A Manifesto for Man's Place in Magic
The following is a message I received after burying all of my ritual tools in a remote Bavarian forest. To me it's very little of my own voice and a lot of what the spirits I worked with and the ones I asked to accept my tools answered in return. I was quite surprised about a few of the things they had to say? Yet, in letting go of all of the magical artefacts I had charged and created over many years, this is what they needed me to understand - and I believe to pass on.
Since scribbling down the below on a plane I continued to ponder over its essence. If applied in practice - what does it truly impact? How does it change our everyday lives, our relationship to the spirits around us and the types of magic we might pursue? I will share a few further thoughts in a follow up post, but first I want to allow for the original message to come through without any wrappings. I called it a Manifesto because that is what I believe it to be: A message that struck me like the blow of an invisible hand - and opened my eyes to a new perspective.
Manifest, late 14th century, from Latin, manifestare - 'to show plainly' or 'to display by actions'. Probably from manus 'hand' and -festus 'struck' or directly from Latin manifestus 'plainly apprehensible, clear, apparent, evident'.
Magic was never meant for men. We made it our own. We tore it out ouf the earth and pulled it down from the skies. Think of Prometheus as a man who volunteered for a death of fire. Walking up the pyre all by himself, lighting the torch, throwing it down to his feet. Offering himself in the pursuit of what he believed to be withheld unrightfully.
Magic is the language of spirits. A language in which human boundaries of inside and outside, of thought and word and deed are all dissolved and all forces coexist in one - on your tongue. Magic is a language in which every word comes for its price. We can choose to speak as many words as we'd like, even sentences, whole chapters or entire books. But we will pay for every word in blood and skin and heart and health - the only currency spirits can accept. Not out of greed, but as we have nothing much to offer up to them except for our physical selves.
Signing the spirits' pact in your own blood is one of the most cynical metaphors our ancestors came up with. True magic will not just take your signature. It will take your fingers, and your hand, and your arm, and your chest and your heart beating in it. It will take all of you. Unless you stop uttering its words.
The paradox of magic is this: When you receive your end of the bargain, it will be too late to return it. Magic is a one way street and always has been. When Prometheus finally learned about the true nature of fire, it was through the burning of his own body. Like radioactivity so also magic will never be met by the human eye, and yet it will affect the magician's life more deeply and sustainably than any wound to the flesh.
Beyond the Abyss all roaming ends and the tightrope begins. The Fool has no habitat here - and neither has the Wand, the Cup, the Pentacle or the Sword. From here we all walk naked, spirits, deities and humans all alike. The only difference is that the spirits were meant to walk these lands and we intruded them. We tried to steal their fire. And we tried to drink their waters and wear their fire and breath their air. And look where it got us? Look what it did to us?
Now, what we forgot, is that once upon a time this bargain was meant to be struck the other way around: Not for the human mind to penetrate the spirit world, but for the spirit world to penetrate the human body.
The human mind once set free in the spirit realm it becomes destructive almost immediately: it roams and overrides, it opens locks and doors, it likes to sniff and smell and lick and touch. And it's through its profaning touch that the human spirit turns the spirit world raw and infertile. This effect is not ill-spirited but only natural. The human mind follows the urge of curiosity just like a virus follows its urge to multiply. Unfortunately both are hugely destructive if not contained. And that is why nature decided to lock the human mind into the most complicated of prisons and seal it with the thickests of walls: Inside the human brain, buried behind neurons and under deep tissues, hidden behind layers of blood and bone skin. And still it escapes... The physical world is a prison for a reason. Because in 99 out of a 100 cases humans do not control the powers that they hold. And that is why magic is a language we were never meant to speak.
Instead, this is how the bargain was meant to be struck: The spirits and us, we both hold access to vast resources of very different kinds. The spirits guard the raw and powerful forces of nature and beyond, all according to their grade in the eternal chain of life. We, the human race on the other hand, hold access to the most fleeting, the rarest and most ephemeral of substances of all: the decision to do the right thing. Yes, we are talking about ethics; we are talking about applied free will. Rather than stealing the fire from them - we were meant to teach the spirits how to apply the burden of free will wisely. In the worst case they will learn from our failures, each and every one of us turning into a dead example of how not to do it. In the best case we become beacons of hope.
Now different to the idea of signing a spirit pact with blood, this is no metaphor. So let's examine a practical example to ground our understanding of these dynamics in everyday reality...
Think of the smallest of spirit creatures you can think of: the mighty elemental beings. They govern all the forces around us. They are the carriers of rain and winds and fires. They follow the moon, the seasons and the patterns in the land. To them we are the one exception from everything under this sun: this one species that doesn't follow any rhythm, except the one of their own hearts. Over centuries we have taught them to live in remote areas, retreat from humans as far as they can. Yet, they once liked to live right amongst us. Because by nature they are curious like we are.
Now, for humans to interact with elemental beings it takes no magic at all. We are constantly surrounded by them. In fact we are made up of them! All we need to do is to work on the matter we are made up of, to work on the matters we are confined by every day.
Before human nature began to derail creation, leading a spiritual life wasn't meant to mean withdrawing from the physical world. Quite the opposite. It was meant to immerse ourselves as much and as deeply as we could into this created world. Because we are born into substance and meant to die in substance. This is our prison for a reason and from within it, we explore the world. And by doing so we are spiritualising matter. Not through magic, but through applying our free will in the right way. In a way that is incredibly hard to walk, but one that aims to be balanced, non-selfish, humble and gentle. We walk this way by realising our powers first and then constantly withholding them. For the Adept it's the effort of a lifetime to keep his sword in its scabbard. By this seemingly simply act - by not touching, by not destroying - that's how he is affecting change in the world.
To the spirits every human act is an example of applied-free-will. Not God is watching us, but they are. Unfortunately the last thing the elemental beings do is judge us. Instead unfortunately they copy us. Whichever way we behave, they perceive us, our human behaviour as the matrix for their own - within the tiny fractions of free will that they own. Despite our miserable qualification, nature has us down as the spirits' only ethical role model.
That's how man is creating the world he deserves. Not necessarily through physically destroying his world - as nature is not the same as an ecological ecosystem and will long outlive mankind. But by teaching the very consciousness cells nature is made up of about the principles of egoistic, self-induced destruction.
Our greatest good, our only own natural resource - the way we choose to apply our free will - leaves a mark on anything we touch it with. On the substance of life, of spirits and ourselves.
I guess that tells us why the Old Greeks specialised in two forms of taming the beast that we are: Mystery cults and philosophy. The latter aimed to tame the beast of free will; the former the one of our souls. Whenever these two disciplines were pursued in parallel, there really was no need for much magic. Because why speak the language you'll pay for in blood, if you can teach the spirits through the way you tame your own blood?