Monday, August 12, 2019

Esoteric practices in Satanism, part III: Lesser Magic

Continuing with the esoteric matters I’d like to explore here in connection with Satanism – i.e…

… next up is lesser magic.

Subsections of this entry:
  1. Lesser magic according to LaVey’s Satanic Bible
  2. Further nuances re: the workings of lesser magic
  3. Implications in connection with a Satanic worldview

As with divination, I originally had in mind to have a section about some intersections-with-current-hot-button-political-issues that arise in connection with this practice, but between length considerations and my feeling that some of the same issues arise with greater magic, I’ll be covering this separately later. 

Thus, if you read the entry below, and at any point find yourself thinking “OMG, the implications of that practice are terrible – haven’t you noticed that they’re terrible?” – yeah, very likely I have noticed, and just because I don’t talk about that issue in this entry doesn’t mean I haven’t thought of it; wait a little while and I’ll likely discuss it in another entry.

* * *

Lesser magic according to LaVey’s Satanic Bible

Lesser magic consists primarily in the manipulation of perceptions via the use of aesthetics.  Though not esoteric in the same sense as many of the other practices I’ve been discussing lately, inasmuch as its principles are much more explicitly this-worldly, it nonetheless is “magic” inasmuch as it has the potential to cause change in accordance with will via an unconscious/irrational pathway.  “Lesser” designates that a formal ritual and other explicitly occult trappings are not required in order to make it “work,” in contrast to greater magic, as my next entry will discuss.

In the LaVeyan tradition (which I am taking as the source of this terminology of “lesser” and “greater” – other denominations might not recognize these or may use them differently), the concept of lesser magic arises in connection with altering one’s personal appearance, comportment, mannerisms, etc. in order to attain desirable effects.  This is originally conceived-of by LaVey as working primarily via the invocation of various natural instinctual imperatives. 

That is, if you want to get a reaction out of people, you should adopt an appearance that incorporates one of the following elements, with which one depending upon what kind of reaction you are seeking:

  1. Sexual appeal: At minimum, an implication that you could have something to offer as a partner, even if only as a fantasy; at maximum, an implication that you are in practice willing to provide that thing to those you favor. 

  2. Sympathy:  Either presenting yourself as someone able to provide help to others based on the competence, wisdom and/or respectability you possess – i.e. a kindly and approachable authority figure – or else presenting yourself as someone in need of help, i.e. a harmless innocent.

  3. Fear:  The most straightforward one, really: you are not one to be fucked with.  This can be further subdivided into horror (fear caused by the explicitly-known) and terror (fear caused by the unknown).  For various reasons, I feel that in the context of lesser magic, terror is likely to have more profound efficacy than horror (see below for a fun example), but either way, intimidating/scaring people (usually just so that they leave you the fuck alone, given that many of us sinister-path-walking folk are introverts ;)) is the name of the game.

The general idea with lesser magic, then, is that if you are trying to persuade others to do or not do something in connection with you, you can give yourself an edge re: getting what you want by utilizing emotional / unconscious pathways in addition to rational / conscious pathways.

* * *

Further nuances re: the workings of lesser magic

This section contains a few observations, clarifications and refinements re: lesser magic, going beyond the discussion above.  Some of these points are drawn from further reflection upon LaVey, while others are based on observations from my own experiences.

1) It’s unlikely to be effective if you’re trying too hard

Lesser magic is most effective if you are able to tap into it in a way that does not pose an excessive threat to peoples’ impression that whatever ordinary social rules would be operative in the current context continue to be at least mostly operative.  “Bending” works better than “breaking,” one might say.

This means that if you are trying too hard on the sexy, cute or scary fronts, to the point that you just look ridiculous, you are not going to get results in accord with the drive you are actually trying to appeal to.  What happens there is that, contra the notion of working with drives that can be thought of as primarily individual in their orientation, at that point you will instead be triggering group-oriented drives people have to maintain social consensus, via policing other peoples’ behavior through mockery, shunning, etc. 

Put another way, success in lesser magic is typically manifest via you demonstrating some sort of charismatic fascination over people, vs. if they are sneering to one another about how silly you look, in most contexts that would more plausibly be counted as a failure of charisma than as a success.  

Relevant anecdote: I’ve shown my parents pictures of corpse-painted black metal guys who I’m into, and most of the time the reaction involves awkward eye-rolling and incredulity re: “what on earth are these people thinking by making themselves look this way?” (exception: Mom admits that the Carach Angren guys are kind of handsome, LMFAO).  I’ve shown them footage of Uada though, with the whole faceless-hood-wearing and fog and etc., as well as mentioned vague connections to Salem witch stuff and so on, and then they’re like “okay, now that is actually creepy.”  The efficacy of terror over horror which I alluded to earlier is thus directly related to this issue of “the right amount can be very effective, whereas too much becomes hard to take seriously.”

An almost-subliminal approach to manipulation in terms of sex appeal / sympathy / terror would thus probably be more effective than a crassly obvious one in most everyday contexts (vs. non-everyday contexts may have different rules & expectations in play that allow for boundaries to be pushed further).  Or, another way of thinking of things here is that if your intention is to work within the LaVeyan threefold schema, a certain amount of subtlety may be most effective.  Vs. at the point where you’re jettisoning subtlety and openly making people feel challenged via your degree of in-your-face-transgression, there’s the possibility of utilizing a fourth drive not explicitly discussed in the Satanic Bible – see below.

2) There’s actually a fourth drive that can be targeted

In addition to the three instinctual drives LaVey lists, I think there is also a fourth to keep in mind, namely peoples’ desire to avoid chaos.  Some might argue this is just a subtype of fear, since “fear of chaos” might be another way of putting it, but think it’s useful to distinguish them from one another for reasons I will try to make clear below.

LaVey I don’t recall talking about this explicitly (maybe I’ve just forgotten because he used different terms), but I am nonetheless thinking of his writings when I articulate it, specifically, an essay in “The Devil’s Notebook” in which he envisions a situation where a reporter comes to visit a Satanist and the Satanist turns out to be philosophically eloquent (e.g. can explain the doctrines intelligently etc) but try-hard-spooky-to-the-point-of-being-laughable on the aesthetic front (e.g.  their attire and home furnishings are way overboard on the cheap-and-cheesy-Halloween side of things).  The reporter then leaves feeling a bit shaken and ill-at-ease because they find it difficult to reconcile those two aspects with one another. 

Now, LaVey is known for sometimes giving intentionally ridiculous advice to root out the foolhardy, so I can see others interpreting this essay as “only a moron would ‘be a Satanist’ in that way and he is trying to make the morons humiliate themselves.”  Nonetheless, I think there’s a deeper insight here re: there may be situations in which you can seize an advantage of some kind by making other people feel awkward and uncertain about what is the ‘right’ way to interact with you or categorize you. 

What’s worth then noting here, in distinguishing desire to avoid chaos from fear per se, is that both the object of anxiety and the reaction & rationalizations accompanying it differ between these two cases.  Fear = a person may be dangerous and should therefore either be submitted-to or avoided, vs. desire to avoid chaos = a person is acting outside of socially-prescribed parameters and you aren’t sure what to do; the anxiety is about the person in the first case vs. about the situation as a whole in the second one.  Also, in the first case, one is much more likely to be able to admit to themselves that they find the person intimidating, vs. in the second case, they will probably deny being afraid of the person (perhaps vehemently), yet at the same time be vaguely off-put and resentful of having had to put up with that chaotic element disrupting the order of ‘their’ space. 

3) It’s possible to invoke multiple aesthetics simultaneously, but only to a point

LaVey notes that lesser magic can be aimed at appealing to multiple drives, with sex + fear being the most common combination.  I think too that his claim of this being the easiest one to pull off / most widely pulled-off is substantiated inasmuch as, if one looks at many figures at the forefront of various Satanic denominations, one notices that a rather large number of them seem to be both i) reasonably fit and well-groomed, and ii) a bit on the gothic side with wearing black and being kind of intense-looking.  This is precisely what one would expect to see if lesser magic principles are being utilized.

Other combinations are also possible, but the general rule seems to be that sex + something else is easier to pull off than any combination not involving sex, especially inasmuch as some possible combinations (most notably sympathy + fear) involve drives that appear to be in opposition to one another.  Attempts to utilize both (e.g. be both cute and terrifying at the same time) in such cases will then most likely either wind up falling into one category more than the other in the end, or else simply cease to be efficacious entirely.

Why sex operates this way and other drives do not is a very interesting question, but also a very large one, way beyond the scope of where I want to go in this entry.

4) Personal appearance is not the only place where lesser magic principles can be applied

Already hinted at above re: the “Halloweeny Satanist” story, but to make the point more explicit here: aesthetic manipulation via lesser magic principles can be made to work not only via personal appearance, but also through settings (e.g. one’s home), objects (e.g. gifts that one gives to people) and anything else that has aesthetic qualities of some kind.  Senses other than the visual can also be utilized along similar principles, i.e. sound, scent, etc.

One might also predict, from a Satanic perspective, that artwork that is especially emotionally compelling (e.g. effective in its eroticism, tear-inducing, haunting, or etc.) will draw upon lesser magic principles as well.  This is probably most plausible to envision with stage performances – certain burlesque performers and certain black metal artists immediately come to my mind here. 

This is not to say that these sorts of creative outlets are the only artistic contexts where such principles may be relevant.  Nonetheless, this is all I’ll say here, as I’m thinking the occult use of non-live-performance –type arts will quickly wander off the topic of lesser magic into that of greater magic, i.e. maybe leave it for that entry instead.

5) When applying lesser magic to contexts beyond what LaVey explicitly discusses, it’s less useful to think in terms of instinctual drives and more useful to consider a single underlying principle

Regardless of whether one is altering one’s appearance, a setting, or etc., one can think of lesser magic in terms of trying to create a particular experience for others, toward the end of invoking certain emotions, motivating subsequent action, persuading, or even just being memorable. 

Thinking about it that way helps make one aware of an important principle that, in my view, is ultimately more fundamental than all this LaVeyan business above about “drives”: lesser magic can be thought of as proximate to advertising and marketing, inasmuch as it is most effective if you have a thorough understanding of your target audience’s preferences and then set out to appeal to those specific preferences.  As in, don’t just dress/decorate/etc. in accord with what mass media has led you to believe people-in-general want or fear; educate yourself about the culture around you (e.g. fashion, art history, etc.), and even more importantly, get to know people as specific individuals, so that you have a broad awareness of the possible implications of whatever aesthetic choices you are making. 

I would actually go so far as to say that the principle just mentioned is in some sense the real core of why lesser magic works, i.e. it is really less about utilizing “natural” instinct and more a matter of “know your audience,” whether on the natural, cultural, personal or other levels.  The sex/sympathy/fear stuff is still useful inasmuch as it can help identify the most relevant/effective means and ends in a given situation, but I think one is unlikely to have much success in lesser magic if one does not take this underlying principle seriously.

* * *

Implications in connection with a Satanic worldview

I’ve found in my past experience that the topic of lesser magic, once fully explored, tends to agitate some people because i) they are skeptical that this is “a thing,” especially inasmuch as they see themselves as smarter-than-most-people re: not falling for these kinds of tricks, and/or ii) granting that it may be “a thing,” it sounds to them as if Satanism endorses manipulating people in unethical ways.  (Note: inasmuch as lesser magic is primarily a LaVeyan concept as far as I know, this discussion then is primarily with that denomination in mind.)

Hilariously, these two reactions will sometimes even co-exist within the same person – a combination readily readable to the Satanist as evidence of sheepish fleeing-from-dark-realities, i.e. “it would be scary if that stuff works, therefore I’m going to convince myself that it doesn’t work.”

Nonetheless, to address each of these points in turn:

i) Is this really a thing?

I actually think this is kind of a weird reaction when it’s clear to me that the advertising/marketing industry works using similar principles to those of lesser magic – i.e. it is really not hard at all to translate this stuff into purely secular terms.  Even if one were to raise various issues with the sex / sympathy / fear stuff – are those really natural drives? and so forth – the underlying principle of “know your audience and you’ll have more success in getting what you want out of them” strikes me as reasonably well-substantiated in the context of common contemporary experience.

Furthermore, I think there are a large number of people whom one might say are “natural lesser magicians,” i.e. what I have described above just puts into words what they already intuitively know and act upon with successful results.  Again echoing the above, anything that involves doing something on a stage that the audience finds memorably compelling strikes me as a demonstration of this.

A separate-but-related issue I’ll address under this heading is the argument that, inasmuch as lesser magic is just this-worldly manipulation at heart, it may well work, but it should not be discussed under the rubric of “spiritual practices.” 

I can definitely see where a perspective like that could be coming from, as it’s my impression that some of the Satanic denominations who split off from LaVey due to allegations of him being a con-man and charlatan probably had opinions along these very lines.  I am thus somewhat willing to just grant this point, as it makes sense to me given value assumptions that differ from my own.

Nonetheless, if I were to argue, I would respond that inasmuch as Satanism tends to elevate the importance of earthly life and downplay the significance of otherworldly realities – LaVeyans do this most strongly, but it is a tendency I think is found in other denominations also – I do not see good reason to turn up one’s nose at lesser magic.  Inasmuch as it can bring about change in accordance with will via an unconventional pathway, it is still “magic.”  To assume that something only counts as “spiritual” inasmuch as it is divorced from earthly concerns may make sense from a conventional religious perspective that designates the earthly and the spiritual as opposite, but to a walker of the sinister path who conceptualizes their religious goals in terms of the self – an embodied and hence earthly being – advancing and evolving, it does not really make sense to make distinctions of that kind. 

Furthermore, one might bring forward the observation that there have long been gospel-of-prosperity, power-of-positive-thinking type ideologies around that promise their adherents various worldly goods (e.g. wealth, companionship) yet this gets a pass as “spiritual” from at least some people, just because it utilizes a “white light” –type of aesthetic.  LaVeyan Satanists look at the popularity of this kind of thing and see it as supporting their cynical worldview re: really, everybody wants earthly goods to some extent – it’s just that some people admit this to themselves more honestly than others.  In other words, if you want to argue that The Secret and the Satanic Bible both contain some material that is “not really spiritual” by your standards, fair, but I would tend to see it as a symptom of superficial buying-in-to-trappings if The Secret got a pass here and the Satanic Bible didn’t… and that, in turn, would be interesting inasmuch as the power of trappings is kind of what lesser magic is all about! :)

ii) Unethical manipulation?

When talking not only about lesser magic, but also a number of other aspects of Satanism (again, LaVeyan in particular), the terminology of “manipulation” can make everything sound a bit creepy.  This can in turn lead to the impression that the Satanist themselves is a bit creepy.  I personally don’t lose a lot of sleep over this, as I find there are contexts in which it can be useful to be perceived thus. ;)  Nonetheless, I suppose I will still give my response:

I think what’s worth being aware of here is that when a Satanist talks about “manipulation,” this needs to be understood in the context of the religion’s underlying assumptions, especially LaVey’s contention that the human being is just another animal and perhaps actually the most vicious animal of all.  Arguably, it follows from such a worldview that everyone is already manipulating everyone else all the time, and that is just the way of the world, because clashes of values and competition for resources are part of existence; some human interactions may be cooperative, and others competitive, some benign and others malicious, but to a Satanist’s thinking they are all still forms of manipulation. 

A person with this kind of view is then not going to have the same kneejerk “manipulation is always a bad thing” reflex that many “normal” people have, because to a Satanist that’s as silly as saying “selfishness is always a bad thing.”  According to a Satanic worldview, human beings having these traits is just how things are; acknowledging this both grounds one in reality and allows more effective interaction with that reality; the Satanist therefore calls things what they are instead of buying into the idea that nice, good, socially-respectable people don’t manipulate others.  That idea, a Satanist could argue, just sets up the world in such a way that the people most able to present themselves as nice, good, socially-respectable are left free to manipulate others without interference.

In closing then, it’s not that I can’t to some extent understand why people might be repelled when talk of “manipulation” comes up.  However, as per what I have tried to explain above, overt discussion of methods of manipulation need not mark out the Satanist as any less ethical than other people.  That is, it does not follow that, just because someone knows of these techniques, they are going to go around using them all the time; hence, the implication is not “more manipulative than others” or even “more likely to manipulate than others,” but rather, “more self-aware of what they are doing and intentional in the doing of it, when they are doing it.” 

No doubt, this is not an adequate apologetic when it comes to the ethical dimensions of certain specific applications of “manipulation” that some people may have concerns about, but that is the kind of thing that I hope to go into more detail in some other entry down the line.

* * *

In closing, a handful of disclaimers:

  • Not all Satanists practice lesser magic.  As I said in one of my previous entries, I am under the impression that Satanists who engage in any esoteric practices at all, rather than just agreeing with the philosophy, are in the minority.  Moreover, I am not aware (but may just be ignorant) of non-LaVeyans practicing lesser magic, at least not under that overt terminology.

  • It does not follow from a Satanist sometimes practicing lesser magic that they either are, or ‘must’ be, practicing it all the time.  This is contra the sort of idiot who maybe up to a certain point in time has only ever seen the Satanist dressed up sexy at the clubs, but then runs into her looking casual at the grocery store or something, and makes some kind of big “oh, so really you are human after all” –type of deal about it.  This person should maybe try on the idea that, rather than looking normal once in awhile being an indicator of insincerity or hypocrisy, maybe I am just not trying to pick people up at the grocery store, idiot.

  • It also does not necessarily follow merely from a Satanist practicing lesser magic that they will then go around looking down on people who do not put effort into their own appearances, or blaming people for causing certain problems for themselves via failure to utilize lesser magical principles, or etc.  I do think there are other elements of the religion ethics-wise that may promote this sort of behavior among some Satanists, but these are issues of ethics rather than of practice – i.e. though it may seem related, in fact whether or not the Satanist practices lesser magic is not in itself decisive re: do they act this way or do they not – the decisive factor will instead be how they interpret doctrine.

I confess, having written the last point above, that I do have a degree of anxiety about the possibility of putting-one’s-foot-in-the-shit-pile big-time if certain more-specific-ethical-implications of lesser magic are to be discussed both thoroughly and honestly.  Inasmuch though as this journal is meant to be an exercise in “this is who/what I am, and I should be able to be open about it,” I will still endeavor to get it done at least eventually.