Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What Manifesting Looks Like

Over the years the magical blogosphere has slowly been developing what I would describe as its own distinct style of magick. The techniques involved are not limited to any one school or symbol set, but taken together they represent a coherent approach to the work with a somewhat different emphasis from what has come before. In my opinion much of this emphasis comes from a mature understanding of the relationship between magical operations and probability. Whereas many writers of the past treat magick as a fundamentally mysterious and tempermental force, most "blogosphere" magicians operate from the perspective that (A) there is a limit to the degree of probability shift that a magical operation can produce, and (B) the best way to obtain magical success is to perform the necessary mundane steps toward your goal that will place its likelihood within that range. Sure, you can go through older sources like the works of Aleister Crowley and figure those principles out, and the chaos magick approach is based on a similar attitude with regard to probability. But these days, probably the most straightforward published work explaining this approach is longtime blogger Jason Miller's The Sorcerer's Secrets.

Frater Barrabbas recently posted an article explaining his motivations for practicing magick, beginning with his longing for miraculous powers during his teen years and culminating in the deeper realizations that inform his practice today. The sweep of his narrative strikes me as an excellent example of how we should answer the question of magical motivations regardless of our perspective on the work. We practice magick because it makes our lives better. "Better" is by its very nature subjective, and highly dependent upon where we are in our lives. A bored teenager might find that even a fanciful and inaccurate idea of what magick is and how it works serves to enrich his or her inner life, while a more experienced practitioner might seek to expand his or her consciousness, increase the likelihood of particular beneficial material events, or more than likely both. But when your magick diminishes your life or causes suffering, it's not a badge of honor or a sign of courage or whatever the just-world hypothesis might want you to believe. It means that you're doing something wrong.

Jason's book was written at least in part for those magical practitioners who perform all sorts of spells and rituals but then take no other actions that actually move them towards their goals. The "mighty sorcerer" who can't hold down a job and lives in a state of perpetual crisis and poverty is something of a cliche in the magical community, and generally speaking the lack of necessary mundane actions is what such individuals are doing wrong. They may very well be able to conjure up a magical field that shifts probability their way to an impressive degree - but really, what are the odds of, say, money just falling out of the sky? For a magical operation to succeed, the outcome need not be likely, but it does need to be possible within the range of a reasonable probability shift. Odds on winning the Powerball jackpot are about a hundred million to one against - and a magician who could produce probability shifts like that probably wouldn't need the money. All I know is that I've never met one, and I don't expect that I ever will.

The counterpoint to this argument is to question the use of magick at all in situations where you're already taking mundane steps towards your goal. According to this line of thought, it's the mundane actions that lead to success, not the magick. This is pretty much the way most skeptics think magick "works" when it seems to produce a successful outcome. The use of a spell increases confidence, which increases motivation. This means that you will be predisposed to taking mundane actions that you might not have considered otherwise, which can lead to what appears to be a paranormal outcome - but it's not. Even so, because of the nature of ritual to imprint on the psyche, what you will tend to remember is that you performed a ritual and you succeeded at your goal, not that the ritual subtly influenced you to work harder at accomplishing it.

There is some truth to that perspective, in that one of the ways magick can work is by increasing your motivation. But that's a good thing, and in no way does it detract from the value of probability shifting. The key to successfully manifesting anything you want in life is to approach the problem from all sides. Take every mundane step that you can. Keep your level of motivation and engagement high. And finally, shift reality so that with the level of activity you can sustain you will be as likely to succeed as you can be. Don't go at it half-heartedly, use everything you have. Any goal approached in that way is going to be obtained if it's even marginally realistic, and that "marginally" turns out to be a lot more malleable that many people would believe if you have magick on your side. Not only will it help you overcome problems that you recognize, but it also will surround you with synchronicities that will help you avoid issues you don't necessarily even know about.

I realize that this post is rambling a bit, but what I'm trying to get to is a practical, personal example of this methodology in action. Every year my magical working group performs The Office of the Readings, a series of rituals that run from March 20th to April 10th to welcome in the new Thelemic year. These rites are not merely celebratory, but also include various injunctions and invocations designed to fortify and encourage the participants in the accomplishment of their individual wills. The rituals thus serve as a powerful platform for just about any sort of intent, whether it be mystical, magical, or downright mundane. This year, in addition to the usual intents of creativity, realization, healing, and so forth, I decided to add something completely material and mundane - I wanted a hot tub.

Now, to be fair, I've wanted one for years, ever since we moved to the new house six years ago. I had a plan for where it would go in the back yard, how the slab would be set up, and so forth. Given the expense of the slab and the electrical hookup along with my aversion to financing, I had pretty much decided that I would be buying a used model, and the year before I had even looked into buying one that I found on Craigslist but the seller turned out to be too flaky to deal with. This year, though, I wanted to get it done, and I enlisted magick to help during our annual series of rites. They concluded on the April 10th.

Flash forward to April 30th. My wife heard about a yard sale in our neighborhood and went to check it out. It turned out to not be very good, but on the way back she spotted a sign for another sale. She decided to check that one out as well, and while it didn't have much of what she was looking for, what it did have was a reasonably-priced used hot tub. She called me up and I went to take a look. The tub was set up in a big redwood spa enclosure in the back yard, and it seemed to be in good shape and about the size I wanted. It looked like a good deal. And then, the owner of the tub dropped the bombshell - if I bought it, he would throw in the enclosure as well.

At first I was a bit reticent. The enclosure in question is a ten by twelve foot building that would have to be disassembled, moved, and reassembled. The seller pointed out that one of the four walls would have to be taken down anyway in order to move the tub, since it wouldn't fit through the door and the enclosure had originally been erected around it. The seller's house was in my neighborhood, so the place was easy to get to and trips between there and my house would be short. Even so, getting it taken apart and transported was going to be a lot of work. I wasn't sure that I was going to be up for it, but I decided to trust the magick and go with it. The picture at the top of this article is me putting the enclosure back together in my yard, and this is a picture of the finished product. The bench is included to show the scale.

As you can see, the enclosure is pretty large. When my wife and I started working on it we found that it was more modular than I had originally assumed and the walls actually came apart fairly easily so long as I only broke the panels down so far. The roof was more challenging, since the building was designed to be put up and taken down all at once instead of removing one wall to get the tub out and then taking down the rest. Going with the enclosure also meant that I had to completely revise my plan for where the tub would go, since the enclosure took up a lot more space than the tub alone. In order to make the whole thing fit, I had to set it up on the other side of my back yard, and the slab needed to be poured accordingly.

Once we had that done, we moved the tub across the yard and onto the slab, and then set about putting the building back up. Again, this was quite a bit of work and the roof proved to be the most challenging. Finally, once the enclosure was assembled we hired an electrician to hook the slab up - and made a fortuitous discovery. According to Minneapolis building codes, the original site I had selected for the tub would have been a code violation because the power line to the house passed too close overhead. In fact, where we had put the slab because of the size of the building was pretty much the only viable location in the entire yard. So this was the first way in which having the enclosure proved helpful.

The other way it wound up working is just that, well, the enclosure is great. Sitting in the tub this last weekend I was really struck by the realization that having the tub just set up in the yard would be kind of annoying. I live in the city, and have neighbors. Even though I was planning on putting in a higher fence and so forth, the tallest one Minneapolis will allow without a special permit is six feet. Some friends of mine who got a tub years ago found those same codes frustrating since a six foot fence does not necessarily ensure privacy when there are buildings and houses around that are more than one storey. But the enclosure solves that problem completely - there's even room inside for a small couch.

In fact, I really did pretty much conjure that couch right out of the air. I went out behind my garage one day and someone had just dumped it there, presumably to stick me with the trash bill for disposing of it. But the upholstery was faux-leather that wouldn't hold water, and it was exactly the right size to fit next to the tub, so I just kept it. While it's a little beat up and the upholstery looks to have been damaged along the sides by one of Morgan's Secret Chiefs - hence the white tape along the edge - it's quite comfortable and makes for a nice seating area.

So how did the magick work? The first thing it did was open up the opportunity to buy both the tub and the enclosure for what would have been a good price for just the tub. The mundane steps in this case came later - taking down and putting up the building took most of the summer, since the big heat wave in July made working outside quite difficult. I needed to be able to afford pouring the slab and getting the wiring done, though I would have had to do that for any tub I bought. As far as synchronicities go, needing to change the location of the tub proved extremely helpful in terms of the building codes, and a couch that worked for my seating area just appeared.

Magical goals don't need to be spiritual, and they don't need to be inherently altruistic or anything like that. Sometimes they can just be about acquiring something that you want. What magick won't do is get you something for nothing - but it is eminently capable of getting you something for a lot less than it would otherwise take. I found the original bill from when the tub was first purchased in with the manual and other paperwork, and it cost over ten thousand dollars back in the year 2000, not counting the slab and so forth - and what I wound up spending was a small fraction of that, plus the effort on the part of my wife and I to get the whole thing to come together. The tub has only been up and running for the last week or so, and I already am finding it well worth it.

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