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Yes, Magick Works. But Did THAT Magick Work?

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on October 30, 2012 | Comments (12)

There are magicians and there are those who play at magick…

I was once participating on an internet forum discussing chaos magick. One person posted that the great thing about magick [meaning chaos magick] is that you didn’t have to accomplish anything, you could just do it. I asked why go to all the bother of doing magick if you didn’t accomplish anything? I also pointed out that one of the earliest names of what is now called chaos magick was “results magick,” indicating that obtaining results through magick was the purpose of doing the magick.

He didn’t respond for a few days. I imagine several of his friends PMed him about this. Eventually, he posted that I “just didn’t get it” and refused to respond to anything I posted. I can live with that.

The Formula of Magick

An outline of how magick works is actually rather simple:

Magician does A

In this description, “A” could be a ritual, a spell, mental magick, etc.

A is the direct cause of B

In this part of the magickal formula, “B” is something that is either not known or certainly not agreed upon. In the past, “B” has included the inherent natural powers of herbs, stones and natural forces such as the wind, rain, or lightning; the actions of deities, spirits, ghosts, and demons; magickal “energy,” including what Wilhelm Reich called Orgone, etc.

B is the direct cause of C

In this instance, “C” is the goal of “A.”

Therefore, a formula that describes magick is:

If and only if A then B.
If and only if B then C.
or
A –>B –>C

Note that to be able to tell whether your magick works, by this formula, you have to show that A is the only cause of B, and B is the only cause of C. The problem, as indicated above, is that the concept of the nature of B has changed over time and there is currently disagreement as to the very nature of B. If we don’t agree as to what B is, there is no way to prove that A caused it or that it caused C.

As readers of this blog know, I contend that magick, in part, is a science. The challenge to proving that any particular act of magick worked is showing that your magickal act caused something that resulted in achieving the desired goal. Considering the challenges of determining the nature of B, the ability to prove a single, particular act of magick was the specific cause that achieved a goal is minimal.

So why do I contend that magick works if any specific act cannot be proven to be caused by magick? As I have stated before, the methodology for proving magick works is repetition.

With repetition you don’t need to explain how B works. Instead, you show that if A then C repeatedly over time. Some doubters will say, “But that’s just anecdotal evidence. It’s not scientific proof.” I would respectfully disagree. The repetition of experimentation is a basis of modern science. In other words, if you do magick enough times and get the desired results, it’s fair to assume that the magick works. This is especially true when you can then accurately predict the results of the magick. That is, you predict that if you do ritual A then C will occur. You then do A and C comes to pass. Others then do A and C happens for them. This is science.

I know that every time I look through a magnifying glass (A), things look larger (C). No, I don’t know the laws of optics (B), I just know that it works.

Fly in the Ointment

Unfortunately, some people use the A –>B –>C description (consciously or unconscious) to misrepresent the very nature of magick. This misrepresentation is based on the logical fallacy that merely because event Y follows event X it is fair to assume that X caused Y. There’s even a Latin phrase for this fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc or “after this therefore because of this.” The problem, the proverbial fly in the ointment, is that without being able to show direct causation, Y coming after X does not prove that X, your magick, caused Y. Just because you did the ritual and achieved the magickal goal does not prove that the ritual caused the magickal goal.

Repetition and the ability to make predictions
(do this magick to get a certain result)
give evidence that your magick is effective.
If you do something one time
it ranges from challenging to virtually impossible
to prove that your magick,
and only your magick,
was the direct cause.

Magick to Help

So if you can’t prove that a specific act of magick will achieve something,
why do it?

Beyond experimentation and repetition establishing that magick does work, there are several reasons people do this. First, it’s to provide a personal sense of power and control in situations where you feel you are powerless. An example of this would be looking in a book of spells and then doing a healing ritual for a friend who is extremely ill or injured. We just have to “do something!” to give a sense of accomplishment and power to our lives. Many times, in our world, we find ourselves in positions where we lack power, not just over others, but over ourselves. Doing magick helps us acquire the feeling of power to cause change. Sometimes, we just need that feeling.

A second reason is that even if you cannot prove your magick, in a specific instance, was effective, you also cannot prove your magick was not effective (sorry for the double negative). So on the chance that some magick might be effective, go ahead and do it.

The Dark Side of Groups

In Modern Magick, and in earlier works (The Truth About Psychic Powers, How to Avoid Psychic Fraud), I discussed the benefits and challenges of being a member of magickal groups, covens, orders, etc. There are lots of potential benefits, including learning from people with more experience and working with more magickal energy than one person can easily generate. Working magick with people in groups can be a wonderful experience.

Unfortunately, there are also challenges to working with groups, a real dark side. Sometimes, cliques develop and manipulate people to be in with them or just be outsiders. Sometimes, the leaders of such groups are more interested in personal power and control over others. They may not even be aware of the way they are turning their group into a personality cult.

Or maybe they are.

In these instances, calling people together to perform magick can be used to help the group become more of a cult and establish an “us vs. them” mentality. A form of this, known as shunning, is practiced by certain religious groups. Although not a formal magickal ritual, it does follow a set of procedures (i.e., rituals) to perform when contact is made with an “undesirable” person. The goal of this is to assure that members think of themselves as special (part of the in-group and not shunned), that like robots they will obey the leader(s), and that they won’t hear anything from individuals who might give a message that doesn’t agree with the leader(s). Shunning separates the person who doesn’t follow the rules from those who do, but more importantly, it encourages followers to stay in line with whatever the leader(s) say(s). It’s the action of a cult and cult leaders.

Several years ago, a woman I knew received an evening call from her group’s leader who invited her to a “shamanic adventure” with other “advanced members” that night. She was exhausted from her day’s work and turned it down. The next day she told me she heard that the people had an amazing and mystical time and she was disappointed she missed it. She said from that time on she was going to do whatever the group leader said. She wasn’t even going to think about it, she was just going to do it. To me, this was the sign that the group she was in was clearly a cult.

Getting members of a group to do something without thinking about it is a traditional method of cult leaders establishing control over a group. This becomes easier when the task seems good, but if you think about it, can be seen as questionable. Most cult leaders don’t want you to think about it. Just obey as the woman above was going to do. And that brings me back to Wilhelm Reich, who I mentioned above, and why he was not a cult leader.

The Cloudbuster

Wilhelm Reich Next to His Cloudbuster

Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957) was a psychiatrist who believed he had discovered the energy behind all life. He called this energy Orgone. He created a device he called a “cloudbuster” that he believed would harness this energy and shoot it into the sky at clouds. He predicted this would result in the creation of rain.

In 1953, some Maine farmers hired him to produce rain to save their blueberry crops. He used it in the morning, and in the afternoon it rained. The farmers paid him for his work.

So why do so few people know about the cloudbuster? It comes down to the magickal formula If A then B then C, where B is not fully known. Reich and his assistants believed they knew how the cloudbuster worked, but not what extraneous and unwanted results it might cause. Could it be reducing rain from other areas? Could it cause a flood? Could some people be harmed, personally or financially, and sue him because of it?

They didn’t know the full extent of B, and to prevent problems, they stopped using the cloudbuster to cause rain.

The Best Laid Plans…

And that is one of the biggest challenges of working magick, even for a good purpose, without being able to fully understand and control B. It’s why I suggest doing a divination before performing magick that will affect the physical plane.

For example, we have just had a serious “Frankenstorm” strike the U.S. Northeast. Let’s say you wanted to do magick to lessen its impact or turn it away from the coast. This sounds wonderful and positive. But is it? Without an accurate divination, you can’t know.

Let’s say you’re Joe Amazing and you call on your personality cult to do magick to affect the storm. In fact, let’s even assume that you have some success. The cult members will cheer, but they forget one thing:

In order to claim any success, you have to be responsible for all the results.

Let’s look at one of the possibilities. It’s possible (but unlikely) that the storm would have turned away from the coast on its own. Your magick might have actually prevented its natural movement. Even if there were less damage from the storm than you imagined might have occurred, it might have actually done more damage than if you had done no magick or worked your magick differently. In practical terms, the thoughtless (but seemingly caring) magickal actions of the cult have at least some responsibility for the billions in damages, the lost homes and businesses, and the deaths of over 100 people. This would be especially true if Joe Amazing proclaimed that in this particular instance, your group’s magick worked.

So why would people make wild claims while not accepting the responsibility for their action? To build organizations into cults. In an earlier post I described this. If you are not a member of the group, if you dare to think differently than the group, you are “The Enemy.” As I wrote in that previous post, quoting Dantalion Jones:

“You must fight with your obedience to [the cult's] Doctrine. Only through Doctrine can you purge The Enemy.”

And what is this doctrine? It’s “whatever the Leader wishes to put forth…”

What You Can Do

  1. When the leader of a group tells you to do something, ask why?
  2. Think for yourself. Question authority.
  3. Just because something sounds like it could be good, doesn’t mean it will end up good.
    Do a divination before taking action.
  4. If the leader claims the group had success in magick, does he also acknowledge responsibility for any negative results of that magick?
  5. Magick to help others is a worthy and positive activity. However, magick takes place 24/7 even when you’re not consciously performing a ritual. Are your actions, in effect, countering the magick of your ritual? For example, if the leader of your group urges you to do magick to help people during a disaster, are you also urged to do something such as volunteer to provide physical assistance or give money to organizations that provide assistance? If not it’s just a cult activity to gain more power for the leader while you feel good about yourself…for nothing.

So should we not do magick because of unseen negative potential? Just the opposite is true! An important aspect of real magick is personal responsibility for your actions. The American frontiersman and congressman Davy Crockett had a motto: Be sure you’re right, then go ahead. Likewise, before doing magick, make sure you’re right.

Then go ahead.

[You can make donations to the Red Cross to help the victims of the "Frankenstorm" Sandy through iTunes, on the Red Cross' website (www.redcross.org) or you can even text REDCROSS to 90999. This will add a one-time addition to your phone bill of $10.00, a donation that will go to the Red Cross. At this time the Red Cross does not need donations of food, blankets, or clothes, they need money and blood. Please contact the Red Cross to find a local blood bank where you can make a donation.]

Reader Comments

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#1 
Written By Los
on November 3rd, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

DMK writes: “any specific act cannot be proven to be caused by magick.”

This is quite correct. Any supposed “results” from a particular ritual/spell are utterly indistinguishable from regular, mundane happenstance or coincidence.

DMK then writes: “The repetition of experimentation is a basis of modern science. In other words, if you do magick enough times and get the desired results, it’s fair to assume that the magick works.”

This is not correct. You’re drawing a false equivalency between two very different kinds of repetition. The scientific method is talking about repeating identical experiments and obtaining the same precise results in controlled conditions. You’re talking about the everyday experience of wanting stuff and then getting stuff (all different wants, different stuff, and different circumstances).

Look, I don’t do any magick for “results,” and I (every day) want stuff and then get stuff. Everyone I know routinely wants stuff and then gets stuff (and none of them does magick for “results”). There would be no detectable difference if we started expressing some of those wants as rituals/spells.

That’s the problem here: everyone – every day – wants stuff and then gets stuff. We “repeat” that all the time. Simply codifying some of those wants as rituals/spells does nothing to demonstrate that the rituals/spells “work” in the sense of causing anything to happen that wouldn’t have happened anyway.

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#2 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on November 3rd, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

Respectfully, LOS, you have jumped to wild and false conclusions. Both I, and I believe many of the readers of this blog, are fully aware of the scientific method. Your assumption that we do not know that, or was referring to something else do to my supposed lack of knowledge, is quite demeaning to me and to my readers.

Further, you then go on to mistake your own anecdotal evidence of of personal inability and apparent unwillingness to follow the scientific method to achieve results and falsely expand upon that through the generalization that your personal experience must apply to all. The fallacy that your specific personal experience applies to all is not logical, scientific, or valid.

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#3 
Written By Los
on November 3rd, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

DMK writes: “you then go on to mistake your own anecdotal evidence of of personal inability”

I think you’ve misunderstood. I was saying that I – like everyone else – routinely want stuff and then get that stuff. I want a new car, and then I eventually get it. I want to find a new place to live, and I eventually do and move there. I want it to be sunny after it’s been raining for a few days, and it eventually is. Etc., etc. Often, I get those things very shortly after wanting them. No rituals or spells – just wanting stuff and then getting it.

These aren’t experiences confined to me. Every single person experiences wanting stuff and then getting stuff. That some people articulate those wants as rituals/spells – and then get the stuff they wanted – doesn’t demonstrate at all that the rituals/spells are *causing* them to get what they want, even if they *repeatedly* get the stuff they do rituals for (because, as I just pointed out, it’s extremely common to want stuff and then get stuff, entirely without magick).

The last time we had a discussion, I asked you how one can distinguish between a ritual that works and a ritual that *seems* to work (but actually does not and whose “result” is actually simple happenstance). It now appears that you concede that it is impossible to demonstrate that a particular “result” was caused by a ritual/spell. Very well. So this time, I ask you: how can one distinguish between someone who’s repeatedly getting stuff he wants because of rituals and someone who *seems* to be getting stuff he wants because of rituals (but actually is not, because it’s very common to want stuff and then get it entirely without magick)?

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#4 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on November 5th, 2012 @ 11:21 am

LOS, you say you want things, eventually get them, and that because one follows the other does not mean that the former causes the latter. This is a repetition of exactly my point when I described the post hoc ergo propter hoc problem in my original post.

I have consistently pointed this out. I have taught about this in public for well over a decade. This, however, is something that you do not want to see or acknowledge. Instead, you somehow construe this to mean I have conceded something. In reality, your comment reveals more about your apparent need to function as an arbiter of what you will allow others to believe than about anything magickal. This is similar to the way fundamentalist religionists insist that people believe exactly as they do.

Further, in this comment you show that you will not be personally responsible for your statements and instead, without any sort of scientific evidence to support it, make claim that your experience is the same as that of “every single person.” Really? When did you precisely interview “every single person?” I don’t know anyone who was interviewed by you. This, too, is like the religious fundamentalist who is unwilling to take personal responsibility for his or her positions with sayings such as “I didn’t say it. I’m just repeating what God said.” In this case, however, rather than eliminating your personal responsibility by attributing your understandings to those of God, you claim that they are those of “every single person.”

LOS, the situation is actually quite simple. You have a set of beliefs. That’s fine. However, rather than be content with your beliefs, you for some reason seem to have an inner need to make sure that all other people have the same beliefs. Rather than admit that you believe this way, you set yourself up as the authority, believe you have more knowledge and wisdom than others, and therefore demand that they believe as you do. When people don’t genuflect you demean them as you did in your first comment to this post.

I don’t care what you believe, LOS. As long as you don’t harm others, I don’t care what you do.But no matter what you think, neither you nor I are the judges of what is and what is not real or what is magick.

If you don’t like what others think and believe, that is not their problem—it is your problem. It is not a public issue, it is your issue. Have you ever asked yourself why it is so important to you that others believe as you do? My guess is that you have not. I would also guess that if you ever honestly tried to answer that question you wouldn’t be happy with the answer.

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#5 
Written By Los
on November 6th, 2012 @ 12:44 am

DMK says I “make [the] claim that [my] experience [of wanting stuff and then getting that stuff] is the same as that of ‘every single person.’”

Are you actually denying that wanting stuff and then getting stuff is a universal human experience?

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#6 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on November 6th, 2012 @ 10:38 am

LOS, first, it’s amazing the way you have taken things out of context, but that is common among people who don’t like to face their own issues.

What I denied was your claim that your experience is the same as that of “every single person.” It’s impossible for you to claim that without actually interviewing “every single person.” Why is this important? Because your comments imply that you are the arbiter of what is and what is not scientific and logical. And yet, you claim that every single person believes as you do. Unless you can prove that claim by revealing your raw data from your interviews with every single person, your claim must be considered blatently false and nothing but hyperbole.

I would point out that this type of hyperbolic claim is often made by fundamentalist religionists who feel insecure about their own opinions yet for some inner motivation need to present their beliefs and opinions as fact. So they claim their belief is not their opinion. Rather it is “from God” or “everyone knows,” or even “every single person believes,” etc. Your presentation is that of fundamentalists and not of science or logic.

Second, yes, I do deny that “every single person” in the world wants stuff and then gets it later. I happen to know and have known some wonderful people who have abandoned wanting things (living for the future) and instead are grateful for what they have (living in the present). Since your claim was not that most or merely some people have wants followed by achieving those wants, the discovery of even one person who doesn’t fit into your belief system means it is not universal as you claim.

Third, once again, LOS, you keep trying to externalize your inner issues. This has nothing to do with your demonstrably false claim about the nature of all people. Rather, it has to do with your inner need to tell others what is acceptable and what is not.

As Soror Virakam (Mary d’Este Sturgis) wrote at the beginning of Book 4:

“Frater Perdurabo [Aleister Crowley] is the most honest of all the great religious teachers. Others have said: “Believe me!” He says:”Don’t believe me!” He does not ask for followers; would despise and refuse them. He wants an independent and self-reliant body of students to follow out their own methods of research.”

You seem to want people to believe you because you you present yourself as knowing more than others. In all of my writings I present my beliefs as options. I encourage people to believe in themselves.

Before playing more take-things-out-of-their-broader-context word games, I would urge you to consider some self-analysis.

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#7 
Written By Los
on November 6th, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

DMK writes: “the way you have taken things out of context”

Funny you should mention that.

DMK writes: “What I denied was your claim that your experience is the same as that of “every single person.”

If you scroll up, you’ll see that what I said was, after explaining that I want stuff and then get stuff: “These aren’t experiences confined to me. Every single person experiences wanting stuff and then getting stuff.”

In context, I’m clearly saying that wanting stuff and then getting stuff is a universal experience. That’s not even close to being a controversial claim in any way. It’s on par with saying that the experiences of eating and sleeping aren’t confined to me: every single person experiences them.

I assume you agree that every person experiences wanting stuff and then getting stuff, right?

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#8 
Written By Los
on November 6th, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

DMK writes: “Second, yes, I do deny that “every single person” in the world wants stuff and then gets it later. I happen to know and have known some wonderful people who have abandoned wanting things (living for the future) and instead are grateful for what they have (living in the present).”

Ok, I see you did respond to this, but you’re misunderstanding my meaning. When I say I “want stuff and then get stuff,” I’m not talking about an orientation toward life where I’m constantly looking forward to the future (which Buddhists might call the “desire” that has to be extinguished). I’m talking in a much more colloquial, everyday sense.

For example, people who are entirely “living in the present” still do things like buy lunch. Why do they do this? They want to eat. They want lunch, and then they get it.

Or, to give you another example, let’s say we know an artist who lives entirely in the present. He’s caught up in inspiration and creates a painting. Why? He wanted to create art, and he did. Then he sells his paintings for money. Why? Because he wants money, and he gets it. He’s acting “in the moment” at every step of the way, but if we look at what he’s doing, he’s still wanting stuff and getting stuff.

As I’m sure you’re aware, “living in the now” isn’t at all incompatible with having goals and accomplishing those goals: it’s merely the recognition that the setting of those goals, the working for those goals, and the achievement of those goals are all things that are happening “in the now” at every step of the way.

It’s only when one begins projecting those goals into some (imaginary and often ideal) future state — and fails to realize that state as imaginary — that one begins to succumb to the “lust of result.”

But anyway, this is all a long preamble to a point. You would agree, wouldn’t you, that in terms of what I mean by “wanting stuff and then getting stuff” — which I’ve now explained — that everyone experiences it?

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#9 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on November 6th, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

LOS, you may assume whatever you like. However I very clearly stated that you have made this claim without proof and the fact that I know people who do NOT have this experience shows that you are wrong.

I also note that beside not reading what I wrote, you have totally ignored my call for you to do some self-examination about your inner motivation.

I wonder why that is?

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#10 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on November 6th, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

Concerning your second comment, which you apparently wrote after not reading my response to you, no, I reject your claim. Some people do not decide to eat until they have a physiological need, in the moment, to do so. It has nothing to do with want or desires.

I never said living in the present was incompatible with having goals. This is yet another straw man argument so you can avoid dealing with your own inner issues. You seem to have an inner need to get people to agree with you. In response to that I would urge you to consider the sage advice of the character Tripper Harrison in the movie “Meatballs”:

IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER! IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!

The entire issue here has nothing to do with your word games over living in the present. That is just a way of avoiding dealing with the real issue: your personal need to have everyone agree with you because you consider anyone who dares to disagree with you to be wrong and a challenge to your notion of reality. But

IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!

What matters is why you feel this inner need to have everyone agree with you, why you seem to want to act like a religious fundamentalist, and why, as a person who claims to be a Thelemite, you are in such disagreement with Aleister Crowley.

If you want to discuss these issues, we certainly can. But playing word games now officially boring and concluded.

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#11 
Written By Magick
on November 26th, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

@DMK it’s interesting that I came on this post to see this comment stream and have noticed the same religious fundamentalism with Thelemites. Is it any wonder that a large portion of ex fundamentalist Christians end up as Thelemites?

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#12 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on November 26th, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

@Magick, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing numerous Thelemites who do not display even the slightest hint of fundamentalism.

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