Recently Abhainn Rivers blogged about his responses to a discussion between myself and Dean Wilson on Dean’s blog, Mishkan ha-Echad. The discussion was sparked from my notes in By Names and Images on practical, or low magic – magic designed to cause changes in the physical ‘out there’ universe rather than the interior sphere of the magician. I’ve discussed this before and though I would probably re-state things today, this post still gives a good overview of my thought.
I am interested today in the broader concepts alluded to in this discussion – the concept of self – who we are, and what makes us who we are. Now, magic was traditionally taught only within the Inner Order of the Golden Dawn. There are many very good reasons for this besides the rather vacuous ‘magic is dangerous’ warning and assumption that the morals of those in the Inner Order are more developed than those in the Outer. A key reason for this structure, I believe, is that by then, especially after the experience of the Adept Grade, the magician has a different, a more expanded, more accurate understanding of themselves.
As has been noted before, the aim of magic is to become more who we are, more ourselves. Yet paradoxically this ‘self’ we find, this intensity of personality, this presence and realness of existence is, at the same time, known and realised to be interdependent and non-existent in essence. We discover ourselves, and lose ourselves at the same time. This is one of the deep mysteries of the Rosicrucian inspired Adeptus Minor grade. True adepts, like my Tibetan Tantra teachers, are some of the most intense and real people I know, having tremendous presence and power. Yet, like their Buddhist counterparts who insist the self is not real on its own side, these adepts are also humble, conscious and aware of the universe that supports their being. Their personal is wedded to the transpersonal.
When the adept initiatory process goes wrong, for whatever reason, the finding and forming of the self is distorted and disturbed. The personal finds and knows itself only through the personal realms, being unable to surrender and wed itself to the transpersonal. This would be fine and not too problematic on its own, as there are plenty of people who are self-focused out there. However, as part of the training and initiatory gifts of our traditions, the personal ego of the magician also becomes connected to the intense inner forces and currents the tradition provides.
The personal ego alone, unwed to the transpersonal, was never meant to be the focus or conduit of these forces, and hence enlarges and dysfunction results. While this is not the place to discuss the various forms this dysfunction can take, a typical result is where the ego seeks to source its power and validation from the personal level, not the transpersonal. Hence the magician seeks energy and validation from the lower levels, from outer praise for their personal achievements, ‘spirituality’, prowess and skill. The results can be seen in any of the self focused leaders around today. Typically these folk are focused on what makes them (and by extension their groups) wonderful, unique, powerful, true etc. Naturally the whole plethora of outer symbols, grades and titles are used by these folk in an effort to give more self-focused ego feedback
Since my primary tradition has always been the GD / RR et AC, I think I my concern with practical magic is that a focus on personal (lovers, money etc) and non-personal (family friends etc) concerns may hinder the development of the transpersonal, which is the aim of the whole biz as far as I am concerned. As I said in my post referred to above:
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.
Now, I am not saying it is ‘wrong’ to be self-focused or that it is not spiritual, since as we have seen the personal and transpersonal ultimately should wed. I am just wondering if personal and even non-personal (family, friends etc) focused work partakes of a different mystery to that of the traditional RR et AC approach, which is transpersonal focused.
The majority of practical magic in the west is surely practiced by Wiccan or Wiccan inspired systems, most of which acknowledge and work the ‘path of the Hearth Fire’ as it is poetically called, the path of daily life lived spiritually. This term, I believe, stems from the work of Dion Fortune, who extended, went sideways and introduced a lot more into the magic she learnt from the Golden Dawn. Describing this path, she writes:
…as true a way of initiation as any of the disciplines imposed by the occult fraternities.
However, she also very clearly describes the importance of the transpersonal within this path, as much as the initiatory occult path. The personal work, focus and action must be directed towards the non-personal and thereby, with the right intention and inner direction, moved also towards the transpersonal.
If we rule our homes in a spirit of selfless love and serenity of heart, asking no return, but doing our duty for the sake of the need of those to whom we minister [non-personal], our house will be a true Temple of the Hearth-Fire in which we can receive our initiation [transpersonal].
…let us, in imagination, always put a chair at the fireside and lay a place at table for the Unseen Guest, and live our life and do our work in the light of that Invisible Presence [transpersonal]. (Training and Work of the Initiate, chapter four).
Any concerns I have with practical magic therefore seem to stem from how some people use their spiritual arts for personal or non-personal (family, friends) concerns without the development of the transpersonal. I have seen this happen on a regular basis. Now, as I have said, this may be a different mystery and approach to the RR et AC – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just wonder if this approach has just sort off slipped into the Golden Dawn since its public expansion with personal and non-personal magic being practiced in the Outer Order. I also wonder how this affects the GD and those who practice magic in this way when they enter the transpersonal focused Inner Order. I use the word ‘wonder’ here specifically – I have no definitive answers and make no moral judgements. Responses appreciated :)