Magick and Photography

by Douglas Grant

From the Archives, Ashé Journal #2.3, 2003.

The magical implications of photography first appeared with the introduction of modern man and his technology into the world of primitive man. To this day, when a camera is introduced into some primitive cultures, the natives immediately disperse for fear that their souls will be captured if they are photographed. This superstition within primitive cultures has roots in magical beliefs regarding shadows and reflections. Primitive man believed that his shadow or reflection contained a vital part of his being or soul.

In the early cultures of India, China, Arabia, Europe, Americas and Africa many people believed that if a person’s shadow was struck, trampled upon, stabbed or detached from their person that they would be harmed or die. Many cultures believed that the reflection one would see in a pool of water or in a mirror was a shadow of the soul. This belief appears to be a possible origin of the superstition that breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck. Another belief, from ancient India and Greece, put forth that looking at one’s reflection in the water would open one’s self to the water spirits dragging their soul or reflection underwater to their ultimate death.

As with shadows and reflections, portraits or photographs were also believed to capture a portion of one’s soul, leaving that person open to manipulation by the holder of the picture. The “evil eye of the box,” as cameras have been referred to by some natives, still has many superstitious implications in today’s society. Many people today have an innate aversion to having their photograph taken. This may be due to vanity or personal insecurity but I have a feeling that primitive instincts are at play here.

When taking a person’s photograph you are capturing the person in one place in time, isolating it from the past and future. When others view the photograph, emotions are evoked concerning the object’s image. Whether the photograph presents a realistic view or not, a “reality tunnel” has been cast upon their psyche as to what the person may be or is like. A more modern example of this may be seen in the motion picture industry, where careers and riches are made on the basis of an actor’s moving portraits. If you factor in the tendency of the world’s mindless population to perceive the actor/actress’ character as being an actual part of the actor/actress’ real self or life, the potential for using photographic or film media as a means of magical manipulation becomes even more ripe for experimentation.

As a magician, my first thoughts on the relationship between photography and magick were enkindled after observing an artist’s work with Polaroid pictures as well as work executed by William S. Burroughs in the early 1970’s utilizing Polaroids and audio cassette tapes. Burroughs utilized Polaroid technology to cast a spell upon a coffee house that had wronged him. He theorized that by taking a Polaroid snapshot, the magician was taking the subject (be it person, place or thing) out of time and space. The person/place/ thing was then more malleable to an act of sorceric enchantment. The Polaroid technique, rather than the typical avenue of taking a picture and having it developed opens more doors to manipulation, magically, as the subject can be affected as the image develops. The following is a simple outline to execute the techniques of Polaroid photography with magick.

  • Identify the target, e.g.: person, place or thing.
  • Prior to taking the Polaroid snapshot, create/construct a sigil imbedded with the intent of your desire. Put the sigil into graphic form.
  • Go to the place where the target is located and take the Polaroid snapshot.
  • Before the photo develops, draw your sigil on the photo with a dull pointed object such as a ballpoint pen cap. As the photo develops, your sigil will be imbedded into the object of your act of sorcery.
  • Charge the sigil photo in whatever manner works best for you.

As a magician, I have had many successes with this technique as well as utilizing a cigarette lighter or a match to effect the outcome of the photo. After taking a Polaroid snapshot, place a flame underneath an area or object you would like to have removed from a situation in a photo and overexpose it with the heat. As a sorcerous act of elimination the object is effectively removed from the photograph.

Though this technique may seem a bit simple for effective magick, it is my feeling that simple acts of sorcery work wonders. They are often overlooked due to the techniques not being lofty enough for some of the more patronizing magicians. The trick for the magician is to overlook the ire of those strangled by their own intellect and utilize those techniques that have been tested and proven successful by reliable magicians.


Douglas Grant is a retired Section Head of the occult organization The International Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros. Through a mutual interest in Hassan Ibn Sabbah, contact was made with William S. Burroughs. William expressed interest in the IOT and was subsequently initiated into the IOT, by myself and another Frater and Soror. William did not receive a honorary degree, he was put through an evening of ritual, that included a Retro Spell Casting Rite, a Invocation of Chaos, a Santeria Rite as well as the Neophyte Ritual inducting William into the IOT as a full member. Though it is not included in the list of items buried with William… James Grauerholz assured me that William was buried with his IOT Initiate ring.

Douglas Grant is currently publishing books, most recently Stealing the Fire from Heavenby Stephen Mace, which has been met with rave reviews and can be found on Douglas’ internet retail store Dagon Productions: . Simultaneously running anart gallery bookstore Perihelion Arts in Phoenix, AZ. to continuous rave reviews.