When love spells become rape

As I mentioned in the last post, there were many things that speakers said at Between the Worlds that I was glad to hear people saying, actively, in the Pagan/magical community. There was one glaring omission:

“Love spells” as most people think of them are a magical form of rape.

The panel on operative magic did discuss love spells. Everyone shared the basic assumption that “love spells” as popularly conceived – the kind of spell that Dick does so that Jane will love him and want to have sex with him – are not okay. Different speakers mentioned different perspectives on why these are ethically and practically not acceptable. People talked about how there is a more general kind of “love spell” which is ethical and acceptable – a spell to make oneself more lovable or to draw love in general into one’s life.

Everyone agrees that trying to magically coerce a particular person is NEVER okay – because it’s coercion. I was disappointed that none of the speakers said the obvious: that this coercion is never okay because coerced sex is rape.

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki came closest when she repeated the oft-stated concern that this is “interfering with someone else’s free will” and went on to more colorfully describe that there are other ways to try to create a relationship with someone. But no one used the “r word.”

I think it’s vitally important that people who do magic and are feminists say this loudly and clearly: magic to get sex with a person is not okay because it’s rape. This goes beyond concerns about “free will,” a rather nebulous concept. This is about consent, and consent is what separates sex from rape.

In the wake of other examples of supporting rape culture, this is especially important to me. There is a big, bright, bold, clear line here. There is no room for “I did a spell to get Jane to love me, and I said ‘for the highest good for all!’ so it’s clearly a good thing!” There is no room for “She likes me, she just won’t go all the way, so I’m just doing a spell to help us along…” There is no room for “I know better than she does what she wants.” Those are rape culture in magic, plain and simple.

I know people want these kinds of spells. One of the speakers on that panel sells candles, and she pointed out that a “Become more lovable” candle – the ethical second-cousin to the kind of “love spell” that is really magical rape – didn’t sell at all. People don’t want to be more lovable. They want the person they want, and they want her (usually her) now.

That’s why this is rape. That’s why this conversation matters even if you would never do a spell like this. When we don’t call this out, we make space for rape culture. You know what rape culture produces? Rape.

The idea that someone else can be treated as an object of your will – whether in magic or not – is at heart the idea behind rape. Sex is something that people do willingly together. Rape is not.

I’m a big fan of Isaac Bonewits’ rule-of-thumb for magical ethics, which basically asks whether it would be against the law for you to do the mundane equivalent of whatever your spell is for. If you were doing a spell to have an honest debt repaid, the equivalent would be taking your debtor to small-claims court: totally legal. If you were doing a spell to have someone die, the equivalent would be murder: definitely not legal.

So if you’re doing a spell to get someone to have sex with you – and don’t bullshit me, most “love spells” are going to be judged a success based on whether or not you’re in bed with the person, not by a passionate but celibate exchange of letters for twenty years – then the mundane equivalent is coercing her to have sex with you. Rape.

In any sense, mundane or magical, the message is the same: Don’t rape.

Edited to add: I wrote more about why this matters in a potpourri post a few days later, but that post was such a mish-mash that I want to append this here as well:

I don’t think I said this clearly enough last time, but the reason that I’m so concerned about when love spells become rape is not just the magical implications, it’s the practical actions that we take as a result of the way we think. When we in the magical community fail to call out certain kinds of manipulative magic as part of rape culture, we’re enabling not just the thinking, not just the magic, but the actions.

If we say, loudly and clearly and repeatedly – because it’ll take a lot of repetition – that thinking of someone else as an object for your manipulation into bed is rape culture, we’re working to eliminate the so-called gray area where a lot of opportunity rapists operate.

If we leave wiggle room for people to think these kinds of spells are not rape, then that same kind of thinking is going to be used to justify totally mundane actions that lead to rape. If you’ve already done the spell to get her into your bed, why not offer her one more cup of wine after Beltane? What’s to stop you from seeing her stumbling, mumbling, not-really-consent as the manifestation of your magical prowess? Or maybe offering her a ride home, and then taking her to your house, or letting yourself in her place, and, well, encouraging her a little bit….that’s just taking action in accordance with your spell, right?

No. That’s rape. The magical actions and the mundane actions are products of the same thinking, and one will encourage the other. We have to discourage both.

This is very similar to the situation I encountered when trying to explain to people why things like DC 40 and other Christian Dominionist “prayer efforts” are dangerous. Even if you don’t believe in magic, these kinds of actions that specialize in raising emotional energy and directing it towards a purpose have tangible, physical manifestations. People vote based on Christian Dominionist thinking and actions. People rape based on rape culture. The thinking and the doing are both important, and if we’re going to change things, we have to work on both.

About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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