Magic often is perceived as a tool to affect change in the world. Clearly this is one of magic's possible applications; and arguably the most uninteresting one to the adept. However, the continued one-dimensional use of magic as a means to create change in the external world lent itself to solidify a huge misunderstanding.
This misconception can be best summarised in the truth that the shortest route to achieve any goal often is the least sustainable one. More than that: often it is a trap that exhausts oneself, one's resources and spirit. The straight line is a trick used so often in magic that many of us have begun to mistake it for the actual tradition. What follows from there is a long line of sad examples instead of great magicians: people who destroy themselves - and the lives of their loved ones - in the pursuit of what they belief to be a heroic attempt to restore an ancient craft. Unfortunately that is really not what they do. What they do is turning themselves into a joke to our forefathers - despite all the genuine intent and effort. I say this without judgement; because I have been one of them and still might be. Let me explain how this trick works.
For ritual magic the human desire to use shortcuts has been used over and over again to protect magic's actual function and mysteries. Let's remember the world of the Ancients: In the 21st century it's easy to forget that our forefathers were masters of silence. At least since the early Middle Ages they lived, met, experimented and wrote under the constant threat of their lives through the Roman Catholic Church. Besides this cruel and unforgiving authority, the idea of protecting 'sacred knowledge' in small communities of adepts is deeply engrained in the history of magic from its beginning. It is what the term 'esoteric' was originally used to determine: the things that were only dealt with on the inside vs. the 'exoteric' or public outside.
Now, when masters of silence compile manuscripts on magic they make sure that their secrets won't be accessed by strangers. Thus approach was not only a matter of their own survival. It was also a matter of loyalty to the spirits contacted through their art. The term 'grimoire' in this context unfortunately is highly misleading - and maybe not unintentionally so? What we find in these Medieval books on magic is by no means a grammar of magic. Grammar in in this context would imply a relatively complete skeleton of a craft - around which with sufficient experience and imagination we could begin to see the flesh and eyes of the once living being. That is not what many of these books are; instead 'grimoires' often are constructed as trapdoors to catch the stupid and to protect the real magic in its periphery.
Remember, the shortest way towards any goal is the least sustainable. No river follows a straight line. It looks for cracks in the earth, meandering around the rocky grounds. No bird ever attempts to fly in a straight line. But it allows the winds to carry it instead. So what are the winds that carry us towards our goals in ritual magic? Or - maybe more importantly - what is the straight line, laid out in obvious sight to deceive us? Well, as you would expect the answer is quite simple: The straight line in magic is the ritual.
Many grimoires are written according to a very plain premise: put the most sparkly thing on the trapdoor in the middle of the book and hide all the real magic in its periphery. The Arbatel is a wonderful example of such an approach. After the first few rituals it painfully clicked with my friend and I who had set out to perform the entire ritual-cycle, step by step, trapdoor by trapdoor. And with each ritual we had fallen harder - yet equally risen higher as we had also respected the advise given in the periphery. Unfortunately it still took us several years to figure out what was kicking our asses so hard and what on the other hand unlocked all the spiritual doors for us... Believe me, it took quite a bit of slapping from the spirits as well as Josephine in the end to figure it out.
Still, after all real-life experience taught us that all of the Arbatel's sigils were irrelevant. Sacrilege, I know! Can you believe it?! A Renaissance sigil not even being spurious - but deliberately created to divert the practitioner's attention? And so were the names of the Olympic Spirits as well. At best they are nails to hang the practitioner's attention on to. However, seven nails in a steep mountain wall will not get you to the top - unless you learn how to climb for yourself. The true ropes and belts, the actual supporting techniques that open doors are all hidden in the periphery of the book. Like it or not - but that is why Christian magic works so well despite all its contradiction. Hell, even Agrippa knew this!
"To the proud rationalism of the professional theologians, Agrippa and his friends contrasted the firm and humble faith of the true believer, who praises God for illuminating man by grace, and who prepares himself for enlightenment with vigils, fasts, and a life lived in immitation of Christ. Only to such persons, Agrippa felt, will God grant knowledge which is beyond the reach of human investigation, the knowledge of the true mysteries of religion, which are contained not in the external revelation but in its inner meaning." (Charles Nauert, Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought, p.50)
Take another look at Qutub; Andrew Chumbley and his friends of the early Crooked Path still knew this. The book isn't worth a penny except for what is hidden in its periphery... -- Many of you still know this. Many of you who sit still in meditation; who go out into the forest at dusk and return at dawn. Who find a remote place and retreat in silence. Many of you who spread out ashes on the floor and lie down. Of you who lock the door and stay in darkness for days. Many of you still know this, I hope. Know that our body is the athanor of the craft. And that it is within it that magic takes place.
If you doubt me, that is good. Then just walk up to your library again. Pull out some of the calssical texts on magic you have read so many times and take another look. But this time look at them purely based on this one premise: The straight line is a trap - magic resides in the periphery. You will be surprised by what you find.
And if I tempted you to trust me? Well, that is even better. In that case here is a simple exercise to explore this premise yourself: Sit down in a sufficiently quiet, dark room and light a candle. Put it right in front of you on the floor, about four feet away from you and stare into it unblinkingly for as long as you can. Take your time; try over a couple of days until you reach eight to 12 minutes of a single stare without needing to blink. Allow your eyes to go teary, it will do you no harm. Just keep on staring into the flame. Practice for about twenty to thirty minutes each day. Then - after a few weeks of practice - light a second candle. Now shift both flames to the periphery of your vision; one left, one right. Shift them out as far as you can; just make sure you can still see the centres of the flames if you turn your eyes hard. Then lower your stare straight ahead again and try to see both flames at once.
This technique is called tratak and the two versions shared above will teach you to assume the 'single-minded vision' as well as the '180 degree vision'.
Now. Did you fall into the trap? The technique is important as it stands. It teaches your body and creates a specific sensual experience. It changes your eyes, your vision, your mind, your breath and your brain and many other things. But tratak is no magic. You will encounter the latter as soon as you give up - while still keep on going. You will find magic when you stop caring about the flames, stop caring about your vision; but don't stopping looking at the lights. Then there won't be no centre and no periphery no more. And you will be able to walk over trapdoors without falling.
The problem is that telling this someone won't work. Words don't work; it's our senses that crave experience. I can still give it a try: Magic doesn't sleep in the chalice. It doesn't sleep in the wand, the sword, the circle or the sigil. It sleeps within the periphery of your own body. That's where it is rooted. In that secret place where you end and another one begins.