Donald Michael Kraig, possibly one of the greatest recent magical teachers in the West, wrote the following about leading the magical life:
To really be a magician means that your “mindset” is totally centered around magick. This means that no matter what you are doing, thinking or saying, there is always in your mind the idea of how everything is related magickally. Thus, if you are talking politics, you might be thinking about how a politician is able to convince people to vote for him or her without ever mentioning a political platform. Certainly this is a powerful form of magic, convincing people to do things for no apparent reason. When you are cooking, you might be thinking about how the element of fire affects meats, their byproducts, and vegetables. When magick becomes your way of thinking, acting, and breathing, then you will be a magician. (Modern Magick 81)
This is true for any calling. When you live it, when it is the primary way you make sense of the world and your actions, you have formed a subjective synthesis with that thing. You have attained integration. And you can safely say you are that thing, insofar as one can be anything.
In my opinion, the most remarkable part of this is that it even has to be said. Magic is so misunderstood, so bastardized and obfuscated by fiction and film, that its default paradigm in the West is not that of a wise woman leading a visionary experience with herbs, a priest mediating between the dead and the living, a Rosicrucian philosopher probing the depths of the soul, a Taoist sorcerer blessing a new building, or a tribal elder healing a community after a tragedy.
Rather, it’s Harry Potter. And, as fun as J.K. Rowling’s world is (a la Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and C. S. Lewis), it’s still a materialistic magical paradigm where people shoot fireballs out their asses and go flying on broomsticks. Even in its fantasy worlds, the West can’t imagine anything that it can’t measure through physics. Such materialistic magic is “vulgar” in the sense of what I was saying about materializing gold-plated limousines in “Blood from a stone: if you can do magic, how come you’re not rich?”
Moreover, it completely disregards the most fundamental principle of magic, which Anton LaVey famously labeled The Balance Factor: “Magic is like nature itself, and success in magic requires working in harmony with nature, not against it” (Satanic Bible 87). Later, the occultist Carl Nagel would reformulate this idea in terms of belief versus possibility:
Do not lust after that which you know is quite unattainable… . You must firmly believe an ancient truth; namely that real magick comes from within. The spirits and demons evoked by ritual are simply a means to an end. So you must firmly believe that what you seek is realistic, and most important of all, within the realms of probability. All the chanting and spellcasting in the world won’t do you one iota of good if you are in any way doubtful as to the real chances of realizing your dream. (The Infernal Conjurations of the Notorious Grimoire of Honorius 11).
And, more recently, the sorcerer Jason Miller would express this through a quote from Voodoo Priest Louis Martine: “First comes the working. Then comes the work” (The Sorcerer’s Secrets 10), pointing out that without a channel for mundane physical manifestation, all the magic in the world isn’t going to produce material change.
So what can magic do? It can change minds, alter probabilities, and sometimes produce those rare vulgar effects we like to call miracles. But mostly it takes things that already exist and arranges them in our favor. We get a check in the mail. Someone falls in love with us. We get hired. We win the contest. We learn a secret or find a valuable item. If we work hard, we learn about the meaning of our lives and what the soul is. Horcruxes and dragons—as impressive as they may be—are not needed for this in an everyday physical sense.
Basically, when we do magic, we’re interacting with a non-physical medium (aether) to produce non-physical and sometimes physical results. So what if, in the process of doing a ritual or a healing or a hoodoo working, we don’t feel anything, no bells and whistles, no fireballs from our nether regions? Does that mean we don’t know what we’re doing or it didn’t work or it’s weak? Back to Kraig:
Sometimes in my classes I have had students tell me that although they carry out the rituals with extreme care, they feel nothing within themselves (or without), as a result. They want to know why they are failing and what they are doing wrong. The answer is that there is nothing wrong and that they are not failing. The energies involved in the rituals are continually at work throughout the physical and spiritual universe. The energy goes around and through all things, both physical and non-physical. It is everywhere. If you did not feel the motion of the energy before, there is no guarantee that you will sense it after you have begun practicing the rituals. Magick permits us to utilize these forces in ways non-magicians cannot comprehend. It is not necessary that you have any weird experiences or unusual sensations as a result of the practice of the rituals in this course. If the rituals are done properly, the desired results must inevitably occur. If you throw a ball in the air, it must come down. This is the law of gravity. If you do the rituals properly, you must get the desired results. This is the cosmic law of magick. (113)
I have found this to be true again and again. There are times when I am particularly sensitive to the movement of the aether through the elements or through and around various entities called up in ritual. Those are the times—especially when paranormal phenomena seem to be happening in my ritual chamber—when it’s easy to believe in magic. But other times, when I’m tired, when I’ve eaten dense meals or lost a lot of sleep or when I’m distracted by thoughts or emotions, I won’t feel the aether or see strange things. But I have had as much success from workings done in those states as I have had in times of great sensitivity.
And so being a “competent” practitioner comes down, really, to experience. Do I know the proper procedures and the ways to modify them to fit the situation? Have I developed inner and outer relationships with helpers in the work? Am I a good enough reader that I can tell if the work is likely to succeed or if the fate of my client has been fixed? If the answer is yes to these questions, what I feel is of secondary importance at best. If I have the magical mindset, as Kraig mentions above, then it’s all magical to me. It doesn’t have to be vulgar and materialistic. I don’t have to scorch my britches with a fireball. If I do the rituals properly, I will get the results.