Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Some Interesting Thoughts About Magic

These days of winter, while I engage in long hours of working in Richmond on an IT project, my thoughts find themselves puzzling over this arcane subject of magic, writing words that are somewhat poetic and yet cut through my many years of magical belief and practice, and I think, my overall hubris. As a magician I am seemingly forever plagued by the folly of men and women, and by my own folly, as well. We are all fools, but may we find some wisdom in our folly.

There is something that has always amazed me about the study and practice of magic, particularly in how it is marketed to others, to the uninitiated or unenlightened. Life has boundaries and limitations, and nothing can miraculously change that fact. We are born, we live and then, hopefully later on, we die. It is an unalterable fact of existence. Magic is a phenomenon that lives between these limitations, seemingly giving the promise of escape, but never really producing it. The seductive promise of unearned wealth, health, fame and fortune is always a part of the mystique of the art of magic, but for those who are seduced by it, it is a way of delusion and a harmful deviation from the true path of magic. Like all paths of wisdom, whether they be religious, mystical, or magical, the way itself is hard and the upkeep of such a discipline amounts to something of a burden to life, which is already burdened by limitations and ultimately, death. We need to keep this in mind, for magic is a path of wisdom, first and foremost. All else is but a fool’s errand. 

The true path of magic is a path of gnosis, self-transformation, and a discipline that requires decades to finally reveal its overall goal; the realization of the true state of the world and one’s place within it. The cycle of this continual revelation is a form of katabasis, the ascent and descent that is a major part of the cycle of life and death - from this is the gateway of true awakening. Yet the enlightenment that is achieved is more of a surrender and immersion into what is grounded in the simple truth of life and existence. We already know this truth when we start our path, but we truly realize it in the core of our being when we finally reach our end. All of the seductions, the myths, mysteries, fantasies of the domain of magic melt away to reveal the greater truth, which is the revelation of the true self that is interdependent, finite, empty of individuality, but united with all of conscious sentient life. In this place there is no death, no fear, and no sense of an immortal self - just the full and vibrant emptiness of the ocean of consciousness and the endless emergence and divergence of a myriad of continuation bodies. These leap momentarily into life and then fade back down into the oceanic ground of consciousness, where all being and all life resides.

Therefore, to continue to pursue unearned and fantastical things that might but never will be, the errant magician misses the greatest signal message of the import and meaning of life. He passes through the illusions and delusions that beguilingly assail him and is consumed by their promises, filled with hope and motivated by fear. He talks to ghosts and spirits, and sends them on mindless errands, and uses his all too subtle paranormal abilities to influence events that ultimately lead to nowhere. He listens not to the gods or to his spirits, seemingly and insularly absorbed and otherwise engaged with his ego-driven passions and fantasies, and in the end, does little more than what he might have done without all of the pretense. That is the folly of magic, and it is also the folly of religion and mysticism.

Even so, the truth is all around us, at all times, but it is both sweeter than heaven’s balm and more bitter than death. If we could, but for a moment, harness our magical beliefs and viewpoints to realize the world as it truly is then the magic we work might be the greatest thing that we have ever done. Yet the mystery of this magic is that it is empty of self, liberating and disengaging. Instead of grasping for the material gain as all magic seems to do, we let go, and deal with the world with an open hand and a mindful heart.

These are some of thoughts that I have been having lately, as I continue my Buddhist studies and feel them mingle with my thoughts and practices of magic. It seems that I am formulating a new kind of magic, but I suspect that it is just the culmination of many decades of puzzling over the art of magic, and seeking to know what it really means and where it ultimately leads, for all those who are following it.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. People really practice magic because they think it will make them rich? Because I’m pretty sure it said “Knowledge and conversation of your holy guardian angel” on the first page. Help you get into a good career that suits you sure, but rich? I thought people studied magic because it was in their blood.

  2. While I agree that many of the hucksters out there pushing magick as an effortless universal panacea are fundamentally ridiculous, I also think that this pushes a little too far in the opposite direction. Practical magick is not all-powerful, and it takes real work to get good results. At the same time, it is far from pointless. True, from the Buddhist all-skandas-are-empty perspective it is, but that's the case with everything else too.

    Practical magick is not some special case - it's a human skill like any other. One could argue from that perspective that there was never any real point in my learning the complex technical skills that make me good at my job, because striving is grasping and grasping is one of the roots of suffering. But in practical terms, there's a difference between living in a crappy apartment working a low-paying job and the life I've built for myself.

    From a universal standpoint, it doesn't matter one bit. Everything I've built is impermanent, and I'll die someday no matter what I accomplish. But so what? My life as I've created over the years is fun. I see practical magick precisely the same way. The science is in the how, and the art is in the why, and I am of the opinion that regardless of whether any "permanent" objective is achieved, the point of it is the journey and how creative you can be along the way.

    What you're talking about doesn't sound like a new kind of magick that nobody has ever seen. It sounds just like Dzogchen or Mahamudra, two traditions that have been part of Vajrayana Buddhism for over a thousand years. I will also say that if somebody came to me with the sole objective of attaining the enlightened mind, one of those traditions is what I would tell them to study. Western magick is more complex, and our meditation methods are not nearly as mature as those from the Buddhist system.

    On the other hand, if somebody came to me wanting to also transform their external circumstances, I would tell them to study magick instead. As I see it, practical magick is where the Western system excels. Focusing on anything as your object of meditation will eventually lead you to enlightenment, but in the meantime, why not cultivate practical skills that will help you enjoy the journey more? Even in Buddhism, they say "may all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness." Why neglect the latter?

    My last observation is that in today's world, "unearned" is a very fungible concept. Sure, a lot of beginners want practical magick that is super-easy to do and produces big results, and that sort of thing is the esoteric equivalent of snake oil. Effective practical magick takes work. But it also is true that hardly anybody at the top of our society "earned" their way there in any meaningful sense. They either inherited a bunch of money, or were in the right place at the right time and took advantage of an essentially random opportunty.

    The practical magician in me says that since "unearned" stuff is handed out pretty much randomly to people all the time, I'm going to do some practical work to make it more likely that I'm one of those people. And I could also make the argument that the fact that I did the magical work in the first place means that I did more to "earn" it than an individual who just stumbled upon it.

  3. There are two quotes that immediately came to mind reading this and the comments. One is "Magick is the Science and Art of causing change to occur in conformity with will" and "It should never be forgotten for a single moment that the central and essential work of the Magician is the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Anything that deviates from this is sheer sorcery."

    Sure, it's fun and interesting to do an operation for something and to have some synchronicity manifest itself, but it's more fruitful to think about what this is telling you about the Universe and how it operates. It might even suggest to you that cause and effect are not what they seem. Isn't that also the point of contacting one's HGA (or as I've also seen it referred to as one's "future magical self")? To realize that some might want to say that it is an aspect of yourself, but you know that it is decidedly NOT that because "self" isn't applicable? (Not to mention the sheer fun of it paralleling with Zen in the "not that!" way)

    Doesn't this also smack of Advaita Vedanta and the non-dual? Take away the cultural superstitions of Buddhism and what's left starts to look suspiciously like what Magick is driving at beneath its cultural superstitions and affectations which, I might add, also appear in Buddhism (levitating, manifesting riches, walking on water, etc). I would add a twist. For me, Buddhism is too nihilistic in that if all there is, is the non-dual, then whatever is here is pointless because the non-dual cannot be changed or affected by any experience; by definition, all there is, is ALL experience. This would mean that the non-dual is, in truth, dual if it is to notice that experience. For me, that's where the endgame breaks down. I leave anyone reading to ponder, then, what Magic might say about this as opposed to typical non-dualist philosophies.