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Drawing, dragging, is primarily a form of moving, and there are many reasons human beings synchronize eyes and hands to drag marks across surfaces, or take lines for a walk. Throughout history we see drawing used for tattooing, marking, mapping, praying, meditating; drawing as destruction, as crossing out, propaganda, agitprop, signage, literature, treaties, makeup, puberty rites. Tibetan monks spend days drawing cosmic diagrams in colored sand on the floor and then destroy the drawing as an offering to all beings and a lesson in impermanence.

We find drawing as prophesy, sigil magic, hunting magic, automatism (surrealist automatic drawing) and drawing as medicine: Reiki healing symbols are drawn in the air above a patient, and Navajo healing symbols are drawn on the ground below them.

Cultures all over the world use drawing magic to, if not to foresee the future, then to affect it.

To be clear, there are generally three types of “magic,” and drawing is entangled in all of them: illusionism (magic tricks); the pre-rational magical consciousness of children (Tooth Fairy, evil eye, but also “magic” as a lasting stage of consciousness that exists in all of us); and then there is real magic (occult and ritual practices used to hack reality).

Apparently there is a Tlingit practice of rubbing a child’s mouth with a stone depicting a drawing of the clan crest to influence the child’s destiny. Samurai reportedly drew magic protection symbols called Juji in ink and then carried them like charms into battle. We see drawing as a kind of armor, and warriors all over the world use “magic tattoos” as a form of protection. Apotropaic or demon repelling drawings, sometimes made with candle smoke, are found inside old buildings throughout Europe. We also see examples of drawing magic in popular films like Howl’s Moving Castle and Twilight.

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“Scorch marks”

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“Drawing the future”

Drawing magic may have defeated the Nazis. In “Aleister & Adolf” media theorist Douglas Rushkoff writes about how Aleister Crowley created the V for Victory symbol (true story) using sex and sigil magic to be used by Churchill as a counter-sigil to neutralize the swastika. The book also explores a deeper point about the profound powers of “charged” symbols in our modern world, of how drawings and the effective use of propaganda can have deep consciousness-changing effects on a population.


  1. How has drawing magic (or magic writing) been used in your own tradition?
  2. What are some other examples of drawing magic in film, literature, and/or television today?
  3. If drawing magic really works, how and why do you think it works?

Painter and Art Instructor at Haskell Indian Nations University

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