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AN INTRODUCTORY TREATISE ON THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF YELLOW MAGIC
By Phillip Emmons Issac Bonewits
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1989 Phillip Emmons Issac Bonewits
All rights reserved.
The Laws of Magic
"Law: a statement of an order or relation of phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions ... the observed regularity of nature."
—Webster's Third New International
Over the centuries a collection of basic magical and mystical axioms has surfaced in culture after culture throughout the world, even in cultures that were totally isolated. These we can, and will, call the Laws of Magic. Like the law of gravity or the law of diminishing returns, these magical laws are not legislative acts (as some theologians have tried to make them) but rather they are descriptions of the ways that phenomena in a field—in this case magic—seem to interact and behave. They are the results of observation, testing, and theorizing until a coherent whole is produced.
Not all these laws are consciously known or understood by those using them, and not all will automatically appear in every single culture with a tradition of magic. To understand them, it is not necessary that you become a magician yourself. In fact, it is often easier for an outsider to discover and organize these laws.
For example, suppose a physiologist is watching Arnold Palmer play golf. Now the scientist may understand everything that's going on inside Palmer's body when he swings his club; that is, he will know what neurons are discharging, what hormones are being released into Palmer's bloodstream, what muscles are contracting and releasing. The fact that he knows all this, however, won't make him a pro like Palmer. As for Palmer himself, he probably doesn't understand everything going on in his metabolism; all he knows is that he moves his body in such and such a way and sinks a putt. Knowing how to play golf does not make him a physiologist. The scientist has a slight advantage here because he can study athletes from many different sports.
The situation described here is similar to the relation between a professional occultist and a professional magician, where the former would be the physiologist and the latter, the athlete. An even better comparison would be the occultist as scientist and the magician as engineer. A person can be a superb occultist and a lousy magician and vice versa; the basic talents involved are not the same and only rarely do they show up in the same individual. I, for example, am a much better occultist than I am a magician; and most of my colleagues are better magicians than they are occultists.
Now all magicians believe in the Law of Cause and Effect, that exactly the same actions done under exactly the same conditions will always be associated with exactly the same results. Actually the whole theory of causation gets shaky as soon as you look at it twice, and those "exactly's" are hard to get, but it works quite nicely for day-to-day planning. This is not a law limited to magic, but I'll toss it in here to keep things neat.
We will examine in this chapter some of the most basic and important Laws of Magic, give a brief description of their meaning, relate them to the workings of the mind, show some of their interrelationships, and throw in a few examples for good measure. But before we do, consider the words of J. W. N. Sullivan's The Limitations of Science:
But these laws are purely descriptive laws. They are just statements of fact, like saying gold is yellow. Kepler gives no reason why his laws should be as they are. The observation and recording of laws is the first step in scientific procedure. Science begins by hunting for uniformities amongst natural phenomena. The scientific man finds, for instance, that light is propagated in straight lines, that unsupported stones fall to the ground, that heat passes from a hotter body to a cooler one. In this way he introduces a sort of order into whole groups of happenings. And this sort of knowledge is often quite sufficient for practical purposes. Indeed, in many cases of great practical importance science has not yet advanced beyond this knowledge.
The Law of Knowledge is the most basic of all the laws. It states that "understanding brings control," that the more you learn the stronger you are. If you know all there is to know about something, then you have absolute and total control over it. Now this is the basis of all modern science and technology, and obviously matches the way the human organism—or any other that we know of, for that matter—actually works. The more data input the organism has about phenomena either inside or outside its body the greater a possibility it has of solving problems and thus surviving. The key phrase for this law would be: "Knowledge is power."
Its major sublaw is the Law of Self-Knowledge which says that the most important kind of knowledge is knowledge of oneself. This also has a very logical basis. Constant review and reorganizing of the contents of your mind and body lead to more effective survival. You might say that only when the machine is cleaned and greased are you thoroughly tuned for living. Its key phrase would be: "Know thyself."
All the other laws depend upon these two; it is wise to keep them in mind at all times. I don't really think that these need any more explanation or defense, and since this is not officially a book of philosophy or phenomenology, we can go on to the others.
The Law of Names is related to both the Law of Knowledge and the Law of Association. It states that knowing the complete and total true name of a phenomenon or entity gives you complete control over it (almost all phenomena in magic are personified and can be considered to be "entities," or beings). This law is based on two premises. First: in simpler languages than our own a name is a definition of that which is named. This is true also in complex languages, though you often have to search long and hard for the name-meaning of a word, especially one with foreign roots. Knowing the name, you know that which is named. As you get more information about the thing named, the name changes and evolves to fit the new data, often getting longer in the process. If you can only learn the full name of a strange phenomenon, you will fully understand it and therefore control it. This is the connection with the Law of Knowledge.
Second: names are associational devices (memory gimmicks, used to remind you of something) both as aspects or descriptions of a phenomenon and as root, or "germ," sounds. We will go into those a bit more deeply when we hit the Law of Association. The key phrase for the Law of Names could be: "What's in a name?—everything!"
A sublaw of the Law of Names is the Law of Words of Power. This says that there are certain words that are able to change and influence the inner and outer reality of those saying them. Now every word can be considered to be the name of something, but this is not the major emphasis here, even though the most powerful words of power are usually corruptions of the names of the old gods.
Words like "abracadabra" or "osorronnophris" or "she-hamphorash" may have little or no meaning to those saying them, but their meaninglessness is irrelevant. The power is thought to lie in the very sounds of the words themselves, thus linking this to the subject of Mantra, which we'll get into later. (I'm sorry that I am forced to keep saying "later," but everything in magic is incredibly interwoven, and I am required by the printed page to present things one at a time.) The key phrase here is: "A word to the wise is sufficient." The next major law is the Law of Association. If two things, "A" and "B," have something in common (anything!), that thing can be used to control both, and "A" and "B" have a mutual influence on each other, depending upon the size of the thing shared. The more they have in common, the more they influence each other.
When the hunter runs down and kills a lion, he may eat the lion's liver thinking that this will give him strength; or a warrior may eat the brains of his slain enemy in order to assimilate his opponent's courage or cleverness. A communicant in church eats a piece of bread which is believed to be the body of Christ so as to gain some of Christ's attributes. All these are examples of "ritual cannibalism," and are essentially the same. The lion has strength and a lion's liver. If I have the lion's liver, then I will also have the lion's strength. The same mechanism of association is operating in each example.
Now the Law of Association is rarely used in its pure form, except for selecting the window dressing and props for casting a spell. Instead, two major sublaws hog the limelight. In fact, these two were the first to be "discovered" by modern anthropology and were thought to underly the whole of "primitive" magic. Actually, use of the term "primitive" should be avoided since many many so-called savage cultures are just as complex as our own.
These two sublaws are the Law of Similarity and the Law of Contagion. The first is the basis of "sympathetic magic" and basically says that effects resemble causes. If you want to make a broom fly, you have to put bird feathers on it, wave it around, chirp over it, and so forth. Remember, any object, idea, or person which reminds you of, or is connected (that's associated) with a particular phenomenon or entity, partakes of that entity's power and can be used as if it were the entity itself. Thus the feathers, chirping, and other props are connected with the idea of flying and can be used to produce the power of the phenomenon "flight." So the key phrase for the Law of Similarity would be: "Lookalikes are alikel"
The Law of Contagion has an undeservedly bad reputation because of publicity given to "voodoo" and "curses" in non-literate societies. Sure, it can be used to kill, but it can also be used to cure. The law states that "things once in contact continue to interact after separation." The emphasis here is on objects or persons that have been in physical contact with each other. Thus you might use hair or fingernail clippings to help cast a curse because the clippings are associated with (they remind you of) the victim. Or you might touch a sick child with "holy water" in order to cure her of illness. So our key phrase here is: "Power is contagious."
These two sublaws often work together. One example might be the ritual cannibalism discussed earlier. Another would be the area of "fertility" magic, which usually consists of letting the kids do their thing out in the fields before plowing. Or you might take a bottle of your best wine and pour it over the growing vines to insure the crop's high quality. Almost all religious rituals invoke these two sublaws, as when a priest makes the sign of the cross with holy oil or water on the body of a believer, or when the rice of fertility is tossed at a wedding.
Association is used in a reverse manner in "ridicule rituals," in which an enemy's associations are twisted and distorted in order to render them powerless. For example, in the famous so-called Black Masses the rituals and prayers would all be done backward, and ugly or obscene things associated with the normally sacred and powerful. It is also common to use the enemy's gestures, symbols, words, and names in contradictory, muddled, or ridiculous combinations in order to destroy his power.
The Law of Association, with its various sublaws and interactions with other laws, is probably used more than any other law. Now, since magic is predominantly a function of the mind and its thinking patterns, you might expect that this most frequently used law might have an intimate connection with the way the human mind works. Well, you won't be disappointed, since the major function of the brain seems to be association. As far as most psychologists can tell, thinking, feeling, and memory are the result of data correlations (associations) between information that has already been organized and the new data constantly being received. When data are associated, patterns are produced. The total mind, or personality or "world view," consists of millions of patterns all summing up as a metapattern (the word we'll use in this book). Anything can be data ("data" is now used as a collective noun, though technically 1 datum + 1 datum = 2 data—well, 3 actually, since their relation is also a datum) whether it's perceptions, memories, fantasy images, beliefs, values, techniques, rules, or any pattern these may form in combination. Your memory is a collection of many of these previously organized patterns. New information is compared with data already organized, in the memory or elsewhere, so that various correlations and associations can be tried on for size. New associations form new patterns and modify old ones; one new piece of data may drastically alter an entire large pattern. The larger patterns are highly conservative, though, and a man may go insane rather than admit he must change his metapattern. It is well known that those who do succeed in making major alterations in their metapatterns are usually the most fanatic converts: St. Paul and Lenin come immediately to mind.
So where's the connection? The Law of Association can be considered to be a restatement of these principles of the human mind: "Any datum correlating with previously organized data adds to the total content of that data pattern, increasing understanding and thus control of the phenomenon under consideration."
Please remember that this data organizing doesn't have to take place on a conscious level; in fact, in normal life, very little of it ever does. Having a lock of someone's hair, or knowing his secret name, or his ancestry, or having a wax image of him can all be considered methods for gaining more data about him. Some of this may be received and organized on a subconscious or even psychic level. Every new corner of a pattern gives you a new handle you can use to yank out the pattern when you need it. Or, if you are going to do a spell of a more abstract sort, you would surround yourself with colors, lights, smells, sounds, pictures, textures, and anything else you could think of—touching every sense of the body—to remind you of the matter at hand. Thus you would keep certain patterns associated with these items on the surface of your mind and increase the intensity of your concentration. The key phrase we will use for the Law of Association is: "Commonality controls."
The Law of Identification combines those of Knowledge, Association, and Personification and states that by maximum association between your metapattern and that of another entity, you can actually become that entity and wield its power. Now by maximum association and organization of all data about an entity or phenomenon, you increase your knowledge. The instrumental act of role-playing the part of the entity gives you still more data, as you begin to get an idea of how the entity feels from the inside out. You then examine your personal metapattern from the point of view of the entity's metapattern. This is, of course, more intense association, but it is conceived of as "becoming" the entity. All thoughts of separation vanish, and you can do anything the entity can, because you are the entity.
Unfortunately most people become so thoroughly lost inside their target entity that they are unable to get out. They even lose all thought of themselves as being anything but the entity. The two beings are neither separate nor equal, and the stronger submerges the weaker. Depending on your society and culture, this is known either as sainthood or insanity. This law is primarily theurgic, since once you succeed you're in no condition to do any more experimenting, nor do you really want to. When the identification is temporary we have something called "divine" or "demonic" possession. Our key phrase here might be: "You can become another."
The Law of Synthesis, or the Union of Opposites, states that the synthesis of two opposing ideas or data will produce a third idea that will be truer than either of the first two. This third idea will not be a compromise but will be something brand new.
This law comes in very handy, though it is used in the West more for mystical purposes than for magic. Basically, it allows for the simultaneous holding of two conflicting data without anxiety or cognitive strain. It is a method-pattern in the mind that advocates various types of adaptive conduct. It allows you to change belief more smoothly and alter value patterns when necessary. It allows the redeployment of attention from unpleasant contradictions, thus relieving the strain that would otherwise exist.
Since the strain has been tranquilized, old and new data can be considered in peace. The final result will be something new which will be in essence a synthesis of the original beliefs.
There are reams of material on this law, showing up everywhere from the Jewish Kabbalah to Tibetan Tantra to Karl Marx—who had the principle down right, but whose followers botched up the results due to insufficient data. The key phrase for this law would be: "Synthesis reconciles."
Excerpted from REAL MAGIC by Phillip Emmons Issac Bonewits. Copyright © 1989 Phillip Emmons Issac Bonewits. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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