This is the article that is - more or less - the basis for Episode 33 of Inciting A Riot: The Podcast. I take on magical and spiritual 'laws' and specifically challenge the Law of Attraction. Take a gander, and let me know YOUR views on the myriad of laws out there.
Love and Lyte,
Before today I’ve made nods to my views on the various laws of magical practice. There’s the threefold law, the law of attraction, the law of association, the law of synchronicity, the law of contagion, and on and on and on. There are laws that contradict themselves and laws that specifically contradict other laws. An easy example of this is the Law of Attraction v. Law of Negative Attraction.
The Law of Attraction basically states that ‘like attracts like.’ Whatever you put out into the universe is what you’ll get back. The Law of Negative Attraction, according to Isaac Bonewits in his book Authentic Thaumaturgy, is - basically - ‘opposites attract.’ North attracts South, good attracts evil, light attracts dark, etc.
But, here’s the kicker: for one of those to be true, shouldn’t the other have to be false? If like attracts both like and unlike, then that’s not really a law. That’s saying, “Sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don’t.” Sometimes the universe sends a promotion your way because you’ve been thinking about it, and sometimes you get fired. Both cannot be true.
To digress a moment, let’s talk about a law. The etymology of the word ‘law’ is attributed to a few different European terms. It has roots in the Old Norse word ‘lagu’ literally meaning ‘something laid down or fixed.’ When we say there is a Law of Finite Senses or a Law of Infinite Universes, we’re not talking about the sociological system of norms that one adheres to in order to prevent chaos. We’re talking about law in the scientific sense - the original sense - of the word, like the Law of Conservation of Mass or the Laws of Physics.
A scientific law is commonly defined as one of various natural and scientific analytical statements that have been empirically proven and are considered constant and universal. Basically, if something adheres to a scientific law, it should work the same way every time. If I flip a coin, it’s not going to keep going up. The Law of Gravity requires the object of lesser mass - the coin - to be attracted to the object of greater mass - the planet.
And, yes, before we go any further, a law can be disproven. Just because something is a law doesn’t mean new data cannot refute it.
Here’s where we run into a few problems. We’ve taken to assigning the word ‘Law’ to a whole bunch of principles of magic and spirituality that are not in any way constant or universal. Let’s take a quick look at the ‘Law of Contagion.’ Bonewits says that this law means that objects or beings in physical or psychic contact with each other continue to interact after separation. Though he admits that the level of interaction might differ depending on the amount of time the two objects were in contact, he still maintains this as a law.
For this to be a law, there must be a way to empirically prove one’s level of psychic connection. Is a passing caress enough to know when someone is ill? Does full on lip lock mean you’ll know if your partner is cheating? Does giving birth actually create an unbroken bond - as many brides can attest when attempting to separate groom from mother long enough to make grandchildren? And, if this is a universal law, it should apply to all sorts of objects, right? So, my change in my pocket has a psychic link to each other. My pennies know the thoughts of my quarters and my dimes know about the dirty deeds of the 1969 quarter and the half dollar back home. It’s extreme. It’s ridiculous, but it’s a law, right?
Today, though, I’d like to specifically squeeze the pimple of the Law of Attraction so it finally bursts and we can move past this horrible blemish on modern pagan thought.
The Law of Attraction states that like attracts like. What we psychically or energetically put out into the universe comes back to us. The Law of Attraction has been around a while, but reached prominence when a movie and book came about called The Secret. The Secret was put together by a woman named Rhonda Byrne. Supposedly, there are three basic steps to this Law: ask, believe, receive.
First you must ask the Universe for something you want. You have to be extremely specific about your desire so that it can manifest. Then you must believe the object is on its way. you have to ‘know’ the effect is going to happen just like you would expect your package from Amazon.com to arrive in the mail. You must believe it to be certain. Then, the final step is to receive. You’re supposed to be looking for signs from the universe that you’re on the right path to receiving your present, and if you’re doing it right you’ll get it.
All right, Rioters, what’s wrong with this statement? The first thing that jumps out at me is that there is a right way and a wrong way to perform this Law of Attraction. If you’re a little fuzzy on what you want, if you’re skeptical as to whether you’ll get it, if you’re just not being completely open to assuming every little breeze or ray of sunshine is a signpost from the universe guiding you to your new Ferrari, then you’re not doing it right. But, there’s no right or wrong way to experience the Law of Gravity. If you’re on planet Earth, which you are, then you fall at a rate of exactly -9.81 m/s (9.81 meters per second, or 32.2 feet per second, or 22mph). For every second of your fall, that number compounds.
That’s how a law works. The same way every time. Disbelieving in the Law of Gravity doesn’t mean you can fly, but it does make you look pretty dead when you try and jump off a building.
Now, the Law of Attraction in the sense of ‘thoughts are things’ or as I like to say ‘I control the universe with my mind’ is fairly harmless. If you want to believe that thinking about a red Ferrari is going to make one land in your driveway, you go for it. But, the problem with the Law of Attraction is that this kind of thinking is a severely slippery slope towards a ‘blame the victim’ mentality.
When explaining the Law of Attraction to somebody, people invariably generalize this to mean the aforementioned phrase ‘like attracts like.’ They then go on to say that if you’re a positive person, positive things happen to you. However, if you’re a negative person, then negative things are coming your way. There are also all of these other rules to how you must construct your thoughts. Like, the universe doesn’t understand a negative. According to this rule, you cannot say, “I don’t want to lose my job.” Apparently, according to common knowledge when it comes to this supposed law, you’re REALLY telling the universe, “I want to lose my job.”
Apparently the universe needs to head back to 4th grade grammar class.
Ok…Ok… Let’s be fair here. The reason behind this silly rule is supposedly that by saying “I don’t want to lose my job” you’re actually focusing on what might happen if you were to lose your job. But, I don’t think anybody specifically thinks of the act of losing one’s job. I think they see the current state of the economy and the job market and fear what would happen if they had to be back out in that.
But, let’s go back to the heart of this law - like attracts like.
This is explained more generically than the asking for a shiny new present from the universe. This is explained, as I stated, that more than the specific thought, the kind of energy you put out into the universe dictates what kind of life you will have.
Slippery slope example: A few years ago there was a woman in a group I was part of who said that trailer park residents call tornadoes to them. This goes to the myth that tornadoes are somehow attracted to trailer parks. She said the ‘cry of despair goes out,’ the Goddess hears it, and responds by…sending a tornado to destroy their homes…? She said that it was due to their ‘Why me?’ attitude about life, that living in a trailer automatically makes you a sad, despondent person. Because of these people’s negative attitudes, their homes are leveled constantly. Though, quick note, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put out information on their website showing this to be unequivocally false: tornadoes do more damage to mobile homes due to their weaker structure - nothing more, nothing less.
Of course, this made me really mad. For a moment say this is true. Say it’s true that our negative thoughts cause bad things to happen to us. Is that to say just because you’re unhappy with your living situation means your entire home - and possibly your life - should be destroyed? Aren’t we missing a couple of rungs on the ladder?
For it to be a law, it should work the same way every time. There should be a measurable quantity of negative thoughts to negative reactions. Let’s just say there’s a big ol’ Law of Attraction chart. It’s cross-referenced with every kind thought corresponding to every kind of situation. Ok, so like attracts like. If I’m feeling a bit blue today, then maybe I lose my keys. If I am feeling depressed because I lost my job, should I then be bumped up to broken leg? What about severe depression? If I lose my job, my parents die, and I watch my puppy get run over all while having some chronic, incurable illness, am I going to be set on fire?
There is no direct correspondence for bad moods or good moods or moods where you’re just so-so. Newton’s Third Law of Motion - part of the Laws of Physics - tells us that for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. Some examples of this are rocket launches (in which a chemical reaction - the action - blasting downwards causes the rocket to be propelled upwards) or rowing (in which pushing water behind the boat - the action - causes the boat to be moved forward). Nature has laws. Just because we’d like to change them, doesn’t mean we actually can.
Believing that like attracts like directly blames the victim. Blaming the victim is something called victim precipitation. This term was coined by a man named Marvin Wolfgang who studied homicide situations, perpetrators, and victims in the Philadelphia area in the 1950s . The Fifth Edition of the text Criminology defines victim precipitation as ‘opening oneself up, by either direct or subliminal means, to a criminal response.’ The example given by Wolfgang is:
During an argument in which a male called a female many vile names, she tried to telephone the police. He grabbed the phone from her hands, knocked her down, kicked her, and hit her with a tire gauge. She ran to the kitchen, grabbed a butcher knife, and stabbed him in the stomach.
Victims, in the instance of victim precipitation, are not innocent. They did something to provoke the criminal act. In fact, in this instance, the man was committing criminal acts of abuse and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. But, he’s the one that ended up dead. Let’s do one more example:
Two men get into a verbal disagreement. One man becomes so ticked off at the other that he gets in his face and begins to use curse words and derogatory slang. The other matches the level of verbal anger. The first now pokes the second with his finger and then pushes the other’s shoulder. The second says he’d better not do that again. The first then smacks him across the face. The second takes a great deal more escalating verbal and physical abuse and then punches the first in the stomach. The first man eventually dies due to internal injuries.
That was a real news story from just a few years ago, and things like this happen in varying degrees all the time. The person who just wouldn’t leave well enough alone eventually - as people say - gets what’s coming to him/her. Does it make the end result correct? Perhaps in instances like the above where you’re acting in self-defense. But, what about the kid who is just tired of all of the rumors and verbal abuse at school that takes a gun and kills his tormentors? That’s victim precipitation, too. The victims caused the situation by torturing someone until they felt they needed to act.
It’s not the same with thoughts, though. These are all things that take place in the natural world. Unexpressed thoughts exist in your head. And even if the Law of Attraction - summoning something specific to you merely by thinking about it - is true, that doesn’t make it true to the statement ‘like attracts like.’ If you’re melancholic, that doesn’t mean you’re going to draw a bad day to you. It might mean that you view the world negatively and choose to only see the parts of your day that didn’t go as planned and forget the rest. That’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy. You expect something so much, you internalize it, and then you either become or see that very label that you were thinking.
These laws…they’re not laws. They’re theories, hypotheses, untestable notions. Sure, there might be data that comes along that gives a much stronger correlate to some of them, but these magical laws have not been proven true. The academic journal Scientific American put out an article in June of 2007 that said this:
The brain does produce electrical activity from the ion currents flowing among neurons during synaptic transmission, and in accordance with Maxwell's equations any electric current produces a magnetic field. But as neuroscientist Russell A. Poldrack of the University of California, Los Angeles, explained to me, these fields are minuscule and can be measured only by using an extremely sensitive superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) in a room heavily shielded against outside magnetic sources. Plus, remember the inverse square law: the intensity of an energy wave radiating from a source is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from that source. An object twice as far away from the source of energy as another object of the same size receives only one-fourth the energy that the closer object receives. The brain's magnetic field of 10-15 tesla quickly dissipates from the skull and is promptly swamped by other magnetic sources, not to mention the earth's magnetic field of 10-5 tesla, which overpowers it by 10 orders of magnitude!
Basically put: even if your thoughts escape your skull, they’re not going anywhere. They’re not going far enough away to get to the Ferrari dealership to pick up your new unnecessary mode of transportation. They’re not entering your bosses mind.
Pagans and magical folk these days say that the Law of Attraction is merely what magical practitioners have always known: our thoughts manifest reality. Our thoughts become the things around us. But, sick people aren’t sick because they thought about being sick. The gorgeous aren’t gorgeous because they thought about being gorgeous. If our thoughts manifested our reality, if what we thought truly formed our universe, wouldn’t there be a world full of swimsuit models and cover boys running around living in multimillion dollar homes without a care in the world? There would be no disease, no hunger, no oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, no hole in the ozone, and we’d all be vibrating with ecstasy over being our own personal Gods.
Hate to burst the big ol’ Law of Attraction bubble, but it just can’t be. And, there are other kinds of magic besides the kind that attracts. There is repelling magic such as banishment and impelling magic such as bindings. What about those? I’m not attracting a person by sending them away from me?
I’ll tell you what, though. I’m going to keep wishing for an evergreen money tree that has an endless supply of hundred dollar bills and blooms gold coins daily. If you hear that I’ve moved to a big house by the ocean some place warm, you’ll know I was wrong about the Law of Attraction.