the devil’s field guide – part 5

This is the concluding part of my review of LaVey’s Satanic Bible, which I began here. I’ll mainly be focussing on LaVey’s ceremonial and drawing a few things together, though if you want the full, published run down of his rituals you’ll need to look up the book itself, and it’s companion volume “The Satanic Rituals*”.

To back track, LaVey does talk about magic in the earlier parts of TSB, for instance defining its ethics according to the goals of the individual Satanist – ie that it is neutral and pragmatic.

This is a good time to look back at LaVey’s view on devils and Satan. He  gives some assorted background to them (with varying levels of accuracy), and what they mean to modern Satanists in his view. The original meaning of “satan” he gives as “the adversary” or “the accuser”, while “devil” comes from the Indian “devi”, meaning “god”, which is I think correct, aside from devi meaning “goddess”, deva being the masculine form. I used to hear the term translated as “shining one” by a number of esotericists and neopagans.

For LaVey:

“Satan represents opposition to all religions which serve to frustrate and condemn man for his natural instincts. He has been given an evil role simply because he represents the carnal, earthly, and mundane aspects of life”

And probably you could add to the first sentence: “and which serve to frustrate and condemn the individual for their authentic, individual perspective”, in opposition to supposed universal or natural law. Satanism was one of the first magical religions to fully embrace gay men for instance, way ahead of Wicca. LaVey does tend to return to carnality repeatedly, even as he tends to harp on blasting enemies at times, but it does go deeper than that. You can see why Satanism would be an attractive option for some people. It is not for everyone, but I do think that a “satanic” approach is the best for some, and an essential part of the spiritual ecosphere, whether it is labelled “satanic” or not. “Left Hand Path” would be a broader term of reference, but however it is termed, we need a way of breaking through the political and moral garbage, the consensual conformism, and the subjugation of the individual (the actual recipient of all direct experience) that conventional spirituality almost always involves at some level, depending on who you are and who you “bank” with, at what price socially or individually.

He dismisses the idea of “circle protection” as hypocritical, as:

“To the Satanist, it seems a bit two-faced to call on these forces for help, while at the same time protecting yourself from the very powers you have asked for assistance.”

It could be noted that there are other reasons for casting circles (and protection could just be a practical issue with some energies), but circle work is indeed dispensed with in his scheme, which he considers a better way of allying yourself with the forces you are working with.

Intellectual Decompression

Throughout the book LaVey presents Satanism as a rational philosophy, made for (and by) an animal with more than rational needs. The path from the rational to the (controlled) non-rational is ritual, which he characterises as intellectual decompression. Ritual can be solitary or group, each of which have their own advantages. A group ritual gives more of a reinforcement of faith and “an instillation of power”. It renews confidence in the power of magic. Furthermore, while his philosophy is very individualistic, it isn’t intended to be solitary by him, as he considers solitary religion to be in some regard self-denying, and this self-denial brings a person closer to anti-social behaviour in his view.

“It is for this reason that the Satanist should attempt to seek out others with which to engage in these ceremonies”

This is an interesting point for people to consider, and it’s interesting to note that LaVey is critiquing being too much of a loner (specifically spiritually), and looking to avoid “anti-social behaviour”. Of course our forms of social interaction have changed considerably since 1969, and with the internet people can be solitary yet connected at the same time to others, while the field of magic, witchcraft and alternative spirituality is probably now dominated by people following solitary paths, but I think it remains a good point. Better to go your own way rather than follow the wrong path for you, but better still to find “good company” for yourself, if it is genuinely available.

LaVey thinks that things like destruction rituals are better suited to group work, as he thinks the sharing of anger to be relatively unembarrassing. Certainly expressions of group anger are socially quite acceptable in our society, whereas group grief, and (especially) group lust are more likely to be devalued or demonized. That really does say something about our society, and what it finds useful in people.

We can note again here that LaVey’s ritual is very emotional, in fact floridly and deliberately so. But for these reasons he thinks compassion and sex rituals are better suited to private ceremonies. You could probably question his view on this, and work with it, under the right circumstances though. But a person can’t be self-conscious in the ritual chamber (unless it was itself part of a sexual kink for instance).

Whether group or solitary however, standard invocations etc are used. Personalized parts can then be sandwiched between the standardized beginnings and endings. “The formalized beginning and end of the ceremony acts as a dogmatic, anti-intellectual device”, dislocating the ritual chamber from the outside world. Ritual acts as a “training school for temporary ignorance”, in order to expand the magicians will.

The Ritual

I’m not going to go into all the details of LaVey’ general purpose ritual here, as you can find it all in his book,  so I’ll just touch on some points.

The ritual forms a coherent whole, with a beginning, middle and end, the actual magical working forming the centre of it. As noted above, there is no “protective” or circle casting element, though there is what LaVey calls a “purification of the air” by the ringing of a bell.

The focus is the “symbol of Baphomet“, which is borrowed from Stanislas de Guaita in fact, and the altar which is placed in the west. This is an unusual position for an altar in most forms of magic, where it is usually in either the east or the north. In the east it is in the place of the rising Sun, and the element of air (or fire sometimes). In the north it is the direction associated with earth, darkness and mystery, as well as the Pole Star (in the Northern Hemisphere, South of the equator north is the direction of noon of course). LaVey may be doing this in order to “throw” the associations and go against orthodox form, or he may be taking the place of the setting Sun as associated with the coming of night (and thus the powers of darkness), but he doesn’t actually say. West is still associated with water in his scheme, and with the serpent Leviathan, whose name is also written around the  Baphomet symbol in Hebrew. Is he enshrining the emotional power, desire and imagination of the element of water as key to his view of magic? I really don’t know.

The “invocation to Satan” starts with commanding “the powers of darkness” in the name of Satan, who is characterized as “Ruler of the earth” and “King of the world”. At the same time it seeks to call forth the powers of Hell, as their brother or sister. It asks for the things the magician will request, and affirms a vital alliance of being and nature between the magician and the personified forces involved. It affirms the certainty of the magician’s power, and then calls forth the demons/gods seen as appropriate (LaVey gives a list of names from demonology and Pagan lore which he recommends).

It’s a bit of a mixture as an invocation, but it does more or less progress from welcoming, to supplication, to identification and union with the forces involved, to empowered affirmation, though some of it is a bit back to front in order, and it is very short.

There are elements of communal sharing of wine, and asperging, which add to the communal “religious” form of the ritual. There is also a calling forth of the “crown princes of Hell” at the four directions, similar to a calling of the quarters, as each direction is also associated with an element (consistent with common western magical tradition, eg east-air, north-earth etc), but starting with Satan at the south and progressing counter-clockwise to Leviathan at the West. This is not a banishing, so it is unusual on two counts, for the starting and end point (ending up at the west again), and the direction in what is essentially an invocation. This dislocates the ceremony from common esoteric tradition, which may be LaVey’s intention.

The heart of the ritual is the magic that brings about the fulfilment of the participants. There are separate instruction given for each of the three ritual intent categories that LaVey identifies, but they all conclude in climactic outpourings of energy (orgasm, genuine tears, rage etc), followed communally by the priest reading aloud the requests and/or burning their written forms. The requests are followed by the exclamations “Shemhamforash!” and “Hail Satan!”. “Hail Satan” seems fair enough, but “Shemhamforash” is actually a Hebrew reference to the hidden name of God (a bit like “tetragrammaton”), thoroughly monotheistic, and LaVey’s use of it is puzzling, unless he just thought it sounded impressive! It makes no good sense to me though.

Concluding the ritual, an “appropriate” Enochian call is recited “as evidence of the participants’ allegiance to the Powers of Darkness”. Enochian is a “language” originating with the Elizabethan magician John Dee and his medium Edward Kelly, who considered it an “angelic” language of non-human origin, and while magicians often claim it has a genuine syntax and vocabulary, some linguists have counter-claimed that it has elements more commonly found in glossolalia (“speaking in tongues”), and the syntax it retains is closest to English (Dee and Kelly’s own language). I think LaVey was using it for its emotional effect, and its “barbarous” qualities in inspiring the mood and consciousness of the reciter and listener, though he was taking it quite out of its original context. In a sense it is the Latin to his Mass, though he has hijacked it from Dee and Kelly. I’ll take a closer look at his use of “Enochian” below.

After this is complete, a bell is rung, and the priest says the words “SO IT IS DONE”. And with that, the ritual is over.

Assorted points

The altar in LaVey’s scheme is ideally a naked woman, of which he says:

“Satanism is a religion of the flesh, rather than of the Spirit; therefore an altar of flesh is used in Satanic ceremonies”


“A nude woman is used as the altar in Satanic rituals because woman is the natural passive receptor, and represents the earth mother”

This is the classic idea of a “Satanic altar” as propagated in 19th and 20th century art and literature, and having a naked human being as an altar has an obvious appeal and impact for a sex-positive and fleshly religion, but if for instance the congregation was largely gay male, this would really be nothing but high camp, and quite ineffective in that case. So I would think it better for the altar to be whoever suits the participants. As for being the “natural passive receptor”, well that might technically be true in terms of procreation, but not in any other sense necessarily, and LaVey’s Satanism is about indulgence, not making babies. The “earth mother” comment could have come from any Jungian influenced psychobabbler since the 1950s, and indeed here LaVey is for once sounding like a Pagan hippie. I can think of some men who would make wonderful altars, and I think it is up to the Satanists themselves as to what suits them.

On a related note, LaVey’s comments on clothing seem a little dated. The men wear black, cowled robes etc (ok), while the women wear suggestive garments that might arouse the men (unless they are older, in which case they go with black as well). Arousing sexual energy I can see as a good thing, but why only the energy of the men (though display can be arousing for the dsplayer as well of course)? But really, why not maximise everyone as a source of sexual inspiration? One thing that could be sensible though is the wearing of masks, which can help with disinhibition, and also might add to the surreal or sinister aura of the ritual.

The symbol of Baphomet is a subject that LaVey goes into a bit, with fanciful excursions to the Goat of Mendes (who was actually a ram in fact, though I will always love this term thanks to Dennis Wheatley), and the Knights Templar. He says that this symbol represents “the Powers of Darkness combined with the generative fertility of the goat”. The Hebrew characters circling the face of the goat spell out “Leviathan”, who is “the serpent of the watery abyss, and identified with Satan”. We can certainly thank LaVey for rescuing this symbol from obscurity and turning it into a definitive symbol of modern Satanism. As I stated before, its original form (with the addition of the names “Samael” and “Lilith”) can be found in La Clef de la Magie Noire by Stanislas de Guaita, published in 1897. The Church of Satan details their derivation and use of the symbol here. They certainly gave it its place in the modern world.

The Book of Leviathan

And so we come to the art of verbal invocation according to Anton LaVey.

“If the magical ceremony is to employ all sensory awareness, then the proper sounds must be invoked”

He considers emotional experience to be primary here, and he says that his invocations are here designed as “proclamations of certainty”.

We have already mentioned his invocation to Satan, and in the separate invocations he uses for the three ritual intentions the language is theatrical, melodramatic and draws in part upon a broadly sci-fi/horror sensibility which is quite delightful.

In the lust ritual it is directed towards influencing the mind of the target.

In the destruction ritual again, the object is to influence the mind and psyche of the target. Various deities are called upon in both these invocations (which really act only in part as invocations in the classic sense).

The compassion ritual seeks protection, strengthening, citing comradeship in the Left Hand Path. It seeks revivification and healing, neutralisation of adversaries, and liberation in joy and strength.

LaVey’s Enochian

LaVey says that he used Enochian as the magical language of the Satanic Bible. He claims that the “angels” of the work are in fact “angles”, and that the work forms a window to the “fourth dimension”. In should be noted that this seems quite contrary to anything Dee himself wrote¹.

LaVey gives his own translations “with an archaic but Satanically correct unvarnishing”, though I think “unvarnishing” would be a bit of a euphemism. Even a cursory glance at his keys shows his substituting the name of Satan etc for other words where it suits him, so it may be that he really considers this to be the real “essence” of the keys (correcting for Dee and Kelly’s Christianising), but just as easily could be that he found enochian a good material to flesh out his rituals with, so he adapted it to a “Satanic” form. What is in little doubt is that Dee and Kelly would have disagreed with him, and if LaVey was as much of a materialist as he claimed, you would think that they as originators of the keys would be the authority, unless he actually believes that enochian was a real, pre-existing language of supernatural origin, and Dee and Kelly just got it wrong. But LaVey clearly has a genuine interest in the magical and paranormal, so there is a good deal of “wiggle room” here. Given LaVey’s tricksterish lilt in much of the book, it could of course be that enochian had the requisite aura and form to inspire awe, complete with magical associations, and so LaVey wove it into his performance. In the intellectual decompression chamber it all becomes “real”, and his patter softens up the mind for better participation. It wouldn’t be the first time a magus has told fibs in order to facilitate an experience.

We can take a simple look at one of the shorter keys:

18th key (LaVey):

Ilasa micalazoda olapireta ialpereji beliore: das odo Busadire Oiad ouoaresa caosago: casaremeji Laiada eranu berinutasa cafafame das ivemeda aqoso Moz, od maoffasa. Bolape como belioreta pamebeta. Zodacare od Zodameranu! Odo cicale Qaa. Zodoreje, lape zodiredo Noco Mada, hoathahe Saitan!

18th key – phonetic translation as per

Ilasa micalazoda olapireta ialpereji beliore: das odo Busadire Oiad ouoaresa caosago: casaremeji Laiada ERANU berinutasa cafafame das ivemeda aqoso adoho Moz, od maoffasa. Bolape como belioreta pamebeta. Zodacare od Zodameranu! Odo cicale Qaa. Zodoreje, lape zodiredo Noco Mada, hoathahe IAIDA.

So we can see that LaVey is (mercifully) providing the phonetic versions of the keys, and these are very faithful here, apart from the substitution of “Saitan” (Satan) for “IAIDA” (discrepancies highlighted in red here).

Now we come to the English translations:

18th key (LaVey):

O thou mighty light and burning flame of comfort!, that unveilest the glory of Satan to the centre of the Earth; in whom the great secrets of truth have their abiding; that is called in thy kingdom: “strength through joy,” and is not to be measured. Be thou a window of comfort unto me. Move therefore, and appear! Open the mysteries of your creation! Be friendly unto me, for I am the same!, the true worshipper of the highest and ineffable King of Hell!

18th key – English translation as per

O you mighty Light and burning flame of comfort which opens the glory of God to the centre of the earth, in whom the Secrets of Truth 6332 have their abiding, which is called in thy kingdom Joy and not to be measured: be you a window of comfort unto me. Move and show yourselves: open the Mysteries of your Creation: be friendly unto me: for I am the servant of the same your God, the true worshipper of the Highest.

We can see that there is a lot more discrepancy here, and given that the only enochian differences in the keys are the words “IADA” (highest) and “Saitan” (Satan presumably), there is quite a bit of interpretive licence in play. “Busadire Oiad” would be translated as “glory of God” according to this enochian dictionary, but LaVey translates the same words as “glory of Satan”. So whereas he substitutes the name “Saitan” for the enochian word for “the Highest” at the end of the key, at the beginning he just takes the word for “God” to mean “Satan”. On the other hand “for I am the servant of the same your God” becomes “for I am the same!”. The word “Noco” can be translated as “the servant” or “the minister”, and “Mad” translated as “of God” or “of your God”, but while the enochian is in LaVey’s phonetic version (“Noco Mada”) it is missing from the English, giving “for I am the same”.

Looking at the twelfth key, it follows very much the same pattern of largely faithful phonetic transliteration (with key substitutions), but with a “Satanically” skewed English translation. So, without going through every key with a fine-tooth comb, I think it would be fair to say that the phonetic translations alter the originals to a minor degree (eg a single name), while the English translations stray further and give LaVey’s version, significantly removed from the consensus interpretation of the originals.

But as LaVey says:

“In Enochian the meaning of the words, combined with the quality of the words, unite to create a pattern of sound which can cause tremendous reaction in the atmosphere. The barbaric tonal qualities of this language give it a truly magical effect which cannot be described”

And in subjective terms this is very likely true, and may well work within the context of LaVey’s usage. What LaVey has done is tailor the meanings to his own sensibilities, and he feels he has purged them of an overly pious meaning, more in tune with their true essence. This would of course be anathema to any orthodox scholar of Enochian magic (strictly speaking, he is not even using the original keys in the examples I looked at), but that isn’t really his concern. It just has to work for him.

Personal Conclusions²

LaVey’s views on magic contain a good deal of common sense and worldly practicality, though as with much of his writing, it is filtered through his own sensibilities, and sometimes these seem weighted on the side of aggression, at least to me. His approaches to magic and ceremony I think do foreshadow Chaos Magic in his pragmatic relativism and iconoclasm. He is a contradictory figure in some ways: a scathing materialist with an obvious belief in magic, a seemingly alienated individualist who implicitly reveres “Nature”, a decrier of esoteric “mystery mongering” who weaves obscure Elizabethan magic into his system. But that is part of what makes him fascinating. And indeed, contradiction, apparent obfuscation and folly are all part of the archetype of the “Magus” in some ways (but for a purpose).

My own approach to magic is quite different to LaVey’s, apart from anything else being polytheistic, so I am unlikely to use his forms too directly (and I am too old a dog to be doing other than my own work). I do admire him though for what he has done, both in experimenting according to his own interests, and in essentially founding an entire modern movement, which can be seen reflected to different degrees in the whole of modern Satanism, wider aspect of the modern Left Hand Path, and even in Demonolatry.

He may sound at times like the Boney M of ceremonial magic, but that just makes me like him even more. Disco, after all, was way more revolutionary than the people who looked down on it. LaVey might not have the subtlety of Austin Osman Spare or Rosaleen Norton, but he understood the importance of the individual, the imagination and feeling, and the place of the infernal in magical inspiration. And he didn’t mind offending people.

I owe him one.

demon brother5

Anton LaVey in still (screen capture) from “Invocation of my Demon Brother” by Kenneth Anger via YouTube

* “The Satanic Rituals” hasn’t been reviewed in these post.

¹ at least as far as the “angles” versus “angels” issue [comment added 10th February 2016].

² this conclusion also takes in Part 4 [comment added 16th March 2016].


the devil’s field guide – part 4

A tailpiece featuring one of Roger Bacon's devils with a grape vine by Harold Nelson. William Thoms, editor. [Public domain, Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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.


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”

Wise words.

Concluded here


The Bookshelf for boys and girls Little Journeys into Bookland by University Society, New York [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons



how magick can soothe the savage breast

There are many reasons for people to feel angry or depressed about the state of the world. I mean really, bleakly angry. So angry that is becomes misanthropically isolating and hopeless. Because there are a lot of things to this world, in terms of beauty, wonder and mystery. But justice isn’t one of them. Justice is something we make up as we go along, then lie about to cover up the fuck awful hypocrisy that ensues. Can you tell where I am in all this?

Never really gone along with that “it all makes moral sense ultimately” stuff. Aesthetic sense, maybe. Amoral fuckfest sense, maybe. Ultimate Zen trickster joke sense, maybe. Jail time sense even! Maybe. But not a moral sense, in the way that we understand that kind of thing*. That works as a story if you are protected and privileged to have someone fight for you and put an extra value on your life, which is exactly what children need obviously, but pretending it is so in adulthood is I’m afraid the work of the pampered and the traumatically infantilized. That’s what I feel is both wrong and right about the New Age. It can help people in so much trouble that they need a return to childhood (honestly, from experience I appreciate that deeply), but it has more trouble helping them mature well beyond recovery. Which is why New Agers sometimes give the impression of being huge, pink, defensive Tzars, and their “angels” all seem to be harmless, soft focus “yummy mummies“, and concern with the Universe providing a free and abundant financial flow is never too far behind. It does indeed take a lot of money to look this cheap.

So what I wanted to do here is just comment on how magick makes the alternative better, because the bottom line is that magick, like Nature, doesn’t care what the world thinks of you, or what society is saying right now, nor if you are a “hero” or a “villain”, if you are socially valued or otherwise, part of “the program” or not. It was there before all of that, and it will be there when it is all gone. But it is perfectly proportionately responsive to you, in the now. So when you have realized that society’s careful, virtuous dance to maintain the façade of moral coherence is actually a sham, and the Universe actually doesn’t think in those terms anyway, well there is still you, there is still Nature, there is still magick. And magick really doesn’t mind, and it teaches us not to also.

And that’s why magick can soothe the savage breast.

As the old Microsoft advert used to say: where do you want to go today?

Wood Engraving 18 by Derek Smootz (Scan from Compendium Maleficarum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

* The ultimate sense of “The Good” is I think rather beyond our usual sense of applied morality.

art, but not science

My friend Brent had asked, given how seemingly accurate astrological readings can be, how this could scientifically happen? Could I write on that?

I think for me the short answer is “no”, for despite what some astrologers assert, astrology is not a science, and I do not think it ever will be (or rather it will never be again).

There was, back at the end of the 70s, a bit of a buzz I remember about the researches of Michel Gauquelin correlating certain astrological occurrences at birth with things like adult occupation, something referred to as the “Mars effect“, but even this proved to be unverifiable in subsequent research, and there were some questions about the methodology. If this had proved to be verifiable and repeatable, it would certainly have been interesting and raised some extraordinary questions, but such a limited (though scientifically extraordinary) claim would not come anywhere near what astrology takes itself to be. As it is, even that seems to have evaporated.

And yet:

Astrology works for those of us who use it and engage in it. It proves useful, therapeutic, insightful. It seems to accurately map inward processes of personal unfoldment, and their apparent reflection in the outer world, and does so repeatedly.

It does this not in a rigidly predictable, determined and pre-set way. It is not objective and causal in a hard science sense. The closest it comes to science would be in its resemblance to psychology, especially of the transpersonal variety, and here astrologers have found refuge and a self assembled credibility since the mid twentieth century, when things like Jungian analysis appeared as life boats that could be boarded to escape the supposedly sinking ship of fortune telling, occultism and other forms of the great carnival freak show that some of us still call home.

But for all these migrations of interpretation and self image, astrology is magic, not science. It has some of the appearance and mechanics of a science, but the scientists left long ago, when we and they separated and differentiated. We inhabit the same building, but they have gone. Astrology is not a “forgotten science”, it is something else. It works in the world of subjectivity, meaning, magic and synchronicity. The fact that (like magic) it does work in its own terms, much as therapy does, and that it moreover spills across the dividing line between the inner and the outer world, is indeed a mystery, but that does not make it a science. I think it was Nicholas Campion that said something along lines of “if you look at astrology you find that astrology doesn’t work, but astrologers do”*. Astrology is an art based upon interpretation, communication and human interaction, using a soulful and poetic language whose form we find in our relation with the earth and cosmos. It’s purposes and goals have changed over time, but its raison d’être is human need.

Things like astrology and alchemy had their place in the history of science, at a time when our scientific endeavours to understand and manipulate the world were fused with a brilliant act of imagination; a faculty which created the basis of the future sciences, the vision, play, observation and experimentation from which reason could travel towards its future disciplines. Astrology was in that sense maybe a proto-science, it was pre-science, and now it is one of a number of studies which are “after science”, or para-science, because on the family tree it appears to head off into a childless dead end, which we yet find fertile. We inhabit an imaginary castle, and find that it still functions.

When I say astrology is not a science, I do not mean that there is nothing to study, or question fruitfully, or that there is no mystery to elucidate. There certainly is. But we are not going to get this great monster, with its waistcoats and watches and tentacles, back into that utilitarian tin can. It’s too late for that, and we done grown too big.

The Alchemist by Francesco Peluso, 1870. Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne. Image at, presumed in public domain - image digitally solarized and cropped

The Alchemist by Francesco Peluso, 1870. Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne. Image at, presumed in public domain – image digitally solarized and cropped

* apologies if I got that quote wrong, I will see if I can find the strictly accurate version.

freeing the merfolk

I had an interesting dream yesterday. I don’t remember all of it, but at the end there was a “mermaid”, about 60 years old, in a dress. Facially she looked a bit like a few people I have worked with in my life, and we were persuading her that she could turn her tail fin into feet, and showing her that under her skirts she had toes. She didn’t believe us at first, she just gave us a well meaning, resigned look. Then she started to say “really?”, like “are you sure?”, and she finally saw the toes with their toe nails, which made her happy.

As I was coming out of the dream I was saying something in a slightly tranced state. It went something like:

“the trouble is that life is very hard for people, and also far more magical than they think. You have to make life as kind as you can, and your magic as helpful as you can”

I think that is true. Life is hard for people, it can be cruel and unkind. But at the same time it is magical and we are magical, though most people have forgotten that. Those two things come together and it turns people, into something not entirely human. Unconscious magic, under hard circumstances, it does things to people.

So we do need to work to alleviate both our own and other people’s suffering in our lives, and also to make our magic beneficial and conscious. It’s really a very personal work. But I believe it can turn people back into people.

“The Land Baby” by John Collier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Everyone who practices magic (of the occult variety) needs a definition of what they mean by that term. We are often moved towards magic by desires and attractions which don’t exactly fall within the bandwidth of the rational (as with many important things in life), so it is good to get clarity on what we mean.

A very commonly cited definition is that provided by Aleister Crowley:

Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will

Magick in Theory and Practice

I used this as a fall back for many years, but it is so general as to include every volitional transaction which a person makes in life, and while this makes a case for the universal scope of its magic, it’s not so helpful as a meaningful definition of the things that magicians normally consider magic (as opposed to say the act of walking, or drinking a cup of coffee).

In the introduction to “The Left Hand Path” (by Tapio Kothavori) Michael Aquino quotes a number of definitions, eg:

“The change in situations or events in accordance with one’s will, which would, using normally accepted methods, be unchangeable”*

“The manipulation of harmonic  forces which may lie outside sensory perception and are therefore beyond the pale of possible measurement”**

Marion Weinstein defined magic as “the work of transformation”, ultimately relating to the self, though she wrote a lot of context and illustration into that very simple definition. I remember Israel Regardie referring to the necessary components of magic being imagination and will, while others have noted a need for a “factor X” to bring about a magical union of these two faculties, eg techniques that bring about an altered state of consciousness, such as trance work.

I think you should write your definition of magic from your own experience, understanding and orientation. You might not arrive at a universal definition of what magic is to all practitioners, but if you don’t get your hands dirty in what you actually experience, understand and believe, yourself, then you will not make it conscious, and you will not contribute that little something to other people. Living in Aleister Crowley’s (or Israel Regardie’s, or Dion Fortune’s) shadow will not make you Aleister Crowley, and more importantly, it will get in the way of your being yourself.

My working definition of magic(k)¹ is:

the bringing about of intended change through communication between different worlds, at different levels of perceived existence, or levels of wholeness of a system

This is the definition that I derive from my experience, though it does build on Crowley’s definition as a starting point. It highlights the act of communication which I have found to be central to magical work, indeed it is the forging of a relationship. It also highlights that the communication occurs between different worlds. Someone who is materialistically or exclusively psychologically inclined might view this as communication between the conscious and the unconscious. I see this more in terms of communication with the invisible, with spirits, gods etc, and the relationships we make with them. Communication between levels of wholeness, or between levels of a holistic system, is another way of seeing things, and has relations to how we navigate the experience of being, and how we relate to the intelligent environment.

If I phone the plumber to come fix the pipes, and pay him for his services, this is not magic for me because we are of the same order of creature, existing within one world. If I make an offering to a god or spirit, or have some other kind of congress with them, and a wished for manifestation ensues, this is magic for me, because the congress has occurred between worlds. In fact the congress itself is the reward in devotional practice.

If I walk to the post office and post my letter, then go to the supermarket, then come home, I might find magic in this (it could be anywhere, in anything), but when I go into wilderness I am probably more likely to find it (and potentially benefit from it), as I am approaching the edge of a greater holistic system. We can see from this that magic is not just a verb or a transaction, but also a presence and a relationship, and the intention may be explicit or implicit.

Because being is deep, interdependent and complex, magic will always have a poetic fuzziness to it, spilling into epiphany, prayer, experimentation, craft, and love. A great deal of love.

But intention is also important, for intention makes conscious, and itself traverses worlds. One could view the whole universe as run by magic in a sense, the magic that draws our breath, that moves our muscles and limbs, that lights our minds and senses, ignites stars and turns planets. This is all very real magic, not less so for being familiar, for we fundamentally have no idea what it actually is.

But our magic is something we explore and discover consciously for ourselves, in the meaningful context of our own lives.

detail of "Witches going to their Sabbath" by Luis Ricardo Falero [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Some electronic alteration of colour, contrast etc. The combination of a goth sensibility with a cute Faust was irresistible.

detail of “Witches going to their Sabbath” by Luis Ricardo Falero [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Some electronic alteration of colour, contrast etc. The combination of a goth sensibility with a cute Faust was irresistible.

* Anton LaVey

** René Schwaller de Lubicz

¹ The spelling with a “k” is something that Crowley revived to distinguish occult magic from stage show, illusionist magic. I have come to associate it with “New Aeon” magic in a Thelemic context, which could have a number of meanings to different people, while others simply use it as a name for “real magic”. I am personally quite happy to use either spelling. “k” is the eleventh letter of the alphabet, and 11 is the “number of magick”. I find the number 11 fits my definition also, as it reflects for me the communication and congress between different levels, whether illustrated as 10 + 1, or 5 + 6.

the light side has cookies too

I thought it was about time I did something on Marion Weinstein and her work. Marion was a Witch, of a very un-trendy, non-self-mystifying kind, who gave me a great deal through her very unique but very populist work. She died in 2009 and I do miss her. I think her work deserves to live on, because it was so very beneficial and helpful to all kinds of people.

I didn’t agree with everything Marion taught. Her sense of Witchcraft history was as wildly off as so much of her generation’s was. Her views on Satanism were I think not just wrong, but irresponsible in view of the “satanic panics” of the 1980s and 90s. But there is so much that I learned from her, and that I love her for.

Margot Adler said of her after her death:

“Her odd and somewhat squeaky voice, as well as the way she presented herself, made many people think she was simple and not smart. But Positive Magic is beautifully written and quite brilliant. She was always much deeper and more savvy than many in the world gave her credit for…”

I would completely agree, and I’ll always like her for being a funny, touching antidote to the privilege, mystification and constipation of so much occultism.

She was known for two books mainly: “Positive Magic” (her occult self help guide), and “Earth Magic” (her personal book of shadows). She seemed to find her own way through the field and come up with uniquely expressed insights. She was a “hedgewitch” before there were really any in print, just without the pseudo-rural trappings, and I loved that she entirely embraced being an “urban witch”. Unusually for her time, she didn’t allow her Paganism to slide into a lazy, mystical sexism either. No “first among equals”, or similar sexual ideologies here. She was clear on equality – her ideas were too lucid and consistent not to be.

Another thing she was clear on was her ethics, and she could tell you why. If it was just a question of “negative magic bad – positive magic good“, it would have been ethical superstition and rote assertions. But she could point out the psychological overcompensation, and the magical inferiority complexes behind reliance on causing harm and manipulation through magic. You need to think about these things and come to your own conclusions, without getting into that dumb “good and evil” thing in your imagination, but her case was consistent and well thought out. She couldn’t do the thinking or fleshing out for you, but she could show you the bare bones she had identified herself.

Magic for her was about transformation, and about the self, but it was also, for her as a Witch, about service without the self-sacrifice a lot of us were taught to associate with that word. Her scheme was simplicity itself: we use two worlds, the “world of form” and “the invisible world”, and we work between them to bring about magic. She understood, ahead of chaos magic, that our esoteric complications are contingent and ultimately arbitrary.

Her guide to tarot was spot on; that you use the pictures of the tarot as spring boards to following your intuition, and that this finally is the only way to really read tarot. That secret is too simple to put in a book on tarot, because it will not sell, and it will turn you into a tarot reader rather than a tarot expert. If you look across her two main books, you can find similarly brief and practical guides to contacting spirits, working spells, and working with parallel aspects of self in different worlds and different times. She understood a lot about being and time, enough to know that you didn’t have to make it sound difficult to communicate something real, and profound.

The main magical technique she wrote about was what she called “words of power”, which look a lot like affirmations, except that they trace being back to source as part of it. She taught about working with essence and with form, and what the limitations were. She taught, through guided practice, what the intelligence of energy was like.

There was no mumbo jumbo in Marion’s world; just consciousness and clear intention. And she taught the clear, light power of intention too.

As she used to say: everyone’s shadow is different. So you wouldn’t end up the same as her, and I certainly didn’t. We’re not meant to, but I do really appreciate her. If she’d put a big scary face on her work, or a stuffy bookish one, or a glamorous, mysterious one, we’d probably say she was a genius and a great community elder. But she just put the face of a zany, stand up comic on it, with frizzy hair and a funny voice, some jokes to crack, and oh here’s all the important stuff I know about magic, which I use in my life all the time, and so can you.

Bright, clear, funny and enquiring – people could still learn a lot from her.