Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Without Practical Magick, Why Bother?

Lately the question of working practical magick has been making another round through the blogosphere. I've addressed this question in the past, and any longtime reader should know by know that I am strongly in favor of doing practical work. I think that insisting magick should only be for spiritual realization can very easily become a facile explanation for spells that don't work, and that many of the people who are opposed to practical work just aren't very good at it and don't like admitting that fact to anyone around them. Frankly, I don't understand why anyone who honestly holds that perspective would bother with magick at all. It seems like a lot of hard work that you don't need in order to simply expand your consciousness.

Ritual magick is complicated. Learning it involves practicing ceremonial forms, memorization, energy work, symbolic analysis, and so forth. The practices that the art incorporates include everything from meditation to visualization to breathwork to the construction of tools, talismans, and other implements. And it is my contention that the reason we do all these things rather than something simpler has little to do with cultivating an enlightened or awakened mind. It has everything to do with influencing material circumstances, which is why the complexity exists in the first place. If you want to use your mind to influence the material world, you have to be very particular about how you do it simply because of the nature of matter.

Awakening the mind through pure mysticism is much simpler than the multifaceted approach of the magician. Just start meditating and keep doing it on a daily basis. While simple doesn't necessarily mean easy and maintaining a meditation practice involves the application of self-discipline, it requires little else aside from a quiet place to sit. Not only that, but according to all the factors we can measure using the tools of neuroscience and modern medicine, there is little difference between the meditation techniques taught by the various mystical spiritual traditions. So you don't even need to learn a long list of instructions.

For effective meditation these steps work just fine:

(1) Sit with your spine straight, in a chair or on a cushion.
(2) Breathe deeply and evenly.
(3) Focus your attention on your breath.
(4) When your mind wanders, guide it back to the breath.
(5) Repeat (4) until the time you have allotted for sitting is up.

That's it. You don't need to buy a book or study with a guru or work with a group or anything like that. You just need to do the practice, and do it a lot. Once you've been at it long enough, your awareness will open up and expand and you'll be well on your way to increased spiritual realization.

Now a meditation practice that simple means there's little to discuss, but is that such a bad thing? Surely anyone who delves into ritual magick solely as a sort of fashion statement that they think makes them more interesting shouldn't command much respect from spiritual practitioners. There's nothing spiritual about adopting an outlandish hobby so that you have something weird to talk about at parties. Now to be clear, it seems to me that if you do practical work you're not such a person. But if you don't and instead condemn the work of others, you might be.

The thing is that if your goal is spiritual realization, and meditation gets the job done, why do anything else? Especially, why do something else that is far more difficult to learn but which takes you to the same place? It makes little sense, unless what's going on is something above and beyond the development of realized consciousness. And I believe that something is the potential that practical operations have to transform the world around you.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the whole practical magick debate is the presence of black and white thinking on the issue. To many people, even practitioners who to my way of thinking should know better, like to frame it as whether it's "better" to work by magical OR mundane means. If you want a new job, is it better to send out resumes or cast a job spell? If you're looking for a romantic partner, is it better to go out and meet people or cast a love spell? And so forth.

One of the important magical principles that has emerged from the blogosphere over the course of the last decade is the understanding that this either/or construction is a foolish question, and it's about time that more would-be magicians figured out this basic fact. Obviously if you have a problem and need a solution you should work on it using both magical AND mundane methods. As a matter of fact, I find it a little confusing that the two approaches seem so contradictory to many people because there's no way I can imagine that they would inherently interfere with each other.

You need mundane actions because you're not going to get a job if you don't send out any resumes and you're not going to find a new romantic partner if you don't meet new people. But if you want the best chance of success, you also need the magical methods because the world runs much more on luck and chance than most successful people like to admit. The magick tilts the odds in your favor, so that your resume finds its way to a decision maker more easily or your presence comes off as more appealing to prospective partners.

Never underestimate the value being in the right place at the right time, and understand that without techniques like practical magick you have little control over such things. As you develop your magical skills, though, you should slowly gain the ability to shift the forces of luck and chance your way. Then, once you've take all the mundane actions necessary to give you the best possible odds of success, use practical magick to increase those odds more. It won't always work, but if you know what you're doing it will work a lot more often than it should according to the normal laws of probability.

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Anonymous said...

"Awakening the mind through pure mysticism is much simpler than the multifaceted approach of the magician."

Mr "15 years of Zen school" begs to differ.

Scott Stenwick said...

By "simpler" I mean in terms of the variety of exoteric techniques, structures, implements, and so forth. As I said, simpler and easier are not intended as synonyms in this article.

It may also be that there are advanced Zen techniques that are comparable to magick in this regard. I'm just not familiar with them, having never studied Zen at that level.