The Magic of Crime: Illegalism, “The Sporting Life,” and Living Beyond the Law
“The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual, crime.” – Max Stirner
It wasn’t always so easy to be an Anarchist, much less a magical one. People could be burned or hanged for upsetting the “lawful” or “religious” authorities, and though the stakes and nooses have gone for now, the suppression of our desires and lives in the name of the Law or Morality is still very real. Luckily so too is the magic our ancestors used to survive outside of the average, approved, and mediocre realms.
I should know.
Scene: Barnes and Noble bookstore. A younger and hungrier Dr. Bones finds himself meandering through the section on international history, thumbing through the covers at a leisurely rate. Though young his back is slightly hunched over, a tinge of pain carried on his face. He shuffles, the strong strides of youth apparently either a thing of the past or a prospect that never existed. Ladies pass him, quietly sorrowful for this malformed boy forever damned to tread the gait of a man triple his age. Heads are shaken and silent prayers cast upwards to the cruel god that hath damned him so.
Which was fine by me, because I was praying too: praying that the two art books and the annotated book on Zen philosophy wouldn’t fall out of my waist band and blow my cover.
The hunch was an act, a ploy, a game I used to hide what would normally be a bulging and oddly rectangular book-shaped stomach had I been standing straight. The con was one I used often, especially at this store, though I would soon regret my comrades had not been more clever in the ruses of their own.
We operated as a unit: stealing whatever copies of the Tao Te Ching we could wrap our grimy hands around so we could pass them out at school, our criminal efforts focused not on our own wealth(for surely we could have sold them) but on the illumination of our peers. A proletarian appropriation if there ever was one. If anything caught our fancy while we were on our humanitarian mission for the advancement of young minds it tended to disappear as well, and I tended to raid whatever I could in regards to politics, philosophy, and the occult; a mind is a terrible thing to waste you know, and we’d dare not let our economic status or those of others allow us to waste away.
Perhaps we had gotten greedy, gotten too safe. The game is a tricky one: we had to be lucky everytime and all our targets needed was to be lucky once. Whether the edict of some far off god of justice, the collusion of the planets against us, or sheer and simple bad luck, it appeared our number was up.
I’m reading through history books on WW1, trying to decide which was best to add to my collection when strange vibrations disturbed me.
Suddenly danger is afoot.
My pal rushes towards me with a backpack and begins anxiously and speedily dumping it out. This is not generally something that should ever be done in the middle of a caper, much like obeying traffic lights or making full pauses at stops signs when you’ve robbed a drug dealer.
I know he’s been had. I know, somewhere and somehow, he’s been caught. His aura jolts in sharp pinched streams around his body, his actions oddly mechanical yet unncannily inefficient. He is a wounded animal, reeking of blood and fear. He has been bitten and I can smell the cold winds of death on him.
The manager appears behind him, a pointed finger loaded with morality and aimed like the barrel of a gun.
“STOP RIGHT NOW!” He yells with a peculiar authority, as well as a victorious uptick on the “NOW!” This moment is one he’s been waiting for. The thrill of the chase is real here, palatable. Was my friend simply foolish? Have we been being watched this whole time? I keep my eyes on the books, pretending not to notice.
My friend goes into the jaws of death. Words are exchanged, the typical “get out before I call the police” bit. I remain cool, lizard-like, engrossed in the details of close combat in the trenches of 1914. After my friend departs, spared the police, others gather around to see what could have been lost.
“Oh man,” one clerk peevishly points out, “looks like he was after the good stuff.” Would they have cared as much if we had been stealing comic books or fashion magazines instead of eastern philosophy? The manager nods to his worker, locking feral eyes with me.
I have been noticed.
“Were you with him?” It’s a bullet of truth loaded with emotion, set to disarm or trap the honest. A millisecond of hesitation will sink me, and I can’t run with the loot hidden in my waistband.
I fire from the hip.
“FUCK NO! Why the hell would you say that?” I feign enough anger to make all around me feel embarrassed for daring to disturb me, effective control in my hands. I am now the wronged one, not them. My foe’s eyes sharpen for a moment, desiring deeper interrogations, dissipating only when social conditioning takes control. As quickly as it came his victory returns to the melancholy and the boredom of wage work. Righteous hunters return to the manufactured personalities of “store associates.” They leave, unaware to my trickery and the gallons of adrenaline pumping through my veins.
I’ve not only survived, I’ve won.
I’ve got a few war stories like that, adventures lived and authorities bested, and those who’ve struggled as I have love them. It’s real live mythology: I become a symbol, a human B’rer Rabbit proving that the quick-witted and bold can still survive in a world of shit. Such tales of brigands and banditry never leave my lips around “polite company” of course, those well meaning bourgeoisie who cannot imagine a time or place where one might “stoop” to such crimes.
The CEO who sucks up profits and erases the overtime of his workers, the business who steals resources from third world nations, the manager who steps on the throats of anyone to climb the corporate ladder, these are all lauded as heroes by these same people. They are “risk-takers” with “skin in the game” who “went out and achieved something.” Job creators, captains of industry! So what if every now and then they have to “bend the rules,” maybe “break a few eggs?” Henry Flagler could kill as many workers as he liked as long as the the railroad that carried his name was completed on time. Ask any of the “actors” at Disney what happens if they get hurt on the job.
“Falsehood, crime and corruption constitute the order legalizing society and perpetrated by morality. That is why the superior spirit is always a rebel.” – Renzo Ferrari
What of the individual? The guy or gal with enough guts to do the same? Why these people are “thugs,” “scum,” and deserving of any punishment they get. And yet…everybody loves the death-tinged “gangster” music, eats up the mafia dramas, dreams of one day pulling off a dramatic and devious heist like they saw in a movie. Any criminal act, let alone a life devoted to them, is an interesting one, a life with no guarantees and running on wits alone. Lives are measured in small movements and a meritocracy exists amongst the chatter: you can either do it or you can’t. Half-way crooks get caught, and depending on what’s stuffed down your pants or in the trunk of your car you might be doing some hard time. Pity is in short supply, and the fallen will not be brought home.
“It is what it is,” the motto of the underclass, a cold fatalism borne from years of doing whatever you had to do to get ahead knowing full well the dice are going to come up bad at some point. The mug shots of many are simply portraits of lost souls fighting for a piece of the pie; grifting not for the whole of the American Dream but just trying to swipe a small enough piece of it to get a good night’s sleep. It’s a worldview alien to the better off, a philosophy of necessity, one that nullifies concepts of traditional “right” or “wrong” easily because to simply exist the poor must do so. They exist in a different world from the one seen on tv, one only vaguely hinted at and always falsely portrayed. Each town, each region has it’s own variation of it, and it’s usually never available for an open house visit.
Sometime it’s fun, perhaps even luxurious. Sometimes it’s filled with sweat, a matter of odds the difference between life or death. Plenty of people have done alot of things they never could have imagined simply to survive and ended up rubbing shoulders or shaking hands with people who exist beyond the hedge of society.
For many radicals, magical or otherwise, this is a path we all must walk many, many times. We, by nature, exist outside the confines of what’s “acceptable” to the world capitalism has wrought. At best we’re black sheep, tolerated weirdos or dreamers; at worst we’re shipped off to black site prisons and culled from the herd.
Even you few who think you’re clean might find stains where you least expect them, roped up with people you’ve never met for organizations you’ve never claimed. That’s because “the Law” as it is isn’t so much concerned with justice as it is with control.
The Supreme Court has agreed the function of the police is not to “protect you” or to make sure everybody is “obeying” the law. It’s to “keep the peace” and protect property. Human lives and existence don’t even factor into the equation, and if you don’t have any property to call your own you might be in real danger. Of course this is all something we knew, being perhaps the first generation to view a slew of video evidence of police brutality only to watch murders with badges walk free.
But you aren’t “those people,” right? As long as you do the right thing the authorities will protect you….right?
Never forget that Pagans and Occultists are not immune from the predatory influences of “the Law.” Whether it was the anti-fortune telling laws, or pagan parents getting pushed around in custody disputes, “the Law” is no friend of the magical community. Consider this case out of Indiana:
“An Indianapolis father is appealing a Marion County judge’s unusual order that prohibits him and his ex-wife from exposing their child to ‘non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals.’
The parents practice Wicca, a contemporary pagan religion that emphasizes a balance in nature and reverence for the earth.
Cale J. Bradford, chief judge of the Marion Superior Court, kept the unusual provision in the couple’s divorce decree last year over their fierce objections, court records show. The order does not define a mainstream religion.
Bradford refused to remove the provision after the 9-year-old boy’s outraged parents, Thomas E. Jones Jr. and his ex-wife, Tammie U. Bristol, protested last fall.”
This is not a matter of competing interests, of parents dueling over religious views. This is a judge, a person ordained to uphold the values of the State, determining that the boys school, a State-sanctioned religious institution, has more right over his spiritual training then the parents that birthed him.
To those witches and wizards in the shadows of the law, the reality of the game is much more clear: you’ve been busted mid-ritual and shoo’ed away from parks, you may be banned from graveyards, even an act of leaving a religious offering can turn into a $50 littering ticket.
Pagans and Occultists regularly also defy “the Law” by working with the people living outside it: casting spells or performing enchantments for drug-dealers or prostitutes, gamblers and shady businesses. We take these roles on not because we seek to live outside the laws but because our personal relationships with our friends and clients trump them. Like it or not these people trust us, rely on us, and even view us as members of the community.
Recall too that as often as we play therapist and counselor(as well as priestess and medium) there is no “religious” or “craft” exemption for what we do. There is no safety net protecting us. Unlike doctors and priests of other “mainstream” religions we can very easily be charged with aiding and abetting, destruction of evidence, obstruction of justice, perjury and a whole host of other charges…unless of course we give up our friends in the sweat of some interrogation room.
We magic-wielders, whether we like it or not, are members of what once called “The Sporting Life” and it’s hightime our magic started reflecting that.
A Small Minority of Aristocratic Outsiders Against All Societies
Just what is “The Sporting Life?”
As a term it is an Americanism: it began as a Victorian word that meant outdoor activities and feats of strength that would improve the health of men; the young folks of our shores agreed with their British brethren such things were very important provided they took place in the hustle and bustle of the city, included heavy drinking, and naturally ended at a gambling house with easy access to prostitutes. The appeal of “The Sporting Life” crossed class lines, thriving in luxurious hotels or fly-by-night saloons and dives. After a time the term became a catch-all for the individuals that rubbed shoulders with this nocturnal crowd: homosexuals, artists, bartenders, free-thinkers, political radicals, and anybody else that lived outside of “daylight society” found themselves “sporting.”
“How one joins the sporting life is a personal matter. Some are forced by hard circumstances, others are drawn in by a desire or proclivity they have. There are those who enter for income and livelihood, and a few enter where all the above meet. They are in the sporting life because they dare to flaunt the law, deliver goods desired by a portion of the society and make their living while doing so….some do it as a form of social protest…” – Prof. Charles Porterfield, “The Sporting Life”
As a book The Sporting Life by Prof. Charles Porterfield is a perfect fit for it’s subject: practical, stylish, incredibly interesting, and totally focused on getting you ahead. Snippets of slang and history are weaved with practical techniques in the Hoodoo tradition to keep clients coming to a call girl, help homosexual men garner interest from those “on the DL,” as well as sabotaging court cases, creating lucky perfumes, and winning at any games of chance you can get your hands on.
Each chapter is forwarded by an absorbing and striking history of the lives lived in the Sporting Life. Previously unknown histories of early madams and working girls to the unexpected widespread acceptance of bisexuality are brought to light in an engaging tone. Blues lyrics call out from the pages and you can practically hear the guitar riffs rolling out of a juke joint, dance shoes scuffing the wooden floor as folks tuck into shadows to anoint charms and curios for money or lust. We’re treated to spells and tricks performed by those who lived by luck and cunning to earn their daily bread, a people’s history and grimoire of underworld sorcery all in one:
“The hulls of peanuts dropped onto the floor of a home are said to cause bad luck and assure that a policeman will come to your house…Older workers will caution one to ‘never throw peanut hulls around the front door, or you will be arrested before the week is gone,’ and say that ‘peanut hulls scattered about the door means that you will go to jail.’ If the hulls are dropped on the floor of an automobile it will break down, which may explain their sinister reputation in modern NASCAR…Interestingly an old term for a workhouse where inmates crack stones is called a ‘peanut farm.'”
Make no mistake however, this is not merely a history book. Professor Porterfield resides in Texas, the state notoriously leading the nation in murders committed with bare hands and boots. The Professor first came into contact with “The Sporting Life” long before he ever learned the term, somehow (for reasons still unknown) becoming a living bug-light to any drug-dealer, stripper, or out of luck card player in need of a sorcerous edge. Here in his book we are treated to years of practical experience and homegrown recipes, time-tested and client approved. I’ve tried a few myself, and used his recipe for a “Sporting Life” cologne to fantastic effect, now adding it to my daily routine.
But perhaps the section that most intrigued me and made my mind boil with ideas involved dealing with the police: keeping them away from you, making hide-out’s hidden, and keeping informers blind and dumb to your actions.
“Oregano and Fennel are said to keep the law away; Eucalyptus wards off snitches and informers as well. Sprinkle this three-way herb blend once a week in your yard to keep your enemies from telling your business.” – Prof. Porterfield, “The Sporting Life”
The Anarchists among you should be buzzing like a wasp’s nest. As a radical of any stripe knows, the police are not your friend. The pigs will break up your meetings, they will harass you, and will help people kill you. Ask the Black Panthers who were “decimated by political assassination arranged by the federal police apparatus,” ask the hundreds detained and beaten during the Occupy protests, or better yet ask the brave Anti-Fa wounded by nazi blades in Sacramento, who watched as Fascist knife-men walked away without arrest and without confiscation of their weapons.
Anything that helps US keep THEM away is worth it’s weight in gold, even if we aren’t necessarily committing a “crime.”
Exorcising the Ghost of “The Law”
Apio Ludd writes in “The Anarchist as Outlaw”:
“When I say I am an anarchist, I simply mean that, to the extent that I have the power, I refuse to let anyone or anything dominate me. In other words, I refuse to accept the power of any authority, any institution, any existing or would-be ruler, any ruler, etc., over me. This is why I also refuse to choose between potential rulers and rules. Doing so would express a willingness to give up my power to create my life, a willingness to surrender this power to others, and I am not willing to do this. I also am not willing to even temporarily hand my power over to any authority or institution to act for me. This is why I won’t turn to cops or courts to deal with any problem or conflict in my life. To the extent of my power, I avoid dealing with these institutions altogether.
“When I say I am an outlaw, I don’t mean that I am some great, heroic bandit (such a claim would make my friends laugh their asses off). I mean simply that, to the extent of my power, I live alegally, that is, without regard for the law. I don’t let the law determine my choices and my actions. Rather I use all my powers – my skills, my tools, my wits, my relationships – to create my life on my own terms without getting caught…
“In any case, anarchists, and for that matter, all free-spirited, unsubmissive individuals, will inevitably break laws. When laws exist, my choice to live on my own terms will make me an outlaw, because I will ignore law except as an obstacle to avoid.”
We, as pagans and occultists, are already seen as criminals of the most vile kind by monotheism: criminals who have broken then “holy” laws of an angry, wrathful god from the desert(idolatry, divination, trafficking in spirits). We, as radicals and militants, are already seen as criminals of the most vile kind by society and the State: criminals against the “holy” established order and all it stands for(hierarchy, racism, sexism).
My life, my existence, is worth much more then the manufactured loyalty to the airy phantoms of “the Law,” a law designed to protect the wealthy. At some point you’re going to have to do the same. As things only get worse state-side more and more of us are going to be forced into “questionable activity.” Have you shed the necessary hang-ups and emotional baggage? Only people who’ve never spent time inside a courtroom believe in “the sanctity of the Law.” Lawyers will freely tell you these things exist to be used as tools to deceive or punish, depending on the skill of the user. Prisons across the country are filled with fools penning letters from behind bars to children they’ve never seen, blinded by the faith that if they just told the truth everything would work out for them.
Do you intend to go that route?
Better yet, lets use a less extreme example: through your apartment window, after looking at the empty fridge for the fourth time that day, you notice that empty plot of forest you like to pray in never gets any visitors. You notice the land is fertile, gets a fantastic amount of sun, and would be perfect for a small organic garden. But it’s owned by somebody else.
Do you obey the laws of the State, of the wealthy and propertied and remain hungry? Or do you violate the law and become a criminal? Open to trading said produce off-market for some high quality LSD for ritual use? Congratulations friend, you’re in the Sporting Life.
Was I a criminal in that bookstore, a no good rotten thief? Yes, yes I was. Was I also liberating knowledge and getting it into the hands of kids who felt lost and adrift in a cookie-cutter theology? Absolutely. All these things and more are very true, shades of infinite grey in defiance of a monotheistic black and white interpretation. To be outside the law, to live the Sporting Life, is to allow no other agency other than yourself define you and your actions, to refuse the straitjacket concepts of “good” and “bad” so empty they can be filled with anything; everything Hitler did was perfectly legal, and every slave revolt on the North American continent in defiance of the law. Do you answer to a higher power, Comrade?
“We wanted to ascend up there where once the penetrating eyes of the pagan poet gazed:
Where the great thoughts arise and stand as inviolable oaks among the people; where beauty descends, invoked by the pure poets, and stands serene among the people; where love creates life and breathes joy!
Up above where life exults and expands in full harmony of splendor…
And for this, for this dream we struggled, for this great dream we died…
And our struggle was called crime.
– Renzo Novatore, “Towards the Creative Nothing”
I do, setting my compass on nothing other than myself; the only court I obey being my head, heart, and guts. The spirits too seem to do the same, freely moving and changing the fabric of reality in accordance with their own virtues, not some divinely ordained “order.” We have come into contact with beings older than entire nations, slipped into dimensions beyond what even the most technical science has grasped, so why limit yourself and your magical practice to the momentary social conventions of one planet, one people, one State?
Are you an infinite being of countless lifetimes made from the very fabric of the gods themselves?
Or are you some fucking cop?
Let your magic do the talking, Sport.
Dr. Bones is a 9 year practitioner of the Southern occult tradition known as Conjure, Rootwork, and Hoodoo. A skilled card-reader and Spiritworker, Dr. Bones has undertaken all aspects of the work, both benevolent and malefic. Politically he holds the Anarchist line that “Individuality can only flourish where equality of access to the conditions of existence is the social reality. This equality of access is Communism.” He resides in the insane State of Florida with his loving wife, a herd of cats, a house full of spirits.