Thursday, April 12, 2018

Is Magick Dangerous?

This is one of those questions that gets asked over and over again on magick forums. I touched on this a little last week, but I figured that having a specific post to point people to would be helpful.

Before I really get going, I should point out that the answer to this question depends entirely on context. If you are asking "Does magick contain an element of risk?" the answer is of course yes, but that's true for all kinds of things that we do every day. Walking down a flight of stairs contains an element of risk because you can fall. It doesn't happen very often, but the risk is always there. And driving a car is more dangerous than the vast majority of activities we engage in on a regular basis.

So the real question should be something more like "How dangerous is magick, and what are the dangers associated with it?" A lot of people online still seem to believe that practicing magick can cause mental illness, which is basically nonsense. Most mental illnesses aren't caused by behavior or environment to begin with. If you have a pre-existing mental illness, anything that increases your stress might trigger an episode, but that's probably more likely to come from, say, job stress than from spiritual practices of whatever sort.

The reason this idea persists is that in the American population, about one person in four has a mental illness and about one person in thirty or so has a serious mental illness like bipolar I and schizophrenia. These mental illnesses can come and go, so if you happen to meet somebody in the occult community who seems fine and then a while later has an episode of mental illness, it's easy to conclude that "the magick did it!" When really, what you're seeing is just the natural cycle of an underlying condition.


It is possible to curse somebody with mental illness, but just like working with other chronic conditions genetics usually wins out. A curse like that will last maybe a week or two if it works at all, and if you're casting it at somebody who's not mentally ill to begin with it may not even last that long. It certainly won't be that severe. And no, if you cast it right you won't get any "blowback" or "threefold law" nonsense. That just comes from sloppy casting.

Blowback is another danger commonly cited online. It is a real danger, but relatively easy to remedy. There recently was another big argument over "invocation" versus "evocation" online, which keeps coming up because even though the two words mean the same thing in English, the Golden Dawn tradition and my Thelemic tradition make a distinction - as a matter of technical, tradition-specific terminology. Within those traditions (and to be clear, only within those traditions - for other systems the distinction is meaningless) invocation means to call a spirit or magical force into your sphere of awareness, and evocation means to call a spirit or magical force into a containment structure.

Using a containment structure like the Trithemian Table of Art, Goetic Triangle, or Sigillum Dei Aemeth from Enochian magick is the key to casting without blowback. Think of it this way - casting a spell without it, you form in your sphere of consciousness the negative intent that you want to inflict on the target. Then, you connect to their sphere of consciousness and "throw" the effect. But the problem is that any connection between fields of consciousness runs both ways, so you can get "hit" by a portion of what you just "threw."

It doesn't bounce back three times - that's just superstition. Usually you get hit by a fraction of the effect, but it can still have real consequences for you. Also, it is possible for solid magical defenses to reflect curses back, in which case you can hit by the full effect while the target escapes harm. And if you and your target both have strong magical defenses, the curse can keep bouncing back and forth, getting a little weaker each time, until it finally peters out without doing anything.

That means "invocation" - in the Thelemic/GD sense - is a bad way to cast spells on other people. Even with a healing spell, the magick is going to be diluted a bit if it hits both you and the target. A lot of healers work this way regardless, since after all, nobody minds healing energy sticking around, but you will get the best results if you can isolate the spell so that all of its power is directed at the target. This is where "evocation" - again, in the Thelemic/GD sense - comes in. Not only will the structure help to concentrate the manifestation of the spirit or force and give it structure, it also will shield you from "rebounds" of any sort.

When casting with a containment structure, it works like this. You place a magical link to your target like a photograph inside the containment structure along with the sigil of the spirit or force that you are conjuring. Your field of consciousness connects to the "pocket universe" you create within the structure. That universe is linked to your target, but there is no direct connection between you and them since the structure acts like a buffer. You conjure the spirit or force into the structure, charge it to act on the target, and you're good to go - no blowback.

So far, this all sounds pretty good. Magick won't make you mentally ill (unless you already are), and spells you cast won't rebound three or any other number of times as long as you use that containment structure. But now we get to the biggest real risk involved in magick - the "monkey's paw" effect. It's named for a famous short story where a man acquires a magical monkey's paw that grants wishes, but those wishes manifest in entirely undesirable ways. This is unfortunately common in magick, not usually because spirits are out to deliberately mess with you, but because they will usually try to do the least amount of work necessary to fulfill your charge.

You always need to think through your charge very carefully, and evaluate the most likely means by which it can come to pass. Unless you rule that path of manifestation out, that's probably what you will get. Cast a spell to get a sum of money "by any means necessary," and you could find yourself in a bad car accident or suffering a household calamity that gives you an insurance payout. So you get the money, but not the way you wanted. There's a fix for this too, and I suggest you always use it just in case.

The trick here is to break your charge into two parts - and injunction and a limitation. As I discuss in my books, the injunction is what you want the spirit or force to do and the limitation is what you don't want it to do. So for example:

Injunction: Bring me a million dollars...
Limitation: ...without causing damage to my property or injury to any of my loved ones.

That rules out most of the "easier" paths to manifestation like insurance payouts. You could also specify money that you can freely spend, to rule out things like finding a bunch of cash from a robbery where you get arrested the moment you try to use any of it. Just keep in mind that the magick is going to make the injunction happen by the smallest probability shift possible that violates none of the terms of the limitation. Make sure those are clear.

You should also keep in mind that if you do a spell wrong, it is very unlikely to "blow up" in your face and produce some random, negative event. That's a horror movie plotline, not reality. Generally speaking, when you don't do a spell right absolutely nothing happens. Sometimes nothing happens when you do them right, too, but you should at least see a probability shift in the direction of your intent over time. Don't avoid magick because you're afraid of messing up a spell - all that's going to happen is that you will have wasted your time doing it, and you'll be disappointed when it fails. That's it.

A final possible danger associated with magick is karma. I don't mean karma the way the New Agers use it, but rather how it is taught in Buddhism. The universe is fundamentally morally neutral. Morals and ethics are mostly human concepts. So the idea that "I yelled at an old lady crossing the road, so my bad karma kept my car from starting this morning" is just a bunch of superstition. Since the universe has no scale for "good" and "evil" actions, nobody is sitting up there in the sky tallying up your virtues and vices to see if you should be lucky or unlucky on a given day.

Karma in Buddhism is just the law of cause and effect - and that's it. It applies the way a lot of people colloquially use it in social situations, because when you treat the people around you badly they generally start to return that treatment and eventually will want nothing to do with you. Treating the people around you with respect yields better results. The same is true of spirits. If you come at them with aggression and threats, they're going to see you as an enemy, and some of the more powerful ones can mess with you outside the circle if they feel so inclined.

Where it doesn't apply in the real world, though, is beyond the direct effect of your actions. Let's say that you cast a curse on a particular person and they die. The karma resulting from that action is that their loved ones will likely be devastated, and that they will no longer be alive in the world. If you don't know any of their loved ones, the first is unlikely to affect you, but if you are part of the same community it can. And if you run into a situation that said person could really have helped you out with, but they can't because they're gone, that's the karma that you face.

In my opinion, if you are going to curse people at all you need to be smart about it. A curse that just makes somebody suffer is stupid. Why aren't you using that magick to improve your own life rather than tear somebody else's down? On the other hand, if somebody is out there continually causing harm - like, say, a serial killer - cursing to stop them from doing what they're doing is probably entirely reasonable. What you need to do is weigh the harm that will be caused by stopping them against the harm they are causing by going on the way they are going. I recommend that you always meditate on this and think it over carefully before deciding to cast a curse on anyone.

It is generally a better use of magick to improve your own circumstances than to waste what power you have on harm and revenge. Protection, sure - if somebody attacks you, always hit back and hit back hard. But you really should do your best to concentrate on your own work and aligning your life with your will as best you can. You're going to be happier in the long run, and a lot more successful overall.

So how dangerous is magick? It really depends. If you use containment structures and limitations properly, and treat the spirits with respect, it may still be a little more dangerous than walking down those stairs - but it's a lot safer than driving a car. It certainly is not something to shy away from based on little more than apocryphal scare stories.

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2 comments:

Alex Scaraoschi said...

I'm pretty sure you explained this somewhere, but I'm not able to find it right now.

If someone were to cast a spell with a spirit on a target, and the next day they would cast the same spell with the same spirit in another target, would the power of each spell be diminished? Quick example, death curse - Day 1, kill A, and Day 2, kill B. I think not, because it's two different targets.

Scott Stenwick said...

With external anchoring talismans, that will definitely work. Each talisman acts like its own instance and should receive the full power of the spirit. If you don't use anchors, you still have the issue of both spells being anchored to you and that can reduce their overall effectiveness.