In the last post we spoke about the need and roll for tools. So now is probably a good time to talk about WHAT those tools should or can be.
There is a debate between strict traditionalism vs modern ingenuity not only as far as tools, but in magic in general. As usual, I do not fall into either extreme, so people on the traditional side tend to see me as wildly eclectic, and people on the “anything goes” or Chaos Magic end of the spectrum see as too strict.
To outline my approach to this problem I have a few rules I hold myself to.
#1: There is always a gain and a loss.
The pic above (Thans to Julio Cesar Ody, again) is a great example of sliding too far to “anything goes” end. Let’s leave the offering aside and imagine the slide that this took:
Handmade candle > Storebought candle > Electric candle > Candle App.
In every stage of this slide you lose something and gain something. The Handmade candle can be constructed at an appropriate time, be prayed over as it is being made, and have herbs and oils worked into the wax as it is made, you lose that with the store-bought candle but gain time and ease. The electric candle you lose the flame itself, which changes the nature of the light and what is consumed, you also lose the “feel” of doing something ancient if that is worth something to you. On the other hand you gain the ability to keep it burning for days at a time without worrying about burning your house down. Using the candle app you lose even the idea of an item, and you only have what amounts to an illuminated picture, on the other hand its really convenient and if you wanted to do a spell while traveling this might be an interesting way to do it.
Whatever you are doing you are losing and gaining something by the way you are doing it. This is as true for following a grimoire or sadhana to the letter as it is for doing something completely off the map for shits and giggles. Knowing what you are gaining and losing should be the first step in guiding you to what you need to do.
In every advancement there are people who complain about losses and tout gains. Today we have people complaining about how computers and the internet deteriorate education, but these same arguments were used when books began to be printed, fearing that it would destroy peoples ability to memorize. They were right of course, but it was worth it.
#2 Do not confuse laziness or convenience for ingenuity
Ingenuity is done to gain something. Convenience makes something ea
sier, and probably more likely to be accomplished. Laziness is just not being willing to put in the effort.
Take a look at this Dzambhala prayer wheel run by a candle flame. You might be accused of laziness by someone who only uses hand spin prayer wheels. It might even seem pointless if you consider the mojo to be primarily in the mind and the recitation but then why bother with the prayer wheel at all?
On the other hand, if you consider that the mantra can be empowered by prayer and left to spin, keeping the power of the mantra flowing, this becomes a rather ingenious thing.
I use systems like this myself not only for Buddhist dieties, but with other spirits as a way to keep their presence and influence after a significant ceremony or session rolling.
If however your primary interest is in just lighting something, saying a few words, then leaving it go, you are just being lazy and not really doing any magic at all.
I very often see people skip tools, change directions, or remove instructions because they simple do not want to be arsed. This is no good.
Convenience is often a factor and most of my teachers have stressed finding a harmony between tradition and circumstance – which in fact has ALWAYS been the way of traditions. This harmony can only be struck however when you understand the gains and losses as #1 above.
Ingenuity and experimentation is done to see if something can be made better than it was. It may wind up being more convenient as well, but in the end the motivation is for improvement.
#3 Remember Parkinson’s Law
Its not just new innovations that need to be critically evaluated, we should also turn a critical eye to the past. There is a term called Parkinson’s Law that appeared in The Economist back in 1955 and states that work expands to full the time available for its completion. What does this have to do with magic and religion: everything. I would add that in our case it is not only time, but other resources like space and money.
If you are a householder doing a Tantric practice, your practice looks one way, and at times you go one retreat or maybe even become a wandering Yogi and spend even more time in meditation and really vital ceremony. When Tantra comes to Tibet and gets blended with monasticism it begins to look very different. Lots of outward chanting and large scale equipment gets used. Things get increasing baroque, and soon even the householders start to practice in a way that more resembles this. I remember being told that “we are lucky because all we have to do is chant the meditation. In the old days they would have to actually hold the visualization and work the prana”…
If you look at the Grimoire tradition in Europe you can see some of the same things going on. Some rites are clearly designed to be performed by Priests and others by people who have lots of money and leisure time. Imagine Mr. Darcy as a Necromancer instead of a classical romancer and you get the picture…
You would imagine that cunning-men and witches had much more streamlined and less expensive procedures, and from what we know, you would be correct. If however you were to look to the “trad craft” as it is today you would imagine that you need an endless array of expensive texts filled with words that would make an Oxford scholar break out his dictionary.
If you look at some procedures in the PGM, which people always seem to forget is a collection of Papyrii not a book with a single author, some of them are rather complicated and others simple for achieving the same ends. This might be because some of those rites are designed specifically to be performed for clients that you wish to impress with what is now generally termed a “dog and pony show”. It can also be a way to drive up costs and therefore an excuse to charge more.
I am not trying to dismiss complexity, expense, or time investment as un-necessary. Simply pointing out that at times an abundance of any of these can drive ceremony rather than necessity. The problem is that once something is established as taking 18 months, anything less can be accused of being inadequate when in fact the reasons for the extended time (or money, or people, or other resources) is simply there to use what is available. THis gets held as the “perfect”, which often winds up being the enemy of the good.
#4 Quit your Era-Fetish
Do you absolutely need your Hoodoo presented in old-timey ads and fonts that look like props from the set of Oh Brother Where Are Thou? Do you need your Goetic Temple to resemble the 18th century as much as humanly possible? Was the 2nd Century the pinnacle of magic because that happens to be around when the PGM was collected, and that is what gets you “wand” waving?
Thats fine, but don’t delude yourself that things were truer, more effective, or anything else at that point. They were simply different. I have written about this elsewhere, so I won’t spend much time on it.
A similar idea to the Era-Fetish is the Elder-Fetish. Simply put: older is better. More often than not, this is an article of faith more than logic, but it really cuts to the heart of how you see magic: is it something that was perfect in the past that we are trying to replicate, or is it something that can and should evolve with the times?
Primary Sources are re-interpreted as simply “old sources” rather than what they are meant to be, sources created in the time under study. As a practitioner of magic today, there are many primary sources created TODAY.
#5 Look for things they wished they had
I am a big proponent of people having an internal energy practice even if they are primarily interested in spirits. Things like Tummo can act as a catalyst for spirit contact and dream transmission in a way that you would have to do a SHITLOAD to praying and purifying to match. If you live today, you have easy access to teachings that people 100 years ago would have killed for. Do not ignore them just because it wasn’t a thing in Italy during the 1800’s.
#6 Learn from Living Traditions without Mimicking them
In the last 10 years various African Traditional Religions have had a huge impact on western magic. This is, for the most part, a much needed and good thing. I myself draw heavily on Living traditions of Tantra in Nepal, India, and Tibet, which impacts the way I practice magic.
What we have to be careful of is not mimicking them outright or fogetting differences that may be important. There are some people out there who, under the guise of practiding magic or witchctraft, really wind up practicing “Santeria-lite”, or “Quimbanda-Lite”. This does a disservice to the tradition you are drawing from (note the people who do this are RARELY initiated in these traditions), and also a disservice to Western Magic which does have differences from African Traditions and should not necessarily seek to emulate them in every way.
In fact, I have known a more than few initiates of both African and Asian traditions who also engage in Western Magic specifically because it offers a little more room for creativity and freedom.
#7 Balance Tradition and Revelation
Ever meet someone who smugly says “I don’t need to study X, because the SPIRIT taught me directly“? I hate that. It’ arrogant and 90% of the time it is just a cover for laziness.
But, I also allow for the fact that spirits do teach directly, and can teach things that differ from tradition. My own teachings on Hekate* are largely based in what she taught directly.
The ideal though is not to ignore tradition in favor of revelation, nor to ignore revelation because it’s not passed down. The ideal is to wield both and let them inform each other.
There are times when a tradition leaves a place or people specifically because the tradition becomes so ossified that it no longer allows for the spirit to manifest nor change. For a tradition, especially an sorcerous one, to remain active and potent, it needs, revelation from the spirits.
That said, when people come up with “spirit taught” things that contradict or have no relation to the tradition we have to give it a critical eye before we accept anything.
The Hekate Course material was vetted and tested and compared to traditonal sources for 15 years before I was ready to release it. This is how you take your UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) and at least seek some level of verification. Sadly I rarely see people taking the time or effort to test themselves or critically examine what they are given.
*Pay attention to the blog here for an announcement about this later this week.