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The Skull of Stars

Tonight, I felt called to draw a card from the Halloween Oracle Deck. Sometimes, decks just have something to impart without me asking a question. And I believe this was one of those times.  I drew “Skull of Stars – imagine possibilities.”  
This card talks about needing to dream bigger and consider that limiting beliefs—perhaps unconsciously inherited or acquired at a very early age—have caused one to think rather small.  So, once again, one confronts the question: what do you truly want? 

Blood from a Stone: if you can do magic, how come you’re not rich?

Hang out your shingle as a professional sorcerer and you’ll hear this one more than once. Every now and then, a well known sorcerer with a blog will get angry when a disgruntled client or some yahoo from the peanut gallery decides to troll his feeds. Then you’ll see the inevitable flurry of self-justifying posts in the magical blogosphere. Wait a year or two and the whole thing will happen again. Why? Because money is something we all need and it’s a fetish most of us have as a result of the scarcity thinking and angst of post-industrial capitalism. In the magical world, this translates into a lot of insecure people asking themselves why they do not yet own super-yachts and blaming that mojo hand they just bought for not fixing their poverty. Or, just as often, blaming the guy who made the mojo hand.

The best magical blog-conversation I’ve ever seen on this subject starts with Aaron Leitch’s recent post on the Llewellyn website where he argues that:

You can indeed use magick to obtain money and increase your general prosperity. However, even if you know the secret to turning lead into gold, you’re never going to be “rich” unless you know what to do with that gold once you have it. And since most occultists are not financiers, then you’re simply not going to find a lot of rich occultists. It doesn’t mean their magick doesn’t work, nor that their patrons and spirits aren’t taking care of them. It simply means they are focused on other subjects, and have accepted some amount of personal poverty for themselves in order to study what they love. 

Jason Miller picked up the thread of the conversation on his Strategic Sorcery blog and agreed that some people, especially magical people, just don’t have wealth as a priority. As Leitch puts it in his aforesaid post:

Most of the time, occultists attempt to answer this accusation from a philosophical standpoint. They point out that magicians simply aren’t the type of people who pursue money, as they have more important jobs and issues to which to attend. However, this argument falls on deaf ears in our modern culture, where cash is king. “Don’t tell me you don’t need money!” they say. “If you can’t even cover your own doctor bills, then your magick is a failure.” Truly, telling a modern Westerner that you don’t seek money is, for them, pure gibberish. It doesn’t compute.

Then again, the earthy and always-practical Brother Moloch recently cautioned (not in response to the above but in the weird synchronicity of sorcerers tending to write about similar subjects) that “before you go kvetching and telling others money is the root of all evil, make certain they and their children have food in their bellies, a roof over their head, heat, running water and other basics of living” (http://bit.ly/2hcH2a1). This is another solid point. Some sorcery helps you stay solvent when times get hard.

But the question remains: if you can work wonders, why not take some time out from your pursuit of the Great Work and draw some money to make things easier and simpler for yourself? Well, why not? My take is even simpler than the foregoing discussion: do not ask for blood from a stone. Magic can bring you stuff according to the laws and limitations of the universe—some of which can be bent or broken but which still control how things are done. This is why a money drawing working can bring you $500 from an unpaid debt to you that you forgot about but cannot materialize a solid-gold limousine in your front yard. The first thing works according to the laws of the universe. The second thing vulgarly violates the laws of the universe.

Yes, magic can sometimes materialize gold limousines and make the stones bleed. But that is a very infrequent exception rather than the rule. The rule is that in order for reality to be as consistent and persistent as possible, magic (which is just another part of reality) must also be as consistent and persistent as possible. Sometimes the exceptions—those rare moments when the stones do bleed—confuse people into thinking that real magic is the Hollywood kind that regularly, vulgarly violates universal law. Let us work to dispel that infantile confusion.

So how come a powerful proficient sorcerer isn’t rich? Here are four thoughts on the subject:

  • My first thought, in line with Leitch and others, is that the sorcerer doesn’t make finance his first concern in life.
  • My second thought is that a magician knows his money magic if he’s living his preferred lifestyle (one way of thinking about what “rich” means).
  • My third thought is that the fortunes of magical people go up and down just like those of artists, politicians, street sweepers, and sous-chefs. Don’t say Aleister Crowley was a sham because he died in poverty; the man changed the spirituality of the western world. Likewise, don’t automatically conclude Warren Buffett is an advanced spiritual being because he’s worth 73 billion dollars. Many a wise old monk has died enlightened yet toothless in a hut down by the river. Who are we to judge?
  • My forth and final thought is that people who voice the accusation, if you’re so good, then how come you’re not X?, define X = the ultimate point of life. One could just as easily say, if you’re so good, then how come you haven’t cured cancer? But you don’t hear that one too often. Same goes for world peace. I think people who accuse sorcerers of being fraudulent for not being rich ought to go back and meditate on the mountain (or in the hut down by the river) a little longer—at least until they unfuck their personal values.

The Due Diligence that Comes Before a Curse

Consider this hypothetical. Someone has harmed you in some way. Let’s say it’s serious. Maybe a loved one got hurt as a result of this person’s deliberate behavior or you have been professionally or financially ruined. Let’s also say that you’re not in any position to forgive the damage. In fact, you’re deeply angry because you know you have been treated unjustly. Someone made you into a victim. Maybe the guy was even enriched in the process. And there is no way you can prove it or otherwise force him, through any legal or otherwise mundane channel, to make you whole again.

But you know where he lives. So you’re faced with a dilemma. You have an untraceable handgun. And you know of a time when you can go over to his house and blow him away when he answers the door. There are no security cameras. The closest neighbor is miles away. He won’t be expecting you. And you’re smart and cool-headed enough to set up an alibi should the police come around asking questions after the body is found.

You think you can probably get away with it. But the dilemma rests in the fact that you like to consider yourself a decent person. You go out of your way to help people. Maybe you’re a devoted parent. You care about the world. You sincerely do your best at work and you try not to say a bad word about anyone. So you now have this parliamentary debate going on in your head. One voice says he deserves a bullet. Another voice counters that premeditated murder would make you as bad, if not worse, than your tormentor. And another somewhat cooler voice notes that committing a capital crime would also put your entire life and everything you care about at risk—even if, on the surface, it seems like you could get away with it.

But let’s also say you’re a practicing occultist who knows about curses. You know you could throw a curse on this guy strong enough to turn goat piss into gasoline. Suddenly, all the arguing voices of conscience are quiet. Curses are much harder to trace than bullets and can be just as lethal. But somehow cursing him doesn’t seem quite as bad as physically pulling the trigger. There is, after all, a certain unreality to magic that never goes away no matter how experienced you become—a degree of indeterminate “chaos stuff” that surrounds and interpenetrates one’s perception of a thing, making it subject to change in conformity with the magician’s will but also subject to uncertainty and doubt.* In a way, casting a psychodramatic curse seems less evil than murder. Because, after all, what if it doesn’t work? Let the gods decide! Or, if you’re feeling like a bit of self-honesty, let the gods take responsibility so you don’t have to feel bad when your enemy experiences living hell.

Still, you think, just to be sure, you might magically investigate this guy—just to feel more confident that he deserves every last morsel of agony before you start calling on Leviathan or Met Kalfou or Nemesis. You know this would be a good decision. And you’re right. You should get a reading done by an experienced practitioner (especially since your objectivity might be influenced by your emotions). But, of course, you can’t trust anyone with this secret. You’ll have to do your own due diligence, your own research.

So late one night, you step out of your body, using whatever ritual you’ve learned for this, and move backwards from the time he injured you—back down the timeline which, on the Astral Plane, you prefer to see as an old-fashioned tape reel with frames stretching backward to the dawn of time and forward to infinity.

You move backward along the timeline of this person, viewing his life and everything that led up to the moment he caused you harm. In so doing, you learn about his fears and the times he was a victim. You examine the structure of his desires like a circuit board of light woven throughout his being and you observe the anxieties that complemented those desires—some of them growing into sentient spiritual beings, his personal demons. Eventually, you witness his childhood, the good and the bad in it, the loss of innocence and the places where innocence still remains to this day.

When you step back into your body, you feel suffused with divine power, with the holiness of having exchanged so intimately with another person’s psyche. You know this person now. And the thought of sending some malevolent force to tear into him is as abhorrent as putting two in his chest.

Instead, you almost feel like thanking him—in recompense for the damage he did, according to urges and blindnesses in him that you now understand, he has given you the gift of insight. Maybe you will never get back what he took from you. You don’t ever have to forgive him or stop being angry. But maybe you should acknowledge that, even in the midst of your pain, you behaved ethically, doing the necessary magical investigation before calling down death and judgment. And that has advanced you spiritually, which is priceless.

So mote it be.

*In “Austin Osman Spare: An Introduction to his psycho-magical philosophy,” Kenneth Grant writes that Spare, the grandfather of contemporary art/chaos magic, termed this “chaos stuff” free belief, in the sense that “a quantity of belief or faith must be freed for activity in the latent depths so that profound and nostalgic stirrings of awareness cause a violent series of impacts which create a shock of identity. The resulting ecstasy incarnates the latent desire into patent actuality and power”

The Hybrid Nature of New Avatar Power

Recently, someone wrote to me asking for advice on how to be more effective with Geoffrey Gray-Cobb’s quasi-Kabalistic grimoire from the 1970s, entitled The Miracle of New Avatar Power.  I thought I would answer her by way of a blog post since I know there are a lot of people out there who are interested in using Gray-Cobb’s system.

Most readers of my blog know that I have a lot of respect for this grimoire. Moreover, in previous posts, I’ve argued that, in the great tradition of the western grimoire writing, Gray-Cobb has veiled his work behind a smokescreen of 70s pop-occultism.  Essentially, in order to make the system work, one needs to be able to read the overheated testimonials and grandiose prose while maintaining a receptivity to the useful magical insights and practical suggestions throughout.

Even if the practitioner can do this, however, there are two more hurdles to making the system effective: consistency and awareness of the hybrid nature of the workings.  Neither of these things is mentioned in Gray-Cobb’s text.

Consistency: the author does say that the chants and invocations should be repeated until results are achieved.  But he doesn’t give hard and fast rules about how often and how long the practitioner should stay with a given working.  

Often, newcomers to the system will wonder if they’re wasting their time.  Will it take 6 months?  8 months?  A year of daily repetition?  How can the practitioner know if she’s simply wasting her time on an unworkable system?Apart from the fact that this question haunts every beginner no matter what system is used, Gray-Cobb would probably recommend that the practitioner bring these concerns to her “Magical Mentor”–a minor spirit familiar used in the book as a magical companion and general metaphysical assistant.  And this would be good advice if the practitioner had taken the time to develop a relationship with this tutelary daemon.  Unfortunately, Gray-Cobb does not take pains to depict the Mentor as a magical troubleshooter.  Rather, he discusses what could be accomplished with such a companion (learning the future, picking lottery numbers, surveilling via the Astral Plane, etc.). As a way to address the problem of people wanting to use the chants and invocations without developing the Mentor, I suggest the triple time-frame that professional rootworkers often use when advising clients on how long it may be before results of a working manifest: 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months.  In 3 days, there should be a sign that things are happening; in 3 weeks there should be movement in the desired direction; and in 3 months there should be complete manifestation of the results. 

The first time I heard about this way of timing workings was when cat yronwode mentioned it on her Lucky Mojo forums.  But I have since noticed that there are a lot of practitioners, from witchcraft to ceremonial magic to hoodoo, who follow this framework. Naturally, the great benefit of this is that it solves the problem of consistency in NAP.  If you don’t see at least something by the 3rd day, that’s very telling.  If, by the 3rd week, you don’t see even the least bit of movement, you know you need to take some other approach.  Further, by limiting your expectations this way, you will feel able to maintain a consistent daily practice of the system within those boundaries.  There is nothing worse than the sense that you may be performing a non-working ritual ad infinitum, never knowing whether one more day could do it.

Of course, someone with an intuitive gift for the work might know long before this that things don’t feel right and suddenly realize that the invocation in question is not causing manifestation.  But not even the wisest sorcerers can always be completely keyed into the warp and woof of their magic.  It does work through mysterious channels.  Sometimes a rigid timeline is the answer! Hybridity: So what about when the NAP working doesn’t produce results.  Where’s the defect?  Beginners are often tempted to blame themselves and / or the system itself.  And there is something to be said for practitioner error and all the other ways a spell can  fail.  

However, there is one way that people don’t often think about with NAP–the fact that it is a spirit based system. It is not the sort of magic that people sometimes call “direct” or “blind” magic.  It is, in fact, a hybrid of evocation, Kabalah, and energy work.  The author took what he thought were the most effective aspects of all three sorts of magic and synthesized them in a single system.  This is one of it’s strengths and yet one of its deceptive complexities.  In short, the spirits named in every working might be commanded to produce a result, but this does not mean that they will. As in evocation, they will assess the spiritual authority of the practitioner (hence the modified Bornless invocation included in the text) and may or may not feel compelled or even willing to help.  Gray-Cobb wisely understood that, in most cases, through repetition of the chant in question and the Bornless invocation (cribbed and poetically condensed from Liber Samekh), the practitioner could eventually convince said spirits to go to work.  But this, again, comes back to the problem of consistency and will.  

If the practitioner begins to worry that she will be carrying on day after day with no results, her confidence and spiritual authority will diminish, making it less likely that the spirits will respond! As in Kabalah, the spirits are derived, in part, from the Sephiroth.  Some are djinni of the hours.  Some are extremely obscure intelligences.  Others are well-known Olympic spirits or demons.  This further complicates the issue because while the practitioner might get along very well with demons and Olympic entities, certain Angels might look at them askance and vice-versa.  And there is no way to discover how successful one will be other than by doing the work.

Lastly, as in various forms of energy work (think: chakras, meridians, etc.), the NAP Central Pillar Ritual is meant to purify and exalt the practitioner in an attempt to render her exponentially effective when calling on and commanding the entities associated with the chants and invocations.  This is excellent.  And Gray-Cobb’s rendition of the Middle Pillar and the Circulation of the Body of Light is simple and effective.  The problem here is that no two practitioners have the same energetic needs.  It may have taken me X years to fully open my energy centers, whereas it has only taken you Y months.  Again, there is no way to know without doing the work. With all of this in mind, if the beginner remains open and willing to internalize this system, it can work the miracles it claims to work.  It is not a one-shot grimoire.  

Rather, it is a highly nuanced synthesis of many different extremely powerful practices taken from Western esotericism by a master magician who dressed the system up in silly accoutrements.  I believe Gray-Cobb did this because he truly wanted to gift the world with a method that would improve people’s lives and increase their satisfaction; however, I also think he wanted to make sure that only sincere seekers were able to use it.  Part of the genius here is understanding the trickster nature of this excellent grimoire while apprenticing oneself to its praxis.

The Reality and Difficulty of Evocation to Physical Appearance

All evocational manifestation takes place at least in the “local astral” (aka the “Aetheric Plane”) or in some more subtle plane. Total physical manifestation (i.e. that of making the spirit as physically real as a living person on this plane) is seldom desirable.

So-called “evocation to physical appearance” most often amounts to simultaneously lowering the vibration of the aether around the spirit and raising the sensory vibration of the conjuror such that an ectoplasmic event (a highly subjective singularity—not quite physical but certainly very aetherically dense) is created. This is similar to the production of ectoplasm at seances. 

However, the “visible appearance” of evoked spirits is a lot more precise because it manifests (generally) according to the preconceived images of the spirit found in the grimoires.  Ways to increase ectoplasmic density and therefore encourage a more physical singularity: incense, candles, lighting, color scheme, directional orientation of altar, items of power, and music—all in resonance with the name / concept / image of the spirit in question. Observing the planetary days and hours and opening a portal also helps. None of these things are required. But they lend weight to the summoning. And all of them at once can produce spectacular results—at least in the practitioner’s sphere of sensation, which is where all magical phenomena take place first.