So, yesterday we talked about how you're stronger when you're really you, and so if being you is being a magician then you need to actually be a magician and do actual magic. So what does that mean?
When discussing this issue the other day the person complaining about people not doing magic was mostly complaining about people not doing ritual. Of course there is magic which doesn't involve ritual, and there is ritual that doesn't involve magic. Now, when I pointed out that even people who do ritual are not always people who do magic, the person originally complaining asked, despite a clear lack of desire for an answer, how one would determine that a ritualist is not necessarily a magician.
So let's take a look at a few elements to keep in mind. Hopefully for those who are looking to develop their magical practice, these thoughts might help with developing more powerful, effective, and meaningful rituals.
1. Magic is by it's nature goal oriented.
In general a big part of developing into a more useful person for me was learning to understand the importance of being goal oriented. In college I took a class called “The Psychology of Motivation” it was an upper level neurology class and the professor had a reputation for being amazing but also incredibly difficult. The material was riveting in general, but the most interesting part was how well the teacher drove home the point at all motivation is goal oriented. It made me realize the importance of understanding clearly what a goal is and how to move towards it in terms of understanding our motivations and those of others, and therefore understanding the underlying elements of a situation. This is a huge part of being a magician. We have to be able to look at the world and see through the bull shit down to the truth of a thing. We have to be able to pull apart the puzzle and see the strings which form the maze. We have to know what will happen when we pull on a particular string and what will pull back on it from each end. Understanding goals is a big part of this. Understanding goals, and what is necessary to reach them is also hugely important to success.
From the perspective of a magician, understanding our goals and how to achieve them is part of how we decide what magic to do in what way. Understanding that magic requires a goal is an important part to distinguishing our magic from playing dress up.
Magic is about willed change.
Crowley defined magic as “the art and science of causing change in conformity with will” there is a bit of an implication towards the mystical elements of changing things based on one's true will when we quote Crowley. Personally I like to take it more generally “Magic is the process of causing change through the manipulation of subtle and unseen forces.” The will part is less obvious, but manipulate implies that we are determining the change created by these forces. In either case, we make a decision about what we want to have happen, and we make it happen.
So if we're doing ritual and it's not supposed to do anything, or we don't know what it's supposed to do we probably aren't doing magic.
2. So...being goal oriented, means we want the goal to happen
Years ago I was at a coffee house near a college. It was run by local NeoPagans and they used to do Pagan Band Jams. Sometimes the OTO would go hang out and meet people.
I once met a young man there who was clearly very concerned about his 1980s punk rock chaos magician image. He told me all about how he liked reading chaos magic books, he was wearing his chaos star t-shirt, and he told me about how he didn't believe in magic but sometimes liked to do rituals when people pissed him off so he could feel better by pretending to curse them. I said I preferred to spend my time doing things that accomplished stuff.
To me it seems silly intentionally doing something that we don't think will accomplish anything, but, I guess in his case it was accomplishing a sort of catharsis or distraction. This behavior isn't just a chaos magic thing, there are people who dress up as witches, druids, thelemites, wizards, whatever because they feel better doing so and doing rituals even though they only look for them to make them feel better. It makes sense, as a lot of writers stick to magic as kind of an in home self help ritualized psychology. Arguably this is a goal, feeling better, and there is a change, you feel better than you did. But putting on a warm blanket, or eating ice cream, or thinking happy thoughts can do the same thing. I wouldn't really consider this a change in the sense of magic.
When we're looking at changes sometimes they might be things which aren't clearly perceptible, but they're still things where there is a meaningful and significant difference. For instance rituals or practices which develop and strengthen the subtle body of the magician, or which expand awareness or psychic capabilities, or even revealing knowledge can all be magic. We're working internally in these cases, but they result in clear applicable changes at are more than us just deciding to smile.
Changes quite often can be external perceptible elements of reality. There is a clear presence in the magical community of people trying to downplay real external change because it's easier to look acceptable and not crazy, but, magic, throughout history, has always primarily been about creating a world we want. Looking through the grimoires we see rituals for gaining treasure, procuring favor, gaining love, taking love away, defeating enemies, tons of stuff. All of it is stuff that is beyond our ability to achieve it just by deciding that we want it, but it's all also stuff that can be the object of a clearly defined goal.
3. Magical practices should involve means of making the goal happen
If you want to hit a baseball, you probably need to swing a bat. Conversely, just because you're swinging a bat, doesn't mean you're hitting a baseball. You need the right tool applied in the right way at the right moment to the right thing in order to achieve your goal.
If a ritual or practice does not engage in any means of applying change it can't accomplish change and isn't magic. Now, a ritual which has no means of effecting change, or which applies the wrong means, or the right means incorrectly doesn't mean there is no intention to do magic necessarily, it may just mean the ritual is poorly constructed. Either way though, not going to hit the home run.
So what're some means of creating change by magic?
Spirits. Spirits are probably one of the oldest identifiable methods of agency in magic. They can achieve goals by way of offerings, pacts, or commanding them by names and seals.
The Kabbalah's magical elements involve arranging series or correspondences to track pathways of manifestation along the Tree of Life to create particular results.
More modern sources deal with flows of psychic energy and the creation of manipulation of thought-forms or of the astral light.
Somewhere between that more modern method and classical ones we see the conjuration of elemental and planetary forces, and other unseen forces within the universe to be applied to a situation by way of symbols of not by spirits.
There are many forms of agency, or means of power and action, which your magic can take, but it has to take one, or at least one, in order to be magic. Even more it has to apply it appropriately in a way relevant to the goal.
So in summation your magic should...
...start with a clearly defined goal
...have the actual intention of achieving the goal
...use techniques to manipulate and apply some means of achieving that goal.
So, you might still say, “well, how can we say these things are required for magic or that just doing ritual doesn't mean these things are happening?”
I would answer that it's pretty easy to watch a ritual and see if you can determine the goal, and the method for achieving it. The intention to succeed is less visible. Either way, magic should be somewhat testable. For those coming out of a Thelemic background, the method of science, the aim of religion. We should be able to review our actions and anticipate results and track whether to actions and results align and potential causes of error. This is a key part of training within the A.'.A.'. system, and was also applied amongst the Golden Dawn. Further both the A.'.A.'. and Golden Dawn worked to expand the powers of the subtle body of the initiate, with this being accomplished the initiate should be sensitive to the magical movements stirred by another's ritual, and a sufficiently advanced initiate should be able to recognize magic from theater. This testing of results and abilities was not something that was unique to the student, both the A.'.A.'. and the Golden Dawn worked with experiments to test psychic perceptions as the initiate developed.
In any case, arguing about the historical support for a magician to be able to recognize whether something is magic or bunk won't get us too far, but we at least have some notes to consider when planning our ritual actions so we can ask ourselves “Is this functional as magic or am I just doing ritual for some other reason?”
Little questions like that might seem unimportant if you're getting something out of it either way, but they're necessary to help you get to know your most reliable partner in all of this, yourself. As you understand what your motivations are more clearly, you can begin to understand how to achieve them more thoroughly.