Have you ever wanted to delve into the mysterious and often misunderstood world of the occult, but found yourself too intimidated by the sheer amount of seemingly differing opinions and lack of a clear starting point? Have you dabbled in the art of magick only to come up frustrated and empty handed? Perhaps you’re a skeptic or a tourist and you’ve just been curious as to how the whole process works, from rituals to beliefs, even to the relationships between magicians and drugs?
You’re in luck! In this four part series, WF’s mysterious magic practitioner, S., is here to help guide you along the path toward a magical consciousness. Hopefully.
Being an autodidactic magician I realize how difficult or dismaying the first foray into the occult can be. My early excursions into the dark continents of the mind closely resemble a series of pratfalls with the beleaguered comedian (myself) being tripped by unseen gods and phantasms, to what, I am sure, was their unending amusement. Led into the forests of the imagination by alluring will o’ wisps or drunken angels looking for a laugh, the initiate finds himself alone and, without hope of rescue, sits down resigned to his fate. It’s enough to drive one mad or at least cause them to throw up their hands in disgust and walk away from the altar with needlessly bloodstained robes and no demon appearing despite the number of cats you’ve sacrificed.
That last part never actually occurred… the demon did appear… but in all seriousness, magic is, or at least was for me, difficult to work at first. Taking the fact that most occultists, magicians, etc., seem to possess a dubious degree of honesty or sanity it becomes increasingly difficult as the beginner often does not know where to look for instruction or aid. Not that I’m claiming that I’m not in fact particularly dubious or untrustworthy in my own right, but I thought it may be in somebody’s, somewhere, interest to outline a way to make an entry into the world of magic. I must credit my unknowing mentors for many of my ideas as I’ve followed the Moon and the Serpent after Blake’s arse into eternity quite doggedly; I must also protest that where my extrapolation on magic is mere synthesis of their ideas it is yet valuable as it is compiled from a large amount interviews and pieces of varying degree of interest and age… and painstaking emotional effort and attachment to the shared ideals.
What one is perhaps wondering when making headway on the road to becoming a magician is; “what is magic?” (Or, “what the hell was I thinking?”) Well, that’s something that you will have to decide for yourself. There’s a multitude of interpretations out there that have been posited by an astounding amount of people over the course of human history. It is your duty to use the sword of discrimination and decide what you can buy into, for example; most modern occultism is tacky and utterly worthless in my opinion. Whereas I am a big fan of Aleister Crowley, I have absolutely no time for the O.T.O., the magical order he headed during part of his lifetime and which continues in various bastardized forms today. To further display my personal prejudices as fact I should also note that magic isn’t about gain or worldly power. Casting spells skyclad or using sigils to get sex and riches just makes you look like an ass. Magic is primarily about the imagination and putting it to productive use. For me, it is easily about imbuing a world that is violently chaotic or morosely dull with shining meaning derived straight from the font of existence and the human soul.
Saying that magic is about the imagination doesn’t mean that magic isn’t real in any sense of the word. No matter what fundamentalist materialists may say, science cannot successfully explain consciousness to anybody’s satisfaction using their current paradigms. The hypothesis that all of our emotions, thoughts, and art are caused by mere chemical reactions and electric pulses is childishly short-sighted and revolting. Add to this the fact that many theories in the field of quantum physics disagrees with this interpretation and rather treats consciousness as a property in and of itself kind-of, sort-of, completely undermines this gross oversimplification.
This isn’t to say that one shouldn’t trust science…just remember that it is a method not the be-all-and-end-all-philosophy. Just as religion should stay the fuck away from the physical realm (because when it doesn’t idiotic ideas like Young Earth Creationism pop up like cancer on top of the human intellect), science should be willing to accept that consciousness and the mind aren’t really it’s territory and perhaps they’re doing more damage than good by blundering around and making wildly irrational rationalist assumptions and guesses by producing overreaching pronouncements about the situation. But then again, those in Newton’s sleep seem quite comfortable to stay that way and we all know you should never wake a sleepwalker; on many people this is all for naught and they will continue on in happy ignorance, quite like those people of faith who we mutually despise.
For more on these theories I would recommend reading Alan Moore’s article in Dodgem Logic #3 “Magic, Running Through the Gutters Like Lightening.” On the pitfalls of scientific dogma Robert Anton Wilson’s The New Inquisition is a very enjoyable polemic. The works of William Blake, my personal favorite magician in history, are also highly suggestive of the powers of the imagination and the visionary faculties.
Reading is rather important in the field of magic, as well as life, and you should really try to cram as much information into your skull as humanly possible. One of my favorite authors is the aforementioned Robert Anton Wilson who has produced highly readable material that, in both his fiction and nonfiction, displays potent magical ideas. In fact, a great book, complete with “execizes” for a beginning magician, is his psychological study Prometheus Rising. Based in part of Leary’s eight circuit model of consciousness, it is accessible and is a decent book for the those of us grounded in skepticism to detrimental effect. It asks the reader to make no great leaps of faith but rather goes along in a lucid and entertaining style that fit most people’s reality paradigms while simultaneously shattering any unnecessary certainties. This and the Alan Moore piece mentioned above are usually the two works I recommend under the category “how the hell can anyone believe this shit?”
Just a week ago my partner in magic and grave-robbing gave a mutual friend who is uninterested in matters metaphysical a book entitled D.I.Y. Magic by Anthony Alvarado to give it a whack and see what happens. It is a handsome little handbook to changing the way one thinks and delving into realms where thought takes on a greater significance than usual. Drawing from surrealist techniquess of diving into the unconsciousness along with other psychonautic practices, it appealed to me as being an excellent book for the intelligent skeptic to further explore their own mindscape. The author asks for no great acts of faith and in the back directs one to other sources if they wish to follow this line of thought any further. It also looks like many of the practices would be a great bit of fun.
I am a Qabalist (nothing to do with Madonna) and I personally know of no system that presents a better map of the universe that the Otz Chayyim or the Tree of Life. It is in many ways essential, or at least extraordinarily helpful, to magicians of all calibers. My introduction to the Qabalah came within the pages of Promethea and after reading the issues on Hod and Binah, two of the ten spheres of existence, I knew that I wanted desperately to pursue this ideal. My pursuit has proven infinitely fruitful and promises greater benefits to be had; I’d easily make a secondhand recommendation to look at Will Parfitt’s The Living Qabalah as a guide to follow and rewarding sourcebook on Qabalistic theory and practice. After trying exercises like “the ten secret joys”, “the moon grotto”, and “the evoking desired qualities” and witnessing their results I’m sure anyone will feel more confident and magical. I’m sorry if that last sentence sounded like I was selling something. Practices such as “plant communication” may seem a little New Agey at first but are endearing and effective upon further investigation.
Finally if one is interested in a more traditional but still workable route of magic they should try out Crowley’s Liber E vel Exercitiorum and Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae which will instruct the aspirant in yogic and ritual practices respectively. They’re both available online and are short enough to be easily printed out. Liber E begins with a rather quirky exercise to develop clairvoyant properties which it is alright to ignore if you don’t want to buy into that much insanity at the moment. It’s instructions on the basic practices on Hatha Yoga are invaluable as being some of the most clear and precise available. Yoga is something that Crowley placed a great deal of importance upon and prescribed it for all practitioners of magic. While it can be dreadfully boring, it definitely helps magical properties develop in the practitioner by teaching them to control themselves and their minds.
Yoga means “union” and really should be practiced by everyone in these woefully dissolute times. Its physical benefits are numerous and it requires no extraneous beliefs. This is, of course, different from the type of yoga taught at the Rec Center and is probably harder to follow. Stick with yoga, and you do have to stick with it and practice it regularly for it to provide any benefits, and you will be rewarded. Though here I have to say that unlike Crowley, and certainly unlike Israel Regardie who considered Liber E to be one of Crowley’s greatest pieces of writing and fundamentally essential to all practice, I do not believe that you cannot perform magic without yogic practice. It’s just beneficial to its practice and, as I’ve said, has a multitude of merits in and of itself.
Crowley’s Liber O contains the prescription for exercises such as the “assumption of god-forms” (basically imagining a god’s image surrounding oneself), “vibration of divine names” (I’ve always been baffled by his singular practice of it as opposed to its use in rituals), and the classic banishing and invoking rituals of the pentagram and the hexagram. If you want to see someone look like a complete jackass and dissuade yourself from ever taking magic seriously watch some of the YouTube videos of people performing these or even better the totally awesome Elfie Music on everyone’s favorite, Paranormal State. Really though, the rituals are useful and important, just nothing to display on YouTube.
Liber O also gives vague instructions in the practice of astral projection. I wish I could help with this but it seems like the rules of the game are for this to be vague. I’ve achieved astral travel after hard work and a massive amount of disappointment. It’s still usually tenuous and more often than not occurs when I’m not even attempting to leave my corporal form.
As one last note on these two “books” I would recommend that the aspirant experiment liberally and use the two in tandem. Though Crowley encourages one to be a master of the practices proscribed in Liber E before moving onto O, I do not believe this is how it was done under his instruction. Besides, using the two together dissuades the mind from becoming bored with one or the other.
The greatest secret of magical exercise is to do it. Keep trying, and like Robert Anton Wilson says; “fake it ‘till you make it.” It will take some time, unless you’re an incredibly lucky, gullible, or delusional person, for this stuff to really kick in. At times it will seem dull… there is a reason behind it all; remember that the young magician has to sweep the floors or some such task in the tales. If you’re curious for more introductions into magic I’d look into Israel Regardie’s One Year Manual and Francis King’s Techniques of High Magick…they’re both more geared toward traditional ceremonial and yogic practices than some of the materials I’ve mentioned here.
My apologies if this wasn’t too entertaining, talking about the practice of magic never is when compared to actually attempting it. My aim here was practicality. In our next few installments in this exciting series we’ll discuss topics such as; why it’s not always that fun to be around other magicians, drugs and magic, divination, sigils, and the four weapons! Refreshments will be served.
To read part two of this series, an entire section on the various drugs employed by the magician, go ahead and click here.