On Power and Magic - Part 1

Factus sum aliis planta.
I was made a shoot profiting others.
— Liber de essentia spirituum

Throughout the ages Power has always been at the centre of magical practice. Wether we look at the herbs and potions of the witch, the fires in the ancient temples of Greece and Egypt or the intricate circles of the Medieval mage - the desire to consciously affect changes on the inner or outer realm always established the fundament of the Arte.

Yet, while the desire to acquire power through magic has been a constant for millennia, some of the keys to get there were lost. Or maybe just hidden? Either way, unfortunately we won't find these keys in the Greek Magical Papyri, nor in the Grimoires. These keys sleep in the present time, in the here and now. What truly determines the levels of magical power accessible to each one of us are not our ritual skills or stamina. Or at least not alone... 

Let’s start this blog-series with an introduction to a pretty simple model. It will give us some light structure and a clear angle from which to access and explore the topic of Power in Magic.

Frater Acher

1) A simple Model of Power in Magic

To understand how magical power flows, how it ebbs and tides through our practice as magicians let’s consider the essential elements or layers of any magical act first: What exactly is it that fosters or inhibits significant progress in magic? What are the variables we need to work on, which will reduce and block or open and expand our access to magical power? In a nutshell here are my 2 cents...

(Note: To keep it nice and simple just stay with the first image of the slideshow. The others are summaries of aspects explained below. I am sharing them here to not disrupt the reading experience by too many large images.) 

  • WHAT or Practice - The outermost ring contains the sum of actual magical practices as recorded in any given tradition. Examples of this are the raw ritual instructions as recorded in the Medieval Grimoires. Here we find the bare bones, the pure elements of magical rites. Instructions are given - often in abbreviated form - to establish conscious contact to sources of magical power and/or consecration. Progress in this layer is indicated by a movement from Intent or Will to Action. Conscious work on this layer is the prerequisite for any skill building.
  • HOW or Understanding - The middle ring stores the cosmology that underlies any living magical practice. It contains the specific esoteric history and theory from which intellectual understanding about any given magical tradition can be gained. Here all information of a specific magical paradigm is stored. I.e. this ring is the cluster of recorded esoteric knowledge, language and symbols of any given tradition. Progress in this layer is indicated by a movement from Ignorance or Not-Knowing to Knowing. Conscious work on this layer is the prerequisite for any authenticity and innovation.
  • WHY or Motivation - The innermost ring illustrates the deepest - and often unconscious - motivation of why magic is practiced at all in any given tradition. It holds the purpose of magic specific to any given magical current. It also explains the end to which the gain of power through magic is applied. It represents the cluster of all human, social, ancestral and divine needs that can be addressed and satisfied through magic. On this deepest layer magic becomes an indicator of man's purpose in creation. Progress in this layer is indicated by a movement from Latency or Sleep to Desire. Conscious work on this layer is the prerequisite for access to any significant amounts of power.

2) Some Basic Implications

It's the condition of these three layers that determines the level of power any practitioner will be able to achieve throughout his life. The more coherent the three layers are within the body, soul and mind of the practitioner the higher the likelihood he will find access to significant levels of power in their practice. Vice versa: the more incoherent, the more unintegrated one layer is with the other, the less power will flow through the actions of the practitioner.

Let's illustrate the implications of this model with a simple example.Think of a kitchen chef who aspires to gain a Michelin star at some point throughout his career. Now, let’s go through each layer in sequence:

  • The WHAT or level of Practice is pretty clear - this guy needs to achieve adept level of cooking sooner or later. I.e. of being able to operate a full kitchen, a team and most importantly on a wealth of ingredients. That alone will give him the basic skills to get anywhere - yet it doesn’t get him a Michelin star. 
  • The HOW or level of Understanding will be equally important. I.e. the guy needs to grow strong and living roots into the tradition of cuisine he is planning to excel in. He needs to know its history, its important chefs of the past, their affect on local communities. He probably needs to know a lot about the land from which this cuisine developed, its social background, weather, farming methods as well as about all local and imported plants engrained in this tradition. This adds a deep level of understanding to his actual practice of cooking. However, it will still not make him a Michelin chef. What is missing still is the innermost ring. 
  • It is the WHY or the level of Desire that needs to be mastered first. Besides the two faculties above our kitchen chef also needs to know exactly WHY he is on this journey? He needs to see the picture of success as clear in front of him as a Saint would see his picture of salvation. Why is it that a Michelin star matters beyond himself? I guess it is because of his customers? Because of the people who will come to his restaurant and spent their time and money there. Along with the technical skills of a chef as well as the knowledge of the history of the tradition he needs to be able to answer WHY people should come to his house rather than the next one down the road? Because even he won’t start out as a Micheline chef. He will start like everyone else. So why visiting his place? The real question is: How does he aspire to enrich other people’s lives? What positive impact will fulfilling his own dream have on the dream of others? More precisely: which of his customers’ dreams can be realized only by him realizing his own first? 

I guess that's the most essential thing I learned about power: True Power flows from the inside out. While Practice and Understanding are crucial to any success in magic or elsewhere in life, more often than not they aren’t the most critical variables that determine the level of power accessible. Instead it is determined by the innermost ring. It is this deepest layer where we have to face the naked truth. Why do our dreams matter - beyond ourselves? 

In the next Part we will take a look how this model has been abused over time. There are some interesting implications how it allows a teacher or even an order to control progress in power of its students. Unfortunately I have to admit, some of them sounded very familiar to me when I first became aware of them...