In response to my complaints about the Rumpelstiltskin meme from Once Upon A Time and such, Taylor Elwood has added a few additional comments that I quite liked:
“But I think that Jack, and others miss perhaps a more subtle message that is implicit in that statement of magic coming at a price. It’s a negative message, a negative belief about magic and what it costs. If you watch Once Upon a Time, magic is treated as this corrupting force, this power that can’t really be controlled, which makes the people who practice it become complete asses to everyone. I don’t buy it, don’t really agree with it, but I see it as an example of mainstream culture using pop culture to comment on magic, to paint it in a very specific light (ironically in the process just making it more attractive). All magic comes with a price…and that price is the sacrifice of your child or something else you don’t want to give, but that you’ll willingly give for something you prize more. when magic is looked at that way it becomes both something tragic and malicious…pity the magician who has fallen sway to the forces of darkness, while recognizing all over again that magic is something a person shouldn’t dabble in.”
He is correct that the treatment of such subject matter is pretty common in America. He is also correct that the source of the show – Disney – is a pretty common proponent of such ideas. This fact doesn't really bother me; except when it influences younger magicians or (perish the thought!) older Pagans and magicians who really ought to know better. With a few notable exceptions, the treatment of magic in entertainment normally comes with the subtle suggestion that to perform such acts is at least dishonorable, if not outright evil.
As someone who views magickal acts as morally neutral in most cases (“intent” is only part of it; you can easily fuck things up for someone else while “intending” to help them), I very much try my best to simply ignore such cultural suggestions and baggage. But I am nonetheless aware of it.
On the other hand, earlier today I was browsing a Chaos Magick forum and saw someone asking what the 'going rate' for 'souls' was. I assume the individual was being sarcastic, but I've actually met a few other Chaotes over the years that really believed you could 'sell' your soul. And despite having been young enough and pissed off enough to consider doing so, I've yet to meet a daimon interested in 'purchasing' my soul. Rather, the trope of 'selling one's soul' seems to be a corruption of the medieval 'pact.' The pact was a formal alliance; an agreement between the spirit (daimon) and the magician to either look out for each other over a length of time, or perform actions on behalf of one another to bring about a specific event (wealth, love, Gnosis, etc). A notable change occurred during the production of the 'Faust' tales I – knowingly and with humor – take my magical pseudonym from. A big part of the joke for me is that you can't sell your soul, but you can certainly be easily beguiled and mislead (either due to your own errors in judgment, or by a tricksy spirit). The latter part is something I consider actually instructive in plays and stories revolving around such tropes. Should you actually find love or something like that? Don't let either Mephistopheles or your fears push you into abandoning it. The pact, meanwhile, remains a possible action today as it did in the past, however, and magicians the world over still practice it.
As a final comment: that meme isn't heavily circulated on occult and pagan blogs; but it makes the rounds on Facebook and forums, which was where I first began seeing it. VVF had actually brought it to my attention, and shortly thereafter I saw a dozen examples of it from various folks, and mostly boggled over seeing it so much. Since complaining about it, I actually haven't seen it again.