"Magick is the art, or science, of causing change to occur in conformity with Will."—Aleister Crowley, 1904
In Teaching Witchcraft, I suggest that reality, as pertains to magick, can be perceived in three possible modes: Fundamental Reality, Implied Reality, and Consensual Reality. These are used to illustrate the purpose of shared magickal strength or conviction during spellcasting. The stronger the shared belief or willpower of the casters, the stronger the effectiveness of the spell.
"Reality, as we understand it, is existence. You exist. You breathe, pump blood, and think. You are real. You know that a brick is real. You can hold it in your hands and feel its weight. If it falls on your foot, you are suddenly very aware of the reality of the brick! That is a fundamental reality. If someone else describes a brick falling on their foot, you are not aware of the reality of this brick but merely the suggestion of it. That is implied reality. You are asked to believe that the brick exists without tangible proof. Now, if enough people believe that this person's implied brick is real, it becomes commonly accepted knowledge that it is a real brick. The more believers this brick has, the more valid it becomes. The suggestion, or implied reality, becomes a consensual reality. This is one of the building blocks of magickal theory, which we will get back to a little bit later."—Batty, Teaching Witchcraft, pg. 187
While the philosophical debates regarding modes of the perception of reality can go on for ages—and they have—my purpose in highlighting these three modes was to develop a basis or foundation upon which a magickal awareness can be built.
In this article, I want to explore ways that these concepts could be misused or misinterpreted, and why they should not be. Any magickal application, or any exertion of energy, could potentially be misused. Spells could be cast with improper motives, or someone could request the aid of a Witch without full disclosure of why aid is requested. All of this is true, and we should try to safeguard against misinformation or maligned purposed. But here, I'm simply discussing ways that the three modes of this awareness of reality might be misused.
Misuse of Fundamental Reality
This is the most basic form of misinformation, also simply known as lying. As in the example above, we can both see that the brick is real, yet I try to tell you that it is not. Obviously, I'm wrong.
Another aspect of manipulation of Fundamental Reality is psychological torture, wherein a victim is exposed to repeated misinformation in a harsh environment, to break down the victim's resolve. Torture might be physical or psychological but the goal is the same: to make the victim more willing to accept the influence of his or her captors. Within a misuse of fundamental reality, the victim might, for example, be shown four objects and forced to agree that there are five. When something as simple as this is accomplished, the victim's perception of basic reality is broken and they can be manipulated to accept whatever they're told. Torture, of course, has been universally banned since the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Obviously, any ethically minded person will know that torture or forced coercsion, for any reason, should not be allowed or even considered. There are ways to accomplish one's goals besides the forced subjugation of others.
Misuse of Implied Reality
Now we're getting to the more subversive areas of awareness and manipulation. Implied reality is where I ask you to accept what may be fundamental to me, without offering valid proof. A magickal application of implied reality might be one where a group collectively create an imaginary environment, such as casting a circle and calling the quarters. Wyvern says, "I call upon the Guardians of the East. Winds of new beginnings, the whisper of the dawn chorus, join with us." And everyone says, "Hail and Welcome," and we all accept that the dawn chorus has joined in the circle. Do we know that the dawn chorus is there? No. Can we hear them? Nope. But Wyvern invoked them, and we accept the implied reality that they are now part of the circle we are casting. We accept what one person has said to be real. Within the magickal realm, implied reality is a useful part of one's toolbox. We're building a collectively beneficial environment.
But if I'm using implied reality to alter your perception of yourself or the world around you, that's called gaslighting. Gaslighting, if you aren't familiar with the term, is a form of psychological abuse in which a person or group uses suggestive manipulation to cause someone to question their own sanity, memories, or perception of reality. The term comes from the 1938 psychological thriller Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and Angela Lansbury. People who experience gaslighting may feel confused, anxious, or as though they cannot trust themselves. Quite simply, gaslighting is an abusive practice. Some fringe cult leaders have been known to use gaslighting as a way to ostracize their followers from friends or family.
Ethical leaders or elders, in paganism or anywhere, should absolutely know the difference between implied reality and gaslighting. Working to develop a vital, wholesome metaphysical environment—where, and we openly acknowledge this, much of the environment is unseen in the fundamental sense—is one thing. Using it to coerce or manipulate others is indeed an abusive practice. Anyone who uses implied reality s a manipulative tool should absolutely be brought to task, or reported to the authorities.
Misuse of Consensual Reality
Now we're getting into a potentially really messy area. Consensual reality, in a magickal aspect, might be where a spell is cast by a group of people, not just one. And the more people involved in the casting of the spell, the stronger it'll be, simply because it has the "oomph" of that many more people driving it. There are plenty of examples of consensual reality as a magickal tool, used to bolster the strength of a spell or magickal working. I witnessed an event where a Beltaine event was planned one year in Maryland. The assorted groups arrived at the festival site, and were greeted with ominous clouds and a forecast of rain all day. They cast a circle, and collectively willed the weather to behave itself for the duration of the festival. And they were successful; the clouds rolled back, there was nothing but a light breeze (and damp grass) until the festival ended and we all went our separate ways. The consensual reality driving the spell worked, the clouds behaved themselves and we all had a good time.
Another more dramatic example of consensual reality as a magickal tool might be the defense of England during World War II, as recounted by Dion Fortune in The Magical Battle of Britain (Sun Chalice Books, 1966). According to Fortune, a group of magicians, members of the Fraternity of the Inner Light, gathered on the English coastline and visualized a defense line of angelic forces determined to stop the Nazi invasion.
Consensual reality is a vital tool in the collective empowerment of a spell.
When it comes to the darker aspects of consensual reality, however, we are again looking at manipulation of the truth. Within implied reality, it is possible to affect the thoughts of one person by convincing them that what they believe to be true is actually false. Within consensual reality, however, we are looking at the manipulation of large numbers of people. If I may ask the reader's permission to invoke Godwin's Law, we have to look at the Nazi propaganda machine generated by Joseph Goebbels in, again, World War II. As part of his plan to manipulate public opinion in Germany, he said—or is attributed to have said—"Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth." Goebbels understood the impact of controlling public opinion, and he used this tool to dramatic effect.
In more recent years, a popular but controversial American businessman-turned-politician has repeatedly tried to convince people that news reports that weren't in his favour were "fake news," and that people should not believe this or that network or reporter. "I don’t accept that this news item is valid, so if I say it's fake or incorrect and enough people believe me, then that will become common knowledge." (That's not an exact quote; I'm paraphrasing.) And his attempts are often at least partially successful—he has a large following of people willing to believe what he says to be the gospel truth.
Consensual reality is another useful magickal tool, but while it can greatly empower a spell, it simply cannot turn a lie into a truth.
In all three examples, we can see how the manipulation of reality can be used positively in a magickal focus, and how they can be used as a manipulation of awareness. The trick, of course, is knowing right from wrong.