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The Practice of Image Magic
by Cyfrin

This is the tricky one in our now-and-them series on traditional spellcraft. The little dolls and the needles, Stephen King territory. Well, no, that's not the sort of thing we're looking at here. Spellcraft using images of the recipient appears in nearly every culture's magical heritage, embracing everything from cave-paintings to the little Voodoo dolly. Its roots are in visualization, its attendant rituals (or zapping, as we professionals put it) the acting out of the willed intention. Religious art; a crucifix of our God/dess images, for instance, is partially a form of image magic, a "spell" to help invoke the Deities' presence in the working space.

Image spells usually involve ritual centering on pictorial representations (These days, generally photographs. A few Yuppie Wiccans are moving into holograms...) or models, dolls (gasp), or sculptures of the person requiring the Working. And what sort of Working? Well, nearly always healings as they're about the safest. The main danger in image magic lies in the bonds it makes between sender and receiver. It could be quite feasible to manipulate another person through image work, but the catch is that once the link is there, both parties are locked into a tight relationship, as potentially restrictive to the sender as the puppet on the string. It becomes a much more intimate form of magic than most, so it's patently silly to use it on anyone with whom you're not already very close. And you're unlikely to want to stuff such a person about with unasked for manipulation, yes? (If you answer "no", to that question, please go away and never darken our doormat again).

A loving connection is needed to kickstart image magic, so the idea of doing the Hammer Horror bit with matches and needles recedes further into the land of schizoidia.

Making a Poppet: While focussing on a sketch or Polaroid of one's subject will often give the necessary added oomph to a spell, there are times when the effect of fashioning a poppet can repay the effort more than somewhat. Wherever possible, it's not at all a bad notion to blend a bit of contagious magic with the law of similarity - a little of the subject's hair, nail clippings, blood (don't go overboard on this one), clothing or bedding (used, nudge nudge) will strengthen the link. (Really? Or just in the mind? Discuss.)

The poppet itself may be made from clay, wax, plasticine, cloth (perhaps filled with an appropriate herb), wood, marble (if you're really keen) or virtually anything else that comes to hand. A lock of hair can be used on the head; a photograph for the face (if your sculpting is really bad), some raw egg may be included as a "living sacrifice" (a nice innovation in these mercifully squeamish days) or else a drop of blood, saliva or sexual fluid; a wad of cotton wool or the like soaked with a planetary fluid condenser or herbal infusion may also be tucked away in there. Any number of more elaborate preparations may seem attractive (cf. - the traditional no-good-doers affection for graveyard mud, stagnant water and other gothic messes) - use of imagination is to be encouraged. The poppet should be designed naked; typical clothing, jewelry, tatts, or whatever may be added later if desired. All of this will, of course, be done within a Circle, 'though not necessarily the one of the actual spell-casting.

I was, at this point, intending to give a very simple, effective healing spell I have tucked in by B.O.S. but, upon looking at it, I realize that it had been taken almost verbatim from Starhawk's Spiral Dance and I'm sure you've all got a copy of that invaluable tome to hand (if not, this can give you added incentive), so I'll just refer you to page 125 and draw special attention to the need to "unmake" the poppet when the work is done.

Variations: In Starhawk's consecration, the poppet is given a breath of life, a sprinkle of salt water and a naming; in some more Traditional circles, there's a slightly more elaborate approach...After the poppet has been blessed and named, it is set to rest on the pentacle or altar while energy is raised ("Raise the Cone of Power". "Oh, Max, not the Cone of Power!" "I insist, Chief; it says right here in the Control B.O.S that...") The energy is channeled through the HPS or any other Priestess, who will then lie down, head towards the earth quarter and body held in the Goddess position (a hopefully, elegant, spread-eagle) while her working partner ties a single red cord about the waists of each the image, his partner and himself. The couple will now "conceive" and "give birth to" the image. Alright, class, settle down. Obviously, in a Circle involving other folk the "conception" would be purely symbolic. This sort of ritual can lend itself to any degree of vividness, depending on circumstances. For Working Partners alone in a Circle, the Great Rite would be very apt in this type of consecration. After the "birth", the ritual will progress along the line of Starhawk's working. Fairly clearly, this variation would really only be appropriate when the subject is someone toward whom one is, to put it mildly, fairly well disposed, taking in, as it does a type of magical foster-parenthood.

Lots of other types of Workings can be quite easily adapted from all this, but look to your ethics, not out of merely wanting to be a nice person, but out of self-preservation. Manipulation of others against their Will has to be ultimately self-defeating. Lovespells sound tempting sometimes. One traditional piece of image work (dating from the long-lost days when Ethics was simply a county between Suffolk and Hertfordshire) has the thaumaturgist fashion the poppets, which are bound together with blue or red cords and kept so, for as long as desired...Which might have a certain validity were human beings as uncomplicated as lumps of clay.

Anyone that deeply into "walking, talking, living doll" mentality might do better with the type of dolly sold by the more bizarre bookstores down the Cross.

Image magic is to be treated with respect - if you're very clear on your intention (and, to repeat, healing is far and away the least murky motive) it may be very effective. The danger is that it may also be effective if your motive is not clear. People are fragile. Handle with care.

Published in Australia  1984 - 1990
In Seattle & Sydney 1990-1994 - and Sydney/Seattle Webzine 1999
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