Discipline - You don't have to spank yourself!
A discipline is something that is done on a regular basis, acting as the foundation for a particular activity or practice. An exercise regimen of some kind would be the obvious foundational discipline for any kind of athletic practice. Athletes are always working out and maximizing their skill in some sport. Contrary to popular opinion, magick also requires some kind of foundational discipline in order for the magician to be fully functional and capable of working magick whenever required. This was something that was emphasized during John Michael Greer’s three day workshop intensive. I would have to agree with this emphasis, since it represents one of the major points found in all of my writings, from the “Disciple’s Guide” to the last volume of “Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick - Greater Key.” However, there are some differences in what that discipline might contain and how it would be performed, as well as the specific periods for that discipline. I have taken a more comprehensive approach.
A magickal discipline, in my opinion, has a specific periodicity that can be grouped in the following interrelated schedule. That is, activities and operations which follow a daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal and annual schedule. Think of these different activities as a group of gears in an imaginary clock. The smaller daily gear turns for each and every day, which in turn, incrementally moves the weekly gear, which ultimately moves the monthly gear, and so on. The mysteries that are involved in the balance of light and darkness run throughout such a grouped series of activities, such as the diurnal cycle, the phases of the moon, the seasons of the sun, and the annual points of the magician’s natal return and natal opposition. At a certain point in each of these interrelated “gears” of the magickal discipline, the magician performs some kind of operation. Obviously, some kind of meditation, ritual and divination should be part of the daily routine, which is the point that JMG covered in his workshop lectures. Additionally, there are the points that occur weekly, monthly and seasonally, which must also have some kind of activity. What does the magician perform during those different points?
Since most practitioners of magick typically earn a living, then the weekend becomes the period when he or she will have more time than what is granted during the weekday. This is where the magician should perform some kind of minor magickal operation, although it doesn’t have to be any kind of complex or involved working. I typically reserve the more complex workings for when they are truly needed, making certain that I have planned them out in regards to the proper auspices and verified them through divination and meditation. Therefore, what I typically do on a weekend that has no scheduled working (when I am in the groove of a magickal practice) is to do something that is magickal and also liturgical. I usually say a magickal mass and feed my animated statues, as well as engage in some kind of devotional activities. The monthly periodicity is qualified by the full moon, so I would perform some kind of special devotional working at that time (to honor the Goddess), which can be done either three days before or after the full moon.
Seasonal changes are marked by the eight node modern pagan calendar, yet I have found that the solar cycle of equinoxes and solstices is distinct from the vegetative cycle of the cross-quarter holidays of Candlemas, Beltain, Lammas and Samhain. I could even choose the solar cycle over the vegetative cycle, since it has a more ancient providence, in my opinion.
The natal return and the natal oppositions are times for reflection, checking one’s progress and changing course, if necessary. These two points represent the beginning, ending and middle of the magician’s personal cycle, and should be carefully noted. It’s important to celebrate the achievement of milestones and accumulated successes, and that is the magician’s natal return, also known as his or her birthday. A birthday marks the beginning of a new cycle and the end of the old cycle. The midpoint between birthdays is just as important, although far less popularly known. The natal opposition is important for self determination and checking that the chosen path for the year is on target, or is, for some reason, missing its target. Midpoints are great for changing courses or selecting some alternative goals as the target. Perhaps the most important measurement for the annual cycle of the magician is whether or not progress is being made. If not, then the magician can determine the nature of the problem and change course. Changing course can also be reinforced with a series of magickal workings. Using the annual midpoint also allows the magician to split the year into two parts, and he or she can usually determine which half is better used for planning actions and developing a specific direction, and for implementing them.
A couple of other points about the magickal discipline should suffice to make my point clear. If you take on a practice or exercise that is done during a specific periodicity as your magickal discipline, then it is important to ensure that the activity is interesting, engaging and will be able to be performed over a set period of time. Daily exercises are most fraught with the tendency to omission or quitting altogether. Weekly exercises can also be affected to a lesser degree. Similar to performing daily physical exercises, a calisthenic routine is most effective when it is varied at certain intervals. Performing the same set of exercises every day for weeks and months will not help an individual loose weight or gain muscle mass. It’s important to work different sets of muscles and to perform different exercises to increase stamina and to kick start the metabolism. Thus, having a suite of rotating exercise routines that will incrementally become more difficult and demanding is the key to achieving an optimum level of physical fitness.
The same is true for a magickal discipline. If you perform the same set of exercises for a daily and weekly routine, at some point these exercises will cease to have any positive effect. They will also produce boredom and possibly kill the effort to practice a discipline altogether. Like a smart athlete, having a varying core discipline is critical to being able to keep it. The mind will rebel against having to perform a set of exercises every day if they are unvaried and monotonous. Changing the routine from time to time keeps one interested and engaged, both in the arenas of physical fitness and a magickal discipline. It’s important to trick the mind and keep it interested and absorbed in the overall process so it won’t be successful in overthrowing the adopted discipline.
Another important factor is to keep a normal schedule wherever possible. Go to bed around the same time, wake up the next day around the same time, and schedule the daily and weekly disciplines around the same time during the day and the week. You will find exceptions and interruptions to this schedule, certainly, but just like interruptions in deep meditation, you should just continue what you are doing and ignore the internal break. Don’t freak out and don’t be too concerned if your schedule causes you to miss a daily or weekly exercise. All you have to do is make certain that the next opportunity will find you happily re-engaging your magickal discipline. If you fall off of the wagon, then climb back aboard. If you fall off the wagon for an extended period of time (and this does happen), then you need to forge a new discipline and keep it. None of us are perfect, and so there is no such thing as a perfectly executed and adhered to magickal discipline. Life is full of variables, just don’t let them dis-empower your will.
I might also add as a final note that having a magickal discipline and a physical exercise routine entwined is an optimal practice. It’s important to have the stamina and fitness to be able to perform more strenuous and lengthy magickal workings. Some of the ordeals that I have performed can take between three and four hours, so if you are out of shape, such a working would be very difficult if not impossible. The difference between an arm chair magician and one who is actively practicing both a magickal discipline and a physical exercise routine is likely to be that the arm chair magician doesn’t even have the endurance to perform a working, let alone the required magickal and spiritual connections, and the necessary self-empowerment.