Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Contemporary Magic Websites

If you've studied any of the history of magic in the ancient world, you may be curious about how magical beliefs have persisted into the modern world. The simplest way to investigate almost any current popular belief is to do a web search. After all, the Web presents a dizzying array of home pages and online communities for people with almost any interest imaginable.

However, you cannot simply do a Google or Altavista search on "magic" and quickly arrive at sites dedicated to modern-day witchcraft. You will find a thousand or so websites dedicated to the Magic: The Gathering card game, a few thousand more dedicated to card tricks and other stage illusions, and a few more thousand dedicated to the Orlando Magic basketball team. Likewise, there are hundreds if not thousands of sites dedicated to basketball player Magic Johnson, the 1978 Anthony Hopkins movie Magic, MAGic (text magnifier/screen reading software for computer users with impaired vision), and MAGIC, a web-based interactive map project based in Great Britain.

Clearly, the concept of magic as entertaining illusion has persisted into modern times and flourished. A slick magazine called MAGIC (magicmagazine.com) exists to profile noted performers and to provide amateur readers with tips and tricks. While MAGIC is aimed squarely at adult readers and therefore does give nods to other types of magic in historical articles, many other magic-as-illusion sites are intended for children.

For instance, the website Kidzone (kidzone.ws) offers a variety of magic tricks that can be done with coins, cards, and a variety of other common items. Magic sites for children are entirely sanitized, and never give the reader any hint that magic has any intended connection to religion or the working of supernatural forces.

However, magic-for-entertainment is just one of the 10 types of magic Giordano Bruno discussed in his book De Magia. What about the other uses he described, such as magic as wisdom, science, sorcery, theurgy, necromancy, divination, natural magic, and mathematical magic? How have these concepts fared with modern-day folk who see magic as more than just amusing stage tricks?

A more sophisticated -- or at least a more specific -- kind of web search is needed to unearth modern-day magic practitioners on the Internet. And indeed web searches on "de magia" and "how to cast spells" do reveal many interesting sites.

The Scottish Witch Web (scottishwitchweb.com) describes itself as "Home of the Source Coven Network". Since the site is all about Wiccan magic and ritual, it falls in the general category of magic-as-religion, which of course was the status quo in antiquity. The site's "study room" contains links to a variety of documents at the Esoteric Archives (esotericarchives.com) on magic such as "The Key of Solomon" and "Arbatel of Magic". Interestingly, the site also links to the black magic text "Le Grimoire du Pape Honorius", despite the site's display of the Wiccan Rede "And it harm none, do what thou will". It appears, then, that this particular coven network embraces many types of medieval magic (which, in turn, embrace ancient magic), at least for research purposes. It's hard to know exactly what types of magic the coven network considers "real", although for the low price of 250 pounds you can attend their residential course in witchcraft in Edinburgh (the course syllabus is sadly not available online).

Other magic sites don't quite manage the same veneer of scholarliness. The first page of Spelwerx (spelwerx.com) declares "We love Magic Spells, Symbols, Zodiac Signs, Wicca Spells, Witchcraft Spells, and Black Magic Spells. Especially the free spells and magick witch spells that involve magic spells symbols, symbolism, and zodiac signs employed in wicca, wiccan witchcraft, magija, and black magic -- that's what we do best!" A closer look at the site indicates that, at present, it's mainly intended to be chock-full of key phrases to increase its search engine ranking (search engine optimization is indeed one of the most diabolical forms of modern magic ritual) to host Google ads for a variety of divination-for-pay telephone psychics. The site's pitch doesn't seem much different than the tactics probably used by ancient wandering magicians who would offer prayers, binding spells, advice -- anything and everything as long as the price is right.

And speaking of prices, the Lucky Mojo Curio Co. Occult Shop runs a free spells archive at luckymojo.com/spells.html. The site offers "Magic Spell Basics: Tools and Techniques", "White Magick: Helpful Magic Spells", "Red Magick: Love Spells and Sex Magick", "Green Magick: Money Making Magic Spells", "Purple Magick: Power Enhancing Magic Spells", and "Black Magick: Destructive Magic Spells".

Ancient magicians would likely be puzzled at the mention of red, purple, and green magicks, particularly since U.S. currency wouldn't be invented for a few millennia to change the color of money from silver and gold. However, the basic concepts behind the grab-bag of talismans and charms would probably seem pretty familiar to any magos. The page even includes a few summoning spells, though everything is cast from a Christian perspective of summoning devils and angels rather than the daimones of the ancient world. The purple magic section includes spells for affecting the outcome of court cases, which was a big business for magicians in ancient Rome. The black magic section includes spells to break up relationships or to cause enemies to suffer from bad luck.

All the spells on luckymojo.com seem to have roots in ancient magic. What's missing? Notably there's no mention of divination or any necromancy, and spells do not involve the creations of scrolls, tablets, or figurines (presumably being able to read and write doesn't have the same cachet it used to). There are also no spells that use pointers taken from a target person (products sold by Lucky Mojo have apparently replaced them in any adapted spells).

Other sites have a more overt focus on selling spells. Egyptian Witchcraft (egyptian-witchcraft.com) is run by a "psychic" (others say outright scam artist) who calls herself Aisha Haadi Marat Elfajer, and she promises "100% Safe Love Spells - Reuniting Lovers - Money Spells". Her "Isis Love Spell" costs a mere $200 and offers a cure-all for any ailing relationship. But, if the relationship is at death's door, she offers her "Power Ritual COMBO Love Spell" for the ever-so-low price of $400. Not only does it fix a broken heart, but it also wards off hexes, jinxes, and other "negative energies". Her stuff sounds very much like ancient protective ritual, but has been sanitized to remove references to malign sorcerers or supernatural entities. She also includes a lot of pseudoscientific language in her spell descriptions, and although she invokes the Egyptian goddess Isis it's not clear what if any basis her spells have in known ancient magic ritual.

Other love magic is for sale at extremespells.com. This site offers some basic love, money, and revenge spells, along with a custom spells section and a tutorial for opening your latent psychic skills. For $59.90 you can break up your ex-girlfriend's current romance and have her return to your arms; for another $59.90 you can give her beau impotence! However, despite the promise of "extreme" spells, there's no mention of raising the dead here. There's also no mention of exactly how the spells are cast, or what the rituals might involve (other than a valid credit card number from a prospective client). The concepts of the spells on this site would certainly be familiar to any practitioner of ancient magic, but the details might be quite different.

More love spells performed by psychics are offered at The California Astrology Association (calastrology.com). They feature Triple Cast Spells -- "The Mother of All Spells!". It can supposedly be used to change a lover's mind, find a new lover, break up a pair of lovers, make a person irresistible to the opposite sex, get revenge, lose weight, bring luck, money, and happiness. The website claims that this spell is "one of the oldest spells on record" but they don't specify exactly where the spell came from, nor what it involves (other than, once again, a credit card).

This sampling of sites indicates that there is great interest in magic as entertainment or as a way to gain love, money, or other advantage; all of these were very common outcomes sought from ancient magicians. The sites discussed make no references to necromancy, animal sacrifice or blood rituals, presumably because posting such things might attract negative attention from the police. Spell methodologies have removed most references to ancient gods and supernatural entities and have replaced them with figures from Christianity. Many sites don't discuss the nature of the spells at all and simply make grand promises of results.

In short, magic is alive and well on the Internet, particularly as a way for scam artists to separate the lovelorn from their money.