When in a Spiritual Funk…

The spiritual funk. We all go into a fallow cycle from time to time. It happens in our mundane lives, in our creative work, in our relationships. Sometimes the leaves have to fall. Sometimes the branches have to go unadorned. That is wisdom. But just because we can understand something with our heads doesn’t mean we will accept it in our hearts.

For me, periods of spiritual dryness are extremely painful. Magical ecstasy is my drug of choice. And I go into withdrawal relatively quickly. This is why I choose* to lead the magical life—I live to feel the power coursing around me, enveloping me, extending my presence and awareness, bringing me into greater capacity and understanding. It amounts to being reminded, moment by moment, that the world is a magical place, that I am part of that magic, and that I am participating in a deeper truth. But every now and then, the universe takes those sensitivities and awarenesses away and all I can do is hurt.

When I’m in a spiritual funk, I’m not a pleasant person. I drink more coffee than I should. I tend to lack patience or compassion. I tend to feel empty, spiritually dry, desolate, and despondent. Depression can come out of nowhere in such times. And the only spirits, if any, who show up on my altars are the parasitic assholes looking to get a free meal from tormenting me. Getting rid of them is usually a matter of employing the physical materia I’ve already made for this time—three-herb baths, egg purifications, dogwood and dragonsblood incense in the burner, things that don’t require my soul to work very hard. I go through the motions, completely numb inside, assiduously not thinking about whether things are going to work out, or whether I’m on track in my life, or whether so-and-so hates me, or whether I have enough money, time, life, love, power, peace, etc. Instead, I make an appointment with myself to worry later, when I’m feeling like myself again, whenever that will be.

In a spiritual funk, all considerations and impressions skew to the extreme negative. The light darknes. And great inner suffering is possible because all my gates stand open and unguarded, all my vulnerabilities are laid bare. I’ve gone through it again and again over the years, learning by dint of painful repetition that I need to discipline my thoughts as well as my actions—that a time when my spirits have gone away and my power is non-existent is no time to expect progress in anything. I just practice the bare minimum of spiritual hygeine, close up shop, and wait for it to be over.

I am presently at the end of one of these periods. Though I wish my energetic cycles could be as predictable as the waxing and waning of the moon or the precession of the equinoxes, the spiritual funkiness follows its own irregular course. I have tried to track it, believe me. It runs neither in accordance with diet, sleep patterns, stress, magical activity, astrology, holidays, sabbats, nor with various esoteric calendars. Rather, like a spirit (which I suspect it may ultimately be), my spiritual funk arrives when it wants and departs just the same. If anything, it serves as a reminder that no matter how powerful I may feel, I am still not so powerful that I can overwhelm every opposition and not so farseeing that I can obviate every obstruction.

It’s my personal Law of Polarity: “"Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled" (The Kybalion). As my power grows, so does my weakness, both expressing themselves in my life at different times. I should accept this as a manifestation of universal law. But it is not in the nature of a sorcerer to accept, to follow orders, to bow down to power. Rather, a sorcerer is a spiritual revolutionary of the Inner Planes. When I’m weak, I’m going to fight hard to get strong again, even if all I can do is burn some banishing incense, crawl into my study with a big cup of coffee, and write this post.

As fellow sorcerer, Brother Moloch, puts it: “My path is my own. It is not your path. You do not get to evaluate me – what I do, how I do it, who I do it for or what I charge to do it. Got that? My motivations are my own. My machinations are my own. I am free because I do what I want to do without anyone standing over me and looking down at me. No one tells me what to do. I’m NOT WICCAN. I am a Sorcerer, bitch, deal with it!” (The Eye of the Sorcerer)

I’m a sorcerer, above all else.  For me, this means I can partake of many different systems and beliefs but it also means I struggle every day against the forces of inertia, ignorance, spiritual brokenness, nihilistic materialism, unthinking conformity, and that which would harm the innocent. To be a sorcerer is to fight in a perpetual war against these things by teaching, performing rituals for myself and others, and encouraging people to find their own paths. I operate with dangerous beings and volatile materials and I do it often in solitude, knowing that only the chosen few will ever understand my work. Such is the life I lead. But in times of spiritual funkiness, I know the best thing to do is hole up and wait for the storm to pass.

_____________________________

* choose is such a problematic word in this sentence. Do I choose it or does it choose me? Or is “choosing to lead a magical life” (a life informed and guided by magic) merely a linguistic convention, a useful fiction, for expressing the highly mysterious possibility that choice is actually irrelevant, that I am a condensation of magic itself and that coming to the knowledge and conversation of my inherent magic is merely a realization of what is always in the process of coming into being.

The Great Work: Always Forward, Never Back

I’ve known a lot of magicians in my short life. I’m not sure exactly why or when I started drawing magical people to me, but it could simply be coincidental to the time, place, and characteristics of my youth. Then again, it could be because I have Scorpio rising, but I try to avoid relying on assumptions of either coincidence or astrology to explain the vicissitudes of my existence. They both seem like a detour when critical thinking is necessary.

I find “coincidence” to be an unverifiable useless scientistic prop, as dependent on faith as any other metaphysical belief and not very interesting. Instead of scientism, I would rather study the mythologies of the stars which can at least help me build narratives about my life. Coincidence is a belief that shuts down imagination. Astrology is a practice stimulates it, like any good divinatory art.

Still, it is sometimes better to accept the twists and turns of everyday life as they appear on the surface and ask hard direct questions about what is (or what seems to be). Sometimes, it’s valuable to put aside the ephemerides, the scrying bowl, and the tarot cards in favor an objective understanding. This is not something that comes easily to artists or magicians, but it is an indispensable skill to cultivate.

It’s a bit ironic for a magician to stress the value of clearly seeing the surfaces of the mundane world when the main thrust of his work involves engaging with the unseen and the meta-physical. But, as the Master Therion put it when he set forth the mission of Scientific Illuminism, one may reasonably approach “truth” via the “method of science” with the “aim of religion.” I find this to be a very helpful sentiment when facing what Dion Fortune called, “a subject in which there is no standard of criticism and in which each is a law unto himself, claiming, if he be so minded, independent revelation from sources beyond the judgment of human reason” (Sane Occultism 14). In other words, maintaining everyday mental coherence and an awareness of consensus reality has its uses, too.

If you look through the posts on this website, you’ll see me reporting on workings I’ve done with the attitude of an experimenter. Yes, I am confident in certain discoveries and reliable processes, but that doesn’t mean I will ever stop pushing forward into the unknown as a student of the mysteries. This means I’m often more interested in discovering new questions than repeating old answers. At the same time, I reference the writings of great magicians to pay respect to what they have discovered and to remain mindful of their hard-earned insights.

Over the years, I have slipped further and further into the occult demimonde in order to do this work, spending time with conjure workers, houngans, ceremonial magicians, Satanists, monks, psychics, witches, mystics, esoteric scholars, and priests of gods whose names you won’t see posted on billboards by the side of the road. And lately I’ve been communicating with a lot of young people, new Wiccans, beginners who have experienced their first initiatory shocks and who are wondering about these new doorways that have opened before them.

To them, I say: the world is yours. Enjoy these first steps into the unknown. You will never experience wonder the way you do now. Also remember to keep your sense of who are are in mundane society. Being able to walk in multiple worlds and define yourself in multiple contexts is very hard and only gets more difficult the further you progress. But, in my opinion, there is no greater adventure than the path of initiation. It truly is the “hero’s journey,” and the sacrifices you make along the way are ultimately negligible when compared to the greatness of the work.

So mote it be, now and in the years to come.

There is No Room for Authority in Occultism

A nervous crowd is a dangerous thing, and it is a bold man who will lay sacrilegious hands on the popular idols which quiet its fears; but it will not be until we break free from authority in occultism, whether that authority be claimed for the seen or the Unseen, that we shall do any more serious work in this department of thought than the school-men of the Dark Ages did in natural science.

The need of certainty is very strong in human nature; it is only a highly trained mind that is able to suspend judgment on insufficient evidence; but it is better to endure the torture of uncertainty than to believe a lie… . Great is Truth, and shall prevail, and no one who is sincere need fear her.

– Dion Fortune, Sane Occultism

The Magical Benefits of a Catholic Upbringing

For the first 15 years of my life, I was made to attend church with my parents every Sunday. I do not regret this. In fact, I feel it was an essential part of my upbringing—not for religious or spiritual reasons, but because it caused me to learn about people and evolve along certain introspective channels.

I acquired a degree of human insight beyond my years by having a relatively consistent group of people to observe once a week. Catholic services, if you pay attention (and I always did) were like a social psychology human subject pool. Never again would I encounter such a telling and quietly dramatic group of lost souls and arrogant insecure fools to analyze once a week.

I learned to see the good and the bad in organized established religion. The priests were all very smart, kind, decent, and sincere men. I knew them from the religion classes at the parochial grade school I’d attended, which was attached to the same church. The popular media characterizes Catholic priests as either pedophiles, secret Illuminati-Satanists holding black masses, or wild-eyed exorcists fighting a secret war against the legions of hell. Like most of what we see on the screen, that was pure rubbish. Still, whenever I encounter a (Evangelical, ultra-conservative, fundamentalist, paranoid) website talking about the end times and featuring the Pope shooting lasers from his eyes, I know accusations of pedophilia, Satanism, and dabbling with the Necronomicon are not far behind.

As an ancient and enormous institution, the Catholic church has housed every kind of madman, philosopher, believer, and atheist possible throughout history. This is not to excuse the church for existing in a state of hypocrisy whenever one of its representatives abuses a child, commits a mortal sin, or otherwise breaks his vows. This is to say that just as one cannot claim the church is perfectly good, one cannot claim it is perfectly evil. Rather, like humanity itself, it contains all sorts. I was lucky enough to meet some of the better ones. And I saw a fairly balanced cross-section of humanity there as I was growing up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this perspective would help me later when surrounded by judgmental purple-robed Wiccans, who’d have gladly burned the local monsignor at the stake without ever even putting him to the question.

I also developed the ability to sit quietly and turn inward for long periods of time and I had a few small magical moments, like the time the statue of the Virgin Mary turned its head to look at me or when I saw the aura of a priest explode with golden flame. These experiences helped me realize and remember that there is more to life than physics and money. For that insight, I would gladly sit through all those services a second time!

Having acquired all of these things, I still left the church around age 16 when I realized three important truths: (1) if people started acting particularly churchy and devout, it was nearly always a smokescreen behind which something else was taking place—usually something selfish, nasty, and hurtful; (2) there is more than one truth—there are competing truths that may contradict each other and still be equally true—and the Catholic church did not have a lock on the one true way; and (3) faithful observance of religious ritual did not make the people I saw every Sunday any better or wiser. All it did was puff them up with self-righteousness and social importance.

The religion of my parents had failed me. No one was there to teach me the esoteric side, the mystical side. In fact, it should come as no surprise that I was discouraged from asking those sorts of questions. The priests were uninterested in discussing the finer points of Catholic mysticism with a teenage boy. However, when I would ask magical or theological questions, my mother would say, “Leave that to the priest,” and roll her eyes. When I would ask the nuns at my school, they would say all the answers I needed could be found in prayer—which, to be fair, was probably true; though, saying such a thing to a young person and leaving it at that can only be an evasion, not a useful constructive response. When I would ask people in the dreadful confirmation classes I was eventually forced to attend, they would say, “Don’t be a weirdo,” then roll their eyes and we’d sing a hymn.

What I didn’t know, what I couldn’t see at that young age, was that the priests were immersed in the work of their religion. They were busy helping the homeless downtown, counseling failing marriages, bringing some manner of hope to prisoners, and performing last rites for terminally ill parishioners about to die. The priests dealt with issues that were simultaneously less interesting and more vital than my half-coherent questions about invisible powers and cosmologies.

My parents were like most of the other members of the church—”Sunday Catholics.” They went through all the motions and then blissfully forgot all about their religion, secure in the knowledge that they were on the right side of things and didn’t have to worry. Meanwhile, the fools at the confirmation classes, ranging in ages from 16 to about 35, were mostly that sort as well; though, even then I suspected that a few of them were using it as a lonely hearts dating club. That was before everyone had a smartphone. Now, I’m sure there is a “confirmation class” app for hooking up after the meeting.

Sometime in seventh grade, Sister M., one of my favorite teachers who always had a glimmer around her (now I think it must have been because she did spiritual exercises of her own), gave me a strange look when I gave a particularly intricate answer to a question in her religion class. I think she said something like, “You may be a priest someday.” And she was right. I did eventually become a priest, but not of her god.

I remember all of these things. Having traveled to some very strange places geographically as well as spiritually, I can say I hate neither the Catholic church nor Christianity in general. I find some expressions of it highly unpleasant but that is more due to the stupidity, paranoia, and overall brokenness of individual people, not the tenets themselves.

So I write this little memoir for a slightly different audience than my usual posts. If you are a spiritual seeker and if you are angry at the religion of your parents, by all means, leave it. But be advised that there is probably a very magical hidden side to it that you have not seen correctly or at all. Keep an open mind, above all else, and know this: big organized religions are human institutions first and ways of connecting with divinity second. As human institutions, they will contain the good and the bad, the sincere and the cynical, the wise and the foolish. As connections to divinity, they will contain mysteries that need to be uncovered by the individual—that cannot be taught by a priest or a book. With this in mind, follow your heart, your True Will.

Thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay.

For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.

Liber Al vel Legis

Are You Psychic?  Yes, actually, you are . . .

When I say things like this, it makes everyone angry. It disturbs what people think, makes them feel uncertain about themselves. People want to believe that psychics are either complete frauds or that a special group of people exists out there with a gift that no one else has. Neither is completely true. As with most things, the truth is far less dramatic: anyone can develop psychic gifts or magical skills but not everyone wants to.

True, every developed psychic is unique in some way. For example, some people are highly clairvoyant (they “see” psychic images in their mind’s eye and sometimes with their physical eyes) or clairaudient or empathic. Others, like me, are empaths with a developed capacity for clairvoyance, clairsentience, and clairaudience. Some people only develop one type of psychism and rely on that. Others, develop them all. But everyone can develop something—even the frauds.

Reading tarot helps. Meditation helps. Studying a metaphysical system of self-development helps. Avoiding the censorious jeering of skeptics helps a lot. Working with a program of psychic development, like those of Debra Katz, Sonia Choquette, or John Friedlander helps, too. But the best thing, the thing you simply cannot do without, is the willingness to believe in what your energetic self (your aetheric self) is telling you every moment of every day, asleep or awake, healthy or sick, alone or in a room full of people.

You’ve likely heard all this before, but I will quote Sonia Choquette in her book, Your Psychic Pathway, because I love her so much: “As you begin to awaken your psychic sense, it is helpful to recognize how naturally psychic you already are. Most people are psychic, but they do not realize it because they are in the habit of ignoring this all-important sense” (2). Yes!

So what is a “psychic” anyway? One of the most profound observations I have ever heard about the way aether moves comes from Debra Katz: “When energy moves, perceptions and beliefs begin to get shaken up. It’s like an inner earthquake of the mind and emotional body” (You Are Psychic, 19). Yes again! It is, indeed, this in the most life-altering way possible. Katz continues:

I’m always amazed and saddened when someone tells me they have never had a psychic experience. We are all actually having psychic experiences every moment of our lives; we just don’t realize that is what’s happening. So many of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, dreams, fantasies, anxieties, etc., are coming from sources outside ourselves, but we mistakenly believe that they are being generated from our own mind and body. For many of you, it’s only when you have a psychic experience that is obvious and clear-cut that you will consider the possibility that you are psychic. (23)

With this in mind, I will give you my own definition of what a psychic is. A psychic is someone who pays attention to the existence and movement of energy (aether) in themselves, in others, and in the world. That’s actually it. Consider what a “premonition” is. It’s a sense of something about to happen. That, my dear friends, is an energetic event in the future that we are paying attention to in the present. What about past lives? Energetic events in the past? Yes, that’s right. What about a connection between a woman and her estranged ex-boyfriend? Energetic link in the past, moving through the present into the future? Exactly right. Can a psychic really perceive these things? That’s what a psychic does. How come you can’t perceive these things? Ah, but you can. You just have to realize it.

What about someone who comes to me asking me to tell them what they had for breakfast three days ago? We have a special term for that sort of client: an asshole. Don’t play “test the psychic.” It’s disrespectful and ignorant. And, anyway, psychism doesn’t work like that. If breakfast three days ago was connected to something significant, I might see the toast. But if you ask me something trivial, something that doesn’t have a significant energetic charge just so you can prove to yourself I’m a charlatan, I probably won’t see what you’re asking.  I’ll say so, too.  Then I will ask you to leave.  Because no psychic sees everything or sees with photorealistic, pinpoint accuracy.  A psychic reading is more like a collaborative art than rocket science.  It deals with energy, emotion, things of deep human concern.  Remember that.

One more quote from Debra Katz:

Psychic abilities are spiritual abilities. As a spirit, you possess the same qualities often attributed to God. Spirits are creative; they are omniscient (all knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere where at once). Your spirit has these abilities even when it is attached to a living body-your body. Some of these psychic/spiritual abilities can be classified as clairaudience, transmediumship, telepathy and clairsentience. (23)

Wait, I hear you saying, I don’t believe in god! You don’t have to believe in god. You only have to believe in “god” as you understand the concept if you want to theorize about a gift you already have! Worry less about the author’s religious assumptions and look at that first sentence: psychic abilities are spiritual abilities. Can I get an amen? Spiritual abilities, as in, the abilities inherent in you because you have a spirit. You do have a spirit, you know. In fact, I would be remiss if I did not point out that you are a spirit, my dear reader.

And so I write this to encourage you: if you’ve ever wanted to be psychic but didn’t think you were, well, you are. Read some books. Reach out to a teacher or, if you happen to be lucky to live near a psychic institute, take some classes in clairvoyance or intuitive reading. Sometimes, people start studying something like magic or energy healing (I teach reiki, by the way, and this happens in reiki all the time) and have psychic experiences in the process. That’s good, too. Just start. If you do, I promise it will change your life for the better.

How to be a Sorcerer: an Overview

Every now and then, a perceptive reader writes to me and says, “You say anyone can do magic. If that’s true, why should I pay you to do it for me?”

My response is usually along the lines of: “Everyone can do it, but not everyone wants to. That’s why professional sorcerers, ritualists, Reiki masters, tarot readers, shamans, witches, and conjure doctors exist.”

Today, I want to expand on that response by providing an overview of what I’d teach you if you came to me as a student of these mysteries. Think of this as a syllabus for an introductory college-level course in practical sorcery.

Still, before I get into that, I want to add one thought. In a perfect world, everyone would be so highly self-realized that magic would be like brushing one’s teeth, something people do as a natural and accepted part of life. There have been human cultures where this has been more or less the case. But over the centuries, as religion and philosophy have separated mind and body, heaven and earth, god and man, magic has come to be regarded as supernatural—above and beyond what we think of as normal in our everyday existence. So it takes effort for us to learn it. It usually takes a spiritual quest. And only those who are sensitive enough to recognize its faint call and brave enough to investigate begin the journey. So if you’re thinking to yourself, I’m not magical, psychic, or naturally gifted, I suspect you’re wrong about that. You just have to work at it and develop your latent (natural, human) abilities.

Now for the overview: all practical magic comes down to 5 steps.

  1. Sense energy.
  2. Raise energy.
  3. Put the energy you raised into a container.
  4. Send that container from the subjective world of your consciousness into the objective world beyond your consciousness.
  5. Recognize the effect(s).

Who knew it was that simple? It is, on the surface, that simple. The catch is that each of these steps takes a lot of work to get right.  And each of these steps has its “specialists”; though, all should be considered magicians in the broad sense of the term.

Sensing Energy: this is the psychic ability to feel “energy.” But what is energy as I’m using the term here? It’s a kinetic or potential force in the physical world; it’s an emotional force in the astral world; it’s a conceptual force in the mental world; and it’s a spiritual force in the divine world. In order to do magic that will cause “change in conformity with will,” the practitioner has to learn how to sense energy on all of these levels because magic (like everything else) functions on all of them simultaneously. Every culture has a different name for this multi-faceted energy: reiki, chi, prana, ki, ashe, juju, mojo, the force, etc. I like to use the old-fashioned western term, aether (not ether, which is a physical vapor). Whatever one decides to call it, sensing it is the first step to working with it. 

Developing this sensitivity might involve learning a divination system like tarot or the pendulum, taking classes in psychic development, joining a magical society and practicing basic energy rituals, learning the spiritual side of yoga, tai chi, or chi gong, learning Reiki, or any number of other practices that focus on inner development.  Those who specialize in this step become psychic healers, Reiki masters, professional tarot readers, spiritual advisors, therapists, clergy, and often go far in corporate culture (whether they know they are tapping into these abilities or not).

Raising Energy: once you can feel it and understand it on multiple levels, you need to be able to raise it when necessary. Aether is everywhere, in everything, and I believe along with many venerable occultists that aether is everything. But in order to put it to a particular purpose (instead of simply acknowledging its existence in and around us), we need to concentrate it. Of this, Benebell Wen writes in The Tao of Craft that making a magical Taoist “Fu” sigil “consists of pulling desirable metaphysical energy and channeling that energy into a concentrated space” (http://bit.ly/2i4I2Om). It is the same with any magical operation. But how do we “pull” or summon this energy? Every culture and tradition has its own methods. If we’ve developed ourselves using one or more of the “sensing” approaches mentioned above, then we’ve probably acquired a technique for raising this energy as well.  Those who specialize in this step may become psychic healers and Reiki masters but may also become artists of some kind, performers, martial artists, and even politicians.

Putting the energy into a container: here’s where the “bells and smells” come into play, the ceremony, the sigil-crafting, the shamanic dance, the use of the hoodoo materia, the linear pentagram ritual, the drawing down of the moon, the formation of the reiki symbols, and the calling of the quarters. The reason some magic fails is that people think working with these outer forms is the first step. They forget that sensing and raising energy have to come first. If we have the energy at our disposal, then such forms become containers for that energy. 

A container can be an image, an item, a word of power, a mantra, a barbarous name of evocation, even a persistent idea. When people laugh at revivalist Christians for speaking in glossolalia, they do not understand that they are witnessing a magical act in which energy is being put into a container. Glossolalia, not unlike the famous Enochian Calls, is part of the magic, part of the ritual, part of how the energy enters the form.  In magical communities, this step is sometimes called “the magical technique” or “the method.” It’s the steps found in recipe books called “grimoires” or, among some modern witches, “books of shadows.” 

The magic is not just the structure of the container itself; it’s what gets put into that container–form and function existing symbiotically as a dynamic process of deliberate, highly focused change.  Those who specialize in the crafting of magical containers tend to make a lot of graphic sigils, amulets, talismans, written hypersigils, radonics machines, and complex multi-part hoodoo tricks.  You also find a lot of visual artists, architects, photographers, designers, and computer industry people with these magical skills.

Sending the container off to do the work: when we put the energy into the container, our intention goes with it. Some magical people will say that everything is intention and, in a way, they are right. This is because, as the psychic Debra Katz has said, energy follows focus. The object of your focus receives your energy and the intentions you hold in your mind. Learning to concentrate on our goal when we put energy into a container is difficult for a number of reasons. But we must be able to do this in order to “send it off” to do our work. When we finish the spell or ritual, we release this focus and send the container along the trajectory of our intention to the goal. Where it once only existed in our subjective world, now it crosses into the objective world and may enter the subjective worlds of others.  

How it does this is mysterious.  Some magical schools refer to this “crossover point” as the “Magical Link,” but its exact function and nature remain a matter for speculation.  However, merely learning how to release a magical container without ruining the work (aka “lust of result”) takes practice and experience. Ideally, it takes instruction from a teacher. But, like all of these steps, it can be self-taught through trial and error (to a greater or lesser degree of inevitable self-sabotage and pain on the part of the learner).  This is the specialty of the “sorcerers” we think of when we hear the term–also ceremonial magicians, witches, and other explicitly magical sorts.

Recognizing the effects of the work: this can be just as challenging as any of the other steps. Sometimes, our work emerges sooner or later than we expect. Sometimes, it’s very powerful and obvious. Other times, it’s so subtle, we hardly notice. Keeping a magical journal helps us remember to check in with the outcomes, but this, too, is a matter of discernment and adepthood. It doesn’t come easy and takes development, even for those who feel they are “naturally gifted” in these areas.  We find the few competent parapsychologists and forteans specializing in this area, along with so-called “armchair magicians,” popular occult authors, and New Thought success gurus.  

In a more mainstream sense, high-end mathematicians, physicists, philosophers, and theologians tend to hone their abilities to recognize improbable and subtle causality.  We should also remember grandma, who used to cross herself whenever the milk curdled before its date.  We may have laughed at her for being superstitious, but she might have seen things we couldn’t imagine.  You never know.  A true adept can consider grandma’s superstitions and probabilistic mathematics together and derive meaning from the synthesis.

And so, as you can see, it is possible for anyone to engage in this praxis, given the right amount of personal dedication. However, not everyone wants to devote the time and energy to this. Added to all the work is the reality of living a magical life. Most people don’t appreciate how painful it can be to lead a double life, to always have to run the risk of being misunderstood and judged by the ignorant multitudes who have not taken the time to understand these arts. Personally, I have no regrets. But I have known many who have suffered greatly because of their magical pursuits. It is something to keep in mind.

Therefore, the question, If anyone can do it, why should I pay you? really does have a simple answer: because I live the life. Pay me or pay the price of developing these skills for yourself. As with anything else, nothing comes for free. The deciding factor should be whether the magical life is something that speaks to your soul. If that is the case, I encourage you to begin.

The Necessity of Pain (or Why I do a Reading Before Engaging in Magical Work)

I can’t say enough good things about Benebell Wen’s excellent book on Taoist talismans, The Tao of Craft. Giving it a second read, I was struck by the following passage, one to which I had not paid much attention the first time through:

Using something like magic violates people’s karmic paths. While trapped in the tempest of suffering, people forget the necessity of pain. Pain is part of the hero’s journey to greatness, and both that pain and greatness could be part of someone’s karmic path. Not allowing that person to suffer the necessary pain could be derailing him from the hero’s journey.

As I re-read this, I caught myself nodding in agreement. Pain is, of necessity, our greatest teacher. Moreover, I have written on this website about the role of fate and destiny in life experience, how one must sometimes be content to “adjust one’s wants to one’s capabilities,” as Anton puts it in The Satanic Bible. Some things simply cannot or should not be changed. I think Wen would probably talk about this in terms of “karma” instead of “fate.” However, although the concepts are not identical, they both point to the same reality: sometimes the only way out is through.

Of course, this is not what clients want to hear when they come to me asking for help, whether it be through a reiki session, the performance of a ritual, or a reading. I think a tarot reading will always help in a situation because knowing more about the problem and understanding it from multiple angles makes us more insightful participants in our own lives. And reiki is, by definition, complementary—it doesn’t interfere where it shouldn’t. But magic has a different intensity.

The kind of magic that Wen is talking about in the passage quoted above is the sort that can cause radical amounts of change. Sometimes, that is a good thing. Other times, we’re meant to suffer as a way for us to learn and grow. So the question is: how do we know when magic would be helpful and when it would interfere with a necessary learning experience? There is a simple, direct answer: do a reading.

This was one of the earliest lessons I learned as a child. Whenever we’re in doubt about the right thing to do, we “inquire of an oracle.” It could be a tarot reading like the ones I give here. It could be a consultation with the I-Ching, bone reading, geomancy, runes, the Holy Astragals, or some other system of divination. But we must perform a divination if we hope to avoid disaster by compounding our problems with magical interference.

I turn down slightly more cases than I accept as a sorcerer for hire. Since re-opening my business here at Thunderbolt Sorcery Workshop, I have already turned down 3 clients and will no doubt turn down more in the future. I have not done this for any other reason than the fact that their cards were negative.

As I often put it, if your cards are bad, I won’t take any more of your money. I charge a small reading fee (£10) for an initial tarot consultation before doing any magical work. This is to offset the time I spend considering your case. I devote a lot of time to talking with prospective clients about their difficult situations before I ever start the actual work. That’s how a responsible practitioner conducts himself—paying attention to clients and really listening to what they have to say. So it’s only fair that I get something in exchange for those hours on email and Skype. That said, I know there are spiritual workers who don’t do readings ahead of time. Their attitude is, well, if the work is going to work, it will. If it doesn’t, that’s how things are meant to go. But I think that attitude is shortsighted.

If I do a preliminary reading and see that conjure or ritual is going to change nothing or make the situation even worse for the client, there is no way I’m going to go ahead with the work. In my opinion, it would be unethical and potentially harmful to do so, even in situation where the client is offering me a lot of money. There have been a few times when I’ve been offered high four figures for a single working but because I could see that the client was fated to endure the situation, I had to say no.

On the other hand, sometimes magical work is right in line with the client’s life path. Those are the times when the cards are good, when a client comes to me and I see exactly how we could work on the situation. But it all depends on that divination.

What if, when I try to do magic, I don’t feel a thing?

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.

Scrying a Human Being: an Advanced Piece of Psychism

This is not so much a sorcerous working as it is a feat of psychism. It is not for those who still need to develop the ability to visualize and concentrate. Moreover, it presupposes the following magical proficiencies:

If / once you have these basics, you will want to find a time when you can be alone and undisturbed. If you have a dedicated ritual chamber, even better. In the night hour of the Moon (if you observe the magical hours) or whenever you feel most magical and receptive, enter your chamber and light a black, silver, or dark purple candle. Light some good psychic incense (Lucky Mojo makes a good “Psychic Vision” incense; though, I make a simple mixture of star anise, wormwood, and frankincense—simpler is usually better when it comes to incense recipes). And make sure you have ventilation in the room.

Ground, center, banish and / or shield. Then meditate quietly for a few minutes. Step out of your body and travel to your Inner Temple. This should be a full astral projection.

See a very large black mirror. While you’re staring into the mirror, think of the person you would like to scry. Feel her emotions, her breath on the side of your neck. Raise her essence around you as if it were a mist. Then see that mist in the mirror.

The mist (which is a concrete metaphor for the person’s soul) will dissipate and you will not only see images of her, but you will feel the emotions she feels. You will hear her thoughts. And all of this will be themed, at first, around your connection to her in mundane life.

Well and good. You will have already learned something about this person. You could stop there, reverse your direction back to your body, and end the operation. But perhaps there is something you want to ask this person. At such a level of connection, there are no secrets. You simply need to ask her image in the mirror and it will tell you. Keep in mind that you are calling on the deep mind of this person to speak to you. She will not hold back.  If there is a lot of buried emotion, be prepared for a very agitated response. But as long as you do not touch the mirror, you cannot be harmed no matter how forceful the person behaves.

The mirror is a doorway into the person’s unconscious. Actually, the mirror construct can be used as a doorway to any person, place, or thing. What could you do with a doorway into someone’s mind? If you are an advanced practitioner, you already have some ideas. But be cautious. If you step into the mirror, you are in that person’s unconscious universe. Is that a good thing? The link will persist between the two of you and could result in unhealthy obsessions if you cross that threshold without a good reason and spend too much time there.

Also, you will want to ground, center, and banish / shield afterward as well. This working can cause a lot of inner problems, resulting in the exchange of fears and desires, the development of phobias, and some very bad dreams if you don’t know what you are doing. So I warn beginners: this is powerful psychism. It is not to be played with. You absolutely must develop the above fundamental skill set before you attempt something like this. As always, use common sense and avoid recklessness.

After working with this technique for a while, more advanced practitioners will see all kinds of possibilities. It is something that can revolutionize your practice. Think about it. And good luck.

The Glamour of Sincere Magical People

Everyone needs to find their own balance between darkness and light; between air, earth, fire, and water (or water, fire, earth, wood, and metal if, like me, you’ve been reading Benebell Wen’s excellent Tao of Craft); and between individuation and collaboration.

Finding balance, the magician gradually rises on the planes according to Path of the Serpent from Malkuth (the Material Plane in Assiah, also called Alayi) to Kether (the highest realization of divine consciousnes in Aziluth, also called Anami Lok). The mystic and the philosopher may instead follow the more direct Path of the Arrow. Still, no matter which path one takes up the mountain, the initiatory termination point is the same for all: self-realization on all planes and in all worlds.

In the parlance of the great magical societies of the West, this is referred to as the “Great Work.” And it is understood to take place simultaneously in every living microcosm and in the greatest macrocosm: “As below, so above; and as above so below. With this knowledge alone you may work miracles” (The Emerald Tablet of Hermes). But balancing and realizing oneself “above and below” is neither easy nor simple. Hence, the idea of it being work.

The Kybalion addresses the deceptive complexity of the Great Work in terms of a “divine paradox”:

This is the Paradox of the Universe, resulting from the Principle of Polarity which manifests when THE ALL begins to Create–hearken to it for it points the difference between half-wisdom and wisdom. While to THE INFINITE ALL, the Universe, its Laws, its Powers, its Life, its Phenomena, are as things witnessed in the state of Meditation or Dream; yet to all that is Finite, the Universe must be treated as Real, and life, and action, and thought, must be based thereupon, accordingly, although with an ever [increasing] understanding of the Higher Truth. Each according to its own Plane and Laws. (22)

This is to say that, although parity exists between heaven and earth, each has its own laws, it’s own geography and meanings. And if we intend to rise on the planes, it is not enough to simply acknowledge that the microcosm in us is tantamount to the macrocosm beyond us—that all distinctions must ultimately collapse when we get to the top of the mountain and experience the divine I AM. We must be actively involved in our own spiritual initiation.

It makes no difference whether, like a monk, we choose to meditate on the nature of existence or, like a sorcerer, we choose to adjust that existence to reflect our conception of what is best (cf. Wen’s distinction between exoteric and esoteric Taoism). We must survey the mountainside and undertake a climb. Most of us intuitively understand this at some point—the world is not going to beat a path to our door unless we put out a significant amount of effort. And, even then, there are no guarantees that we will ever reach the desired destination. The world is just as spiritually dangerous as it is physically dangerous. Still, we have to try.

And so it is that we will encounter various way stations, signposts, and teachers. Some of these teachers will be fellow travelers. Some will be wiser and more powerful than we are. Others will offer us an opportunity to advance by putting obstacles in our path or by requesting our help. All of these individuals and the experiences they bring can be beneficial to us. However, there is one particular sort of teacher who requires an elevated degree of caution. I call this person “the spiritual professional,” and I’d like to say a few words about this person to the many spiritual seekers who read my website regularly.

“The Spiritual Professional” is someone who makes all or even part of his income by offering spiritual services like the ones I offer here. Usually this person is experienced in a number of metaphysical approaches and systems. Sometimes he will hold formal initiations in magical societies and will have a fairly articulate communication style.

This person could be a con man posing as a legitimate spiritual worker. And we all know that we should be more or less wary of that when looking for a reader or a ritualist. But I am not interested in writing about fraudulent mediums and conjurers here. Rather, the person I’m talking about in this post is the legitimate worker who is so good, so knowledgeable, and has such a slick, tightly defined area of practice that it can seem overwhelming and cause you to question your own path.

You might encounter an impressive Buffalo Shaman with a cool website, an original Buffalo Oracle Deck, a list of very solid testimonials, a number of highly powerful Buffalo meditations, and a very thoughtful, original book on the subject. Such people are not con men or liars; they’re exactly what they say they are, the real deal. And we should (rightly) feel grateful that they are out there, bringing their unique perspectives and abilities to bear in a world that has lost much of its inspiration.

Nevertheless, I think it is important to keep in mind that each person has a unique spiritual journey, a unique initiatory trajectory, up the mountain of the Great Work. And though we may be deeply impressed by someone who is truly and sincerely walking the path to self-realization, our job is to learn but not to slavishly imitate.

This seems especially true in cases where The Spiritual Professional understands marketing and has cast such a powerful personal glamour (enhanced, no doubt, by certain spiritual operations) that he seems magnetic and illustrious in our eyes. Certainly, we should pay the Buffalo Shaman for his services and consult with him about his ideas, but if we forget our own sovereignty, our own divine pattern, we betray and contradict ourselves.

The motivation to undertake the spiritual journey begins in a desire for truth, which is to say, for self-knowledge. If we allow ourselves to become subject to someone else’s glamour, if we fall under their spell, we find ourselves on a detour from the most direct and healthy path. No doubt, this can also be of use to us in our lives, but it may be that we could have learned those lessons more quickly and easily if we’d believed a little more in ourselves.

In The Hermaneutics of the Subject, the philosopher Michel Foucault talks about gnothi seauton (know thyself) as being closely related to epimeleia heautou (care for thyself):

In some texts … there is, … a kind of subordination of the expression of the rule to “know yourself” to the precept of care of the self. The gothi seauton (“know yourself”) appears, quite clearly and again in a number of significant texts, within the more general framework of the epimeleia heautou (care of oneself) as one of the forms, one of the consequences, as a sort of concrete, precise, and particular application of the general rule: You must attend to yourself, you must not forget yourself, you must take care of yourself. (4-5)

The possible relation between knowing and caring, as it may pertain to our discussion here, is very interesting. To know ourselves, we must interact with others because it is only through contrast that meaning can obtain. On the other hand, such knowledge is only useful if it advances our understanding of how to care for ourselves.

This resonates with the central idea of this post: take care of yourself; do not become lost in the radiance cast by another, even if—in the language of the I-Ching—you can recognize him or her as a “superior man.” Rather, show respect and courtesy, exercise good will, and absorb what may be useful on your spiritual journey.