An Interview with an Adept - Josephine McCarthy on the Magic of the Arbatel
Josephine and I have been collaborating on various magical projects for several years now. A side effect of this partnership is that I receive wonderful lessons from a true adept and she gets a brick wall to bang her head against. Or almost. At least it's fair to say that initially our approaches to magic were diametrically opposed: Josephine teaching a very organic, though incredibly pragmatic approach to visionary magic - and me having just emerged from more than a decade of rigorously structured ritual work and occult philosophic studies. So when we first met it could have easily been a perfect clash of paradigms. Yet, it turned out to be the opposite.
Looking back I believe this is mainly because of three things we have in common: First, our mutual curiosity to understand the deeper patterns in magic, may these present themselves in whatever form. Secondly, our shared vision of magic as something that was always meant to be co-created from the mage's and the spirit's side in true partnership. And thirdly, the fact that both of us have underwent years of disciplined study and practice of a performing art - she in classical ballet and me in ritual magic.
If you have read this blog before, you know that I often refer to her books as the best source of hands-on magical advise. However, while taking in a huge amount of learning from Josephine I always continued to practice classical ritual magic, especially as part of the Arbatel Cycle. Only recently did I share some thoughts - and probably doubts - about this type of Grimoire magic. These doubts were triggered through personal experiences in the rites and the ripple effect these had on my life, health as well as my loved ones. At the same time Josephine setup a new project-website 'Choosing Your Magical Path' and began to reconsider her view on how discipline, structure and repeated training could contribute to a better, more scalable and proficient, yet also safe way of practicing magic.
In light of this timing couldn't be better for us to 'meet' online in this blog - and for me to ask her a couple of straight forward questions. About faith and doubt and her most recent work - and how she looks at my classical Grimoire magic with the Arbatel. As always her answers are concise, unique and just wonderful - like a sharp slap in the face on a bright sunny morning. Enjoy.
Acher: You often refer to the word ‘inner’ in your writings. Can you explain what you specifically mean with what is ‘inside’ vs. ‘outside'?
- Josephine McCarthy: Ah yes, this is one that many people misunderstand and it is hard to find the right use of vocabulary that everyone will understand. Firstly, what it is not, is inside you or your mind. But you use your mind to get there (see how this can get sticky?). The inner realms are non physical realms outside of ourselves, what some would call astral. We as humans have our own inner internal consciousness, our mind. The universe has its internal consciousness, which is the inner realms (sort of the spirit version of the planet).
A: From a spiritual point of view, what do you have faith in? And would say having faith is important for practising magicians?
- Josephine McCarthy: I don’t know if I would use the word faith... that to me growing up as a Catholic would have said, ‘believe in God even if you cannot see, feel, hear or touch, and have had no experience of God’ – to do that you need faith. Through magic, not religion, I have had some very strong spiritual experiences, but they cannot be defined by a religion or a deity. I see Divinity in Kabbalah, I see Divinity in the wind, and I see Divinity as patterns and frequencies with consciousness that I can interact with.
I work closely with deities and beings on a daily basis (not worship, but work), and I need no faith in them anymore than I need faith to communicate with you Acher. Faith does not come in to it.
Is spirituality important to magicians? I know it has been very important for me but I didn’t find magic because of Divinity, I found Divinity because of magic. (A sort of ‘trip over God at the door’ and say, “oh sorry, didn’t see you down there, hi!”) For other magicians it depends upon them. I think having experience of Divinity outside a religion is a very important experience for any magician, as Divinity is what everything and magic is. But if as a magician you think of Divinity as a Christian or Jewish god in a white dress on a throne, then you are an idiot. Hence religion and magic can make an unhealthy mix. Magicians are mystics who ‘do’... Divinity is power that ‘is’, and mystical magicians move with, around and within Divinity.
A: In your writings you show a very strong opinion on how magic works and how it is very different from e.g. modern Psychology. Did you ever experience doubts about the way you approach magic?
- Josephine McCarthy: There are two things in that question... You can approach magic through modern psychology, but if you think magic is psychology, then you do not understand what magic is. The problem with approaching magic through psychology is that you use your own understanding of your mind as a vehicle, which is different from simply using your mind, which is what magic is about. You cannot kill someone from a distance who has never met you, simply by using your own psychology, but you can do that using magic.
Do I ever doubt the way I approach magic? Yeah sometimes, which is healthy... it makes me stop and take stock of what I am doing and why. My methods shift and change all the time as magic is very fluid, so it needs a fluid approach, and we are always constantly learning and growing. I think you are asking me if I doubt magic. The answer is, after thirty six years of it, no, not at all. I did thirty years ago, but not now.
A: The Great Work is a term that was introduced to modern magic from alchemy. Does it have any meaning for your own practice?
- Josephine McCarthy: Depends what you mean by that term. It has two ways it is used, one way is to describe self-development, and the other is to work in service for something other than yourself that in turn enriches the land, the people etc.
In my own practice, constant self development and improvement is a given, but that is not something I strive for in magic per se. You should have that goal regardless of what you do. To think that magic will make you a better, stronger or more powerful person by doing self-development-magic is idiotic to say the least (though it does sell a lot of books and courses). Self-development does come through magic, as does self-destruction, but it happens as a side issue, it happens while you are focussing on something else.
I view the Great Work as service, which was something my father drilled into me. He served his community all of his life and he used to call it the Great Work. He brought me up to do the same, and my magical life is geared towards that: I serve. And what modern magicians do not get, is that through approaching the Great Work as service, it does indeed transform you massively, and turn you in a more powerful, more balanced individual. That is what so many folks do not get: that is the mystery of the alchemical process. Rituals, alchemy, visions, beliefs and psycho spiritual navel gazing will not make you a better person. The Great Work is change. By bringing through change, you change yourself and everything around you.
A: What has been the motivation for your own magical path over the decades? Did you always just roll with it or did you ever have a long-term goal in mind?
- Josephine McCarthy: I just roll with it, or should I say, I blunder my way through it. Every time I tried to get away from magic in the early days it just caught up with me and stuck to leg like a whiny dog. So me and whiny dog hang out together.
A: In your previous books your approach to magic seemed to prefer an organic and individual path over a structured methodology or curriculum of exercises. You recently announced to write a very specific step-by-step guide into magic for beginner’s that will follow a similar disciplined and rigours approach as ballet training. Where did this change of mind come from?
- Josephine McCarthy: Hahaha.. yeah, this is one of the things I love about my life... 90 degree turns. For years I had banged the drum about no magical structure is the best way and to a degree that is very true. But it has taken me all this time to slowly realise that I could work that way simply because I had such a structured education, and I was a natural magician. It was you who alerted me to the fact that I was assuming far too much. You also had a very disciplined training and those imposed boundaries allowed you to form and develop. And yet many magical training schools work with rigidity in the wrong way, their discipline and rigidity is about their style, not the technical development of the magician.
I finally realised that what is missing is an early phase training that is detailed in technique and magical muscle building, but not style and dogma. From that foundation, a student can then progress on to train formally in a style with a school, or they will have a solid foundation which will give them what they need to teach themselves and develop their own eclectic style. But without basic knowledge, foundational technique and muscle, they cannot do anything of any strength.
For a long time I could not understand why people could not take step one and march all the way through to step ninety nine on their own, which is how I learned. It is only recently that I realised that if people did not know how to march, then they were not going to get very far at all. I was watching a series of youtube videos from various ballet schools around the world and as I was watching the schools that taught by style (and were bloody awful), I realised that this is what was also happening in magic: all style and no real foundation technique. So the solution came from the inspiration. As soon as I made the first move towards tackling this, an inner contact showed up who is being an enormous help (it’s like having an early post war school teacher droning in my ear in a very stiff BBC accent... yum)
A: Also just recently you setup a new webpage ‘choosingamagicalpath.org’. Can you share where this idea came from and what the project is about?
- Josephine McCarthy: This came about from the realisation that most up and coming magicians were just relying on talent alone to get them through, and that most had absolutely no idea of foundational magical technique. I also observed that people were finding it hard to get the pertinent information they needed to make an informed choice about their magical training. Schools put out flashy advertisements for students, but they do not put any real magical information (we teach this, and we teach it this way). So initially my intent was to develop a site that was a series of signposts for folks. But then the more I looked at the schools, the more I realised I needed to write some basic foundation lessons.
At first I was writing with the intention of just a couple of classes to point people in the right direction, but then an inner contact showed up and started pushing me to work. He in turn began pointing out the many parallels with ballet, and was basically slapping me around the head saying, come on stupid, why are you not getting this? Use what you know!
My intention is to write a foundation course, and nothing more advanced than that, that people can work with for themselves. It will give them a grounding in early level magic in its different forms (ritual, vision, astrology, tarot etc) with really good solid technique and lots of magical muscle building. I am putting it up for free and it is not connected to any school – it is itself. This is to ensure it does not get hijacked and commercialised, and is accessible to anyone. It gives then a hand up to get started; after that, it is up to them. I am working with different magicians who are also offering training modules and articles for the site, so that students get different perspectives and approaches which in turn creates a more rounded individual.
Once someone has completed the modules, they will be ready to be handed on to another school or teacher/guide to focus on a particular type or style of magic where they can advance through to initiate. To go from initiate to adept really is about being out on your own, so any school trying to hang on to a magician in training terms to adept level is wasting their time. To get to that level the initiate does need a guide to fall back on, or an advisor/mentor, but nothing more than that.
A: How do you think a beginner can best learn both - to have discipline and self-directed will-power as well as to be to able to let go and being guided from within?
- Josephine McCarthy: That is a tough but necessary one, and this dynamic more than any other, acts as a filter to take out magic people who should not be studying/working within it. The discipline comes from a teacher erecting boundaries. The self discipline comes from the desire to succeed, but the ability to also let go and be guided from within is a rarer quality - and that does not come easily to many people. This goes back to your earlier question about faith and Divinity/spirituality. If you think magic is all about you, and comes from within you alone, there is nothing but yourself to trust: you can only guide yourself to the limits of your own knowledge and experience.
When you plug into the pattern and power that is Divinity, and you are fully integrated in communion with deities and spirits, then you really do become a part of a team and you learn to trust your team partners. There are times where you have to learn to trust them, let go of your own sense of control and let them guide you through the dark. That comes with making contact at the very earliest stage of magical training, which is why it is so very important that a beginner magical student learns how to make inner contact from day one.
So many ritual magicians say no, that is not right. But it is and it is very important from day one to learn how to communicate with other beings and other consciousness. But it is important to learn how to do that safely, responsibly and carefully – hence the course.
A: When you look at the magical community of the Western World today, what are the biggest risks for people who try to pick up a magical path?
- Josephine McCarthy: The two biggest risks...I would say is being financially ripped off, and having a mental illness triggered. There is nothing wrong in paying for training or for charging for good training, but what is wrong is charging hundreds or even thousands for worthless shit, and playing on people’s fear and egos in order to separate them from their money. There is a lot of that in the magical world.
The other is training that is given out in classes, workshops, seminars, books etc that is irresponsible use of magic that can trigger mental illness in a vulnerable young person. Magic does carry a mental health risk and most magicians are aware of that and tread carefully... those that don’t do occasionally go mad in often quite spectacular ways.. and that is their choice. But a young vulnerable person searching for something magical and ‘edgy’ is often at risk. My advice to them is, if it sounds too good to be true, and is very dark/exciting/shocking/ glittery (or light glittery), then stay away from it as you will either lose your money, your mind or both.
A: Consider magicians looking back at our general approach to magic in 2014 thirty years from now, what do you believe they will perceive as our biggest misperceptions?
- Josephine McCarthy: Well if I knew what my own biggest misperception was, it wouldn’t be a misperception... :-)
In general? The infestation of ego, control and power...along with the belief that all magic is psychology and about the individual.
A: You recently began to publish introductory lessons on Ritual Magic. This is a path I have strong interest in and been walking for a while. In our recent discussion you mentioned my approach to the Arbatel rituals was imbalanced. Can you expand on that and describe the risks or imbalances you see?
- Josephine McCarthy: Firstly, if you follow these types of grimoire rituals to the letter and think that is it and it is complete, then it will become quickly imbalanced, will at most produce 10% of its power, or it will not work. Two types of work came out of that time around the 16th century: their version of ‘dark fluff’ which is total drama queen trash that looks good to the uninitiated, and the second type of work was true magical knowledge and wisdom hidden within the pattern of ‘dark fluff’. Magic always has been hidden in plain sight, and the Arbatel is no different. The Arbatel is no ‘fluff’ by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a hidden text - Virtutes in centro centri latentes . To follow it to the letter is to miss the deep magical knowledge that is hidden within it.
For example, the whole wisdom and knowledge of the Septena Tertia is in that paragraph. All of the names, sigils etc are all deflections and are fluff to filter out those who are not pre ordained. If as a magician you know how to connect to the angelic thresholds of the planets without names, but by using true magic, know where those planets currently are in relation to your own astrology (transits through houses), and know how to awaken and consciously engage those planetary thresholds, you will be able to access the vast amounts of energy behind your own fate pattern and work with them. Acher, it has been staring you in the face for quite some time now.
Your ability to interact and engage with your own pattern then opens out your understanding of your own pre ordained path and purpose, which is what this part of the Arbatel is really all about. It shines a torch first on you, and then on your track.
Doing the Arbatel the official way will bring change, will have an affect on your life and will trigger things, but it will not open out properly or completely: it protects itself. Doing it properly, you are shown the enormity of your own thread within the weave, and what it is you need to do. It also enables you to access the resources to do it. Pray therefore for a constant faith, and God will bring to pass all things in due season. – in modern terms, stop trying to control everything, trust in the Divine powers around you, just do it and let it unfold.
A: The real or perceived risks and dangers of Ritual Magic - Grimoire Magic in particular - have often and long been discussed. In which way do the risks of Visionary Magic as you teach it differ?
- Josephine McCarthy: The risks with visionary magic are twofold – the first is the energetic impact and the second is the mental health impact. Visionary magic puts you in direct contact with many different beings and realms, so if it is approached unwisely, you can get physically impacted or injured by an energy hit. Because visionary magic uses the mind, of course it can make the mind vulnerable. Most times, the spirit self limits, so magicians will get so far and then will not be able to penetrate the magic any further... they bottom out. That is a self defence mechanism within the spirit. Some unfortunately do not have that self defence trigger, or it does not work for some reason and in those cases, if due care is not given to the work, they can literally fry their own minds. I do give constant warnings, but as usual everyone ignores them and sadly I have seen way too many potentially talented magicians end up in a mental health institution because they could not self limit themselves.
I think part of that problem, and I have only recently begun to realise this, is that there is no proper detailed early training that can step in and support the magician if that fail safe trigger doesn’t work. It is a bit like the training in ballet - there is a way that I taught in classical training that automatically protected the muscles and tendons of dancers who were hyper flexive. If a dancer is too flexible, they are in real danger of serious injury through over reaching and tearing if the muscles are not taunt and strong enough to hold the action. It had never occurred to me before to apply that same dynamic to magical teaching. So part of the course I am putting together has elements within it that will provide that strength and tension within the spirit that will act as a protective rebound for the mind should a natural defence trigger fail to operate.
Acher, a lot of this new development in teaching for me comes from our long discussions. You said something to me a while ago which really stopped me in my tracks and made me sit down and seriously assess how I teach things. And what you said was this, “Josephine, your method of teaching that you used in classes sort of threw people into the pot and you would work with whoever could swim. The rest drowned”. That was so very true and yet I had not thought of it, in real terms, in quite that way: I had been drowning many people.
Just after you said that, a friend of mine in Russia who is an eminent ballet teacher, sent me a video of his students and made a comment about the method that we both use in ballet teaching is quickly vanishing in many areas around the world. Then I made the connection. I had to teach magic in the same way I taught ballet. In fine detail, with lots of technique, strengthening, lots of knowledge, lots of engramming, lots of logic, lots of art, beauty, inspiration and damn hard work. And also with minimum style. One of the hallmarks of my dancers was technical and artistic brilliance, but no discernable style, no flourishes, no ornamentation: they were blank canvases ready for a director to work with. And that is what I intend to do for beginner magicians.
Just when I thought life was getting simple.