In its popular usage, magic is an explanation given to either an occurrence the nature of which we do not understand, or to the manipulation of natural forces via appeal to supernatural forces. In its application, those who have access to or who can control new technology, or who practice a spiritual discipline, or who articulate a particular world view and work for its creation, may seek ways to practice their craft in order to benefit themselves, others and the natural world shared by all.
As practicing magic is to engage in a process of change, then “culture magic” is the deliberate process of social change. In this age of the globalization of neo-liberal capitalism, the essence of resistance is certainly not violence against person or property, it’s the creation and experience of sharing and cooperation. Whether culture magic is practiced by transforming the processes of possessiveness and competition into systems of sharing and cooperation, or by renewing processes of neighborly mutual aid, or by maintaining traditional tribal culture, the result is a change of or resistance to the dominant culture.
Whether we are in a time of peace or a time of war, a time of ecological decline or of renewal, whether Republicans or Democrats or Greens are in the White House, whether the economy is in a time of growth or of depression, or whether one is Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, atheist or other, or whether one lives in a rural, suburban or urban setting, the importance and value of creating a culture of sharing and cooperation transcends all other concerns. In affect, the practices of sharing and cooperation are methods for resolving conflicts and for finding commonality, they are a means of assuring that we are attentive to the needs and respecting of the desires of all people, they inform political-economic process providing for private property while managing natural resources for the good of all as well as of preserving the wild, and they can serve to make our material lives consistent with our spiritual ideals.
The concept of culture magic as "the art of changing culture at will" affirms that we humans have both the power to effect the ongoing changes around us and to initiate change. From where ever the original motivation comes, the process always involves the individual engaging their will to act. The question is what actions will most likely result in the world or society in which we most want to live? If we accept the idea that as intelligent beings we ought to be able to create a culture based upon sharing and cooperation, then the challenge is nothing more than developing agreements among people affirming these values, and following through.
The need for working toward a culture or a form of civilization based upon sharing and cooperation is not hard to find if we consider the problems in the world. What’s difficult is finding the motivation to get beyond the everyone-for-themselves, survivalist attitude. The challenges are massive, and all the prophecies, from the Old Testament, Tibetan, Morman and others, to the Mayan and Aztec calendars and Hopi and Cherokee prophecies, to medieval seers such as Nostradamus and more modern psychics such as Edgar Cayce, all suggest that either great tribulations are coming or that we are in the midst of them. And we don’t even have to believe any of that, as we can simply look to see problems advancing in environmental, health, economic, political, religious and other concerns. The effort to respond to these or other perceived inadequacies in society and culture from the orientation of sharing and cooperation can involve a range of different strategies presented on this website.
What causes an individual to awaken to the possibility of a society and culture different from the one to which they have been acculturated can be different for each person. It could be a spiritual experience, the study of philosophy, ecology or any other discipline, or simply watching the evening news. For some this initial awakening is sufficient motivation to create change in one's life, and by extension change in other's lives and therefore society and culture. For others the desire for change may not arise until it is clear how people working together for change can have an impact, or perhaps until it is seen how engaging in change is of benefit to oneself.
Maybe we can ameliorate some of the problems by working together with our best thinking and energies, yet the megatrends involved in global changes may still wash away all our good work. This kind of fatalism, however, overlooks what the prophecies also say, that on the other side of tribulation is a world, or more mystically, a “new age” of peace and harmony. Affirming the world we want to see, and actively creating it could be considered escapist, yet aligning the spiritual and material forces and aspects of our reality consistent with our highest values may also be seen as our most positive response.
For change on the spiritual level, whether one prays for a miracle (as with Christianity), meditates in order to make manifest a particular value or ideal (as in Buddhism), or engages in ritual in order to work magical change (as within Paganism), the intent of inviting, opening to or encouraging spiritual forces may essentially be the same. The differences may only be in the method and style of the spiritual practice.
Dion Fortune, the English psychologist, writer and Wiccan priestess defined magic as "the art of changing consciousness at will." The emphasis is upon the individual practicing what Starhawk writes of magic as "the art of sensing, and shaping the subtle, unseen forces that flow through the world, of awakening deeper levels of consciousness beyond the rational, ...." Once these levels of consciousness are awakened in ourselves and others, change in how we view the world and how we function within it can follow. Culture magic is then most effective when involving the merging of the energies of many individuals toward a collectively chosen future.
Culture magic involves shaping the tangible, physical forces of the material universe, as well as "the subtle, unseen forces," in ways appropriate to the goals of sharing and cooperation. It may not be important whether one starts with the spiritual factors of the subtle and the unseen, or with the social factors of tradition, economics, politics, philosophy and others, or even with the most tangible factors of art, architecture, technology and energy. The most effective strategy may be to engage as many factors of society and culture as possible in the process of creating change.
In the effort to build a culture of sharing and cooperation, having a set of concepts with which to explain how we may live by the values of love, nurturing and caring can help to develop and extend the lifestyles of our choice. To offer a set of such concepts, each link on this website introduces one or two new terms for better understanding and communicating how the various fields of spirituality, economics, governance, interpersonal process and others can be aligned for community, and how we may apply each in our advocacy and our plans and efforts to build our choice of lifestyle.
Social change is ongoing. Cultures change all the time due to technological and economic development, artistic expression, spiritual movements, political power dynamics, environmental change and many other factors. Typically the interplay of all of these factors result in unpredictable changes, although there have certainly been efforts to develop social change models from which predictions can be made. We may call societies like this, ever shifting according to dominant factors, emerging forces or converging trends "circumstantial communities," since they develop according to, or in reaction to change vectors. Of course business and government work to manipulate various change vectors, and some artistic and spiritual endeavors do so as well, yet when cultural change vectors are considered and deliberately manipulated by a group of people for themselves, we may call such resulting societies "intentional communities."
The deliberate effort to change our lives and by extension our society, through manipulating the spiritual and material aspects of culture toward a desired ideal, is a lifestyle choice that can be difficult to understand or explain, even for those involved. The material presented here reflects many of the methods that have been developed, and adds substantially to the explanations available. “Culture magic” is just one of the terms coined and offered on this website for explanation and understanding, with the emphasis in the case of this term upon the spiritual aspect of social change.
To aid the explanation of socio-culture innovations this website includes links to about two dozen documents (in PDF format) presenting different aspects of the sharing lifestyle. Each presents the concept in a different context, from the interpersonal and group-process or psychological and sociological views, to economic, legal, historical, philosophical and other orientations. All of this is initially presented via the concept of “culture magic” in order to affirm that the answer to the question of why share is as much a spiritual issue as a material one. It can be a beautiful and wondrous magical art to create community within our alienating, dominant culture!
The dividing line between circumstantial and intentional community can be difficult to precisely define, so definitions for each are presented in glossaries in various items on this website. As people together work to gain more control over their lives in order to manipulate their own culture or their own reality, it is the world of intentional community they enter. This website seeks to develop and expand the field of communitarian study, thought and experience through presenting a number of concepts addressing a range of different cultural factors from the perspective of intentional cultural design.
Some of the concepts developed for this website were created by looking at the dominant culture, seeking to understand how it works, taking the terms used to describe those workings, and coining new terms to describe alternatives to processes of the dominant culture. Other concepts developed on this website were coined directly from the experience of creating systems and processes supporting the values of sharing and cooperation. The result is a communitarian lexicon to be used for explaining and further developing lifestyles of sharing and cooperation.
For this work I am, of course, indebted to all those who's writings and lifestyles have collectively informed and inspired my own. As with most people, I began my quest in understanding the cooperative lifestyle by reading about and visiting community. If others are similarly informed and inspired by material on this website, my work will then be justified, and hopefully the practice of culture magic carried forth, out of cyberspace and into the world!
We can start with visualizing the world of our preference, as I have attempted in this website, then finding others sharing at least parts of that vision. We can then develop ways to work together to create our vision as best we can. Regardless of what cultural forms survive the coming tribulations, by creating community we will have at least honored our values in our lifetime.
A. Allen Butcher
Denver, Colorado, USA
July 4, 2004
October 16, 2004
Reference: Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. 1989. New York: Harper Collins. 27–28.