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?
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).
THE MAGICAL READING
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.
THE MUNDANE READING
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.