There has been another discussion about the distinction between magick and mysticism, and I wanted to weigh in on the subject just so my readers don’t make the mistake of thinking that magick should be completely distinct from mysticism, or that the greatest magick doesn’t have a bit of mysticism included in it. I think that David Griffin has eloquently responded to what he perceives is problematic in a recent blog article posted by Donald Michael Kraig and if you are curious about the discussion, you can find it here. Anyway, onward with the presentation of my point of view on this subject.
First of all, the spiritual disciplines of ritual or ceremonial magick and mysticism are completely different and nearly contrary to each other. Mysticism requires an ego-less factor of devotion and surrender to the Deity in order to foster spiritual union. The whole purpose of mysticism, whether Eastern or Western, is to completely empty the self of all personal engagement with the world and the self. What remains is a void that is to be filled with the spiritual being and essence of the Deity once a certain combination of selflessness and a passionate desire for union with God has been achieved. A crisis can and often occurs when this revelation doesn’t emerge soon enough, leaving the depleted self to feel empty, loathsome and worthless while it is painfully waiting for the promised spiritual redemption - it’s called the Dark Night of the Soul. (Magicians usually don’t experience the Dark Night of the Soul. They have plenty of other types of spiritual crises to deal with. I’ll talk about those in a future article.)
Mysticism might seem to be passive, but it’s actually quite active if we are to consider spiritual desire and an aching, hungering passion for union to be powerful drivers of the personality. A mystic is often not sequestered from the material world, but he or she has indeed renounced it in favor of the spiritual world. In many cases this spiritual path achieves union with the Deity at the cost of the self and the world at large, since there is little desire nor any need to re-engage with the world once the mystic has achieved his or her goal. In some cases, though, the spiritual impetus of the Deity itself will push the mystic to reach out and teach others what he or she has achieved. However, selfless service to the greater good and an ego-less state is required for this work to be properly engaged within the material world. Even so, a spiritual vocation in the outer world is always looked upon with suspicion by an avowed mystic, since it is all too easy to relapse to the previous unsanctified state.
Magick is completely the opposite of mysticism. Instead of eliminating the ego, the task of magicians is to identify and merge their essence wholly and completely within the heart and core of the Deity; to amplify their identities until there is no difference between Godhead and the human psyche. A magician has the audacity and temerity to directly approach the Deity on an equal footing and to aggressively seek union with it. Such a direct approach has a very high price, too, I might add. While the mystic is typically tolerated by mainstream religions, the magician is considered an apostate and avowed blasphemer. He or she is seldom tolerated, and is often aggressively prosecuted, since the fully developed path of the magician would completely abrogate all of the tenets or practices of organized religion. I might also add that if the magician fails in his endeavor, then often a kind of terrible ego inflation and temporary madness can ensue.
Instead of renouncing the material world, the magician exults in a mastery and complete emersion within that domain. Magicians approach the world with unbridled optimism and an anticipatory joy, since they believe fully in themselves and their abilities to engage with the world. The material world is the magician’s resource of a myriad of possibilities - it is the solution and not the problem. I have often remarked that Thelemites make really good magicians because they understand the necessity of being bold and dynamic in their magick, due in no small part to their allegiance to the Godhead Horus and the Aeon of Horus. Magicians, like any good pagan, also see the world as being in a sacralized state of grace, and that material work is also the work of the Deity.
So, it would seem that magick and mysticism, treated as distinct spiritual paths, are quite startlingly opposed to each other. However, there is a difference between mysticism as a spiritual path and certain mystical elements. Of course, this must be in regards to the powers and reality of the Deity who must be the magician’s primary source of inspiration and power in the material world, whether that fact is realized or not.
Pure magick without any mystical elements whatsoever is lot like thaumaturgy or hoodoo magic. It is a methodology consisting of exercising a specific formula to acquire a given end, without much or any recourse to the Deity or the world of Spirit. This kind of magic is completely divorced from spirituality or the concerns and considerations of the Godhead, and so it is also completely portable from person to person without any consideration to their particular religious beliefs. Thaumaturgy is loosely defined as the magic of performing specific operations with selected material items to gain some kind of magical effect that is almost always focused on matters in the material world. Although this kind of magic is quite powerful if used by someone who potently believes in its efficacy, it doesn’t typically change, or for that matter, challenge the practitioner. This kind of magic, in my opinion, is as far from any type of psychic or spiritual transformation that one could possibly perform, so it is lacking an important quality that I feel is essential to the art of magick. That quality consists, of course, of mystical elements.
If I were to compare the magick that I work with pure thamaturgy then I would have to say that the most glaring difference is that I work with and through the Deity. While that personal Cult of Deity that I work with in my magick is actually my higher self elevated to the level of a Godhead, it still represents a powerful religious activity that completely opens me up to the World of Spirit. When I work magick, I am undergoing, however brief, a transition between my human nature and the nature of the Godhead that I am also assuming.
Since all of the magick that I work is through that developed and assumed attribute of Deity, then I am also open to all of the transformative possibilities that such a connection has the power to produce. I combine psychic and spiritual transformations with specific magical operations that I call ordeals. This is a type of magical theurgy, so it is not at all like the magic that is performed just to gain some material end. The ultimate goal of theurgy is to become one with the Deity, and in this case, that Godhead is nothing less than the Unity of All Being, or the One. Its trigger point is my higher self, also known as the God/dess Within, and through this artifice, I seek to become one with the ultimate Godhead. Everything that I do from a magical standpoint is focused on that greater goal, even when I perform such a humble task as writing an article for my blog, which is yet another form of magick.
So what are the mystical elements in the magick that I perform? That’s a good question, but it is simply given that my magick requires a complete and comprehensive spiritual alignment in order to be effective and capable of transporting me (or anyone else) ultimately into perfect union with my Deity. Keep in mind that while my goal might be union with the Deity, it is done on my terms and through my own individual process. I am the one approaching the Deity, and instead of destroying my ego I am working through a godhead assumption to make it one and the same with that Godhead. Instead of renouncing the world, I see it as being more sacralized and imbued with spirit every step that I take, until someday the two worlds will merge into one world. Additionally, I suspect that this union of magick and religion is due to the fact that I am a witch and a practitioner of ritual magick. My expectations were long ago grounded in a blended mixture of religious liturgy and high magick, and this is how I function today in the world.
Spiritual alignment consists of just four important practices, and one could easily see them as religious based and perhaps even a bit mystical. However, they are done in the service of a spiritual discipline oriented to ritual magick, and that makes all the difference. These practices are devotion, invocation, communion and assumption. I will briefly describe each of these practices, but avid readers of my blog will have encountered these definitions previously.
We need to keep in mind that I am referring to the specific Deities associated with the magician’s personal religious cult, and chief amongst those Godhead forms is the crystalized imago of the godhead reflection of the spiritual self, higher self, Atman, or God/dess Within. When I focus on the pantheon of my personal cult, I do so as chief celebrant, congregation and deified intermediary, or demi-god. All actions of spiritual alignment done through this pantheon are neither narcissistic nor are they egotistical. The self that is being glorified has nothing to do with what I call the “petty” ego, or the lower self. That self which I glorify is my higher self, and according to Eastern philosophy, there is no real difference between my true self as Godhead and the ultimate Godhead - they are one and the same! (The problem is learning to master that lesson in the real world and not become something of a raving lunatic.)
Devotion: These are the primary liturgical practices that include offerings, sacrifices and spiritual service done in the name of the Deity. Offerings include votive offerings, along with prayers and intentions to connect and to dwell in the spiritual essence of that Godhead. Sacrifices are gifts given directly to the Deity, or things that are given up for that Deity. Offerings and sacrifices can be in the form of flowers, incense, food and drink. Fasting is also a form of sacrifice, and so is the isolation of goods and implements to be used solely for the services to that Godhead. Spiritual service is fundamentally what is given first to the shrine of the Deity in the form of upkeep and work, and secondly, as service to the community. These services are done without compensation, so they could also be seen as a form of sacrifice.
Invocation: This is where the chief celebrant summons the spiritual essence of the Godhead into some kind of material manifestation, however subtle. Invocations can be commands, but they are more often enticements, flattery and adoration (like the talk of a lover to his or her beloved). Invocations are therefore often hymns, paeans, orisons as well as summoning with words of power and glorification. This is usually directed to a statue lovingly placed on a shrine or even to a person masquerading as the Deity. Such a focus of invocation and devotion is to a magical being called an Eidolon, and it is often a very magickal occurrence.
Communion: This where material objects are imbued with a spiritual essence, making them into sacraments. Generating sacraments can only be done through the mediation of the Godhead, so that spiritual presence must first be tangibly materialized before the process of sacramentation can be performed. It is also assumed that the sacraments represents something material associated with the body of that Godhead. Although salt and water, wine and cakes are the typical medium for sacraments, representing the tears/sweat, blood and flesh of the Deity, other materials can be made into sacraments as well. These would include oils, balms, perfumes, lotions, and even certain types of food. All of these are considered to be products of the Body of the Godhead or at least the abundant products of that Deity’s grace. Sacraments can be used to charge other items, such as magical tools, vestments, sigils, talismans, or even the body of the magician itself through a sacramental bath and anointing. Rituals of communion are often variations on the magical Mass rite
Assumption: The greatest test of any spiritual alignment is the sacral rite of Godhead assumption. This rite can assume many different forms, but the end result is where the celebrant assumes the identity and character of the target Godhead through the use of an intense trance technique, identification process and the magical techniques of opening the gateway of the soul. What actually occurs is that the Yechidah emerges into consciousness in the guise of the spiritual essence of the target Godhead. In this manner the magician’s higher self as God/dess Within becomes fully embodied within the conscious being of the magician, however briefly and to whatever depth. Other assumption rites would include the Bornless One invocation, the Rite of the Beautification, and the Abramelin Ordeal (either solar or lunar based). All of these rites are of a strategic magical character and could hardly ever be a part of a monotheistic religious rite or a mystical religious rite, since they would be considered spiritually arrogant, idolatrous or highly blasphemous in nature. (Hindu and Western Paganism, of course, would be exempt from this consideration.)
So, these are the four practices of alignment which I use in my theurgistic form of ritual magick. While some of them might be considered rather pious and mystical in nature, but taken as a whole and within the context of the higher self as the primary Godhead and the obvious artifice of ritual magick, they are decidedly antithetical to religious orthodoxy and contrary to a mystical spiritual discipline. Still, such practices, although highly magical, also incorporate mystical elements, therefore, I can say without any guilt or contradiction that I am a magician practicing a form of ritual magick that blends religious liturgy with the techniques of high magick. Yet and even so, I am not a mystic!