Applied Magic(k) - An Introduction

Applied Magic(k) #1

printed in Arthur Magazine - #21, March 2006

Like "art" the word "magic" can be very confusing for people. It simultaneously conjures notions of trickery, witchcraft, illusion, mysticism, fantasy, and a vast array of products, services, and popular culture references. Many of these notions evoke a dismissive response from people when they encounter the term, partly because they tend to immediately latch onto a single notion of magic they reproach - cheesy Las Vegas sideshow; dreadlocked Wiccan hippy; Dungeons & Dragons wannabe; Satanic drug fiend; pet psychic; reality escapist; and so forth. Of course, by conjuring such characters as Gandalf, Harry Potter, Sabrina, and John Edwards, popular media does its best to fantasize, infantalize, and capitalize on our collective desires for more than another sequel to "Life as We're Told It Is". The Center for Tactical Magic does not exclusively align itself with any one interpretation of "magic", in part, because the vastness of the interpretations of "magic" is what gives magic its power in the world of meaning. Therefore this column is likely to exploit many of your preconceptions of magic(k) in an effort to dislodge your comfortable sensibilities.

In nearly all of the permutations of magic(k), the conventions of presenting information are completely fucked with. A stage magic trick is a good example on many levels. For starters, a magician often uses "patter" or a story to provide a context for the audience's experience of the illusion. >>"Ladies and Gents, as a special treat for you tonight, I'm going to make the president disappear. Now before anyone gets too excited, it's an already dead president - Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill - our racist, Indian-killer president."<< In the patter, the magician may or may not lie, but the intention is always to manipulate the audience's perceptions. This is done easily enough because the information presented in the form of patter appears to coincide with the visual information presented through the magician's movements and use of props. (Andrew Jackson does appear on the twenty dollar bill; however, historians debate whether or not he killed more Native Americans then some of our other racist presidents. And the $20 in the magician's hands will disappear… from view, but not likely from material existence since s/he needs it for rent). And of course, the magician's movements are deceptively "natural" in appearance: a well-placed cough or a hand on the hip doesn't generally attract attention. Similarly, the props are shown to be beyond suspicion: an audience member inspects the bill; the magician's clothing looks normal enough; the hands are shown to be empty; etc. If performed successfully, a good magic trick will have a convincing effect largely because the magician has presented several forms of discordant information in a harmonious manner. The verbal info, the body language, the sequence of events, and the overall physical appearance conform to the audience's expectations of normalcy (i.e. the magician used a hidden gimmick to ditch the bill half way through the performance, yet kept a closed hand in plain view while continuing to discuss the merits of vanishing racist presidents). When the magician finally opens the fist to reveal not a twenty but a handful of pretzels the audience will attempt to bridge the gap between what they believe they have witnessed and what they formerly believed was possible.

In the Western traditions of ritual magic(k) and occult practices there is often a "lust for results" that demands linearity in the form of cause-and-effect. In such cases, practitioners become ill-at-ease when they summon a demon to defeat racist presidents and no one shows up to take the job. Nearly every other expression of magic across the globe regards the magical act as a liminal space that appears during the performance. This is a zone of transformation; a place where the rules of everyday life are suspended and alternative realities can trickle in. In some cases, a shaman will perform a conjuring trick as a way of illustrating the zone of transformation. Thus, it is not the "trick" which is magic, but the performance/perception. The tricks are part of a performance that leads the audience to a mental state where the real magic can take place. Thus the shift occurs in the perception of the audience rather than in the hands of the shaman. The best magicians also recognize this dynamic among their own audiences and perform accordingly by designing and performing illusions and/or rituals that are relevant to people's lives: Houdini emphasized self-liberation from the constraints of everyday life, such as prisons, handcuffs, safes, ropes, and packing crates. Likewise, Cagliostro defied the strict 18th Century norms of society by allowing both men and women, aristocracy and commoners, to join a vast European network of Egyptian Masonry and partake in rites not likely described as modest even by today's standards.

One goal of the following exercises is to create this meaningful shift in consciousness; to locate and inhabit this secret pocket. The shift may be immediate or in the form of a mental time-bomb. You can treat these magic exercises as experiments, interventions and alternative forms of entertainment. Have fun & good luck, and please let us know how it was for you by emailing to:


1) Plant three seeds of a vegetable plant of your choosing. Label each container respectively: positive, negative & control. Provide each plant with equal amounts of water, soil, and sun. Dedicate at least 6 minutes of each day (3 minutes per plant - positive & negative only) on focusing positive & negative thoughts. Record your results and enjoy the fruits (vegetables) of your labor.

*This is an exercise in developing your telepathic abilities, exploring modes of unregulated communication, collaborating with non-humans, and bringing your thoughts and desires to fruition.

2) Write your own survey to elicit responses from other members of the general public. You may decide to pose questions, ask opinions, or provoke thought. [MAYBE SOME EXAMPLES OF ONES THAT HAVE WORKED FOR YOU?] Then, conduct the survey for at least 3 hours in a public space of your choosing, or until the "authorities" inform you that you are trespassing on public property.

*This is an exercise in activating public space, determining the limits of public space, and generating a non-commercial exchange of ideas among strangers. Most people are happy to express their opinions when asked, especially when they are informed that their participation does not involve a sales pitch, future mailings, religious conversion or product development.

3) Get a rope (at least 30ft) and a friend (or a friendly stranger). Take turns tying each other up and escaping.

*This is an exercise that explores restriction, control, and self-liberation. You'll be amazed to find how easily one can liberate oneself!

4) Get a group of friends together at night and find a public space to beautify as you see fit. Consider the site beforehand and plan your action thoroughly (but don't bring along any evidence of your conspiring). Your materials should not be cumbersome, or they should be well-disguised. While some friends are in the act of beautifying, others should be posted on the lookout for "authorities" since they might not have the same sense of aesthetic appreciation as you and your friends. (If they don't like it, they can make their own art!) If you decide to document your actions, it's best to do it at a later time, and be sure that none of your friends' faces are visible.

*This is an exercise in collaborative acts of meditation, willful engagement, and material transformation. You can do this in the daytime too, but nocturnal operations tend to be more mirthful and help induce perceptual shifts (both spatially and experientially).

5) Create a disguise for yourself that allows you to navigate everyday life without drawing much attention. This should be different from your normal attire. Spend the day in disguise performing leisurely or mildly adventuresome activities. Possibilities include:

a) Choose someone at random and follow them from a distance for at least fifteen minutes. Then follow someone else. When you grow tired of following people, find someone who looks lost and try leading them to their destination.

b) Visit a factory or place of industry and ask for a tour. Ask lots of provocative questions, and then ask for a job. Tell them you can't do much, but you're interested in something at the executive level.

c) Go to at least three different places of worship. Check out the interior design. Explore a little. If someone is in attendance, strike up a conversation about the "afterlife" or "special religious foods."

d) Go to a bank with your video camera and begin recording the bank interior. When the security guard or branch manager stops you and asks what you think you're doing, explain that you're trying to determine how many security cameras they have installed. If they ask "why?" tell them you're "just doing research" or "conducting a survey of banks" or "interested in security." Then say, "If you really want to be helpful, you can just tell me how many cameras you have and save me and the boys' the trouble of watching this recording later and trying to count 'em all."

*This is an exercise in shape shifting, personal transformation, and casting illusions, as well as observing how "authorities" respond to subtle challenges beyond the status quo. The disguise will help empower you to act "out of character;" besides, if you can't change yourself how do you expect to change the reality around you?