Your mind is being controlled. Really. It’s happening all the time, and at a subtle, insidious level.
You are being programmed.Every time you read a billboard, watch a commercial, even a TV show. You are being brainwashed. Ideas are being thrown at you. You’re being told a story, you’re being told what to buy, what to believe, what to value, what you should be doing with your life.
You’re being told who you should be. And the problem is, it works.
Our Minds, Our Myths
Our brains are wired to run on the power of story, the power of myth. I could go on a big bender about Joseph Campbell and myth and the hero’s journey, but I’ll just sum up.
Myth is powerful. Myths will tell you a lot about the culture that created them. And myths can change a culture too. Myths–stories–tell a culture what’s important, who’s in power, how we should act. The problem is, our popular myths these days are largely funded by corporate interests.
Ultimately, the most pervasive stories out there are the stories like the American Dream, which gets bent and twisted into, “You are not successful until you have brand new shiny things.” It creates one of the primary dysfunctions of our dominant culture–the culture of want.
I want, I want, I want.
We are always wanting that “big shiny” that is just out of reach. We are being advertised to and marketed to to feel that we are “less than” if we don’t have the coolest (whatever it is). A fancy new couch. A brand new car. A phone that does ___.
Ego and Self Identity
These stories that pressure us by telling us we need new things prey on our ego frailties, our poor self esteem. As it happens, these frailties in our ego are also caused by this particular system, so it’s a brilliant one-two punch.
I have a few conspiracy theories I subscribe to, but I honestly don’t think any secret society engineered this system. However, I do know that corporations absolutely capitalize on it.
I’ve been a marketing and advertising professional, and I’ve been to my share of meetings that focus on, “How do we make them want this thing, make them need it?” Because, when you buy that thing, then the people at the top make money selling crap that people probably didn’t really need.
The culture of consumption and waste generally makes a lot of money for the people at the top at the expense of people at the bottom.
Self Identity and Income
And it’s so very effective–and this type of advertising works–because of the system itself. The have-nots feel bad about themselves because they are poor. And because they have worse self esteem because so much of our ego identity and success is tied to our job/income status, these folks can be even more susceptible to the cultural story that you need to have XYZ to be perceived as successful.
Maybe they didn’t get the best education, maybe they hate their job and aren’t doing the kind of work they’d hoped to…but, they can still show their family that they are successful by having a nice car. They can still gain respect from their friends with a cool phone/video game system/nice furniture/nice clothes/designer handbag.
You can see how this goes beyond individual product advertising and into the fabric of our society. We judge each other. People with a junker car, or a broken-down house, or old furniture, or non-trendy clothes, are made fun of by their family and friends and coworkers.
So what does any of this have to do with magic?
What is Magic?
Dion Fortune’s definition of magic is “Changing consciousness at will.” When I do workshops on the Magic of Words, people usually come expecting some secret Sanskrit intonations of power, or a spell that will ensure they will get Power/Money/Love/Thing. What I talk about instead is the power that all of our words have, and the power words have on us.
Words–stories–have the power to change us
They tell us who we should want to be, what we should want, why we should feel bad about ourselves, or good about ourselves. Words impact our consciousness. I don’t need incense, athames, chalices, wands, or altars to change your consciousness.
I can do it with words.
I can change your consciousness with my will, through the vehicle of my words. And advertisers do it too. The people who are probably better at the magic of changing people’s consciousness are people in marketing and advertising.
There’s an entire host of techniques that I use in order to get a group into a trance state, or altered state of consciousness, during a ritual. Many of these techniques come from Neuro-Linguistic Programming and hypnotherapy, among other things, and I learned them through Diana’s Grove, Starhawk, and others.
And these are techniques that are being used by marketing professionals to sell ideas to you. In fact, it’s really pretty easy to shift someone’s consciousness, to plant an idea in their brain.
Let’s look at what’s called a “yes set.” It’s a simple manipulation I do to get people to relax for a meditation/trance journey.
Imagine for a moment we’re outside in a comfortably warm twilight in a grove of trees, and I’ve asked you to get comfortable, to close your eyes if you want.
“Can you see that beautiful light of the setting sun?
Can you feel the warm air on your skin?
Can you hear the sound of the birds in the trees?
And can you feel yourself relax?”
The answer to the first three questions is yes. It’s physical truth because it’s things going on right there. The fourth is a statement, a suggestion. But, you’ve already said yes three times, so your subconscious is likely to just go with the flow and say yes again.
“Do you want a safe neighborhood for your family?
Do you want access to good jobs?
Do you want corporations to pay their fair share?
Then vote for XYZ candidate.”
The yes set works by asking several questions to which the answer is pretty assured to be yes, and then offering a suggestion that you want the person to say yes to.
A simpler version of this might be a fast food ad that says, “Are you hungry?” with a photo of a big juicy burger/taco/ice cream/whatever.
The power of suggestion is really even simpler than that. Here’s one: Don’t think about the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
So…what are you thinking about? See how easy that power of suggestion is?
Enchantment, Chanting, and Magic
I can easily say that chanting is one of the most powerful ritual techniques that I use to engage a trance state. Nothing gets a group into a shared mindset like singing together. The combination of the melody, and each person breathing together, add in some harmonies and they rhythm of the chant or a drumbeat, and you’re looking at a great way to get a group into an altered state of consciousness.
The word enchantment is completely associated with magic, and there’s a reason. En-chant. Sing.
Music alters our consciousness. It’s more potent when it’s driving and overpowering (like a drum jam or concert) or, when we are engaging in it by singing together. However, any music has the power to change our brainwaves. Shamanic practitioners have been using rhythm and chant for thousands and thousands of years to engage a trance state. Many cultures have power songs. In Vodou, there are specific rhythms for different Loa.
In our modern culture, a song on the radio has the power to stop us in our tracks. People will sit in their car and listen, or sing along. People pay rather a lot of money to go to concerts to see their favorite music live.
And modern iconic music is often purchased for use in advertising. The power of suggestion is simple–take a song that has particular positive associations, use it to represent your product or company, and then the positive associations from that song will be associated with your product or company.
Even companies that don’t use popular music in advertising will pay for advertising jingles. Those jingles get stuck in your head for a reason. Music is sticky.
It’s enchanting. Enchantment is magic via music. When I get a group singing together, I am literally enchanting them–I’m using music to do magic. To transform consciousness.
What Does Magic and Mind Control Have to do With Activism?
I probably don’t have to tell anyone that we’ve just passed from Black Friday weekend and the holiday shopping season is in full swing. Christmas/the Holidays isn’t the only time when people are pressured to buy, but it is when buying gets cranked beyond belief.
Think about all of the ways you–yes, you–are being manipulated to buy things. Companies want you to buy their stuff. And, people reinforce that by judging folks who can’t afford Christmas gifts. There’s a huge pressure on parents to give “good” gifts to their kids. Much of that pressure comes from kids…and the kids get that programming from other kids, and from television ads and cartoons. Kids are told that “good” parents will sacrifice everything to buy them the expensive thing they want.
My own mom admitted that she put our family into debt every year to buy us Christmas gifts.
So, while people are complaining about the folks in line at Walmart to get items on mega-sale…think about the entire engine here. There’s a pressure to buy, to give “good” gifts, to have cool things. Pressure, pressure, pressure. Heck, I’m even in on it. I pressure people to pay to attend my classes, or to buy my books, or to buy my artwork, because that’s how I’m making my living.
It’s activism because if you know that you’re being manipulated, you can break the spell.
Enchantment and Breaking the Spell
Words have power. Stories have power, And understanding how words and stories are being used to manipulate you and pressure you to make a choice–to spend money–can help you to make an informed choice.
When you’ve broken the spell, you can ask the question, do I need that? Do I really need that? Or am I just being pressured to want that?
Would I want that if I felt happy and fulfilled in my life?
Other questions can take you deeper. Do I value that? What am I supporting by buying that?
Buying fast food supports fast food corporations, which offer generally unhealthy food and give high profits to executives, while creating tremendous amounts of environmental waste.
Buying most clothes from big box stores supports overseas child labor and, in some cases, indentured workers or even workers who are practically enslaved by the companies they work for.
Part of living simply isn’t really simple at all–it’s looking at the chain of consequence. Everything you buy has a consequence. Maybe it ends up in a landfill some day. Maybe it’s styrofoam that won’t biodegrade. Maybe it cost energy to create, electricity. Maybe it took natural resources to create. Plastic, polyester, and styrofoam are created from oil, for instance. Paper products means trees were logged, perhaps from clear-cutting. Perhaps there is hazardous waste that is a byproduct of the manufacture of that item.
The pressure to buy puts people into debt. And it creates a wasteful mountain of stuff that we don’t really need.
We’re talking here about several overlapping issues for activists. We’re talking about social justice and putting people into debt. We’re talking about the pressure for stuff and making people want stuff instead of working to help people have positive self esteem. And we’re talking about environmental activism, about all that stuff that gets created and then discarded.
I see so many people throw things away and insist on buying something new. Heck, I used to be that person, especially with tech toys. I “had” to have the newest thing. Now, I have made an art out of buying (and selling or donating) used items to reduce wasteflow as well as save money.
Magic is Changing Consciousness
If you know that you’re being manipulated, it gives you tools to consider if you want to buy that thing, or, if perhaps you’re being pressured into it. I see advertising for food all the time that, sure, I crave. But, I know that it’s 1. expensive, and 2. bad for me, so I can resist it.
I see advertising that pressures me to buy things with the implication that people will respect me more if I have them. And I acknowledge the programming and social baggage that says, yes, if I had a fancier car, people might respect me more easily. But then I work to notice why I feel I need a better car/apartment/phone to make people respect me. If I’m feeling that I need a thing to gain people’s respect, perhaps it’s time to do a little more personal work around my ego, self identity, and self esteem.
What has helped me to buy less and get out of the spiral of the mind control and pressure of the dominant culture? It’s simple. Love. I have learned to love myself. And, when I’m with others that I love and respect, and who love and respect me, I don’t need a fancy tv, a nice apartment, a new couch, or any of the various trappings.
Personal Work and True Confidence
Instead of getting into a Sitcom-like disaster where I can’t afford to pay for dinner at a restaurant but I’m too embarrassed to say anything to my friends, I’m confident enough to head that off at the pass. “Hey, I’d love to hang out, but eating at restaurants isn’t in my budget. Maybe we can find somewhere else to spend time together?”
Breaking the spell is looking at how we are being controlled and programmed, and questioning that. It’s also looking at ourselves, doing our personal work. And further, it’s looking at how we ourselves reinforce the programming by judging or teasing people for their beater car, their crappy couch, their ancient cell phone, etc. Look at the words that you use, and think about how those words have power.
Look at the programming around you, the story you’re being told. And then wake up. It’s time to tell your own story.
** I found out about this particular study in instant/delayed gratification in children and adults with more successful lives to be of interest. The gist is, it’s possible that kids who can delay gratification develop to be more successful as adults. Food for thought; it’s one chain in the link of the spells and enchantments of our dominant culture and the culture of “buy it now.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment
Shauna Aura Knight is an author, artist, ritualist, community builder, activist, and spiritual seeker. She travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and spiritual growth. She’s the published author of books and articles on leadership, ritual facilitation, and personal transformation, as well as an author of fantasy fiction. Her mythic artwork is used for magazines, book covers, and personal shrines. Check out her blog on Pagan leadership and community building or her web site for more information on upcoming classes, rituals, books, and articles.