Printed in the Spring 2018 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Smoley, Richard,"From the Editor’s Desk" Quest 106:2, pg 2
It must have been twelve or fourteen years ago that I conducted an evening workshop in ritual magic at the New York Open Center in Manhattan.
It went off pretty well, although its goal was really nothing more than to illustrate certain basic principles. It did occur to me afterward that it may have been rather foolish to conduct a magical ceremony with a bunch of strangers who had walked off the streets of New York, but then perhaps the old saw should be modified to say that the good Lord looks out for little babies, drunken men, and, occasionally, ritual magicians.
In any case, the Theosophical literature is richly endowed with warnings about the dangers of occult magic, so I consider this readership sufficiently cautioned about this matter, and will go on to another subject: does magic work?
On the one hand, if occult magic doesn’t work, why is it found so universally? Superstition? Undoubtedly to a degree. The power of suggestion? Maybe, but maybe not. Max Freedom Long’s classic study of Huna or Hawaiian shamanism, The Secret Science behind Miracles, describes a case involving an Irish cabdriver in Honolulu, a young woman with whom he was up to no good, and her grandmother, who knew a thing or two about such matters. The cabdriver began to wither away from the feet up without knowing why. A doctor figured out what was going on: the young man had been subjected to the Huna death prayer. He intervened with the grandmother, and she let him know that she would put off the curse—on the condition that the cabdriver caught the next boat back to the mainland. “The situation had to be explained over and over again to the unbelieving Irishman,” Long writes, “but when the idea finally hit home, he became terrified and was willing to agree to any terms.” When he did, the symptoms went away. If the Irishman did not know about the curse and did not even understand the concept, it is hard to chalk up this case to suggestion.
On the other hand, if occult magic works, why has it fallen into disfavor, in Western societies at any rate?
Here is one suggestion: occult magic works, or it can work. But it is almost impossible to make it work without unexpected and undesired side-effects.
In his entertaining memoir My Life with the Spirits, magus Lon Milo duQuette describes his evocation of the spirit Orobas, described in the grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon the King as “a Great and Mighty Prince, appearing at first like a Horse; but after the command of the Exorcist he putteth on the Image of a Man.” His “Office” is, among other things, “to give Dignities, and Prelacies, and the Favour of Friends and Foes.”
DuQuette, down on his financial luck, needed Orobas’s help, and, after invoking him, got it. He gave the spirit a tough assignment: he wanted his fortune to reverse itself—and within an hour.
The ritual worked. Within one hour, a friend of DuQuette’s showed up in a beat-up but functional car and gave it to him unasked. DuQuette was able to use the car to find and keep a job, and things improved from there.
Of course there is always something in these affairs that doesn’t go quite right. According to the principles of Solomonic magic, the magus has to keep the spirit’s sigil, written on a small piece of parchment, in a secret place. No one should touch it or even look at it.
DuQuette hit upon what he thought of as the perfect hiding place: he taped the sigil inside his guitar, which he allowed no one else near. Unfortunately, Kurt, a student of DuQuette’s and a talented woodworker, offered to refurbish the guitar in exchange for lessons. DuQuette agreed, having forgotten about the sigil, which, along with the guitar, left his possession for five days.
Kurt brought back a beautifully refinished guitar, but he told DuQuette he couldn’t stay for his first lesson, because he was off to the racetrack. Kurt had never had any particular interest in horseracing until the previous day, when he and his father went to the track. “I just fell in love with the horses,” he told DuQuette. “They’re so beautiful. They look like gods! When they look at me I feel like a horse!”
Remember that Orobas appears “at first like a horse.” Conceivably the spirit had gotten out (Kurt had handled the sigil while refurbishing the guitar), and despite DuQuette’s best efforts, continued to obsess the ill-fated student for the next fifteen years: “Sadly, his addiction to horseracing and other forms of gambling escalated year by year into self-destructive behavior that eventually rendered him a social cripple. The last time I saw him he was living in a small industrial shop—the walls of his cell surrounded by hundreds of color photographs and posters of racehorses.”
Although DuQuette adds that the sigil could not be blamed entirely for Kurt’s fate—he was undoubtedly an addictive personality to begin with—DuQuette speculates that this predisposition, along with many other factors, may have given birth “to an evil spirit—a demon horse who escaped its wizard just long enough to gallop madly into the weak and vulnerable soul of a weak and tragic human being.” With a bit of help from a grimoire and a magician.
Magic, you see, is unpredictable. You can’t completely control it, and it usually gives you some results that you hadn’t wanted. In a way, I’ve proven it here. Without intending to give you a warning about magic, I seem to have done so after all.