Magic(k) - An Introduction
Magazine - #21, March 2006
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.
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
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.
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
IN MAGICAL THINKING, ANALYZING POWER, AND ACTIVATING HIDDEN
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
an exercise in developing your telepathic abilities, exploring
modes of unregulated communication, collaborating with non-humans,
and bringing your thoughts and desires to fruition.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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
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
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
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?