Thursday, November 1, 2012

Enough already. This madness has to end. (Please help.)

Truth, Justice, and the American Way
A Political Ritual for Our Time
Brought to you by the Pillar of Smoke (
With special thanks to Sara, Jason, Troy, and Vlad, our collaborators in the Facebook brainstorming session that led to this ritual.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
-George Bernard Shaw

It’s long past time liberal magicians took it upon ourselves to create some real and lasting change in this country - and let's face it, most magicians are probably liberal. This ritual is designed to affect not just the election, but the political climate of the country for at least the next several years, nudging things in the direction of listening to new voices such as third parties, removing the influence of money from politics, and creating true economic equality. If the idea of using magic in this way bothers you, probably best to move on; no harm done. But if the idea of getting specific, measurable political results with your magic excites you the way it excites my friends and me, then please read on, and share this ritual with your friends before election day.

Try to put aside any long-standing assumptions about what is or isn't possible to accomplish through magical means. Also realize that even if we only manage to change the national consciousness around  voting just a little, that will still be a victory. And even such a small victory would likely be enough to clinch the election. Rest assured, though, that our results will be anything but small.

We have attempted similar magic once before on a similar scale, before the 2006 election. Because of the popularity of the V for Vendetta movie and my own fondness for the graphic novel, I (Jason) made the decision to use the character V as the thoughtform the ritual evoked. Evoking fictional characters is a reasonably normal practice in chaos magic, but many practitioners from other traditions had issues with it, and in retrospect I should have realized that might be a problem. (That ritual can be found here.) This time, I hope I’ve made wiser evocation choices.

We have used angels because they are both ancient and reasonably universal, and honestly because Jewish magic is what I know best these days. I say “universal” because at least in theory, any Jew, Christian, Muslim or Ceremonial Magician should have no problems dealing with them, and hopefully they’re acceptable to some pagans as well. Angels also make sense because they allow us to work within a similar paradigm to our political enemies, the Tea Partiers and the Christian Right, and the best way to disrupt a system is from within. Make no mistake: liberals are on the right side of history on (at the very least) every civil liberties issue, and more to the point, the bible is on our side too. For some very thought-provoking documentation on that, take a look here.

If you belong to a pagan tradition that forbids you from using angels, or if it just makes you uncomfortable, by all means substitute appropriate spirits or gods from your tradition. (I wouldn’t presume to tell you which ones, because I’m sure you know your own tradition far better than I do.) The same goes for the Hebrew names such as Adonai Elohim, which are in brackets to let you know that if you don’t want to use them, you can skip them. It may lessen the result somewhat, but then again, I may only think that because I’m Jewish.  Just use your common sense, accumulated wisdom and experience, and everything will be fine.

At the end of the ritual, we mention the servitor FOVWINC, which we empowered the evening of October 31. The name is assembled from the first letters of the seven major swing states (Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Colorado). FOVWINC’s purpose is to provide a vehicle into which we can all pour our shared energy during this working. After the ritual is concluded, it will draw its sustenance from the economic and social results it helps to create, for as long as we need it. This ritual will empower you to use FOVWINC in your own magic from now on. It will be glad to help you with any magic that pursues justice, equality or truth, on as small or large a scale as you wish, and every use will strengthen it a little more. If you like, you can drop the sigil on a piece of paper or write it in any place that could use an injection of equality, justice and/or truth, and FOVWINC will take care of it.


Start around 11:30 or 11:45 PM on November 5th with whatever banishing or other practices you normally use to start ritual. If you don’t usually use a banishing ritual, we might suggest the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, which can be found at this site. If you like to use scented oils for your magic, Abramelin oil would be most appropriate for angelic work; if you like to burn incense, any combination of frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, calamus and/or cassia would be fitting. (We find frankincense to be particularly useful because in addition to being a traditional offering, it is also mildly psychoactive, so it will help to get you in the proper mood to do magic.)

Begin the ritual below at midnight. To be clear, that’s the midnight between the 5th and the 6th, the very very beginning of election day. Among other things, we are magically setting the tone for that day. If you have multiple people taking part, we suggest marking who will read which parts ahead of time.

The Ritual:

O Raguel, Angel of Justice, spirit of harmony and freedom, wise and fair judge over all beings, we summon you. The servants of Mammon and Moloch have done great injustices in our name, causing ever increasing suffering to our people and our land. [In the name of  Adonai Elohim,] we adjure you: listen to our grievances, judge their merit, and dispense divine judgement upon the demons responsible, so that true justice will return to our country. Come, O Raguel, and hear us!

O Zadkiel, Angel of Freedom, spirit of mercy and forgiveness, comrade-in-arms of Michael, we summon you. The servants of Mammon and Moloch have plunged our country into depravity and despair with their violence, theft and lies. [In the name of tAdonai Elohim,] we adjure you: vanquish them, bind them, imprison them, so that true mercy will return to our country. Come, O Zadkiel, and hear us!

Attend us, O angels, and listen well to our accusations:

Mammon, demon of greed, has held sway over our land for too long.
Together he and Moloch, demon of corruption, have conspired to enslave us.
Their servants are insidious, infiltrating every part of our nation.

They have controlled our government, contorting its policies to favor their agenda.
They have destroyed our economy, expecting us to pay the bill.
They have started and prolonged an unjust war, sacrificing numerous innocents to their demon masters on the altar of profit.
They have contaminated our food, replacing honest farming with animal torture and natural crops with dangerous counterfeits, then deceiving the public to hide their sins.
They have acted illegally, then changed the law afterwards as if to absolve themselves.

They hoard wealth, while ignoring the poor and the sick.
They claim piety, but their every action is unrighteous.
And now, one of these dangerous hypocrites claims to be worthy of leadership.

This cannot be.
This must not be.
We the People say, “No more.”
In the name of our country’s ancestors, the Founding Fathers, we demand your intervention.
What they built must not be corrupted any longer, or it will surely be destroyed.
We the People charge you with performing this sacred task.

We command you by the merit of John Adams, by his own words: “Banks have done more injury to the religion, morality, tranquility, prosperity, and even wealth of the nation than they can have done or ever will do good.”

We command you by the merit of Benjamin Franklin, by his own words: “Money has never made man happy, nor will it; there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has, the more one wants.”

We command you by the merit of Thomas Jefferson, by his own words: “I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

We command you by the merit of George Washington, by his own words: “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”

Judge now, O Angels. Let your justice be swift and severe.

Bind Mammon, that prosperity may come to all our citizens, not only the few.
Bind Moloch, that our government may serve all our people, not just the rich.
As these demons fall from prominence, reveal their worshippers for what they are: selfish, greedy creatures who deserve our pity, not our admiration.

Let your brethren of the Host join in your appointed task.
Together, aid those who work toward greater equality, prosperity, and accountability, both within and outside the government.
Bless those who dare to speak the truth, no matter who listens or what it costs them.
And heal our nation of the division that has caused our culture war, so we can all value each other for our diversity, not merely our similarities.

Most of all, on this election day, empower our servitor FOVWINC in its duty: to bring clear minds, wisdom and discernment to all who vote, so that those who truly serve all of the people will prevail.

(Face north. Draw FOVWINC’s sigil in the air, starting at the upper right where the dot is, while visualizing it superimposed over the country. Then do it again facing east, then south, and then finally west.)

The Sigil of FOVWINC

All these things we do command you in the name of We the People, [in the name of Adonai Elohim,] and by the merits of the Founding Fathers. You cannot refuse us, for our cause is just and our intentions noble. Now, go forth and do our will!

(Conclude the ritual by blowing out candles, turning on the lights, or however you normally end ritual.  The traditional Jewish magical way to end would be with either the words "Amen. Amen. Selah.", or if you're feeling a bit bolder, "Ken y'hi ratzon", which means "May this be God's will.")

Then go to sleep, and don’t forget to vote!)

If you'd like a downloadable PDF version of this ritual, you can find it here. Please be aware that I may not be able to update it with new edits as often as I update this page.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Jewish Magic Question & Answer Session

I'm getting close to the end of my first phase of research for the Jewish Magic book, so now might be a good time to field some questions. This will help me to figure out what I should read next, and how well I've absorbed what I've read already.

So ask your questions about Jewish magic, and I'll do my best to answer them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why "Shock Treatment" May Be One of the Most Brilliant Films Ever Made

I'm going to take this blog in a bit of a different direction... but I did say above that one of my topics is mindfuck cinema, and Shock Treatment is certainly that. It's also a film whose writer doesn't seem to understand its significance, or even the fact that it was good, and I find that sad. I'm sitting here with my good friend Mani, who agrees with me about how sad it is, and so we wanted to take a little bit of time to thank Richard O'Brien for his genius. And now, for his benefit and everyone else's, we're going to explain why the Rocky Horror sequel that most people seem to genuinely despise is, in fact, a work of utterly incomparable social commentary.

We do have to acknowledge that we agree with Mr. O'Brien when he says the movie has quite a few problems. We're going to get those out of the way for the sake of honesty and presenting a clear picture. The sets look cheap, some of the acting choices are strange, and the plot is indecipherable, at least on a first viewing. It took me personally at least five watchings to really understand what the hell was going on. But once I did understand it, it reminded me of Stephen Sondheim's often-misunderstood musical Anyone Can Whistle.

Both stories are about characters who struggle against a society that tries to impose conformity upon them using manufactured miracles, mental health claims, outright lies, defamation, and seduction.The moral of both stories could be simply stated this way: In a world full of mad people, the few sane ones get labeled mad and cast out. Both musicals were completely unsuccessful on release, because they were so ahead of their time that no one understood them. Anyone Can Whistle closed after only nine performances on Broadway, with terrible reviews, but so many people like it now that the joke goes, "If as many people saw Anyone Can Whistle on Broadway as say they did today, it would still be running."

We see a parallel here. And certainly within Rocky Horror shadow-casts, we've seen that many cast members now seem to really enjoy Shock Treatment. Ten or fifteen years ago, that was definitely not the case. So we think Shock Treatment's time is almost upon us. Now let us explain why.

First, Shock Treatment also shares with Anyone Can Whistle a fantastic soundtrack. If you listen to either of these albums alone, especially without seeing the show, I expect you'll be impressed. Both Richard O'Brien and Sal Piro, president of the international Rocky Horror Fan Club, say they like the music from Shock Treatment a lot more than the music from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But don't take other people's word for it... here are some links to music from the movie on YouTube to listen for yourself.

Little Black Dress
Looking for Trade
Shock Treatment

Okay: pretty good, right? Especially if you aren't opposed to an 80's-synth-pop-type sound. But in his interview here, Mr. O'Brien also happens to casually mention that the movie predicted modern reality TV. In 1981. That is pretty amazing, and it's not an achievement that we should allow to be understated. In this movie, an evil TV sponsor and fast food tycoon, later revealed to be Brad's long-lost identical twin brother Farley, lures Brad and Janet into a reality TV show in order to completely control their lives and eventually seduce Janet. Okay, there - we explained the plot in one sentence. Now you can enjoy the movie without having to figure it all out yourself. (Because trust us, we didn't have easy time of it at first either.) The overbearing product placement (in between nearly every line of both "Bitchin' in the Kitchen" and the Happy Homes scenes) is also a nice subtle touch.

We also feel the movie succeeds as a rather scathing critique of American culture. Everything in this America looks plastic, cheap, and really about as fake as possible. Even the characters' smiles (particularly Janet's parents' smiles) look phony and plastered on. This is how America looks to a Brit. I imagine it's a bit like how Japan looks to us - in other words, for British people America is Bizarro Britain, and for Americans Japan is Bizarro America. But Mr. O'Brien's criticism is right on the nose: our culture in the States has shifted increasingly toward shallowness, materialism, consumerism and selfishness - and this in comparison with the 1980's, a notoriously self-indulgent and narcissistic period in our history. The phrase "Faggots are maggots" seems eerily similar to "God hates fags". That hatred lurks beneath the surface of America, and as an outsider, Mr. O'Brien is right to point it out to us, as he does repeatedly throughout the movie.

We think Mr. O'Brien may not understand why this film resonates with so many young people today. It's probably because this is a movie about the subtle forms of mind control that so many of us experience while growing up. And now they've followed us into adulthood - there's no longer any media that even pretends to be unbiased, only liberal propaganda and conservative propaganda. Drug companies advertise their antidepressants openly on television... as if a layperson knows enough about mental health to self-diagnose a disorder. "Sanity for Today" is upon us, and anyone who's paying attention should be terrified.

The movie shows a corporate figure using his influence to manipulate people for purely greedy and selfish reasons... and that's something any American should be able to understand in the age of Occupy Wall Street. Beyond that, both of us were weird kids, weirder teenagers, and remain pretty unusual adults, and we didn't have an easy time of it with school bullies as a result. So it's gratifying to see a movie in which the protagonists seem happy to escape from a town that's degenerated into a conformist cult. Blind obedience is willful self-enslavement... which is fine if you value comfort over knowledge, but that's not us, and probably not a lot of Rocky Horror fans.

When comparing Shock Treatment and Anyone Can Whistle above, we mentioned both stories revolve around manufactured miracles. Anyone Can Whistle has a rock with water coming out of it, while Shock Treatment has the incomparable Bert Schnick, a "blind" man who reveals that he suddenly can see. In both cases, the fake miracle convinces most of the town the villain is an angel, starting them on the road to blind, mindless adoration of that villain. The protagonists have no choice but to leave and seek their fortune, which they seem happy to do anyway. What I realized tonight is that I like both these musicals for the same reason I liked Brave New World: the nonconformists ultimately find happiness outside the society that rejected them, in the company of others who understand them. I think that's a message more unpopular kids and adults need to hear, whether they get it from a movie like the recent documentary Bully or from a Rocky-Shocky double feature on Halloween.

Mr. O'Brien, we salute you. While you're definitely correct that this movie has more than its share of problems, we believe the true measure of an artist is whether his work successfully reveals to society parts of itself that it would rather not see. On this level, Shock Treatment is a complete success. We wish you luck and speed in finding someone to adapt it for the stage, and hope to have an opportunity to see it when that happens. Please know that your work is deeply appreciated and influential - perhaps even in ways you might not have intended - and that, too, is the mark of a great artist.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Open Letter to "Christian" Groups that Preach Hatred

I wrote this some time ago on my Livejournal, and looking at it now, it definitely strikes me as a blog post that I wrote before I'd actually created this blog. So here it is. Please feel free to post it on the pages of as many groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, who preach hate in the name of a loving god. Rebuke your neighbor when he sins, people. My words are here for you to use for that purpose, if you like them.

If a friend or debate partner has sent you to this page, it's because he or she cares about you and wants to help you become a more considerate person. Take a few minutes, read what I have to say, and see what you think of it. It may even inspire you if you let it.

First: the bible isn't meant to be taken literally. Take it from someone who comes from a culture that's been analyzing and interpreting it for thousands of years: The most disrespectful thing you can do with the bible is to read it like it's the daily news. The only way to treat the text with genuine respect is to look for all the different layers of meaning that are in there. The surface layer is the least important, and in many cases was only directly relevant to the time in which it was written. For example, homosexuality is a problem if you're wandering in the harsh desert for 40 years, because your number 1 priority should be to have as many babies as you possibly can, so that your people will survive. The bible is one of the greatest works of history, literature and mythology that we have, and it forms the basis for our entire culture... so please try not to read it like it's a laundry list.

Likewise, it's silly to try to pretend the world was created in seven literal days. The people who wrote the bible didn't have anywhere near the science or astronomy that we have, so they did their best trying to explain how the world came to exist. Proverbs 24:3-4 tells us, "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." This means we should value scientific knowledge in all its forms, because it comes from our God-given intelligence and reason, and it's given us all kinds of miraculous cures and technology. It has a different creation story than the bible does, but that should be no surprise, because science is rational and the bible is spiritual. They're describing the exact same thing, but the authors have very different understandings of what science is and how the universe works. The biblical creation myth isn't very different from the Greek creation myth: beautiful, poetic, and interesting, but not meant to be taken literally. The point of our creation story isn't the seven days, it's that you should listen when God tells you to do something.

Secondly: the bible is all about treating people decently and with respect. Matthew 7:12 agrees: "Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets." If you want to be a good Christian you need to listen to Matthew, instead of spreading hate in the name of a loving God.

What happens if you don't? Have a look at Matthew 6:15 : “But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Or look at 1 John 4:20 : “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” "Brother", there, means “your fellow humans” as it frequently does in the bible. 

But the most damning passage on hate – literally – is this one. John 3:15 : “Anyone who hates his brother is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don't have eternal life within them.” Pretty harsh, isn’t it? When the bible effectively says, “People who hate other people will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” that’s really its way of saying, “Let go of your hate, because it will ruin your life and then destroy you.” 

It's really important to be able to express your feelings, though, so also remember Leviticus 19:17 : “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” The entire 19th chapter of Leviticus is very important in Judaism, and is sometimes called “The Holiness Code” because it's a large collection of ethical commandments. What this one means is, “If someone is doing something you think is sinful, you shouldn’t hate him. You should go to him and tell him what you think, so that he knows you're not going to help him sin.” A good way to do this in conversation is to say something like this: “I want you to know I’m a devout Christian and I believe your lifestyle is sinful. I also want you to know that this isn't a personal judgment, and that I value you as much as anyone else, because only God can judge a person's sins.”

Remember, Genesis 18:25 tells us that God is the only true judge, so judging other people is really the same thing as telling someone, “I am God.” That means judging other people in God's place is both idolatry and blasphemy. Matthew agrees for different reasons. In chapter 7, verses 1 to 5, he says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment that you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”

The log in your eye is homophobia. And make no mistake, homophobia is just one particular form of hate. Hate is incompatible with being a good Christian – with being a good member of any religion, really – and it will destroy you if you cling to it. It may even turn into cancer, a heart attack, or any one of dozens of diseases that are linked to stress. Everyone knows hating someone can be stressful and draining… so think about how stressful and exhausting hating millions of people must be.

There must be something more productive you can do with all the energy you've been spending on hating people you don't even know. Maybe volunteer at a shelter or at your church. If you really want to help people that need all the love and care you can give them, consider children with cancer or terminal AIDS patients. Or read, or play video games, or find a new sport you like. It really doesn't matter where you put that energy, because by spending it on doing things you love instead of holding on to hate, you're making your life better, and that means everyone who gets to spend time with you has a better life too. Hate is destructive and contagious, and having it out of your life is better for you and for everyone around you.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Practical Jewish Magic

This is a very short post just to mention that I've officially begun research for the Practical Jewish Magic book. There are only three or four books on Jewish magic in English, and my plan is to read all of them before starting the writing process.

If you have any particular topics you'd like to see addressed in the book or on this blog in the future, please comment and let me know what they are.