A number of years ago I did not believe in magical attacks. Most of the magicians I knew had been positive that attacking someone was a bad thing – unless there were real reasons.
A “real reason” presented itself in the 1990s when I was involved in a ritual to curse Saddam Hussain. The ritual was designed to twat his expansion plans by effectively cursing all his actions. The ritual, which was under some senior people of the Order I was in at the time, got a little out of control and the doll which represented Hussain was damaged – its neck was pulled out of shape. We thought our curse worked when the First Gulf war ended with Hussain totally losing. It was not until the second one that I understood that our curse was still operating and the result was that Saddam ended up with his neck stretched. (I am not saying our magic killed him, I think there was a lot of things lobbed his way, but we had contributed to it).
We had done evil magic. At the time, we felt it was justified because Saddam was an evil chap and yet if we had known what evils his toppling had unleashed we might have been a little more careful. My own exit from that particular Order was marked by various people claiming that each other was performing magical attacks. People who I respected and thought were good were somehow being evil to each other.
Later I experienced some other magical attacks first hand. That was when I left another magic order. A few members were convinced I was doing “evil” one even wrote to me a long letter about how I was under a “dark cloud of evil” and he had done tarot readings that proved it. I did not act, because I thought mistakenly that at the end of the day these people were “good people” and besides using black magic was against their own oath. Certainly using such magic against them was unthinkable to me.
The fall out of their action resulted in a change of my views. I concluded that while black magicians did not exist, there was a lot of black magic conducted by good people who thought they were doing the right thing.
So, what is it that prompts ordinary people to commit acts of evil? There was a theory that people will do evil if they are under the control of an authority figure. This was called the “banality of evil,” the theory has been proffered as an explanation for why ordinary, educated Germans took part in the Jewish genocide of World War II.
Now comes the Science
Some of this idea came from research conducted in 1961 by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram.
Volunteers, told they were taking part in an experiment on learning, were led to believe they were administering an electric shock to a man, dubbed the “learner” who had to memorise pairs of words.
Every time the learner made a mistake, the “teacher” was told by a stern-faced, lab-coated official to crank up the shock, starting with a mild 15 volts and climaxing at a lethal 450 volts. In one test, nearly two-thirds of volunteers continued all the way to “lethal” voltage, even when the learner pleaded for mercy, wept or screamed in agony.
The experiment was fake — the learner was an actor and the shocks never happened. The teacher could hear, but not see, the learner.
Now psychologists, having reviewed the experiment have reached a different conclusion. Alex Haslam, a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia said that there was less evidence we find to support the banality of evil idea, the notion that participants are simply ‘thoughtless’ or ‘mindless’ zombies who don’t know what they’re doing and just go along for the sake of it.
A team sifted through a box in the Yale archives that contained comments written by the volunteers after they were told the purpose of the experiment, and that the torture had been fake.
Of the 800 participants, 659 submitted a reaction. Some said they had felt unease or distress during the tests, but most reported being positive about the experience, some extremely so.
They said that they felt they were “part of such an important experiment” and had “contributed in some small way toward the development of man and his attitudes towards others.”
The people who carried out the experiment had “a sense of pleasure”, of “duty fulfilled”, of “having served a higher calling.”
Milgram had told those who took part that they would advance the cause of knowledge. He had made them believe in a noxious ideology — namely, that it is acceptable to do otherwise unconscionable things in the cause of science.
Stephen Reicher, a professor at the University of St Andrews in Scotland the new look at the study showed that ordinary people could commit acts of extraordinary harm, but that thoughtlessness was not the main motivator. People are aware of what they are doing, but that they think it is the right thing to do,” he said.
The key to it is that they have to identify with a cause — and an acceptance that the authority is a legitimate representative of that cause.
If you place this in a magical context. The curse of Saddam Hussain was just that. It was given to me as a task by someone in authority, but I was under the impression that I was doing the right thing. In fact, I did not think that I might have done the wrong thing until I forced myself to watch his execution.
Those people who attacked me had been convinced that I was evil, and that they were under attack. They believed that they had to attack anyone who threatened their temple so the end justified the means.
Groups and Watermelons
This is easier to do in a group where a leader can convince his followers of anything. There is one particularly famous story about a group leader who kept his order in a state of paranoia about other groups to the point where they were encouraged to attack a watermelon with the leader’s enemies’ names on it.
Solo magicians are not immune to this problem either. The majority of people who write to me claiming that they have been attacked are solo magicians. While their attackers are figments of their own imagination their desire to “counter-attack” against real people is all part of the false belief structure that they have built in their own heads. In fact a Solo magician is more likely to believe they are right because they have no one to tell them that there is something wrong with what they believe.
What the Milgram tells us is that we can convince ourselves to do any atrocity if we believe something strong enough.