Paying the Price for a Magical Life

After college, when I started my mundane career, I entered a field where there’s no health insurance and no pension.  The money you make is the money you have and you eat what you kill, so to speak.  If you want to go to the dentist, you better have some cash saved for that eventuality.  Take a vacation?  Sure.  Anytime you want, but know that while you’re resting, someone else is taking your clients.

I’m not going to talk about my non-magical work directly because I like to maintain a certain degree of privacy, but I will say that it’s a field where things move pretty fast; you live on your wits; and not everyone can survive there, much less do well.  But I have been doing well at it, sometimes very well, for a long time.  I’m not a genius or some kind of savant.  I was just lucky enough to stumble into a field where I had a large degree of aptitude.  My point in saying this isn’t to brag but rather to make a point about practical magic.  So please bear with me.

When I hit my first big “target” in my job, I thought I was a badass.  Other people were missing it, and I hit it right away.  An older guy, kind of a teacher and mentor, congratulated me but added a warning I never forgot: “You have an obsessive one-track mind and a hard-nosed attitude, which will take you far in this business.  But don’t get cocky.  It’s easy to get to the top once.  It’s not so easy to stay there.”  I soon learned how wise and insightful this advice was when I missed my next goal.  Then I had to find humility in myself in order to keep going.  I had to learn from the failures and let them go.  It’s easy to win, but you only learn a little that way.  You learn a lot more from your enormous fuck-ups.

Last night, I learned that I’ve hit my 100th target in this business.  There’s no doubt I’m at the top of my field, even though what I do isn’t a status- or fame-oriented industry and discretion is a lot more valuable than being able to shoot your mouth off about all your success—like I’m kind of doing here and I apologize for that.  I don’t know any other way to make the same point about practical magic: it’s easy to hit your target one time.  But can you do it ten, fifty, one-hundred times?  If you do enough magical workings and record them, you’ll eventually know enough and be proficient enough that you’ll be seeing a 80-90% success rate.  But that is an enormous commitment.

At that point, magic will be like breathing.  You’ll still get bad cards for workings you think you might want to do, and you’ll sometimes have the odd failure even when the cards are good, but you’ll usually know why it failed and how to approach the situation again from a different angle to get results.  You might even hang your shingle out as a sorcerer-for-hire at that point.

In my opinion, the only way to get to this level is to have constant obsessive focus on actually doing the work day in, day out.  This means magic will have to be more than a hobby or a fun way to seem spooky and cool (actually, most pros in any field look very normal and boring on the outside because they’re too busy putting everything they have into their work).  It will have to be a way of life, which is hard.  It’s hard to integrate something like that into your life and keep it there over the long term.  But that’s the price.  In magic, as in everything else, there’s always a price you have to pay.

So how much do you want magic?  How much are you willing to sacrifice?  How much are you committed to doing it, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly?  Constant study?  Constant practice and experimentation?  Meticulous records and journaling?  All while maintaining a mundane life, having a job, family, and friends who don’t know (and wouldn’t respect) a thing about it?  You can do successful magic once, twice, maybe now and then.  But if you want serious chops, you need to work at it and let nothing stand in your way.

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How to Read Cards Regarding Magical Work

You should always do a reading before engaging in operative magical work.  Always.  Without exception.  Sometimes, you may feel you know what the reading is going to say ahead of time, that the response is going to be positive in terms of your desired results.  And you might be right.  But even if you are, you want to go into the working with as much awareness as possible.  Even the wise, wrote Tolkien, cannot see all ends—something that is definitely true when tinkering with cause and effect.

But how do you ask an oracle such a question and how do you understand the answer?  You could ask a different kind of oracle, but when it comes to cartomancy, the first thing to keep in mind is that not all decks of cards are the same or are made for the same purposes.  So-called “oracle decks,” are typically simpler than tarot, Lenormand, or playing cards and they are organized around a particular theme (like The Goddess Oracle or, my favourite, The Halloween Oracle).  I do not recommend using those as they are typically oriented toward providing initiatory advice that will help the querent live a better life.  That is excellent, but we need something a little more flexible and complex.

Instead, I strongly advise using a classic Rider-Waite version or some of the older European 78-card decks.  Hermetic, Golden Dawn, and most Lo Scarabo decks are also very good, if you can read the imagery correctly.  Also, Crowley’s Thoth deck is excellent for this, but beware that its symbolism and structure require dedicated study since Crowley’s interpretations often vary from the GD text represented in Waite’s books. 

All decks of cards are oracular if we want them to be.  With this in mind, I sometimes like to use a standard 52-card (54 with 2 jokers, which I also use if the deck has them) in a Neoclassical French layout.  But as a general rule and when it comes to tarot, it is wise to avoid non-standard tarot decks when asking about magical work.  You are doing this for a practical reason, not entertainment.  So be conservative and careful in your approach.

You can get fancy with your question, but remember that the more “standardized” and repetitive your syntax is, the more your results will unfold in a reliable comprehensible way.  Therefore, I often use the simple question, “What would be the outcome if I did magic to _________?”  After decades of asking this same question before 99% of the magic I do for myself and others, I feel confident that the answer I get will be specific to that.

So what does a “positive” answer look like?  We know that for the most part it will depend on the subject matter of the question.  The tarot is a complete language of symbols that can respond to anything.  Each answer will be unique, even if there are only 78 cards available.  Still, certain cards are definitely favourable in this.  Here are some general outcomes to keep in mind.

In the Major Arcana (the Fool through the World), the most favourable cards for magical work tend to be The Magician, the Empress, the Emperor, The Chariot, Strength, The Wheel of Fortune, The Sun, The Last Judgment, and The World.

In the Minor Arcana, aces, knights, and kings tend to be the best.  The rest of the cards will depend on the context of the question.

It may seem exhausting to do this for every magical working, but you can really mess your life up doing magic capriciously and blindly.  Think of a powerful magical working like a gun.  You want to see where you’re pointing it and you want to understand as much about how to use it as possible.

Magical Knowledge I (by Josephine McCarthy)

I’m reading Josephine McCarthy’s work again and I’m enjoying it perhaps even more the second time around.  Her books are on Kindle, too, which is excellent.  Here is an excerpt from the beginning of Magical Knowledge Book I – Foundations:

So if you were beginning to practice magic in steps, beginning with opening and closing the directions, instead of copying something from another land, stop and look at what is around you. Where is the water in relation to you, where are the plains or grasslands, where is the Sun, where are the burials, where are the mountains. Look at what ancient things are around you, what ancestral contacts are there. Do you have cemeteries, cairns, ancient remains, burials, castles etc. Look at maps to see what natural springs are around you, are there any caves etc. If you are in a city that is modern and vast, like an American city, look into its history to see what is there. It is not easy to find the ancient stories of a land but if you dig with intent to work with it, powers will begin to awaken to help you.

Someone who gives advice like this is someone to whom we should listen.  Mandrake of Oxford is the publisher.  Find her books and read them.  They are well worth the effort.