I am here finishing off some work I started last year, looking at Anton LaVey’s “Satanic Bible”, in this case focussing on its magic and ritual. I’ll be looking at his ideas around spell casting and types of magic.
The Book of Belial
You get the drift of this section from the subtitle: “The Mastery of the Earth”. It’s about getting what you want.
LaVey doesn’t take long to get into iconoclastic mode with respect to esotericism.
“The greatest appeal of magic is not in its application, but in its esoteric meanderings. The element of mystery which so heavily enshrouds the practice of the black arts has been fostered, deliberately or out of ignorance, by those who often claim the highest expertise in such matter”
He then goes on to claim that the essentials of ceremonial magic have been overlooked in favour of “scholastic mysticism”, and that the would be magician is often taken in by his own performance. Nevertheless, a magician might still act according to the principles of magic and get it to work in spite of that. What LaVey intends to do here is strip magic of its mystification and present what works. In this respect he again prefigures some of the attitudes and approaches of Chaos Magic, in his pragmatism, and his dismissing of baroque authority in favour of boiled down essentials, results, and what would later be termed “sleight of mind”.
He gives a definition of magic which takes Crowley’s very universal sounding one, and restricts it to the bringing about of those changes (according to will) which would not be achievable by normally accepted methods. It’s a bit of a messy definition, as magic (even in his description) can be used to bring about things that could be brought about by ordinary means, it’s just that they are not being brought about by ordinary means by you directly, in this case. But I get what he means: magic has to have that non-rational side to its “logic” of causation, however it appears on the outside, otherwise it wouldn’t distinctly be magic.
As LaVey says, magic can never be totally scientifically explainable (otherwise it wouldn’t be magic to us), but science has always been considered “magic” at one time or other.
LaVey rejects the classification of magic as “white” or “black”, which is actually common among most magical practitioners nowadays. He considers the distinction between “altruistic” and “selfish” magic to be hypocritical, as even those seeking to be altruistic are gaining a gratification from it. He considers it to be “a matter of taste” as to how one gratifies oneself. Everyone thinks they are doing the right thing. Indeed, if you look at the convolutions that the Catholic Church quite consciously went through, to cover up child abuse, you can see that “doing good” depends on who you are in the activity, and altruism can have some questionable expressions. He’s not really addressing the question of harm here, so much as moral judgement, though the previously clearly delineated principle of sovereignty of the individual can be called to mind here to clarify what he means. The Catholic Church behaved very un-satanically towards the children that its priests abused.
Types of Magic
In LaVey’s scheme there are two types of magic: ritual/ceremonial, and non-ritual or manipulative.
The purpose of ritual is “to isolate the otherwise dissipated adrenal and other emotionally induced energy, and convert it into a dynamically transmittable force”. This is an emotional rather than an intellectual activity, and any intellectual activity needs to take place before the ceremony. He also terms this “greater magic”.
Non-ritual or manipulative magic (“lesser magic”) he characterises as:
“wile and guile obtained through various devices and contrived situations, which when utilized can create ‘change in accordance with one’s will’
He says this used to be known as “fascination”, “glamour” or the “evil eye”. This is based upon using the command to look, and the attraction and holding of attention. The three methods he lists are sex, sentiment or wonder, or a combination of them, and a person has to decide which they can pull off, according to their attributes and the situation.
It is an interesting exercise to actually ask yourself (honestly) which of these categories you fall within, but there is something for everyone, of you want to apply yourself. On the other hand, insisting on using the wrong category is going to be a frustrating exercise in misdirection. What is interesting here is that I have know any number of people who have felt considerable chagrin at their (unnamed) inability to exercise a particular power in this regard, and it is clearly a sense of powerlessness they have (even if it is expressed as jealousy of another’s power), and this confirms LaVey’s view that this is a power issue. It is not “beyond the explanation of science”, but it is operating below the conscious radar. The irony for the frustrated is that if they identified their own area of power, they could maximise it, rather than fixating on what they lack. As LaVey says:
“Good looks are unnecessary, but ‘looks’ certainly are needed”
He also notes that odour is important: natural bodily secretions for sex, appeal to memories and nostalgia for sentiment, you get the idea.
Types of Satanic Ritual
LaVey’s magic (at least as presented in this paperback) has a definite feeling basis, as ritual is here divided up according to the basic human emotions it addresses and draws upon: sex (lust, sexual desire), compassion (for self or others) and destruction (anger, enmity).
Sex – this is basically a “love spell”, to create desire in another who you want, or to summon a partner to fulfil desire. He says you need to have a specific person or type in mind, strongly enough to arouse erotic feelings that can culminate in orgasm, in order for it to work. But it is also important to understand your real motivations. Working magic to build self-esteem and address a lack in your life would come under compassion most likely, so if that is expressing itself as a desire to have a sexual partner, it is still the former that is the real object, rather than sexual desire, and you have to be able to untangle that. Using the wrong ritual could lead to complications.
There are of course questions about the ethics of manipulating another, but it is worth bearing two things in mind here. One is that people are not automatons at the beck and call of the magician (and the fear of that amounts to a kind of superstitious megalomania on the behalf of the magician), and the other is that life is full of the give and take of what amount to charmings and manipulations, attractions and susceptibilities. We might like to think it is otherwise, and there are plenty of times we would probably prefer it not to be, but it is the stuff of everyday life. And yet again, one has to remember that nothing is actually for free, everything has consequences, and it is a matter of being prepared to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions. A Satanist still has to abide by their own sense of ethical coherence, and acknowledge the world they are contributing to; but it is genuinely up to them as a responsible adult.
Compassion – this is for the purposes of helping others or yourself, eg for health, domestic happiness, successful study etc. This is the stuff of most mainstream spell work in neopaganism nowadays, and probably with good reason, as it is an area with broad applications, and probably less complications. From the Satanic perspective it is not better or worse however, as you should be considering what has it’s justifiable place in an appropriate context.
Destruction – as you would imagine, basically the cursing department: “used for anger, annoyance, disdain, contempt, or just plain hate. It is known as a hex, a curse, or destroying agent”. He makes this sound quite casual and cavalier, but in fact a person has to have clear ideas about what justifies such a magical response. If you engaged in destruction rituals or spells for every person that annoyed you, or earned your contempt, you would probably spend a great deal of time in the ritual chamber, and be a pretty toxic flavour of nutcase. Magic changes people, it does things to you, which is why you need good reasons. If you have genuinely good reasons for your magic, you will be strengthened. If not, you are going to experience complications, and quite possibly end up bound to crap, rather than freeing yourself of it. If you make mistakes, you are going to learn about it. Many people will probably never have need of a full blown curse.
Just as some spells that seem like they would be love or lust spells, are actually better served by a compassion working, there are many things that on the surface might seem like a cursing candidate that are actually defensive in nature, or freeing or banishing, and these would also be better served by a compassion ritual. Think of it this way too: how much do you really want to be bound to that person by the attention you are focussing on them? Like it or not, cursing is a massive focussing of attention and energy on the object of the curse, even if it is temporary (and it had better be temporary and without remorse), and though this is not my area of expertise, I would always first resort to a more nuanced, less involved approach. It’s not a joke, and to treat it as a joke is to regard your magic as a frivolous exercise.
My personal position is that if someone has intruded maliciously on my life, my first question is “how did I let them in?”. Second, “how did I not manage to protect myself from them so far?”. Thirdly, “how do I protect myself and push them out of my life effectively?”. I basically don’t want to know about such people, and I don’t want involvement with them, and I want to learn how to avoid this in future. The psychic version of “le slap” is not a curse in my book, and neither is banishing, that is just defending my space and keeping it clear. I cannot say there is not a possible use for a curse (just as I cannot say that you should never fire a gun at a person, there are aberrant situations extreme enough to require it, everyone knows that), but I believe it is rare (otherwise you might want to ask yourself why you give yourself this kind of level of trouble?). There is a saying that “the power of a sword lies in its sheath”, ie if you’re having to use it all the time, then it’s not doing its job. You do however need your defence to have teeth, otherwise you are presenting yourself as a slap up free lunch.
Belief and efficacy
LaVey’s views on the positive or negative effects of belief upon the target vary according to the type of magic. If it is a curse, then it helps if they don’t believe in magic, as any instinctive fear will be suppressed in the subconscious, where it will aid the curse. He says that for sex and compassion workings it helps if they faith and believe, while the reverse is true for cursing. A person who doesn’t believe is not going to defend themselves as well as they might, but they will still be susceptible to unconscious influence. In fact a lot of LaVey’s magic seems to be predicated upon such an unconscious influence, albeit not transmitted through rationally causal means. The goal is to bring about results in accordance with will, whether anyone (other than the magician) believes in it or not. He does however give the following guidance on attitude:
For sex or lust – take full advantage of spells that work.
Compassion – don’t regret the help that you give, even if it acts as an obstacle to you subsequently. “Be grateful for things that came to you through the use of magic”.
Destruction – do not care about what happens to the intended victim. Celebrate success, do not feel remorse.
He states forcibly “HEED WELL THESE RULES – OR IN EACH CASE YOU WILL SEE A REVERSAL OF YOUR DESIRES WHICH WILL HARM, RATHER THAN HELP YOU!”
This seems wise, as you should respect your magic, embrace it and take responsibility for it (which is why you consider magical action before you take it). Working with your mind against your magic, by doubts, picking it apart, or tying yourself to the object of a spell in an inappropriate way is not something to do. Keep it clean and simple.
The Ingredients of Success
LaVey gives five factors that add up to successful preconditions for magic: desire, timing, imagery, direction and the “balance factor”.
Desire – strong emotion is needed for LaVey’s model of magic, and you should not be working for something that you do not truly desire. It should not be “just for show”.
Timing – following LaVey’s drift of magic being a matter of influencing others subconsciously, he says the best time is when the object of the magic is most receptive. He identifies the time of dreaming sleep as the best, as this is when a person would be most receptive in his opinion. He gives this as being after an initial 4 – 6 hour period of profound sleep, when there is a period of dreaming sleep for 2 – 3 hours, or until waking. So, 2 hours before their waking time would be ideal. I don’t know how accurate this is, but certainly dreaming in the period before waking is common for many people. As the magician needs to be at their strongest at the time of “sending”, he considers this to be a reason for witches etc to often be characterised as nocturnal. Other times of receptivity are when a person is day dreaming or bored.
Imagery – this is used to intensify the emotions in ritual. Any visual representations, in addition to writing, scent, sound, dramatic enactments or music that will arouse the appropriate emotions are fine.
“Imagery is a constant reminder, and intellect-saving device, a working substitute for the real thing”
Imagery can be manipulated according to will, “and the very blueprint that is created by imagery becomes the formula which leads to reality”. So the magician creates situations on paper, canvas, or in writing, in the most exaggerated way possible, as part of the ceremony. This will “create a lodestone which will attract the situation or thing that you wish!”.
Imagery and imagination is very important to LaVey, and you can note that “imagination” does not just relate to visual images, but to all senses (and by implication to the underlying sixth sense of feeling). If we here take desire as representing “will”, then we have the classic combination of will and imagination as the major mechanisms of magic. Intention is implicit here, though I do think it can be separated out personally, due to its subtlety and power.
Direction – this is basically referring to accumulating and then directing force towards the desired end. LaVey points out that too many rituals are defused with anxiety and expectation, which can even prevent the build up of energy during the ritual itself. Similarly, over thinking and complaining dilute the force generated.
“Once the desire has been established strongly enough to employ the forces of magic, then every attempt must be made to symbolically give vent to these wishes IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THE RITUAL – NOT before or after!”
Keep it clean, let it go, let it be done.
Ritual should free the magician of thoughts “that would consume him, were he to dwell upon them constantly”. LaVey has a strong awareness of the amount of emotional energy that is drained by day dreaming, scheming, and mulling over things. This is all energy that can be used to achieve a result.
The Balance Factor – this applies more to lust and compassion rituals than to curses. It is very common sense actually, and would benefit a lot of people in life. “This is, simply, knowing the proper type of individual and situation to work your magic on for the easiest and best results”. Aka knowing your limits.
This also comes into the failure debriefing department. Keep on failing at your goals in magic? Ask yourself if you are being realistic. Are you deluding yourself? Ignoring your actual strengths, and what you can have, for the sake of what you can’t? The balance factor relates to matching up your talents and strengths to what can be achieved by you. Pining for someone who is not attracted to anybody of your sex (by their inherent nature) is not going to be solved through magic. Neither is the quest to be a hit singer, when you really can’t sing. Do yourself a favour, and honour what you are good at, and what you can maximise.
“To be able to adjust one’s wants to one’s capabilities is a great talent”
“One of the magician’s greatest weapons is knowing himself”