Now, this has been on my mind for quite a while. Bringing this finally down to paper feels like giving birth to something that has taken a very long time to come through. I am really grateful for that. I am grateful for the insight that struck me when walking my dog this morning, looking at the snow, the quiet woods, enjoying the silence - and finally realizing how the pieces of the puzzle needed to be arranged.
Looking backwards I now understand two things were really helpful in getting here. First, I recently came across several blog and forum entries that all made me frown and shake my head - even though I struggled to express what I disagreed with specifically...
Over time I began to realize that all these articles contained some great insights, snippets of wisdom and deeply genuine personal experiences. Yet neither of them stepped back far enough - and probably didn’t intend to do so? - to put these things into context and to try to understand how they each provide but one aspect in the equation of what it takes to be truly successful as a magician. Unfortunately these missing links often created a misleading bias - giving the reader the impression a specific ingredient to a recipe was more important than others. Truth is, however, when we look at how great chefs create their dishes each ingredient is just as essential as any other. Everything put into it truly matters. It is either essential or superfluous. For both powerful magical acts as well as delicious cuisine there is no space in between.
The other thing that made me pause was that there was one particular piece of the puzzle missing in almost all of the articles. I have written about this many times before - and that is actually how I realized it. By listening to my own thoughts sounding like a broken record... This missing ingredient to me is the genuine difference it makes how people approach their Great Work. It’s the attitude they show towards the magical work they are but only one part of.
Below I am sharing what I found. I guess it is just my personal version of the puzzle. By nature it is and will always be work in progress. There is so much more that needs to be researched, i.e. subjectively experienced and objectively reflected upon. However, for the first time I feel like I am ready to take a rough stab at putting all the pieces of it together.
For me the strangest aspect of this puzzle is that it came through as a mathematical equation - and not as nice hot dish! Anybody who knows me personally knows that math and I do not share much in common. We indeed have both enjoyed ourselves best when we didn’t had to spend time together. So it was quite surprising when I found my mind arranging all these pieces in a mathematical equation this morning...
The result looked like this:
Now, because words are ambiguous - and of course I don't trust any math I did myself - I made myself pause and ponder about what this truly means... As mentioned above, if this was any good than each element needed to be either essential or left away. 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'...
Here are the essential questions I found each component to hold:
As so often in life the formulas or recipes we discover on our own don’t seem to need any further explanation. Well, at least that's what we think. But just because they work for us doesn't mean they will for others. Therefore let me add some further thoughts and explanation to each element. We might well find that this particular version of the puzzle only works for me. Yet, it hopefully can spark ideas about how you have to rearrange it in order for it to make sense for yourself...
A formula of magical results
- What do I get? Someone once said to me when you approach problems strategically, you always work with the end in mind. For powerful 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 crew for a certain period to add our fair share to the overall work... So answering ‘What do I get?’ mostly is an unknown in magic when we step back and 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, visionary quests, inner workings or meditations 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 dishes (i.e. sigils, rituals, inner workings) we are preparing in our lives right now - rather than in the long-term future.
- 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 on our journey will inquire why we came here. Therefore knowing the specific direction of our intent poses a truly essential question.
- Who am I with? Based on our magical intent - but not alone - we will attract certain spiritual forces or contacts into our lives. In addition to our intent other influencing factors are our personal life-story, the people who influenced us, the inner connections and lines we carry as well as the places we dwell in and the lands we life on. All of these influences come together like instruments in an orchestra that play together and form a melody. It is this melody that is heard by the beings that surround us or the ones we aim to work with. And this melody is what describes us on the inside, it is our inner fingerprint or expression of character. Even though many elements of it are stable and will accompany us for a lifetime, many components of it still can be changed and altered - if we show sufficient persistence and are prepared to work on this for years rather than moments in time. Who am I with? therefore asks about our inner resonance and the forces we attract by simply being present in our current shape and form.
- 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: shining a light of understanding on the occult knowledge veiled in our tradition is hard work. It means searching for the right sources - both on the inside and outside of ourselves - even though we often do not know the way to find them. 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 others? In most works of magic we are assisted by several spiritual beings. The living forces in the incense assist us, the tides of time - if chosen wisely - assist us, the paraphernalia we found or created assist us and most importantly of all the inner contacts we are in resonance with assist us. In this Hermetic Chain of living beings which will all work together to achieve our goal - what is our unique contribution as a magician? Deeply reflecting upon this simple question is the one element of the equation most often forgotten. Answering this question will define our essential attitude towards the forces we co-create with. Are we approaching this work like a king taking reign over his country? Are we approaching our work like a friend meeting old companions? Are we approaching it like a man of service working for others? There is no one right answer of course: Our attitude needs to adjust, change and evolve in harmony with every specific magical act we prepare and undertake.
- 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 went 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 or ones that affect other people until your skills have grown sufficiently... 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 actual practice itself.
- 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 along the way - and can change the way itself considerably. This limiting factor of every magical act is best learned through Dream Magic I guess. 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 and all the preconceptions that came with them - 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 often is like staring at a brick wall for a door to appear and magically open. We have to accept that we simply do not know the places where new doors will open... Surprise thus is an essential ingredient of how magic comes to life. It is what keeps all of our journeys mysterious.