On Power and Magic - Part 2
“Magic is about working with power - it is the calling of power, the manipulation of power and the moving of power from A to B.” (Josephine McCarthy, Magical Knowledge I)
Time to explore some more about magical power. In the first post we dealt with the fundamentals of what blocks or opens access to power for any practitioner of magic. We found it is based on the coherence of (1) their actual ritual practice, (2) their understanding of how this practice forms part of a larger tradition as well as (3) their inner clarity of purpose and motivation to act. These three layers of magical power can be depicted by a model of three concentric circles.
3) The two Pillars of Power: Experience and Meaning
When we bring this model to life and compare it with our own magical practice it is interesting to see where in the past we used to start our magical journey: Did we tend to start with pure practice, jumping right into the cold water and then slowly moving inwards by exploring how what we discovered related to the bigger picture of our tradition? Or did we start with our inner desires, then explored the tradition we are part of like a huge treasure map of access points, until we found the one that promised to satisfy what we were looking for?
There is no right or wrong in discovering our own path into the different layers of magical power. The journey can be started at any point as all layers are interdependent. However, the single precondition to make any significant progress on this path is to explore all three layers equally. Because only then will we be able to not only gain experience, but experience that is charged with meaning.
Here is the trick in a nutshell: magical Experience is gained by moving from the outside inwards. The path of experience starts with practice and uses the actual performance of the craft, the direct engagement and exploration of spiritual reality as the pathway to a deeper understanding of the tradition and balance of one own’s desires. This path is still illustrated best by the ancient mystery cults - when the Neophyte was exposed to stark and traumatizing experiences during initiation rites which gained much of their power from not being explained upfront. It were these rites that aimed at changing once inner desires - i.e. elevating the state of the soul of the Neophyte - by pure and raw experience rather than self-reflection or psychological analysis. Thus Experience begins with the WHAT and then flows inwards through the layers of HOW and WHY.
Meaning, on the other hand, expands by approaching it from the opposite direction, from the inside out: from WHY towards HOW towards WHAT. To stay with the example of the initiation cults: their rites in isolation were moments of unique and glaring experience. Yet they didn’t unfold their actual Meaning until the practitioner successfully related them to their actual personal lives outside the cult. If we look at our own ritual practice today we still find the same thing to be true: For anything to be truly meaningful it needs to touch, influence and change our own everyday life and desires.
In existentialism Meaning is defined as that which definesthe worth of life. It is something that only exists on an individual level and is subject to one’s own interpretation. Meaning has a home and comes to life in each one of us only. If we accept this definition we can realize how the worth of live can be changed by following the three rings from the inside out: by realizing our own desires and motivations, understanding their place and home in the tradition we belong to and expressing them in magical symbols, practices and rites. This how we aim to create Meaning that increases the worthiness of living both lives.
Earlier we found to gain access to significant amounts of magical power we need to explore all three rings equally, the WHY, the HOW and the WHAT. On examining the dynamics of moving through the three rings in either direction we realized the actual reason for this: because the archway of magical Power rests on the two pillars of Experience and Meaning.
4) Abuse of Magical Power by Spiritual Teachers
Now that we understand the dynamics of magical Power let’s take a look at how these can be abused by magical teachers or orders. Just as in life, knowing the pitfalls of your magical path is the best way to avoid them.
Unfortunately there are myriads of techniques how to limit, shut down or harvest the magical power of the Neophyte. If you want to learn from the true masters of this art, I suggest to study the rites and practices of the Catholic church. They are the prime-example of how to limit spiritual power accessible to your communities and still create huge amounts of dependency and obedience. Everything magical orders achieved compared to this is simply on a very different scale. Yet, as practitioners of magic the actual techniques of magical orders are still more relevant to us.
So here is one way of achieving this - potentially the most simply one: If you want to limit the access to magical Power for your students just block access to the rings of ‘HOW’ and ‘WHY’. Simply keep them busy with tons and tons of material of ‘WHAT‘. Thus the most straight forward way to disempower your students is to give them exactly what they asked for when they came to you: pure and plain instructions of how to perform magical rites. What you don't tell them is that to make your magical instructions so 'pure and plain' unfortunately you had to cut them loose from any deeper layer of meaning as captured in your tradition or as set free by connecting them to the subjective inner realms of the students.
Take a look at the classic Golden Dawn study books and you will immediately see how this technique is applied in practice. Wether it was done on purpose to keep the veil of secrecy over the things that actually matter for true magical initiation or not - the effect on the practitioner is the same. These books are marketed as complete step-by-step self-study lectures that lead to self-initiation. I.e. they come with the specific claim that nothing else is needed to gain access to magical power than following their instructions... ‘Just do WHAT I tell you in this book and the doors will open.’ Now, take another look at their textbooks and look at it from the perspective of ‘HOW’ and ‘WHY’: How much do they tell you about the roots of this magical tradition, about the magic of the Chaldeans, the Egyptians, the Gnostics, the early Hermetics, their worldview, their relation to the land, their local culture - and that Meaning can only unfold once we perceive magic as an expression of who we are and the times we live in?
Don’t get me wrong: since the early days when Regardie decided to publish the material of the outer grades, the Golden Dawn has done service to the Western Magical tradition by capturing a complete curriculum of magical practice in writing. Yet, unfortunately they have slammed shut as many doors as they opened - leaving behind them a very narrow, blind-sided path and perspective on our Western Magical Tradition. In doing so the actual service their books have paid to the magical community might have benefitted the order itself much more than the Neophytes who were looking for a living magical tradition? Considering this was all done by self-declared ‘adepts’ of the arte - this is pretty much what I call abuse of magical power.
The role of a magical teacher who doesn’t abuse power is to allot the right amount of magical practice to the Neophyte. So that the student's layer of ‘WHAT’ - of the practice he starts to explore - is just sufficiently filled with new and often disturbing experiences to ask for the HOW of the tradition as well as the WHY of his own actions and desires. Leading the Neophyte on this path from the outside into the centre of the model of magical Power is a truly secret form of art. It is also the most exciting adventure for student and teacher alike - as none of them know where the journey will lead them to...
Note: In the example of abuse of magical power by the Golden Dawn I am referring to their vast body of published self-study material only. I am not in a position, nor do I want to make any statement or claim about the quality of teaching that is given inside the order face to face.