(Essay and prose poem) No Magic and Ishtar's Song by Camelia Elias


Gun and butterfly, by Camelia Elias Photo credit: ©Camelia Elias, Ink on archival paper
Gun and butterfly, image by Camelia Elias
Photo credit: ©Camelia Elias, Ink on archival paper

Magic is making something out of nothing. But this cannot happen unless you prime your mind to something first. Let us call this something ‘tradition.’ This means that if you can see it, it exists. Priming your mind to seeing demons or angels is working with fiction. You need fiction in order to get to the significant and workable ‘nothing’. If magic didn’t come out of nothing, it would not be magic. It would be ‘tradition’ alone.

If magic works it is not because you read some formula in an old book, but because you allow for the fiction in your head to let ‘nothing’ pass through. If magic were not ‘nothing’, it would be borrowing. Without ‘nothing’ magic is other people’s claims; it is their thoughts, not yours. Without ‘nothing’ magic is impersonal. Without the personal, magic is nothing—and, here, ‘nothing’ means highlighting the unsuccessful operation.

We need tradition as tradition primes our minds to the ‘something’ that helps us with our workings, whether for a spell, conjuration, communion with the forces of nature, or more modestly, reading cards. But we also need more than tradition. Tradition means using a system of thought or a method that will get you going, or that will put you on your path. But what is this path, or where exactly is it that we, the self-proclaimed magicians of the world, are going? The good magician moves towards ‘nothing’ because it is in this very nothing that she gets a sense of what she can do ‘outside’ of the tradition or the teachings that she has been through. Anything else is stealing, being worth something because your master is worth something, or having a name because your master has a name. This is called being able to perform half-magic. The magician that relies on tradition alone for her workings is half the magician her master is.  A good magician is the magician who, when she snaps her fingers, talks to nothing.  She asks ‘nothing’ to assist her in her working as this working in the ‘nothing’ is unmediated by dogma, influence, or by second-guessing the master. The magician who uses tradition alone, and has never travelled to the land of ‘nothing’, has neither imagination nor courage.

Now, what is this nothing? I identify this ‘nothing’ with ‘the thing itself’. You can learn to ride with Death by snapping your fingers every time you travel to the so-called upper world, in shamanic parlance—as a good friend of mine does—but if the snapping of the fingers doesn’t put you right there at the core of the thing itself, then you’re merely imagining things, not experiencing them. You can do magic theoretically, or in principle, or because you strongly believe in your grimoire, but it still amounts to nothing—‘nothing’ here in the sense of your magic being worthless. Magic that comes to you by way of tradition alone, and without the ‘nothing’ of the thing itself and which is not the ‘something’ of your tradition, is even less than half-magic. It is no magic at all. Just an insistence on your own low self-esteem. An insistence on not knowing what you do know. A claim to a connection that is not even your own.

You can only use tradition to say NO to it. You must learn tradition so that you can be adamant in saying NO to it. This NO is part of the magic of NOthing. Without this NO, your magic is a stale preservation, a tin can where you safe-keep your master’s bones.

Magic is detachment from being concerned with what people think of you, especially what other magicians think of you. When we say, ‘do your own thing’ we mean ‘do your nothing’. This nothing is your very backbone, your spine and stamina, your triumph over tradition and the witch that came before you. This nothing is also the ultimate way of connecting with your masters. You honor their ‘something’ for you with your own ‘nothing’. If you can achieve your own ‘nothing’, you get to the thing itself. That’s the ultimate magic: To perform your own thing, and not what any tradition dictates. Anything else is a pathetic cry for attention. A fumbling. Fear of not being good enough.

But merely being good enough is not good enough at all. You must be sovereign in magic. In your strong, sovereign magic you are above tradition. You refer to tradition, and point your little finger to it, and you can even wear an elegant glove, but you must do more than perform. The function of drama and costume is to make you and everything you hide behind it transparent. The magician that’s above tradition is not transparent. That magician that’s above tradition works with all the four major elements at once. She moves everything with her breath. Together they are beyond negotiation. There’s no settling for merely ‘good enough’. Together—f ire, water, air, and earth, and which the magician also embodies—they acknowledge each other’s sovereignty, and in that equilibrium the thing itself emerges out of nothing. Tradition can’t compete with that. Tradition teaches, but ‘nothing’ achieves.

I am a magician of NOthing. I work with the thing itself, and this is way better than good enough, better than any tradition that is itself only an invention. I aim for magic of the most perfect caliber. My magic is my butterfly in my gun. Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend tells us that with a butterfly in your gun you can’t possibly miss the target. That’s right. This is an old superstition. I take what’s good from it. But how I get my gun to hit that target by using what tradition prescribes, namely the putting of a butterfly in the mouth of the gun, is based entirely of my centering on nothing. ‘What is your place?’, I ask myself, and I can decide that my place is among the best shotguns in the world, perhaps because I’ve had good schooling. But that is only good enough. If I can decide that my place is in the opening of the gun itself, where the butterfly sits, then I can achieve something that I can call magic. Without such trespassing of rules (‘hold your gun like this and press it like this with your finger’), and without transgression (‘but I want to stick my own head in the line of fire’), there’s only superstition. And who needs that? Who needs to waste their time explaining again and again what the function of tradition is vis-à-vis any magical working?

Magic is the act of disobeying tradition while being able to spell tradition’s name in your name.



Ishtars Song_Camelia_Elias
Ishtar’s Song, image by Camelia Elias Photo Credit: ©Camelia Elias, Ink on archival paper



Compromise is wisdom, they say. But, I say death always comes to the philosophy of ‘it’s good enough’. Fortune favors the fantastic. Riding a unicorn is an act of boldness and challenge. The unicorn knows only the best and the rider knows what the rider doesn’t know. It is only through cunning that you can put the sun in your crown. But why does it matter, you may ask, when even on the throne you can feel your robe burning from too much friction with the stone. On the last day of the year it’s always a good idea to have a sip of rum laced with gunpowder. Lean back and reflect on the use of what you can do. Let it come to you through your song for the pine trees. And if you are myopic, like myself, then take the fork of Isis, the one that she wears on her head, and look through its moon like through a looking glass. The first thing you’ll see is freedom—not the walls of your home with all that’s in it, the stuff that’s merely good enough, and which greets you cheerfully everyday with these words: ‘Hello zombie, how are you today? Are you responsible? Are you respectable too?’ Let the gunpowder work through your veins. Take your ragged red robe and turn it into a sunrise. Hit the road. Meet some heroes, and offer them your holy grail. And then say thank you to the fork, the fantastic, freedom, and the followers in your household who hold the tambourine high for you so that you can do your dance better than just good enough: A dance with the dead, the mystery of the night, and the sun between your legs. The unicorn has just impaled a post-it note with a new year’s resolution on it: Don’t fake it.



This essay and prose poem were written from a cross-cultural point of view. For instance, the prose poem references three mystery traditions: the Sumerian, the Egyptian, and Vodou. In the prose poem, the reference to the rum laced with gunpowder acknowledges the cross between the figure of Met Kalfou, a Vodou power, with the Goddess Ishtar, and the constellation Monoceros that references not only the Eastern Asian idea of powdered rhinoceros horns, but also the Old Norse myth of the narwal. The idea is that by invoking three powers together in a contemporary setting—a practice known to Arab magicians of old—one is likely to explode, or as is the case in this prose poem, to impale cultural conventions that are not conducive to one’s own freedom and creativity. There is also a trace from this text—through gunpowder—to the “No Magic” essay that also references the fixed star, Algol, or the Head of the Medusa.

While what I am doing may not always be apparent to the reader, I’m always looking for a special nerve in a text that is powerful enough to unleash a clear manifestation of familiar spirits. That is the reason why I’m interested in sacred texts to begin with. While a potential conflict may erupt for the reader upon reading text that contains references to guns and gunpowder, it is for each of us individually to assess the extent to which we have learned something from that stirring.

Read Meet Mago Contributor Camelia Elias.