Thursday, January 22, 2009

Spiritual Realization and Magical Power

This subject came up on a couple of the other magick blogs that I read about two months ago. This article started off as a response to that discussion, wound up being substantially longer than I intended, and I have now cut it back down to something more concise.

The basic question is this - is there a direct correllation between practical magical ability and spiritual realization? My answer is a qualified yes, but it does requires some further explanation. People have different levels of natural magical talent, so it doesn't necessarily make sense to say that if person A can get a better result than person B it means that A is necessarily wiser or more illuminated than B. From a practical standpoint, should you meet someone who can cast better spells than you, by no means should you assume that this person is more illuminated than you are. They may simply have been born with strong talents and know how to use them, and you should certainly not defer to them on anything other than technical issues without some additional evidence of realization on their part.

Similarly, looking at the world's spiritual traditions it makes little sense to treat practical magical work as a necessity for obtaining spiritual realization. Many very accomplished mystics from a wide variety of spiritual traditions have little interest in practical magick and are nonetheless highly illuminated individuals. Still, when magick is practiced along with mystical practices there is the possibility of using the synergy between them to speed you along the path. As an example from the Buddhist tradition, Mahayana Buddhism teaches that the path to enlightenment takes many lifetimes, but Vajrayana Buddhism teaches methods that promise the possibility of enlightenment within a single lifetime. The main difference between Mahayana and Vajrayana is that Vajrayana incorporates practices that most magicians would describe as magical, such as the use of mantras associated with particular practical effects.

What I mean when I say that there is a direct relationship between practical magick and spiritual realization is that, in the context of your own practice, a noticeable increase in your own practical magical ability is usually a sign of increased spiritual realization. Furthermore, an increase in your level of spiritual realization should increase your practical magical ability. Any realization that is not accompanied by such an increase should be carefully scrutinized, and may not be as profound as you originally thought. While practical magick may not be a requirement for spiritual realization, practical work accompanied by empirical testing is a big help as a "reality check" on your level of awareness. The important thing to understand here is that in this you are only in competition with yourself at different points along the path, which is why you need to keep careful track of your practical results and subjective experiences. Just because you happen to have been born with less practical talent than some other magician is no reason for you to consider yourself his or her inferior, particularly if you are drawn to mysticism anyway.

That being said, I have come across a few attitudes that should be avoided. The first of these is "maybe x is better at magick, but I'm a better mystic so I'm more realized." Are you sure? It's certainly possible and may be true, but there's little to be gained by placing yourself in spiritual competition with others. They have their path to walk and you have yours. More insidious is the idea that "I'm just not good at practical magick, so I just won't do it" or worse, "practical magicians are debasing the work by actually using their abilities." The first of these is usually an excuse to avoid actual magical work or simply a rationalization for a lack of interest, and the second is usually the sign of a practitioner who resents individuals born with more talent or even those who have worked harder than he or she has. This resentful mindset makes any sort of genuine realization nearly impossible.

The relationship between practical ability and spiritual realization can be broken out using the operant equation, my revised version of the magical equation first proposed by Peter Carroll in Liber Kaos. It is written thus:

S * (G * E * L * (1 - R) * (1 - A)) = M

S = Strength. This represents the magician's level of natural talent, and is a constant value.
G = Gnosis. This directly correllates to the magician's level of spiritual realization.
E = Energy. This represents the energetic state of the subtle body.
L = Link. The quality of the magical link to the target.
R = Resistance to the ritual's intended outcome.
A = Attachment to the ritual's intended outcome.
M = The real-world practical Magical Effect of the ritual in terms of probability shift.

Breaking down the equation, you can see that there are really only two ways that a magician could increase his or her practical ability without any corresponding increase in spiritual realization. The first is to use a better magical link to the target, a simple technical consideration, and the second is to increase the energetic state of the subtle body through practices such as Qigong, martial arts, pranayama, yoga, and so forth. A magician with a really high S, a highly-developed E, and a superior understanding of magical links might be able to cast effective practical spells without having a highly-developed G. However, a high degree of spiritual realization is also related to lower levels of Resistance and Attachment (or, if you prefer Buddhist terminology, attachment and aversion) and as a result I would not expect to find very many people with this particular combination of attributes and abilities.

More importantly, since spiritual realization raises G and lowers R and A, it should be clear that any genuine increase in spiritual realization will increase your practical magical abilities, at least to some degree. About the only way that this could not be the case is, for example, if the realization was obtained through some sort of extreme ascetic practice that depleted E. Even so, once E is replenished the magician should find that his or her practical ability is at a higher level than it was prior to the realization. If this does not seem to be the case when your practical abilities are subjected to empirical probability testing then more work is in order on your part. It may be that the enhancement is small enough that it is hard to isolate through testing, but if the realization is genuine it should be there. You certainly should not see a measurable decrease in your practical abilities as you become more realized.

When magick is done properly it is actually somewhat difficult to avoid some degree of enhanced realization. The ritual step that accomplishes this is the preliminary invocation, in which the magician invokes a godform prior to the invocation or evocation proper. This is the best way to work in terms of magical power and it also facilitates spiritual realization. Every godform invoked will increase realization to some degree, and though that degree may be very small, eventual accumulation is inevitable. What this means is that you don't have to choose between magick and mysticism, but you can do both and simultaneously become a better magician and a better mystic.

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michele said...

94 Scott,

Nice post! I appreciate how you can really make complex information intelligible.

A question about your equation:

S * (G * E * L * (1 - R) * (1 - A)) = M

S = Strength. This represents the magician's level of natural talent, and is a constant value.
G = Gnosis. This directly correllates to the magician's level of spiritual realization.

Now, is this the magician's *overall* level of realization or the degree to which the magician is able to alter consciousness?

Carroll defines "G" as the latter.

93, 93/93

michele said...


Gawd, just realized my typo above - "94" indeed!

On the other hand, maybe it means "one better than just 93?"

What do you think?


Ananael Qaa said...

Now, is this the magician's *overall* level of realization or the degree to which the magician is able to alter consciousness?

It represents both, though my interpretation differs from Carroll's slightly in that in my experience not all things that alter consciousness are the same. For example, hyperventilation cannot be said to produce Gnosis just because it makes you dizzy - but I have come across at least one chaos magician who believed that it did.

As I see it, Gnosis is a specific type of altered consciousness, and the degree to which the magician can alter consciousness in the direction of enlightened or awakened awareness is what I believe is measured by G. At the same time, somebody who is skilled at altering consciousness should be able to do so in any direction he or she desires, so there's probably a lot of overlap between Carroll's interpretation and my idea of Gnosis.