When we start out on the magical path, we often feel like magic is something we do, not something we are. We talk about the supernatural, unique magical experiences, and rituals done in specially designed chambers or areas. Sometimes, we even fast or dress a certain way to shift our perceptions into that space of otherness because we consider daily life to be extremely unmagical by default.
If you’re like me, this is the way you were taught to think as a beginner. It’s a good way to approach magic because materialism tells us that only things which can be physically measured (and, absurdly, money) are real. The rest is delusion and self-deceit. So the young sorcerer finds herself in the position of having to create a context, a magical micro-world, that can alter her perceptions, getting her away from reductive materialism and into a place where thoughts and emotions are just as real as things. She needs to step into a microcosm where she can believe in magic, if only for a brief time.
In The Satanic Bible—which you may scoff at until you realize it contains a complete workable precis of ceremonial magic condensed to about 10 pages—LaVey defines ritual magic as “the performance of a formal ceremony, taking place, at least in part, within the confines of an area set aside for such purposes and at a specific time. It’s main function is to isolate the otherwise dissipated adrenal and other emotionally induced energy, and to convert it into a dynamically transmittable force.”
In other words, it’s about generating a certain kind of feeling that will be powerful enough to travel out of the magician, out of the chamber, and into the outside world. The reason this is brilliant is that it reveals the true origin of the power: you. Incidentally, this is why one of the optional ingredients in LaVeyan magic is a woman (or, really, any naked provocative person) as an altar. Wouldn’t you feel more strongly about standing in front of a naked person than a slab of wood or stone? Most people would be able to draw emotional power from this alone.
An even deeper realization came to me years after first reading LaVey: it didn’t matter whether I used a coffee table, a big altar (for many years, I used a wooden door on two sawhorses), or a naked person. Those were just proxies for the real altar being used in the ritual, my body. I figured this out while studying hoodoo. My hoodoo altar was (and still is) part worktable and part ritual surface. What I make or put on the altar comes from my spirit or goes into my spirit or otherwise interacts with my spiritual self. The oils, washes, colognes, waters, and mojo hands I wear on my person are also ritual items on a magical altar. The “chamber” is my sphere of awareness, my personal space.
Once I came to understand that I am the true altar and that the physical surface in front of me is just a virtual workspace for what is going on inside me (remember: the true origin of he magic is the individual),* I started to notice that when I lived in a high-pollution area, I had to banish more often because the spirits around me were dirtier. I started to pay attention to the metaphysical properties of my food and the energy that collected in various locations where positive or negative things had happened. I began to see that there really is no separation between the metaphysical and physical. Rather, it is an organic continuum.
Maybe we can blame Plato for the mind-body dualism which runs through Neo-Platonism and, by extension, through many forms of magical Kabalah and Renaissance magical cosmologies. Christianity has this built into it at almost every juncture, which is probably the reason grimoire traditionalists work the way they do, seeing space and tools as essential ingredients for interacting with a demon-haunted world.
Well, the world is full of demons. At least, in my UPG it is. But I believe it’s also full of many different spiritual energies, intelligences, and discarnate beings. This view resonates with me perceptually. It gets me to that emotional place LaVey thought was necessary for the performance of effective ritual. And it keeps me mindful that the magical chamber is wherever I happen to be.
* For those grimoirists and spirit workers shaking their heads because they work in paradigms that treat spirits as having an independent existence, I have three occult sayings: (1) as above, so below / as within, so without; (2) it may be all in your head, but you have no idea how big your head is; and, my personal favorite, (3) credendi visus est, believing is seeing.