I’ve been very infrequently emailing this one guy back and forth and I admire his tenacity for trying to make magic work. I asked if I could publish the correspondence and haven’t heard back so I’m going to paraphrase to try to make a decent post out of it without talking about someone specifically.
All of magic starts with philosophy.
Dee, Levi, Crowley, Mathers, etc – all the great magicians of ancient and modern times started either reading what we would call the classics of philosophy or they started out in church. Dee and Levi would say that this is piety, Crowley and less so Mathers to their credit took an extremely broad approach to the subject of religion and found commonality between them. The Greeks would have just attributed this magic to “perfect understanding”. The theme is usually the same – the more perfect understanding of the world someone possesses, the more perfectly they may operate in the world. Obviously if the goal is to accomplish magic, the level of perfection of their understanding of the world absolutely must be a model which allows for magic. Don’t believe in magic? Don’t be a magician. This is also a feature of the gnostic texts; The salvation of a person is accomplished merely through their belief in the spiritual life of themselves. In some sort of Richard Dawkins meets M Night Shyamalan twist, the final act of magic for anyone is to either accept or deny the spiritual life.
There’s two very important concepts here which are the “brass tacks” in ceremonial magic: We are all God (or part of God) and the redemption or the choice. This particular person was concerned they weren’t having any tread on their workings. I talk about this on the blog from time to time but I don’t think I’ve ever quite approached it from the direction of the nonbeliever. That’s really where this person is at – I suspect they want to “try magic” and instead of subscribing to it wholesale or asking the hows and whys, they just expect to follow the instructions on some book or whatever EA Koetting is doing in the sandbox this week and demons will appear and swear allegiance.
That would be like the Mormons showing up on my doorstep simply because I own canned goods, expecting me to sign up.
Lets rewind and approach this from someone’s perspective who is looking to actually get into magic. The first axiom is that we are all God. That seems fairly bizarre on the first brush with the idea – most people I would venture don’t really believe in God and the ones that do would cite war and famine as arguments that we are clearly not God. Lets look at people who are God (or claimed to be). Jesus feeds a multitude on fish and bread. Mohamed makes crops grow by summoning rain. Neither of them use occult powers to banish hunger – there’s a big clue there. They both work within the natural laws of earthly existence to accomplish magic. And, perhaps more importantly, both of these miracles are falsifiable. Jesus might have simply inspired people to be generous in the crowd. Mohamed might have simply come from the other side of the hill where storm clouds were perfectly visible in the sky. It doesn’t have to be a miracle, someone could decide that it simply was mis-reported and no magic had happened. But the point is – it did happen. Success be thy proof, not demons tapping on your windows at 3am. (Not wading into the perception of manifestation in this post).
Mohamed and Jesus were people too. No holy book says Jesus woke up at 3am with a charlie horse because he’s mildly allergic to bananas and shouldn’t have eaten that cake before bed (true story) or that Mohamed’s kids woke up at 5am to the trash guys picking up the bins and then his kids refused to go back to sleep so he was totally a waste for productivity in the office. However they were in fact human and subject to being murdered on a cross and lived in fear of death to the point of making pacts with their enemies and experienced hunger and pain. Again, not particularly miraculous, but an important observation – despite any divinity they might have possessed, holy people are fundamentally human and their manifestation on this plane is subject the rules and laws of this plane. In short, you can be God, and it’s important to also understand that you’re also a person too. Just because someone can’t walk on water simply means they aren’t a duck.
Most people get their heads around the concept here and I think this is where the great magicians before us start writing about the dangers of the ego. Although we are all God, that’s not an exclusive proposition for people at this stage. I’m not even sure that is an exclusive proposition for some people after they die either. If the ego takes over, it pretty much means game over. The great trap is to make bread in the desert and simply profane magic for comfortable material ends, because lusting after the material world directly opposes the desire for the union of the spiritual. I’m not saying that someone can’t do magic for good ends at the office (me!) or do magic which plays with their buttonholes (Crowley) but have the long game in mind always. This is a very long way of espousing the virtue of Mindfulness but I think this is also something the West hasn’t really expressed very well. Reading any of Dee, for instance, he always starts out humbling himself and “for the glory of God” and that God would manifest such and such through him. We are all God, but down here we are simply a long distant ray of light from the Monad. No less brilliant than the origin, because within it contains the reflection of all things, but it has made quite a journey, and our differences are merely ripples on the same pond.
Which bring us to the second mystery – redemption. I mean redemption as in the ability to press anything to service of improving the general spirit and lives of others. Volumes have been written by CS Lewis and others on the Christian version of it which seems to be centered around suffering and tends to feel like cheap Buddhism. Dukkha appears 500 years before Christ and I’m not convinced he spoke the language but I do believe he grasped the idea. There’s endless books on the Christian and Buddhist version of redemption so I think it would be best to provide examples of the Ceremonial Magic view of the thing. For that, we turn to someone near and dear to my heart – Uncle Al – who lived a post-redemption life.
I’m not talking about redeeming people here – I am talking about redeeming actions and things. Things are a fairly easy concept to deal with. They exist until the universe doesn’t and that is the beginning and end of all physical natures. We should be thankful that at some point the physical universe ends because it will be the end of re-incarnation and of suffering. At least on the physical plane. Additionally, things are neither good nor bad. I find no fault with the atom because of nuclear weapons and I find no virtue in the atom because of nuclear power. Similarly, Jesus doesn’t curse the baskets because they don’t have fish or bread, Mohamed doesn’t curse the field because the wheat is not watered. It simply is the state of things, and things are waiting for someone with divine nature to change them. If it were that we did not possess the divine nature, we would just be the same as rocks and fields. (Upcoming Coffee Club will give us the quick tour of this exploring the Greek ideas). Rocks and fields do not have a will of their own. I would not accuse a rock of being lazy simply because it lays around all day. Is the world evil by default? I would argue it is not. This is something which gets explored in Asatru/Odinism a lot but the war the gods fight is a war on entropy. Things which exist therefor glorify the Monad, the One Thing, as reflections. In Asatru, it is the gods literally expending the effort to care and feed the world tree. In a much more personal sense, this is why we use wands or cups or whatever physical objects and why this is not wrong. If matter were inherently evil, we would simply use astral wands, and then wander into bizarre theological territory where the astral version reflected the evil of the normal version and Kurt Cobain is Jesus Christ because he was smart enough to check out as early as possible. The physical world is not evil, it just barely exists on the side of good. People, however, can make that choice to press it into the service of evil, or good.
That’s all very abstract, and flirts with being useless for the layperson looking to get into magic. In fact I would venture that most people who are into magic have stopped reading this post by this point because they can look at their own bellybuttons as well as I can. Lets explore some concrete examples. For one, I use magic in the office. That’s great, that seems horribly mundane and (Levi) “profanes the Holy Spirit”. How do I justify this? Is this truly transgression? It depends on how I ask and what the goal might be. I will get further, in my opinion, if instead of asking for someone to be fired, I ask for them to find a job where they can grow. I will get further, in my opinion, if I ask for any job sufficient to pay the mortgage (a concrete value) than if I ask for Scrooge McDuck riches. On the macro-scale, look at the Catholic church. The Pope trades his elaborate throne for a humble wingback and people love him. On a more personal scale, Crowley doesn’t run out his days in a mansion, but instead lives in a boarding house (which probably had a servant too) which was comfortable and adequate for his health, practice, and study. If someone were Wiccan they would do well to cultivate the forest and clean the waterways. If someone were Abrahamic they would do well to donate to the food bank or have lunch with a homeless person. Those aren’t hard and fast rules, they are merely suggestions, but what this accomplishes is the affirmation that we are the Godhead. The meal for the homeless becomes the sacrament. Cleaning the beach becomes washing the feet. The redemption isn’t about people, it’s about making every act a magical act, which is why this really dovetails into the first axiom that we are all God.
You are God. Go create. Next time you water the plants, you are Mohamed. Next time you share your bread, you are Jesus.