Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Musings on Body, Speech, and Mind

Arcana is finally just about ready to send off to the literary agency. I'll be casting a Mercury evocation over the packet I send to help matters along, of course, so you never know - I might have a novel on the market one of these days.

As I mentioned in the article on Suggestion for Ritual Practice, I practice Tibetan Vajrayana meditation. Generally this consists of the visualization of a deity accompanied by the recitation of a mantra. The mantra is counted out using a mala, so one bead is moved with each recitation. This incorporates the action of body (sliding the bead), speech (the mantra), and mind (the visualization of the deity). In the course of working with the Vajrayana system I've become convinced that the simultaneous integration of these three factors is also very important to the Western ritual magician.

Visualization in Vajrayana is far more complex than in Western ritual magick. Tibetan iconography is complex because the images on thangkas include everything you should be visualizing. As a matter of fact, doing it perfectly is just about impossible, which may be by design. If there is always more for the mind to pay attention to, the risk of boredom or complacency with the visualization in minimized. One of the things that I've noticed from doing a lot of Vajrayana practice is that my ability to visualize Western magical forms has increased substantially. I now do a much better job with the full visualization of even simple rituals such as the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, and last night I did a ritual in which I used a visualization for the magical link. The visualization itself was excellent, and I could almost see a tiny three-dimensional version of the target of the spell appear in the middle of the Sigillum Dei Aemeth that I use for evocations.

Developing this faculty is not as difficult as it might seem at first. One of the interesting things coming out of modern brain research is that whether you are looking at a picture of something or visualizing it the patterns in the brain are the same. Thus, the Tibetan practice of meditating on images patterns the brain so that those images can eventually be visualized more easily. Aleister Crowley writes in Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae that the images of the gods of Egypt should be committed to memory for use in ritual, and one good way to do this is to meditate on the images themselves to pattern the mind and brain. Once the images are very familiar, you would then move on to visualizing without the images. Doing it that way is much easier than trying to "see" them forming out of the air right away, but in my experience that is how a lot of Western practitioners start out.

Western ritual magick makes use of formulas and words of power that are in many cases similar to mantras, but the main difference in Tibetan practice is that the mantra is repeated many times rather than vibrated a handful of times at crucial points in the ritual. This takes advantage of another brain mechanism called Assimilation. This is the process by which the brain teaches itself to perform complex tasks. When you were a toddler, walking was still difficult and modern robotics research spent years finding out just how difficult it really is to model. What the human brain does is assimilate a complex series of tiny motions into one big motion, so that when you think about walking you just point your mind in the right direction and go rather than being precisely aware of how you move your foot and leg when you take each step. Repeating a mantra thousands of times, especially quickly, assimilates the sound, and I'm still surprised at how quickly I can now say mantras that I know well compared to how quickly I could recite them when I was first learning them.

Coordinating the body with the mantra and the visualization requires sensory integration and increases the amount of concentration required for the practice. It also involves yet another area of the brain, the motor cortex. This increases mindfulness and the entire process conditions the mind to connect the mantra and the visualization of the deity. Malas can be used in Western practice along with mantras, and there are several different Thelemic rosary practices that I have seen online that explain how to do exactly that.

In your own practice, try experimenting with some of these ideas. See if you can integrate the vibration of a word of power with a motion and a visualization, all of which are related. I think you will find that the effect is remarkable.

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