This means I have a tendency to have a lot of related spells running at the one time:
- Be erudite in interviews
- Get a callback from a specific publisher
- Make sure my next job has fun co-workers
And so on.
The risk here is that some enchantments will cancel out or conflict with other ones.
A risk like this is not confined to job seeking magic, either. Most things in life that are worth enchanting for are complex -finding a mate, financial security, psychological well-being, etc. However, most enchantments tend to fall into what Jason calls ‘emergency magic.’
Consider the implications of having a long-running ‘find a life partner’ enchantment going and then firing off a sigil before hitting the town on Friday night to ‘meet someone’. Are they going to conflict? It seems a more likely outcome than your potential partner spontaneously deciding to head out to a bar (your local) three towns over for no good reason.
Does that mean you avoid enchanting to meet someone on the Friday night? Hells, no! You might miss out on some awesome sex. (Unlikely, but we can always hope.)
So is it possible to untangle all these different spell threads?
Short answer: No.
Complexity in social systems ultimately ends in collapse. That’s what happened to the Mayans, the Romans… That’s what’s happening to us. Read more about it in this awesome article. The secret to good spellcasting is to understand this and know when it is best to voluntarily collapse.
The post I linked to above references Clay Shirky; whom I adoringly follow in my muggle reader because he speaks in such an insightful way about my industry. Here’s the quote he pulled out of one of Clay’s posts, where he talks about how complexity leads to the collapse of major societies:
“Early on, the marginal value of this complexity is positive—each additional bit of complexity more than pays for itself in improved output—but over time, the law of diminishing returns reduces the marginal value, until it disappears completely. At this point, any additional complexity is pure cost.
Tainter’s thesis is that when society’s elite members add one layer of bureaucracy or demand one tribute too many, they end up extracting all the value from their environment it is possible to extract and then some.
… Why didn’t these societies just re-tool in less complex ways? The answer Tainter gives is the simplest one: When societies fail to respond to reduced circumstances through orderly downsizing, it isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t.
In such systems, there is no way to make things a little bit simpler – the whole edifice becomes a huge, interlocking system not readily amenable to change. …
When the value of complexity turns negative, a society plagued by an inability to react remains as complex as ever, right up to the moment where it becomes suddenly and dramatically simpler, which is to say right up to the moment of collapse. Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification.”
I want to add another little quote from the same post because I think it’s also relevant in this situation -even though he is talking about the TV industry (my industry). It’s based on a question he gets from TV executives (among my least favourite employers):
“When, they asked, would online video generate enough money to cover their current costs?
That kind of question comes up a lot. It’s a tough one to answer, not just because the answer is unlikely to make anybody happy, but because the premise is more important than the question itself.
There are two essential bits of background here. The first is that most TV is made by for-profit companies, and there are two ways to generate a profit: raise revenues above expenses, or cut expenses below revenues. The other is that, for many media business, that second option is unreachable.”
Now let me tell you that I have never met a TV executive who can cut costs below revenues. They genuinely believe the only solution is to raise revenues above existing costs.
This is the magical equivalent of “I need more money. Rather than quit smoking and change energy providers, I should perform another wealth enchantment.”
Or another job hunting spell. Or another love spell.
- Are you trying to “make more money” from a business that can’t scale?
- Are you looking for a job in a region that has high unemployment or is dominated by a struggling industry?
- Are you seriously expecting Jude Law to show up in your hick town biker bar and fall madly in love with you?
Ask yourself if it is time to collapse your entire spellcasting edifice and start again.
Let’s look into this in more detail.
The complexity checklist
1. Revisit your goal statement
Is this phrased correctly? Are you literally pointing in the wrong direction? To use the TV example above; are you trying to get more money out of a system that simply cannot deliver it rather than enchanting for a cost reduction?
Basically are you wishing on a Disney star or do you have a legitimate and achievable magical target?
2. Assess magical activity to date
What have you already done to manifest your outcome? Have you tripped over your own feet at some stage by enchanting for an outcome that is no longer relevant? Have you accidentally cast yourself into a corner?
Think hard about this because it’s certainly a mistake that I have made many times when trying to realise the ‘bigger goals’ like financial freedom and romantic happiness.
There’s more on black swan magic here.
In ‘Big Magic’ you are aiming for a black swan event: This is a low probability, high impact outcome. Examples of black swans include 9/11, the recent global financial crisis, being seated next to your soul mate on a transatlantic flight and so on.
Black swans can only happen in dynamic systems. If you want to be a millionaire then you should not be working in a business that cannot scale.
For example: There is a natural cap to the amount of money a baker can make… It’s the amount he can produce in an hour times the amount of hours he can physically work times the maximum amount people are willing to pay for bread before they say “fuck this, I’ll buy it at the supermarket.”
A professional property investor, on the other hand, has a business that she can scale. Successful magic requires scalability.
In Taleb’s book, The Black Swan, he calls the two different kinds of random systems Mediocristan (where the baker lives) and Extremistan (where JK Rowling lives):
“Mediocristan is where we must endure the tyranny of the collective, the routine, the obvious, and the predicted; Extremistan is where we are subject to the tyranny of the singular, the accidental, the unseen, and the unpredicted. As hard as you try, you will never lose a lot of weight in a single day; you need the collective effect of many days, weeks, even months. Likewise, if you work as a dentist, you will never get rich in a single day – but you can do very well over thirty years of motivated, diligent, disciplined and regular attendance to teeth-drilling sessions. If you are subject to Extremistan-based speculation, however, you can gain or lose your fortune in a single minute.”
‘Big Magic’ effects only happen in Extremistan. This is where you need to focus your efforts.
- You will not become the world’s best ballerina living in Auckland, New Zealand.
- You will not meet Mr Right just by going about your daily routine. Otherwise you would have met him by now.
- You will not strike it rich setting up a frikking etsy store. You are subject to the same rules that govern the baker.
I should mention that there is nothing wrong with living in Auckland, going about your daily business or setting up an etsy store -to say nothing of being a baker. (I adore bakers.)
Just don’t expect those coveted black swans to land anytime soon.
Collapsing your enchantments
If any of the above sounds like you and you’re thinking that you may have enchanted yourself into a corner then here is a little magical bulldozer for you:
- Gather up any of the physical anchors (if any) for the spells you want to collapse.
- Have a candle and a 12 inch length of string/cotton handy. (Both available from the supermarket.)
- Light the candle, open and call in whom/whatever you have been working with.
- Hold one end of the string in your left hand and say: “May what was said be now unspoken.”
- Hold the other end in your right hand and say: “Across all worlds, these charms are broken.”
- Burn the string in the candle flame so that it snaps into two as you say the last word.
Then it’s about visualising the spells dissipating. (Don’t absorb them back into you. Otherwise, what was the point?) I have kept this open and haven’t recommended destroying physical objects because different traditions vary and blah blah blah.
Begin anew with a clean slate and a clearer picture of the ground you need to cover.
Nothing like a bit of collapsing. Fun fact: The above images are all photos I have taken in the last six months around Europe. I seem to have a lot of photos of ruins. What do you think that says about me?