Friday, August 8, 2008

Magical Expectations

I recently came across this article by Donald Tyson, a well-known occult author. I have mixed feelings about a lot of Tyson's work. Some of it is ridiculous, but on the other hand he does sometimes come up with creative ideas for ritual practices and also put together the definitive edition of Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy, an edition that was praised by academics at the last Association for the Study of Esotericism convention I attended in 2006. This is a reasonably impressive accomplishment given that Tyson is more a popular author than a professional scholar.

But then something like this comes along. I realize that it's directed at rank novices, but a lot of it drifts into the "once you do magick enough you realize that you don't need to do magick" idea that is way too prevalent in modern esotericism. You wouldn't say that about any other skill that takes discipline and determination to develop. Consider:

"I spent years teaching myself how to program a computer but now I realize that all I need to do is browse the web."

or

"I spent years teaching myself to play chess but now I realize that it doesn't accomplish anything so I never play."

or even

"I worked hard learning to drive a car but now I see that I don't need to go anywhere."

Let's face it - all of those statements are stupid. Magick is the same way. So let's take a look at the article from that perspective.

Everyone who gets into ritual magic has pretty much the same goal-he or she wants to rule the world. They may not admit it
even to themselves, but they are thinking: Suppose, just suppose,
I could learn to hurl lightning bolts from my fingertips, and
ring mountains crumbling down, and move the Moon out of its orbit?

There's some truth in this, even though everything but the lightning sounds pretty useless. Still, there's an important nuance missing in the statement. Everybody who studies magick is not some would-be evil overlord - the desire is not usually to control the world, but to control one's own life and the circumstances surrounding it. I would say that most magicians start on the path with the desire to create the life they want rather than the desire to hole up in a secret base somewhere and blackmail the world for "A MILLION DOLLARS!"

Magic is seductive but not unjust. She gives far more than she takes. While she is gently pulling away the gun, she is putting a flower in its place. Instead of commanding the world, the Magus gradually learns to command personal thoughts and passions. Instead of making others see things his or her way, the Magus begins to see things their way.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Magick is about uniting the macrocosm and microcosm. Therefore, by developing the ability to control thought you also gain some ability to influence the world. It's not an either/or, and magick is more than archaic psychology. A Magus who can't influence the outside world is not a Magus, plain and simple. A self-proclaimed Magus who can't influence the world and hides behind "well, I could, but it's wrong" to keep others from finding out how inept they really are is simply being dishonest. You should work at cultivating wisdom so that you can use your abilities effectively and without creating lots of unforseen consequences, but at the same time nothing in magick requires you to see things "others' ways" if those others are wrong or stupid. We are all interconnected, and sometimes the best course of action is for others to see things your way.

You should not expect to control others through magic. It is true that with properly executed rituals you can bring magical energy to bear on another person and change your relationship to this person in a desired way. However, everyone has a will of their own. Will is like an iceberg,in that only the tip of it shows above the surface of consciousness. If you magically push someone, they may push back. Hard. They may not even be aware that they are doing it. People who seem very weak physically and emotionally may be very strong on the unconscious level.

Actually, untrained people don't "push back." They don't know how, and imagining that they do is like believing that people can just intuitively do karate or kung fu. Magick is at least as complex a discipline as most martial arts. It is true, though, that people have a natural level of "magical strength" for lack of a better term. In untrained people this provides a sort of natural protection - the more innate magical strength someone has, the harder they are to influence. Once you've done magick for awhile you'll be able to see it. A person with high magical strength looks more 3-dimensional or "sparkly" than regular individuals do.

To be fair to Tyson, this relates to his statement later in the article that is the principle gem of wisdom in this piece. He only mentions it in the context of love spells, but it is in fact true across the board: Don't specify means! This is probably the most important thing a beginning magician can learn. You will get the best results if you specify the outcome you want without giving your spell too much detail. "Bring me a suitable romantic partner" is much more likely to succeed than "Make person x fall in love with me" simply because of the probabilities involved. The first is much more likely and doesn't require as powerful an influence in order to succeed.

So take this article with a big grain of salt. It's not completely worthless, but it also makes magick sound a lot less useful than it really is.

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1 comment:

Megan said...

I realize that this is an old post, but I wanted to thank you for this passage:

"A person with high magical strength looks more 3-dimensional or "sparkly" than regular individuals do."

- because that's how I percieve it, and have never heard anyone else describe the phenomenon. I might add '... or more vividly coloured.' As though they were more real than their surroundings, in some way.

I've heard it asserted by others that this is especially characteristic of a *new* mage, and that a more experienced one tends to mute this effect through habitual shielding. In my personal experience, a young, lively, extroverted mage is more likely to 'sparkle' this way, while an older or more subdued person will not, even if their abilities are more impressive.