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Monday, March 25, 2013

Are You a Real Magician?

It’s late. Really late. Tonight was a pretty good night, and you’re driving home in the dark in a great mood. Nobody else on the streets. Favorite song on the radio. Life is good. Suddenly you see a little way up the road, the only flaw in your perfect evening – a red traffic light. It’s as if the gods saw your awesomeness and conspired to bring you down a peg. Well, to hell with that!

Slowing to a crawl, you raise your hand and direct your will at the offending traffic light, mentally commanding it to change to green and allow you through (if you’re feeling extra saucy, maybe you’re pointing at the other green light, ordering it to turn yellow because that’s how it starts). Because, after all, it’s your True Will to get home, right? You have the right to absolutely DESTROY that street light if it thwarts you!

And oh yeah, that light gets the message. The opposite green obediently turns yellow, then red, and a moment later your light turns green and your foot hits the floor to launch your car homeward once more. Magic so kicks ass, doesn’t it?

Super Badass, yo
This is Probably Not You
 
Not so fast there, Perdurabo. What just happened may not have been magic at all. Traffic lights are typically controlled by an inductance loop in the roadway that tells it when a car is waiting, so it’ll usually change for you if there are no cars coming the other way (and are you really trying to pull out in front of traffic anyway?). The ones that aren’t controlled by inductance loops are on relatively short timers (between 15 and 30 seconds in the U.S.). Did you really do magic at all? What just happened is a fundamental part of human mental development – your brain performed a process called Pattern Recognition. The human brain has an extremely difficult time processing chaotic input, and strives to extract patterns from any given situation, no matter how random the signals. Pattern Recognition gives us a sense of order and therefore comfort, by telling us that everything does in fact happen for a reason. Even (especially) when it doesn’t.To put your light-bending in context, this is also why people see the face of Jesus in tortillas.

Before you get all upset and start warming up the hate mail machines, let me explain that I was wanting to post a Devil’s Advocate position on the existence of magic. There are many who claim magic doesn’t exist, or is merely an elaborate fraud, and they have excellent reasons for believing it. Magic being a relatively unexplored skillset in terms of actual scientific method, there are a lot of elements in traditional magic which may or may not be part of actually producing results.

My reasons for writing this aren’t to discourage anyone from the practice of magic, far from it. I wanted to present the counter-argument to magic so that you can practice better magic, cutting out most instances of self-delusion that can weaken your overall magical career. After all, when the chips are down and you’re working magic to correct a really important situation, wouldn’t you rather know what’s really going on?

Another psychological phenomenon which tends to lead people into attributing supernatural causes to mundane phenomena is Agency Detection. This is the mental process present in every animal species as a survival mechanism. It works by attributing unusual phenomena to a non-natural source, to put the animal on its guard by activating its defense mechanisms. For example, hearing a twig snap in the forest or hearing a creaking sound in a dark house at night. Both of these phenomena put both humans and animals on guard, and the first impulse is to assume some living thing caused these noises.

This is also postulated as the reason early humans developed the idea of religion, and the modern manifestation of this is the religio-political drive toward teaching Intelligent Design in schools. Crowley himself even claimed that the spirits of the Goetia (and, by extension, pretty much every other spirit magicians work with) were nothing more than specific portions of the unconscious mind. Ironically, this was the keynote of his introduction to the Lesser Key of Solomon, a book dedicated to the notion that these spirits had independent existence!

Wait, if all magic is pattern recognition and all religion is agency detection, wouldn’t somebody have noticed this? Probably not. The same psychological mechanisms which cause these operations also filters out information which doesn’t fit your comfort zone. Basically speaking, you will forget most of the times you “pushed” a street light and failed, and place greater mental emphasis on the memories of when you succeeded. This is simple Darwinism – you continue practices which have worked in the past and therefore place greater emphasis on success than on failure.

Why would people keep doing magic for thousands of years if it didn’t really work? Because it appears to, and the appearance is everything. Human beings go to great lengths to avoid discomfort, and ritual is very comforting. People enjoy the familiar because it distracts us from the chaos of everyday life, and even the most absurd superstitions produce just enough “results” to provide a sense of having confirmed them.

So how do I know I’m actually doing real magic, and not just fooling myself? In all likelihood, you don’t. The casual user only does magic once or twice a month, not nearly enough to notice any discrepancies in the pattern. Religious users are even less likely to notice, since very few people actually pray for something tangible they can count as an undeniable success. Most prayers are for “God’s will to be done” or for “someone’s soul”, which cannot possibly have any tangible result whether it succeeds or fails.

Are you saying James Randi is right, and magic doesn’t exist? No, unequivocally. James Randi is subject to the same psychological phenomena, and since his focus is that magic doesn’t exist, his confirmation bias highlights the times he judges psychics to have failed and ignores the times they have succeeded, even when they’ve succeeded repeatedly under lab conditions in his own facility. Interestingly enough, his website seems to suffer from confirmation bias as well, and successful psychic demonstrations have been inexplicably not included in his new website’s archives.

Are you saying James Randi is wrong, and magic does exist? No, unequivocally. It’s impossible to explore these phenomena objectively with a human brain, subject as it is to pattern recognition and confirmation bias.

How can I avoid falling into either of these traps? Start paying attention to the results of every working. Keep a journal if you have to. If you really want to try “pushing” traffic lights, bring a lawn chair and sit on the corner and spend a couple hours manipulating both sets of lights and mark down in a notebook each time you were or weren’t able to cause the light to change from green to yellow in a few seconds.

If you’re trying more for spells than telekinesis, pick one spell you feel you’ve had success with in the past and cast it ten times on different subjects. Do it the same each time, and take note of when you achieved the desired effect and when you didn’t. Use the same standards of success in each case.
Plus, do more magic. Do magic all the time, in every given situation. LIVE like a magician. When you’re doing a hundred small acts of magic every day, you’ll find out pretty quickly what produces results and what doesn’t. Confirmation bias only works as well as it does because of sample size – if you’re only doing magic a couple times a month it’s not enough of an influence on your life to remember the failures. Therefore, doing more magic means more input, and you’ll quickly figure out which acts of magic actually produce the desired results.

And honestly, at the end of the day, that’s the reason for every serious magician to do magic in the first place – to produce results. If your magic isn’t working for you, not making your life better, not giving you a greater level of agency in your life, why are you doing it at all?

“Success is your proof; courage is your armour; go on, go on, in my strength; & ye shall turn not back for any!” – Liber AL

Monday, October 29, 2012

On Initiation

Initiation.

We all think of different things when we hear the word, but there would be few people indeed who had no reference whatsoever for initiation. For some of us, it brings to mind lighthearted pranks on the New Guy, or brutal fraternity hazing, or a series of membership tasks to overcome, or even just paying a ridiculous fee for a new gym membership.

For those of us in spiritual communities, however, Initiation is much more heavily weighted. Rituals of Initiation convey a sense of spiritual authority, access to deeper and more subtle levels of a mystery tradition, exposure to volatile secrets, or even actual rank within a spiritual body. Having experienced a ritual of Initiation, the candidate can rightfully expect to "shift gears" in the group, to be a more active participant, entrusted with power and a greater share of stewardship. Initiation conveys a great many things in spiritual traditions, all of which have one thing in common:

They are granted to the Candidate by a superior.

These benefits must be bestowed upon the Candidate by a member of higher standing, who is actually in a position to bestow them in truth and not just symbolically. This absolutely requires that the person performing the Initiation be superior to the Candidate in terms of knowledge, experience and authority. Otherwise there is nothing to bestow and growth is impossible. The sun grows the tree because the sun has more light and heat - it's a simple matter of physics. The tree does nothing for the sun, because it has nothing to offer and no way to get it there.

To fully understand what this means, we'll first need to explore what the spiritual process of Initiation does in terms of its effect on the Candidate. Rituals of Initiation exist to prompt a specific degree and direction of spiritual evolution in the new member, using symbolic words and actions to simulate the natural conditions which would cause the human soul to become greater. These natural conditions have existed since before humans, but often the very same tension which forces spiritual evolution on a person could just as easily kill them or drive them insane. Early man quickly learned to recreate these conditions in (relatively) safe, controlled environments in order to produce a shaman class which had all been exposed to the same mysteries, and whose souls had made the same quantum leap forward. This experience can only be recreated by those who know the proper conditions and how to guide the Candidate through them safely.

Side note: Sometimes the ritual doesn't "take", and the symbolism fails to prompt the necessary evolution in the Candidate, but this is rare. Properly composed and performed, a good initiation ritual will have the desired effect if the Candidate is ready and well-prepared.

In other traditions, Initiation involves the candidate being introduced to the principal spirits of that tradition, and being vouched-for by an experienced Elder who has been that way before and is well known to the spirits involved. This is a very important form of Initiation, because it establishes a safe and reliable working relationship with all the most powerful forces that tradition works with, and without this introduction the candidate is putting himself in grave danger.

Which brings us to the notion of "Self Initiation". Many neopagan traditions offer the idea of initiating oneself into their tradition, if a suitable Master is not available. The rise of occult publishing and later, the internet, has increased the spread of this idea. Personally, I cannot strongly enough convey my disapproval of this idea, naturally because of the fact that it's impossible but more importantly for the fact that it's dangerous.

Properly understanding the nature of Initiation and all the process entails, how on earth could it be possible to perform an act of Initiation on oneself? Rituals of Initiation require the Candidate be exposed to mysteries and symbolism which are to have a fresh effect, and also be made privy to certain teachings and new techniques, all of which is impossible to gift to oneself. The idea of properly initiating oneself is as absurd as literally hoisting oneself into the air by the belt. Not only is the Candidate's strength insufficient for the task, there is nowhere for him to stand to accomplish this. He literally has no foundation to perform this action.

Now, it's possible to self-dedicate in a tradition, to swear this oath or that oath to the deity of your choice. That's another thing entirely. A person can pray for a natural act of spiritual evolution, but given the stress involved this probably isn't wise. For all intents and purposes, there is no way to actually initiate oneself into any tradition. Period.

We've seen how it's impossible, and I also mentioned that it's dangerous. Initiation conveys a certain degree of spiritual authority, but this authority is only based on the practical application of having learned and applied new experiences. Without that experience, the authority is empty. I like to think of "Self Initiated" people as the mall-cops of the spiritual world - they're all bark and no bite, and when the chips are down they're simply not up to the task of performing with the same degree of excellence one could expect from a true Initiate.

Moral of the Story: Put in the time and effort to find a Master, and receive the mysteries in the proper manner. If you don't have it in you to do it right, do you think you have it in you to fix the mess you're going to make?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Jackal's Apprentice - How I Met Ebony Anpu, Part I

     "Looking for the O.T.O. huh?"

     I turned to look over my shoulder and was somewhat disconcerted to discover someone already there. He was a little taller than myself, with wispy black hair and a jack-o-lantern grin.
     I'd been in town for only a few weeks, although I suppose "in town" would be a somewhat generous description because I was in the Navy at the time, stationed aboard the U.S.S. Samuel Gompers. I didn't really live in any town. I did get into Oakland and San Francisco quite a bit though, and I'd been exploring what the Bay Area's various occult bookstores had to offer. At the moment, I was in Ancient Ways.
     Now, I'd been in occult bookstores before. The first one was in Erie but it was more New Age than occult, with lots of crystals and singing bowls. Very little in the way of spellbooks. There was Harry's in Philadelphia, which was very much like an old-world apothecary, but the first really impressive magic shop I'd been to was The Magickal Childe in New York City. It was marvelous - you could practically feel the evil oozing out into the street. Still, Ancient Ways had quickly become my new favorite.
     One wall was full of books, the other full of herbs. Glass display cases showed off various curios and artifacts from this tradition or that, along with jewelry, tarot cards and all manner of ritual tools. And, as I was about to find out, Ancient Ways also offered classes. At the moment, I'd been flipping through their class schedule when I came across a flyer for Thelema Lodge OTO.
     I'd read about Ordo Templi Orientis and the Golden Dawn, and other magical orders in my books, but I'd never met anyone who was actually a member of any of them. Once in Philadelphia, I'd asked a store owner if he had any personal experience with the OTO. He lowered his voice and asked "Are you a member?" and when I said no he leaned back and said "Well, I don't think they really exist." It didn't help.
     So I spent the afternoon pestering Ebony about the OTO, and I came back to attend his Ceremonial Magic classes. Aside from a few bumps in the road (like having to explain to him that not everyone knew Solomonic Hebrew) it went really well. Everyone attending learned a lot about the structure of ritual, most importantly how to recognize and use ceremonial formulas.
     So that became my life. I conveniently moved in across the street from Ancient Ways, and I'd endure days in the Navy so I could rush home and go to Ebony's class or go hang out at Ebony's house. Everything became a lesson, whether we were pawing through his library, frankensteining a computer together out of spare parts or just getting high and playing chess. I was regularly attending the Gnostic Mass at Thelema Lodge on 63rd street and getting to know everyone in the community. For the first time in my life, I was receiving formal instruction in magic from someone who was an actual Master.
     Life was good.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Engines of Magic

A close friend and respected colleague asked me an important question today. He asked me why I organize the apprenticeship grades of training according to the four philosophical elements, earth, air, water and fire. I understand that it seems trite to do it that way because that's the way almost every major magical tradition does it, but in answering his question I reviewed my reasoning and thought it was something that I should pass on to my readers.

Like all magicians, I based a good deal of my training curriculum on Liber 185 and Liber 13, by Aleister Crowley, both being short treatises on the gradations of training and expectations at each level thereof......well, okay maybe not *all* magicians. I found Crowley's regimen to be reasonable and practical and, although I didn't know why at the time, it just seemed right.

There were flaws with it, naturally. I thought that Crowley's focus on Yoga seemed excessive, and lacking in perspective given the wide variety of world traditions that produce the same effects if done properly, not to mention the traditions that have only come to light since Crowley's death. I also found it somewhat egotistical that Crowley insisted his students had to commit various libers of his own authorage to memory. I studied long and hard to discover the "engine" that fuelled his magical curriculum, so as to sidestep all the junk and discover the operative elements inside.

I began studying Crowley's "Liber Collegii Sancti" curriculum with an eye to Game Theory and Metagame Theory (especially Mechanical Design), in the sense that the operations of practical magic, i.e. causing change in conformity with Will, functioned according to specific rules by which certain energies, forces or masses could be moved about with impunity as long as a balance was maintained therein. Study of the LCS material provided me with a deep insight into practical magic.

Magic is communication.

Pure and simple. The art and science of causing change entails forcing the universe to adopt a reality other than the status quo, with the magnitude of said change composing the resistance to it, and therefore the amount of work involved. This communication with the Universe is done via symbols. The more personal and involving any element of ritual is, the more power it adds to the magician's attempt to communicate his will to the Universe. This is the reason for discovering one's own set of symbols, as opposed to simply adopting the set of an established magical system. Yes, with an established magical system you'll be able to work in concert with everyone else using that system, but it will never be *the best* system to use for your own personal work.

In human terms, the quotient of status quo functions as "belief", the strength of the belief being the resistance to change. When a person is presented with factual and indisputable evidence which contradicts his previously adopted beliefs, he experiences a psychological phenomenon known as "Cognitive Dissonance", in which two realities collide and he experiences great discomfort from the sudden realization that two conflicting ideologies cannot both be acceptable.

Quite often, a person can deal with the discomfort of Cognitive Dissonance by ignoring or dismissing the new information, or finding whatever excuse is necessary to avoid dealing with it. As they say, ignorance is bliss. Truth, however, will not be long contained and will tend to fester in the back of the person's mind, poisoning his psychological comfort and making him bitter toward any expression or reminder of the discomforting knowledge.

Changing a person's mind is a matter of persuasion, and a sufficiently persuasive argument can compel an otherwise rational human being to wholeheartedly believe something which is patently and obviously false. When hypnosis is involved (taking control of a person's sensory input filters), the difficulty in so doing is greatly reduced. This is the human parallel to performing an act of magic.

In magic, the magician communicates his will to the universe, much in the same sense as delivering the opening statement of a debate. The magician says "Things are thus." and the universe replies "No, things are THUS.", and depending upon the effectiveness of his communication, the magician's will is either accepted or rejected by the Universe. Quite often, there is a partial change, in which the universe overcomes a portion of its cognitive dissonance to arrive at a compromise between the status quo and the Will of the magician. This would constitute a partial success, and more often than not even sloppy magic will achieve some degree of manifestation.

So, how do we effectively communicate our will to the Universe? The same way as we communicate information to other humans, animals or objects. Remember, operating on any given thing is a form of communication. Pushing a human is the same message as pushing a rock, the only difference being that a human is able to obey on his own. Language is one of the most common forms of communication, but what do you do when the two persons communicating do not share a language? They use gestures and drawings. This is an example of crossing the planes of communication. For the purposes of simplicity, these are the planes I use:

Earth - Gestures, tokens and touch
Air - Words, ideograms and other direct visual or spoken representations
Water - Color, music, scent and other forms of impressionism and/or intuition
Fire - Telepathy, clairvoyance and other forms of "grok"

Each level of communication has an advantage and disadvantage when compared to the others. For example, telepathy can communicate vast amounts of complex information which can take seconds to communicate but hours to process and understand, but it's extremely difficult for beginners to achieve accurate rapport in this form of communication. When one level of communication is insufficiently accurate to produce a genuine connection, the problem can be solved by dropping down to the next level and trying again. For example, when two people do not speak the same language (air), they resort to gestures and pictures (earth) which decreases the volume of communication at the same time it increases the accuracy of the information communicated, or at least increases the chances of communicatory rapport.

Translating human communication to magic isn't very difficult. Once you accept the model of "practical magic" as communicating one's desires to the universe in the form of a compelling argument, the only hurdle left is to open lines of communication by which to present that argument. Magical technique begins properly with Earth, the use of physical amulets or materials which in and of themselves convey certain types of energy and therefore act as filters to transform the magician's energy into whatever "flavour" best suits the purpose of his communication to the universe. For example, if he wishes to increase his physical fortitude, the magician could put his energy into a chunk of bloodstone. Much as a coloured gel transforms white light shined through it, magical elements transform whatever energy is directed through them to radiate a specific magical energy determined by the virtues of the physical element itself. The bloodstone absorbs his undifferentiated energy and radiates it back out, filtered through its own virtues to be a source of energy which fortifies the body, increases physical strength and causes wounds to heal quickly.

This level of communication also includes gestures, which I tend to break down into great and small. Great gestures are whole-body stances or movements for use in ritual. Using the entire body, the magician puts a great deal of meaning into these gestures, and therefore a lot of juice. Small gestures are nothing more than one-or two-hand versions of the great gestures, to be used in situations where it may not be possible or advisable to use the great gestures, for example on a crowded subway or in church.

Tokens are an easily misunderstood part of Earth magic. A token is something which is a direct tactile representation of the thing to be worked with. A toy car, tiny wooden house, a "voodoo doll", or Monopoly money, are all items which qualify as "tokens", and are easily used in Earth magic. For example, a magician might have a doll or photograph representing himself, and as part of a money drawing ritual he might perform a daily routine in which he counts out and stacks up a large amount of money on top of the photograph. This collection of items would be left out on his altar, dresser top or anywhere prominent where he would see it every day and therefore reinforce the message "I HAVE THIS AMOUNT OF MONEY!", and if the message gets sent strongly enough, the Universe will accept his argument and the money will arrive. Side note: I would actually *not* use Monopoly money, but print out small hundred dollar bills on a copier or computer printer, because the message is that it should represent real money.

For Air, the use of words and ideograms steps up the volume of communication available, as long as the words and symbols used dovetail with those of the magician. Most traffic signs are perfect examples of ideograms, as is the Chinese language. They are somewhat abstract drawings illustrating the message, which can be quite detailed even with a simple ideogram.

These ideograms can be as crude or artistic and detailed as you like. The more eye-catching it is, the better. Note that I didn't say "attractive", because there are uses for ideograms which are utterly repellent in certain situations. The best part of using ideograms is that you can paint them directly ON the object of your magic. I.E. painting wards on your door lintel, or embroidering them into your clothing. I highly recommend using Chinese calligraphy sets for this, since the ink must be made fresh each time, allowing the magician to really get concentrating on the outcome of his work.

Water magic is all about how you use emotion and intuition to cause change. Colors, scents, music all have incredible power to "set the stage" and "create a feel" which tends to put most people in the area into a specific mindset. The drawback is that it doesn't tend to communicate detailed information well, but rather overwhelms the senses with compelling input to create the desired mindset. This is why hospitals are painted in cool, neutral tones while nightclubs tend to be black or dark colors with brightly colored lights and loud music.

While water magic *can* be used as a stand-alone set of techniques, it is often employed as an enhancement to other ritual methods. A ritual setup is much more compelling and powerful when the room is draped in red fabric, with spicy cinnamon incense burning and drummers pounding away. Face it - it's pretty difficult NOT to get directly into the desired headspace in that situation, but it often isn't enough to "turn the trick" by itself - there needs to be a specific set of symbolic actions taken to direct this energy toward the desired end. This is why water magic tends to dovetail nicely with earth magic.

Fire magic is without a doubt the perfect epitome of practical magic, and as such it is both the simplest form of magic *and* at the same time the most subtle and difficult to master. Fire magic is the act of directly willing something to come into being, and having it happen. Yes, it sounds very easy to simply decide that things are going to be a certain way, but it's not so easy to convince your unconscious mind to play along.

For starters, the magician has his own Cognitive Dissonance to conquer, which can be overcome through the use of lesser forms of magic or through supreme force of will. I'm not going to get into detail concerning the development of fire magic or the specific practices therein, as such would be beyond the scope of this compact rant.

Once the magician has mastered fire magic, he will have essentially mastered all the skills he will ever need to practice any form of magic or achieve any goal he should desire. While there is never any guarantee of "success" in practical magic, having acquired the necessary skills (and most importantly, the mindset and understanding of mechanics) of magic, he will stand head and shoulders above other magicians, and heavens above the common man.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The War is Over. Long Live the War.

     Every year we're visited by the same war controversy. Not Iraq or Afghanistan or some other third world country - right here at home. Every year the Christians complain that we non-Christians are waging some kind of "War on Christmas", throwing frantic histrionics any time they're not allowed to dominate the Winter Solstice.
     How does this "War" show itself? If a Walmart greeter dares wish someone "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" during the month of December, it's guaranteed that some patron is going to throw a fit and screech about how Walmart just made Baby Jesus cry. Never mind that Christmas is one of the holidays in "Happy Holidays". Never mind that Winter Solstice celebrations like Yule and Hannukah are much much older than Christmas - Christians get extremely upset any time they're not allowed to have total and exclusive hegemonic domination over the entire month of December.
     But let's back up about a month here ... let's leave aside for a moment how absurd it is to even present the idea that someone could actually wage some kind of "War" on a holiday. Let's not even apply rational thought to that notion for now, because it just happened last month. That's right, I'm talking about the War on Halloween. The very same people bitterly sobbing about the War on Christmas just finished waging War on Halloween. Some were even politicizing it, arguing that Trick-or-Treating was training our children to beg for government handouts. And their "War" was every bit of a non-starter in practical terms as some sort of "War on Christmas" would be.
     The War on Halloween was particularly sad - "JesusWeen" presented an alternative to pagan celebrations that honor our ancestors, an alternative in which children were encouraged to dress up as Bible characters and play Biblically-themed games. It was designed to steal focus from Halloween and let children participate in the very same activities as traditional Halloween, but in service to the Christian God.
     Sound familiar?
     This is the very same invade-and-colonize tactic that Christians have always deployed. They don't like a particular holiday because it's something that belongs to another culture and impedes their domination of a region. The Church did their level best to invade and colonize every major pagan holiday. Imbolc became Candlemas. Samhain became All Saints Eve. Yule became Christmas. The Church was upset that their peasants and workers had even the slightest bit of liberation from Christianity, and they had to move in and dominate every single aspect of life.
     In short, JesusWeen is the very same sort of spiritual imperialism that created Christmas in the first place.
     So once again, the Christians are upset that the peasants are able to take enjoyment in something the Church doesn't control. And they created JesusWeen, quite possibly the lamest waste of time since the Maginot Line. Granted, the only participants were the children of devout Christians, or other parents vulnerable to religious pressure, but they counted it as a "success" because those children wouldn't be celebrating Halloween with all us damn dirty Pagans.
     Maybe they were hoping it would catch on, that somehow dressing up as Moses and seeing who could recite the longest Bible verse could be considered by some to be more fun than going door to door and shaking down total strangers for mass-critical amounts of candy. It's not my thing, but I'm sure it appeals to someone.
     In any event, the Christians are warming up the Outrage Machine™  for this year's edition of the War on Christmas. It's not enough to wish someone "Happy Holidays" which include Christmas, because it implies that there are other Winter Solstice holidays worthy of recognition by the cultures that celebrate them. Unless you only say "Merry Christmas", unless you ONLY pay homage to the stolen Christian holiday, the Church won't stand for it. Again, some on the Right are politicizing this, trying to use their outrage to score points against the President.
     Is this really how their god wants them to spend their time? Don't these people have stuff to do? Rational people are staying out of the debate entirely, and avoiding both sides of the issue so they can enjoy a peaceful, joyful holiday season with their families.
     So, whatever holidays you celebrate between November and February, try to keep them happy.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Opening Rituals

If you pick up nearly any book on the practice of magic, you'll find several examples of Circle Castings -- those rituals magicians use before casting larger spells or performing ceremonies. Often these are not explained in terms of necessity, variation, or the function they serve in the greater ritual as a whole. For this reason, many magicians dismiss the idea entirely as being too "complicated" or "a waste of time", but nothing could be farther from the truth. If you have the desire to cast a spell right, and the time to perform the ritual at all, you have time to cast a Circle. It'll pay off.

Some people think of circles as "protection" (as in "why summon evil forces and protect yourself from them unless you're some kind of pussy?!"), and I can assure you in no uncertain terms that a circle will not protect you from a determined attacker. Wards will not protect you from a determined attacker. Talismans will not protect you from a determined attacker. Even those ubiquitous astral mirrors you hear the new-agers clucking over will not protect you from a determined attacker. Circles are not for protection. Circles are for containment.

What do they contain?

You.

A ritual is essentially the setting in motion of certain forces. Nobody knows or should care what these forces are or specifically why they operate -- the laws that govern them are well known, and this is enough. The purpose of using "Opening Rituals" like the Opening by Watchtower, Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, Greater Pentagram, Supreme Pentagram, Greater and Supreme Hexagram, Star Ruby, Star Sapphire, etc ad nauseam, is to set "lab conditions" within the space where you are doing your working. This usually only needs to be about six or eight feet for a single magician at work, slightly larger if he has seated assistants acting as batteries.

Now you have your space. First you want everything to be Just Right, so if you don't have a dedicated Temple space then the same room is going to be cluttered with various other random thoughts and astral attachments from whatever activities go on in there. What do we do about that? Picture your Temple space like a cooking pan. It should be clean before you cook, unless you're cooking the same thing the next day (bachelor cuisine thinking). Now, the elements you're working with are as vague or detailed as you want, but they will all come in one of three settings: Ambient (natural), Dampened (by banishing) or Heightened (by invoking). You want everything to be Just Right for your ritual, so you want compatible elements to be set on Heightened and opposing elements to be set on Dampened. Everything else can be Ambient because it shouldn't affect your work.

Intermission: This is not as complex as it sounds. This only requires the same amount of forethought as planning a road trip - having your mix tape, sunglasses, water bottle and map. People typically put more thought into a first date than is required preparation for a ritual.

So let's say you're doing a working of Wrath (I go there in my examples, because I've done a lot of Wrath in my day). Let's be trite and say we're invoking Mars. And not just Mars, but specifically Bartzabel, the planetary Spirit of Mars. So how should be open the Temple? What sets the conditions just right for a working of Wrath? Well, we could invoke Mars directly with a planetary Hexagram ritual. That's easy enough. But let's go back a step and see if we can even make the Mars invocation more potent. Invoke Fire. That could even be helped further by banishing Water first.

So you banish Water, invoke Fire, and invoke Mars. You have set opposing elements to a dampened state, and heightened elements aligned with your work (which you still haven't actually started yet....). The Temple at this point may become very warm, and you may be delighting in fantasies of kicking someone's ass in. Music helps. How else could we make this ritual more powerful before we actually perform the evocation of Bartzabel?

Liber Resh is a ritual designed to align the magician with the sun by performing a specific invocation at the four stations of the sun, but this ritual is easily adapted to any of the planets. Simply find out where Mars is in relation to the Sun (space.com has a wonderful astronomical simulator called Starry Night Backyard which is perfect for this), and switch the timing of the invocations to correspond to when Mars is rising, aloft, setting, and occulted. Do this for, say, five days (Mars' number) and by the day of your invocation you should be just blazing with Mars energy for your work (which you still haven't actually started yet....). Now, Liber Resh is a ritual specific to the OTO but anyone with a little creativity could easily modify the essential concept to their own work. Take out all the Egyptian mumbo-jumbo and it lends itself readily to any other system.

See how these rituals work? They're there to enhance certain energies and dampen other ones, to make you a more suitable vessel for the work you're setting in motion. A lot of people dismiss ceremonial magic out of hand because of all the frittering around it requires, but once you've done one really good working you know where all that extra effort is paying off.

The symbolic actions entailed in any given Opening Ritual, whether banishing or invoking, all serve to create very real changes within the person performing them, very much akin to warming up and stretching before a big workout. Opening Rituals "limber up" the magical muscles you're about to use, and get you primed for action. Banishing isn't any more "necessary" than showering, and invocation isn't any more "necessary" than putting on clean clothes, but doing both keeps you clean and healthy and fit for the world in which you seek to act. NOT doing at least some form of preparatory work leaves you at the mercy of your environment, which is a distinct disadvantage in most cases. It only makes sense to chase the bad stuff off and put the good stuff on.

So, once you have all the proper switches turned on or off, go ahead and perform your ritual. It may be as much as ten times more powerful as it would be if you hadn't taken the time to properly open your Temple. The Opening by Watchtower is nice, but I'd recommend writing your own version of it once you've become proficient with the ritual itself. Remember, the point isn't what ritual you use, it's what results you achieve. And you only get out of it what you put into it.

On Power

     Sometimes I sit and muse on the world. I consider its conditions and its residents and the various happentracks the future may take. I compare its current state with the vision of the world I want to create, and I decide what needs to be done.

     Most of the "evil" in the world stems from a lack of personal power. People steal because they lack money or resources. They rape because they lack sexual security. They hoard money and resources because they fear being without. They kill people out of fear for the threat they pose. All these activities create further insecurity and instability in the lives of those who practice them, rather than decreasing it.

     The standard solution to insecurity is money. Everyone is on a great quest for greater and greater amounts of money, and if they can just get enough money they'll be "set for life", but no amount of money is ever enough. Plus, even with a windfall of several million dollars, the recipient pays tax on the money. Then he pays tax on the things he buys. Then he pays upkeep FOR the things he buys, which is usually taxed as well.

     Increasing personal power is the natural solution to the constant dilemma of security and stability. Magic can get you all the things money can, and many things it can't, and there is no tax on magic. Rich people spend the bulk of every day of their lives chasing money they already have, trying desperately just to break even at the end of the day. At the same time, people with magic are enjoying their lives, perhaps only receiving and spending small amounts of money but enjoying immensely satisfying access to resources that others would have to pay for.

     The problem this creates is the problem people face when they suddenly acquire any amount of power - they tend to become jerks, at least for a little while. Any remotely attractive person suddenly becomes a sexual target. Anyone who acts annoying is immediately set upon with curses. Any stray whim or passing fancy must be acquired, no matter who it rightfully belongs to. Fortunately, this quickly gets old and the magician outgrows it, but all too often this doesn't propel them to move forward. Rather, they feel they've outgrown magic altogether, they give up on exercising power and fall into a routine of passive spirituality, "believing" in magic but not using it.

     One solution to this ennui is exploration. Everything becomes stale eventually, so it's simply a matter of finding new uses for it. This is why there are so many websites with video games on them. Computers have given us so much power that we can do practically any information-related task with them (he says in his blog) but even that level of ability gets stale and periodically needs refreshment. Find something entertaining to do with your magic - rig the Oscars if you like, or manage celebrity breakups. Or find something noble - dispel hurricanes before they hit cities, bust up a drug ring or foil a political campaign. The possibilities are limitless.

     My vision of the future is a world where magic has become as commonplace as computers -- most everyone will use it or encounter it in their daily routine, and it will have ceased to be the sole purvue of reclusive nerds and sinister maniacs. After all, magic is our birthright. It's programmed into our brains, our minds and our souls. It's ours to use, and we have no reason to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when we control the ammunition.