The back cover of Michael Hughes’ Magic For The Resistance includes the following note from Llewellyn Press:
Use Magic to Make the World a Better Place Today
The resistance is growing, and it needs your help. This book provides spells and rituals designed to help you put your magical will to work to create a more just and equitable world. These magical workings can be used by activists of any spiritual or religious background. With ideas for altars, meditations, community organizing, self-care, and more, Magic for the Resistance offers a toolkit for magical people or first-time spellcasters who want to manifest social justice, equality, and peace. … In addition to influencing the outside world, these rituals bring you in closer alignment with your higher spiritual consciousness—because transforming your society begins with transforming yourself.
The publisher nailed it. Nonetheless, I have this to say:
Michael M. Hughes, about whom I know little to nothing, has written a concise, to-the-point, easily understood instruction manual on the technique & historical context of “resistance magic”.
In a sense, all magic/k is resistance magic. Part of the reason this book needed to exist is that magick has to some extent mainstreamed. Thus the need to keep occult things, well, occult, is now replaced by a need to get everyone reasonably informed, as quickly as possible, lest powerful techniques be (further) weaponized by the ill-Willed. Lest we find ourselves with a magic gap.
What I know about Michael Hughes is basically that he designed a binding ritual of our currently-alleged (un)president1, that this ritual takes place worldwide every new moon. (You know about this, right? You know you can join in? From home, even?)
& I knew he’d written a book & then I picked it up in a store & read a little bit & —
I can’t even believe how much useful information is packed into these 200 odd pages. Everything’s here from clear & concise technical instruction, to tales of occult anti-Nazi ww2 actions, to self-care, to cleansing practices prior to major spellcasting, to just a little bit of theory — The Universe bends, Hughes feels, in the direction of sustainability, peace, equality, & social justice, & as such he & we are on the right side of reality, let alone history. We live in a magical universe & are instinctively magical creatures. If (when) magic works, does it matter if it’s ‘real’ or ‘just part of your consciousness’? — to recipes for spells you might use or adapt in the present day: for hexing the NRA, for justice for victims of police violence, for healing the Earth, for reproductive rights. Suggestions as to which tarot cards might go best with what intentions. & no boring lists or tables; it’s all very readable.
Among much much else, this book contains one of my favorite riffs on sigil-creation. I would add to Hughes’ suggestion that you “paint surreptitious and invisible sigils onto surfaces… or trace them onto objects or in air with your finger”, that surfaces can include drumheads & fretboards, & that rather than your finger you could use a drumstick, the headstock of your guitar, the bell of your horn, even your eyes or mouth.
Hughes’ discussion of karma & magickal ethics aligns very much with my own views & is explained in terms which should be readily understandable to most. Suggestions are included as to how you might ensure your work is for the greatest good, even if it involves a binding or hexing.
There’s also protection & self-defense magic, lest the entities, corporations, presidents you bind or hex should choose to retaliate. & there are dietary suggestions. Not to mention useful dictums like: “Be smart & flexible, not dogmatic.” Which is offered in a particular context but applies to just about anything we ever do.
Even Hughes’ offered definition of the word “magic” (which he prefers sans K, for reasons) is a miracle of pre- & con- cision: “the use of directed consciousness to effect change in the world.”
“Being a part of the magic resistance,” Hughes tells us, “means working in service… to the earth, to the dispossessed… the downtrodden… animals, trees, soil, streams, rivers, seas.” Which reminds me slightly of the Bodhisattva vow, in which one pledges to continue reincarnation until all sentient beings are free from suffering.
Additional resources are suggested throughout, from further reading to instagrok links for prominent witches.
There are a very few places where I might dare to quibble with the contents2 but that’s only appropriate, I would hope. Magic For The Resistance is the book it needs to be: An inspiration, a handy reference guide, an instruction manual, & food for thought.
I’m going to revert now to my own area/s of expertise & riff for a minute off the two pages (& sundry mentions throughout) which Hughes devotes to music. Those pages are 149-150, for those of you following along at home. I have absolutely no intention here to criticize, but simply to take Hughes’ writing as a catalyst for diving a little deeper with a musician audience.
This section of Magic For The Resistance is called “Preparation for Ritual: The Ritual Mind” & deals with getting your self in the mood for magic. Subheadings include ‘Controlled Breathing’, ‘Visualization’, ‘Posture & Gesture’, & also ‘Ground’ — because coming back from the Ritual Mind is a key skill.
With most texts, I would read through substituting “music” for “magic” & see what I got. In this case, it seems more appropriate to say that several of Hughes’ preparations for ritual have musical applications; that, therefore, music-making may be part of your preparation. It may also be part of your active magic.
The chapter begins with yet another clear, concise explanation, this time of trance, meditation, states of consciousness & how we move between them.
The section on *Controlled Breathing* suggests slow, deep breathing… (Quicker breath would have a stimulating rather than a calming effect)… Not unlike techniques I advocate for musicians, see related article on music & breath. As I understand it, having an exhalation that is longer than your inhalation serves to relax your system. The reverse is also true.
*Visualization* — “The more senses you can involve the better.” True in method acting as well, (or method music), when seeking to produce a performance so real that it ceases to be a ‘performance’.
I tend to suggest for musicians that they have a detailed visualization in mind while playing. In the case of my circle of friends, the music will likely be at least somewhat improvised, so the effect of a strong visualization can be dramatic. Note also that I consider music to be an inherently magical activity (hence my occasional spelling of it with a -k) so I also assume that a deeply felt multi-sensory ‘visualization’ may enhance the effect of musick on an audience or on reality at large. I have referred to the visualization process elsewhere as a “symphony of the mind”, a curated internal process to accompany your external music. Make sure your symphony relates to your Intent.
*Words Of Power* — I’m just gonna quote most of this — “Spells utilize words differently from casual speech. …the best spells resonate like great poetry. Some words can be intoned—drawn out and vibrated. Sometimes words that sound nonsensical or meaningless… can trigger powerful energies. Words or phrases can be sung, chanted, or whispered to create specific effects.”
Once again, musicians (singers in particular) are already working with these materials. All that is missing in many cases is Intention, the will to have a particular magickal effect; & in those cases where Intention is present, often it lacks the Resistance quality, the Bodhisattva vibe, tending to be more about getting your band out there & increasing your draw. (I’ll talk more elsewhere about what I think rock&roll is really for…)
Kids of all ages, at home practicing in your bedrooms & posting images of same to your various social media accounts, you can do musical magick with NO HUMANS AT ALL listening in. Sometimes it works better that way. If on the other hand you are in the fortunate position of already having a human audience, their literal or virtual presence may help to amplify your Intentions. Include their highest good in your stated Will.
*Chanting* — “can induce a very deep state of expanded awareness” & again, many of us do this already when we sing. It is worth giving attention to exactly what words it are that we repeat over & over in a state of high emotionality in front of a similarly worked up audience, what effect they might be having on us or on the world.
It has been noted that the subconscious &/or the spirit world does not pay careful attention to words like ‘not’ — if you are focused on ‘not getting sick’, you are really focussing on ‘sick ‘— basically Willing your self to get sick. Try & focus on ‘healthy’ instead. It might be worth keeping this in mind when writing lyrics, especially the repetitive sort: “I feel good! I knew that I would!”
For instrumentalists who are NOT singers, you could chant in your head while playing a version of the chant on your instrument. This works especially well for basslines. See John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, parts 1 & 4 in particular.3 See also Wingless Angels 1 or Heart of The Congos…
Which leads us nicely to *Drums & Percussion*:
“…one of the oldest methods of trance induction and … a staple of many indigenous shamanic systems.”
Truth! Said shamanic trance induction systems may well be among the sources & original functions of musick as we know it. For a musickian, this is revelatory & powerful information. We are in a sense communing with our earliest human roots, maybe with the birth of the Universe itself. That’s some BIG ENERGY! See Mickey Hart & Jay Stevens’ excellent book Drumming At The Edge Of Magic for one exploration of this perspective, Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy riff on “everything’s one big note” for another, Stephon Alexander’s The Jazz Of Physics for something a bit more technical but at least equally mind-blowing.
Drums & percussion are “often combined with psychoactive substances”. True. I like to get stoned & play the drums, & when I do I try to have an Intention in mind. Sometimes the Intention is expressed musically, as a linguistic sigilization which may be sung, chanted, subvocalized, or interpreted on the drums. I suspect this would be both more effective & just about overwhelming on a typically heavier “substance” like acid or mushrooms. The weed here in the PNW is about as heavy as it needs to be, most times.
Interestingly, most of what Hughes has to say about *Psychoactive Substances* is that you should avoid them during ritual, at which time one should be seeking specifically to get “there” without chemical assistance. Additionally, one may wish not to be impaired when talking with god/dess/es. Hughes observes that more accomplished practitioners may find a way to work ‘substances’ into their magic, but necessarily this book is as much a primer for beginners as an inspiration for the better versed. I absolutely understand why he would take this perspective. & I also wish for a practical guide to psychedelics, including cannabis, (maybe even coffee or beer), written with this degree of concision & lucidity!
Next up is *Dance & Movement*. Hughes suggests: “One of the best ways to enter trance is to put on simple, rhythmic music and… let the energy of the music drive your body and avoid conscious control.” Again, this freeform approach works with musical instruments as well as with dance. Again, an intention or visualization may be helpful.
Freeform music or dance can loosen one’s neural pathways, reduce inhibitions, free up blocked emotions stored in one’s body, &/or provide a restful & refreshing trance experience. More overtly ‘magical’ effects are also possible. Also, this can be a group activity. The experience of freeform musical meditation in a group setting is something I cannot recommend enough, regardless of your ability level. Do it for AT LEAST ten minutes.
Hughes suggests here that we “dance like no one is watching”, then goes on — & this is one of the moments I love most about Magic For The Resistance — to wonder if, for an animist, there is ever truly a moment when no one is watching.
& finally he talks about *Music* itself. He describes it, accurately enough, as “an amazingly diverse tool for altering consciousness”. Yes. Awesome.
It is worth noting that Hughes talks about music primarily from the point of view of a listener, not that of a player. That’s fine, but it means I have to adapt his thinking just a little. Especially since… I don’t know… Is there anyone much left out there who ISN’T a musician? There must be…
As a listener, Hughes suggests we search out “sacred music”, ie music that is designed to facilitate mystic transport, music that “tunes the frequency of your environment”, & he gives some ideas as to what to avoid — native flute music played by non-natives, chanting with synthy string overdubs. The same shit my wife avoids in her massage practice.
As a player, I have spent many years trying to learn how to make music that “tunes the frequency”. The closest I usually get is to tune my own frequencies & then express that feeling in music — which is not really the same thing & does not have the same effect. What works better, so near as I can tell, is to invoke appropriate energies & send them out along the soundwaves with an aligning intention, or to invoke appropriate spirits & request that they work with you to accomplish same. I suspect there are vibratory physics which will produce aligning tones… But I haven’t found them yet. & I suppose they are likely to vary from person to person, situation to situation.
There is a fair amount of information today, far more than there once was, but as with anything it can be tricky to cut through the bullshit. I have yet to find a simple, clear guide. In fact, I have had better luck reading up on non-musical magickal techniques & technologies (such as those described in Magic For The Resistance) & applying them sideways to my own art form… Hence “music/k”.
(Hughes explains that the -k in magick, tho present in early forms of the word, is there today mainly because Crowley put it there a) to distinguish from stage magic & b) because of his interest in Qabalah. Hughes, neither a Qabalist nor feeling a need to distinguish between ‘stage’ magic & ‘real’ magic, dispenses with the -k.)
Hughes says he doesn’t tend to use music during ritual but to “tune his environment” beforehand. He also says to “experiment”. I do tend to use music, but typically I play it myself. Not always tho. I also like to magick while listening to records (I like their physicality, & the time constraint is interesting).
Hughes also suggests you seek out music relevant to the deities you’re working with. I might add, music that is relevant to your magickal Intent. In the current era of listening, mixtapes aka themed playlists (curated by your self, or with friends, while focussing on your Intent, as you might when creating a sigil) could be a potent magickal tool. On the other hand, a musician may compose or improvise their own sacred music. Mostly you just have to designate it as sacred — focussing on this while playing will likely be helpful.
1 as of March 5th 2019
2 I’m not a fan of MDMA & would lean instead to acid or mushrooms, tho as Hughes says in re: MDMA I would say in re: whatever else one chooses to ingest: “can be remarkably healing and therapeutic… when used intelligently and judiciously”.
3 Part 1 is a great example of bassline-as-chant. Part 4 is more of a words-of-power type situation in which Coltrane has composed a poem, a prayer, a psalm—which is printed on the album jacket—& proceeds to play it on his horn. Much of Alice Coltrane’s work plays with similar kinds of ideas.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Imagine an unclaimed suitcase on Schrodinger’s luggage carousel, circling endlessly in the flickering fluorescent twilight of an airport that might exist in any of an infinite number of instances in any of an infinite number of dimensions in any of an infinite number of universes. If you could find said suitcase and look inside, you might perceive one possible interpretation of the being that is 5-Track. Or you might not. It all depends, doesn’t it?