Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Purpose of Working Magick - IMO

Over the course of several weeks, perhaps even months, various writers in the blogosphere have been opining about using magick to cause shifts in probability, bending reality or producing outright miracles, either through the “Black Swan” paradigm or by just expecting magick to produce what it has been advertised to produce since earliest times. It would seem that magick is perceived as just a mechanism for causing change to occur according to the magician’s will, in some form or another. However, as the ever dissenting voice that is raised in contrast to the present ululations of how magick should work (miracles vs. probability shifts), I wonder aloud if the real purpose of magick has somehow been lost or just omitted.

This brings to mind a question that I have probably answered more than once over the course of the last year and a half, which I have written in articles posted to this blog, and that question is “why do we work magick?” Do we work magick to just make our lives more advantageous, blessed with material success and personal power? Is that the purpose for magick? Or do we work magick to cause godlike miracles to occur, showing ourselves to be godlike and almighty. Does magick, properly coordinated and worked, make the magician operator into a guaranteed winner?

Of course, for every winner there are a lot of losers, this is true in sports as well as life. For every miracle sought, very, very few ever manifest.  Still, a more simplistic judgement is that the only success in life is survival, and that everything else is merely superfluous. That would translate into the rule of thumb that if you have survived your ordeals in life, no matter what they are, then you are a success. The downside to that logic is that eventually everyone dies, so at some point in life, everyone is a loser.

Success, just like any condition of good fortune is, unfortunately, very ephemeral, whatever ruler you use to judge it. In the greater scheme of things, a person is born, lives, and then later dies, regardless of how great, successful, humble or inadequate - death is great equalizer, as always. This is why the Tarot Trump, “Wheel of Fortune” is such a compelling study for those who seek to master their lives, or at least, it should be. Next to that card in importance is Death and the Hanged Man, but that is another topic altogether.

Yet we still haven’t answered the most essential question as to why we work magick. If life is full of chance occurrences, opportunities, disasters, and a lot of boring same-ness, then applying magick to life situations may improve them, perhaps slightly or even better, but more often it doesn’t make a real lot of difference in the long run. The real purpose to working magick, in my humble opinion, is to cause just one great but essential miracle to occur, and that is the miracle of total godhead assumption and all that proceeds from that achievement.

Other names for this achievement are enlightenment, achievement of Atman (God/dess Within), conscious illumination, cosmic consciousness, Godhead realization, the immortality of individual consciousness and the ability to accept the role of divine mediator, to do whatever is required, however great or small. To be a functional spiritual avatar doesn’t mean that you are suddenly a great person endowed with godlike powers, it means that you understand your purpose and role in life, and seek to unthinkingly and selflessly perform it.

What that means is that the petty ego and it’s needs for status, power, wealth, love and happiness are completely subsumed to the point where they are no longer even relevant. It requires the greatest sacrifice that one can offer. That sacrifice is the willing abrogation and elimination of the outer external self, which is shown to be an illusion and an obstacle to perfectly channeling the Godhead. That, in my opinion, is the purpose of working magick. Wealth, career success, fame, glory, the adoration of the crowd, sexual gratification, these are the many illusions and delusions that confront both mystic and magician alike, and seek to upend and thwart the simple and pure aspiration for union with the One.  

If you think for a moment of what it must be like attaining union with whatever you perceive as the Godhead, and then trying to imagine how that would personally affect you if it did indeed occur, it would suddenly seem kind of odd to think about all of the small things that beset you in your current life situation. They would have receded far into the background of what would be a completely new and redefined existence. It would also make the endless pursuit after the various material accouterments of a comfortable and successful life seem sort of small and petty, and indeed, in the larger scheme of things, they would be.

Does that mean that striving to better ourselves in the material world is a fruitless pursuit, a folly that will cause us to be distracted at best, suborned in our spiritual search at worst? No it doesn’t somehow mean that all material pursuits are wrong or misguided. We do what we have to do to maximize our potential, but we do it both within a material and spiritual dimension. All the while we are living and struggling with our material existence, we should never loose our focus on that ultimate achievement, which is union with the Godhead. Everything that we do should selflessly and relentlessly promote our ultimate spiritual apotheosis, anything else is a distraction. Our True Will should be to achieve that perfect union with the One, and all that we engage in and encounter should merely aid in that process.

In my first published book, “Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick,” I wrote some pretty compelling things in regards to the seeker and what he or she is seeking, and also what can cause that search to fail or come to grinding halt. I would like to quote from that section of the book (chapter 3.6, pages 83 - 85), using the more raw pre-published text because it manages to express these ideas in a more direct manner. I’ll let you be the judge, and see if this section doesn’t succinctly answer the question as to why we should work magick and what our ultimate goal should be. To achieve at-one-ment with the Godhead is to take a profound journey through the strata of higher consciousness, but the goal is never to glorify in the achievement or the outward effects, but to unswervingly seek the goal itself.

“Ken Wilber, in his book, ‘The Atman Project’ (chapter 13, p. 183 - 185) outlines the difficulties and the challenges that one must face in order to truly gain, in a permanent fashion, these higher states of consciousness. Whether one is aware of it or not, we’re all seeking enlightenment. It’s the fundamental drive that pushes all of us through the vicissitudes of life. However, there are forces within us that disguise our motives or lock us in a static mental state of development where complacency and comfort are far more important than gaining any kind of new vista or spiritual perspective in life. We all begin our paths with the same objective, union with the All, but very early we are thwarted by the necessities of life, and we must at some point return to the fundamental quest of all being-ness, if we are to find true fulfillment and completion. We should make certain we always question our motives and the nature of our quest in life, so that we have not substituted our goal of perfect at-one-ment of Atman for some kind of imperfect and shallow surrogate, an ‘Atman Project.’

The ultimate nature of reality, according to Wilber, is an emptiness or voidness, but one that is not a true emptiness that is void of all forms or features. It is also a unified field of holism, where all space and time, and even consciousness itself is part of one seamless whole. The ultimate reality and the ultimate state of consciousness are one and the same, a kind of ‘super conscious All’ (p. 184). This unity is the only true reality, and all else is an illusion, particularly anything that is egoically or independently real. Even in the nature of Deity itself, there is only the timeless, transcendent one-ness, and so there is no difference between anything, even between man and God. What this entails is that we’re all part of a greater whole, and that magick is a process that has validity and power because of this wholeness, and cannot be comprehended outside of this unity of being and its various conscious derivatives, since it operates on and through that wholeness.

To be an individual, even an individual god, is to exist in an illusion, since everything is truly one and indivisible. We exist as separate entities glorifying in our uniqueness and our individuality, but we are also seemingly always seeking for something apart from ourselves, and that quest is also an illusion, since everything is whole and subsumed into the oneness. Therefore, living beings, in order to function and survive, have learned to suppress this perception of one-ness, since at the level of the undeveloped or Typhonic state it would lead to a disintegration of the self. At the trans-personal or Centauric level, the boundaries between the oneness and our individuality must be breached, and done so in a manner that does not destroy that individual, but illuminates one instead. Therefore, we live through the illusion of individual entities existing in space and time in order to function, but the irony is that we must transcend this state because it is a barrier to attaining the highest levels of consciousness. What this means is that whether or not we are aware of it, our ultimate quest is for oneness and unity, the ‘rediscovery of this infinite and eternal wholeness’ (p. 184).

Before the emanation of spiritual creation, where Spirit was imbedded in matter, there was the wholeness that is oneness, and we seek that wholeness that is [a] oneness within ourselves. That is the nature of the spiritual quest that the seeker seeks - to be one within the wholeness of the All, our perception of Atman, or God/dess Within.

However, the means to obtaining this sublime state necessitates the death or dissolution of the ego. This perception of ego death is frightening to the individual, especially at the Centauric level, since the ego has become invested with autonomy, and seemingly drunk on its own empowerment and uniqueness. The irony is that to die, the seeker learns to truly live and perceive reality as it actually is, without the limitations of time and space. But getting past that boundary is the most difficult task that seekers can face, and usually they become trapped into accepting their own ego as a surrogate god, thus denying their ability or willingness to evolve to the next higher level. Many occultists have failed this greatest test. Yet the desire for attaining those higher states, and the union of All-Being continues its alluring and seductive siren call, and we as seekers always seem to hear and are drawn to it. It is the ultimate approach-avoidance conflict.

It’s for this reason, because we greatly desire this ultimate achievement and we also greatly fear it, that we end up choosing surrogates instead of actual transcendence. Substitutes range greatly in terms of their variety, and they are usually huge distractions that take the seeker far away from true attainment, such as the usual sensual additions of food and drink, drugs, sex, fame, money, power, and knowledge, but also hidden addictions, such as hubris, self-righteousness, prejudice, misplaced or false piety, cynicism, apathy, and a loss of soul. All seekers truly seek for is the attainment of oneness, but what they actually get if they fail the test is a substitute gratification that makes them think that they have achieved the great quest. Therefore, we must always carefully examine our motives, and ask ourselves the fatal question - are we truly seeking Atman, or are we engaging in a diversion? That question can’t be quickly or easily answered, but we must be aware of what is motivating us, and at what level of our being. At some point in the career of magicians, they must step outside themselves and transcend all of these prior limitations, or be faced with living out their lives with those same limitations forever haunting them. They must [instead] cease working magick, and instead become the magick.”

I hope that this helps to convince my readers that the true purpose of magick is union with the One, and that all else is a potential diversion, an “Atman project” instead of true Atman.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. To me it seems that while it is an error to treat magick as nothing more than a way to get cool stuff, it is a similar error to see it as nothing more than a way to expand and illuminate your consciousness. Practiced properly it seems obvious to me that it should be both.

    I have an excellent book on the Tibetan Vajrayana practice of the Medicine Buddha, who is said to confer good health and freedom from illness. In it, the author clearly outlines the purpose of this practice in terms that are perfectly applicable to any form of magick. He states that while meditating on anything will eventually lead you to enlightenment, meditating upon the Medicine Buddha will ensure that in the meantime you and your family members will be blessed with good health.

    I've long been of the opinion that practical results and mystical realizations should go hand in hand, especially given that virtually all of the great mystics of the past are said to have performed miracles. What this means is that without the ability to do some sort of Godhead assumption practical magick just isn't that powerful. Even Joseph Lisiewski who set off the "phenomena junkie" school of magick describes what sounds an awful lot like Godhead assumption in Ceremonial Magick and the Power of Evocation.

    The flip side of this is that any highly realized mystic should be a successful person by whatever terms he or she defines success. This of course doesn't mean that whoever has the most money is the most successful magician or anything ridiculous like that, but if somebody is claiming to be highly realized and at the same time their life is completely miserable and out of control odds are that they are not as realized as they believe themselves to be.

  2. Thanks for this post, Frater.

    All this is very wonderful and needs to be restated time and time again. Your description of the required illusion of separateness ('the lie that all men believe')and the need to transcend it, is very clear.

    Personally, I like the Tibetan Buddhist approach (Sutra, Tantra and Vajrayana) of performing a dedication of the blessings of our magic to all beings. This is done by our illusory (conventional) self but acknowledges the interdependence of all (hence unity and non-existence). So it is a statement of reality before we start our magic. Additionally, its generation of compassion within us awakens the higher subtle bodies which helps to ensure we are not attached to the outcome of the magic on the lower astral levels, which as you know hinders the outcome greatly.

    Thanks again for this great post - hope your teachings are being received well within your communities. :)

  3. @Ananael - with all due respect, I think that the message of this article can be summed up as - purpose of magick = union with God = Great Work. All magick worked must either support the Great Work or distract from it. Balance is always recommended, but the Great Work is the Great Work.

    @Peregrin - Thanks for the comments, I am more aligned (at this time) with the Indian Tantra perspective as well as western pagan approaches (Great Rite, etc.).

  4. I find this assertion that the only purpose of existence is to return to the Godhead in virtually all of the writing on ceremonial magic I've encountered. To me it seems to beg an important question: why incarnate at all? Why should the all-knowing, all-powerful One bother to give birth to the world of phenomenal existence if the only thing it's going to do once it's there is try to get back to the source?

    One answer is that it was some kind of cosmic accident, that the Godhead kind of shat out Malkuth and then got stuck in its own dung. This is more or less the perspective of the early Gnostic Christians and in my opinion it fails to really account for the tremendous symmetry and beauty present in the natural world. Then you have what you might call the Solomon's Temple answer, which is that the whole universe was built as a kind of shrine in honor of the Creator. But that kind of navel-gazing doesn't really fit with my idea of the Ultimate, Perfected Truth. If you're already perfect and complete as you are then why do you need to build a big statue to remind yourself of it?

    The only answer that makes sense to me is a variation of the one Peter Carroll gave when he wrote Liber Null. That answer is that total nonduality, absence of all form and quality, and formless light just get boring after a while. Yes, it's blissful, but after a few cosmic aeons you might find yourself wanting a few qualities, just to play with. So you build yourself a universe that's maybe less perfect than you are, but a lot more interesting. And you leap into it and lose yourself in the exuberance of your play.

    This, to me, is what karma means--nothing more and nothing less than the Supreme Source's fervent desire for material existence and all the suffering and pleasure that go with it. And you won't leave until you've spent all your desire and grown bored and tired of the game. Just like Jesus said: "no one who does not hate the world will come to the kingdom of heaven." (That's a paraphrase, I'm too lazy to go look up the exact Bible verse) The Clear Light plays with its toys until it's no fun anymore, and then it goes back to being formless and unmanifest for a while, until it gets bored of that and the whole cycle starts again.

    From this perspective, personal illumination is more about letting the Godhead shine through you to enhance your play. And in this context the idea of using magic to attain your desires is not an abomination at all. It doesn't mean you try to dominate every aspect of your life, because then you end up in the same conundrum:there's no challenge or excitement anymore. And it doesn't mean you don't have compassion for other sentient beings, because the process of building your magical ability teaches you that they too are parts of yourself. But it does mean that it's ok to do things just for fun--that, after all is what You were doing already. It's a question of realizing that it's a game and you are all the players.

    The Tibetan Dzogchen tradition says that you are enlightened at this very moment, it's just that you don't know it. And THAT, to me, is what the Great Work is about: not merging back into the All, but realizing you never left it in the first place.

  5. @Anonymous - some good points. I think that Lao Tzu said it well in the first chapter of Tao Te Ching - "Ever desire-less, one can see the mystery, ever desiring, one can see the manifestation. These two spring from a common source, but differ in name." The irony of the path of enlightenment is that you are already enlightened, but you still need to go through the process to realize it.

    Ritual magick and mysticism (east or west) have the same goals, but their methods of accomplishing this and what one does after attainment are quite different. What I am proposing is based on the perspective of ritual magick as it is practiced in the Western Mystery tradition. This is, obviously, only one single perspective among many.

    As for the why and wherefore of creation, involution and evolution, I think that they are innate, part of the process, as it were. Neoplatonists taught that emanation was continuous and eternal. To them there was no past or future, only the eternal now of the One. I find myself agreeing with that particular point.

    I also believe that to attempt to understand the nature of cosmos and Spirit from the standpoint of human consciousness is probably fruitless. To say that everything is because the One is bored is kind of silly, and not particularly meaningful when considering a completely non-dual form of unified consciousness.

  6. You're right, it would be very silly if I was speaking literally. You can't talk about this kind of stuff without using metaphor, and when I say the Spirit is bored I'm being metaphorical. What I mean is that if we are on some level the same as the Ultimate, and it's our desires that are keeping us here in cyclic existence, then on some level the Ultimate wants to be here. If you accept that non-duality is the fundamental nature of reality, then those "base" desires for wealth, sex, and excitement are also the desires of That Which Is.

    Again, I want to stress that I'm not denigrating the Work or suggesting that there's no value in realizing oneness with all. I just think that once you have achieved that oneness you have to confront the fact that this great Truth that you are has created this world by the force of its love for material existence. Our grossest impulses come from the same Source as our subtlest; who are we to say that they're less important? They make the world what it is. What's important is that we do what we do with eyes wide open.

    I realize as I type this that I sound a little arrogant, and I want to say that I mean all this as creative speculation and not a dogmatic assertion. I actually am something of a beginner to the spiritual quest and I guess maybe when I get to where some of you guys are my perspective will be different. But I've done a lot of thinking and a fair amount of listening to the silence behind the words in my head; I've believed and rejected a lot of different things. And the times I feel most connected to the Spirit are those when I'm able to participate in the chaos of life with joy and acceptance, knowing that whatever is behind the veil of Maya wants me exactly where I am. And even my "basest" drives are a part of that endlessly unfolding process.