Artwork courtesy of John Dowling – visualsoulfood.com, @kitsch_22
…also titled: What I’ve learned during the process of becoming a magician
‘However you want to dress it up, one point is clear, [magic] is a means to bring about change’.
I have found myself returning again and again to the final chapter of Condensed Chaos. It is the perfect reminder that this practice we call magic is not only about changing the outside world but also about changing ourselves. Some of this change is intentional; I want to give up a habit. I want to ‘depolarise’ myself. I want to be more powerful, sexy, confident… but the thing is, the more involved we become with the invisible, the more the invisible influences the way we see and feel and also what we want. To mangle Marshall Mcluhan, ‘We make the tools and then the tools make us’. Phil Hine understands this. In the same book, Hine sets out the process he describes as DRAT. Let’s work through what he’s getting at.
“All times are the same time. The initiation of a sorcerer reveals this. That is why they say a true initiation never ends.”
Tlazolteotl, The Invisibles #14 – Grant Morrison
So, we begin a daily practice – something which an earlier time would have regarded as a religion or ritual. We sit uncomfortably for hours, we look inside ourselves and try to silence the chatter, we learn strange new words and gestures, we fill out our diary and we have to do it every fucking day, we do the work. This is discipline. It is the formula of IAO. What starts off as fun and becomes tedious very quickly. Discipline is finding the strength to overcome the monkey brain and ignore the nagging voice of the internal commentator who says. “C’mon let’s just scroll Facebook, eat a snack, read a book, stay in bed, have a spliff, vacuum and clean the house…” or whatever your personal dialogue goes with. This is the first and possibly hardest lesson in magic. It is what Josephine Mcarthy means by ‘do the fucking work’. It’s how we build our magical muscles. How we attune our magical senses. I’ll be honest though, I have Saturn in a very prominent part of my chart. I can do discipline. For me, personally, the hardest lesson comes next.
So what does this mean, and what is the lesson? Well first of all you’re a meat bag dummy – we are often so focused on the ghost in the machine that we neglect the obvious. If you want the juice to flow you need to clear the pipes and stress is a major blocker for magic. The good news though is that we can, to a degree, fake it until we make it. Okay, so to quote Aidan Wachter, ‘stress is not your friend here’. It will get in the way of what you’re trying to do, whether it’s practical or self-development. The thing is, many of us in this community have deep seated issues that are often described as trauma. That means root causes of stress that cannot be processed by the brain and can cause problems in a whole host of different ways both magically and interpersonally. We need to learn how to relax. Part of that path may be some kind of therapy, it certainly was for me. But for the magically inclined we have to address this in other ways as well.
Ironically, modern magicians can be a bit sniffy about Modern Magick by Donald Kraig, but in it he sets out a good exercise to get into which involves visualising a ball of light moving up and down your body and relaxing everything it touches. It works. You can literally relax yourself simply by imaging it. If this isn’t magic, it’ll do until the real thing turns up. In counselling or physical health this is called a body scan. It’s a first step in learning where your personal reservoirs of stress hide. The neck (yep, as a Taurean this is my main issue), the head, the back, the stomach – learn your body. That’s the lesson here – learn your body. So now we’ve kicked ourselves regularly up the arse to ‘do the fucking work’, we’ve become concious of our physical body in a way that creates new insights and suggests things that we need to build into our regular practice (exercise, types of meditation, stretching and yoga etc.). The next lesson involves looking up.
Have you ever watched young kids playing football? Do it, if you haven’t. Go to a park in summer or a Sunday league football game (I’m British so y’know, soccer) with kids under 7 and watch as the horde of children follow the ball like a swarm of insects. It’s hilarious. Now watch as one makes a break, concentrating with all their might on the football hard won from the mob. And then listen to the coach who will inevitably shout one thing. LOOK UP! By just staring at the ball the young footballer cannot see what is happening around them. They can’t see if they’re running in the right direction. They can’t see opportunities to pass the ball which can travel so much quicker than them. But all they need to do is trust their feet and look up.
This is what we need to do, look up. How has the world changed? How have we changed? How do we feel? Do we still want the same things? Do we still want to associate with the same people, the same ideas, the same places? Are we being drawn somewhere else? Are we connecting or disconnecting? These are feelings and impulses that are important to be aware of.
A deliberate side-effect of, say, performing the LBRP or The Middle Pillar regularly is to strengthen our psychic senses. A key way of testing this is to log coincidences, synchronicities, those sensations of presence, the hairs on the back of your neck, tastes and memories that occur to us whilst meditating or descending into trance. These are now observations that you need to be recording, learning your own vocabulary of sensation. You are becoming sensitive to the magical world that you are creating as part of becoming a magician. It’s also in these moments that something unexpected begins to happen.
Here’s an experiment for you to try. Go into the woods, find a good place to sit with your back against a tree so that you can stay motionless for around ten to fifteen minutes. Allow your body to acclimate to the rhythm of your environment. This is called a ‘sit spot’, and is something that trackers and hunters have done for millenia. Why do they do it? Well, if you want to read the language of your environment you have to make your internal rhythm congruent with your external environment. What happens? As your breathing relaxes and your senses become accustomed and more acute, we start to hear the language of our environment, we give it a chance to speak. Then our environment starts to behave differently with us. I have watched beautiful animals ignoring my presence, squirrels and insects come so close I could touch them. We change, the environment recognises it. We experience things differently, and change because of it. This is how magic works.
When we learn about magic, whether it’s fiddling with sigils or donning robes and waving around wands, we tend to become fixated with the idea of intent and will. That’s good, there’s nothing wrong with it, very necessary stuff. However, there is an idea in business strategy that is pertinent here. It’s called emergence. When someone sets out to do something, they have a goal and a plan. But as no plan survives first contact with the enemy, we have to improvise, regroup, iterate, learn. What comes out of this process is the emergent strategy. But what can also happen is a reevaluation of the original goal. For this reason companies are encouraged to have corporate (the purpose of the company) and competitive outcomes (the purpose of the activity). As magicians we can learn from this. What is your overall goal? Why are you doing what you’re doing?
When it comes to magic, this emergence is not just learning how to do rituals or invocations in a more effective way, it also brings out aspects of ourselves that we didn’t even know were there. Drives, motivations, become influenced by these experiences. Magical Transformation is a deep and profound process.
In my way of describing this, Transformation is a two way street. If we change something about ourselves (a habit for instance) then we become a different person. What makes you think that that person, the new you, wants the same things and feels the same way as you, the old you? In fact, the more you think about it, the stranger the idea is. So in some ways we intentionally transform ourselves through ritual or ceremony, but then we have to accept that the old person is gone. Perhaps we could describe it as a type of ego death? Perhaps we could describe it as getting out of our own way. We all get into magic and the occult for different reasons but this process, in my experience, seems to be ubiquitous. It’s also a warning for the unprepared. This is the most valuable lesson as we seek to take our practice to further levels of effectiveness and insight.
The only guarantee is that change will happen – what that change is can only be experienced. Then the cycle begins again… oh DRAT!
Books cannibalised for this article:
- Condensed Chaos – Phil Hine
- Six Ways – Aiden Wachter
- SSOTBME – Ramsey Dukes
- Modern Magick – Donald Michael Kraig
- Magick in Theory and Practice – Aleister Crowley
With nods to Josephine McCarthy.