on the Menu
Magazine - #22, May 2006
many people often associate the word "occult" with
secret magical orders, demon-worshippers, and ancient alchemical
scrawlings, its root definition is simply "secret, concealed,
or hidden". But strangely enough, "occult" is
rarely associated with those who are perhaps most invested in
secrets and concealments - government, military, corporations,
and even performing magicians. Perhaps this popular tendency
to view "occultism" through an anachronistic mist
is ultimately a concealment of its own accord.
If we regard
an occult force as "that which is hidden", it should
come as no surprise to realize that we are constantly surrounded
by the occult. Everywhere we look we don't see it
not at first. Otherwise it wouldn't be occult; it would be obvious
and apparent. Unseen forces are indeed at play all around us.
Often enough we fail to recognize their presence for any number
of reasons. The forces may seem insignificant to the situation.
Or perhaps, we are simply distracted by other factors. Whether
one favors ritual magick or performing magic, the first challenge
is to recognize which forces are present. The second step is
to figure out how to work with the hidden forces.
Fortunately, occult forces sometimes have a funny way of revealing
themselves. In 2001, members of the Center for Tactical Magic
were enjoying a leisurely tromp through downtown San Francisco
with a few thousand other people protesting the 21st Century's
first major display of government occultism: George W. Bush's
inauguration. At the end of the trolley line at Powell and Market
a funny spectacle began to materialize. The march lost momentum
and gradually slowed to a jiggle. Some protestors scurried into
cafes to get their latte fixes while others started break-dancing
to boom boxes in the streets. Meanwhile, riot police began to
huddle in the doorways of the GAP. There were other big department
stores and icons of global capitalism nearby, but for reasons
unknown the GAP seemed to be getting the bulk of police attention.
Perhaps it was one of those rare instances where Power reveals
itself, as if the cops were hinting, "You're already gathered
to fight injustice, you might as well protest conformist fashion
produced by sweatshop labor, too." At first, no one seemed
to care, except possibly the few shoppers who hurried away at
the first signs (namely, armored cops) that something might
be amiss. Gradually though, activists seemed to take to the
idea, and soon a small group settled down at the feet of the
police line to sip their lattes and eat their lunches.
exhibit A, the photo we've provided for your entertainment.
observers the scene appears obvious: two opposing forces have
squared off against one another; protestors staging a sit-in
were blockading the entrances to the GAP, and riot police had
formed a security perimeter to protect GAP's assets from looters
and vandals. While this is true to some degree, those who understand
magic(k) know better. Appearances are often deceiving. The nature
of a good illusion is to cloak information by providing a specific
perceptual framework. And the tendency to filter information
leads to a hasty, oversimplified conclusion.
inspection, one quickly realizes that the scene in the photo
evidences no opposing forces whatsoever. In fact, the cops and
the protestors are rather harmoniously accomplishing the same
task. Both groups are blocking the doorway. Both groups are
preventing patrons from entering. Both groups are preventing
the GAP from doing any business whatsoever.
If you missed
this dynamic at first glance, don't worry. You're not alone.
The cops and the protestors lived it, and they didn't get it.
In fact, no matter how many times this photo is shown in talks,
lectures, and workshops, the audience response is almost always
the same. People are so keyed-in to a perceptual framework dominated
by dichotomies and binary analysis (protestor vs cop, good vs
evil, black magick vs. white magick, etc) that it's easy to
miss what's happening right before our very eyes.
it has long since become a cliché of consciousness studies
to say that at every instance our senses are bombarded by more
information than our minds can process. In order to navigate
the world around us, we learn how to filter information that
we regard as unimportant. However, the act of filtering is not
only influenced by matters of survival (predators, food, attraction,
etc) but also by social cues and priorities (herd behavior,
notions of productivity vs. leisure, conspicuous consumption,
etc). Since the filtering process begins at such an early age
and occurs at much the same time as socialization, it is often
difficult to step outside of one's perceptions and recognize
exactly what is being filtered when and/or why. At best, we
can occasionally inhibit our filtering processes (either through
drugs, meditation, dancing, sensory deprivation, or other "unproductive"
activities) or we can make concerted efforts to focus our attentions
in areas less considered. Even the harbingers of progress have
to admit that the latter option yields positive results. Afterall,
modern medicine owes a great debt to those who were willing
to peer through microscopes at bits, mites, motes, and droplets
that are regularly ignored by the naked eye.
does this keen analysis get us? For starters, we become less
inclined to take things at face value. While some would say
this is a skeptical or even cynical approach to the world, we
prefer to think of it as riddled with opportunity. The refusal
of a static world-view opens one's eyes to the dynamic occult
forces swirling around us. The next trick is to figure out how
to work with these forces.
few more hours of chanting, "Whose streets?...Our Streets!",
the miracle of the unified GAP blockade persisted, but the rest
of the protest began to march down a reliable path. Buses pulled
up and more riot cops in even more armor poured out. Tensions
on both sides escalated, and the enjoyable expression of first
amendment rights wavered under the immanent threat of the inevitable
activist/authoritarian clash. For anyone who has ever been to
a protest, this is familiar territory. This is the part where
ugliness happens. Out come the batons, pepper spray, and plastic
handcuffs. And anyone who gets beaten up also usually gets arrested
and charged with assaulting an officer in order to justify any
declare that this is merely a timeless confrontation between
opposing forces. Perhaps. But we at the Center for Tactical
Magic feel that occult forces were also present, active and
largely unaccounted for. (No, we're not referring to cops dressed
we'll save that for our column on "disguise
& infiltration"). Protestors and cops both fell victim
to the same forces: they steadily grew tired, cold, hungry,
and even a little bored. The activists want to leave, but of
course can't, because, well, they're our streets. If we leave,
then they'll be their streets again. We can't exactly let a
hard day's work go to waste now, can we? And the cops want desperately
to make it home in time for FOX sports, but they can't exactly
leave, because, well
how would it look if they let a bunch
of anarchists run around an empty financial district thinking
that they own the streets? Besides, double (or even triple)
overtime pay is hard to say "no" to. For the cops,
growling stomachs, FOX sports and a can of Bud ultimately win
out over a fatter paycheck. Out come the batons.
It was precisely
at this moment that we decided to conduct a little experiment.
Please note exhibit B: the second photo provided for your entertainment.
any ceremony, we quickly acquired a few boxes of donuts from
a nearby Walgreen's and began passing them out to protestors
and cops alike. The action performed was the same for both groups;
however, the responses were predictably dissimilar. Protestors
responded with eager gratitude; happily stuffing their faces
with the meager nourishment after a long day outdoors. The cops
on the other hand were not so happy. They wanted the donuts.
You could see it in their jaws-gone-slack and their craven eyes
bursting out from behind mirrored glasses. But despite their
hunger, they couldn't take them. Pride and professionalism prevented
them from doing so.
cops are sensitive about donuts. It's an old, played-out joke,
and had we passed out cupcakes, maybe things would have been
different. But isn't that one of the crucial points of magic(k)?
To work with what's around you in such a way as to produce a
desired outcome or effect? Within just a few moments, a single
gesture shifted the dynamic between opposing sides. As activists
giggled and jeered, the police officers shifted uneasily in
their boots. Eager aggression and pumped-up adrenalin ebbed
in the wake of sheepishness, annoyance, and humility. It was
like watching a bully rip the seat of his pants in front of
In an effort
to grab control of the situation, the commanding officer approached
one of our agents (see photo) and threatened, "If you pass
out one more donut, I'm taking you to jail!" To which our
agent responded, "For what? Handing out food for free?"
The officer then replied, "Not for handing it out. For
distributing it!" Clearly, reality and rationality had
shifted in mysterious ways. Please don't misunderstand. We at
the Center for Tactical Magic love a riot as much as anyone,
and we're not claiming that this one act of impromptu hijinks
saved the day or anything. But shortly thereafter the cops stood
down. The police lines withdrew. And many of the activists left
feeling like they preferred their kitchens and their bars to
the long histories of magic(k) and religions, food has often
played a transformational role. Whether consuming "the
body and blood of the Lord" or making bowls of rice appear
from thin air, food has a power that reaches beyond the symbolic.
And the roots of its power are concealed by its relationship
to such hidden forces as hunger, nutrition, comfort, repulsion,
and social relations to name a few. Like so many other hidden
forces, these have the ability to shift perceptions, priorities
and outcomes. But to do so we must recognize their presence
and figure out how to work with them. The following exercises
are designed to encourage further exploration of hidden forces.
You can treat them as magical experiments, interventions, or
alternative forms of entertainment. Have fun & good luck,
and please let us know how it was for you by emailing to: firstname.lastname@example.org
1) Go to the grocery store without the intention of buying anything.
Bring a pad of post-it notes and a pen. Respond to the products
you see by writing a note and sticking it to the product. You
might consider the following: the packaging/marketing strategy
used to encourage your purchase; the way the product makes you
feel when you see it, use it, or eat it; a message or a question
to another potential consumer or store employee; a critique
of the product or the company; a creative suggestion for alternate
uses of the product.
* This is an exercise that shifts perception by changing the
activity performed in an otherwise familiar environment. Like
graffiti responding to a billboard, it also encourages a dialogue
in an otherwise one-way relationship and breaks the illusion
of a "neutral" exchange.
a week for at least a month, prepare a meal that uses ingredients
for their symbolic value. Start by considering a desired outcome
(a different wish, goal, etc for each meal). Next, consider
the events that have to unfold in order to accomplish your goal.
Associate one ingredient for each event. Your associations may
be literal or abstract. Perhaps you're not even sure why the
ingredient reminds you of the event. The ingredients don't all
need to be cooked in the same pot, and it's ok to use spices
for flavor. Eat as much as fills you up.
* This is an exercise which relies on a natural survival behavior
to process and manifest a desire through mental and physical
consumption, digestion, and excretion. It works best if you
find a way to make strange foods tastefully coexist on the same
Most magic illusions are based on visual deceptions; however,
the Oxford Companion to the Mind insists, "All the senses
can suffer illusions
". Everyone knows the old trick
that involves tasting an apple and a potato while holding pinching
the nose closed. What other illusions rely on deceiving the
sense of smell? Other senses? If you come up with any answers,
please let us know.