About a year ago at a casual lunch, we started talking about magic. We were both fascinated by the dissemination of ‘magical memes’ that spread curses and luck on the internet, and wondered why these digital spells flourish, and what they might indicate about the role of magic in a digital context. Recently we came across The Cyber Spellbook: MagicK in the Virtual World (2002) by Patricia Telesco and Sirona Knight. Sitting separately in front of our computers during the Danish Corona virus quarantine, we thought this might be a good time to talk about – and write a short text on – magic. After all, one might need a spell for good luck (preferably a digital one to maintain social distancing) in the time of a global disease outbreak. This text is an excerpt from our online conversation – mediated by Zoom – around the text on the cover of The Cyber Spellbook, as well as its Amazon reviews. This digitally mediated conversation ended up touching on issues such as spellcasting, conjuring, and temporality in a digital sphere. In case you’re looking for more in-depth engagements with the topic of magic and technology, see the works of e.g. Briana Pegado, Nazila Kivi and Simone Natale + Diana Pasulka.
Wang: So let’s look at the cyber spellbook. It is a book that came out in 2002, which is about 18 years ago. I actually don’t know how long this concept of digital witchcraft or cyber spellbook has existed. Cuz it seems like if the book came out then, maybe these concepts have been there for some time. Don’t you think so?
Henriksen: I’ll do a quick google for ’digital witchcraft’.
W: And I will try ’digital spellbook’. Let’s just see.
W: I tried ’digital spellbook’ but I didn’t get anything particularly digital. But there is something called The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells for Modern Problems. So it talks about digital divination.
H: Ohhh. Can I see that?
W: I will send you the google books link. But it is not that old, this one is from 2008.
I feel 2002 was probably the time when digital or cyber spellbook was first talked about? Perhaps it is also a matter of what it was called before, because the word ’digital’ has been in and out of fashion within the past twenty years, right? So I guess the same thing goes for the word ’cyber’.
H: Yeah, the reviews on the cyber witchcraft-book made it sound like it was a new concept. Also there were sentences such as ’we have never seen this before’. So if we look at the reviews, should we do that? And see what they say.
W: Yeah, let’s do that.
H: Do you wanna go into the introduction of the book as well, just so we re-familiarize ourselves with the content of the book?
[Line and Cancan looking into the introduction of the book]
From creating virtual sacred space, to using your microwave and cellular phone for spellcasting this book is the ultimate hands-on companion for technowitches everywhere.
Use microwave for spellcasting? That sounds innovative.
Designed specifically to bring yesterday’s insights and modern wonders back into balance.
I thought it was interesting this idea of yesterday and modern wonders, right?
H: I wonder what the modern wonders are. I imagine it to be gadgetry and technology.
The book includes: cyber spells by theme (love, health, joy), user-friendly techno-focals, cyber dedications, virtual visualizations, proactive computer conjurings, directions on how to make an online Book of Shadows, and much, much more.
This is interesting, because ‘user’ implies the use of a tool. But who are the users in a witchcraft world. It is interesting in the sense we can also see different kinds of language, like magic, technical, and spiritual, coming together here in these themes.
H: And there is proactive computer conjurings. I like this proactive aspect! (laughters) I hate it when I just happen to do a conjuring! But honestly, this may be a way of understanding how digital technologies work today: that you want to conjure something, you want to summon something, call something forth. That is why I go online, that is why I text something into my search machine. I want something to appear.
W: Yes, exactly, when we want to understand certain things – for example, as you said, using google. We don’t think of it so much as conjurings but we ARE expecting some sort of knowledge that we never expected before to enlighten us. It is that kind of moments that we are looking forward to. Like the search entries we use. They are the spells we cast in order to call for a mysterious world that we would like to know.
H: Yeah, and obviously, there is the whole next step. If you know how to code, that is really putting together a language to bring something forth. A system that others can use for conjurings as well. Then there’s the question of the other side of the ’proactive computer conjuring’ – who conjures us when we do a conjuring? That to me is the question ofsurveillance capitalism and of being monitored online. Your personal data being summoned by someone or something else.
W: Interestingly, I think proactive computer conjurings seem to suggest a one-directional act. But in todays’ world, especially if we think in terms of everything we do online, as soon as we start conjuring, we are being conjured. We leave a digital imprint that is immediately harvested and repurposed for other use.
H: I think there is definitely a price to pay for digital magic.
W: It is your sacrifice. This may sound cynical, that when you search something in google, they get a piece of you every time when you try to do something. The more you use it – your profile becomes more complete. And then based on that developing profile that approximates you, somebody else can cast a spell.
You can say all texts are spellbooks. All language are. Our academic papers are also spellbooks. We want to conjure a certain kind of reality that we believe in that is why we write these paper in the hope of somebody else read it and that reality would be called for and spread.
W: There is also something about the editorial reviews: there they have more concrete examples – I suppose from the book:
For example, a keyboard can represent “creative flow,” with the “delete” key an instrument for banishing and the “shift” key helping one shift between the ordinary and magickal worlds.
This sentence reminds me of GDPR, for some reason the book reminds me a lot of how we use data today, or maybe it is just the way how I think. I mean a keyboard can represent a creative flow because you type and then again it is an instrument for one to cast spell. And then the delete key is like the infamous or famous the “rights to be forgotten”. And then the “shift” key, I don’t know so much about the shift key.
H: It moves things.
Part 2 has been conjured and shall arrive shortly.