Friday, July 8, 2022

Magicians Are Not Criminals

One of the most disturbing events in the recent history of esotericism was the so-called "Satanic Panic" of the late 1980's and early 1990's. Back in 2015 I covered a bizarre law enforcement training video from the period that associated nonsense like graffiti pentagrams (that is, stars) with serious criminal activity. The period was a disaster for anybody who had even a passing interest in the occult and caught the eye of investigators. As just one prominent example, in the HBO documentary series Paradise Lost you can see courtroom footage of Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three being convicted of murder on the basis of merely having an interest in Aleister Crowley.

DNA evidence eventually showed that the murder committed by someone else entirely, but the West Memphis Three nonetheless spent eighteen years in prison - all because of the idea that people who use magick are criminals, so evidence of interest in magick is evidence of a crime. And that brings me to today's story out of Phoenix, Arizona. A new initiative is underway to help law enforcement identify occult practices employed by Mexican drug cartels. While it is true that cartels use magick, this quote from the article makes me nervous.

"They use prayer, icons or candles as a tool to facilitate criminal activity such as for drugs, human smuggling and weapons," Almonte tells the Tribune. "Officers frequently run into these icons and items of their spiritual underworld and they don't know what they're dealing with. We want to make officers aware of these indicators of criminal activity so they can know what to look for that also can lead to other avenues in an investigation."

The Tribune notes that as recently as last month, Mexican drug cartel violence was found in the Valley when a 38-year-old illegal immigrant was found beheaded in his Chandler apartment after stealing 400 pounds of marijuana from a drug cartel. Candles and a Ouija board were reportedly found at the scene, which -- along with the beheading -- Almonte says is "just another day at the office."

The problem here is not that cartels don't really make use of occult practices - it has been thoroughly documented that they absolutely do. The problem is treating anyone who has items related to esotericism as a criminal. Magical items are not "indicators of criminal activity." They are elements of spiritual and religious practice and need to be treated as such in the eyes of the law. If police searched my home, they would find more magical paraphernalia than you can shake a stick at. Does that make me a cartel member? Of course it doesn't, any more than somebody who spray-paints a pentagram on a tree is engaged in human sacrifices.

As for the murder mentioned in the article - there are quite a few ordinary suburban homes all over the country where you could find a Parker Brothers ouija board along with some candles. There really isn't anything all that "occult" about such items, horror movies notwithstanding. They're pretty ordinary, all things considered. It does make a difference if we're talking explicit spell candles, but otherwise it's not clear that the candles indicate anything at all. I don't think I know anybody who doesn't have a least a few in their house, magical practitioners or not.

And granted, I could be overreacting to this a bit. The problem is that crazy evangelical Christians have, among other things, been emboldened by a reactionary Supreme Court that appears to share their views. And those views are that anyone who doesn't follow their brand of Christianity is evil, magical practitioners doubly so. They would like nothing more than to ban anything related to occultism, including practices that are part and parcel of many people's spiritual beliefs, and the Supreme Court seems unlikely at this point to recognize religious freedom protections for anyone but Christians.

In fact, if circumstances were different on the court, I can easily see this situation devolve into flat-out religious persecution. Candles bearing images of saints, angels, and so forth are common in Roman Catholic homes. But because such candles can be used in the context of occult practices, law enforcement could argue that the mere presence of them constitutes probable cause for searching the homes of many Roman Catholics. This should be a clear violation of religious liberties, but it also is true that the crazy evangelical Christians don't like Roman Catholics very much either.

Now that particular scenario is not going to happen because Justices Thomas, Kavanaugh, Alito, Roberts, Barrett, and Sotomayor - a majority of the Court - are all Roman Catholics, but the point still stands. It should be no different for any non-Christian minority religion, including religions that make use of esoteric and/or occult practices. We have the right to be free from law enforcement harassment on the basis of our beliefs just like everyone else.

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Alex Scaraoschi said...

This reminded me of that scene in Braking Bad where the twins gave their car and other possessions away and crawled up to a shrine of... I think it was Santa Muerte. And they lit some candles and placed a photo of Walter on the altar (probably asking for success in their assassination mission). I found it funny they received a call to step back just as they were awaiting for him to step out of the shower, one of them holding an axe.

Alex Scaraoschi said...

Here's the scene although I think they donated their car and stuff afterwards although I can't remember well

Scott Stenwick said...

Like I said in the article, it is absolutely true that drug cartels make use of magical practices, like what the Breaking Bad scene was trying to depict (I'm not familiar enough with Santa Muerte practices to say whether or not the show got it right). So I am in no way contending that no magicians are ever criminals. Rather, my point is that law enforcement assuming magical practice automatically means criminality is a big problem.

Alex Scaraoschi said...

Yea that's totally stupid! :))

HalcAre said...

With the recent political backsliding in line with fundamentalist values, I think it's reasonable to be concerned about the potential for police suppression. I was reading an old Jason S. Black book from the 80's and it mentioned how Santeria and ATR communities had to take their practices underground to blend in with society and avoid police harassment at the behest of uncomfortable... well, Karens.
"The world is not so forgiving that all may lay their souls bare."

Anywho, I had a question about Liber 777's dual attributions for 31 and 32. When making a ritual or talisman, do I use both or just the aspect I'm trying to utilise, and can I mix them up? I have an old onyx pendant I was going to make into an earth talisman, but onyx is more in line with the Saturn aspect of the path, 32bis uses salt. Only other idea I had was to dip it into salt water but that's not very well thought out.

Scott Stenwick said...

Generally you just use the aspect you are working with, Saturn or Earth. That's the point of tuning the space to a specific aspect, so your will can act in single-pointed manner.

I would think that onyx could work for Earth. There is some overlap in symbolism between Earth and Saturn, so I expect that the form you use would determine how it works.

If you are going to dip it in salt water, do it before you enchant it. Salt water has a way of depowering talismans - in fact, it's one of the things you can use to shut down a talisman that you no longer need.