Why Words Are Acts of Magick
The Slap, Considered
I’m not into violence. I don’t think punching (slapping? slunching?) is an appropriate alternative to words. But words are complicated. When you say something to someone, are you saying what you think you’re saying?
Anyway, in case you missed it, I’ll say it again. I don’t think punching is the answer. I also don’t feel that Chris Rock just told a joke, either. I think he did something much more powerful than that: he cast a magick spell and experienced the immediate karmic effects of that magick.
Let’s set aside the slap (the punch? the plap?) for now and talk about how we’re all ridiculously skilled witches and wizards casting spells all the time.
Below everything we say and do is an elemental force of energy working out the will of our intent. We are constantly practicing something Daniel M. Ingram calls - in his dense but intriguing essay Magick and the Brahama Viharas - ‘Ordinary Magick.’
“Consciousness plus intent produces magick. Anything that was produced by these two, even if present in the smallest way, is a magickal act or product.
Ordinary Magick: that which most people wouldn’t call magick, and involves what the ordinary person generally believes to be simple intentions leading to actions, like lifting a spoon or composing a symphony.”
(Feel free to read on for his well-worded distinctions between ordinary and, uh, Harry-Potter-y magick.)
For the former, lifting a spoon is a prime example. If we were to observe someone eating yogurt, materially our interpretation would be quite simple. No big deal. They’re eating yogurt. But on the subtle levels, they’re the Gandalf of cause and effect. We forget that we practice stunning displays of will/effect because everything we do is a manipulation of will/effect. They were hungry, and like any practiced wizard, set their desire upon yogurt. There was no yogurt on the spoon, but through a series of complex, physical spell-casting, there is now yogurt on the spoon, and through a finely practiced and attuned wand, they manage to lift the spoon to their mouth and reap the rewards of their intention. They’re good at that! This is actually quite impressive when you view it in ultimate terms. Someone simply wanted something, and they willed their desired outcome into being. Kind of miraculous, actually.
The same is true for words, but the magick gets more nuanced, and rides on all sorts of currents of intention large and small. Aside from stretches of raw, untapped communication (which I'll touch on later), in most conversations, we’re saddled with goals and favored outcomes every time we speak with someone, and we use subtextual spells to cast our will into the exchange. If we’re talking with someone who seems intimidated by us, and our desire is to diffuse that feeling, we cast a spell of relatability by offering up a self-deprecating anecdote. If we’re conversing with a person we find insanely attractive, and our will is to improve their perception of our value, we cast a love spell by sharing an accomplishment they’re likely to find impressive. We’re constantly attempting to transmute our environment through both physical and verbal cues, and most of us are pretty good at it.
As humans, on Earth, we exist as a united organism in a complex web of desires and behaviors, and we throw out all sorts of cues and actions daily that effect other cues and actions ad infinitum. They impact us and others like ripples and waves, and when similar cues and actions repeat themselves, particularly on large stages, through the mouths of powerful people, these ideas draw together like magnets and form their own gravitational pull. When this happens, collectively, we start to get strong ideas that begin to feel more like Cosmic Truths than social opinions.Women Are Crazy. Men Shouldn’t Cry. Polyamory is Unnatural. I’ll call these magnetized ideas Currents.
As magickal practitioners, we then participate in the fortifying of these currents by throwing out broad spells that work to bolster the current’s strength. If your desire is to make sure your partner is well groomed, you cast a spell when you, for example, encourage them to brush their teeth more often, hence pouring some energy into the It’s Important To Look Good current’s bucket.
Some currents are more or less harmless, while others are not. When these currents sweep through the collective mind, it’s easy to get taken along for a ride, even when that ride might be destructive to our wellbeing. The permeation can be subtle at first, most magick is, but these currents are also avalanche-like in their ability to propagate - especially with the help of a skilled sorcerer.
Chris Rock is one such powerful wizard. He casts incantations all the time, successfully. He conjures people into large auditoriums, pulling them out of their homes. He charms crowds into guffawing. He has spent a lifetime aligning his will to produce laughter in his audience. He has practiced his craft thoroughly, and he throws out spell after spell to produce his preferred outcome. A lot of humans are talking about him currently, including me, so we can measure his reach/power on this alone.
So, when I watched the jokes leading up to the slunch, I found myself distracted by the will of his words, and their potential impact, rather than what he was actually saying. I’m not super stoked by his spells - ahem, I mean, jokes. All actions aren’t of equal intention or effect, despite what we say about that.
I can’t actually find a transcript of his bit about Denzel Washington, but I think it was more or less something along the lines of, “[Something-something - shouted top dog - something - something - your movie was pretty good you all should see it.”] That’s a fairly innocuous spell, I suppose. The end goal is that more or less we all know that Denzel Washington is a powerful actor and a strong dude.
So if the idea that Denzel Washington is a Strong Dude is its own current, then Chris Rock just used his spell-casting abilities to drop a coin in the Denzel Washington is a Strong Dude current’s bucket. He added to that current’s power. Whether we’re fully cognizant of it or not, we’re being subtly persuaded to believe that Denzel Washington is strong. That’s the message we’re receiving on an energetic level.
When we get to Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, I’m already a bit bothered.
“You know who has the hardest job tonight? Javier Bardem and his wife are both nominated. Now if she loses, he can’t win. He is praying that Will Smith wins.”
Here, he’s casting out a few subtextual spells. The first is a subtle assumption that Penelope will lose but Javier might just win, so this is a drop in the She’s Not as Good as Her Partner current’s bucket. It’s not a huge deal if we’re being guided towards the fact that she’s not as good of an actor as him, but it’s also not entirely pleasant for her, and doesn’t feel like a super great joke, at least not for her.
The second, more harmful spell, is that of his general assumptive message about women’s instability. Javier might be cool if his wife won, but the premise of the joke rests on the supposition that his wife would give him jealousy-fueled hell over his success, because Women Are Unstable.
Again, it’s a jest, but on an energetic level, it’s also a fairly strong cue meant to guide our impressions on the nature of female behavior. He had the chance to flip those perspectives, which I also wouldn’t have appreciated energetically, but he chose to add his verbal energy to the Women Are Unstable current by pointing out how she would behave. And for the record, I’m not saying this is conscious, or even ill-intentioned, per se. The Women Are Unstable current is strong, and Chris Rock is as susceptible to its gravitational force as anyone else.
His third joke was similarly effective.
“Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, alright?”
And when the audience is heard shuffling in surprise, he adds,
“That was a nice one!”
Was it a nice one?
When I walk down the street, and someone shouts out, “Smile!” and my response is negative, so they follow up with, “Aw, come on! It’s a joke, lighten up!” I do kinda wanna sock ‘em in the face. Just a little bit! Because it’s not actually a joke. It’s a street-wizard throwing voodoo at me. It’s something just shy of a command. The desire they’re actually attempting to conjure is alchemical - they literally want to change my face, which would inch me towards meeting their standard of attractiveness. They’ve witnessed something in the world that they feel called to manipulate, and have summoned up their magickal powers of voice to attempt that manipulation in the hopes that I’ll obey their will.
They might be bad magicians because they don’t often succeed, but their spell-casting still leaves an intangible grime that must be worked through and discarded. They’re letting me know on an energetic level that by merely existing, I’m failing at something, which is more or less meeting their standard of beauty. And not only that - but that my baseline isn’t acceptable, and if I’m to meet the standard of acceptability, I should behave in a certain way. Behaviors outside of their directives (such as walking around with a neutral face) aren’t enough.
As an adult woman, I’ve learned to let this go. As a young-adult woman, their spell-craft left a residue that stuck to my self-perception for several years. I am not enough. I should smile. It’s my responsibility to please others. Am I worthy when I do this? I should be nice. I need to, I should, I need to, I should…
This type of seemingly inconspicuous sorcery happens all the f*cking time, too. When my husband and I are in the grocery store, and we’re stacking things into our arms like it’s a game of Jenga because we’ve refused to get a shopping cart for some reason, and a couple walks by us and jovially says, “Hey, why are you doing that? We normally hire Mexicans for that kind of work!” They’re not actually making a wisecrack, they’re telling us that white people shouldn’t struggle, and Mexicans should. Ding goes the coin that drops into the Racism current’s bucket.
When I, after years of successfully running a six-figure self-started business, walk into a car dealership with cash, and the salesman looks at my husband and says, “Hey, she sure got lucky with you! You’re buying her this car?!” Ding goes the coin that drops into the Sexism current’s bucket.
I could go on.
When Chris Rock tells Jada Pinkett Smith, who has debuted a shaved head after a heartbreaking and public battle with a condition that causes hair loss - that he’s excited to see her in [movie that implies she looks masculine and is therefore less valuable as a woman now that her hair is gone] he’s not making a benign jab. He’s using his immense, raw power to feed a current of energy that proposes Women Need To Meet A Standard Of Beauty Or They Will Be Mocked.
And brushing aside what it means, as a woman, to feel tethered to your hair as a symbol of your femininity (many of us can relate to getting a haircut that has made us cry upon looking in the mirror, even if we didn’t feel like it mattered), brushing aside the embarrassment of going through the archetypal phases of losing that symbol under the tight scrutiny of the public eye, brushing aside the sheer fragility one might experience as their body undergoes massive changes that run counter to their deepest, most primal preferences, brushing aside the fact that Jada’s hair in particular is a fraught topic - wouldn’t you, upon hearing a powerful man add even more fuel to a harmful riptide of social commands while framing it as a nice thing to say - just a little bit, like to take a great cosmic hand up to that current and just… stop it?
A wonderful alternative could have been had, for sure. I’ve imagined Will Smith walking up on stage, placing a kind hand on Chris Rock’s shoulder and saying something along the lines of, “Hey, I know you’re a comedian, and I respect that you’re pushing boundaries, and this might feel like a silly joke, but my wife is crushed over this, and when you say shit like this, you make women feel like there’s something wrong with them, and that’s not actually ‘nice’, it’s cruel.” Before gallantly turning to the audience, and smoldering straight into the camera, “And by the way, I just want to say, my wife is beautiful with or without hair, and if you’re watching this, you’re good enough no matter what you look like.”
But instead, he slapped him. He took a fist up to that impulse and stopped it with brute force. Then he yelled to seal the deal. I’m similarly un-stoked by Will Smith’s act of magick, here. (But that’s another essay.) And while it’s certainly not something I condone, it’s also not something I’m baffled by. Will Smith feels present. Very present. He’s been fairly open about his recent experiences with Ayahuasca and it’s hard not to see how closely he’s sitting to the realization of his magickal power. Watching his acceptance speech felt similar to watching the woman from this video achieving a spiritual awakening in real time. They both emanate that raw, unpredictable feeling of someone experiencing the crushing lightness of wholly dunking oneself in the Absolute Present, and the realization of the lack of rules around social behaviors that come with that immersion.
“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people.”
“This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people.”
His speech (which I’d recommend watching rather than reading) was, quite frankly, enrapturing, because he was there, truly there, and truly communicating from an energetic current that fully acknowledged the bare-truth of what was going on. This is the truth that most at the Oscars ignore. They stand on stage in front of large swaths of people and tell jokes that are actually closer to hexes. They understand they’re being watched, but instead of communicating from their heart, or the raw unfiltered present, they throw out vanity spells with their well-rehearsed and carefully chosen speeches, or martyr spells that point out their contributions to charities and causes, hoping you’ll update your perception of them as an individual who cares deeply about The Issues.
Not him, though. He felt angry and he… slunched someone. You’re not supposed to walk onstage and do that? Oh well. He did. Then he felt righteous. Then he felt embarrassed. Then, he was sorry. He was weak. He was strong. He was crying. He was exposed. He was a protector. He is a vessel of love. The devil came for him. He was happy he won. He has a calling. He’s here. You’re here. This is all magick. He’s always casting spells. He got spit on his chin.
Again, I know, I know, he could have stood up to the current peacefully. I’ll give him a stern talking to about this later. And I know, I know the result of his slapping-spell has caused a fairly wide array of responses, a lot of them unproductive. I’ll lend him my copy of The Golden Dawn when I see him next.
But if we for a moment, just for a moment, forget about whether or not that type of behavior is warranted…
“I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse, and you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and you gotta pretend like that‘s OK.”
…we get to ask ourselves a question. What if… we don’t? What if someone said something seemingly innocuous that actually harmed us, and instead of letting the spell they cast seep into our hearts and minds, we stopped it? The way we stop it is down to taste, and I’d uh, strongly recommend the harmonious, verbal, and non-violent route… but I digress.
The web of causality is delicate. It is woven of gossamer and desire. I participate, now, here, now, by casting my long incantation. Our words, our actions, our spells contribute to the collaborative tapestry of existence. We may not be on a television set, or trending on twitter, but we are deeply powerful witches and wizards. We are constantly, in real time, creating the fabric of our world. Our actions matter. They are drops into buckets that fill and fill and fill and eventually sway the tides of families and communities. These currents spill out into our daily lives in subtle and sneaky ways. If we’re going to ride these currents out, we must be careful of which we choose, and which we give our power to.
Or else, uh, we might get plapped by Will Smith.