Let’s attempt formulating a definition for ‘magical solutions’. Their mainstream name is ‘superstitions’ – just think of the acts that people engage in when they wear an amulet against the evil eye. But what is the function of a magical act, beyond providing a counter-force to some force that one is not so happy about? Can a magical solution be more than merely about protection, empowering, and clearing?
Culturally I see all magical solutions as art insofar as they can all potentially destabilize rigid cultural structures. We can call superstitions ‘folklore art’. Superstitions, or magical solutions, are there to provide a loophole for the mind that is stuck in a rut. Magical solutions in this sense are the most logical and commonsensical solutions around. They show us a way out of precepts and dictations. They allow us to get out of our routines. A magical solution therefore is a solution that helps us to get out of our heads.
Take this domestic drama as an example. A woman speculates and worries endlessly about the possibility that her husband is having an affair. If she wants to put and end to her misery she has 3 possibilities: 1) to confront the man and take it from there, 2) to go to a counselor and hear what empowering device he might have to pass on to her, and 3) to try to empower herself through her own experience of using what is already there as a solution, in the form of public consciousness. For instance, generally in the Balkans, where I come from, there’s the belief that if a woman wants to make sure that her man will never leave her, she must stick a fish that’s alive into her vagina. She must go to bed with it and wait for it to die. In the morning, she can take it out and use it as the main ingredient in the coffee pot. She must serve the ‘dead-fish-coffee’ to her husband, and then just wait. The man is now caught in her web. The result of that act, and at least until the man proves her wrong? She stops being depressed, and she stops speculating. More specifically in Romania we have given up on the dead fish, but not on the idea of such acts serving women well. I heard of women who put three drops of their menstrual blood in the coffee served to their men for the same purpose to great effect. Some would say it’s good with variations.
One of my favorite performance artists is Marina Abramovic. She has made an interesting film, A Balkan Erotic Epic, that not only captures but also reenacts some of these beliefs. Her claim is that most of these magical solutions go back to the times before the main religions took over the function of chanting and dancing for the way in which we experience the cycle of life. All these practical and magical solutions are also erotic in their thrust, as it was once believed that eroticism was not something that was in one’s power. With eroticism being transcendent, being of the gods, it thus makes a lot of sense to use it to appease the gods or the forces of nature. If it rains too much, indeed it can’t hurt to go out in the fields and expose your private parts to the weather gods. There is a long tradition for such acts having a positive effect.
But what do I want to say with these examples, apart from proposing that a magical solution can be thought of as a modality that can get us out of our heads? In my experience with devising magical solutions for all sorts, people don’t suffer from rational problems. Hence, it’s pointless to send them to rational psychotherapists, logicians, clinical consultants, or even worse, business consultants. What most of these people are known for is passing on consecrated knowledge according to the mainstream culture. As the mainstream culture is mainly interested in maintaining its own interests, mostly material, what is consecrated is not the knowledge that disturbs, or makes the subject wake up, but the knowledge that confirms people in their fears. Oy vey.
Today I attended an annual fair in Copenhagen, Mystikkens Univers, dedicated to the mind, body, and spirit relation. The interest in tarot has doubled since last year, judging from the numerous booths offering tarot consultancy. The scrying game is also booming, and so is everything shamanic. It was absolutely wonderful to walk around rational people looking for an irrational solution to their irrational problems. For, who indeed, can claim to have ‘rational’ problems, ever? I could bring in the neuro-scientists at this point who would answer: no one. But I don’t want to waste my time with demonstrating what science has to say about validating ‘the other world’.
My point is that in buying a magical solution, what one really buys is the bypassing of dualistic distinctions that insist on ‘good and bad’, ‘high and low’, and ‘right and wrong’ dichotomies. When buying a magical solution, one buys balance. If balance is the art, and most sciences would also agree, then there’s no point in addressing what is questionable or ethical in a magical solution. A magical solution is there to be experienced not judged.
I have to admit that I have a hard time with all the practitioners of shamanic magic – from witchcraft to palo mayombe – who caution people interested in benefitting from the magical arts against desiring to interfere with the fate or so-called ‘free will’ of others. Where I come from, while regrets may be experienced as a consequence of using a magical solution that may turn out to be more than what has been bargained for, it is hardly the case that one feels guilty about what one has done. It may be that the woman who serves her man coffee with menstrual blood in it so that he may be with her forever will regret her act – for who wants to be together with someone who’s not really interested in one – but the truth of the matter is that that act can also be countered with yet another act. It is not for nothing that one talks about binding and unbinding, catch and release, and the long tradition of specializing in both, the poison and the cure.
These days, and just out of curiosity, I read a lot of manuscripts dealing with magical solutions across cultures, and I have to say that I very rarely come across any old material that dictates that one must be ethical in one’s acts. At least not in the sense of what I hear ethics is defined as today. A quick glance at the Norwegian grimoire, Hexeformularer, assures me that no one devising the magic here was giving ethics any thought, for what is good and what is bad, indeed? One could also attempt the manuscript about sacrifice and see what the real deal is. The Danes in Småland don’t lag too far behind either, in their beliefs that magical solutions are to be experienced by the undivided between logic and illogic mind. Not to mention the Romanians’ take on all things magic. A good synthesis, Solomonic Magic, is written by professor of literature and history, Antoaneta Olteanu. This is a good introduction to the magical solutions that counter the benevolent bent in the Western world towards ‘horrifying’ things. More can be said and more books can be read. As far as I’m concerned I’m of the opinion that we must all follow our commonsense to the best of our own ability.
Suffice to say, then, that where magic is concerned, and as my tarot cards of today testify too where the question of how we define a magical solution is concerned, we need not think about it, but just do it. Walk your walk, and don’t be too concerned with how the skeptical others try to perceive what you’re doing standing on your head. A magical solution is not about choosing one or the other, but rather about allowing the arrow of chance to catch us unawares. Perhaps one can even declare it in public if need be, that all hope of escaping the grip of influences that are not useful to us may materialize as a most fantastic flight. And if flying is not enough, then take out that sword and cut through all that which is not useful to you like through cheese. Be free. The moon is dark tonight. It’s a good time for new beginnings and more powerful magic. May you all experience it.
Note on the deck:
Marseille Tarot, Jean Dodal, 1701, as reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy, 2001. A hand-stenciled set.