Applied Magic(k): Magic(k) Calls by The Center for Tactical Magic
Originally published in Arthur No. 24 (August 2006, available here)

The ancient oracles of Greece, which served as messaging centers between the gods and the mortals, did not shy away from associating metaphysical affairs with technological wizardry. Visitors to the oracles marveled as doors opened, fountains poured forth, and lights flickered all of the their own accord, thanks to an innovative use of hydraulics, pneumatics, levers, weights and balances. Such high-tech engineering (for the times, anyway) not only served to set an appropriate magical tone, but also held the potential to assist in conveying messages from the gods. Although more than 2,000 years old, this blend of magic(k) and tech stands in stark contrast to many of today’s expressions of magic(k). What is it about technology and magic(k) that leaves so many magic(k) practitioners hiding in the folds of their anachronistic robes and tuxedos?

Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the inventor credited with the notion of global satellite communications, once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” At the surface, such an assertion may seem simple enough; however, there are a few layers to excavate here. Some interpret this to mean we have reached an age where we are quite impressed by our own inventions. The workings of our gadgets have become increasingly imperceptible, if not due to sheer miniaturized size of the parts, then surely due to the veils of specialized knowledge. In the end, we don’t know how a given technology, a cell phone for instance, even works nor do we particularly care so long as we can talk on it when we need to. We take it for granted that there is a technical logic behind the engineering of a cell phone.

For some, that brief insignificant moment of faith in technology is comparable to magic(k)—after all, many (if not most) magic tricks are successfully performed along these very lines. Any enchantment whatsoever is overpowered by the puzzle that remains to be solved. The audience does not wonder if it is “real” magic(k); they wonder at how it is accomplished. While the overall effect may still be enough to satisfy and entertain, the method remains cloaked in secrecy and illusion. Likewise, when a technology performs its prescribed function, we tend not to ask any questions, and thus the mysteries of its inner workings are obscured to all but those with specialized knowledge. This certainly has some parallels with the way some view magic(k), equally in the realms of the occult, entertainment, and perhaps politics as well.

However, the magic(k) of a “sufficiently advanced technology” is not simply manifested solely by its ability to perform its prescribed function without one’s understanding of how it works. Magic(k) teases questions of “what?” and “why” just as much as “how?” Aside from the general mystery of its inner workings, a cell phone appears to be no more magical than a wristwatch or a solar-powered calculator largely because of our familiarity with it and the banal circumstances under which it is used. But when we take a moment to really consider what a cell phone does, we begin to scrape away at another layer of meaning. We act like it’s nothing, but when we use cell phones, our disembodied voices are transmitted invisibly via remote towers networked to celestial satellites (invented by Arthur C. Clarke, remember) floating somewhere in the heavens, before bouncing back to earth to be received by another living person located perhaps thousands of miles away. And this all happens in “real-time.” Is it becoming more difficult to distinguish between technology and magic(k) yet? Well, let’s keep going…

Let’s jump back in time. We needn’t go far. A few hundred years will do nicely. Now here you are: roaming through the public square wondering why all these people are hanging out socializing instead of home watching tv, when all of a sudden your friend from the future calls you, and your Bluetooth ear-set starts blinking and ringing. As you start to chat, you quickly realize that you are now the center of attention. When the barrel-chested blacksmith moseys on over and asks you what’s going on, and you explain what a cell phone does (as mentioned above) do you think the nice folks from the past are going to find the whole affair rather ordinary?

Today, the notion of invisibly transmitting signals to communicate with beings from afar seems rather commonplace. But this is only a recent techno-historical development. In the past, such attempts were sure signs of mental instability, demonic possession or skilled sorcery. BUT they were not unimaginable, nor were they regarded as wholly impossible. Indeed, occult technologies were developed for just such a purpose. Crystal balls, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, and magic mirrors flashed glimpses and whispered insights from unseen communicators. Perhaps most famously, the mystical advisors to Queen Elizabeth I, Edward Kelly and John Dee, deftly divined an entire language (Enochian) with which to converse with angels and demons alike. Although the number of dropped calls from the Enochian Watch Towers was probably much higher than that of your average cell phone, the coverage range was apparently quite extensive, allowing communication to other beings on as many as seven planes of existence.

A few hundred years later, electric forces became harnessed for the first time in human history, and the telegraph, the telephone and the radio soon followed. Such inventions at once confirmed the possibility of body-less voices traveling through time and space, and opened the door to new expressions of magic(k) and mysticism. In much the same way that the invention of photography led to a whole range of spirit photos, trick photography, occult experimentation and illusions projected through the help of a “magic lantern” (an early slide projector), so too did the tech of telecom open the gates to a realm of fantastic enterprises. Stage magicians were quick to develop cunning tricks that relied on the covert and overt use of electric pulses, waves, and signals to convince audiences of the presence of all-knowing spirits and powerful mental faculties. So too did mediums embrace the electro-wizardry of the modern age. Like the stage magicians, psychics enhanced their performances with the covert collaboration of gadgets. In a manner perhaps reminiscent of the Greek oracles, parlor lights would dim and blacken, bells would ring in the distance, and voices would emerge from the shadows. Attempts at otherworldly communication led magicians, mystics and mediums to innovate on ancient divination techniques using new technologies. With the understanding that nearly anything can be used to divine messages, visions and insights, the spirit of electromancy was unleashed. Radios, phones, phonographs, recorders, and all sorts of metering devices began testing the metaphysical waters for evidence of ESP. Essentially, a new branch of extra-sensory perception began to grow: electro-sensory perception.

Although ESP is traditionally expressed as clairvoyance, precognition, and telepathy, at the core of the concept is an emphasis on the enhancement of our innate five senses. Sight beyond sight. Knowing what is hidden. Covert communication. To these ends, technologies have increasingly approached the potential of ESP. We have indeed augmented our senses beyond the ordinary limits of perception allowing us to see and hear over great distances. Although this may seem like a novel notion to the average consumer of communication services, the power and magic(k) of telecom tech certainly hasn’t escaped the attention of the government, corporations, and the military.

Of course we’re not simply referring to the intense battles over public access to the airwaves and widespread demand for public control over the means of production (and communication), which you undoubtedly learned about in history class. Nor are we merely alluding to the fact that you have to pay to talk to your distant loved ones despite the fact that much of the telecom infrastructure was already paid for by tax dollars through government subsidies years ago. And neither are we questioning why it’s illegal to broadcast a pirate radio station on an unoccupied niche of your FM dial. In fact, we’re not even referencing a whole slough of occult conspiracies involving psychic vampires from business and politics who suck you dry of any dissenting desires.

As luck would have it, truth is often stranger than fiction. And it is no longer conspiracy theory but a matter of public record that the CIA and the Pentagon have poured millions of dollars into mind-control experiments like the infamous MK Ultra and the psychic spying programs that resulted in Remote Viewing. In addition, the Department of Defense’s biggest budget-gobbler, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) actively develops near-invisible surveillance cameras, spread spectrum data beams, spy satellites, “smart dust,” “sentinel plants,” sonar, radar, lidar and a host of “animal familiars” along with their robotic counterparts. Is that distinction between magic(k) and technology sufficiently fuzzy now?

Clearly, we don’t need complicated data dowsers to find evidence of other occult dealings, secret pacts, and strange new powers. Indeed, we only need to look at a small, top-secret military unit of WWII code-breakers who were code-named—you guessed it!—MAGIC. Following the end of WWII, MAGIC ultimately became the NSA. The National Security Agency, which hosts the world’s largest supercomputers and claims to employ the largest number of math wizards, monitors all forms of data transmission in an effort “to understand the secret communications of our foreign adversaries while protecting our own communications.” Although “our” might seem to imply “American citizens” (especially since there are major federal laws prohibiting the NSA from spying on American citizens) apparently there is a sleight (heh) misunderstanding. In December of 2005, the New York Times broke a story detailing the NSA’s monitoring of Americans’ phone conversations. A day later, President Bush confessed to signing the order authorizing the illegal wiretapping. The method behind the trick was clearly exposed, yet the audience remained fascinated by the effects nonetheless. Despite the fact that he was caught with an impeachable ace up his sleeve during a dubious demonstration of ESP, the show (not to mention the war) trudges on. How is this possible? Psychic vampires? Mind control? Hmmm, maybe. Something certainly seems to have dulled our sensory perception.

We find a clue in yet one more layer of Arthur C. Clarke’s analysis of magic(k) and technology. When we engage any “sufficiently advanced technology” we are quickly (and often unknowingly) entangled in a controlling web that covers at least seven planes of powerful, occult bureaucracy of which at least three are apparently governed by Misdirection, Malfeasance, and Machiavellian Machinations. In the end, we begin to understand that technologies can be used to control and oppress just as they can be used to liberate and make life more enjoyable. And if magic(k) is indistinguishable from technology, then the question that remains is, “How will you use it?”

Here are a few easy exercises to get you started. As always, please let us know how it works out for you by emailing us at: goodluck at tacticalmagic dot org.

1) Calls from telemarketers and wrong numbers are usually considered to be a nuisance. Try thinking of them as an opportunity. The next time you receive an unwanted phone call use it as a chance to ask some lively questions. Your impromptu survey can cover any range of topics; however, in our experiences we’ve always had good success asking people about ghosts. Many folks will claim they don’t believe in ghosts, but nearly everyone will tell you a tale of bizarre and unexplained phenomena. Try it out and see.

2) If you happen to be on a no-call list and are rarely haunted by telephone solicitors, try calling the service numbers for your phone company. These numbers are usually free, and more often than not, the person on the other end will appreciate the diversion from complaining customers. The ghost survey mentioned above is a good ice-breaker before asking about the company’s policy for dealing with spooks of a federal nature. If the person you’re talking to can’t tell you the conditions under which your privacy is fed to the feds, ask to speak to someone who can.

3) Peripherally, we may realize that a cell phone is, among other things, a noisemaker; however, it is a characteristic that receives our full attention only when it rings in awkward social situations like during a movie or a lecture. Under ordinary circumstances one tries to avoid such incidents. But perhaps there are other contexts where the disturbing cry of a cell phone can provide a well-deserved interruption. How about the wailing, beeping, and jamming of 10, or 50, or 500 cell phones all ringing at the same time? To cast such a cell spell requires little more than getting an assembly of cohorts to set their cell phone alarms to go off at an opportune moment. Schools, shopping centers, shareholders meetings, protests, parties—you name it; the possibilities are calling!