Magic as a Social Practice

Posted on September 23, 2008
Filed Under Magic, social practice, Taylor Ellwood | 6 Comments

In a recent post, I asked what the purpose of magic is. In some follow up conversations I’ve had, it’s been suggested that magic is a social practice. If so, then the question arises how contemporary practices of magic display such social practices. In another conversation I had, it was suggested that in a lot of contemporary occult culture there is a focus on out cooling each other, a focus as it were on image as opposed to something more substantial. We see this attempt to outcool each other in workings which are focused on sabotaging the institutions of mainstream culture. For example the attempt send a lovebomb to Fox News, as written about in Generation Hex is a good example of a focus on image as opposed to content. We have to ask if that magical working really did anything substantial…and given that Fox news seems to be still running and operating, I’m not certain that the lovebomb did anything substantial at all, other than create an image of doing something.

If magic can function as a social practice, it must offer something more substantial than image and a practice more significant than attempting to prove who is more cool or who is more subversive to mainstream culture. Indeed, we need to ask how magic actually contributes to our culture. Are we engaged in a practice where we actively contribute to the culture around us? How does the practice of magic contribute to our culture? In what ways is magic as a social practice, a practice that enables change of some kind to occur?

In a discussion I had with Vince Stevens, he suggested that taking the path of the Taoist mystic who sought to educate people about his practices in order to help them live better lives might be a path to consider. I think this approach to magic can be useful in the sense that it asks us to consider what kind of information we are gtiving out as well as considering the effect that information will have on the people hwo choose to pursue it.

What I think magic as a social practice really comes down to is finding ways to re-package magic as it were. I got involved in life coaching because I wanted to be able to offer skills I’d learned as an occultist to people who might not feel comfortable with the magical aspects, but could still benefit from a repackaging of those concepts into something they could understand, without all the negative connotations included…because despite what Crowley wanted, in terms of rehabilitating magic, I don’t perceive it as rehabilitated in the public’s conception of it. For magic to become a social practice it has to be re-packaged…reconsidered, as well as looking at how it is used for the benefit of all as opposed to the benefit of just the practitioner or a small group of people that practitioner knows. I think that as the concepts of intention and will are explored in neuroscience and physics and psychology, and as professions such as life coaching and alternative healing become more prevalent there is a chance to apply magical skills to the community and to help people become more connected to each other. I think that if this is to be to successful, we ultimately have to ask what the purpose of magic is and what legacy we want leave to the people who follow us, as well as to this planet we live on.