I believe it was back in 2014 when I first shared this formula. Since then I continued to come back to it every couple of months. It stood the test of time well - at least for my own magical practice. It also proved highly relevant to my current research on St.Cyprian and how to work with magical saints. Thus I am sharing it again - with some updated perspective and explanations.
Let me start by addressing a concern you might raise: Of course any kind of formula bears the risk of doing precisely that - of turning our practice into something formulaic, rather than living and breathing. No doubt that risk exists. However, magical practice without any kind of supporting structure underneath it equally bears the risk of not leading anywhere but quickly degrading into wishful thinking and daydreaming.
A formula is meant to provide orientation. Nothing more and nothing less. If you are already well-orientated you might not need it. But let's acknowledge on which level this formula is offering orientation: A symphony is written in a long sequence of musical notes; a symphony does not aim to explain the underlying rules of harmony and rhythm or even how to play an instrument. A magical grimoire contains the 'grammar' of specific magical rites; it is not meant to provide overt instruction on how to establish the underlying foundations for any successful magic.
This formula is not looking at the symphony nor at the specific rite you are aiming to perform, it is looking at the necessary foundations for any magic to achieve proper results. Leave one ingredient unregarded or insufficiently calibrated and you'll be able to hammer your bow to the string for many years without affecting any magic on the world around you.
Now, words are ambiguous - and of course I don't trust any math I did myself. So let's test this formula together. If it truly represents much of the underlying foundation for any successful magic to come to life, neither element should be able to be left away. Instead each component needs to hold an essential question - one that affects the overall outcome so strongly it needs to be asked and answered in order to predict 'what we will get'.
So here are the seven essential questions represented by each element of the formula:
To make things a little less 'formulaic' let's explore each of these seven questions in a little more context. The aim of the following overview is not necessarily to check your own practice against each single segment and assess your status quo. Rather it might be helpful in discovering blindspots of your magical rituals. The goal is a fine tuned balance across all of the seven components; none is more or less important than any other.
- What do I get? When you approach problems strategically, you always work with the end in mind. For advanced magic which works with ancient beings or deep levels of inner power, this often isn’t true. We embark on journeys that are so much bigger than ourselves, journeys that have been going on for centuries or millenials and we simply join the party for a certain period to add our fair share to the overall work. So answering ‘What do I get?’ in these cases is an unknown when we try to glance into the longer term future of years or even decades of our own lives. However, for shorter term goals, such as specific rites, sigils, visionary quests or inner workings determining the expected results of our actions upfront seems a fair expectation. This formula therefore is intended to give us a better understanding of the more immediate, short-term results our magic might prompt.
- Why am I here? This simple question makes us inquire about our personal intent. Do we know why we are on this journey or preparing this specific rite? Even if this doesn't matter so much to ourselves, it hugely matters to the spiritual forces we will collaborate with. When we look at all the old grimoires and ancient magical texts, they all begin with a series of prayers or offerings. These are powerful tools to focus and direct the practitioner’s intent in a specific direction. They are tools to unify purpose and perspective - like light bundled into a single sharp ray through a prism of glass. Ultimately the spiritual guardian in front of every gate we strive to pass through will inquire why we came here. Therefore knowing the specific direction of our intent poses a truly essential question.
- Who am I with? This question should be looked at from two critical angles. First, active contact to a spiritual being that is related to one's work is essential for any magic to yield results. The idea that incarnated man himself is a star, a god or a hero is very young and utter rubbish. Magic is performed by relating to and working with and through spiritual beings of diverse natures and qualities. Without such pact and partnership psychological effects can be achieved - but no magic. So 'who am I with' is to be taken very literal - and inquires about the spirit alliances a mage has struck. Secondly, over the course of our lives as mages we get to learn that we have relatively limited freedom in our choice 'who we are with'. Just like we all came into this life with a unique fingerprint, so we all came with a certain spiritual predefined pattern that allows easier access to some spirits and harder to others. We are not blank sheets and thus not every mage can perform the same rites with the same success. However, these patterns are not only influenced by experiences from previous lives; they are not static. Instead we continue to evolve them through our actual life-stories, the people we live with as well as the places we dwell in and the lands we live on. Who am I with? in this context asks about our inner patterns and the resonance we naturally create with the (spirit) world around us.
- What is the work? This questions asks about what specifically we have come here to achieve? It asks about the knowledge of the work we bring to the table. The more complex and demanding our work, the more specific knowledge it requires. As practicing magicians this is the defile we all need to pass through: developing a clear and precise cognitive understanding of the work at our hands - rather than a mushy, 'occult' gut feel - is critical to performing magic that gets results. It means searching for the right sources - both on the inside and outside. It means striving for wisdom that usually remains locked and closed like a clam - unless the tides and time are right. It also means being patient as this knowledge often unfolds organically from within us - like seeds that have been put there years or lifetimes ago. It means accepting the fact that we cannot speed up the harvest, but we can cultivate what we know will one day become our crop.
- Who am I in this? Now that we know what we have come here to do, it is essential to be conscious about the fact who we are in this work. What is our unique contribution in this process - and what are the components that will be fulfilled by other beings, substances or links in time? In magic we always ensure assistance on many levels: The living force in the incense assists us, the tides of time - if chosen wisely - assist us, our paraphernalia assist us and most importantly of all the spirits we work in resonance with assist us. In this Hermetic Chain of living beings that our rite will activate - what is our unique contribution as a human mage? This is not an abstract reflection, but often times a very practical one - about the specific features of our human body and mind and the unique ways of working in which they can contribute to a successful rite. After all it's only a human that can make spirit come into the flesh. As powerful as we are as bridges between the physical and the spirit realm, as insufficient and weak are most of our capabilities when it comes to directing supra-lunar forces. Knowing who we are in this work, will tell us precisely which role to take in any rite and where to protect, buffer and work through other beings.
- How do I do this? Finally we have arranged most pieces of the puzzle: We know why we have come here, we know about the spirit forces that accompany us, the specific nature of work we are about to carry out as well as our inner attitude with which we are approaching it. The (almost) final key to open this door is commanding the actual skills to do our part of the job well. The finest plan is nothing without the ability to execute upon it. Looking back I can see quite a few of my magical rites going wrong not because my plan wasn’t good enough - but simply because I lacked the skills to pull it off. Luckily, because I was always okay with failing this never held me back to still give it a try... In the end each failed attempt helped me to grow new skills. Such an approach works pretty well if you focus on yourself as the only test-subject of your magic only - and deliberately don’t perform acts of magic for other people. These days with all the magical books out on the shelves and the huge waves of knowledge out in the internet, this component of the equation can easily turn into a true pitfall. It never was for our ancestors - as knowledge in form of books was so scarce that it was normally gained through practical experience.
- How open am I to surprise? All true science and art is experiment. That means its outcome cannot be pre-determined. Often the most precious and powerful insights are found only as byproducts of what people originally misperceived to be the actual goal. We really do not create our learning journeys, we can only follow them humbly. From my own experience, learning about this critical limiting factor in magic is best done by exploring Dream Magic. In working with our dreams and the beings that populate them we so easily learn about all the things we do not know and how to keep operating while constantly being surprised... Dream beings are wonderful teachers of this simple fact: the more pre-determined we look at the desired outcomes of our magical acts, the less we will achieve. Not only do we limit the likelihood of success of our actions, but we also limit ourselves. Hidden in this final component of the equation is the reason why Austin Osman Spare advised to forget all magical acts as soon as they were performed: Our expectation of results, our desire to see the impact we made - these are the biggest roadblocks for the spirits we work with to do their part of the job. A preconceived idea of the result we aim to achieve is like staring at a specific point of a long brick wall for a door to appear - while we completely miss what is happening further down the road! Surprise is an essential ingredient of how magic comes to life. It is what keeps all of our journeys mysterious.