Monday, October 8, 2012

The SECRETS, Man, The Secrets!

Over on his blog, Harold Roth has a post up about Secrets in Magic and Secrets in Gardening. It's quite good. He also highlights something I run into a lot and worry over, because it occasionally leads to silly flame-wars:
With magic, you can put all kinds of knowledge out there pretty much without fear of some newbie successfully cursing someone to death (this was one justification the unhappy little shit had about why magic should be kept secret–to preserve us from the depredations of newbies). The thing is that magic, like gardening, takes not only knowledge but practice. If you get a book about magic, and you read it, it does not mean that when you go to carry out the rituals described that they will work. We all know this because we’ve all experienced it. It has nothing to do with blinds or stuff being left out of a book. It has to do with skill, [which] is acquired through practice. I think that if anything, magic requires more practice than gardening does, and gardening requires quite a bit. Along these lines, years ago I read some military bigwig responding to a question about why the presence online of directions for how to build a nuclear bomb was tolerated. He said it didn’t matter if such information was openly available and that it didn’t have to be censored because it takes great skill to build a nuclear bomb. I would venture to say that the same is true for a curse. There are the directions, and then there is the skill that comes from practice. You don’t need to keep secrets in magic, because practice is the greatest fence against the stupid there is. By the time you have practiced enough to be able to cast a curse, for instance, you will have gained sufficient experience to determine whether it is appropriate to curse someone or not. That’s my way of thinking, at any rate. Likewise, I do not see the percentage in keeping your magic a secret. Practice makes perfect, not secrets, in magic as in the garden.
 Occasionally, I worry about posting things because I know there is someone out there who will ignore the frankly stupid amount of warnings I put on things, or run around being an idiot. It is only the stupid I worry about: not other magicians, who know and understand the risks implied when someone gives them some piece of magickal tech and says: go forth and blow thyself up, sir!

Over the years I've seen folks make statements about how no one reads the Grimoires that you can find in open source or  Public Domain. It's a bit like being told that you don't exist, since I spend plenty of time hunting down older Public Domain magical materials, Grimoires, etc., and use the internet as one of many places to find information. It follows, according to how I think, that such would mean other people do it, too, and that giving them these materials is great because all the actual work that goes into making them work is on the head of a given person.

The truth is that secrets, whether found in Ceremonial or Witch circles, often are oral because if they were written down in full, they would no longer be secret. This means that anything you can get your hands on, whether a curse or the recipe for a flying potion, is not a secret. But just having such a thing on hand will certainly not allow you to use it. I could totally tell you about this one time I had an 'Angel' show up and then refuse to get into a magick mirror. Except that's horribly depressing, so I'm not going to. On the other hand, I've done plenty of other rituals I count as a success, like Harold says, because I obtained the knowledge or item (in a few cases) I was seeking. I do not consider simply getting a spirit to show up an automatic 'sucess,' that only occurs when the desire expressed in the contact for an agreed to reason (favors, pacts, cleaning up your life, etc.) both come into fruition.

On the other hand, I'm still a bit leery to talk about how compulsive love rituals in the PGM that I'm aware of work because I've never done any of it. I've just read and considered a lot of them. I'm also leery about how easy or not it is to make them work. Those are things I'm just not sure about, and I'm not really sure I should provide easy to find examples unless I have a solid basis of knowledge on that matter. The most I can do is compare texts and quote some Historians...

Anyway: stop being assholes about the Secrets. If you got 'em? Power of the Sphinx and all that. If they're in a goddamn book and you're using it for the purposes of a discussion? Not. Really. A. Secret.

Also: the magickal journal fucking works. So does keeping a dream journal and working toward an understanding and ability with Lucid Dreaming.


PS. I'm still not an expert, goddamn it.
PPS. Another way magicians used to get information was by sharing with each other, apparently. Who knew?


Scott Stenwick said...

This is right on. I'll add that secrecy in magick is one of the reasons that it hasn't progressed as a discipline nearly as much as many of the other sciences have - because too many people being jerks about their "secrets" gets in the way of legitimate peer review.

A magical journal is part of that as well. Whether or not you keep ritual text in it, you need to write up accounts of your workings at the time you perform them because memory is a lot less reliable than a lot of folks think it is. It's an important part of accurately tracking successes and failures. If I ran into somebody who tried to tell me I shouldn't be doing that, I would have a hard time taking them seriously.

ozmodyar said...

Killing people with black magic curses is hard work. It's way harder than beating them with a crowbar. At least in my limited experience. Maybe it gets easier with practice? Maybe there's a "knack" to it, like throwing a spitball which isn't a secret it just takes time to develop.

I had a related conversation with a martial arts teacher who claimed to have knowledge of "the death touch" and other secret techniques. I asked him if he ever worried about teaching the wrong people his dangerous methods and his response was pretty enlightening to me at the time. "Nah, I don't worry about that. The punks will give up long before they learn any of the good stuff. It's much easier to just get a gun and pull the trigger."

I kind of wonder about love/lust magic though. It's not that I'm that eager or desperate to try them out, it's just that I keep hearing that it's not ethical, or will monkey's paw the mage/client. My inner contrarian bristles at this consensus from folks who say they've never tried it themselves. "How do we know this thing if no one even does these spells anymore? How did this become common wisdom?"

There's never enough time to do the magical experiments I'd like to do "just because".

Good interesting post Jack.