On the Risks of Walking a Magical Path
When discussing how magic could best be taught, these were the thoughts Walter Ogris, a magical companion recently shared with me. Since then I have found myself many times pondering over his statement. I guess, especially in light of all the work Josephine and I are putting into Quareia these days. He is making several very valid points of course and I’d like to offer a bit of perspective from my own experience on each one of them.
This concept is central to the work of Emil Stejnar, whose magical heir and disciple is Walter Ogris. Stejnar is clearly blurring the line between magic and mysticism and this can easily lead to confusion. Magic in its traditional sense is a set of techniques that create contact to spiritual beings and experiences of a wide array. Mysticism on the other hand is a path that strives to create an intimate and direct link with divinity. So magic in itself is not a path, but offers the tools to open many different doors. Mysticism in reverse is only interested in unlocking one particular door - the one that leads straight to divinity. So while the former is driven by curiosity for exploration, the latter is driven by the desire for union. Both, however, rely and require our human consciousness to change and expand.
What Walter refers to in his quote above, is the inherent risk in magic that one continues to apply a technique without an actual goal in mind. The process of unlocking a door becomes the act of purpose itself, instead of stepping through it and pursuing the path behind it. Think of a burglar who approaches a new house each night, only to unlock their front-doors and then to walk away, preparing for another night, another house, another lock. This is how many magicians pursue their own craft and Walter is very right in pointing this out: Something is driving them to keep their endorphin levels high by performing one rite after another, contacting being after being, capturing names and sigils in their black books - without ever getting down to work with them and to explore the path of consciousness these various beings hold in store for us. Such is the risk of becoming the host of a ritual-larvae.
Walter is also referring to the risk of watering the techniques of magic down to such a degree that really very little is left of them. These days we really see this everywhere, inside and outside of lodges, online and offline. Yet, only once its original acerb taste is diluted sufficiently will it be ‘okay’ for everyone. The beauty of reaching such state of vanilla-taste is that you have maximised your audience to the largest possible degree. And a large audience generally speaking means a large(r) income. Such Pseudo-magic has three main root-causes and they often go hand in hand:
- an incompetent person who strived to switch chairs form student to teacher way too early in their own spiritual journey and,
- a financial dependency of the same or more persons to found their livings from some sort of financial exchange around their magical expertise.
- The ultimate coffin nail to teaching real magic is of course the way Psychology has affected and sustainably changed the Western mind. In a psychological mindset literally everything can be turned into magic, as according to its paradigm it is the way we look at the world that creates it.
Nothing could be further from the way reality is experienced and altered in a traditional magical paradigm. The way we look at this world, positive or negative, self-assured or insecure, has absolutely nothing to do with magic as a set of spiritual techniques. Our psyche is just the hand that holds the tools we came to call ‘magic’. A weak hand is at risk of dropping a tool when it’s not supposed to; a rigid hand will cling on to it when it is time to let go of it.
Pseudo-magic loves nothing better but to blur this line and to confuse the operator with the operation. Because scruffy definitions make for scruffy accountabilities. And often telling ourselves we are safe and everything will be fine is really all we need. And many teachers out there - irrespective of the label they put on their business - are just perfectly fine to give us exactly what we’re asking for.
Walter is equally right in pointing out that many magical institutions and teachers over the last decades have used the above dynamics for their own good mainly. The absence of a magical path and the glut of techniques is easily reconciled through the introduction of a man-made ladder of so-called initiations.
Such ladder replaces the actual individual journey of the spiritual warrior with a pre-conceived choreography of experiences and ultimately turns into a self-fulfilling goal. Being granted the final badge of honour becomes a substitute for actually having done anything honourably. Being granted the ‘master-carpenter’ certificate replaces the need to actually having created a chair that’s any good for sitting.
The system harvests the achilles heel of magic in order to maintain itself: a set of tools that once was applied by our street-smart ancestors to create change and balance in partnership with inner beings, becomes the object of adoration and adornment itself. While some of us might still work with the actual tools, most of us do so in isolation with our own ego only. Something that was conceived once to work in spiritual partnership has been locked up behind the glass doors of our temples in order to feed the egos of our teachers as well as our own. Masturbation isn’t sex; neither is good nor bad. But the pleasure we experience on our own is essentially different from the pleasure we experience as a couple; and one was not meant to replace the other.
Institutionalising magic is a delicate matter indeed. And that’s exactly why I look at Quareia as such a powerful and much needed intervention for our time: By founding a school that essentially doesn’t consist of anything but an open, online curriculum we break through all the patterns of self-gratifying magical orders, lodges and temples. By smashing the glass and putting the museum objects back on the street, into the hands of the ‘un-initiated’ we challenge the established balance of power. By even cutting the chain that unites loose magical groups and putting each one of us out their on their own, we put the sole responsibility back where it belongs: into the hands of ourselves and the spiritual beings we work with.
Sometimes revolution follows strange patterns. In order to break free from the institutionalising of magic, a new institution might be needed. An almost invisible one. A ‘school’ that doesn’t own a room, or chairs, or a chalkboard, that doesn’t know of secret crypts or rites or temples. A school that only consists of a map, which is placed into the hand of each student willing to learn. Take the map, put on your wellies and walk out into life. It is life that will teach you, whenever you are ready to listen.