, and be a performance piece.

“Would it be an actual (attempted) evocation of Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars? Would it rather be a piece of performance art inspired by Crowley’s evocation of the same? It was neither – or, to be more specific, it was BOTH and that’s why it failed miserably. Evocation is an art unto itself. Even if one is skeptical as to the efficacy of magical activity outside the purely psychological realm, one must recognize the fact that every art form has its own rules. Film has its rules. Theater has its own. Performance art also has certain ideals and conventions that make exclusive demands on the artist. Successful evocation is no different.”

If we are going to see more high-profile ritual magic(k) as performance art, then the ritual must be respected as an art form in of itself, one that can be appropriated, surely, but treated with care all the same. Practitioners who have connections with the art world will also have to decide how they want to engage with this trend, and if it serves their beliefs and practices well to become involved, or distance themselves. Finally, for the famous, semi-famous, or nearly famous who decide to practice these rituals, if only for the sake of performance, should remember that even the intoning of lines and mere participation can have consequences. Not of the dark and spooky alarmist variety, but simply that invoking your Will ritually can change you, and those around you.  What begins as fun, can turn into something else, and no one should make a decision like that lightly.

Internet auction house eBay recently released their Fall 2012 Seller Update, which, starting in September, prohibits the sale of divination services (including tarot readings), spells, tutoring services, and potions. The reason for this move, according to eBay, is to “build confidence in the marketplace for both buyers and sellers.”

“Transactions in these categories often result in issues between the buyer and seller that are difficult to resolve. To help build confidence in the marketplace for both buyers and sellers, eBay is discontinuing these categories and including the items on the list of prohibited items.”

In short, if you’re dissatisfied with the spell to give you a big butt, it’s hard to quantify if the “product” had been delivered, and what the proper expectations on booty enhancement magic is. Because of the (usually inadvertently) comical nature of many of the spells  being sold on eBay, long a source of easy snark on the Internet, sites like Mashable, The Mary SueJezebel, and even mainstream news outlets, have been having a bit of fun with the news.

“In its 2012 Fall Seller Update, the online marketplace said it was banning all sales of supernatural goods and services, exiling its witchy and wizardly clientele to the wilds of Craigslist and other Web-based Diagon Alleys.”

It should be noted before we go any further that magical items, physical objects that have an attributable value, are not banned under this change. Spokeswoman Johnna Hoff told Tiffany Hsu at the Los Angeles Times that such items would be allowed in most cases.

“It’s important to note that items that have a tangible value for the item itself and may also be used in metaphysical rites and practices (ie  jewelry, crystals, incense, candles, and books) are allowed in most cases.”

Which means most of the products in the Wicca and Paganism section of eBay are safe, at least for now. A comfort, no doubt, to the many Pagan vendors and shop-owners who supplement their income by placing items on the site. However, the banning of spellwork, and especially tarot readings, should be explored with greater depth. Pagans in the community seems somewhat split over this move by eBay, some, like Patti Wigington, About.com’s Paganism & Wicca Guide, see this as a smart move by the company.

“…this isn’t a case of religious discrimination at all – it’s a case of a business realizing that customers are being made victims of fraud by unscrupulous sellers – and putting practices in place to prevent the problem from continuing. It does not say “No Wiccans, No Pagans, No Druids.” It says no magic, spells or potions, or prayers — that’s an entirely separate thing. Personally, I’m a little sad Ebay has done this, because it means fewer things for me to make fun of, but it’s definitely a smart business decision.”

Others, meanwhile, see this a chilling move that could start a domino effect, marginalizing tarot readers and magicians from mainstream commerce sites. Some have pointed out that PayPal is owned by eBay, and a similar shift in their policies to be more in line with up-and-coming companies like Square, could have a disastrous impact on small Pagan business that rely on divination services as an important part of their income (it should be noted that Google Checkout used to ban “occult goods,” but don’t anymore). Patheos blogger Kris Bradley, while acknowledging the rationale for this new prohibition, is worried that companies like Etsy might soon follow eBay’s lead.

“I admit I’m a bit torn on the subject.  While I see the possible beginning of the end for sellers on sites like this, I won’t be sad to see the sham “spell casters” go, and the end of taking advantage of desperate people with promises of something that can’t possibly be delivered.  As I sell products of a magical variety, I definitely don’t want to lose my Etsy shop.”

As a private business, eBay, and other online retailers are free to limit what product and services they’ll allow. That said, it is troubling that managing complaints and fraud resulted in a total ban of selling divination and magical work. Recent courtroom decisions have leaned towards defining divination, tarot readings, and other psychic services as protected speech, which could have actually helped push eBay away from trying to simply regulate it on their site. After all, who wants to be the ultimate arbiter of what sorts of speech are acceptable, and which kinds are not? Being in the business of selling speech and expression will always be volatile, and it looks like eBay wanted out, the question now is what the ramifications of this move will be for Internet commerce.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Christina Oakley-Harrington

Christina Oakley-Harrington

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

For those faith traditions that incorporate magic and spellwork into their practices, Wicca, Santeria, Vodou, and any number of modern Pagan faiths, the urge to invoke supernatural help to solve a problem is sometimes overwhelming. This is especially true when an individual feels limited in what they can do in their day-to-day lives to remove an obstacle or improve their situation. That said, if you’re careless, casting spells on your boss could get you fired.

“Officer Elizabeth Torres, a 24-year department veteran, was terminated by City Manager Lyndon Bonner for conduct unbecoming of a police officer, according to a city news release. […] Torres and office manager Yvonne Rodriguez had been accused of targeting Bonner with birdseed, which they believed to be part of a Santeria practice. The two had allegedly planned to scatter the seeds in and around Bonner’s city hall office in August. The alleged plan was concocted after Bonner had planned to cut the police budget, but was discovered after Torres and Rodriguez asked a janitor to help sprinkle the seeds, and the janitor turned them in.”

Both parties involved in the spell plot claim nothing malicious was intended, but it wasn’t enough to save their jobs. So, I guess there’s something of an object lesson here. At the very least, it reinforces the need to not incriminate yourself through accomplices or risky physical manifestations of your work. If it can’t be accomplished at home, or at a private temple, it might not be worth it.

However, underneath this cautionary tale is the larger issue of how businesses, law enforcement, and government should approach spells and spellwork. What’s protected expression, and what’s harassment, or improper conduct? As religions and traditions that engage in magic increasingly enter the mainstream, a larger ethos as to what’s acceptable and what crosses the line will increasingly be needed. What if there wasn’t birdseed, what if they were merely caught after hours chanting, praying, or reading from a book? What if, as Tim Elfrink at the Miami New Times posits, they were Christians caught praying? Would that still be improper conduct? I think we’ll continue to see cases like this in the news, and working their way through the court systems. Until then, I would keep the curses at home.