Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mastering Witchcraft and Love Spells

As the controversy about the Lilith Rite at PCon 2011 dies down, yet another controversy arises in the blogosphere.  ("'Twas Ever Thus," says Mr. Natural... ).  This brouhaha has nothing to do with gender privilege, Bay Area entitlement or exclusionary rites at public conventions. Instead, it concerns a dusty and eldritch tome dating back to 1970 - Paul Huson's Mastering Witchcraft.

Those who are looking for a shiny, happy, tree-hugging, none-harming, law-threefolding guide to the Great Goddess will find themselves in for a surprise when they pick up Huson.   Remember how you've been told (and told, and told...) that Witchcraft has nothing to do with Satanism? Huson was absent when that memo was distributed.  He suggests a prospective Witch start their journey by saying the Paternoster ("Our Father") backwards - a traditional method of dedicating one's soul to Ol' Splitfoot.  And if that doesn't curl your toes right down to the tips of your 10,000 year pre-Christian European lineage, he also offers some spells which are of dubious morality. At Doing Magick, Robert takes exception to Huson's "love philtres."
Huson talks about targeting a sex partner. Most of what he says is simply the grand art of seduction. No harm no foul. He then moves on to putting "philters" in the "target's" drinks. This is nothing other than a magickal roofie. 
Apologists make three arguments that I can remember. Frankly, reading about this guy just irritates me. So, I haven't read much of the recent writings on the topic. The first apology is that he is merely showing us how the magick can work, not advocating it. The second is that this book is great because no one else would dare publish that stuff. The third is that he was trying to reclaim witchcraft from the fluffy types and therefore included harsher things. 
My counter argument is as follows: Bullshit 
Yup that is about it.
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Referring to a potential sleeping partner as a target is dehumanizing and wrong. There should be no debate over that. I call potential sexual partners women. Which do you feel should be used? That isn't political correctness. That is having respect for all human beings. 
There may be some good stuff in that book but the outright evil of slipping things into people's drinks negates all of that.
Robert obviously has strong feelings on this issue, and not without reason.  There's something decidedly creepy about slipping someone a magical Mickey Finn in the hopes sie will acquiesce to your sexual desires.  But I think that one thing that is coming into play here is the division between Hermetic and Ceremonial Magic(k) (which appears to be Robert's primary field of study and interest) and Folk Magic.  According to Robert:
[M]y take on magick is that it is a spiritual exercise. It isn't about raw power or control of other humans. Though, it can be used for those things. In my opinion, dropping a "philter" into someone's drink is damaging spiritually to the operator as well as the 'target'. 
My definition of magick is a rip off of Crowley's "Magick is the art and science of causing change in conformity with the will." The definition I use for my personal magick is "Magick is the willed art and science of unfolding the soul." When we do things not in alignment with the nature of our souls, we close down, not open up. I call this stepping away from our virtue.
Compare this to the opening of one of my books on Haitian folk magic, Vodou Money Magic, wherein I said "Vodou is not about finding enlightenment or attaining inner peace. Vodou is about power." This appears to be why most poor people resort to folk magic: because they seek to gain some advantage in a world where the odds are stacked against them.  It is spiritual energy channeled toward some material end. Petitioners seek to avoid trouble from the police - or, should that fail, to sway a judge and jury in their favor. They seek to improve their luck in business or in gambling: they want protection from unruly johns or hostile competitors. And, often, they want assistance in love.

Few things are more powerful and more disempowering than love. Love isn't just blind, it's frequently deaf, drunk and dumber than a box of thumbtacks. Those suffering from obsessive love will do anything to win their object of desire. They will continue on despite humiliation, rejection, restraining orders and common sense: they will tolerate beatings, infidelity, and abuse; they will lie, cheat, steal and even kill to win their target's heart (or, failing that, to stop its beating: many a burning love has turned into an equally fiery hate).  The Greeks called this raw, predatory, savage force eros and frequently called on it not only to win a sex partner but to curse an enemy.

From the beginning Hermetic magic has been the provence of a literate, privileged few.  The first Hermetics were largely monks and priests from wealthy families; the Golden Dawn was largely comprised of slumming bourgeoisie; while Crowley claimed "the Law is for all," his books assumed readers had a public school-honed knowledge of classical Greek and Latin. These people (like just about everyone reading this blog) had the bottom rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs sorted.  They had the time to concern themselves with self-actualization and unfolding their souls.  And yet they, like the peasant seeking to bed a comely village maiden, could be brought down by eros. Francis Barrett's The Magus contained instructions on how to call on Venus "to obtain the love of women" and Cornelius Agrippa described how witches procured love and lust by "venereal collyries."

Huson's love philtres may be morally questionable (OK, morally reprehensible). But they are part of a long cross-cultural tradition which has been practiced by princes and paupers, by the devout and the diabolical, by starry-eyed romantics and cynical lechers.   We can reject Mastering Witchcraft because we find its ethical premises distasteful.  We will have a much harder time constructing a useful magical system without acknowledging and mastering the force which makes us desperate enough to resort to philtres and Rophynol.