Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Where to Start Out With Magic

It’s been quite a while since I posted a really large article that is full of useful and interesting information. Now that things are starting to become more settled in my life, I can have more time to engage in my pastime, which is writing long articles to my erstwhile readers. I know that I have probably lost part of my audience, but hopefully word of mouth will spread the news that I am once again in the writing mode and imparting what I hope will be helpful advice to both the beginner and the accomplished practitioner. So, I present you here with this newly minted article. Although some of the information has been stated in previous articles, it represents how I perceive the magical world and its process at this time and place. Also, Happy Solstice!

The Teacher is a “Dick”

There is an old adage that “everyone has to start somewhere” and it is quite adequately applied to the art and mastery of ritual magick. Whenever I read about someone making light of another magician’s methodologies on social media, particularly if it is someone who has just recently started on the magical path, it does irritate me. There is no one single correct way to practice or study magic, but there are some basic approaches one can take to ensure a balanced and purposeful progress.

However, I think that shaming or ridiculing someone for practicing magic in a certain way or for possessing certain supposedly unenlightened beliefs about technical matters is despicable, small minded and contemptuous. I leave the arguments for the bigger issues, such as whether one’s belief about the world and their place in it is inclusive or exclusive, whether one is spiritually egalitarian or spiritually fascist. It does make a profound difference in the magic that one performs, but that is for other articles and considerations - this one is just about that humble place where all magicians start out and where they might end up if they persist.

I will state that those of us who have been working magic for many years need to use a certain amount of compassion when interacting with those who have recently begun their path. As I have stated, everyone has to start somewhere, and I have proof that some of the ideas that even I have followed and promoted, from my earliest days to recently, have been found to be wanting or even just plain wrong. Yes, I admit it, I have made mistakes. I have held ideas and opinions that later turned out to be wrong. When confronted by this knowledge, I have decided to change my ideas and opinions instead of perpetuating my errors.

Discovering mistakes and discarding out-dated perspectives is just a part of the natural progression of magical growth; but the worst thing an experienced practitioner can do is to either mock or make light of someone else’s beliefs or methodologies. This is because arrogantly making light of someone not only hurts the one being corrected, but it make others less likely to listen to what that supposed teacher might have to say in the future.

Who wants to trust someone who treats the less experienced seekers that he meets on social media as idiots or humiliates and traumatizes them, thus quelling their spirit of inquiry? I say to the beginning student that when an experienced practitioner treats you with contempt and acts like a “dick” just move on and ignore them. Whatever constructive things they might have taught you will be lost due to no fault of your own, but because the said “teacher” is too ego-bound and narcissistic to be trusted with imparting unbiased knowledge or lore. 

Let me give you an example. If I am talking to someone who has either used or is still using the Simon version of the “Necronomicon” as their grimoire of choice, I would neither mock them nor deride them for making this choice. I would understand it as just one of the easily accessible tools on the way to an evolving practice of magic. Regardless of the fact that the Necronomicon is a recently fabricated grimoire first promoted as the most dreadfully potent magical tome by the horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft, I would refrain from mocking that person or deriding them for their supposed poor choice in magical sources.

I have observed, over time, others using the Simon Necronomicon and obtaining good results, and I even toyed with it a bit when it first came out years ago. If such youthful magicians would ask my opinion about the use of this grimoire, I would tell them that there are better sources of lore; but I wouldn’t insult them for pursuing this line of work. The mere fact that they are trying to find their way and developing their own practice of ritual magic has my utmost respect and admiration - even more so if they continue with that path and evolve to the point of using more sophisticated lore. This is a path that I myself walked decades ago.

I try to treat anyone I meet on the path of magic with a certain amount of respect and dignity for their personal work, feelings and perceptions; knowing that they are trying to make this grand old art-form function for themselves, and that such work is both honorable and an important part of their own personal spiritual path. This makes me listen and think first before trying to insert myself in someone else’s magical business in order to correct methodologies that appear to me to be based on spurious and specious ideas about magic.

Anyone who practices their art for very long learns about these things and discards poor or weak forms for stronger and better ones. However, there are those who seem to persist for a long time in pursuing their follies and who am I to stop them? What I try to avoid is acting like a dick and judging other people’s ways of working magic. I have come to this perspective, unfortunately, rather recently, since like other authors, I have felt the need to correct the vices and erroneous perceptions of others without having first done that work on myself. Yes, I too have behaved like a dick to beginning students in the past, but hopefully I have long since mended my ways.

Now that I have been deeply exposed to Zen Buddhism, I am less prone to being judgmental and more open to accepting other people’s opinions whether I agree with them or not. Mindfulness has helped me curb some of my arrogance and certainties, and made me more thoughtful and observant. This is something that should happen to all experienced and knowledgeable practitioners, in my opinion. Still, there are facts and truth out there, and not all opinions are gold.

Learning Magic is Like a Living Tree

I have discussed previously what I think is likely the most basic progression for the attainment and mastery of magic, but I find that it warrants repetition from time to time. You can find one of my earlier articles here and there, but I will endeavor not to repeat myself and not refer to any specific magical tradition or organization, including my own - something that I haven’t done in previous articles. You can envision the path of mastering magic like a living tree that has five basic branches, and I would call that tree the “Process.” The five branches represent the basic five areas of study and practice. I am breaking it down into five branches since that will simplify our discussion, but a more realistic appraisal of adopting a magical regimen is that it ends up affecting everything that a person does, whether magical or mundane.

Here are the five branches.

1. Self Mastery - meditation, yoga, concentration, contemplation, mindfulness, occult studies, diet and regular exercise (body and mind)
2. Divination - Tarot, Astrology, I-Ching, Geomancy, clairvoyance (scrying), dice or coins (knuckle bones), pendulum, dowsing
3. Religious or Spiritual Practices - calendric rites and practices, offerings, fasting, feasts, sacralization (making sacraments), invocation, godhead assumption, communion
4. Strategic performance of magical rituals and ceremonies - praxis - this branch can be broken into a number of different and similar practices - more about that later in this article
5. Magical discipline - periodic, repetitious practices and regular, consistent work

In addition to these five branches there is also the consideration of whether one engages in magic using a traditional regimen (typically associated with some magical organization), an eclectic (or chaotic) regimen or a reconstructionist regimen. Each methodology is somewhat different and has its own kind of approach, training and expectations - each one has its own virtues and limitations. I will briefly discuss these as well.

First of all let us look more closely at these five branches and seek to carefully define them, since they will be (hopefully) repeated in whichever regimen or path that one chooses.

Self Mastery

Self mastery is one of the more important branches, since this where the magical work has its core and baseline. A magician must be able to discipline his or her mind, so performing regular exercises to affect this end is mandatory. This would include the variations of meditation, concentration, contemplation, bodily exercises, such as yogic stretching and stress removal, the body scan and the practice of mindfulness, but it would also include those studies, disciplines and exercises that would strengthen one’s ability to think in a manner that is logical and discerning. Critical thinking is as important to the practice of magic as it is to the practice of science. Also, it is important for the student magician to read, study and also to write. Keeping some kind of record or magical diary will become ever more important as the magician engages in a more complicated and technical ordeal-style of magical workings.

Additionally, studying a wide range of topics would also be important, including history, anthropology, psychology, biology, neuroscience, astronomy, philosophy, art, religion, various occult topics such as the Qabalah, astrology, western and eastern mythology, symbology, the divination arts, eastern and western mysticism, and the practice of magic throughout the world and throughout history. Once could also study chemistry, alchemy, physics, mathematics, and any number of dead and living languages, such as Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Coptic, or Italian, French and German. There are no limits to the training and education of a magician. Leave no stone unturned is a good adage.

Divination Practices

Included with studies and practices of the mind are the techniques and exercises that assist the student in widening their world by enhancing the native psychic abilities of clairvoyance and clairaudience. Being able to see visions of the hidden worlds, and to hear the spoken words of disembodied beings as well as of the deities is a very important talent that the magician must develop in some manner or to some degree. To assist this development are various tools, such as magic mirrors and scrying stones, Tarot cards, I-Ching coins, dousing rods and pendulums, rune stones, geomancy sticks, dice (knuckle bones or even many sided dice), and numerous other obscure methods for channeling subtle and psychic communications.

Divination assists the magician in determining the nature of the unseen and unseeable worlds of spirit, to communicate with spirits and deities and to intuit secret or hidden things in the past, present or the future. It helps him or her to project their senses beyond the ordinary world and into the domain of spiritual consciousness. This is a form of the magician’s spirit vision, or even as a kind of astral projection, which a trained and experienced magician will develop as a sixth sense to help him or her to engage with entities and topological domains that exist within the nearly limitless space of consciousness. Divination is an important key to that world.

In addition to psychic methods of divination is the practice of astrology and astronomy, which is very important to the practice of magic. Whereas divination properly seeks to peer beyond the veil and engage with unseen entities in their world and to understand the binding connection between the spirit and material worlds (past, present and future), astrology reveals the symbolic environment and the inner forces that are at play throughout both worlds. Astrology tells the magician about his or her own basic symbolic nature, why something happened in the past and also what might potentially occur in the future. It tells the magician when to act and what he or she can expect from any given magical or mundane action. Psychic divination functions as the magician’s eyes and ears, and astrology is the magician’s watch and calendar.

Religious or Spiritual Practices

A magician, above all, functions as a priest or priestess of his or her own religious cult. That religious cult may be wholly immersed in a traditional religion or it may be completely separate and distinct - a thing unto itself. Religious or spiritual practices are an important activity in the practice of ritual magic because it establishes a deep and strong relationship between the operator and the domain of spirits and magic. It also establishes the foundation for the belief and expectation in working ritual magic, and it elevates the spiritual dimension of individual practitioners, making them capable of working effective magical rituals that can actually change them internally and alter their material circumstances. Without this kind of condition and capability an individual would find it difficult to perform magical rites with any degree of success.

If the magician uses a traditional religion as his or her spiritual foundation then he or she must adhere, within reason, to the tenets of that tradition. If a ritual magician is a practicing Christian, or even a Catholic, then he or she must deal with the accompanying cognitive dissonance of performing what would be considered prescribed or even prohibited practices and beliefs. (A worse case scenario would be for the magician to secretly function as an active apostate to that religious tradition, i.e., a Satanist.)

Taking a more loosely defined adherence to a religious tradition makes the most sense when practicing magic within a religion, or choosing a religion that is more esoteric, occultic or progressively inclined. In the previous epoch magicians incorporated the services of a priest to consecrate magical tools, talismans and vestments, or they were able to supply that capability themselves because they had the authority to sacralize objects. However, a magician who either operates outside of a traditional religion or who has organized his or her own religious cult and who functions as a prelate within that sect has the best of all options in the practice of ritual magick. They can do it themselves based on their own religious authority.

Religious and spiritual practices have a few objectives that become the repertoire of a basic practice of ritual magic. 

The first objective is to elevate the self-image so a person is able to establish the credible belief and confidence that he or she can perform magical rituals that produce effective results. In this fashion a person assumes and becomes the persona of a magician with all of its associated practices and expectations. This means that the individual undergoes some kind of change or basic transformation that allows for paranormal phenomenon to occur, and it colors the way that he or she perceives themselves and the world around them. Self development of a particular kind, such as meditation practices, yoga and breath-control can help to build a foundation; but at some point the erstwhile magician must adopt the persona of a practicing magician.

The second objective is to establish an artificial boundary between a world that is defined by magic and one that is defined as commonplace or mundane. In the material world, which is effectively defined by science, magic doesn’t have any factual basis, but in the world defined by magic, there are subjective powers and forces that can indeed cause the magician and his or her world to change, however modestly or profoundly, in accordance with their will. This boundary starts with the self as defined by magic and continues to define the practices, beliefs and the magical equipment as being set aside from the material world in order to be part of the magical world view.

The third objective is to define the self as a spiritual being residing in a world defined by spirits, magical energies and exemplars of consciousness not defined by science or the material world view. This is, of course, an internal process that also causes an ongoing transformation of consciousness, where the alternate magical definition of the self becomes a principle part of the functioning of that world. This process also gives the magician a kind of authority and spiritual backing to perform magic, unleash metaphorical powers (that might be subtle but actual powers associated with consciousness) and to engage with disembodied entities of variously defined mythical, symbolical  and metaphysical existence. The self also assumes a mythical, symbolical and metaphysical existence as well, so it might engage with these entities and acquire and project paranormal forces and symbolic powers.

Magic as a phenomenon occupies a place in the mind defined by the phrase “As If” that represents a kind of metaphysical and fantasy based mental operation. It can be qualified as an internal process of using symbols, metaphors, myths, and occult predicates to cause actual physical phenomena to occur in addition to the expansion and amplification of individual and collective consciousness. The metaphorical “As If” is the foundation for all of the humanities, the qualities and elements of human culture, and even the definitions, expectations, beliefs and operations of individuals, collective groups and organizations. It is, as a phrase, the basis to what it means to be a functioning and conscious human being. That fulcrum of human consciousness, the assumption of reality that exists as the essence of our being, is something that is usually accepted and not typically challenged by individuals within human cultures and collectives. It is challenged and even overcome by the efforts of artists, musicians, poets, theologians, magicians and madmen. Magicians use this foundational premise to build their practice and belief system of magic, and the religious and spiritual practices they employ make it subjectively realized.

There are five basic routines that a magician performs in order to incorporate religious practices and beliefs into his or her magical practice. These are devotion, invocation, godhead assumption, communion (sacralization) and adopting a quasi religious discipline. These practices assist the magician in meeting the three basic objectives and building up a magical practice based on the full immersion of the magician within the world of spirit and magic. This work, over time, makes him or her an effective channel and arbiter of those two worlds as they merge back into one.

All of these operations are performed not only for the benefit of disembodied entities residing in the conscious continuum of spirit, but also for the benefit of the magician’s self as an exemplar of that domain. In the cult of the magician, it is the magician himself that is the face and the embodiment of the preeminent spirit, thereby making him or her, a deity. Therefore, these practices not only establish a deep relationship between the magician and various entities and powers within the domain of spirit, but it also establishes a powerful relationship between the magician and his or her self defined as a spirit. It is a form of self-worship and self-love that acts as the core or center of the religious cult of the magician. Yet a self defined as a deity is not an amplification of the magician’s mundane ego. Through the power of “As If” it becomes an alternative self that is wholly spiritual and residing fully within the world of spirit and magic.

That alternative magical and spiritual self has had a long history in the practice of magic, and it could be considered a kind of facsimile of the magician, with the caveat that it is a wholly spiritual being. Some of the names for such an entity have been Holy Guardian Angel, familiar spirit, higher self, headless or bornless one, genius, etc. Some will no doubt dispute this comparison as being an over simplification, yet in the practice of modern ritual magic, the most intimate spirit is the self defined as a deity regardless of its other possible comparisons. (I have discussed this at length in my book “Spirit Conjuring for Witches” which I recommend.)

Devotion - these are the practices that identify and establish a relationship between various entities, whether they are deities, demigods, angels, demons, aerial spirits, earth-based spirits or chthonic spirits. They consist of making offerings and maintaining a kind of attentive quid pro quo relationship with those entities that form an integral part of the magician’s religious and spiritual world. Offerings can consist of any combination of food and drink, incense, candle light, poetic words, songs and music. These offerings are given exclusively to the spirits and are not shared with other humans. Included in these offerings are devotions that are focused on the magician as deity, who naturally receives a slightly greater share of this attention, as part of the self-love, self-worship and self-devotion associated with the cult. The reason for self-devotion is that the self as deity represents the lynch-pin for one’s practice of ritual magick.

Invocation - this is the summoning or calling of various aligned spirits to appear and attend the magician. The invocation can also include ringing a bell or striking a gong, playing a flute, singing, clapping hands, or using specific kinds of recorded music to get the attention of the entity so invoked. The invocation can be spoken in appropriate languages (preferably dead) or various barbarous words of power and mystery (verba ignota). The invocation can be to any entity or a group of entities, deities or local spirits, and it serves to verbally objectify the relationship between the summoner and the summoned as well as establish the authorities and credentials of the magician doing the calling. A proper invocation is used on regular and periodic basis to reflexively maintain the connections between the magician and his or her chosen aligned spirits.

Godhead Assumption - this is one of the most important rites that a ritual magician can perform. It is used to maintain the all-important connection between the magician and his or her self as deity. Since I define ritual magic as the mechanism of performing magical operations while under the assumption of a deity then it would follow that regularly performing the godhead assumption rite of the self as deity is a preeminent spiritual practice. This rite represents a varied degree of godhead immersion, from complete conscious immersion and assumption to lesser degrees of immersion, where the magician is still functioning as his magical self partially distinct from his self as deity.

If the magician is not a religious polytheist then this rite would be replaced with periodic immersions in a pious religious practice and deep devotion to a single Deity, as in the case of a monotheistic faith. A godhead assumption would then be more like a scaled down variation of the Abramelin operation, and many of the old grimoires discuss a period of piety and deep devotion that is required before performing a magical operation. (However, Catholic Priests are believed to assume the spiritual persona of Christ while performing the consecration of the host and wine during mass, so it might be possible to perform a degree of that assumption in a Christian practice.)

Communion (sacralization) - once the godhead assumption is established then objects that are used in magic can be blessed and charged with the power and authority of that deity, a process called consecration. It is a method of materializing the power and being of a spirit through the magical operation of contagion. This is a very old practice where a duly elected priest or representative of the deity blesses and sets apart some material thing for purely spiritual purposes. Communion is primarily used to establish a material link between the celebrant, congregants (if there are any) and the focused deity, whether that deity is one that is traditional or a hybridized representation of the magician. This is where salt, water, wine or ale, bread or meat are consecrated for shared consumption. It is where vestments, tools and talismans are charged, oils, perfumes and ointments empowered, and places and individuals are sanctified and blessed.

While the godhead assumption and invocation are used to contact and assume a spiritual entity, the communion rite is where that assumed entity uses its powers and authorities to make plain material objects into sacred substances and magical relics. The more elaborate variation of this rite is the magical mass that is used to facilitate godhead assumption, produce sacramental substances, empower and sacralize a location for the performance of magic, and charge and bless magical instruments. It can also be used to bless and heal individuals or groups of certain physical or psychological maladies. In the system of ritual magic that I perform, the magical mass is the fundamental and core rite that is used for all major workings.

Religious Discipline - this is the ordered and regulated practice of the above four activities (as well as the other practices that a magician adopts) to forge a calendric cycle of religious activity, an important part of the personal cult of the magician. A religious and magical calendar overlays the mundane calendar with spiritual and magical definitions thereby qualifying the secular hours and days of the year. It marks some days as being intrinsically more important than others for magical work.

This calendric cycle is typically based on the diurnal cycle of the day and night defined by planetary hours, the monthly passage of the moon through its phases and the annual passage of the sun through its seasonal changes. The days of the week are also based on the seven planets of the ancients (like the planetary hours) and measures the progression of the moon through its endless phases. The lunar cycle is best represented by what is known in astrology as the lunation cycle, where the phases of the moon are broken up into eight divisions. A lunar cycle is very important to most forms of magical work, and that work is scheduled based on the lunar stages of the lunation cycle. The solar cycle is best represented by the solstices and equinoxes and also by the mid-points between each season representing the high point for each of the four seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter. The solar cycle can be conceptualized as a revolving wheel of the year with eight spokes, which was a basis of the older polytheistic religious liturgical calendars in antiquity and later appropriated (and greatly simplified) for modern Witches and Pagans.

Many religious calendars are loosely based on this basic structure, although traditional religions also offer commemorative celebrations and other historically styled sacred days. Magicians have used these dates in their calendric cycles to represent days that are special and considered auspicious for magical operations, and a calendric cycle is still very important to magical work because it seeks to sacralize time itself. In fact the Catholic liturgical calendar, along with the hourly liturgical office, was used by magicians in the middle ages and the Renaissance as part of the magical religious discipline incorporated by ceremonial magicians.

Strategic Performance of Rituals and Ceremonies

Having adopted a religious discipline, the magician must also practice ritual magic in a periodic and regular manner, developing over time a magical discipline. A magician should perform the categories of self-development (particularly meditation work), divination and religious practices to build a foundation for magical work. However, that work becomes an evolving process of acquiring ever more complex, deep and engaging ritual lore. This is also true of the other practices as well. A magician begins with simple magical workings and evolves to ever greater magical operations. The focus and objective of these magical operations also changes and evolves over time as well. A magician starting out typically focuses on his or her basic needs, such as material and social objectives like money, career, assisting the healing process (or healing others), opening or building relationships, expanding personal influence, gaining valuable self-knowledge and ultimately, complete self mastery.

A magician learns through the accumulation of successes and failures, both magical and mundane. He or she also discovers that some things cannot be changed or avoided, and that accidents can and do happen. Magic is something that the magician can only learn through practice, and like any skill, the more practice he or she engages in will make the magician more skilled and capable. Various books and materials can help and become sources for creative appropriation or traditional adoption. Practicing a lot of magic over time ultimately begins to change the magician in many ways. Although subtle at first, the power of magic most profoundly impacts the inner being and self of the magician, causing him or her to become ever more magical and spiritual while maintaining an effective grasp and command of the material world, the path of true self-mastery.

The steps that a magician takes in order to master the art of magic can vary, and it might also depend on whether the magician belongs to a magical tradition or is a self-determined and eclectic practitioner. However, these are the steps that I believe represent the process by which a magician masters his or her art.

1. Basic magic (also known as Low Magic), spell work (single or complex objectives), developing a magical practice, using basic tropes to acquire material goods and expanding one’s material opportunities, sigil magic, hoodoo, folk magic spells (poppet, composites of herbs, minerals, stones, human/animal artifacts, etc.), divination based insights, uncrossing and bending causal probabilities. Oddly enough, basic magic is never completely discarded until one achieves the higher levels of consciousness and it is no longer relevant.

2. Elemental magic - working with the energy structures of magic, magical energy projection, basic spirit conjuration, basic deity workings, four-fold, eight-fold and sixteen-fold magical structures; working with earth spirits and spirits of place or location. Advanced sigil magic (connected to elemental energy work) and the use of charged/consecrated tools, talismans, herbs, elixirs, relics, medicines and stones (magical lapidary). Elemental magic is an extension of basic magic, and they share many of the same basic beliefs and practices.

3. Planetary and Astrological magic - working with the planetary and astrological signs, symbols, qualities, planetary intelligences and spirits, angels, archangels, olympian spirits, and planetary deities. Talismanic magic is one the primary focuses of this kind of magic, and building, charging and consecrating planetary relics is its practice. The magician uses passive or active techniques to astrologically charge planetary or astrological talismans. The magician may also employ various spirits as agents to do the same kind of work, or to use a combination of talismans and spirits. When adding the 7 planets, 12 zodiacal signs and the 4 elements (along with a unitary sign) to produce the 22/24 magical pathways of the Tree of Life model, a comprehensive system of magical work is realized that links this magic to that of the unified collective known as the Qabalah. The magician can also join the elemental, planetary and zodiacal symbolism with that of the Tarot, thereby producing a comprehensive system of magic based on the extensive symbology of the lesser and greater arcana of the Tarot. This methodology ties together divination and magic into a seamless whole.

4. Magical Evocation magic - working with the various spirit hierarchies for the purpose of engaging, summoning and projecting into the material world the intelligences, authorities and powers of various spirits. Traditional methods, such as those described in the grimmoires of the previous epoch, as well as appropriating and even inventing new systems and methods for conjuring spirits and establishing a mechanism for them to directly impact the material world to fulfill the objectives set in motion by the ritual magician is the focus of this work.

Included with these workings is an eschatology based on the shamanic conception of three spirit worlds connected to the material world through a series of warded and elevated gateways (protected by a gateway guardian) and spirit pathways (ghost paths) that crisscross between the levels of the worlds of spirit and corresponding worlds of mankind. The magician strives to learn to sense, feel, see and hear the subtle phenomena of the domain of spirits and the entities that reside therein. The focus of this work combines the religious cult of the magician with his or her magical work to build a inner shrine of consisting of evoked and activated spirits that emanate from the magician’s sacral core (temple complex) and projected through the material world at large. This is the basis of the magical work known as the Art of Armadel.

This kind of magic also requires the ability of the magician to phase shift consciousness so as to allow him or her to enter into and return from conscious voyages within that domain of spirit in order to engage, parley and establish relationships with all of the various the spirits active in that world. Religious practices are key to building up a hierarchy of spiritual alignments and maintaining them throughout the practice of this magic.

5. Qabalistic magic - this system of magic is focused on building an organized and structured arrangement for all of the symbols and elements of magic and thereby producing a unified series of tables (correspondences) and hierarchical lists thereby relating everything to everything else. Adding the symbology of the elements, planets, the zodiac and the Tarot and tying them to the enumeration of an alphabet, where letters are associated with numbers and when they are added up they correspond to occult and magical symbols, produces a system where sacred text becomes a powerful symbolic magical expression.

The foundation of Qabalistic magic and its associated occult practices is the power and potency of sacred writings, representing the sacred literary basis of a religious magical tradition where words originate matter - thought becomes form, and form establishes substance. This relationship between words (thoughts) and form (matter) is depicted as a model where a number based hierarchical topology represents waves of creative emanations, starting from the most unitary essence and ultimately producing the various evolving layers resulting in the gross formulation of all physical forms. It is represented by a comprehensive symbolic model (such as the Tree of Life) that builds up a unified system of metaphysics and symbolism. As an eschatology, it contains all of the religious, mystical and magical elements and gives them a cause, a structural location and an ultimate resolution or destiny.

The source of all magical structures and symbology are to be found in the sacred writings associated with the baseline religious tradition (Hebrew - Tenach, Greek - New Testament, Arabic - Quran, Sanscrit - Vedas, Coptic - Gnostic writings, English - Book of the Law, etc.), and the different forms of letter to number correspondences produces the web and weave of a spiritualized material world. Perceiving and operating magically and mystically through a sacralized world view is the principle objective for Qabalistic magic. Once it is fully realized and actualized, the magician can symbolically manipulate any material or spiritual element within it to cause changes to occur in the material world. Such an actualized model allows for a direct correspondence between symbolic and actual physical representations through the power of this system and its associated mapping.

6. Theurgic magic - this system of magic concentrates on the transformation of an individual being where he or she becomes the vessel and instrument of the focus of the all-pervading intrinsic godhead infusing the world of consciousness that is also wholly imbued with matter. The purpose of theurgy is to repair the mind-body split and to eliminate duality within normal conscious existence, therefore making it a permanent state. The work of theurgy is to elevate the mind so that higher forms of consciousness (such as various unitary and mystical states) are merged into the mundane state of being. This causes all of the differences between godhead and individual consciousness to be slowly erased.

Theurgic magic consists of magical workings that challenge the essential self definition so that it might be expanded to include the non-dual state of god-consciousness; it is where the transcendental becomes materialized into the magician’s existential reality. These are the kinds of workings that an adept fully engages in, but only when the five other areas of magical expertise are fulfilled in some manner or form. Therefore, the magician has passed through the five elements of a magical practice and has mastered the material and religious domains of his or her existence and has achieved the full awakening of his or her conscious being.

The practical magical workings that are typically part of Theurgic magic are intense and life-challenging transformative ordeals that permanently alter and reshape the conscious being of the individual. Representative ordeals that could be used in this methodology of magic would consist of the rites and practices associated with the Abramelin working, the Bornless One invocation working, the Portae Lucis working, and any number of other types of workings that attempt to realize the transformed self as godhead. Such workings, when performed serially at ever greater degrees of conscious evolution, along with rigorous religious and mystical practices, would ultimately produce a completely awakened or enlightened individual who would possess a heightened state of non-dual conscious awareness. While the other five levels could take several years or decades to master, theurgy takes a lifetime to master, that is if one is even able to ever master it in a lifetime. Few have managed to accomplish that objective.

7. Thaumaturgic magic - if one has wholly assumed the godhead and resides in that unitary cross-roads of fully awakened divine and mundane consciousness, then each and every material action or change affected by that being would in essence be a paranormal occurrence of profound world changing transformations. It could also be something that is even beyond the conscious awareness of normal human beings. Those who have achieved total enlightenment have said that it is both fundamentally important and also, unimportant. That it has changed the one who has undergone it is indisputable, but it typically doesn’t alter one’s immediate life circumstances nor change those bystanders who are unable to either witness or realize it. One who has achieved this degree of self-mastery is still a human being living a simple but exemplary mortal life in the material world, but when an enlightened individual seeks to change the world then it becomes changed forever.

Perhaps the greatest significant decision that a fully enlightened being will make is to decide whether or not to make any changes in the world at all. He or she who has attained this level of conscious evolution will have to determine if the world even needs changing. An enlightened being may decide to communicate this knowledge to a small elect group to preserve its integral message, and that group might then communicate it to the world. He or she might also decide not to attempt such a communication, for whatever reason, and live the life of a recluse. While many forms of magic, from the most simple to the most advanced, seek to change the material world to conform to the magician’s will, it is only the impact of the unitary godhead consciousness that can thoroughly change the world that we live in.

Our history has within it many singular individuals, both great and humble, who achieved a higher evolved consciousness and sought to use that exalted insight to change the world for the good. All spiritual masters, avatars, or arhats, have achieved this state, and many, such as the Buddha, have used it as a fulcrum upon which to change the world. That kind of compassionate, altruistic and self-denying act to change the world so as to alleviate world suffering and bring people together would be considered the truest form of thaumaturgy. I also believe that our nation could use some of that enlightened teaching (dharma) and thaumaturgic magic right about now to bind the wounds of our apparent political division and heal ourselves of the maladies of delusion and dissolution.

Magical Discipline and the Mystical Process

A magical discipline is nothing more or less than the regular and consistent practice of self-mastery (meditation), divination, religious practices, and magical practices, bringing all of these activities into a seamless whole that represents the foundation of activities with which a ritual magician engages. A magical discipline changes over time, and sometimes it is a very busy regimen, particularly when it is first established. Over time, however, due to the nature of the changes in one’s life and a complex existence in the post modern world, a magical discipline may become less active, or even temporarily dormant. This is particularly true when a magician has practiced for many years and has built a fine-tuned magical discipline, and then he or she experiences some major life change that overwhelms, temporarily, those regular and periodic practices. Life is complex, and most people have careers and family that they have to balance with their magical work. It is seldom that a magician only lives for the practice of magic, and in some ways I would consider that to be unhealthy. Without a social life and a presence in the community at large, a magician will have little or no effect on the world around them, and that internal changes could easily be forms of delusion rather than any kind of conscious evolution.

Therefore, it is important to build up a magical discipline early in one’s magical practice, and to develop positive and constructive habits so that the various levels of a discipline are worked in a balanced manner. However, over time, a discipline will change, sometimes becoming deeply internalized so that it is a continual but silently occurring process without any external actions or manifestations.

It is at these times that something else is taking up the magician’s time, such as work, family, relationships, dealing with the birth, sickness or death of someone close to him or her. Such occurrences end up absorbing all of the available time and emotional resources that a magician has to spare. Life happens, but it is also the duty of the magician to find the time and place to re-establish the magical discipline, even if it means doing only a few things at sporadic times for a while. An established and internalized discipline has a life of it’s own, and the psyche of the magician will continue to engage in a magical process even when he or she is otherwise engaged. Whether a magician is avidly practicing or has a period of dormancy, the establishing of a discipline early on will help see him or her through this time of busyness or time of stillness.

This brings us to discuss that other phenomenon in magic that I have called the “process.” It is actually a kind of mystical occurrence because it represents the psychic foundation of the magician. This is the magician’s conscious being as it occurs at a specific time and in a specific place. Once affected by the establishment of a magical discipline, a person’s internal psychic being begins to undergo a process of conscious evolution. It might even occur without one realizing it, but over time, the “process,” as I call it, starts to impact the self, causing a practicing ritual magician to experience a greater degree of transcendental states and a gradual self-awakening.

Visions and dreams seem to occupy one for a while, but over time, these clear up to reveal the world as it really is, instead of how one imagines it to be. In other words, we begin to awaken from our constant illusory dream-state. We begin to see ourselves as we truly are and the world around us as it truly is. We see those around us and the circumstances of their lives and we fully understand what is really happening. Nothing is embellished to the awakened magician, and all delusion is finally dead.

That event, if it does occur, is part of a very long process; but as the self becomes ever more awakened it leads one to have many more moments of self discovery and profound realization. In fact these discoveries begin to drive the magician’s ambition, determining his or her active direction for research and the kind of magic that he or she will employ.

Seekers are driven by their discoveries and realizations, which in turn push them to research, build and perform new magical workings that unleash even greater discoveries and realizations. It is a circular process, or in fact, an evolving spiral that begins at the most basic level of existence and branches out to the most abstract and transcendental. It is the “process” that pushes us to consciously evolve, to seek, to know, to dare, and then attempt to communicate what has been discovered. The mystical process is the heart of magic, so I have given it the metaphorical place as the veritable trunk of the magical tree that is the magician’s practice. 

Tradition vs. Eclecticism

There are many magical traditions in the world today, and some of them are quite valid, others, not so much. A magical tradition will supposedly have all of the lore and all of the answers to the questions that any student might have in order for them to ultimately achieve their highest degree possible within that organization. That is the stated ideal of a tradition. However, my experience is that even the most comprehensive tradition will only help one achieve the magical expertise associated with the five levels of a magical practice. To achieve the next two higher levels would require a magician to work completely outside of any tradition, since those pathways are obscure and highly individuated.

Where a tradition has its benefits is to be found in the social organization and the collective of individuals practicing at all levels of its teachings. A social group of beginners, initiates, and adepts who practice their art together on a regular basis would be a tremendous gift to the beginning student, since it would help him or her establish their magical discipline and kick-start the mystical process within their psyche. Establishing ingrained habits within the practices of self-mastery, divination, religious practices and magical practices would be an ideal goal for a group of practicing magicians operating within a tradition. However, there are other potential pitfalls that could make such a sodality a barrier to higher achievements.

There are traditional magical organizations that are run by a strict member-based hierarchy with a static curriculum, and some of these can claim a pedigree of decades if not centuries. Other types of organizations are reconstructions of ancient traditions, such as the Kemitic (Ancient Egyptian), Greek, Roman, Hellenistic (Neoplatonism), Celtic, or the like. All of these traditions were at some point in time created by either some individual or group, or reconstructed using various archaeological texts or artifacts (and creatively filling in the questionable parts), but the point is that there is no single organization that can accurately boast of having an unbroken pedigree going back to antiquity. They are all built up at some point, and most of them rather recently.

My opinion is that any organization, whatever its source or history as long as it is run in a democratic manner with rotating leadership positions, will be an optimal place to start. Those organizations that are less democratic could still be useful and helpful as long as there are checks and balances of some kind in the operating by-laws. On the other end of the spectrum there are some groups that are run as some kind of tin-horn dictatorship (benign or not) with a hardened, fixed hierarchy, no checks and balances and a static lore, and these are to be avoided at all costs. Whatever the value of their supposed lore or the impressive historical lineage they might claim, a hardened and inflexible hierarchy is a bad organizational structure. I would also advise the student to avoid any group who claims to be directed by some secretive inner organization, such as ascended masters or master adepts, since it is much more likely that they are fraudulent and obscuring their ugly exploitation behind some lofty mystical edifice. Any organization that cannot function as a democracy with checks and balances in its by-laws should be shunned, since it is likely that they are engaged in social malpractice that will not benefit the beginner or the newly joined experienced initiate.   

Groups of magicians, however advanced and benign, are after all just people. They bring their virtues and flaws to bear within the group, and if any of the more flawed among them become leaders or teachers then the whole group will suffer or even collapse. While it is good to have a peer group to look over your ideas, read over your magical diaries and inspect your rites and tools and give you constructive criticism about what you are doing, it can also become a situation where you are vulnerable to being exploited by others whose motivation and purpose is neither objective nor compassionate.

I have experienced all too often the criticism of other magicians whose passive aggressive actions hid their true desire to hurt or thwart me in some manner. I have learned over time to make certain that the final arbiter of any criticism or instruction that I receive is my own. Since I am not very open to being put in a subservient role by sooth-sayers or fake masters, I have made myself a poor candidate for any traditional organization that operates within a static hierarchy. This is probably why I have been mostly a self-made magician, although I have been influenced by the opinions, discoveries and shared insights made by others, whether by other authors, family, friends or magical colleagues.

This leads me to discuss the other possibility direction, and that is to approach the study of magic without recourse to a traditional magical organization. This is a more difficult path to trod, and even when going solo, it is important to cultivate others on the magical path and to be able to achieve a certain amount of peer review. Socializing with other magicians is a good thing to do, but it doesn’t mean that you have to join a group and then jump through the hoops that they have determined are important, just so you can find out later that what they were doing is not where you wanted to go. Self determination has many rewards but also many pitfalls. Still, as long as you maintain contacts with other magicians to avoid the obstacles of treading an insular path, then going it alone will neither lead you astray nor cause you to become self-deluded. Magic only makes people crazy who were already crazy to begin with.
I have written up this article based on what I have done myself. It does, more or less, agree with what other traditional magical groups have determined is the basic regimen of course study and practice. Additionally, there is a massive wealth of information about the practice of magic, both in books and also on the internet. We live in a time of an overwhelming volume of information about the theory and practice of ritual magick, and all it requires is a desire and a will to seek out this information and to apply it in a structured, ordered, rational and regular manner. The expectation would be that you should do this for a period of several years just to develop a magical discipline and to energize your own mystical process. If you follow your magical discipline and your mystical process then you will find your own way within the myriad of possible life paths without having to give up your integrity and self-determination to some organization or group.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, November 2, 2018

Necessity of Compassion and Empathy in Magic

Typically, magic is about getting something by using oblique or probability bending methodologies. This is particularly true when the object or target of one’s magic is something that is material. Magic has most often concerned itself with achieving some objective or getting something that would be otherwise unobtainable. It could be something that is highly improbable or even impossible, or something that might be obtainable if one’s fortunes were to be weighted slightly in one’s favor. Doing magic for unobtainable or improbable achievements seeks to create what is known as a “black swan event,” where the objective that seems nearly impossible happens in an almost miraculous manner. Since this kind of magic will more often meet with failure than success, what is more commonly sought after is something that is likely to occur.

Magic seeks, therefore, to make something happen, usually for personal and material profit, so it is a particularly self absorbed activity even when it is practiced for someone else’s gain instead of one’s own. Practicing magic for someone else is either a bought and paid for transaction, or one that is done for various personal reasons. The outcome is the same whether that magic is worked for one’s self or another. The action of this kind of magic engages the self and especially the ego, just as it does when we ambitiously seek to advance our material conditions or the conditions of those who are close to us using mundane actions and tools.

None of this is either new nor surprising since it has been a part of magic since the beginning of human culture. Where it becomes a problem is when it is paired with extreme selfishness and a callous disregard for basic human values. Because of the influences of the Christian church, and that western religious culture has always placed a high regard for charity and compassion, magic seemed to be balanced by the need to care for and help others and to do good to one’s fellow human beings, at least those of the same culture and religious persuasion. (The “other” has always been the subject of extreme prejudice and the target for negative magic, but we will cover that in another article.) Even so-called “black magic” was used to achieve justice and material equality in a world where social and financial power assured one of not only active participation in the decisions and rules effecting everyone, but of a kind of protection and insulation from the masses who lacked that power. Even so, black magic was considered an extreme action unsanctioned by the church and the culture at large, whereas white magic was either condoned or at least tolerated. Not too much has changed over the centuries, except for the influence of the Church and the requirement for some kind of charity and compassion. Perhaps the climax of these values are to be found in Christian democratic socialism that has built the social safety nets of the developed nations of the world, and that are now imperiled by the selfish actions of some groups.

The backlash against this institutionalized socialism is the creation of a class of individuals who have taken these institutions for granted and have promoted a kind of a selfish and self-absorbed lust to acquire all of the benefits that these societies have given to everyone but take on none of the responsibilities or civic duties (paying taxes, engaging in the political process and civic discourse) that make such a social contract workable. I am talking, of course, about ideas such as Libertarianism as espoused by Rand and her followers, and taken up by various fascist and proto-fascist movements disguised as a newly emerging popular ultranationalism in Europe and the U.S.

How these two movements have apparently merged is something of a modern mystery, but it would represent the need to tear down the existing socialistic democracies and replace them with one party authoritarian states. This has been made possible by a kind of potent lack of social compassion and empathy that has become manifest amongst the populations of the developed world, pushed as a newly minted perspective in our social media worlds. It has produced a social callousness and a selfish defense of the status quo, where that status quo is promoting an accelerating material and social inequality. It is a time where groups who have achieved much of what the modern world has produced have sought to keep that achievement to themselves and damn the consequences. I find this mind set oddly flourishing amongst people of my generation (the Boomers) and perhaps also amongst those Xer’s who have made it into the upper echelons of the middle class. The millennial generation seems to be more idealistic and inclusive, and I am grateful for that state and I hope it continues. Where my parents generation fought against the fascists of the west and east, my generation seems to be seeking to embrace this mind-set, even though it runs counter to everything that they have been given and benefitted from in a society and a government that has greatly assisted them in some fashion their entire lives.

I won’t delve into the selfish, arrogant stupidity that seems to motivate people into embracing fascism or proto-fascism out of a delusional fear that change in our world will somehow screw them any more than it already has. The pain of change in the last 30 years has been mostly forced on us through the passage of various conservative policies that have benefited the wealthy elite and damaged the middle class. What will change (hopefully) is that a certain group of people (white, protestant, male) will no longer be able to depend on maintaining their privilege. Instead, it will be society that treats everyone as equals, based, one would assume, on the principles of our cultural institutions and our constitution. That is a just and equitable solution to mitigate a drastically emerging social and material inequality, and help people deal with the profound changes that AI and automation will have on our world, not to mention the drastic changes needed to mitigate climate change.

We truly need in these times a powerful government to meet and resolve these challenges, and that government needs to represent and seek to aid equally all of its citizens, and in addition, the populations of the world. The world needs a strong western developed world to help it deal with its problems as well, since failing to do so will ensure our eventual extinction as a species. There is no place in our nation or the world for the kind of selfishness provided by ultra-nationalistic and totalitarian governments. What we really need is a world government working together with the various nations to deal with global issues.

Opposing any kind of collective or global cooperation is a resurgence of nationalism, which is merely a cover for extreme selfishness and self-preservation of the status quo. This kind of callous “me-first-ism and the hell with everyone else” mind-set has also, to some extent, infected the practice of magic in the west. We live in a culture where compassion for anyone outside of one’s political tribe or clique is practically non-existent. Therefore, magic is practiced as one more mechanism to gain that coveted place of isolated material and social comfort where the disenfranchised masses can be safely ignored. It is a way to fantasize about gaining unearned wealth and power when it is mostly probable that one will achieve what is more likely based on one’s already established station in life. Practical magic is the supposed great material equalizer, or so it is advertised, but it is getting harder to make miracles happen in the material world using magic, and probably a lot more profitable to just cheat and cut corners. While the window of opportunity is closing for most people, it also occurring in a stealthy manner while the masses fight each other for the leftover scraps after the rich and powerful have feasted.

While it is possible to fall from the economic station of one’s birth, it is getting less likely to step far above that same station. Social and material mobility has slowed down, and the number of newly made high-tech millionaires has likely already peaked, particularly if the power-elite are successful in creating a servant class out of the middle class. You can’t exclusively benefit from your own inventions unless you have the economic freedom to be outside of the corporate sponsored sphere of patronage and ownership, or somehow gain a large share of the profits of such endeavors.  I suspect that the current interest in magic might in part be due to the lack of opportunities for social and material mobility. However, magic cannot be expected to make dramatic changes in one’s life station if the possibilities for such expansion are closed.

Yet in this world of cut-throat competition, where the wily find ways to cheat, scheme and manipulate events, and the ethical just get screwed by those who are rapaciously ambitious; it would seem that compassion and empathy are weaknesses that need to be either suppressed or eliminated. Caring for the poor, the disenfranchised, the victim, or the “other” is just not tenable. Having feelings or caring about those who you are not close to is to be defined (by the successful others) as a sucker - a fool who unwittingly desires to be played, used and discarded just like all the rest of the masses out there in the world. Some modern politicians like to make these easily identifiable “others” as the enemy, when they are really just the sad victims of calamity and evil circumstances. Yet that is a distraction to the real screwing that is going on right in front of us every day. Yes - we are being screwed whether we know it or not.

When idiots rant about the racial superiority of the white European world, or the need to preserve “White Christian” values in our culture, that people of color get too many unearned benefits, or refugees who come to our country fleeing horrifying social conditions and threats against their lives are somehow suspected terrorists or undesirables stealing jobs from privileged citizens, they are listened to and commented upon by the media as if they were somehow speaking wisely. They are not called by many of these same media pundits as racists, misogynists, fascists, or religious bigots; but they should be called out as such and rejected by one and all. (Even better, their words shouldn’t be quoted at all.) What this shows is that we no longer seem to feel badly about what is happening to other people who are not directly connected to us - that misplaced “other-ness” that makes them an existential evil. There is a lack of compassion operating in our culture, and an inability to empathize with others who are suffering, particularly if they are part of the population that occupy that inhumane definition of people as the “other.”

What drives this lack of compassion is aversion and the passions of focused hatred that seems to be bottomless and lacking any kind of moral compass or boundaries. Yet impassioned hatred cannot be represented as any kind of strength, superiority or power. It is, in fact, the grossest kind of weakness and pathetic human need for the preservation of one’s own tribe as the expense of everyone and everything else in the world. It is a delusional lust for power driven by fear and ignorance, and these forces in human nature are completely the opposite of anything having to do with real magic, or any kind of spirituality.

When a magician thinks of doing ill in the world by using magic to benefit himself or his tribe at the expense of other people then it weakens and profoundly diminishes whatever good he might believe he is doing. In fact, it weakens magic as a form of occult practice. This rule cuts into the idea of using magic against others for individual or tribal gain, whatever the justification. If you are going to curse your enemies, steal from them or cross them in some manner, even if it is for good reasons, it ends up pushing the overall tone of magic down and creates a spiraling downdraft counter force. A lifetime of negative magic not only weakens and diminishes the individual performing it, but it also has a negative impact on the social domain of magic as a whole. The cartoon-like character of the “black” magician who is completely corrupt, depraved and empty of any human-like qualities or virtues does have an element of truth within it, and it typically leads to a terrible but justifiable self-destruction.

It would seem then that if aversion represents a great weakness in our world, then love could be considered its opposite, thereby being the greatest strength. Instead of being based on aversion, delusion and ignorance it is based on compassion, understanding and clarity of vision. It takes courage to love others, particularly those who are not part of one’s family or tribe. It takes an open mind that is not stained by prejudice to feel empathy for others, and allow one’s self to expand to include everyone and everything in the embrace of knowing and understanding. To follow such a path is difficult and it would seem that the greatest challenge facing any individual or group of humans is to be able to pass the threshold of selfishness, even for a moment, to realize the suffering and pain of others who have no connection to one’s self.

Yet the overall rewards for such a crossing over are great, since it not only ennobles the individual and takes them to a higher plane of being, but it makes the world, at least in a small way, a better place. When love becomes the backbone of magical workings then the magician who practices it becomes evolved in a manner that is empowering and expanding. It leads to a kind of personal and collective ascension, and this would seem to be the goal of all world religions. It reduces the suffering of the world and helps to foster the characteristics that ultimately lead to a form of individual and collective enlightenment, which should be the ultimate goal of magic and the mystical elements of every religion. The key words to love being the core of magic is empathy, acceptance, mindfulness (openness and acceptance), clarity of vision and above all, compassion.    

My message is to say that compassion is a truly great power, and that if we have lost or misplaced that quality then it shows how lacking our culture (or magical practice) has become. I don’t think it is completely lost so much as it is omitted or suppressed as a so-called practical approach to living in our post-modern world. However lost or misplaced in our society at present, when it is omitted in magic, it makes the operations of said magic weak, ego-bound, diminished in scope and lacking in vision. 

Performing magic to project ill into the world, however justified, darkens the world; but projecting good into the world through magic diminishes suffering and lightens the world. How do we determine such a supposedly subjective and relative value such as good or ill in our magic? We determine this by measuring what we do and how we work for ourselves and our clan against the needs of the many and the “other.” Is our magic selfish or selfless; does it promote the greater good or does it promote the individual or the tribe at the expense of everyone else. 

A compassionate magic believes that there is enough material and spiritual wealth in the world to benefit everyone; that we can have our fulfillment and find our place in the world without having to rob others of their fulfillment. An averse magic believes that there are extreme limitations to the world - both materially and spiritually. That one must cheat, steal, plunder and dominate in order to acquire one’s fulfillment in the world and to maintain that dominance at all costs.

Finally, the question that all magicians must ask themselves is whether they believe in a compassionate or an averse kind of magic. Over time, you will know the magician from what he or she becomes as they live in the world day by day, and what kind of magic they believe in and practice.

Frater Barrabbas      

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Transcendentalism vs Transcendental States of Consciousness

I have been reading about a kind of back-and-forth argument between magicians about the usefulness of Platonism and the Qabalah, the fact that Neoplatonic models espouse a transcendental reality that ultimately devalues the material world, and that a practical approach to magic should use the more archaic Shamanic, immanent world view. I find that I agree somewhat with both sides, since I can see where a transcendental perspective is useful as well as an immanent one. They look at spiritual reality from two different points of view, but their source is one and the same. I believe that religions in the west tend to emphasize the transcendental aspects of deity and reality over the immanent, even though the foundation of Christianity has the Deity defined with both attributes. It is a discussion that has no real resolution, and from a completely practical perspective, it belies the fact that the practice of magic generally produces transcendental states of consciousness.

I have never had much of head for either philosophy or higher mathematics, but practical logic and critical thinking skills were something that I learned early on, mostly by making mistakes and blundering my way through life. A friend of mine likened this argument to a confusion between ontology and epistemology, which is to say it is an argument between the nature of the universe as it really is, which none can fully know, and as it is perceived by all of us. We all have our opinions, but they are based on what we have experienced and what we know, individually and also collectively. From a purely practical perspective, this argument is hollow and fairly meaningless. Models, paradigms, constructs, and analogues all suffer from the limitations that they use analogy to describe something that is beyond description - what is seen and understood by the Eye of Spirit vs. the Eye of the Mind. The only thing that I think is essential is to understand that the analogy is not the thing that it describes. Models are useful tools, but they really don’t share in the numen of the thing represented unless we load them with mythic and mystic qualities. Doing that deviates from the usefulness of the model, and human nature being what it is, we are often mistaking the operational tool for the reality it represents.

My rule of thumb is to use whatever model works, but don’t over use them. Don’t try to extend a model to be universal, since it will then fail as a useful tool. When models or tools fail to explain something that you have experienced then it is time to either adapt another model or to create one based wholly on that experience. It is the nature of the human creature to name things, and to make meaning and connect things into a context when there is none. I see this as a way of enrichening the experience and significance of one’s reality, but it can also be a way of fictionalizing whole areas of our lives. Sometimes it is important to simply see something without any kind of narrative. I am beginning to discover that having that ability is the best approach.

The discussion of different models or perspectives at work in the world of the magician as a form of ontology seems to miss the whole nature of magic itself in that it produces paranormal experiences and generates transcendental states of consciousness. This seems to be true no matter what kind of magic is performed, whether low or high magick. In some ways this propensity for paranormal states of consciousness may be what attracts some folk into either learning to practice this art themselves or to hire someone who can do this for them. The field of consciousness of magic is full of paranormal phenomena and varying degrees of transcendental states of consciousness. Mystical and religious practices appear to produce the same kinds of phenomena and states of consciousness, and perhaps this is the basis of the religious and philosophical perspective on transcendentalism. Meditation and religious rites, or magic, produces these states in abundance, so therefore the spiritual world and the nature of deity itself must be transcendental, further postulating that these states are quite beyond all material reality.

As a ‘nuts and bolts’ kind of practical magician, I wonder if this is a case where a model or a constructive paradigm was used beyond its scope of usefulness, since in order to believe it is to reject the whole aspect of spirit and deity that is immanent, or that is within each and everyone of us. However, I have found that the transcendental states that I have experienced in magic has led me to see the nature of deity and spirit both within and all around me. It is to say that my dealings with spirit and magic have taught me that an exclusive adherence to either immanent or transcendent definitions of reality is too limiting. The true reality is somewhere in between or something altogether different, and it defies a neat model or convenient philosophy to explain it. Here again approaching this phenomena with an open and unbiased mind is the best approach.

Use what is useful, but don’t overuse it. Don’t rely too much on one theory in exclusion to others. Be open to contradictory evidence, and don’t be afraid to be wrong about practically everything at some point or another. Practice the magic and experience it fully, and be mindful of what is really going on inside you. Question everything you read, hear or experience. Base your opinions on the results of a thoughtful analysis of your actual experiences instead of what you have read or learned from others.

Frater Barrabbas

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

Friday, January 26, 2018

Traditional Witchcraft and #MeToo

I have been involved in Traditional Witchcraft for around 45 years, and I have seen this tradition in many various social climates. In the sixties and seventies, Witchcraft was part of the so called sexual revolution; in the eighties and nineties, Witchcraft functioned as the foundation of liberalism, feminism and freedom of religion. As part of the New Age Pagan movement, it seemed that Traditional Witchcraft (those that trace their roots to Old Gerald) represented something of a modern liberal and egalitarian social revolution, whereby the old Christian modes of gender based thinking and societal norms were finally being surmounted. I have lived long enough in the Witchcraft tradition to see it evolve and move towards these stated ideals, and in some cases, this is so. However, as an insider, I also must recognize and acknowledge the dark truths about modern Witchcraft. It is those truths which run contrary to what is formally stated as the modus operandi of the Craft.

During this past tumultuous year of the Donald Trump presidency, strident and overt chauvinism and racism have become part of the mainstream of accepted Conservative social norms. However, despite that event, and perhaps in a fitting resistance to it, many women have become vocal about the harassment, coercion and sexual assaults perpetrated by men in various social settings, whether personal, religious or professional. The hashtag #MeToo revealed that nearly every woman has experienced harassment, coercion or sexual assault in some manner during her life, and in some cases, repeatedly so. Some very powerful individuals in the media, business and politics have been brought down in disgrace due to the social movement and revelation of the indignities and tragic circumstances that women have had to endure simply because the men in power crossed a line or demanded sexual favors. This is nothing new.  As the stories have unfolded, we have learned that many have been complicit or known about it in some form or another for decades.

Hollywood, in particular, has had quite a sinister dark underbelly when it comes to this kind of phenomenon. It was and is a very ugly and evil situation, but our masculine dominated culture of white male privilege has made it a thing, at least until now. The social backlash is regrettable, certainly, since anyone who is accused should be given an opportunity to defend themselves, but it is also true that women have been silently taking this abuse for a long time, and now they have come out to speak their truth. The least we can do is to listen and understand.

However, Hollywood is far away from the covens and practitioners of Traditional Witchcraft, but here, too, there have been abuses. I have often heard of them in the quiet complaints of fellow women practitioners and have even witnessed them occurring, when I was not in a position to do anything about it. This behavior is built into our culture, and there are some traditions that are practiced in the Craft that make them more than likely to occur. Perhaps the most blatant of these potential areas of abuse is the requirement for nudity or Skyclad participation in the covenstead praxis. Now, don’t get me wrong, I find sacral nudity to be a special sacred occurrence, but it can all too easily become an invitation for an unwanted sexual advance or interest, particularly on the part of the male practitioner. If a covenstead has a strong and fair minded High Priestess, and a High Priest who is truly her support and uncorrupted by the power or politics of his role then the coven will be a safe place for women and men to gather together to worship and work magic. The intimacy will cut both ways, making everyone equally vulnerable and empowered. A good High Priestess will have a very low tolerance for harassment or coercion, and her High Priest will be a role model of social fairness and compassion.

After all these years as a functioning Witch, I have found that the best High Priest is one who is gay. Some might find this quite ironic, considering the onerous prejudice given to gay men and lesbian women in the Traditional Witchcraft movement.  That is no longer an issue today, but it was for many years. A good High Priest is one who doesn’t need to prove his manhood or assert his privileged gender by dominating others. That dominance, the associated social corruption and the magical will-to-power is one of the dark secrets of the brotherhood of High Priests. It is a seductive force that can beguile and delude what would ordinarily be a good High Priest. It is a temptation that all coven High Priests must successfully resist and even mindfully de-energize, since to fall to that temptation can produce a very tragic and even criminal social situation. Rape culture dominates our social world, so we must be conscious and aware of how we are relating to women in a coven where sacral nudity is the accepted norm.

There is an adage that middle aged men who are High Priests or practicing Pagan leaders seem to find a way to position themselves as the sexual gate-keepers for higher initiation, magical powers and knowledge. They become instead highly negative obstacles to further growth and spiritual evolution. And once this powerful potion has been drunk, there sometimes seems to be no bottom to the level of corruption that one can achieve. Our Pagan and Wiccan community is rocked from time to time when a leader is discovered to be a sexual predator, taking advantage of the young, inexperienced and most vulnerable members of our community. We are shocked and revolted by the discovery of this behavior, but few can admit that it is baked into the movement. There are indeed stellar members of our community. These men represent the best of a received and understood feminism; they practice social equality and mentorship, having achieved this by overcoming the alluring potential to harass, coerce and even to sexually assault others.

What must happen now is for all of us to admit that such a situation is a possible trap due to the practices of Traditional Witchcraft. This is particularly true with the assumption of positions of authority without any kind of accountability, the social setting of sacral nudity and the necessity of a male to female relationship, and the female to male relationship that is required for initiation and advancement. The sexual nature of the practices and the initiations would seem to be very tempting to those who are weak willed when it comes to sexual temptation or who see themselves as singularly empowered and unchecked. I think that to make Traditional Witchcraft safe for the most vulnerable adherents it is necessary for there to be absolutely zero tolerance for any kind of unwanted or unprovoked sexual advance. The High Priestess and High Priest must set the tone for the conduct of the coven, and that any kind of contact should be consensual and transparently co-equal. I think that making Skyclad rituals less the norm and making the sexual nature of the initiations to be more voluntarily symbolic and token rather than an expected outcome would also help to restore equality to the covenstead. Accountability should be enforced for everyone and perhaps even more importantly, the role of High Priestess and High Priest should be temporary and rotated rather than a permanent avocation.

In my opinion, the single greatest temptation inherent in Traditional Witchcraft is the power assumed by its coven leaders. Social power in a group that is not accountable or transparently applied to everyone equally allows the High Priestess or the High Priest to assume a level of dominance that can only lead to tragedy, unless they are also socially and spiritually evolved. I believe that diminishing the power of the High Priestess and the High Priest and making them merely roles in the group that could be assumed by others, would go a long way to eliminating the temptation to sexually exploit people. You could say that what I am proposing would be to basically demolish the hierarchical foundation of Traditional Witchcraft, and you would be correct. I think that this reformation is long overdue.

In talking about this social issue, I will won’t be judgmental or sanctimonious to anyone who has either enabled this kind of behavior or who felt themselves tempted to take advantage of a situation. I am guilty of both of these actions. Still, I have avoided engaging in gratuitous exploitation of those who have given me their trust as a teacher and a leader. I have always had limits to what I was willing to do. Perhaps I too easily feel the pain and hurt of others.

Since I have been involved in the tradition of Witchcraft for over four decades I have seen this situation play out again and again. I have seen scandals erupt and then sadly read the reports of those who were hurt and damaged by the egotistic behavior of men who should have known better, but who succumbed to the oldest kind of corruption – the will-to-power over others. This phenomenon will continue to happen again and again, over and over, until the very root that is causing this problem is finally eradicated from the tradition altogether. I am hoping that this evolution in Traditional Witchcraft will finally occur so that we can at least say that our covensteads are safe places for everyone to gather, and that the ubiquitous hashtag of #MeToo can be said to be something that happens outside of our tradition and not within it.
Frater Barrabbas