Monday, 16 May 2011

3 Keys to Magic - or even in magic it takes two to tango

Here is a quick recap of the model we are discussing and applying for a more balanced approach to magic:

The first angle of 'Strategy or Intent' has been covered in the previous post. Let's see what we can learn from the second angle of 'Structure or Technique'...

2) Structure or Technique

Structure in consultancy language refers to the nuts and bolts, the essential equipment you rely on while traveling all the way of your journey. It's meaning is best illustrated by a few examples: For Columbus the (infra-)structure of his journey was his fleet of ships as well as the crew, for a consultant this is the IT infrastructure or a specific division in an organization, for a pilot it is the plane and for a rally driver it is the car. For a magician it is no different: we rely upon our equipment just like every adventurer does - and maybe even more so these days: Some of us spend a lifetime perfecting the ritual structures we work upon, perfecting the set of paraphernalia and ritual tools that allow us to direct the forces summoned and to travel the spiritual roads leading into the dark ahead of us. As a magician during the times of rediscovery of the Grimoires (i.e. today) it's easy to become obsessed with structure as a mean to its own end. It's easy to mistake the map for the territory, to start eating the menu instead of the meal and forget that the only use of a vessel for Columbus was to traverse an unknown sea. Once he reached the shores it was left behind...

Maybe we can learn something from a time that isn't so long ago? Here is what Christopher Bray had to say about this at the high noon of Chaos Magic in the 1980s: 

"Magicians have always believed that ritual is a springboard to Gnosis yet in light of recent developments the idea that magical method can lead the consciousness of the magician up into and through Gnosis in a controlled way is seen to be a fallacy. The magician cannot willfully and with certainty expect to create the state of Gnosis purely through intellectual considerations of his magical method, he can only prepare a jumping off spot from which he must throw himself into Infinitude."
(Christopher Bray, Spare, Sorcery and Chaos Magic, in: AOS Collected Works, 1986)

Let's paint it black and white: For a freemason there are few things more exciting than deciphering an old emblem of the art, for an alchemist there are few things more exhilarating than setting up his new athanor and for a magician there are few things more absorbing than creating sigils, inks, papyri, incenses, chalk circles, Etz Chiim anologue crowns and swords and daggers and silver cups and banners of the four celestial regions... You get it? If not, my wife hit it on the head years ago with a short dinner remark. I had just invested several days to create ritual paraphernalia for a planned rite when she said over dinner: 'You know, I really love you - but you are such a boy with all your bricolage and DIY toys." While I obviously protested like any good magician would, it still got me thinking... I wondered why working on ritual structures had almost become synonymous for me with a distinct mistrust against nature's ability to support my magic organically. Or in other words: Why was so much DIY needed to commune with spirits that had never used a Dremel in their eternal lives themselves?

I guess - especially for male magicians - it's easy to fail to see that we are surrounded by am organic network of living forces, that we are essentially embedded into it and continuously interact with it. This type of organic structure is optimized for our use already - may it be on a physical, astral or mental level. Like it or not, with regards to Structure we are pretty well equipped since birth - and it doesn't need a lot of reinventing to put it into practice. What it does need is appropriate application. 

Let's make this real simple: In order to call someone we have never spoken to before we do not need to reinvent the telephone, including network systems, oversea cabling and international prefixes. We simply need to pick up the phone and - most of all - which number to dial.

Let's go one step further and apply this idea to an example taken from magical practice: You invoked an elementary ruler, let's say of the element of fire and you need to banish his influence after concluding the spiritual contact. An approach that is potentially overloaded with structure would apply lengthy ritual formulas for departures, leverage the ritual dagger, make use of cleansing incenses as well as the ritual act of extinguishing the temple lights. This is a perfectly fine approach and it has worked for hundreds or even thousands of years. My point is, sometimes tradition has maintained the most complex approaches in books and Grimoires - because they were just too hard to remember by heart. That doesn't mean, however, that the simply techniques don't work just as well; they were simply taken for granted and thus not recorded in books. In this particular case try this: Open the temple door, consciously walk over the threshold, leave your ritual persona behind and close the door from the other side. Done.

The real question to avoid an overload of structure and thus cripple your approach to an organic and living form of magic is: Are you clear about how the forces you strive to interact with interact with yourself and your environment? Doing magic unfortunately is only kicked off by adequate structures - once these are established or internalized it becomes a living interaction. And just as in any other interaction you aren't doing magic to someone or something but you are doing magic to each other. Wether the goal of your magic is yourself, your environment or a certain spirit - it always takes two to tango.

Let's not get trapped in the illusion that the person who makes a phone call is more "powerful" than the person who answers it. Any phone call takes two - otherwise it's just an attempted call without any impact or a voice message left in the dark of the abyss... So if any real magic is a living interaction, then we just found a simple rule for the second triangle of the art: Structure always needs to serve the living. Just take a look at nature and you will find the same principle applied in abundance. Any seemingly dead structure in nature has a purpose for the living - any fallen tree, any rock or snow crystal. Structure in itself is nothing but a house to be inhabited by the living. If the house has become something like a maze - a place of isolation and withdrawal rather than encounter and communion - we need to understand its purpose and how it supports our goals. If it doesn't - let's tear down the maze and create a space for living and breathing interactions.

With regards to the banishing example above: the goal is to establish a threshold between the forces you worked with and your everyday personality to which you are returning after the rite. So why not simply using your temple door as the physical manifestation of this threshold - and close it behind you - instead of cumbersome banishing rituals. You can use the more traditional approach or invent your own one. Yet both of them require you to experience and evaluate the direct and authentic impact of your magical actions for yourself.

So maybe this is the second key we found: Whenever ritual structure starts to obstruct rather than construct, it's time to destruct. 

(to be continued - read next part here)

An example of efficient ritual structure: the head of the deceased
family member was cut off and integrated into the head of this
life-size puppet. Once it had decayed into its components in the main
tent of the tribe it was buried next to the body of the ancestor.
Through this ritual approach a proper rite of passage and
time for transition was ensured.

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