“The disciplines of physical exercise, meditation and study aren’t terribly esoteric. The means to attain a capability far beyond that of the so-called ordinary person are within the reach of everyone, if their desire and their will are strong enough,” Alan Moore once said. “I have studied science, art, religion and a hundred different philosophies. Anyone could do as much. By applying what you learn and ordering your thoughts in an intelligent manner it is possible to accomplish almost anything. Possible for an ‘ordinary person.’ There’s a notion I’d like to see buried: the ordinary person. Ridiculous. There is no ordinary person.”
Maybe one day I will measure my magical progress by how many fat sacks of cash I can manifest or by bending the universe towards whatever momentary fancy that takes up space in my head. Perhaps on another day I will evaluate myself by the frequency of flashes of blinding white light that envelop me while standing at my altar of worship. Wait, maybe when I hex all my enemies and they come to great pain for crossing me, that’s when I’ll know I’m serious about magic. Or maybe none of those things will ever happen and I’ll have merely lived a more interesting life than if I had never allowed myself to think magically.
Whatever someone else wants to do with their time and energies is of no concern of mine. I couldn’t care a less as long as you’re not messing with me. What people want to call themselves or whatever rules they want to lay down to help them define their identity is none of my business. But this is not really the way most people think. They develop their definition and that’s t he law. There’s always someone writing this or that or proclaiming this or that about what defines the meaning of an abstract word. You’re not _______, if you don’t think or do _______.
Sure, there should be some standards for what constitutes a particular endeavor. I can’t play baseball and call it soccer. Any sport has very clear actions on the field that are essential for the game to be reasonably understood. Imagine the mess of attempting to play basketball on a football field. In sport, rules and specificity of equipment is essential. But even there, the basketball game played on a college court in Indiana will have a flavor very distinct from one played at a park in Brooklyn.
Rewiring the Rules:
The tricky thing with pursuits like art or magic is that those fields are not quite so nailed down by official playbooks. Even still, ask any gallery critic and they’ll usually have various arbitrary standards for what they constitute as respectable art. Delineations separating the professional from the amateur abound. Hell, sports have those delineations as well. Does that distinction make the experience of engaging with said art or sport any less meaningful or gnostic for the individual in the field of action? Everywhere we go in life there exists gatekeepers. Their job seems to be deciding who belongs and who doesn’t. You can try out for the team but you may not make the cut.
Gatekeeping can be very useful and productive in some cases. Not making the team one season can motivate greater commitment and focus from an individual that results in a boost of development in skill. We’ve all been motivated at one time or another by being told we weren’t up to snuff. Often times the surliest gatekeeper takes residence in our own heads.
I’ve been my own worst critic most of my life. “Satisfied” would not be the right word to use in relation to my ritual magic practices. I’m still learning, growing and trying things. Frequently I encounter talk of the importance of “results” and quantifiable material evidence. That seems reasonable all depending on what your purpose for engaging in rituals is as a starting point. A lot of people go the gym – they’re not all looking for identical results. Or better yet, they’re not all using the same standard rate of measurement in relation to results. Results are something we all strive for, my particular beef is trying to impose a unified standard on results as utterly personal as those found in spiritual or creative work.
My way into magic wasn’t born from walking into an occult bookstore inquiring about love or money spells. I use those examples because those are two instances where a result is quite black and white. I’m not going to contradict myself by claiming there’s anything wrong with anyone’s motives for doing magic. If you need cash it’s none of my business. I’m only setting up my personal story in order to say it’s all valid and has a place.
Control over others or over the universe itself is not part of my current experiment. (Being human, naturally there are plenty of times I have the desire to do just that.) I’m into the occult because I want to attempt to discover and be a better version of myself. The better version of me can achieve all sorts of results, from relationships to making money, and to being more creative. Cultivating inner-strength to perform on the field of action in order to achieve my will is the only obvious result I can claim without much conjecture.
I suffer from a lot of flaky notions regarding connecting to cosmic consciousness in a way that serves my higher self and those about me. Kid stuff. Nothing like when Wilhelm Reich made it rain during a drought. I’ve always liked the ideals that Paramahansa Yogananda and Manly P. Hall wrote about. My view of the esoteric carries a lot of that mystic residue. That’s what drew me in, to get right down to it.
My daily process is rooted in clearing out garbage about the way I think life should be treating me or what I deserve. I’ve been wrong enough to come to embrace unplanned and unasked for gifts from sources unknown. Sometimes what I get is cooler than what I may have conceived to bind up in a spell. Of course, sometimes events turn out like shit. Although, there’s usually a lesson learned from the shit that forces temporarily me off-course.
Don’t get me wrong, when I need practical results, I won’t hesitate to act. But my action may not look like another practitioner’s at all. Requests and demands are obviously different propositions. Maybe one day I’ll feel more confident in making demands of the spirit world. For now, I’m happy to let my intention be known with a humble request.
From Visualization to Action:
The really practical bit for me is walking away from the prayer said at the altar and getting to work in the physical plane. If it matters, I need to take action. I move from thinking and visualization to action. It’s from the success or failure of those actions that I evaluate my magic. No entity has ever crossed over and answered a request from me. When a synchronicity works in my favor, no angel or demon has notified me it was their doing. For those that hear the voice, I’m happy for you. I hope that comes to pass for me. They may not like me enough yet.
What I do experience is the holding of a deep intention, applying mental focus to it, perhaps visualizing it happening, and somewhere down the line a form of what I want manifests. Usually, it was moving in that direction and I inched it ever so slightly into reality. A new job offer comes at the right time. A creative initiative gets off the ground. Or I am able to act with more awareness and concern towards the people I care about. Like I said, I have childish concerns. Meanwhile, people doing “real magic” are getting solid stock tips, levitating or whatever. In his Magick in Theory and Practice, Aleister Crowley comments on the book, saying,
…it is spoken of the Sephiroth and the Paths; of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them.
For an hour a day I get quiet and disconnect from the worries of the day (sometimes more successfully than others). I imagine myself as an operative magician. Whatever the ritual is, I believe there is power in it. I imagine the light of the Gnostics and Qabalahists emanating into my modest temple. I devote space in my mind to magical archetypes found in the Major Arcana, the solar Gods of Egypt, or the Holy Archangels. I believe this has altered my way of thinking and possibly the outcomes in my life. Can I prove it to you in a test tube? Of course not. I suck at math and science. I’m naturally more comfortable with art.
What I can be certain of is that my plays on the field are different than what they were before. My acting out of rituals and performing of visualizations and prayers take place and to the extent that they change me or the way I view the universe, I consider that magical. I had money and a job before I did any magic. I had a wife. I had kids. I didn’t need to acquire a new possession or status. What I wanted from magic had much more to do with how I related to the things that were already in my life. I was a powerful and creative force capable of getting results in the field of action before I made a sigil or recited divine names. I just think I’m getting better at it with the addition of those tools.
Before I found magic in the formal sense, I was freed from a fatal addiction to alcohol through a spiritual process that looked nothing like something out of a Grimoire but had more in common with what I consider magic than I ever imagined.
Development of the will is a central component of magic. When I can become a person who is strong enough to carry out action on aspirations that to me is self-transformation via magic. When I wanted to be a martial artist, I harnessed my will and walked into a dojo. Every day I train is an act of that will. When I wanted to get back into writing because of professional stagnation, I set an intention, harnessed my will and started writing. Before I knew it I started a blog. Action on the field generates momentum that magically compounds.
I’m paid to come up with creative solutions for business clients that want to reach more customers. For over 10 years I’ve looked into the abyss of the blank page, the pressure of competition and the ticking down of the clock. When against the odds, the needed ideas come and everyone is pleased, I often wonder, “where did that come from?”
“The principle of positive thinking is simplicity itself,” says Mitch Horowitz in One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life. “Picture an outcome, dwell on it in your thoughts and feelings, and unseen agencies—whether metaphysical or psychological—will supposedly come to your aid. Seen in this way, the mind is a causative force.”
I’m not exceptionally brilliant at everything I do, but I do. I’m not interested in endless games of comparison. There’s always someone better. I’ve simply overcome the paralysis of analysis and jumped onto the field of action. I looked quite silly doing karate for the first time. And still do each time I attempt something new. I’m not a brilliant artist but I don’t have to curse myself as a coward for lack of action.
Knowing oneself better is a “result” as legit as any. I know if I don’t get quiet and meditate, set intentions, commune with spirits, do rituals, I get real frustrated with my life. Disconnected from my spiritual energy, I get moody, angry and fail to take action. In my past, that toxic bundle of malevolent emotions ended in obliterated bouts of self-destructive substance abuse. If the inner freedom from all that annihilating behavior isn’t the point of magic or spirit work, what the fuck is? Another new toy? Will a car, a job, sex or investments make a depressed person happy? (If acquiring all that stuff is a measure of magic then I guess a lot of assholes are magicians.)
I’m not implying you can’t have all that external stuff and not be wildly fulfilled. I trend in that direction more than I don’t. In my experience, life flows more naturally when I don’t obsess over incremental materialistic results in relation to my work.
Israel Regardie, a devoted lifelong occultist felt very strongly that an aspiring magician should spend a great deal of time psychologically purifying themselves before jumping behind an altar to start commanding spirits and demons. Basic prayer and meditation and loads of written self-analysis was all I did for years before I cast a magic circle. It could very well be that I’m more of a traditional mystic than a renegade magician.
As much as I possess a rebellious, teenage punk streak, I have to cop to having a romance with traditions and old ways. I train in a very old style of Okinawan karate. The lineage I joined into traces directly to its birth. To me, that’s incredibly cool and special. Most people that get into martial arts today think that wearing a gi and speaking Japanese during training is superfluous. They are forever fixated on “what works in the street.” They could care a less about the ambiance and formalities of a traditional dojo. Yes, I want to master practical self-defense but understanding how rare physical combat is, I’m really concerned with mastering my self, my emotions and reactions to failure and struggle. As a side note, I have absolutely no questions about whether my instructors could handle an altercation on the street. None.
So, when people fixate on measurable results and documentation of occult study, I have to remind myself that everyone has their own mission, purpose and agenda. Some gravitate to tradition while others have to be on the cutting-edge. I’m easing my way into more and more familiarity with magic by honoring practices that come from a linage. I have nothing negative to report about any system or how anyone else understands magic.
I spend time every day in total wonderment at the massive scope and breadth that constitutes the Western Esoteric Tradition – past, present and future. The diversity of practices and beliefs is something I hold in high regard. It will take my lifetime to attempt to study and put into action all there is to offer. Many schools of mystery. Many variations of ritual.
It’s no surprise that derision exists between various schools and branches. Every martial arts style assumes superiority over the rest, often over minute differences. The mixed-martial arts community is known to scoff at the traditional karate student as old-fashioned and obsolete. Where I train, I find it a breath of fresh air when our instructors say, “In our style we do it this way. The other way is not wrong, it’s just different.”