Sometimes I am so in love with universe I want to hug it. Not having arms that wide I tend to go for those close by me; my son, M, my toy rabbit Pooyan. This morning was like this. Driving to work while listening to a Bach Cantata was lovely and I was contemplating two things: this post on practical magic and my sadness that no one had responded to what I thought was a great post on Christianity, Magic and Politics. I get to work start jotting this post during my breaks, and lo and behold – a reply to the post by Stavros whose own post on the use of astrology for “political magic” (my description) is very interesting.
Speaking of doing “good works” – tomorrow my hair is shaved to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation. You really need to sponsor me! RIGHT NOW – CLICK HERE.
Recently I have received a few requests from students, correspondents and former students on the art of ‘Practical’ or ‘Low Magic’. This is magic designed to create changes in our personal lives, to bring us better jobs, new lovers and so forth. Now, depending on my mood, the grade and mental state of the student, I can be quite curt in my reply. As I wrote in the much delayed By Names and Images, “If you are seeking instruction in this type of magic, stop reading now, as you will not find it here”. Sometimes I can even be quite rude as the Golden Dawn quite clearly views magic as a process of linking with the Divine and the natural forces of the universe. There are very few indications in the GD texts that suggest this wonderful tradition may be utilised to for practical magic or sorcery.
However, magic is one of those unfortunate words that have a number of different meanings and which elicit even more reactions when spoken about. Sadly there is no denying that both today and historically practical magic is often linked to the traditions of spiritual magic. I just wish it and other aspects of internal life, like “psychic abilities” weren’t. But they are, so there we go.
Rather than degenerate into a discussion that ‘high’ magic (that which is not for the self) is better than ‘low’ magic (that which is for the self) I want to point out something that is seldom mentioned: most readers of blogs such as this actually do not need any help from magic. In a world where twenty thousand people will die from poverty and starvation each day, any westerner who can afford time and money to wander around the Internet must be counted as rich beyond measure. To use our magical blessings, which stem ultimately from the One, to increase our station in life rather than to balance out the stakes a little for those who are literally starving to death says something for our personal magical motivation. And in this vein, the profusion of spell-craft manuals and coffee table books bristling with all forms of sorcery says a lot for the general motivation of the esoteric and New Age communities today.
This is not to deny the real hardships, financial and personal difficulties we may find ourselves in. For example, poverty, even in Western countries, creates many social and personal problems. These are real, depressing and damaging. However, to reproduce from the sidebar the comments by a living elder of western magic, Gareth Knight:
For most of us however, we only think seriously of food or sex or money when it becomes a problem, which is to say when we feel we are not getting our share. When we find ourselves in that situation then I regret to say that meditational visualisations are really not the best way to remedy the lack. This is simply a way of trying to avoid rendering to Caesar the thing that are Caesars. We are here in a physical condition in a physical world and while in that state we have to abide by the laws appropriate to it.
Magic is simply not the best way of solving or even helping to solve financial, sexual, vocational, familial or other personal problems. In the modern western world the community practicing practical magic the most has to be the Wiccans. Now from personal and anecdotal experience over 25 years and in every survey I’ve ever read, there is nothing to suggest the Wiccans are better off than the rest of us. They are not richer or smarter. They suffer the same vicissitudes in love, health and work and are just as likely to have addicts and dysfunctional folk in their community as in any community. The richest Wiccan I know has made his money from sharp and aggressive real estate purchases, not from spells. Of course there is an argument that most Wiccans, despite their cones of power and sex magic are simply devoid of the solid magical skills which we of the GD persuasion have 🙂 However, despite there being less data for the GD community there is nothing to suggest that we are better off either!
I am not saying that practical magic cannot work. I think it can, under certain circumstances. It is however, far, far more difficult than most people think. Tanya Lurhmann in her Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft describes how magical folk alter their own internal reality to make it seem like their magic has worked. This is something I have observed time and time again in the Wiccan and magic-Gnostic communities (since the only GD folk I mix with don’t do practical magic, I haven’t seen it there).
Basically, it is easier to accept our fate and alleviate our problems via material means than magic. We can go on Seek or a dating/casual sex site, attend family therapy or get some emergency financial assistance from an aid agency. We can do something real, earthed and solid.
Also to be considered are the dangers of practical magic. While many practical magic techniques are not in themselves more dangerous than those of spiritual magic, their practice lacks a crucial element always present in spiritual magic – altruism. As soon as we engage in magic for ourselves we are no longer activating the transpersonal, higher aspects of our beings. Our personal desires and wants, even if temporarily let go off for the performance of the ritual, ensures that our consciousness is not fully motivated and infused by the not-self. This means we are engaging in the astral realm without the protection our higher motivations provides us. While nothing dramatic may occur, over time repeated self-focused practices will hinder our spiritual unfoldment and development.
In addition there are problems of technique that can be dangerous. As an example, Nick Farrell, who is very sensible and adept in the GD, recounts on a recent post how basically there are no listed angels in the western tradition that can ‘assist’ in money magic. One has to resort to the assistance of a demon. I never knew this. Now different people have different views of demons but even if we see them only as personifications of repressed areas of the psyche, there is no denying they are linked to a cultural egregore that is very unpleasant. The adept may have no problem with this but the novice or journeyman may and could come out worse for the wear.
In my experience the best and most successful forms of practical magic are those performed collectively for altruistic purposes and which work in alliance with spiritual beings under the presidency of the higher powers. These are keys elements: a collegiate experience to go beyond the self; altruistic and transpersonal intentions; working in harmony with beings in the other realms where we at best can but blunder around, and; an attitude of surrender to the One. Even then, depending on the action we often fail in achieving the desired and stated outcome. There is no doubt however that we, the magicians, are changed and transformed. Also the positive ‘energy’ is never lost, the altruism, which is a form of love continues on long after the ritual finishes. Examples of these forms of rituals are sadly lacking in the Golden Dawn and western magical circles, though I have posted one of them here. In this sphere the Pagans out do us so well as the work of the Blessed Starhawk and the Reclaiming Collective show (I’ve blogged about her too).
Finally though, I would be burying my head in the sand if I ignored the fact that there exist many competent writers and teachers who present Golden Dawn derived rituals and techniques as tools for bettering our personal and material lives. Israel Regardie detailed one such approach in his Art of True Healing essay and recounts how he used such magic to ‘set himself up’ financially upon his retirement. I guess each of us must decide for ourselves on the validity or otherwise of attempts to magically improve our lot in life.