Some years ago, I wrote a short essay (actually, a series of short to mid-length essays) on the basics of magick that was actually, in retrospect, quite fucking terrible. But people liked it to the degree that to this day I can't pull it off the internet; I still get occasional emails about what I wrote back then, and still marvel at how it seems to have encouraged some people.
Being that I can now express the ideas behind some of the subjects better, and have even more experience in the matters, I've decided to begin the entire process again.
These essays won't make you a magician; but they hopefully will give a series of ideas on the employ of magick, how to “make it work,” and a few tricks to even the odds in the game of life. Being that we mostly begin the game blind-folded and groping, having only the ideas of our peers behind which to try and glimpse the “rules” (which are, as certain Pirates might tell you, more like guide-lines) it seems to me that magick can be like learning to peak out from under the blindfold occasionally to glimpse the rolls of those around you and perhaps find a better handle for the game you're playing.
These essays will cover discussions on the astral plane, spirits and their employ, sigilization techniques and free-form sorcerous technique. Very little, as before, will be said on morals and moral dilemmas stemming from the “karma crisis” that inhabits Neo-Paganism except in the later section on “chains of consequence.”
That said, I might as well address why I don't have much to say about “Karma” and “magick.” The current status of the Neo-Pagan community and it's means to impart (or really, force) moral reflection on beginners to the path is a disservice to most beginners. Worrying about “Karmic feedback” unduly has caused all manner of ridiculousness, and along with it a belief that the universe will “reward” us if we are “good” boys and girls.
“Good,” in this case, implying that we never desire anything for ourselves, never question boundaries or Elders (even if, perhaps, we should) and never take steps to fight for the things we love. This has led to what I call the Karma Crisis, whereupon the Three-Fold Law is assumed to govern all spiritual experience or the Gods sit up in the sky acting a bit like Santa Claus and making detailed notes about the current state of our lives. The magician is traditionally, and especially under the guise of the sorcerer, a dubious being who can either solve problems and cause all manner of wonder and miracles; or he can blight crops, kill with a look, turn friends into enemies and enemies into lovers. Into this domain in the realm of myth do we walk and it is up to every individual to make their own decisions and consider the ramifications of their actions—if any.
In the end, it's every man and woman for themselves. The universe is not going to be any more “kind” to us if we eat only organic foods, become Vegans, move into the wildnerness without power and running water and dismiss civilization altogether; that's a fairy-tale religious myth more in common with the traditionally Patriachal, dogmatic, and tyranical elements of Judeo-Christianity (whereupon God, rather than the universe, decides to give us a “paradise” if we do everything he says regardless of how ridiculous it may sound). It is more honest to make our own decisions and consider the consequences seriously while also noting that in the end no one will be handing out Good-Guy badges to those who do. If you choose to help don't expect anyone to salute you for it. In fact, don't bother to brag about it. If you choose to hinder—well, perhaps there are some consequences there, too. And perhaps you'll find them out when you least expect it.
But magick is not catagorized into 'color' spectrums where the holier you are, the more the universe loves you and decides to have your back. The question of morality is a personal one; not to be enforced by the books one reads, nor should it have a place in a new type of Neo-Pagan dogmatism.
If one chooses to live their life with a Christian, or Islamic or more “Pagan” (authentic or more or less new) moral outlook then so be it and more power to them! It is enforcing our own beliefs on those around us that is a violation of their will, and we should be well aware that the solution is to distance ourselves from those who step beyond boundaries we hold sacred; not to force our thoughts upon them. Very few, indeed, seriously consider violating the most basic rights of man—and those that do... Well, institutions such as the police force exist to govern them. Not the communities we live in.
Aside from that later section, which will hopefully try to decipher some of the reasons certain types of “spells” and “workings” are more prone to backfiring than others, that is all I really have to say on the matter.
All one needs to begin practicing magick is an open mind, a desire to test their spiritual and metaphysical limits, and a spiral-bound notebook or at least a few sheets of paper. Some books and tutorials on 'how to practice' are better than others. They are not, however, strictly necessary. Some of the best magicians of all time started off with nothing more than the pure desire to go forth and find out what was beyond the mindscape of civilization, or rather, what lingered behind it.
The notebook is to chart results. Details matter: the more details, the more you can see what you did wrong and more importantly what you did right later on.
The other “necessary” elements can be learned with time.
Models of Magick
Being that the most common stumbling block, both online and offline, between conversation within the magical and Neo-Pagan communities is simple language it seems fitting to begin by explaining the basic models and outlooks which surround magical practice. What is 'normal' and 'capable' practice in one model might not necessarily exist in another model. As such, one commonly finds comments about what can and can't be done that aren't entirely correct.
Each model holds a distinct set of beliefs about the world within it and holds it to be “true.” This is not, however, a form of “Truth”. It is simply a truism to the model—and the model is a best a rough outline or map. Some diverge heavily from their counter-parts whereas others are extremely similar. The problem, however, isn't the models but discourse between practitioners. The more time and experience one has in a particular model the harder it is to understand the others; especially if their premise seems to invalidate that of one's own model.
The following are the basics of the models of magick, and anecdotes on those I've used. A more detailed description of them can be found here.
The Spirit Model
Quite possibly one of the earliest models of magick out there, this model postulates a seperate and distinct spirit world or Otherworld wherein spirits literally exist with their own lives. Certain individuals, through freak error or genuine trial, can contact and ally these beings.
Typically, ecstatic and controlled (and occasionally uncontrolled) trance, drugs and other such methods are used to aid in facilitating contact.
This is the big part of the meta-model I began practicing with. It's also the reason I had some ill-considered judgments on the Lemegeton that I wrote down, much to Fr. RO's shock, in my “artificial elemental” essay.
The reason being that when I was first beginning, I had an experience with what one might call ignoring the basic rules of thumb. At either 17 or 18 years old I conjured a spirit in a fairly hap-hazard manner. After a friend had asked me to deal with a problem they were having with what was percieved to be a malevolent spirit, I decided to conjure it. So with the ritual aids of incense and trance, I called it up. I used an object it appeared to be bound to, and eschewed the traditional circle... I banished, but only used the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (hereafter LBRP) so astral space wasn't cleared with the Greater Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram (hereafter GBRH). Lacking any protections whatsoever, and considering myself a teenage badass, I about shat my pants when it showed up and scared me shitless. I rapidly warded off space outside where it'd been conjured, and then hid under the sheets of my bed until I finally dealt with it a few days later.
During the process of dealing with said spirit, it demanded a home. So, being a rebellious and anti-Christian teen, I told it it could live at a near-by church. The church in question rapidly vacated and until recently sat empty. Until it was reoccupied and the spirit seems to have fled (or been exorcised), I'd go and visit it sporadically for a chat or two. It actually became a fairly amiable ally after I got over my gut-wrenching fear that this thing is real! The experience, however, also taught me about why certain procedures are used in the West (the circle of art, for example) and to go out and actually investigate what other cultures used when dealing with unknown, possibly malevolent spirits. It certainly impressed the phrase don't call up what you can't put down on me. In retrospect it was less malevolent and more ambiguous. When it had the upper hand, it liked scaring me shitless for trying to play with it. When I enforced my will on it and threatened to exorcise it permanently, it decided to strike a deal. I even got a name and sigil (now lost) to conjure it into my astral temple from it.
The Psychological Model
That magical and mystical experience are filtered through the psyche is occasionally a sore spot for some would-be magicians and mystics; the obvious question of which is which reoccurs all too often, however some practitioners have developed purely psychological foci in regards to their practice and beliefs over the course of the last century. It was not Freud, who's theories hit the world like bombshells, that ripped open the possibility of psychological explanations in magick but Carl Gustav Jung. When Young identified archetypal symbols and the collective storehouse of humanity he more or less threw wide waiting gates through which the mystic and the magician can walk.
The drawback to the psychological model—more than any other model—is that it can't explain why magick works; however, it offers extremely adequate explanations of how it works.
This model postulates that we are all connected through our unconscious to an even greater Collective Unconscious, and that the most potent symbols that can be reached there are often mistaken for gods. (Archetypes aren't the same as gods and it's a subject I plan to come back to later.)
It furthermore addresses a lot of microcosmic, or inner-self, oriented issues. Bad habits can be treated like personal demons and so on.
Here, more than anywhere else, the map is not the territory. Sometimes it isn't even a map.
At the onset of the year 2005, I went through a particularly nasty breakup with a girl I'd been very much in love with. Being that I couldn't stand to even talk to women more than platonically for an irrationally long period of time, I decided to investigate the power-base of my aversion and systematically deal with it. Using my astral temple, I jumped into my imagination and began charting dreams for about three weeks, using trance techniques and anchors from Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques to trigger lucid dreamstates. Eventually I came across an “entity” that looked and acted like Medusa, and which disliked me quite a bit. I immediately realized that it was an in infernalized, enshadowed version of how I'd begun viewing women—a problem I hadn't really encountered at all since those first few rejections during my early teens. It hasn't bothered again me since it was dealt with.
The Energy Model
In the East, and even some aspects of it in the west, this model is just as old as the spirit model. Whether you call it magickal energy prana, chi, magis or just 'energy' it's all roughly the same idea to some degree. This model postulates that the human life-force (or the life-force that surrounds the human being) can be manipulated in such a way that 'events' and 'changes' can be made to occur.
In the West the twin forces that brought belief in it back were Mesmer's theories of animal magnetism and the late 18th century belief in ether which became conflated with electricity. In fact the word “energy” itself sings of the body electric and makes one think of all sorts of things. Within this model the subtle-body and it's power-spots, often called chakras, are utilized to aid in the changes in both consciousness and the world around them. While the original Vedic discourses on chakras describe them as states of consciousness, the conflation between chakras and energy centers in the body remains strong in Neo-Pagan and western mystical beliefs.
Any interesting side note is the breathing techniques used in many Eastern programs of learning and the latin word for spirit—spiritus—which means “breath”. I won't say much more here, but I suspect that the spirit model and the energy model are not quite (or weren't quite) as dissimilar as some magicians make them out to be initially in both the Occident and the Orient.
While experimenting with this model with a female partner, of whom I was romantically engaged with, I became quite adept at activating the root chakra of others remotely and stimulating intense sexual arousal. Unfortunately, a few of my friends were told about it and it became a rather annoying party trick request. While being “the magician” is occasionally cool as a role to play, representing “the guy that can make girls horny” was far more irritating. I never performed the tactic on an unwilling participant, however, on at least one occasion I cranked one of my friends up to the point that they spent the night in a bathroom doing who knows what.
After I stopped using the model regularly in the traditional way that I'd built up I rapidly found that my capacity to influence others with it also diminished, which suggests to me that some of the Chaos Magick staples about belief being critical to magick (and Austin Spare himself agrees in The Logomachy of Zos) is at least more than a little bit correct.
Here is where I begin diverging with Fr. UD. The Meta-Model is actually a means of combining the above models so that they “mesh” more or less organically. Sometimes the result is less rather than more, however. Chaos Magick was one of the first systems to suggest that one could use all three models—since the denigration of Truth was largely a result of the 20th century and to some the idea of secret keys to occult Truth was more than a little bit absurd—so long as they were convenient.
The drawback to learning with a meta-model, rather than a strict model, is that the general guidelines of a model are learned over time as one advances. Constantly switching models means that no matter how convenient one needs to be at least somewhat versed in the myths, lore, language and belief of each model. Shoddy research can mean shoddy results, or worse, blatant misfires and wastes of time.
Most Neo-pagans, if not most magicians, use a meta-model and don't quite realize it. But in attempting to fit diverse pieces of technique and theory together the common mistake is that they all work seamlessly together—they don't. You can make them fit, but it means extra research on the part of the practitioner and sometimes a lot of extra practice.
I use a meta-model that I'm going to discuss shortly. However, this seems like a good place to quote UD a bit...
“Self evident as the meta-model may seem, in practice many people seem to feel somewhat uncomfortable with its inherent relativism. This is very much the case with beginners in magic. A typical dialogue on the subject might run on the following lines:
“Are there spirits?”
“In the spirit model, yes.”
“And in the energy model?”
“In the energy model there are subtle energy forms.”
“And what about the psychological model?”
“Well, in the psychological model we are dealing with projections of the subconscious.”
“What happens in the information model, then?”
“In the information model there are information clusters.”
“Yes, but are there spirits now or not?”
“In the spirit model, yes.”
This logical loop is, of course, usually experienced as a pretty frustrating exercise; but while the asker claims that the magician is trying to avoid the issue he is at the same time overlooking the fact that he himself is basically only restating the old yen for absolute, "objective" truths - not really a quantum magical approach, to say the least. However, the aspiring cyberpunk magician of today cannot expect to be spared the pains of coming to terms with the notion that freedom and dogma are mutually exclusive.” (Fr. D, Models of Magick.)
The Information Model
When the information model was crafted in the late 1980s, it was largely based on rapid developments in technology, quantum theory, and especially information theory. While Fr. UD treats it as a model in it's own right, I personally do not. When the “memetic” movement burst upon the magical subcultures—especially those versed in Chaos Magick and other forms of experimental magick—it brought with it rapid changes to the treatment of information. To suggest there's an underlying belief that all Information model practitioners utilize beyond the fact that information can be manipulated to facilitate results is sadly incorrect. Some practitioners are Cyber-magicians, who see the world as akin to a hard-drive. Others of us, myself included, make heavy use of the holographic universe theory and David Bohm's theories of Quantum Mechanics. When Bohm postulated non-locality (that one event occuring in the world can simultaneously—faster than the speed of light no less—influence another) he was describing, to me, the magical process. “Spooky action at a distance” in the lab is no different than spooky at a distance when performed by a magician.
The information model can and does utilize all of the primary three models, varying in degree of each due to the practitioner's taste. I've known Cyber-magicians who were also so well versed in the energy model that they claimed to be “energetic healers” (a title I personally view with distaste; but to each their own), whereas I probably couldn't “energically heal” my way out of a wet paper sack. I will allow, however, that the term “energy” is one of the most potent symbolically active terms in Neo-Paganism today and that alone holds almost as much value as some elements of the spirit model; the difference is that it laid dormant for so long in practice that we've only seen heavy use of it for the last two-hundred years or so. Prior to that almost all magical systems were based on the spirit model, at least in continental Europe.
Memetic engineers, on the other, focus more heavily on psychological theorems and manipulation of information given to others to cause results. This is a far more recent model that's still building it's way towards having a standardized theory behind it. However, it's hardly unheard of. There's more than a few of us out there.
Given that I'll be discussing manipulation of memes next, I have no further examples.