Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thoughts on "Nightmare Scenarios"

Llewellyn's New Worlds of Mind and Spirit has an article up by Donald Michael Kraig entitled Avoid the "Nightmare Scenario" in which he discusses the use of Tarot divination in order to avoid magick going terribly wrong.

While I have a couple of criticisms of the article, I want to start out by saying that the suggestion of doing a Tarot divination prior to engaging in practical magical operations is a good one, especially for beginning magicians, and Kraig explains how to do it simply and effectively. I don't do readings for my rituals very much anymore because after years of practice I have developed a pretty good sense of what will work and what won't. However, in the past I have found it to be a very useful technique for anyone who has not yet developed this intuitive sense of how magick works, and developing this sense does take years of dedicated practice. Kraig plugs a couple of different Tarot decks at the end of the article, but I don't think it matters which one you use. I like Aleister Crowley's Thoth deck the best because of the explicit Qabalistic symbolism and Frieda Harris' deco-style artwork, but I also know plenty of people who get good results with the Rider-Waite.

My criticisms are twofold. First off, in my experience "nightmare scenarios" as Kraig describes are actually very rare in magick if they happen at all. I've heard stories here and there but they are more like urban legends than verifiable cases. I do know of a few practitioners who have had mental illness issues, but if anything their practices have helped rather than hindered them in terms of dealing with such problems. From my own personal experience, I had issues with depression myself when I was younger and over the years my magical work has cleared that up without any therapy or psychiatric drugs. You're going to find mentally ill people in just about any group - in the United States approximately one person in four has some sort of mental illness - but I'm willing to bet that among genuine spiritual practitioners the incidence of such problems is much lower.

As far as practical work getting out of hand, I've done practical work for years and have never had anything of the sort happen, even as an inexperienced magician long ago. I'm convinced that this is because practical magick, in which the material world actually changes, is difficult enough that unless your entire being is behind the operation it will fail - and by "fail" I mean absolutely nothing happens. My basic working hypothesis is that for practical magick to work it must be in harmony with your True Will, your innermost divine nature, because otherwise your mind will be divided about the outcome and therefore the requisite "force" is not present to create the intended change. This hypothesis suggests a method of personal development that I have had great success with - evaluating magical successes and failures in order to gain insight into the nature of your True Will. A complete magical failure, in which no change or probability shift occurs, is likely out of harmony with your True Will in some key way.

My second criticism is related to what I consider to be Kraig's greatest failure - the recommendation that you should use the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram followed by the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram to begin and end magical rituals. It was published in Modern Magick and a lot of people who learned from Kraig's first book do rituals that way - and it's flat-out wrong. What is missing here is that if you understand how the banishing rituals work, no magical operation you send forth will ever get out of hand. The LBRP/LBRH creates what I call the "banishing field," which is a full magical shutdown. It stops all running spells, regardless of where they are in terms of accomplishing their objectives.

So in Kraig's example of "The Sorceror's Apprentice," all that would actually need to be done to shut down the wayward brooms would be to open a banishing field - they would fall over on the spot. Obviously, you don't want to be concluding your rituals this way because any influence you send out will similarly be stopped in its tracks before it has time to accomplish anything. My own recommendation, as I've mentioned a number of times, is to open practical magical rituals with an operant field, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram followed by the Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Hexagram, and then close them with the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram by itself. This allows the macrocosmic portion of the spell to continue operating after the ritual has been concluded.

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