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Magic, Magick, and the Subliminal Myth

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on January 13, 2013 | Comments (8)

Many years ago, when I was living in Minnesota, I appeared on a local radio talk show. The host was Ms. Barbara Carlson, former wife of then Governor Arne Carlson. Why was I on the show? Well, in the major media, there are generally only two times they want to talk with someone involved with magick, occultism, Witchcraft, etc: when there is a crime that is supposedly related to the occult, and the week or so before Halloween.

This was just before Halloween.

She asked me what magick was. I explained that it was something natural, a way of having a desired effect on your future. I also told her that the image of waving a wand and making the door open on its own was a fantasy, not the reality of magick. Her comment: “I still want to see that door open on its own.”

Magick and Magic

Perhaps the misunderstanding of the nature of magick is in part due to real magicians saying nothing. The Frenchman Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (1805–1871) is considered by performing magicians to be the father of the more modern style of magical entertainment. The entertainer wearing a top hat and formal clothes that seem so out of place today was popularized by him. He took magical entertainment off the streets and put it in the living rooms (or parlors) for private parties and even into theaters. He became so popular he was able to set up his own theater of magic. He was called upon by the French government of Napoleon III to help stop an Arabic rebellion in Algeria by proving his magic was more powerful than the magick of local shamans. A young man in Wisconsin named Ehrich Weiss idolized him. Wanting to be a magician himself, he learned that in Italian, adding an “i” at the end of a word meant “like.” So to become “like” Robert-Houdin he adopted the stage name of Houdini.

The reason I mention this is that Robert-Houdin is credited with the concept that a magician-entertainer is, “An actor playing the role of a real magician.” No actual magician ever stood up and said “No, that’s just a fantasy. That’s not real magick!” Robert-Houdin’s contemporary Eliphas Levi, one of the important people in the French Occult Revival that led to the founding of famous occult groups in the late 19th century, never said, “Fun show, Jean, but that’s not real magick.” Aleister Crowley never said something like that, either. Instead, they let Robert-Houdin’s popularity, and the popularity of magic entertainers ever since, give the image of what magick is supposedly like.

Today, the image of an entertaining magician has changed quite a bit, but the concept remains: what we see the stage entertainer do as magic is what the majority of people in the industrialized world think of when they hear about magick.

They want the spells to work instantly. They want the door to open on its own. Mumble some bad Latin Harry Potterisms and fire spurts from your wand. Perform a ritual and a demon appears in a poof of smoke to go and do your bidding. Say a spell and a pile of gold appears in front of you. And for adolescent boys (and men who think like them), saying a word should produce an endless line of beautiful women eagerly wanting sex with them.

As real magicians will tell you (and as many of you reading this know), actual magick doesn’t work that way. It does work, but the desired results come through natural means, not miracles. When non-magicians want magick to work, however, they want the myth, not the reality; the miracle, not the magick. They want the fairy tale and the Disney magic with the sparkly dust falling from Tinker Bell’s wand.

I call this the magic wand syndrome.

People want change, but when they learn that they have to work for it and wait to achieve their goal, they become disappointed. They want you to wave a wand and have changes instantly occur. They don’t want you to do magick that will help their bodies cure a disease, they want instant health or instant wealth. Anything else is simply unacceptable. They don’t merely want help, they want it to happen their way. If the magick wont happen the way they fantasize about it, they don’t want it at all.


And that brings us to the concept of subliminals. A subliminal is a message that is fed into your mind so you are not consciously aware that it is happening. In an audio recording, for example, the message(s) might be hidden within music or within the sounds of an ocean’s waves. If you know what to listen for and pay close attention, you can just make them out. But normally, you won’t pay attention that closely and although you hear them, they are below the level of conscious awareness.

There are a lot of people making a lot of money by selling a lot of different types of subliminals. And they all have one thing in common: they don’t work.

That’s right. There is absolutely zero scientific evidence that subliminals work.

The most famous example of the supposed effectiveness of subliminals was reported in 1957. A man named James Vicary performed an experiment in a movie theater in Ft. Lee, New Jersey. Every five seconds, during the playing of the movie Picnic, Vicary flashed a message on the screen. Each flash lasted only 1/3000 of a second. This was below your level of conscious perception. Supposedly, the message would go directly to the unconscious mind. This is the very nature of so-called subliminal advertising.

The messages were things such as “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Hungry? Eat popcorn.” The results: Coca-Cola sales jumped by 18.1%. Popcorn sales skyrocketed by 57.8%. Books reporting on this phenomenon with titles such as The Hidden Persuaders became popular. Congress supposedly passed a law against subliminal advertising.

And then the truth came out. When challenged to repeat the experiment, the results—this time under more watchful eyes—indicated that subliminal messages produced no significant change in theater food sales. Eventually, Vicary admitted that he had falsified the data on his original tests. Some people doubt that he ever actually ran that first test.

Congress never passed any law against subliminal advertising. The Federal Communications Commission never made rules against it. However, when another wave claiming that subliminal advertising was effective became popular in the 1970s, the FCC said that whether they were effective or not, they were against public interest and any station using them risked its license. No station has ever lost its license for running any sort of subliminals.

To summarize:

  1. The original claim about subliminals was later admitted to be based on fraud.
  2. An attempt to reproduce the results of subliminals showed they were ineffective.
  3. The only form of subliminals ever supposedly examined were visual, and they proved to be ineffective.

That’s right. All of the claims made about subliminals were based on visual subliminals. Even if we accepted the false claims about visual subliminals being effective, there has never been any evidence to support the effectiveness of audio subliminals. None. Nada. Zilch. And yet you can find all sorts of audio subliminals for sale or available for free from outright hucksters (or they may actually believe it). They have subliminals where the messages have been slowed down, speeded up so you subliminally hear thousands of them per minute, or they have fancy electronic additions that are supposed to open your mind and allow the messages to seep it.

Subliminals vs. Self-Empowerment

Whenever I have talked about this in workshops, I always get some people telling me I’m wrong. They used an audio and it worked or they sell subliminals and have people loudly saying how good they are. Unfortunately, this is all known as anecdotal evidence and none of this is scientific research. The simple fact is that subliminals don’t work. They don’t do what it’s claimed that they will do.

However, some people who use subliminals get great results.

Yes, this sounds like a contradiction. If they don’t work, how is it that people who use them get the desired results? It’s not because the subliminals worked, it’s because the individual who used them believed so strongly in them that he or she created the desired change.

The magick isn’t in the subliminal, it’s in the person who uses the subliminal.

And this is where I have a problem with subliminals. Normally, when someone gets effective results from their work, I say, “That’s great!” and let it go at that. When you claim that the subliminal helped you change or achieve a goal, however, you are dis-empowering yourself. You’re giving all the power to the subliminal. “I don’t have the power to achieve my goals or make a change, but this magic subliminal changed me.” You are powerless. Only the magic wand of the subliminal can help you.

I prefer a different approach. It’s not the magick wand or chalice or spell that achieves a magickal goal, it’s the magician who known how to use them. The wand, chalice, and spell are just a stick, a drinking glass, and some words.

It’s the magician who makes them magick.
It’s the magician who gives them power.
It’s the magician who has the power.

Real magick isn’t about power over others, it’s about power over yourself. Real magick is self-empowering. Relying on subliminals or the power in magic wands is disempowering.

If you are tired of gimmicks that don’t work, of get rich quick schemes or secret ways that will let you instantly seduce every woman near you, forget about the Disney wands and instant solutions.

Practice the techniques.
Do the work.
Become empowered.
Achieve your goals and desires.


Original artwork above by Snaily.



Reader Comments

Written By Wondo
on January 14th, 2013 @ 11:17 am

You are right, I don’t particularly feel any more happy then when I started reading the article even though this was in the article:

“If the magick wont happy the way they fantasize about it, they don’t want it at all.”

DMK I love your work! Just thought that was kind of funny and had to share!!


Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on January 14th, 2013 @ 11:40 am

Argh! Wondo, you got me! I TRY to avoid silly typos like that, but they do slip through. Thanks for catching it. It’s been corrected.

Written By Freefrom
on January 14th, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

“The magick isn’t in the subliminal, it’s in the person who uses the subliminal.”

Well this is true in the way that all magick relies on the persons subconscious (feminine) mind, which will take and manifest the creation provided that a significant impression (Male Force/Will) is made upon it.

Written By Samyo
on January 14th, 2013 @ 6:50 pm

I find it quite interesting that you statement “subliminals don’t work” is so adamant, particularly as the experience of them, like magick, is subjective. Both are tools, both require the “user” to have a belief structure that is supportive of the experience.

As an avid user of the work of Holosync and The Monroe Institute, I have experienced some wonderful results using binural beats and subliminal affirmations. So to state that they don’t work may well be a disservice to a lot of people.

I also feel it is bold to state that there is no scientific evidence of subliminals working, when your article is also talking about magick.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on January 14th, 2013 @ 7:25 pm

As I wrote, Samyo, “some people who use subliminals get great results…because the individual who used them believed so strongly in them that he or she created the desired change. The magick isn’t in the subliminal, it’s in the person who uses the subliminal.” The point was that people think subliminals have some sort of scientific validity. They do not, and dependency upon them is disempowering. Studying and performing magick is empowering.

Written By Jah
on January 15th, 2013 @ 10:41 am

Very good article! I had always thought that subliminal messages were scientific fact…I had never thought to do the home work.

About 20 to 25 years ago, in two different retail stores I was zoning out looking at what I was going to buy. Both times the music playing in the back ground suddenly had a voice saying “Don’t steal” or something to that effect. As soon as I realized what was happening and paid attention the voice faded away and I could only hear the music. At that time being a “magick is the Devil”, conspiracy type person, that really freaked me out and I could not wait to leave the store!

Being no scientific proof of it actually working, do these stores use that just in case? Or are they just as gullible as those that buy those subliminal CD’s or MP3’s?

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on January 15th, 2013 @ 11:19 am

According to my research, some stores (I haven’t found any identified) do, indeed, use honesty-encouraging subliminals through their sound systems. Even though the people who supply the subliminals admit there’s now proof of the effectiveness of the suggestions, stores are often willing to try anything to stop “shrinkage.”

Written By Bob
on January 17th, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

It is something of a standard realization for modern magicians that any magick that happens is due to changes in the magician and the way he or she approaches the world. Magick doesn’t change the way the world works, but it can change the way we word the world to get better results. At least that’s the way I read it. Still, sometimes things happen to make me wonder. . .

Bob, Adastra,
The Wizzard of Jacksonville

P.S. BTW, “Modern Magick” has long been a fixture in my personal library and those of most serious magicians in Jacksonville.

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