Working Magic in Vision - or walking the Path of the Empty Hand
When explaining how to work magic based on inner vision it is helpful to take a look at one of the main differences between traditional Shamanism and Western Ritual Magic. It lies in the different pathways chosen by its practitioners to achieve a clear state of Inner Sight. Wether we aim to develop it in the circle of practice or in the forests at night, wether we use a crystal ball to fix our gaze or wether we keep our eyes closed with our fingers following the lines of our mesa: Inner sight knows no differentiation between paradigms and so don’t the spirits we aim to work with. Inner vision represents a gift we can only give to ourselves.
For someone living in the modern western world most often the biggest hurdle to allow oneself to develop inner sight is as simple as it is hard to overcome: it is the lack of trust in its essential existence. The place where we communicate in vision with spirits of the land, of plants , of the divine planets or Goetic beings is always an inner one. Which poses the problem that nobody else will ever be able to follow us there, to validate and test, to objectify and substantiate what we had heard or seen before. The fundamental nature of Inner Sight is to work from within.
All ancient cultures differentiated between two (or even more) kind of dreams. There was the usual type of dream - a pleasant or frightful walk through the treasure-house of images of our minds, entertaining yet not meaningful in any way beyond our own existence. And then there was this other category of dreams: dark and cryptic, often populated by beings or landscapes that at the same time appeared utterly familiar and utterly foreign, dreams we stumbled into, like we stumble on a busy street through a half forgotten door where everything around us is already taking place, acting itself out, following its own rhythm before we even appear. It is this second category of dreams which we can call prophetic, incubated or simply accessed through inner sight.
Successfully working in vision or in a state of inner sight is to achieve the same level of clairvoyance as many of us are familiar with from the latter type of dreams - only when we are not asleep. The main difference between experiencing inner sight while wide awake rather than through dreams is threefold:
- Firstly, the filter of our conscious mind is more focussed and active,
- secondly, our outer sight blocks entrance to our inner sight and
- thirdly, patterns of trained rational thinking make it very hard to connect to the intuitive state of experience so typical for dreams.
Now wether we follow a shamanic path or the path of the Western mage - which to me isn’t much of a difference as you'll see - all of these three barriers need to be overcome in oder to experience a state of conscious communication with spiritual beings.
What we are essentially looking for is a mechanism, a reliable technique that allows the practitioner to willingly self-induce a specific state of trance. This type of ritual or visionary trance needs to be strong enough to overcome all three thresholds mentioned above, yet still subtle enough to allow for conscious acts and even rational thoughts while in it.
For shamans this technique often presents itself in the use of specific herbs or poisonous drugs. These could be inhaled as smoke, drunken as a sacred potions, applied on the skin as ointments or simply chewed in their raw state. For the Western mage the role of herbs and resins equally is an essential one. Yet, one had to be careful in applying them - most commonly as incense - as the aim was rarely to alter the magicians consciousness, but rather to give substance to the spirits evoked. A wonderful example of this ‘technique‘ going awfully wrong is Eliphas Levi evocation of Apollonius of Tyana. During this ominous rite the clouds of incense turned so thick and heavy in the ritual chamber that he did not only fall into the appropriate level of ritual trance, but on the floor when loosing his consciousness in the middle of the operation. I guess it is fair to say that with regards to herbs our Western magical tradition falls pretty short of comparing itself to the level of mastery achieved by the shamans of most indigenous people? Where they talk to the spirits of the plants before using them to understand their specific powers and their right dosage, we rarely bother to acknowledge that the same rules apply for the beings we aim to invoke as for the beings that dwell in the means we are using to get there...
So if most of our ancestors never turned into true masters of herbs or poisons in Western ritual magic - and maybe that wasn’t necessary to achieve their goals? - how did they successfully overcome the three thresholds mentioned above? The answer for many centuries has been called Scrying.
In essence scrying is a self-induced trance technique known among many cultures that relies upon sensory deprivation through long phases of staring into reflective, translucent, or luminescent substances to achieve spiritual visions. The Eastern staring technique of tratak is a pre-required skill for any successful scrying to take effect, yet we have no evidence of it ever being trained as a stand-alone skill in Western ritual circles.
Staring into a reflective surface for long periods of time - ideally without blinking and certainly without changing one’s position or perspective - is a very simple method to overcome the three thresholds called out above. Firstly, rather than trying to tone down or dilute the natural gravity of our consciousness to attach itself to a certain object of contemplation, it makes deliberate use of it. So just like Eastern meditation, scrying makes use of the natural habit of our mind and enhances it to ultimately become completely absorbed with a single object. Secondly, scrying tones down the domination of our outer visual sight by depriving our eyes from all sensual stimuli except for one: the shiny or reflective surface of the object we stare into. Finally, through these means it achieves to break through the filters of rational thinking and chatter that normally occupy our conscious mind. While staring into the flame, the surface of a bowl filled with water or the polish of a dark mirror, there simply isn’t anything left that our rational minds can hold on to...
So scrying basically takes a lot of effort and precautions to shut down our constant intake of outer visual stimuli in order to allow our inner gates of sight to open - while our conscious mind is still sufficiently organized to rationally process what it perceives in vision. Scrying is the crutch Western mages have leaned on since the time of the ancient Greeks and before to access states of inner sight. It’s a strong, solid crutch though that has been explored, re-fined and perfected over centuries of ritual practice. Unfortunately it still comes with one essential flaw.
And this flaw is that even scrying cannot guarantee to shut down all of your personal filters. What I mean by that is this: in order to achieve true inner sight we need to rid ourselves from all personal desires, passions, dreams and attachments we cling on to. We need to find a place that is void of all our emotions, longing or fears. Going on this unexpected journey - which often can take the better part of a lifetime - that is the gift we can only grant to ourselves.
In the second volume of Josephine McCarthy’s Magical Knowledge the author describes a technique to find such a place right at the beginning of the book, the Vision of the Void. It’s the most powerful magical technique I have every worked with. It builds on the foundation of a calm and focussed mind, tamed and matured through years of meditation practice. Yet, once this is achieved, accessing and working with this technique is the most simple path one can imagine into a state of true inner sight. The beauty of this path is that it doesn’t require any crutches. Neither poisonous herbs nor shiny surfaces. More than that - it allows the magician full control over their body while working in inner sight. They can walk around, touch, hear, see, smell both on the outer as well as on the inner realm simultaneously. The technique when done right is so powerful, it easily overcomes the borders between both sides. It turns magicians into walkers on the edge of the circle, into hedge-riders as the ancients used to call them, hagazzuas.
Why am I writing all of this? I am sharing all of this because it really is time for a new type of magic to come through. The times are crying out loud for it, yet as so often it seems progress only comes in slow-motion... I am talking of the return of a type of magic that is so old that it has become forgotten since millennia. A type of magic that in its very nature is so much alive, so easy to access, yet so deep and powerful that most of us scare away from it. It scares us, because it doesn’t allow for hiding behind candles, smoke and incenses, behind old books or grimoires, nor even behind any magical circles or robes and rings. It is the purest type of magic you can imagine. It is the path of the empty hand, as my old teacher used to call it. It takes all the courage in us to embark on this path. It requires each one of us to let go of any veils and boundaries and clothes we are used to carrying. The only way to walk this path is naked.
Well, here is the experience that reminded me of all of this earlier this week: I was sitting in a dark mountain cave. Surrounded by complete silence, only marked by the dripping of water from the walls of stone. Incense filled the large natural chamber and four small lights marked the four directions of the sky. I was deep in vision and worked with the beings living in this cage and the surrounding lands. They hadn’t invited me to this place and were threatening me at first - like they would any intruder to their home and the place they had been set over to guard and watch. Only through the offerings I made, the honey and flour and incense I had brought them - as well as through opening my mind and allowing them to touch all aspects of myself, my spiritual and physical body, my intentions and reasons for being here, only through getting in touch with them on an unconditional level - did they calm down and allow me entrance to what laid beyond their cave, hidden deep inside the land.
It was one of the most demanding, most challenging magical workings I have ever done. Yet, I didn’t wear a robe. I hadn’t brought any paraphernalia with me, no sword, no dagger, no wand, no chalice. I was wearing a thick winter jacket against the cold of the cave, I was wearing the boots I had worn many times walking through the city. I was wearing the same shirt and socks and underwear I would wear as a husband, as a professional, as friend or as a magician. It didn’t matter at all. When working in vision, when working with the beings that lie in wait for us to work in service of their needs and lives, they do not mind what we are wearing. Nor what we are staring into or which herbs we are chewing. They only mind what we carry inside of us, what brought us to their dwelling or called them from it. They mind our intentions and the stillness of our minds. They mind how willing we are to show ourselves naked, to be completely open, or to cover up this core that we are inside with ritual techniques, paraphernalia and long winded rituals. Working from pure intent is simple and yet it is the most powerful magic I can think of. It is the gift we can only grant to ourselves.