Notes on Western Magic

Interest in magic is on the increase in the West. There’s plenty of evidence that witchcraft, magic spells, ritualistic and ceremonial magic, white magic, black magic, sorcery – the list is almost endless – are attracting inexperienced seekers of all ages and backgrounds. The growth of the internet seems to have stimulated some of the curiosity, and the number of monthly online searches using keywords linked to magical practices is staggering. It’s more than just an internet phenomenon however. In fact throughout the last century, and particularly since the fifties, there has been a mushrooming of groups, brotherhoods, societies and circles, all purporting to reveal the ancient secrets of the magical arts.

Not surprisingly perhaps, a good deal of it is relatively harmless: a slightly more grown up extension of Halloween. Much of it is unhealthy fantasy. Very rarely is it anything approaching genuine. More often than not the self-proclaimed purveyors of the ‘ancient art’ are, as they always have been, mere tricksters and charlatans mostly involved for commercial reasons. Some are themselves hopelessly deluded; or pursue notoriety by trying to make a name for themselves in a celebrity obsessed and egotistical sub-culture. However, this is not so in every case, and the unwary can discover that dabbling with things we don’t understand can sometimes produce unintended and unpleasant consequences. And for a few convinced and committed seekers, magic, along with a host of related beliefs and practices, represents a real danger – not only to themselves, but also to all those who surround them. It’s to this small group that these brief notes are addressed.

There is no need for us to become embroiled in the complicated debate about definitions. For our purposes it’s enough to establish that it’s not possible to violate the laws of nature. Magic and the so-called ‘supernatural’ conform to natural law every bit as much as everything else does. However some of these laws are as yet undiscovered by mainstream investigators; and some of the inner workings of nature have always been carefully concealed from all but those who have proved themselves worthy of the trust.

“As a matter of fact there is nothing supernatural. There are only things which don’t happen commonly because the rules are not known.” (Beck)

The reasons for concealment are clear and wise. By way of analogy consider the uses to which we have put almost all of the knowledge gained by the various scientific and technological advances over the last few centuries. We, along with the scientists who reveal this new knowledge, must take some of the responsibility for the consequences, bad as well as good. Our collective lack of wisdom is there for all to see in the destruction, depravity and selfishness facilitated or stimulated by our manipulation of nature’s material laws. We shudder to think what further as yet undiscovered tools for the wicked are in the pipeline. If magic is the manipulation of little known natural laws in order to achieve material effects, then it’s difficult not to place much of what passes for material science firmly in the category of black or evil magic. While some of the terminology may have fallen out of fashion the fact that the following was written five hundred years ago but articulates underlying ideas that are equally relevant today, suggests the basics of human nature are somewhat slower to change.

“…I am returning to Orlando; he had taken King Cimosco’s thunder-machine and thrown it into the depths of the sea, so as to obliterate every last trace of it. Little did that profit us, though: the Evil One, enemy of human kind, who invented the fire-arm, copying the action of the thunderbolt which splits the clouds and falls to earth—the Evil One, serving us almost as fatally as when he deceived Eve with the apple, saw to it that a sorcerer should recover the weapon in our grandfathers’ time, or a little earlier.  The infernal contraption lay hidden for many a year under more than a hundred fathoms of water, until it was brought to the surface by magic and passed into the possession of the Germans; these tried one experiment after another, and the devil sharpened their wits until, to our detriment, they eventually rediscovered how to use it.” (Ariosto)

The continual race since Ariosto’s time to develop and use increasingly effective machines of mass destruction suggests that ever more tragic consequences of further scientific ‘breakthroughs’ are yet to follow. Some argue that our apparent enthusiasm for the products of the darker side of the scientific mind is proof positive that we are sleep-walking towards disaster. And now that the bottle that once concealed and contained a genie is well and truly broken, what is our chosen remedy? To develop more and more ‘sophisticated’ and cunning spying machines that monitor every second of the lives of every citizen in the vain hope that we can destroy the ever-present threat before it destroys us.

However, the apparent victory of science over religion in the West shouldn’t close our eyes to the equal-but-opposite superstitious fanaticism so often promulgated by our various religious traditions.  Too often magic and all things supernatural or miraculous have been soundly denounced by them as the machinations of evil occult forces, except of course the magic – including at times some very evil magic – performed by their own gods, angels, jinni, saints, priests and prophets.

But what have these observations to do with the early seeker on the path to truth? There’s perhaps more of a parallel than we might think. For if we dig a little beneath the surface we see that science is not the real threat; and nor is religion. It is us. There are definite connections between our human nature and the unseen planes of being that surround us; and while material science operates on the physical level, what has traditionally been labelled magic is more of a mental science. But while they may operate on different levels or planes of action the realities of human nature underlie everything we do and so pose similar dangers in both spheres. Actions arising from a loss of control and lack of foresight will nearly always have disastrous unforeseen effects.

By all informed accounts magic isn’t produced exclusively through physical actions or words. If these are used at all it is said that they must be aligned with appropriate mental and emotional states. The so-called magician mentally and emotionally tunes in to already existing but little known forces to achieve his or her effects. And here lies the hazard. That these forces can be very negative and destructive as well as positive creates a difficulty. For more often than not we cannot ‘see’ these forces sufficiently well enough to guarantee that we do not by mentally tuning in to them become not their masters but their blind victims. It’s more common than we might think for inexperienced seekers or those who lack inner peace to unconsciously connect to negative rather than to positive powers, and in so doing bring potential harm to themselves and to all those they contact. Like the scientist and the politician – excepting those who know full well what they are doing – we don’t always have the wisdom and the foresight to recognise the potential mental, emotional and physical dangers inherent in our actions until it is too late. Unfortunately for us hindsight and suffering are too often the means by which we learn the error of our ways. When theoretical interest becomes practical experience then these warnings are taken more seriously.

So, if we consult our conscience, and having done so, still remain bold enough to count ourselves among the very few who are wise and have complete mastery of themselves, then so be it. But if we find ourselves to be as yet impure and the least susceptible to lower emotions and desires; if we lack the immunity of wisdom and inner peace, then we are not best placed to meddle with forces we cannot yet understand. While we should not be too risk-averse, for the true seeker is if nothing else intrepid, we should nevertheless resist the temptation to consider ourselves greater or more capable than we actually are. For to know ourselves as we really are, rather than as we would like to be, protects us from the rashness which in these matters always leads to tears. Our conscience will tell us if we are truly sincere and at all times innocent in our motives.

Another parallel exists. Our pursuit, in the political sphere, of a knowledge-led quest for power as an end in itself is also common to more than a few aspiring magicians;  and both are equally misguided. A vice-President of India in the sixties who was well placed to observe first-hand the threat this poses to the mystic life provides some very good advice:

“The supernormal powers are really obstacles to Samadhi (the higher form of consciousness). They are by-products of the higher life. They are the flowers we pick on the road though the true seeker does not set out to gather them. He who falls a victim to the magical powers goes rapidly downward. Devotion to the Divine is one of the aids to Yoga.” (Prof. Radhakrishnan)

The truth is that the path to light and truth and spiritual power is not primarily about magic. It is not about the mumbling of spells or the study of grimoires; it is not about the invocation of god knows what; and nor is it about rituals and ceremonies that, however well-meaning we might think we are, connect us with the earth and its lower vibrations. At best such paths lead to further rebirth; at worst to disaster.

The truest and best ‘magic’ can only begin to happen after we have mastered the lower appetites connected to our physical senses. High magic is a mental science that draws its power from the virtues, which are the real spiritual powers that exist in a state of potentiality in every man and woman. To achieve truly magical effects we must first do something about ourselves so that we can gradually bring these potential powers into safe and healthy operation. There are no short cuts, whatever we are told by the tricksters, the frauds, the charlatans and the downright deluded who are always ready to misguide the unwary seeker.

While the optimist will hope that the spirit of these notes might puncture the glamorous bubble within which much of western magic exists, the realist with experience in such matters knows that they contain too simple a warning to be heeded by all but the very few who are ready.  For by and large, the early seeker of the ancient way is often at first distracted away from the path by the many and various promises of quick or easy progress. The glamour of our illusory expectations is often just too attractive for us to resist. The promise of easily acquired magical powers is but one among many such illusions. But at some point we all come to realise that the path of return is anything but quick and easy. Each step is contested. Each and every obstacle must be overcome.

Logos is the son of the father; it is the Word of God; it is divine reason and creative order. As such it is the original seed of all words of power and creativity. The words of power of the higher magic are the inner virtues, fought for and won by the courageous pilgrim on the path to peace. That they are silent and unseen by the matter-blinded world makes them more powerful, not less. These inner spiritual powers are in deepest harmony with forces that cannot be known or contacted by spells or sorcery. They are the higher powers that lead the happy self to higher and more perfect states of being; while the lower powers bar our progress and lead the self into a sad and downward spiral.

 

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