Three Misperceptions on Why Magic Matters - or my Essential Question of 2012
On True Will, Holy Guardian Angels and Magical Self-Engineering
Another year comes to an end. An opportunity to clean our desks, get rid of dead freight, misperceptions and to answer some essential questions. To me the essential question I take away from this rich year of magical practice, learning and sharing is this: ‘Why use Magic?'
You think this sounds a bit too obvious? Well, it doesn’t to me: Ten years ago if someone had asked me, why I walk the path of magic I would have answered to gain conscious knowledge and conversation with my Holy Guardian Angel. Maybe I would have hesitated and then added: ‘Oh, and of course to discover my True Will!’. Today, I don’t think either of the two are relevant answers.
Today I am thinking of this essential question as a Zen koan. It looks deceitfully simple at first glance. Yet, if you were to approach your Zen teacher with your intuitive answer, there is a high chance he would smile and turn you away. So you would return to your meditation place and mediate over this most simple question again... 'What possibly could have been wrong with my answer? Isn’t contact with my Holy Guardian Angel a most worthy goal in life? Isn’t peeling away layer over layer of ego-driven wishes and desires to finally find and fulfill my True Will what drove mages for at least... well, at least since Crowley succeeded to establish the highly ambiguous term ‘True Will’ as the most successful fig leave since the philosophy of hedonism to turn your life into a self-centered journey of narcissism...? So what is wrong with my answer?'
Well, that is exactly the question we need to ask ourselves: What can possibly be wrong with such simple answer to such simple question? To be honest, I spent most of the last two years searching for a better one, an answer that passes with approval by the Zen teacher we call Life. Here are three misperceptions I found on this journey.
Note: Realising these misperceptions came with a considerable amount of disillusionment and frustration about myself. Painful or not, they still are what my Zen teacher meant to teach me. If anything of the below reads harsh it's because this was needed to break through my own flawed framework of references. Feel free to alter for your own use.
A Misperception on Why Magic Matters - (1) True Will
Let’s start off with why pointing to discover our True Will is not a good answer. Well, the famous concept of ‘True Will’ may make complete sense on an intuitive basis. Yet once we zoom in closer, it quickly falters and collapses. Mainly this is because in actual practice no one will ever be able to tell when they have discovered their True Will. The concept simply cannot be falsified.
The Wikipedia definition of True Will describes individuals who successfully discovered theirs as acting “in alignment with Nature, just as a stream flows downhill, with neither resistance nor lust of result.” See? It sounds awesome at first glance. But let's read it again: Which ‘nature‘ does this quote refer to? To the nature of the land I live on? The nature of the beings that are extinct by my species producing more waste and toxins each year? To the nature of the community I live in? Or the nature of my own individual being only? I guess anybody who worked with the forces of nature agrees that there is no such thing as one unified current running through it. Nature is many. Nature is legion.
Now, admittedly, it sounds great as a meditational mantra to 'discover the will that is in alignment with nature‘. Yet unfortunately the results that come from it will easily be as flawed as if trying to mediate a conflict without acknowledging first that there is one: If you have kids or live in a large family, please think of your family for a moment. Think of holiday season when everybody is home and think of all the different ‘natures’ present in the house for several days... If you still think there is but one ‘True Will’ you can discover and act upon - like a stream that flows downhill - that will make all disputes, all quarrels large and small, all bickering simply go away, I guess, there is long path of thorny truth ahead of you... Everybody who has seen a fall-wave knows: Even water that runs downhill can create huge damage to the nature it is an integral part of.
The concept of True Will is a great cognitive trick to peel away many layers of bodily and short-lived desires. This is absolute essential work when we set out on the magical path. Therefore applied in the right circumstances it can create a bright norther star, that allows us to learn how to walk through the deserts of pleasure-delay, will power and asceticism ultimately. Huge capacities and entirely new skills can be learned from it. Yet, it will always remain what a north star is to the wanderer - a point of eternal direction, yet eternally out of reach.
A Misperception on Why Magic Matters - (2) Holy Guardian Angels
Let’s look at my other attempt to answer the question on ‘Why use Magic?’ - to gain conscious knowledge and conversation with my Holy Guardian Angel. Now, here is a concept I truly believe in. Of course I am aware you could argue against it just like I did against True Will a second ago. Yet, in my highly subjective perception and experience I managed to validate it in a much more pragmatic way than the idea of ‘True Will’. Speaking to my HGA today is not theoretic or philosophic in any way. It is based on a specific technique I apply and results in a concrete, repeatable experience that has helped me tremendously to grow as an individual and master my life. So how come my Zen teacher didn’t like this answer either?
I guess Life doesn’t like this answer, because it works against a much broader horizon than I or most of us humans normally do. Life simply isn’t confined by the limits we often take for granted: It doesn’t need to break down it’s lessons into chapters by years or decades like we do. It is free to perceive obvious and painful challenges we encounter as essentially positive and deeply enriching, and it is never driven by angst or fear like we as humans will always be to a certain extend. I guess, Life being what it is doesn’t even bother too much about my personal conditions or reasons for giving this answer? In fact, Life again might have a much broader frame of reference when asking the question ‘Why use Magic?’... Let’s use a little role play to illustrate how Life might be looking at this question indeed.
For a moment let’s swap roles between the spirits we tend to work with in magic and us as humans. Let’s listen to Life as it poses a very similar question to these spirits or even to our very own HGA: ‘Why use Humans?` And as our HGA looks completely gobsmacked, Life goes on to say: ‘Look, it takes years of dedicated hard work with a single human being to train them on the most basic steps. How to deal with large amounts of energy, how to talk to us, how to be okay with not seeing us on the physical plain, etc. It takes all this effort to raise humans to the essential level where they actually can be of help. And then what? How many humans have you seen who - once they reach this threshold of understanding and power - actually offer themselves up in service, who let go of their personal agenda, of their human wishes and desires, of their dreams of individual eternity, of personal remembrance by their offspring, and - worst of all - of their deeply engrained craving to experience god-like significance?’ ‘Well’, the spirit would turn away from its Zen teacher and ponder, ‘truth be told, I haven’t exactly seen a lot of humans like this...’ So why use humans?
A Misperception on Why Magic Matters - (3) Self-Engineering
My point, I guess, is quite simple. As long as our answer to ‘Why use Magic?’ revolves around ourselves as the central pillar of our universe, we can’t expect Life to have any specific interest in it. Because wether we fail or succeed doesn’t matter to anybody but ourselves. If this is good enough for you - go right ahead. Many generations of magicians went ahead before and I fear many more will follow...
When I draw a line below the dozens and dozens of magical training manuals I have read and practiced on in my life, what remains is this: some highly powerful, many average and a lot of feeble techniques to optimize yourself and the narrow world you call your life. The implicit answer to ‘Why use Magic?’ most of these books give is to engineer yourself into a better version of yourself. To grow from Neophyte to Zelator (...) to Adept to Magister, to continuously over your life-time climb a rung of the eternal Hermetic Ladder of self-improvement, one step at a time. In order for one day, finally, to emerge as the master of all arcane disciplines, the stone of the wise, impersonated in a suit of flesh of bones that you can be proud to call yourself.
Don’t get me wrong. I followed this path for more than a decade intensely, practicing everyday for hours like many of us did or still do. And I still believe the motivation to climb this ladder is a wonderful motive to set out on the magical path when we are young or start out completely fresh. But... there comes a time, there comes a point in our lives as magicians when we have climbed this ladder high enough, when we need to ask ourself if this original motive still holds true? Is it still good enough, to simply focus on ourselves, given all the things we have gained through the support of spirits and divine beings way beyond our capacities? In other words: at which point do we owe back to life and all its forces that helped us become who we are?
If every spirit you have ever worked with, was allowed to direct one wish at you - what would they ask for? How would this long list read? And how many of these wishes have you fulfilled so far? The most essential question I can think of for us as magicians to answer is ‘Why use Magic?’. Whatever answer we come up with, it should also answer the question Life might pose to the spirits: 'Why use Humans?'
How long do we give ourselves to realize that the ladder we were feverishly climbing in reality is not only a ladder, but also a chain. It is the Hermetic or Golden Chain, the one that connects all beings, small and large, weak and powerful, through threads of life and power... The question I needed to ask myself there was: How long do I give myself to find my place in this chain - and by when should I start working not my own agenda, but on the ones that matter beyond me?
I don’t know where you are on your magical path. But maybe now, between the years, at the end of a cycle of 365 days, it is a good moment to step back and reflect. To ask yourself: 'Am I still a seedling or am I a tree?' And if it is the latter, who have I come to shelter in my shadow? Who eats from my fruits? Which nests am I ready to host in my crown? It doesn’t mean I’ll stop growing, stop following the cycles of the year and refresh myself with water and air and light everyday... It simply means that even after all these intense years of work on myself, this work will continue; yet it will change from a mean to its own end into the basis from which I can give back in return.
The most essential questions I am taking with me into 2013 are the following:
- 'Do I know what the stones, plants and earths in my garden desire?`
- 'Am I aware of the needs of the fairy beings who live with me in this house?'
- 'Do I have favours to return to spirits who have helped me in the past?`
- 'Are there spirits unacknowledged in my personal realm (body, house, community) who are asking for service?'
- 'Which physical world events might have impacted spirits living in this land with me negatively? Are there ways I can help or support?`
- 'What do my dreams teach me about jobs I can be useful to - through the tool I have turned myself into?'
If everything goes right after plan we not necessarily move from student to teacher, but often from student to servant.