Magic and ethics, that’s the question, or is it? Although I don’t want to make a big fuss about it, I want to make a quick point that might inspire others to think about what they are saying when they utter the words ‘magic and ethics.’ While I have been fortunate enough to have undergone some training in the magical arts with people who know what they are doing, I have to admit that I have always been suspicious of the warning to always stay on your turf when performing magic rather than intervening with other people’s wyrd, for generally speaking, it is not very nice to impose your will on another person’s will.

Without debating this issue, I just want to pose this question: to what extent can we talk about ethics, my will against other people’s will, criminal magical acts of sorcery, healing, and so on, once the hedge is crossed? As far as I can see, once the bridge to the other world is crossed then you’ve left your own turf behind already. Also, insofar as in the ‘other’ world there are no distinctions that are similar to the ones we make here in our little mundane lives – as to the effect of what is good and what is bad for us and so on – it is rather pointless to maintain the same system of values and hierarchies in the magical world as we do here. That to me seems to defy the whole purpose with crossing thresholds. A magical world is a magical world, not a world of magic where good and evil are just better than the good and evil in this world.

As to our thoughts, how good or how bad, what intent we have and what we want to use it for, I’d have to say this: the only obligation we have is not to speak and think good of others, speak and think good of the earth and animals, on whose behalf we are also tempted to speak, but rather, we have an obligation to speak for ourselves. And what does that mean? That means that we must know how to respect ourselves. It is my belief that if we can respect ourselves, we can probably also respect others. We can only expect of ourselves to do the ‘right’ thing if we know what it means to respect ourselves. Anything else is to me questionable, namely, for instance, the presumption that we can speak for our children, the disabled, the earth, and so on. Maybe so, but how can we be sure? I’ll leave this open, as I have another agenda on my mind.

However, given this frame, I’m interested in magical acts that bypass the idea that we must have an ethical code devised in our own image or in that of some invented tradition. A magical act is a magical act. Now, without talking about magic as such, I want to talk about tools that might make a statement on the applicability of magical acts. I’ll take the tarot cards as an example.

Basically, I want to demonstrate how the tarot can speak any language we want it to speak by showing how nicely the tarot can become part of a magical discourse performing on two levels: first as a divination tool – answering a question – and then as a tool for intervention, enforcing whatever ‘eating of the enemy’ act must have been performed via other instruments than the cards, such as the eating of a talisman or an amulet – a common practice in the shamanic world.


Here’s my question posed to what I call the council of 13:

How practical are magical acts and how do they serve the practitioner?

camelia elias

I read first the inner cross, then the outer cross, then the diagonal lines and then the themes around the inner cross cards (For an in-depth intro to the mechanics of reading this spread, see my post here).


As we can see from the beginning, the practicability of magic is found in the desire to change your emotional content. As most magical acts are the result of emotion, ranging from rage to bliss, the 9 Cups here reflects that need very accurately and nicely. So we read around this card of change the following:

If you put energy (The Sun) in your magical intent, you’ll succeed (The Charioteer). But as we can see here, by looking at the Charioteer we also get the distinct impression that while winning the stake, you must also take leave of it. In some magical discourses it is in fact an imperative that if you have just ‘exercised’ your intent, or will, you must leave it to work. You are not to check your bun in the oven ever third minute to see if it grows. You must believe that it does, leave it at that, and then practice the art of patience.

The magic is now manifested in the world (Knight of Batons). News about the change travels fast (Knight of Batons), with a man in power clearly benefitting (King of Coins). (Perhaps he is our Magician here, as most of these people are known to be able to handle a coin pretty nicely.) Other messengers participate in delivering the news about what has changed. The Pages of Batons and Cups flank the margins of the cauldron and are both oriented toward the center of attention where things are stirred. The page of Batons adds more logs to the fire while the page of Cups pours some champagne on the head of the winner. But the big cup of abundance (Ace of Cups) does not serve all equally well, as someone gets hanged (The Hanged Man). Some must give up their agency. Perhaps the Hanged Man is the man the magic is inflicted upon, and not as a nice thing.

People at large (Judgement) also hear about the change, and scattering ideas (3 coins) increase the glory (Sun still glowing above the 3 coins). But as with any magical act that needs to be constrained to ethical issues, ‘as above so below’ has a metallic ring to it. The destabilizing stab (4 spades) is done but the conflict (2 spades) remains. The King of Coins presides over a separation, and unless he likes that, he must have a bitter taste in his mouth.

If we look at the emerging themes here, we might say the following:

There is a burning desire to hit home base (Ace of Cups, Page of Batons, 3 Coins around the Sun). The big bang succeeds, with the winner celebrated and the loser punished (Judgement, Page of Cups, The Hanged Man around The Charioteer).

The initial flowing zest dries up but there’s some theatrical resurrection (Ace of Cups, 4 Swords, Judgement around the Knight of Batons). The incubated magical act requires constraint and a renunciation (3 Coins, Two Swords, The Hanged Man around the King of Coins).

In other words, magical acts work and they serve the practitioner well, insofar as the practitioner is ready to sacrifice something too: travel to the underworld (as suggested by the Hanged Man here) or bring an offering of libation or money. Perhaps donning a costume of power also helps, and a dance in the public limelight might give the spirits something to laugh about.


Now, if I wasn’t reading this spread for a specific magical purpose, but rather to know something about the magic of the banal in the everyday life that goes through 3 known stages – you get born, you live, you die – I’d probably say the following:

Two get together to form a family. The economics of it is in the high seat (Ace of Cups, The Sun, 3 coins). The family is already large with children coming from all corners (the 2 Pages, The Knight of Batons). Everybody celebrates (Judegment). There was great love in the past (Ace of Cups, The Sun), but right now it is strained (9 cups) due to too many destabilizing factors (The swords). While the crowd that includes the extended family (Judgement) still cheers for the maintenance of the status quo (The Charioteer), the man in the house grows impotent (The Hanged Man). As they say, worse things can happen.

From a mundane perspective, the absence of women may be worrying. From a magical perspective, I could advance the theory that the supposed magician here, namely the King of Coins, is in fact a cross-dresser. In the magical world, gender is the last thing that preoccupies the magician.

So what can I conclude? Well, perhaps the fact that I like magic, and that I prefer to see that it stays magical. We do not need to impose any rules on it, least of all contaminate it with our talk about what is right and what is wrong.

Have a magical life.


Note about the deck:

Tarot de Marseille by Jean Noblet (1650), as reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy.

For more on the mechanics of reading with the Marseille deck, check out my book, Marseille Tarot: Towards the Art of Reading.

Part of this essay made in my new book, The Oracle Travels Light: Principles of Magic with Cards. Check it out to read more, if you’re so inclined.



Add yours →

  1. As above, so below. The most important cards in a work on magic are the swords. The 4 of swords at the apex speaks of the peace profound under the roof of a magical temple or in a ritual space. The 9 of cups can be The Holy Grail, the Magic Brass Lamp or the inner sanctum. It matters not unless one can get inside and make contact with the contents of the vessel – with the waters of the psyche. The structure of this layout shows us that the weight of the matter is carried on the head of the 2 of swords which is the way in.The magical lore of the two of swords deals with projections and with blind spots, a very appropriate card indeed for this blog. To activate the power generating center card, to get into a proper alignment or frame of mind one must first “fix and remove the blind spot!” Well read.

    • Thanks. Great points. Indeed, while none of the other ‘truly’ magical spades showed up, the cards here fell quite interestingly, with the 2 sets of spades marking the passage, and beautifully illustrating some very subtle points about how magic works. But it does take the removal of the blind spots, as you so aptly point out, in order to see that. So, in a way, this spread and this reading lend themselves to opening themselves only to the ones who can become like children, direct and without prejudice. The shining armour of the Charioteer under public applause is of no use here, as it leads straight into the hole. It goes to show, the culture way is not always the way ahead.

  2. ST···R

  3. Maga Jr. adds her two cents. ROME GOALVE


    Andrew Kyle McGregor: If you would do the act for, or to, someone in the real world, then it is okay I the spiritual world. Unless you are a scoundrel. Then you probably did not read this and do not care.

    Todd Landman: Amoral magic…interesting concept. There was a strand of thought about magic being a reflection of our inner selves, so perhaps any moral compass we have in the non-magical world gets reflected in the magical world somehow?
    3 hours ago · Like

    Todd Landman: strong pursuit of rational self-interest in the non-magical world would manifest itself in the magical world very differently than one motivated more by altruism. Without specifying ‘rules’ the magical would (does?) nonetheless reflect the interaction and play of these different moralities. Gandalf and Saruman come to mind…
    3 hours ago · Like

    Camelia Elias: Magic is not a question of working AT but working WITH. We may need structuralist rules that get us there, over the threshold, such as we may find them in the type of sacred magic developed by Western hermetic esotericism, where the renunciation of your desire below results in reward above, but the thing is that once you’re there – call it heaven or hell – other(‘s) rules apply. ‘There’ you work WITH, which means that there is no self to worry about.
    2 minutes ago · Like

    Todd Landman: So one surrenders the self….
    about a minute ago via mobile · Like

    Camelia Elias: That’s it.

    Todd Landman: And the will? No free will?
    18 minutes ago via mobile · Like

    Camelia Elias: As long as we deal with context, there’s never free will.
    a few seconds ago · Like

    Shelley Ruelle: Camelia I really enjoyed this post and the discussion. I think this is an always relevant and often overlooked or misunderstood or simply left unexamined area of “magic” however one defines it.
    44 minutes ago · Like

    Camelia Elias: Thanks, Shelley. I guess I tend to be over senzitive to all claims ‘in the name of’. It is not a given that we can find legitimation for our claims just because they happen to be done in the name of some noble cause.

    Todd Landman: Can you expand on the context and free will point please?
    46 minutes ago via mobile · Like

    Daniele Nigris: A quite strange discourse seems to be yours, Camelia Elias. Maybe magic can be conceived of as amoral, but the Magus never is, nor can be. The Magus lives Here.
    Your initial argument seems to border on Anton LaVey’s positions as expressed in the first edition of his Bible -a Nietzschean calling self out of any moral duty except for one’s own interest/happiness.. did I read in haste?
    30 minutes ago · Like · 1

    Camelia Elias: Todd, form is content. The rules of the form over content are never the rules of the individual, but rather the rules of the many. Even the rich must be in solidarity with the rich to maintain power over the not so rich. One could argue that the individual can exercise ‘free will’ by opting out of the from imposed on him by the context of his circumstance. Good luck to him.

    Daniele, first off, I never suggested that magic is amoral. Moral philosophy doesn’t interest me. Hence what Nietzsche has to say, or LaVey has to say, is of little consequence in terms of what I was saying, namely, that what makes a world magical is not what we claim it is but what we experience it is. And in my experience this has little to do with the position of the Magus ‘Here’. Insofar as the Magus is with one foot in the world of logos and the other in the world of mythos, the only task he has, if he is to succeed, is to watch his step. Which is not the same as saying that he must act out of a ‘moral’ intent to begin with or presume that through his own effort and will he will achieve anything worth the while. I think a true Magus operates from within a space of grace. And this has very little to do with what we make of it culturally speaking.

    Todd Landman: Can one make magic happen? Or does magic just happen?
    22 minutes ago via mobile · Like · 1

    Daniele Nigris: And: is ‘magic’ an ontological expression, or an epistemological one?
    11 minutes ago via mobile · Like · 1

    Todd Landman: Magic for me is ontological, epistemological and methodological….
    10 minutes ago via mobile · Like

    Camelia Elias: Magic, like divination, relies on a system. If you don’t have a method, you’re dead. You’ll experience nothing magical. Only frustration. But then magic is also very much the result of what you expect. So the form of your expectation, namely that magic happens, impinges on content again. If you expect to see monsters, you’ll see monsters. So everything is predetermined. But magic also ‘just happens’ insofar as it can take you by surprise. You expect to see a monster, and you end up having a rather nice conversation, or not. You will decide on the spot that that particular monster must be vanquished. So you snap your two fingers, and abracadabra, your conversational partner disappears. You come back from the land of woo and you decide that you did it. ‘Congratulations,’ your master will say. ‘You’ve just passed the test, the epistemologico-ontological way, because you followed my method.’ Voilà, magic was experienced and everyone goes home without feeling too bad about forgetting to check whether the intent was all right. Although, joking aside, I am of the opinion that it’s a good idea to think twice before deciding to make magic happen.
    a few seconds ago · Like

    Daniele Nigris: Sorry, Camelia: that’s interesting, but doesn’t answer to my question
    48 minutes ago via mobile · Like

    Daniele Nigris: And: do you refer to performance magic, ceremonial m., initiatic m., or to a relational experience, an interior one, or a combination…?
    34 minutes ago via mobile · Like

    Camelia Elias: I prefer shamanic magic to ceremonial or initiatic, but as they say, insofar as you have to try whatever works, I don’t make strict distinctions between the approaches. I do have a method though, as I believe that the method helps the trick.
    29 minutes ago · Like · 1

    Daniele Nigris: Trick? Again: in **what** realm does it happen, in you opinion?
    25 minutes ago via mobile · Like

    Camelia Elias: You have to trick your mind over here in order to get over there. It’s all very simple.
    24 minutes ago · Like

    Daniele Nigris: According to many, not at all.
    And again: is it all and only in your mind?
    22 minutes ago via mobile · Like

    Todd Landman: This appears all very slippery…very little stability of concepts for my liking….
    14 minutes ago via mobile · Like

    Camelia Elias: Daniele, let me quote a friend, Lon Milo Duquette: “It’s all in your head, only, you have no idea how big your head is.” So, the art is a simple art. Very very simple. And you rarely need any artificial ritual or costume to use your head. The art or magic becomes grace when you see whatever you have in the head manifest in the world. That’s what distinguishes between the ones who are trying and the ones who just do it.
    12 minutes ago · Like

    Todd Landman: That’s better
    11 minutes ago via mobile · Like

    Daniele Nigris: not quite
    9 minutes ago via mobile · Like

  5. The Ego hunts the trail of breadcrumbs left by those “names” living and dead it recognizes. The Self watches the hunt. Only when the Ego tires of the maze made of structured opinion and ritual games that it has circled so many times and falls asleep in the dark forest can the Self awaken and cross into a liminality which is neither here nor there; not virtual but vital, the non-symmetric energetic counterpart to physical existence missed by Science where Magic happens.

  6. Slightly late to the debate…very nice debate. Picking up on the Ego and self here, there are many nice symmetries in the reading. The Central 9 of Cups showing how much magic is about your innermost psyche. To the left the Sun, the sign of the developing ego. To the right the chariot, driven in accordance to the Will, or the true self. Flanked by Batons and Cups, Will and Emotion. all those united on a plane make good magic. The two and four of Swords nesting the reading vertically. Using magic to bring the knowledge in the four to a concrete decision down here. The emotional ace of cups harmonised with the calling of the trumpet in Judgement realized in the magical charge of the knight. The cooperative practical three of pentacles versus the observant and still hanged man realized in the King of magic manifest. Four people connected by the magic. We cannot work magic based on anything but our will and feeling, monitored by our judgement. That precludes moral judgements based on the values others instill in us. Only our will works magic. Very nice reading. And finally, the count….Looking at each of the lines in the spread, up and sideways we get sums of 22,23,39,and 57, counting the courts as 11-14 and the trumps at their number….this reduces to only three numbers, 3,4,5 the lengths of the first pythagorean triangle. Magic brings relation. Of course 3,4,5 also bring forth, govern and instruct (in their guise as empress, emperor and hierophant), as magic does. The total sum is 125, or 5^3, making magic truly practical for spiritual endeavours….

    • Thanks you very much for this Markus. As ever, I thoroughly enjoy your keen eye. The fact also that you go straight for the symmetry, and demonstrate beautifully what’s at stake is a real treat. I’m also glad that you insist on ‘will’ and ‘feeling’ as that which works magic, thus rendering any set ideas about moral values redundant, or at best, obsolete. I have to say that, personally, I do believe that all moralists are inherently immoral, so here, I am ever so guilty for making not only generalizations but also assumptions. So be it. In this context, however, I was pushing for what you eloquently suggest in this second reading. Thank you indeed for taking the time to engage with these cards, talk about them, and then throw a little bit of math in it. Just perfect.

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