Letters to a Young Sorcerer #1: I am not special. Neither are you.

Fludd's Great Chain of Being

As I resume my spiritual practice with 4 new clients in the last 24 hours, the truth of this work, the “essential spirit” of it, comes back to me.  So my first “letter” to those just starting out in this field has to do with what the work really is and what it really isn’t.  In order to understand what I’m about to tell you, you need to accept one hard-cut truth: I am not special, even though I practice sorcery.  You are not special, either.

I’ve written about some of the hard lessons being a spiritual worker has taught me.  And I’ve pointed out more than once that conjure, divination, and sorcery are like learning to play the piano.  Most people can learn it to a competent degree if they work hard at it, but only a few will be brilliant.  If you are sure that you aren’t one of those brilliant few (and can you really be sure?), who cares

Who says that unflattering self-perception must stop you from doing what you love?  That is true for physics, coaching basketball, flying planes, teaching yoga, playing Texas Hold’em, investing, or seducing the innocent.  Being a mediocre practitioner of an art is still practicing it.  The only harm comes when you overstate your skill level.

Some plumbers are just more talented than others and do more impressive work.  Some poets write more resonant lines than others.  Some historians have more penetrating insights into the past.  But if you wanted to, you could start studying physics, coaching, flying, yoga, poker, investing, seduction, plumbing, poetry, or history and learn those disciplines well enough to identify as a practitioner.  Doing that will not set you apart from your fellow man or reveal you as some kind of messiah, genius, chosen one, or superhero.  It will mean you applied yourself, did the reading, learned, grew as a person, and became competent.

The same goes for magic.  Like anything else, it takes practice and dedication, no matter how much talent you may or may not have.  Some will be born with a gift for that particular sort of work.  But sorcery, like anything we decide to do, is part of what it is to be human.  As a human, you can learn it if you really want to.  We forget that sometimes.  If, as the chaos magician and farmer, Gordon White, puts it, “the universe runs on magic,” then I also suggest: you are magic.  In fact, we all are. 

Like the new age saying goes, you are a spiritual being having a human experience.  Sometimes the most challenging hurdle for a beginning sorcerer is accepting this.  Lingering Victorian materialism has taught us that magic is part of the SUPER-natural—that which is above and beyond the natural (or, for many scientists, that which is merely fantasy and does not actually work or exist in any meaningful way).  But other eras never saw a disconnect between the body and the soul, the magical and the mundane. 

It was all part of a continuum, a Great Chain of Being.  Most often, when we study the magical arts, we are learning the principles founded in those other eras, not in our current technocratic scientistic age.  Even the famous Victorian magical societies turned to classical antiquity and the Renaissance for inspiration and guidance, mining the great libraries and museums of Europe for grimoires and philosophical texts. 

So it is in our current magical schools as well.  But far too many would-be sorcerers and half-baked magicians turn to the occult because they want to escape reality instead of understand and engage with it.  They want magic to be SUPER-natural because the natural world of their mundane lives is boring and painful and they feel small.

They want to be special, chosen, sought after.  They want money.  They want sex.  They want to be the guru.  And when they advertise their services as sorcerers, they act like magic is a rare jewel that only the chosen few possess.  Maybe they even believe this.  But whether they know they’re lying or they’re just doing it out of ignorance, the fact remains that they are misleading others, obscuring the truth that sorcery can be taught to just about anyone.  It can even be self-taught.

This attitude comes as much from their damaged egos and need for admiration as it does from pop-culture.  Harry Potter is very special, you know?  But this sense of magic being somehow “out there” is false.  And it leads to deceptive marketing and puffery on the part of these lost souls who quickly go from wanting to be the guru to lying to clients about the occult and their own exaggerated abilities.  My first letter to you, young sorcerer, is therefore a warning: don’t be like this.

If you want to do this kind of work, you have to get over yourself and remember: you are not special; you are neither worse nor better than anyone else.  You have a certain skill set.  If you’re good enough at it (as with anything) people will pay you for it. 

If you want to work as a public sorcerer, if you want to get good enough that you can shift probability, call spirits to appearance, influence minds at a distance, draw money and love, cast and remove curses, perform blessings and cleansings, know the innermost recesses of the self, communicate with the dead, and understand the spiritual quintessence that underlies all nature, hard work and dedication is the only way.  Period.

Practice, study, mindful experimentation, and finding a magical community of peers with whom you can discuss these things is how you do it.  You have to develop the wisdom to know who is awake and who is still struggling in the chains of reductive materialism.  You also have to learn how to care for yourself because this road is long and unforgiving.

All of the above abilities and more are attainable, in whole or in part, by all but the most magically tone-deaf people (who are likely unnaturally gifted at some other things—the world tends to balance itself like that and I’d rather have a talented plumber fix my water heater than a spirit conjured from the Verum, wouldn’t you?).  And I don’t mean to seem inordinately harsh when I tell you that you need to stay humble and avoid developing a messiah complex.  But I also don’t write this letter to make you feel good.  

I write this because I care about the magical art and want it to thrive.  The only way that’s going to happen is if there is new blood, if the new generation of spiritual workers, grimoire magicians, witches, and psychics are real and not fake.  Those of us who have been walking the path for decades will eventually have to move over and let others lead.  It is the way of things.  And it is our job to make sure that when that happens, the young people who step up will do so with power, sincerity, wisdom, and truth.

Begging Does Not Reflect a Strong Magical Practice

Granted, emergencies and unforeseen costs come up when we least expect it.  But when YouTube witches beg for money to do some project or just because they feel like their followers are numerous enough to now hit them up for a contribution, it’s a bit disappointing.  We all need to get paid.  I understand that.  And I support Patreon and all those other crowdfunding sites.  But let’s take a step back and think about what it means when a YouTube witch—someone giving out advice and making videos for a large number of viewers—says she won’t be making videos anymore unless everybody pitches in.

You’re a witch.  Do you think it would be possible to draw some money without rattling your donation cup?  I imagine the answer is yes.  Otherwise, I suggest that you stop giving out magical advice.  Successful and capable witches: (1) can hold down a job; (2) can draw money through magical and mundane means; and (3) give out advice because they’re successful in their magical and mundane work.

Asking for help is a good thing in most cases.  Asking for help when you have set yourself up as someone who can provide help suggests that you need to go do some self-work and improve your skills.  I say this as someone who has been working in the field of public sorcery-for-hire and divination for a long time.  You have to be a specialist if you want to be paid for what you know.  You have to have powerful chops when it comes to making changes—for yourself before you expect to do it for others.

Don’t be a charlatan and a faker only interested in money.  Get your skills first.  Then people will want to pay you because you will have something of value to offer.  Begging suggests you really don’t know what you’re doing.

Hakim Bey’s Definition of Sorcery in the T.A.Z.

Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson) is great magician, teacher, and writer.  I like him for many reasons but especially for how he connects the practice of the occult to political agency and personal sovereignty.  This is from The Temporary Autonomous Zone, which can be read in full-text here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/taz.htm

Sorcery works at creating around itself a psychic/physical space or openings into a space of untrammeled expression– the metamorphosis of quotidian place into angelic sphere. This involves the manipulation of symbols (which are also things) & of people (who are also symbolic)–the archetypes supply a vocabulary for this process & therefore are treated as if they were both real & unreal, like words.

He doesn’t find much value in the lodge-based occultisms that emerged from Theosophy.  And when he says that banking, politics, and social science are more powerful, he’s making a tremendous (if narrow) point: if you want to affect certain changes, go the most direct route.  Still, he is an occultist and his perspectives, if taken seriously, work a magic of their own on the reader.


Sorcery

THE UNIVERSE WANTS TO PLAY. Those who refuse out of dry spiritual greed & choose pure contemplation forfeit their humanity–those who refuse out of dull anguish, those who hesitate, lose their chance at divinity–those who mold themselves blind masks of Ideas & thrash around seeking some proof of their own solidity end by seeing out of dead men’s eyes.

Sorcery: the systematic cultivation of enhanced consciousness or non-ordinary awareness & its deployment in the world of deeds & objects to bring about desired results.

The incremental openings of perception gradually banish the false selves, our cacophonous ghosts–the “black magic” of envy & vendetta backfires because Desire cannot be forced. Where our knowledge of beauty harmonizes with the ludus naturae, sorcery begins.

No, not spoon-bending or horoscopy, not the Golden Dawn or make-believe shamanism, astral projection or the Satanic Mass–if it’s mumbo jumbo you want go for the real stuff, banking, politics, social science–not that weak blavatskian crap.

Sorcery works at creating around itself a psychic/physical space or openings into a space of untrammeled expression– the metamorphosis of quotidian place into angelic sphere. This involves the manipulation of symbols (which are also things) & of people (who are also symbolic)–the archetypes supply a vocabulary for this process & therefore are treated as if they were both real & unreal, like words. Imaginal Yoga.

The sorcerer is a Simple Realist: the world is real–but then so must consciousness be real since its effects are so tangible. The dullard finds even wine tasteless but the sorcerer can be intoxicated by the mere sight of water. Quality of perception defines the world of intoxication–but to sustain it & expand it to include others demands activity of a certain kind–sorcery. Sorcery breaks no law of nature because there is no Natural Law, only the spontaneity of natura naturans, the tao. Sorcery violates laws which seek to chain this flow– priests, kings, hierophants, mystics, scientists & shopkeepers all brand the sorcerer enemy for threatening the power of their charade, the tensile strength of their illusory web.

A poem can act as a spell & vice versa–but sorcery refuses to be a metaphor for mere literature–it insists that symbols must cause events as well as private epiphanies. It is not a critique but a re-making. It rejects all eschatology & metaphysics of removal, all bleary nostalgia & strident futurismo, in favor of a paroxysm or seizure of presence.

Incense & crystal, dagger & sword, wand, robes, rum, cigars, candles, herbs like dried dreams–the virgin boy staring into a bowl of ink–wine & ganja, meat, yantras & gestures– rituals of pleasure, the garden of houris & sakis–the sorcerer climbs these snakes & ladders to a moment which is fully saturated with its own color, where mountains are mountains & trees are trees, where the body becomes all time, the beloved all space.

The tactics of ontological anarchism are rooted in this secret Art–the goals of ontological anarchism appear in its flowering. Chaos hexes its enemies & rewards its devotees…this strange yellowing pamphlet, pseudonymous & dust-stained, reveals all…send away for one split second of eternity.

Being a Spirit-Led Conjure Worker

A long time ago, when I decided that it would be a good thing to offer reiki and ritual services, I knew nothing about working for clients apart from doing public tarot divinations.  I already had a lot of magical experience, but it was mostly through doing work for myself, close friends, and family.  I had yet to discover the ins and outs of working for positive change in the lives of complete strangers.  But I would soon learn that there are many hidden lessons in this line of work.  It changed my magic.  It changed my outlook on the world.  And it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.  It was a crash course in interacting with the human condition as well as in the complexities of sorcery for hire.

The first lesson I ever learned was that everyone is sincere—even the most acerbic doubting Thomas.  Everyone, without exception, who contacts me for conjure or reiki on some level wants the benefit of my services even if they are too nervous or shy to allow themselves to fully admit it.  Strangely enough, the doubters are the ones who want to believe the most.  And it’s really good to doubt if you’re going to give a complete stranger your money in exchange for a spiritual service.  You should be thinking critically about this person: is he acting professional?  Is he clear?  Is he responding intelligently to your situation?  Critical thinking comes from doubt.  But we also know that you can have too much of a good thing in this case—too much doubt gets in the way of the entire experience.  So from the very beginning, the client and I walk a fine line of trust.  The client evaluates me and I evaluate him.  We enter a sincere partnership and do everything we can to create change.  Learning to trust complete strangers meant I had to mature in ways I never anticipated.

Another key lesson I learned was that no situation is simple—every life is hard; everyone’s doing the best he or she can with available tools and resources.  If someone comes to me, they have a problem that they haven’t been able to solve through mundane means.  Their lawyer stole all the money.  Their fiancée ran off with the neighbor.  Grandpa went missing in the park.  Maybe they got assaulted and are having a hard time healing from lingering psychological and physical pain.  Maybe their career is stalled.  Maybe they just need to have a spiritual experience, something completely alien to them because of the way they were raised.  Whatever the case may be, they’re suffering on some level.  Learning to understand and appreciate the suffering of others meant I had to get over myself and learn compassion.

A huge lesson I learned was that the magic doesn’t come from me—it comes through me.  This is the “spirit led” part.  A sorcerer or reiki practitioner who “tries to do things” fails a lot.  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.  Instead, through a lot of grimoire work—by seeking out both human and non-human mentors—I quickly came to understand that the most powerful work has a spiritual origin, not a human one.  I started to relax and let my spirit guides, spirits of divination, familiars, and other contacts do their jobs.  This is the secret to my success.  It’s not me.  It’s spirit working through me.  Learning to trust my connection to spirit meant I had to develop a large amount of faith in a world I could not see or touch.  Paradoxically, doing so eventually helped me see it and touch it, but that took time, belief, and the willingness to be patient and practice the art while not having all the answers.  I still don’t have all the answers.

One lesson I had to learn multiple times in multiple ways was that people in pain are often very unpleasant to be around.  We all know this to some extent.  But doing conjure is sometimes like working in the customer service section of a department store.  People are angry, sad, bereft, despairing, or even suicidal before they even speak to you.  You have to be ready with mundane solutions as well as spiritual ones, keeping a suicide hotline number handy, having online links to addiction recovery centres, women’s shelters, walk-in clinics.  Learning about my community so that I could help others made me a better spiritual worker.  It also meant I had to get out on the street and pay attention.  Now very few things escape my notice in my spiritual or physical environment.

These are only a few of the important lessons that have come from this work.  One of my teachers used to say that “many are called but few are chosen.”  And I wouldn’t truly understand what she was saying until I actually set up my website, made business cards, started doing community reiki, sorcery for hire, and counselling others.  Then I understood what “gifted for the work” really meant.  To be chosen for something like this means you have to have skills that others don’t—not just the ability to perform effective rituals, but a whole panoply of hidden qualities that enable you to thrive in this field.  And if you don’t have them right off, you learn the hard way whether you can find them in yourself.  But I wouldn’t trade those experiences, even the painful ones, for anything.

The Social Role of the Sorcerer

This passage is taken from the text of a really excellent presentation on hoodoo by Stephen Grasso that I just became aware of.  Really fantastic.  Read the whole thing here.  When I read the following, I knew I had to write about it:

The role of hoodoo worker, as I interpret and try to aspire to, is a profession. Possibly the world’s second oldest profession. It’s about becoming very good at results magic, in order to administer grassroots occult assistance to the body of people that might loosely be considered your community. Doing stuff for other people. Providing a service to those who need it. Not out of some lofty altruistic sense of duty, but because it’s the obvious application of those particular skills. To do otherwise would be like the surgeon who studies medicine for ten years only to perform minor operations on himself, or the barrister who only ever represents himself in court.

If you’re operating from the hypothesis that magic works and tangible results can be accomplished through the medium of sorcery, then I think you really have to consider the social implications of that statement. How does the magic that you practice relate directly to the world around you? How do you integrate it into your life and adapt that potentiality for change to the environment you are a part of?

These are some of the questions that I ask myself all the time.  If you’re going to take any kind of art form seriously, you won’t be able to feel it, see it, or know about it other than in terms of its effects.  A painter is a painter because of her paintings; a writer is a writer from his writing; an actor is an actor in performance.  And a sorcerer is a wonder-worker only if he produces wonders.  Presuming that you can actually do these things, the question then becomes: what kind of art are you going to make?  What will be your subject matter?  What will you address?

Grasso makes the important observation that the overwhelming majority of magical practitioners in the western world favor the “pseudo-Masonic” rituals of ceremonial magic, which often have little  to do with the practical, day-to-day issues we all encounter when simply trying to live better lives.  Grasso makes it perfectly clear at the beginning of his piece that he isn’t interested in trying to “invoke anybody’s new aeon, or kick-start a self-indulgent magical current, or pretend to be some sort of ascended and enlightened post-human being, any such high flown endeavours.”

That said, if we want to address practical, human problems we’ll be focusing on the local—ourselves, our communities, and those individuals brave and perhaps desperate enough to come to us for help.  Grasso asks,

How many people here tonight that identify as practising witches or magicians or whatever, regularly use their magic to actively engage with the problems that might be going on around them? Helping people you care about, using the magic to look out for friends and family when they’re having a rough time, even becoming involved in local community problems at a magical level, keeping the local arts centre open, stopping a small business from going under at the hands of corporations, sorting out the bunch of kids that bricked your next door neighbours window, finding lost property, healing the sick, giving divination, using this stuff to try and make a difference in whatever small way that you might be able to.

In my opinion, this is what happens when an adept realizes she has really acquired power.  She asks herself what she’s now going to do with it.  And the answer may be that she seeks to further her own development by getting involved, whether this is as a sorcerer for hire like the cunning women and hedge practitioners of old or as a active force in the community.

Moreover, one of the traditional roles of the shaman was as an elder—someone with at stake in what happens to the village and the surrounding geographical and social environment.  And so I’m suggesting, along with Grasso, that if you have power, if you have learned a thing or two about magia, then get involved, apply your knowledge locally as well as aeonically.  I suspect doing so will contribute to the ongoing search for a deeper knowledge and conversation with those aspects of yourself that brought you to the Art in the first place.