Magic: a Definition in Progress

Here’s a new definition for magic that I’ve been refining.  I think there’s more to it, but I’m trying to approach this in a thoughtful, methodical way.  The other day, I brought it up in a talk with a client and it’s still tapping me on the shoulder, asking to be born.  So, tentatively, I’ll let it be what it is at the moment: Magic is the subtle art of taking responsibility for yourself on all levels: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in terms of right perception, right action, right feeling, and right knowing—in order to advance your development and well-being in a way that is in harmony with the flow of all things.  This definition intrigues me in a number of ways.  For now, I’ll just put it here and continue thinking about it.

Initiation, Magical Teachers, and Personal Accountability

I’ve written before about the revised Rosicrucian Code of Life and how appealing those ideals can be, especially this passage: “Never cause anyone to believe that members of the Order are sages who are in full possession of the Truth. To those who may ask, present yourself as a philosophical person who is seeking Wisdom. Never pretend you are a Rose-Croix, but say you are a perfecting Rosicrucian.” 

I’ve also noted Paul Foster Case’s idea that to be a “Rosicrucian” is to accept a way of relating ethically to the world; it is not primarily an outer affiliation with a mystical order.  It is an inner state of being and consciousness.  This makes it tantamount to a philosophical, initiatory decision on a personal level, which is where all magic begins and ultimately ends.  There are many esoteric groups in the world, several of which currently bear the label, “rosicrucian,” but there is only one Self.  There is only one workshop in which the individual can dedicate and rededicate him- or herself to the Great Work.

With this in mind, I believe that if we are seeking magical initiation (i.e. “a way to begin”), our first and most reliable teacher is our “holy daimon” or “holy guardian angel”—the part of us that exists beyond the vagaries of form and time.  Attaining the “knowledge and conversation” of this teacher can become a spiritual quest in itself or it can amount to a surprisingly quiet revelation: that we are not “in full possession of the Truth,” but that we are always “perfecting” towards a more complete realization of it.  And part of us, the part that is god, is already there, unfolding its mystery for us as we progress.

In The Secrets of High Magick, Francis Melville notes that “One of the most significant experiences on this path is known as the ‘Attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.’  This is a transformational encounter with your inner master, higher self, or guardian angel—the Inner Divinity within all things.”  As far as concise definitions for the K & C of the HGA are concerned, this one is good because it ends on the idea that divinity cannot be partitioned or objectified.  It is “within all things,” including you and me. 

Perhaps this is the what Trithemius refers to when he asks, “Is it not true that all things flow from one thing, from the goodness of the One, and that whatever is joined to Unity cannot be diverse, but rather fructifies by means of the simplicity and adaptability of the One?”  According to this, magic, both low and high, would be just as much an articulation of the one thing as anything else under the sun.  As most translations of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes put it, “What is above is like what is below, and what is below is like that which is above. To make the miracle of the one thing.”  Realizing this “miracle” on the deepest level is why were are here.

It is also the reason we cannot offer our initiation for another.  In other words, if we are magical teachers (as we most surely are), all we can do is open a space for the student to experience initiation.  In the neophyte ritual of the Golden Dawn, the Hierophant accepts the individual into the Order by saying, “Child of Earth, long hast thou dwelt in darkness. Quit the night and seek the day.”  Note the emphasis on personal volition in this language.  This is not a Marvel Comics Dr. Strange initiation where the master knocks you upside the head and grants you cosmic perception (as fun as that would be).  It’s an act of accepting accountability for one’s own development.

In this sense, teachers are wonderful but they are primarily facilitators.  We don’t have to wait for someone’s permission to accept this magical burden or this personal quest.  We can do it right where we are, right now.  It is completely up to us.  The thing we’re all looking for waits at the top of the mountain.  Many paths go up and they all terminate at the same point, the same existential realization, the same knowledge and conversation of and with the Self.  This is true no matter whether we are saying a simple child’s prayer, working a bit of hoodoo, performing a lodge ritual to attain a deeper level of gnosis, or rising on the planes.  The mountain remains.  And if we keep at it, we ascend.

Cycles of Purification

“Purification never stops. As you walk further along the path, you will always have to deal with this. In every phase the questions change, together with the theme. In every phrase you will need to seek an answer to questions related to a theme that is in your life and has surfaced into the light. These inquiries are examinations of the Inner Planes. They can work like stumbling blocks. It can be that certain obstacles within your life cannot be transformed by you, and then the growth stops for a while until you have gained control over the theme. Then, at a later date, the test will repeat itself.”

—The Temple of High Magic: Hermetic Initiations in the Western Mystery Tradition, Ina Custers-van Bergen

Mystery unfolds when the mind penetrates into deeper layers of consciousness. The rational mind is stopped by using a paradox. This sort of paradox is not created by linguistics, but by internal images that rise through the use of symbols. The Mystery can only be solved by using other layers of consciousness. Thinking, studying, and rationalizing will not bring you into the experience of a Mystery. The language that is used to express the Mystery is symbolic language. Symbols are interconnected in a deliberate way, and this creates a so-called arcanum. The plural of arcanum is arcana. You probably already know the word from the tarot—the great arcana and the small arcana.

An arcanum is a series of symbols that are interconnected consciously. When the arcanum reveals its inner meaning, the magical, mental, psychic, and moral consciousness of a person is disclosed. When this happens, the person feels a rush of spiritual energy going through his or her system. At the same time, a person will experience a series of peak experiences.

—The Temple of High Magic: Hermetic Initiations in the Western Mystery Tradition, Ina Custers-van Bergen

BEHIND the veil of all the hieratic and mystical allegories of ancient doctrines, behind the darkness and strange ordeals of all initiations, under the seal of all sacred writings, in the ruins of Nineveh or Thebes, on the crumbling stones of old temples and on the blackened visage of the Assyrian or Egyptian sphinx, in the monstrous or marvellous paintings which interpret to the faithful of India the inspired pages of the Vedas, in the cryptic emblems of our old books on alchemy, in the ceremonies practised at reception by all secret societies, there are found indications of a doctrine which is everywhere the same and everywhere carefully concealed. Occult philosophy seems to have been the nurse or god-mother of all intellectual forces, the key of all divine obscurities and the absolute queen of society in those ages – when it was reserved exclusively for the education of priests and of kings. 

—Eliphas Levi, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, trans. A.E.Waite, 1896