'Black Magic'?


As the economy of the United States sputtered and cracked this week, I was paying homage to my country's humble beginnings at 'The Oldest House in the US' in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

(Let's forget, for a second, that this tourist-courting moniker—'The Oldest House'—completely ignores the native Americans who lived in this region for hundreds or thousands of years before white Spaniards starting building their colonial adobes. Maybe their types of dwellings don't count as 'houses'?)

According to the posted information: During the late 1600s, two local brujas (or witches) lived in The Oldest House and practiced 'black magic'. As the legend goes, a young Spaniard named Juan Espinoza paid the brujas gold, in exchange for a magical potion guaranteed to win him the affection of a certain beautiful lady. When she ended up marrying another man, Juan angrily returned to the brujas and demanded a refund. When they refused, he drew his sword and attacked. But the nimble brujas tripped him, stole his sword, and beheaded him on the spot. They were never convicted of murder, however, due to the fact that other government officials were also 'clients' of the brujas.

As one might expect in light of such a story, there have long been rumors that The Oldest House is occupied by the ghostly spirits of the brujas. (It's also said that, every year on the anniversary of his death, Juan Espinoza's head can be seen rolling down de Vargas Street.)

And naturally, being the 'metaphysician' (for lack of a better word) I am, I was curious to experience these witchy ghosts for myself. I was particularly curious about the term 'black magic' as applied (certainly by the tourist-marketing team, if not by the 17th-century Santa Fe residents themselves) to them. What exactly was meant by it? Were these women indeed evil?

Not surprisingly, within a few moments inside The Oldest Hose, I felt those familiar tingles on the top of my head and back of my neck. The small dark adobe structure was unquestionably thick with energetic layers of history. I silently sent out my inquiry, a desire to find out more about the brujas' 'black magic'.

Rather quickly, I heard a response in my head. (Did I invent this? Was it my subconscious speaking? my creative mind? an actual ghost? Does it matter?) The voice was a low gravelly woman's voice, like that of a diner waitress who's smoked for thirty-five years. (Yes, it was in English—the only language I would've understood. Maybe I'm insane; maybe the spirit world is cleverer than we might imagine.)

The voice uttered one matter-of-fact sentence, then disappeared: 'We've all got to make a living.'

I was momentarily left befuddled by this cryptic answer. Were the brujas frauds? Were they wholly non-magical con artists, making ridiculous claims just for the money? Or were they just doing the best they could (and what professional in any field has a 100% success rate)? Perhaps the beautiful lady's destiny to marry someone other than Juan Espinoza was more powerful than the witches' abilities? I could never know for sure.

But then, the concept of 'just making a living' began to ricochet through my brain… and I instantly drew a metaphoric link between the supposed 'black magic' of the brujas and the questionable contemporary practices of US financiers that led to the economic collapses plastered all across that morning's headlines. Is there not an obvious and eerie parallel in terminology between 'black magic' and 'shadow banking', the term used to describe the complicated sleight-of-hand machinations that bloated our economy atop credit derivatives engineered to evade regulation? (No, I'm not sure even I fully understand what I just wrote.)

Skeptical of this leap of logic I made? Check out this cautionary article by Bill Gross, written last year. One perfectly poignant quote: 'These investments thrived as the shadow worked its voodoo; now its curse will sap money from the pockets of any and all who believed in its black magic.'

I have long thought that those in the financial services industry are something of magicians. After all, their jobs essentially consist of moving numbers from one column to another… all the while these numbers 'magically' gaining or losing value, based upon abstract invisible principles that the average Joe cannot comprehend (and probably doesn't want to). Analysts act and react on vibes, with markets skyrocketing or plummeting on often no more concrete data than we metaphysicians base our ideas upon.

If you find my above synopsis na´ve, compare such professions with, say, that of a furniture-maker. He makes a chair with his own two hands, a tangible commodity. He sells the chair, in exchange for cash. He saves some of the money, and uses the rest to buy more wood, so he can build more chairs. And so on and so on. The 'money-maker', alas, has no tangible commodity other than money, which he somehow—magically—turns into more money. There is no inherent value in the product of his labor other than its exchange-value. Furniture, on the other hand, has an actual use.

None of this would be terribly relevant to most of us, of course, if it didn't have major consequences for everyone, as we're now starting to realize thanks to this economically precarious (and growing more precarious all the time) moment in history. What are the ramifications of the magical 'money-making' industry for us regular citizens, anyhow?

Many modern practitioners of magic, a spiritual practice of intentionally creating change through ritualized acts, consider such ramifications before working their mojo. According to the Threefold Law, a basic tenet in contemporary Wicca, whatever energies a person puts out into the world will be returned to him times three. Therefore, one must remain conscious of the resulting ripples of effect that radiate outward from any act, magical or otherwise, lest it spawn negativity that later falls back on one's self that much more cruelly. That's why you often hear 'good' witches supplement their spellcraft with addenda like, 'for the greatest good of all, and with harm to none,' as a built-in self-protective measure. If one believes in the Threefold Law, then, it's clear nothing good can come from personal gain (in love or money, for example) based on stealing from, manipulating or hurting other people.

Obviously, the 'black magicians' of Wall Street are not such believers. The wealth they magically created by moving numbers from one column to another and back again did not come about 'with harm to none'. The crisis we now face is a direct result of financial professionals manipulating average Americans into taking out mortgages they couldn't afford. Credit was unduly offered, and regulatory loopholes exploited. Consumers were gouged, while executives brought home ridiculously large sums of undeserved compensation. Insurance coffers filled up, as ordinary folks' claims were refused on technicalities. Rather than using their power 'for the greatest good of all', with the awareness that we are all an interconnected One, they cast selfish spells for the greedy good of only themselves, pretending not to notice the broader consequences of these acts, under the auspices of 'just making a living'.

Of course, here in the temple of capitalism, we don't judge Wall Street's witchery by the same harsh criteria applied to Santa Fe's Oldest House brujas (or, for that matter, Salem's wily women). According to the official religion of the US, we all benefit—by way of trickle-down economics, they tell us—when the rich get richer, even though we know from personal experience that simply isn't true. We're learning this lesson, in an increasingly sobering tone, more each day. Just this week, taxpayers forked over $85 billion to save AIG, a company that surely wouldn't have returned such a costly favor out of the kindness of their hearts.

With Pluto still barely on the horizon of Capricorn, the current incarnation of this lesson remains in its infancy. The shadow of 'shadow banking' is still rising to the evident surface. As individuals, our best strategy is simply to ensure that the 'magic' we personally practice is of the considerate side, so what comes back to us times three is altruistic positivity rather than self-serving greed.