The Metaphysical in the Physical: You are the Altar

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.


Perspiration vs. Inspiration in Learning Magic

These ideas arose as part of a discussion on Studio Arcanis regarding the question, “What is more important—the result or the ritual itself?”  As in many of our discussions, the conversation brought up the problem of whether magical technique or raw magical ability are more important and how to tell.  Today’s magical comment is taken from one of my responses to that.

We can’t know in any reliable way where the line between technique and talent lies in anyone. You can train people in a technique, but you can’t train people to be gifted. Some people are better technicians. Others are immensely gifted. Some people who are immensely gifted work on technique to become truly amazing well-rounded practitioners. Others, not having been born with much, do the “90% perspiration / 10% inspiration” rule of success and develop what they can—another way to be great.

I’ve taught magic to people and sometimes I get an idea of how an individual is balanced between technique / gift just by seeing what they do with my suggestions. The gifted person just has to hear you suggest a thing and her mind is already working on it. Sometimes I don’t even need to suggest it! I just say, “What are we working on now?” and that person will lay out an intense range of experience and progress for me. 

For example, I might suggest that she start to develop her knowledge of a spirit through lucid dreaming (“aka “Dreaming True”). When she talks to me next, she’ll have successfully done it and surpassed that lesson. She’ll be on to something new, challenging me to catch up to her. By contrast, the good technical student may have to work hard at developing the lucid dreaming capacity because she’s not a natural, but she’ll “lock on” to the assignment and scrupulously document all of her efforts, giving me a kind of journal / timeline at the end that shows all the adjustments she made in order to complete the work. Both ways are legitimate and powerful.

These are stereotypes, but my point is simple: it’s not just grimoires; it’s not any particular way forward; it’s how people do the best with what they’ve got that makes them competent magical workers. It’s hard for us (and impossible for non-magical teachers) to see someone’s true potential. But you can get an idea of their strengths and weaknesses over time. 

A More Nuanced Model of Magic

Imagine a tunnel running from your body to the magical result you desire.  Energy-information-spirit flows from the universe inside you down the tube toward the objective.  It also flows in the other direction, from the objective back into you and your inner universe.  This looks a lot like a discourse.  So it should come as no surprise that “conversation” is one model magicians have recently used to explain how magic gets done.

To a certain extent, the conversational model of magic is based on Frater UD’s legendary “Models of Magic” essay, in which he notes that “magic as a whole has always existed in many, coexisting models. What has changed, however, is the stress laid on one model or the other in the course of time.”  A very interesting stress comes to us through Speech Act Theory via the “chaos magick” of the 1980s: “Speech act theory considers language as a sort of action rather than a medium to convey and express” (  In other words, the act of speaking (and the act of magic) creates as it describes.  I communicate something to the universe, causing change, and it communicates something to me the same way.

This is nothing new: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Genesis 1:1).  Most religions and philosophies begin with an utterance.  But in western consensus culture, the popular mind is conditioned to overlook this.  People think only in terms of basic cause and effect (a crude syllogism): if I do X, then I get Y, where X is something that originates in my mind and Y is something brought into being in the world outside of me because of me acting on X.  This sounds a lot like early industrial reductive materialism, which assumes we are disconnected bodies colliding in space.  There is no oversoul in this view, which is probably why it’s something modern magicians have to overcome before their workings become effective.  The conversational model, on the other hand, can be far more nuanced and useful. 

Magic is as hard to define as love or truth.  It’s a concept that is highly mediated by cultural context and becomes concrete or abstract to the extent required in a given rhetorical situation.  For example, I might talk about magic in terms of Speech Act Theory, making it quite abstract and theoretical.  I might talk about it from the perspective of folklore, which will necessarily make it a lot more tangible (i.e. talking about magic as it exists in certain stories and legends).  I might even place it in an archaeological context, which would make it extremely concrete (i.e. these are the curse tablets, religious tools, or enchanted adornments used at a given place and time).  Unfortunately, Aleister Crowley’s usually half-quoted, highly abstract and permissive definition of magic has dominated Western esoteric traditions at least since 1913 when Liber ABA was made available, allowing “if X, then Y” assumptions to persist.

Crowley’s most often (incompletely) quoted definition of magic from Book 4—“MAGICK is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”—is too loose and vague if we want to look at the interaction that takes place in a magical process.  If we make his definition a little more complete (“MAGICK is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will. . . . Magick is the Science of understanding oneself and one’s conditions. It is the Art of applying that understanding in action.”), then we come a bit closer to the idea of conversation.  But we’re still working with an abstraction that’s so broad it allows all kinds of pervasive consensus-culture assumptions—for example, that magic is something you can “do” to the world the way you hammer a nail into a board.

Let’s go back to our simple conversational model of utterance and information exchange: energy-information-spirit goes out from the practitioner and comes into the practitioner during a working of magic.  Although it may seem that on one level we are doing something to the world (if X, then Y), it would be more accurate to say that we are guiding something in the world the way one guides a discussion to a certain subject or conclusion (I offer X.  The world offers Y.  X and Y change as a result—creation and description through utterance).

Applying this insight has everything to do with the practitioner relaxing her vice grip on results.  As I mention in my post about being a spirit-led conjure worker, “Beginning practitioners often mistakenly think that if they just concentrate hard enough, if they just WILL something into being, the world will respond.  This can work sometimes, but grabbing the world by the throat and shaking it more often results in nothing or even in the opposite coming to pass.”  This is another form of “lust of result,” getting in the way of one’s own magic by thinking that you have to move heaven and earth through by own power.  You don’t  Heaven and earth are always-already in motion; you simply have to guide that motion in the desired direction.

Relax, breathe, and be open to the direction spirit is taking in the world.  This means learning a reliable system of divination.  It means developing your psychic senses so that you can converse with spirits.  It means learning to summon the discarnate and intangible for the purposes of learning (for example, evoking Vassago using Paul Huson’s method in Mastering Witchcraft or the “Magical Mentor” from Gray-Cobb’s New Avatar Power or bringing forth a daemon from the Lesser Key of Solomon who “giveth good familiars”).  And it may also mean finding a patron deity who can initiate you into an energy-information-spirit paradigm of magical practice.

It sounds like a lot of work and a lot of uncertainty.  But that is the nature of this hidden art.  You need to have perseverance and openness and a sense that magic is in line with the momentum of  your True Will.  And you need to love talking to the world this way.  If you don’t—if you are primarily interested in “getting paid and getting laid,” by all means follow whatever spell book you’ve downloaded from the internet or come to a sorcerer-for-hire.  But unless you do the work to attain deeper understanding and personal gnosis, you will forever be wading in the shallow end of the pool.  So mote it be. 

“The Perfect and the Perfect are one Perfect and not two; nay, are none!” — Liber AL vel Legis I:45

Adam Blackthorne interviewing Damon Brand

ADAM: Are some people more talented at magick?

DAMON: Yes, but not because of anything to do with magickal ability; at least not at first. It’s more to do with your personality, the way you approach magick, how you feel when you first try. People often come to magick in a state of panic, desperate for one result and that result may be elusive. But if you sense that magick is real you just keep doing magick. If you like the idea of bicycle riding, you buy a bicycle and you learn to ride. Even if it takes some time to learn how to balance, how to avoid traffic, what to do when you get a puncture, how to recover if you fall off – you never stop bicycling. Treat magick like that. The results will come. And don’t forget the inner work. Change the slightest aspect of yourself that’s holding off your desired future, and results can just start cascading into your life.

You can read the rest of the interview here:

I think it’s a good one.

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” ( 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.