Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Three Lessons in Operative Magic

I really did intend to talk about something other than the vagaries of the Neopagan scene this month. The politics of contemporary Neopaganism deserved a passing glance, if only because those of us who are still practicing magic when the Neopagan wave flows back out to sea will have to deal with the social consequences of its vagaries for years to come, and there’s also a wry amusement to be gained by watching people insist rhat the best way to create a diverse and tolerant Paganism is to use bullying and ostracism to enforce rigid ideological uniformity on the Pagan scene. Still, such entertainments are peripheral to the purpose of this blog.

It so happens, though, that one of the other tempests currently raging in the Neopagan teapot offers something a good deal more relevant to the concerns of The Well of Galabes. Operative magic—the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, to use Dion Fortune’s definition—is one of the core disciplines of the occult philosophy I’m exploring here, and the tempest in question provides three really quite solid lessons in certain basic elements of operative magic. This is less of a compliment than it sounds, but we’ll get to that.

A little background might be helpful. Early last year, a Stanford undergraduate athlete named Brock Turner raped a woman outside of a college party. Unlike most rapists, he got caught and was brought to trial. He was convicted on three counts of sexual assault, but the judge—not coincidentally, perhaps, a Stanford graduate and former athlete—sentenced him to a much shorter sentence than usual. This was seen by a good many people, and not unreasonably, as a flagrant miscarriage of justice.

Enter certain members of the Pagan community. On June 8, an article on a popular Pagan website called for Pagans to join together en masse to cast hexes on Turner, the judge, and Turner’s father, who had made some gratuitously offensive public remarks in defense of his son. The idea seems to have been that since the justice system had failed to punish Turner, the Neopagan community would do it instead, by cursing him and the others involved with various colorful forms of misery and misfortune. 

Those of my readers who follow the Pagan blogosphere know how the resulting debates shaped up. It was all phrased in ethical terms; critics of the project insisted that those who participated in it would be punished by karma, the threefold law, or what have you, for engaging in what was, after all, magic meant to cause harm to others—that is to say, evil magic.  Proponents of the project insisted with equal heat that they didn’t believe in the things their critics spoke of, and that any action other than taking part in the hexing amounted to sitting by passively while Brock Turner got away with rape.

Are there important ethical issues in the situation? No doubt there are, but I don’t propose to get into them here. Nietzsche’s sly definition of ethics as the art of propping up inherited prejudices with bad logic has lost neither its sting nor its relevance since his time. In the Neopagan scene or out of it, furthermore, there’s no ethical consensus of the kind that would allow those issues to be settled in any meaningful sense, so ethical disputes inevitably come down to people with irreducibly different presuppositions talking past one another.

What hasn’t been addressed, as far as I know, are the issues of practical operative occultism that are raised by a project of the sort under discussion. That’s what I propose to talk about here.

It’s probably necessary to start off by noting that magic is not whatever you want it to be. It’s an ancient, subtle, and delicate art backed up by a body of knowledge—a science in the older sense of that word—that’s been gathered from something like three thousand years of practical experience in the Western world, and longer than that in the East. One consequence of this is that the laws of magic, like the laws of physics, don’t care whether you believe in them. In magic as in physics, some things work, some things don’t, and some things quite reliably blow up in your face and leave splinters in your flesh.  Learning which of these is which is an important part of a magical education—something that you can study with a teacher, in a magical lodge, or in that venerable institution, the School of Hard Knocks.

So let’s take a look at the campaign to hex Brock Turner from the point of view of operative magic, and see what we can learn.

The first task in any magical working is deciding exactly what it’s supposed to accomplish, and here a simple but immensely important rule holds sway: your working should focus on ends, not means. If the thing you want is X, in other words, your working will be most effective if you focus all your efforts on X itself, and let the magic sort out the intermediate steps that will get you X. 

This works because magic gains power from unity of focus. The more precisely you concentrate your efforts on a single goal, that is, the more likely you are to achieve it, while the more you diffuse your efforts in multiple directions, the more likely you are to fail to achieve any of them. If you concentrate everything you’ve got on the end, as a result, you’re much more likely to achieve it than if you divide your concentration between the end and the means you think you need to get the end.

What if you put all your concentration into the means? Embarrassingly often, this results in achieving the means, but in a way that doesn’t contribute toward achieving the end. There’s an old and famous story of a man who tried to become rich by doing a series of workings in which he visualized himself handling vast stacks of money. Shortly thereafter he lost his job, and the only job he could get was a position at a bank, where he labored eight hours a day at a modest wage counting vast stacks of other people’s money. He’d focused on the means—money in his hands—rather than the end—a lifestyle of wealth and financial comfort—and gotten the one and not the other.

Now of course the difficulty here, and it’s not a small one, is that in order to focus your working on ends rather than means, you have to know what you actually want. That’s not a straightforward thing, as human beings pretty much by definition are bundles of mixed motives and misunderstood desires. Half the reason that most people never manage to achieve happiness in life is that they never get around to figuring out what would make them happy, and so they keep on chasing the things they think they want rather than the thing that would actually satisfy their innermost needs. When dealing with a working like the Brock Turner hex, though, we can set aside these perplexities and simply ask: what is this working supposed to accomplish?

The purported intention offered by the proponents of the working is to bring justice to a situation in which it is clearly lacking. That’s a laudable intention, but something very curious happens when—as has already happened—someone asks, “Then why are you trying to cast a curse? Why not instead do a working focused explicitly on bringing justice to the situation?”  The standard response on the part of the proponents of the working is to dismiss this as a namby-pamby, milksop sort of half-measure, and to insist that only fullblown malevolent magic will do.  It’s an odd answer, all things considered, but it’s not new to this case; I’ve seen it in quite a few similar debates before now.

It’s not as though justice is actually a namby-pamby, milksop sort of thing, you know. Strict retributive justice is scary stuff. It’s the opposite of mercy; it means that what you do gets done to you, no wiggle room, no leniency, no second chances. In astrological symbolism, retributive justice is assigned to Saturn, the Greater Malefic, the cold and implacable planet of time, fate, and hard limits. In Pagan religious symbolism, justice corresponds to as tough and intransigent a set of deities as you’ll find anywhere. In the Cabala, justice is a correspondence of the terrible fifth sephirah Geburah, the sphere of severity and strict judgment. So...why isn’t this an adequate intention for the working?

I suspect the reason has to do with one of the unmentionable realities of contemporary American social life—the fact that so many Americans these days long desperately for a good excuse to hurt someone. Watch the way that Americans behave toward anyone they’ve decided it’s okay to hate, and you can count on seeing a really impressive degree of viciousness in action. This is why we fetishize vampires and zombies, why mass murderers occupy so large a place in our collective imagination, why policies that punish the poor for their own destitution enjoy bipartisan support, and so on.

The media circus around Brock Turner’s sentencing has brought this same reaction down on him. The people who are calling for malevolent magic to be flung at him clearly don’t want justice, since they’ve rejected the concept as an explicit goal for their magic, and as far as I’ve seen, they show only the most pro forma concern for the woman he raped—where are the mass workings to bring her healing and justice?  Rather, they want to take part in the magical equivalent of the kind of Old West lynch mob that used to haul unpopular felons out of jail, tie rope around their feet, drag them behind galloping horses over rough ground for ten miles or so, and then splash kerosene onto what was left and set it on fire.

Mixed motives, for reasons discussed earlier, are a hindrance to effective magic. If you want to bring justice into a situation, you need to direct your magical efforts toward justice. If you want to drop the facade of bland plastic niceness that governs most social interactions in America, on the other hand, and wallow in the delights of beating and bullying someone, then it’s probably a good idea to admit that to yourself and drop the pretense that justice has anything to do with the matter.

It’s at this point, though, that we move to the second lesson that can be drawn from the campaign to hex Brock Turner. Another important rule of magic is generally called the law of repercussion, though I prefer to call it the Raspberry Jam Principle. Just as you can’t spread raspberry jam on a slice of bread without getting at least a little of it on your own fingers, that is, you can’t work with magical forces without those forces having some effect on you.

I probably need to note again that this is not a matter of ethics, any more than it’s an ethical judgment to point out that drinking drain cleaner is bad for your digestion. The law of repercussion doesn’t mean that somebody up in the clouds is passing judgment on you; it’s as impersonal, automatic, and pitiless as gravity. Nor, by the way, do you have to believe in it for it to affect you; the laws of magic, like the laws of physics, don’t care if you believe in them or not. The reason this principle works is simply that your own mind and body are the vehicles for the influences you summon and direct in magic. Whatever influences you bring into manifestation in your magical work will thus set corresponding patterns going in you, which will then work outwards into your life: as in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm.

It’s only fair to note that I’ve met a certain number of operative mages who insist that this isn’t the case and that they can do whatever they want without any risk from repercussion. Their lives are smoking craters. I’ve watched some of them stumble for years from one miserable mess to another, with buckets of bad luck far beyond the normal measure landing on their heads over and over again. Ironically, if you suggest to them that maybe the cascading miseries of their lives might be the normal working out of well-known magical principles, you can expect to field an angry insistence that it just ain’t so.

I also know plenty of operative mages whose lives are, by and large, happy and successful. They have prosperous careers, enjoy generally good health, have little trouble maintaining whatever kind of relationships they prefer, and so on. All of them, without exception, pay careful attention to the law of repercussion in their magical work. They aren’t necessarily paragons of virtue in any other sense, but they know that the Raspberry Jam Principle has its flipside, which is that you can improve your own life substantially by making a habit of directing influences of healing and benediction toward other people. Namby-pamby? Call it what you like, it works.

You’ll notice I haven’t used words like “shouldn’t” in this discussion, and that’s deliberate. Once again, we’re not talking about ethics. If you like lots of suffering in your life—some people apparently do—you now know a very good way to get it.  What’s more, if you want to hurt someone magically, and don’t mind taking the hit from the inevitable repercussion, then I’m not going to tell you not to. One very effective way to work malevolent magic, in fact, is to resolve firmly that what you’re about to do is so important that you’re perfectly willing to embrace whatever the repercussions happen to be—though if you do that, it’s crucial to stick with it when the ugly stuff starts to happen. If you start whining at that point, it’s just going to mess up the working.

It’s probably also worth noting here that a working for retributive justice also involves repercussion. If you’re behaving unjustly in your life—and which of us isn’t?—you’re going to get it in the neck as the energies of retributive justice take shape in your own body and mind, and seek the nearest available outlet in your life. One proven way around this effect is to choose some situation in which you’re behaving unjustly and, as soon as you’ve done the working, do whatever you have to do to make it right. That provides a channel through which the influence can earth out, and thus gives you some control over the shape of the repercussion. On the other hand, you could choose instead to do a working to bring healing and restorative justice to the woman Brock Turner raped, in which case the repercussion is going to be to your benefit.

So should you run right out and post something on Faceplant or your favorite Pagan networking site trying to organize a group working along the lines just suggested?  At this point we move to the third lesson that can be drawn from the campaign to hex Brock Turner.

Eliphas Levi, whose knowledge of older magical traditions was considerably more extensive and subtle than that of many later mages, wrote that four virtues are paramount in magic:  to know, to will, to dare, and to be silent. (One of my teachers used to rephrase this in his inimitable style:  “to know, to will, to dare, and to shut the f*** up.”) That last virtue is much more important than it looks. The more you talk about the workings you’re doing, the less power they have: that’s a reliable principle of magic, and once again, you don’t have to believe in it to be affected by it.

The same thing, interestingly enough, affects many other kinds of creative activity. Most writers learn early on in their careers, for example, that talking about a writing project is a great way to bleed the creative energy right out of it. Still, with magic, and especially with magic in the age of the internet, there’s another issue of equal importance, which is that not everyone who reads your Faceplant post will necessarily share your goals and support your magical intentions.

A few years back, for example, friends of the Druid leader Isaac Bonewits organized an internet spell to try to save his life when he was dying of cancer. For a while there, just about every internet forum frequented by Druids had posts splashed all over it asking people to do workings that made use of a typically clunky ditty:  “Isaac’s tumor goes away, thirty more years with Phae.” (The latter reference was to his wife Phaedra.) Despite the fact that some thousands of people participated in it, the working failed, and Bonewits passed away a short time later.

I’ve long suspected that there was a simple if brutal reason behind that failure. Bonewits was not an uncontroversial figure. He made plenty of enemies—it might even be fair to say that he delighted in making them—and some of those enmities, to judge from conversations I heard at a variety of Pagan venues over the years, ran very, very deep. If some of the many people who disliked Bonewits wanted to, they could quite easily have done workings of their own, chanting a ditty of their own on the order of “Tumor, tumor, grow and spread, thirty days and Isaac’s dead,” or what have you. Since he was already gravely ill, they wouldn’t have have to carry the weight of a full-blown death spell; all they had to do was interfere with the working that was being done to save his life—and interfering with a magical working is fairly easy if you know the details of the working in advance.

The attempt to hex Brock Turner runs exactly the same risk. I’m not sure how many of my readers are aware of this, for example, but there’s an organized movement of neo-Nazi magical lodges, the so-called darkside lodges, scattered over various corners of the Western world. (Those who are interested in the grubby details can find them in Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s excellent book Black Sun.) I have no contact with members of those lodges, nor have I the least interest in having any; thus I can’t be sure of their opinions on the subject, but on first principles I’d tend to suspect that they’d favor Brock Turner’s side of the case over that of the woman he raped.

Thus it’s quite possible that at this point, every detail of the proposed hexing campaign is now being discussed in the private forums that neo-Nazi occultists frequent. It’s equally possible that one or more darkside lodges are already planning or performing ritual workings to interfere with the hexing—again, this isn’t hard once you know the details of the working you want to counter. The internet is not a private space, it bears remembering, and it’s unwise in the extreme to assume that the things you post there will only reach people who agree with you.

To sum up, then, if you’re going to practice magic, it’s a good idea to be honest with yourself about what exactly you want to accomplish, and then aim for your actual goals rather than some intermediate step that you think will get you there. It’s a good idea to keep the Raspberry Jam Principle in mind, and work with magical influences whose repercussions you’re willing to tolerate in your life. It’s also a good idea not to talk about your magical workings, partly to keep from diffusing your intent and partly to keep those who might not sympathize with your goals from messing with your workings. Those are three very solid lessons to take from the situation here anatomized—and if those of my readers who happen to be operative mages choose to put those lessons to use in performing workings of healing and restorative justice for the benefit of the woman Brock Turner raped, and for all victims of sexual assault, that strikes me as a very, very good thing indeed.

On an unrelated note, I'm currently in need of decent quality scans, in JPEG format, of the artwork from Eliphas Levi's book Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic, usually mistitled Transcendental Magic in its English translation). If you have access to these, please put through a comment headed "not for posting" with your email address and other details. Many thanks!


Unknown said...

Very illuminating post in the practicalities of magic. Thank you JMG.

Your phrase "people with irreducibly different presuppositions talking past one another" cogently sums up most public discourse and private relationships in a nutshell :)

Any change I could entreat you about your thoughts on Cosmic Doctrine by Dion Fortune in future?
It seems to capture the rhythms of the Cosmos and Magic as a series of inductively interacting impersonal processes.
But much of it is also beyond my ken.

Vicky K said...

A question that has nagged me ever since being introduced to your formal definition of Magic as a "change in consciousness according to will." Is this change one of content or kind?

I distinguish between consciousness and awareness as being states of either self-consciousness or without self-consciousness. Therefore consciousness is inclusive of the binary mind, self-reflection, thinking and decision making along with allied mentations. Awareness on the other hand can be described as sensory awareness in the immediacy of the present. Of course awareness is present to a greater or lesser degree in all moments of awakeness. These two words are used interchangeably by many.

So the question of what is being changed deliberately by Magic in the consciousness of the magician remains for me. The most obvious thing might be the contents of our thinking or beliefs as in a lot of therapeutic methods of psychology or manifestation type activity. On the other hand, the change could be the ability to forego consciousness once the intent or goal of a working is set, switching to awareness as the preferred state.

Innocent minds are curious about this issue.

avalterra said...

"I’d tend to suspect that they’d favor Brock Turner’s side of the case over that of the woman he raped."

I kinda doubt it as the case has no racial overtones. Now if there were a MRA occult group - then much more likely. But I have never heard of such a thing existing.

Eagerly awaiting your Julius Evola post!


Steve Thomas said...

Two quick ancedotes:

First, intention in magic. Some years ago, when I first got into magic, I did a working to attempt to help my girlfriend who was going through a difficult time. She had a job in another city about an hour away. The job was extremely unpleasant and the commute only made it worse. I didn't know much at all about operative magic. I made a chaos magic type sigil filled with the idea that my girlfriend would be happier, did a Golden Dawn-style opening, and charged the sigil as best as I knew how.

A few days later the transmission in her car died. Mission... accomplished?

Second-- Okay, actually this story is too embarrassing to repeat. But the gist is-- My one experience with using magic to influence someone in a way that may have been contrary to their own will worked very well for a while and then blew up in my face. This suggests to me that the Raspberry Jam principle is true.

I also have one acquaintance who told me that their magical "specialty" was "hexing the crap out of people." I also know for a fact that this person is miserable, with major issues of self hatred. That further bears it out.

At the same time there are things that don't quite make sense to me. So... a basic banishing ritual is meant to establish a space in which a magician can work. But doesn't it also clear out chaotic or hostile entities from the area? And if so, why isn't that subject to the Principle of Repurcussion? And what about exorcisms and the like? Why would it potential cause self-harm to banish a person from a city, say, but not to banish hostile spirits from your bedroom? Or am I misunderstanding how banishing rituals work, or something else?

On Silence--

"The same thing, interestingly enough, affects many other kinds of creative activity. Most writers learn early on in their careers, for example, that talking about a writing project is a great way to bleed the creative energy right out of it."

I have found this is true for every creative project I've worked on. I have literally a half-dozen unfinished novels that I petered out of energy for around the time I started either talking a great deal about them, or else putting energy into daydreaming about their success. Is not thinking too much about magic part of "silence?"

And Americans--

"so many Americans these days long desperately for a good excuse to hurt someone."

I think this is absolutely spot on. I made this discovery on my own started practicing "resolving binaries." I started with one of the controversial police shootings that occurred in recent years. I was firmly on the "Left" end of the issue, so I read everything I could from the "Right" perspective. I found out that I was completely wrong about what had happened, and there were well-known and extremely important details that major left-wing thought leaders either ignored or blatantly lied about. I found the same thing on the Tight, too. And I also realized that each side hated the other, and both were essentially calling for the American justice system to be thrown out in order to appease them. And I found that by openly questioning either one of the official narratives I could bring down the wrath of its partisans upon my head pretty quickly, even when they were my friends.

I wish I could say that I learned the lesson that I should keep silent about controversial issues, but I'm afraid I've only spent more time antagonizing true believers. But maybe that's a sign of the way that I'm not immune to American combativeness either.

Diotima Mantineia said...

Oh, I was so glad to read this post. The whole situation was really getting on my nerves, to the point that I was preparing to write a blog post about it myself. But you have made all the important points about this mess, and made them well. Thank you. Now I can go back to writing about astrology. :-)

dfr2010 said...

I've found quoting physics - "For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction" - to be the best way to avoid ideological argument about repercussion/karma/return/etc. As for how it works, especially when one calls down Justice ... I did that over a dozen years ago, and then racked up the only two speeding tickets so far of my driving life in less than a month. When it did come down, I was not happy with the form it took either.

Cherokee Organics said...


Happy solstice!

We had a dialogue many years ago on the topic of hexes and I certainly didn't need to be told a second time. They're bad news.

That was a lovely bit of magic too. Very thoughtful.

That particular call for justice sounds an awful lot like a call for blood. The problem I always wonder about with such calls is that you never quite know when the participants thirst for blood has been quenched. Or whether they have become acclimated to the taste of blood? Over the years I have had the unpleasant misfortune of being in the presence of the odd sociopath or two and the thing that I have learned from those experiences is that you never quite know when your lucky numbers will come up and you will be the next focus of their attentions - for they always look outwards for their next play thing and no amount of social capital will spare you.

My take on such matters is that if you associate with those people who are doing that (that includes the perpetrator as well as the people casting the hex) then unpleasant things may happen to you. That is part of the human condition - but you can choose to join in or not.

I find the whole thing to be rather disturbing from start to finish.

Incidentally, I’ve noticed that as more and more of peoples communication is funnelled through machines, there is a dark tendency for the form of that communication to take a sort of machine like command tone. It is very weird. What do you reckon about that matter?



Kfish said...

Well, that helps clear something up. One of the reasons I've been reluctant to get involved with magic is that so many of the people I hear talking about magic are human trainwrecks in their own lives: if you're privy to the wisdom of millennia, why can't you hold down a job?

It sounds like selection bias. If part of competent practice is keeping your mouth shut about it, the people arguing about it on the Internet are probably not a representative sample.

John Roth said...

Interesting point about wanting to lash out and hurt something. I've noticed that the word "schadenfreude" seems to have become current in certain circles, meaning "taking delight in the sufferings of another."

Shawn Aune said...

Vicky K

The most succinct explanation I've had came in the form of a book sub-title.

It is all in your head. You just have no idea how big your head is.

That book: Low Magic by Lon Milo Duqette

luna said...

A while ago I asked a question about magical safety - and you mentioned a future post on this issue was planned. The Rasberry Jam Effect sounds like a key factor - is that it, or is there more to it than that?

Many years ago I tried something to attract someone to me, effectively a binding spell. Now I feel that I am the one who is bound. Not to the same person (I managed, after much misery and with great difficulty, to escape), but a repeating pattern where I never feel free. How to undo it? And how to avoid the solution back-firing? I think I see the seeds of an answer in your post?

grisom said...

Concerning those illustrations: The Internet Archive hosts several high-resolution scans of the book, and it wouldn't be hard for a techie with patience to pick out the illustrations and convert them to JPEG. The highest quality I could find was this one.

I'm not sure I want to do the conversion legwork myself, but hopefully this info can simplify the job for someone else!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)


I have been wondering whether my idea about what magic can accomplish is more expansive than yours. When one uses Dion Fortune's formulation, a lot rests on understanding the meaning of "consciousness".

There's a lot of territory between learning to regulate and adjust one's own mental processes (possible within limits) and setting distant objects on fire without launching a fire arrow, bomb, lightning strike or mentally disturbed arsonist (probably not possible). Effects in the middle usually either involve social communication or depend upon invoking occult connections via other planes of existence, energies that Western science does not currently recognize, psychic abilities that Western etc., spiritual entitities that Western etc., the Doctrine of Signatures and suchlike correspondences, or all of the above.

I was prepared for the possibility that you were going to say that these sorts of Internet spells ask for results which magic cannot achieve. If you went that route, I would be interested in your reasoning.

I agree with what you wrote.

Nano said...

The shogohts worship Mars disguised as cowboy Jesus. ;)

Great post for sure. I haven't quite learned to follow the lovecraftian advice of "Do not call up that which you cannot put down" some times it's been amazing and unexpected but at others its not been worth the cost.

The mind and the body seem reconfigure in sync for sure. As a whole system does.

Bill Pulliam said...

That whole thing about "Ends not means" is so critical, but also far more complex and subtle than it first may seem. One can get sucked down a recursive mineshaft "I want money. No not money, I want secuerity and stability,. Well really I want happiness. And fullfilment. Well basically I just want peace." At the end of which you might be in a very peaceful coma... But yes the general principle of thinking about where you want to get, and let the universe find the path, is key in my experience. The path usually turns out to be something you had not considered. Because, well, if you COULD see the path, you would have just strolled down it without needing to use magic, wouldn't you?

Carried out regularly, magic "for the ends" can become rather like a devotional practice. Every day you are doing whatever it is you personally do to work magic for however you conceive of and express the most fundamental things you wish to bring about.

The whole thing about "shut the f' up" also bumps up against a similar phenomenon. If massive numbers of people are doing magic (intentional or unintentional) about something, your own spell isn't likely to break thtough the chaos. Fpr everyone who might be doing magic to make Trump's head explode, there is someone else doing magic to rush him straight the white house. 10 million people do magic to win the powerball every week. It may be sloppy, untrained, etc., but there is just SO MUCH of it. And in the case of Brock Turner, whatever you might throw at him is getting swept into a maelstrom of intensely strong feelings from a million directions. Good luck sending your little hex successfully through that!

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, the Cos. Doc. is quite a kettle of worms! I'll consider applying a can opener to it down the road a bit, though.

Vicky, depends on the kind of magic you're trying to do, of course. Some kinds of magic focus on changing content, some focus on changing process, come focus on changing what I tend to think of as depth -- as in, do you skate along on the surface of consciousness (what you'd call awareness, I think) or do you go deep enough to start to reflect on the contents of consciousness -- or deeper, to reflect on the processes -- or deeper still, to reflect on consciousness itself? All those are potential goals for magic, and all can be suitable depending on the purpose of the working.

Avalterra, based on what I've read, contemporary neo-Nazis tend to have attitudes toward women more or less comparable to that of the folks who frequent 4chan. Wasn't it the original National Socialists who wanted women's role in society circumscribed to kinder, kirche, kueche (children, church, cooking)? But we'll definitely get to Evola in due time; I'm rereading Revolt Against the Modern World right now in my spare time.

Steve, banishing rituals are misunderstood, and I plan on doing a post on the subject to explain why they're essential to balanced magical training and practice. The very short form? If your intention is "may this space be more balanced and harmonious," think about what kind of repercussion that'll have in your own life. More on this as we proceed!

Dio, you're most welcome.

Dfr2010, exactly -- talking about magic using metaphors from physics avoids a great deal of moralizing nonsense, while still getting the point across.

Cherokee, exactly. Once people get a taste for bullying, they don't readily give it up. As for communication through machines, exactly -- if you talk through machines, you start behaving as though you're talking to machines, and treating everyone else as though they had no other role in your life than reacting mechanically to buttons that you push.

Kfish, exactly. Lao Tsu may have gone a little too far in saying "Those who know do not talk; those who talk do not know" -- after all, he was talking! -- but there's some truth to the statement.

John, it's a very useful word for a very common habit.

Luna, yes, the Raspberry Jam Principle is an important part of magical safety. It's not the whole game, but it's a start. As for getting out of a binding you cast, that depends very much on the fine details, and on the way the working relates to your own emotional needs, including those you may not acknowledge to yourself. Self-knowledge is a crucial starting place.

Scotlyn said...

JMG - I have now divined the secret of your own bags of motivation to write and to complete project after project, which commenters have frequently asked about.

I have myself experienced the magic of these two blogs in my own life, and I have no doubt that the raspberry jam coating your fingers when you've stirred up another blog post is the plain motivation to act - details entrusted to the reader's own heart, body, soul and personal path. And there is the peanut butter, the ability to detect and clear away distraction, as a secondary spell.

I wish you the luck of the blowback sandwich. And thanks for explaining some things.

John Michael Greer said...

Grisom, thank you -- I'll see what I can do with those.

Unknown Deborah, good! Of course the definition of "consciousness" is the core issue in understanding the definition. I note that Fortune didn't say "your own consciousness," nor did she slap any other restrictive label on it. Philosophers have been pointing out for a very long time that our notion that consciousness is this little epiphenomenon over here, in the midst of a vast, lifeless, mindless universe of dead matter, is really a rather odd fantasy; the universe we actually experience consists of sequences of forms in consciousness, and we extrapolate from those forms to imagine things like "matter," "energy," "space," and "time." Seen from the right perspective, in other words, "changing consciousness according to will" could mean changing every aspect of the universe of our experience...

Nano, I'll be sure and ask the shoggoths next time I see them. Since they hang out with voormis and Deep Ones, they're more likely to worship Tsathoggua and Cthulhu, but you never know... ;-)

Bill, of course! One of the sneaky things about occult philosophy is that most of the things that seem simple unfold layer after layer of complexity as you actually start to deal with them. Of course the same thing could be said of life. You're also quite right about trying to shape events when ten million other people are pouring out their own concentrated emotional energy on the same subject. That's why spells for world peace and the like succeed only in making their practitioners feel a warm glow of self-righteousness: at any given time, after all, millions of people around the world want war, and many of them want it passionately. How much of that outpouring of energy will any one working neutralize?

Scotlyn said...

@ Avalterra - it has often occurred to me that the PUA movement is the operative magical lodge of the MRA scene... the essence of theory, at least, is to obtain female sexual compliance via tricks and techniques that by-pass her will and disengage her resistance by changing her consciousness. To my mind a very dark magic... if it works.

Bruno B. L. said...

JMG, do you have any literatura to recommend for those who would like to learn how to cast beneficial magic? Thanks.

Synthase said...

So is the principle of repercussion the basis of Metta meditation?

Seb Ze Frog said...

Good Morning.

On the definition of magic by Dion Fortune... I see here and there many discussions about consciousness, all very deep and interesting. And they all leave me with the feeling of being the slow on the uptake of the class. Am I the only one to be stuck with what "will" is ?

Is will able to perceive ? If so, isn't it part of consciousness ? And if not, how the hell could one change anything "in accordance with will", since will would not be something to have an accord, just... Pressure.

To my experience, consciousness shapes the flow of will (and I am speaking about all consciousness, not merely the intellect, which is, actually, not the strongest at that game from my own account). Therefore, I could rephrase the definition as "the science and art of shaping the will in accordance with consciousness".

The closest thing I have found so far that "tastes" as if it could get me further along this paradox are the martial art and zen books I have been reading. With Chozanshi on the first line. The statement is that spirit and chi are two facets of the same thing. Binah and Chokmah are two sides of Kether. It is awful: I feel as if the answer is lying there, but I can't put the pieces together...

Lao Tsu might have been exactly right: him who knows can't speak of it. When he speaks of it, the knowledge is not in his words (that's my take on this quote, but I haven't read the ideograms to be sure that I am not off). I "understand" the words, and what they try to say, but I can't "get it".

That's probably the time when I am asked to come closer to get an answer... and get a keisaku helping ;-)


DaShui said...

Enough of layers of words upon layer of words!
Raise your beer mug!
Happy Solstice!

William McGillis said...

JMG wrote, "One consequence of this is that the laws of magic, like the laws of physics, don’t care whether you believe in them. In magic as in physics, some things work, some things don’t, and some things quite reliably blow up in your face and leave splinters in your flesh."

I would love to hear more of your thoughts and reflections upon the laws of magic.

Thanks, Pierre

Ramaraj said...

These are the lessons my father taught me:

1. Always keep it a secret. It is between you and 'it'. It is no one else's business. So no bragging.
2. Don't dabble with it.
3. Be very, very careful when using it. It has all sorts of unexpected side effects. So use it only as a last resort, when everything else has failed.
4. There is always a higher power that can screw up the results if it wishes so. Be very wary of it, and respect it.
5. If you have a problem with someone who is making your life difficult, always aim for that person to stop hurting you, and never for him or her to get hurt. Leave the retribution and justice business to the higher powers.

The tradition I am working with has a view that everything you do and its effects are circumscribed by the things fate and divine intention have decreed for you. It is like negotiating the repayment of loan with a bank. You can pay it in three years or thirty, but you have to pay it, with the appropriate installments and interest. That's about the only choice you have.

It happens like this, you foresee a bad event or misfortune coming up in your life, and do something to make it go away. It goes away, but not without messing up something else just a little less bad. So you get what you want, only at a cost. This has happened so frequently that nowadays the choice is between, 'Should I do something for this trouble, or should I just take it as it comes?' (BTW, the second choice is not really that bad. It is surprising the amount of wisdom suffering teaches you.)

Also, Great post. Thank you.

ARTHVR said...

Hi John, I'm a long-time lurker on both your blogs, but this is the first time I'm taking part in the comments section.

Regarding the raspberry jam principle, it seems to be suggested here (http://ananael.blogspot.co.uk/2007/12/casting-curse.html) that blow-back from curses and other malefic operations is not inevitable. Rather, it stems from the failure of the mage to use a circle as an arcane hazmat suit and a triangle to contain the curse and to direct its energy.

Properly applied, do you think they'd function as described and prevent you from getting jam on your fingers?

Varun Bhaskar said...


If focusing on means rather than ends won't get the desired results, then how does one focus on ends when the ends are complicated? For example, how does one focus on being rich when being rich isn't one thing, but rather numerous things rolled together? How does focusing on the ends work, when the ends are necessarily complicated?



John Roth said...

Hm. Spells for world peace. If we apply that as a goal, and leave the means open, maybe this is one of the factors causing enough environmental devastation that extinction is a real (if unlikely) possibility. The peace of the grave is absolute, after all....

Eric S. said...

One thing that I do think is worth touching on with this particular case, that sheds an extra layer of complexity on this issue beyond the issues in operative magic it brings to light is the driving energy behind the working for many of the people doing it. One thing that sets modern Neopagan Witchcraft apart, because if its theology, the mythic overtones laid on to the figure of the witch, the symbolic power of the “perfect love, perfect trust” aspect of the old fashioned coven structure even for solitary and congregational witches who don’t use it, and the early focus of the movement on the feminist activism of its time have made modern witchcraft something of a spiritual safe house for abused women and rape victims (It’s one thing that I think ensures that Neo-pagan witchcraft as we know it is going to have a role to play for the long haul). For many of the people participating in this working, the rapist they were targeting was, himself an effigy or poppet for their own abusers and rapists, or for whatever abuse or injustices they themselves have faced at the hands of men while society has turned the other way…

And so, even though it’s not stated in the intention, it’s the same thing you see in cultures that practice some form of human sacrifice, or in Christian theology, or even in the lynch mob mentality you described where they aren’t targeting some rich kid, but rather using him as a microcosm of a much larger system. I think it’s very interesting that one of the more direct outcomes of this working was an outpouring of letters from other women writing with the names of their own rapists and abusers asking for magical help. I think the intent stated was very different from the intent many of the people participating in the working were putting into it… which confuses the working even more, since they’re unintentionally using the kid as a conduit for another unstated working. And so yeah… in part, you have to be able to do the inner work to know exactly what you want… so you can concentrate on that, and to narrow your focus. But it does make me wonder a little about conduits in magic… since it does seem like this person was essentially being used as a symbolic microcosm for a much larger system of injustice, but that wasn’t the intent thrown into the spell itself, which was very vindictive. Part of the issue with reigning in a magical working on a scale larger than a grove, lodge, or coven. One of the other things I notice with many of the more effective schools of magic is that they spend the vast majority of their time with students teaching them stuff that doesn’t “look” like magic… and is all focused on building up the inner self before ever working with workings more complicated than blessing or protection. By the time the student is ready to start doing stuff that actually “looks” like magic they’re usually going to be at a point in their development where it has lost much of its allure and magic becomes more interesting for its own sake than for anything that can be achieved with it. I had someone I know the other day asking me about how to become “good at hexing” (possibly in response to the whole hex campaign), and I told them to pick a system, work through the basics for a few months to a few years depending on the complexity of the system, and not neglect the philosophy and inner work or jump ahead… What I didn’t mention was that by the time they’d done that, hexing just would seem that exciting. Most of my friends who do offensive magic tend to do either binding, mirror work, or silencing and freezing spells (and I know of some people who even consider things like that to be hexing) and only when there’s a situation that can’t be addressed any other way, and even then I’ve seen kickback. Everyone I know whose done some sort of hotfoot spell to get someone out of a job or community they’re causing problems in, for instance has wound up having that person leave, and then wound up through some unforeseen circumstances leaving themselves in short order (not always because of something bad).

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Thanks again JMG, this explains a lot, and resonates with my experiences, non-magical though they be--
I have known at least 3 or 4 corporate security people who were really enthusiastic about arresting shoplifters and taking them to court. As you said, they tended to have craters of personal tragedy in their lives. In one case a guy lost his son in a motorcycle accident. In another, the child of a crusader against substance abuse became a substance abuser herself..
Mercy vs Justice: I think we all tend to want mercy for ourselves and justice for people who have wronged us. It is a powerful thing, if you can find it within yourself, to sincerely wish blessing on someone who has wronged you. Is redemption possible for a rapist, or are there some crimes for which there is no way back or forward...?

Patricia Mathews said...

@ John Roth on world peace: Leslie Fish's song "The Sun Is Also A Warrior." A badly distressed, good-hearted intellectual asks a Being for world peace. The Being warns him that there are consequences even to that. The petitioner persists - and they get world peace under a world ruler who "owns all wealth and he owns all the land. We starve and die at his command ... " The petitioner does an anguished "Take it back!" and the ensuing revolution brings down the empire in a violent and bloody world-wide spasm. [She has studied history, she has!]

She does not go into the ensuing Dark Age. She doesn't have to.

Maria Rigel said...

Sorry I have disappeared from this blog for so long. What actually happened is that I started on the challenge of writing a fiction story about magic and after writing the first couple of paragraphs I had a crisis of confidence. I started wondering if it had all been coincidences and my imagination. I'm sure that's rather typical for a newbie magician. The good news is that it made me go back and check things again, and in the process I discovered more stuff, which is all great. At this point I've written a story but before I publish it I'd like to check up first on the suggestion of a spirit. If I learn something new, I can include it in the story, and if not, I'll leave it as it is. The spirit was mumbling a bit, but I gathered that she advised to look at Enochian magic, and travel to one of the aethyrs in particular. Does anybody want to offer any advice or suggestion about Enochian magic? (I'm looking at Crowley's "The vision and the voice", I'm assuming that's a good guide).

I've read that Enochian magic is rather intense and it can give you a mental breakdown, but I'm a tough cookie. If the worry is that I might freak out, I'll just say, I never had more than passing curiosity about magic until I noticed something odd in a visit to Shugborough Hall. I guess most people that feel it just notice some little thing scurrying around the corners and don't give it a second thought. But me, I realised instantly there was a Very Big Presence there. Which gave me a good reason to look into magic. But frankly, I doubt there can be anything much more freaky than realising that there are Big Things out there and you have no idea what they are, including how hostile they might be to people staring at them. Now that I see things a little better and I have some notion of the lay of the astral land, I doubt there's much left to freak out about. But I'm happy to listen to any advice anybody has to give.

JMG, what you said about justice and retribution and the power of Saturn was interesting. I'm still learning the basics, and I know that's one of the basic things I need to understand clearly. Any suggestions to avoid making stupid mistakes? I'm sure common sense will take me a long way, I just want to make sure I understand the way mages normally think about these things.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Eric S., I agree with your analysis of the motivations of some people's participation in rape hexes. I would think that if a person experiences victimization, they need to rebuild their sense of self. Part of that is being, or at least feeling, more effective at resisting abuse than they were when the attack took place. The desire for this can be channeled into various kinds of activism: helping other victims to recover, prevention, or (as you suggest) making someone else's experience a proxy for one's own in order to get it right the second time.

Any of these courses may help with self-healing in the short term.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

The young demand justice; the old desire mercy.

I hear tell that in the late Sixties there was a hex called the Karma Dumping Run. The image is of a bombardier. The idea was that rather than specify what was going to happen, the spell would speed up the workings of karma so that the target would get everything he had coming to him, all at once.

I doubt anybody ever worked this spell twice.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@John Roth--Ursula LeGuin wrote a novel called The Lathe of Heaven about this problem. It was made into a British movie of the same name IIRC.

Virgil said...

John, this is an excellent post. A few things,

One of the most important parts of magical training is developing an elemental equilibrium. A person with an elemental equilibrium does not do things because he is angry. He does things because they are reasonable. The whole point of an elemental equilibrium is that your will and your reason dictate your actions, not your emotions. The Brock Turner hexing thing is motivated by anger, not reason. The people who created the event did so because they were angry. Not because it was a reasonable thing to do. This obvious fact, by itself, should make the whole thing very iffy in the eyes of a trained magician.

Introspection is another important part of magical training. I think on a surface level, the people who say they want "justice" really believe that. But if they would introspect, they would realize that no, that's not really what they want. They want vengeance. They want punishment. But these things are not necessarily the same thing as justice. This all goes back to that cliche but important saying - "Know thyself." Part of knowing yourself involves knowing what you really want. Knowing yourself is something you do right at the beginning of your magical training. At Step 1, when you make your soul mirrors, you examine yourself. If you find you have a tendency to start cursing and hexing whenever you are angry, you put that in your black soul mirror. If you find you have a tendency to make up excuses and justifications for these curses and hexes, you put that in your black soul mirror as well. Again, this is all Step 1 stuff.

I am with you also on sending healing energy to the girl. If anyone wants to get involved magically, that is the best way to do so. I recommend Rawn's TMO technique.

Candace said...

Reading about the complexity of magic makes me wonder if that wasn't a draw of early Christianity or other religions. Since it can be so difficult to figure out your motivations, what you actually want, for some it may have been easier to choose a deity that even if not omniscient or omnipotent has a longer perspective than you can have. So you go with that deity asking them to provide you guidance and protection, the discipline would be in accepting what happens. For instance when something truly awful happens believing that the outcome was the best of available options.

Thank you for increasing the understanding of what magic is. I am wary of attempting such things myself simply because I'm often not good a parsing out my motivations. I also appreciate the other wisdom you remind people of, that you imitate what you contemplate. I've been listening to books on politics in particular "Dark Money" and I have wanted to know how to contribute to changing the power that a few very wealthy people have over our society It's clear to me that a hex would be a bad idea, but I'm also not sure that praying for their happiness would be any better At any rate thank you for giving me more ideas to think about!

Kfish said...

Weird bit of synchronicity - Gordon White over at Runesoup has put up a new post just today about a large piece of magic that he'd been working over the last few months. He said he's been very careful not to talk about it in his regular blogging (and implied that he did that because he wanted it to work).

The fascinating bit is that his approach to magic differs from yours in just about every conceivable way, otherwise.

John Michael Greer said...

Scotlyn, I hope there's no peanut butter! That's one of the very few foods I can't stand at all. That said, thank you, but it's really much simpler; I don't own a television. That right there gives me the free time to lead the sort of active, creative life that so many people had before TV became common.

Bruno, why, yes. Depending on your choice of magical symbolism, either my book The Druid Magic Handbook (if you prefer Celtic Pagan symbolism) or my co-written book Learning Ritual Magic (if you prefer Judeo-Christian symbolism) will give you good instruction. Neither of them starts out by teaching you how to do practical magic, which is half the point -- to work magic safely, you need to put a lot of time and hard work into balancing yourself so that you can handle power without going gaga.

Synthase, you'd want to ask an experienced practitioner of Metta meditation about that. From a Western occult perspective, meditating on kindness is a good start, but you'd also have to express that either in ritual work, in your daily life, or in both -- this last option is far and away the most effective -- in order to get the benefits of repercussion. Just basking in feelings of kindness won't get you far -- as Zen masters like to say, talk does not cook the rice.

Seb, that's actually an extraordinarily complex question, because will from a magical perspective is far more basic than consciousness; we become conscious of something only if it resists our will. I'll plan on a detailed post on this as we proceed!

DaShui, heh. Layers on layers of words are how I celebrate.

Pierre, that's definitely matter for a future post, or more likely a series of posts. You've got one law, the law of repercussion, for starters!

Ramaraj, your father taught you well. The one place where I'd differ is that some kinds of magic are best used, not as a last resort, but as a gentle way of pushing forward something you're going to pursue using practical methods as well -- but of course those kinds of magic may not be what you have in mind.

Arthvr, nope. Those are purely protective measures to stop things from going haywire within the working -- as such, they're important, but they won't keep you from becoming attuned to the energies you invoke, and having those energies manifest in your life. Do you recall what Mephistopheles says in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus when Faustus asks him why he isn't in Hell? "Why, this is hell," says the demon, "nor am I ever out of it." Marlowe knew his magical philosophy very well indeed, and understood that summoning demons is the easiest thing in the world: all you have to do is descend to their level, and there they are. It's getting back up out of that level that's the hard part: Hic labor, hoc opus est...

Varun, in that case you start by figuring out exactly what about being rich you actually want. Very few people actually care that much about having X amount of money in the bank -- it's the things that the money makes possible, or prevents, that are important. So you take the time to figure out exactly what you want. If you end up with several different desired ends, rank them in order of importance, and start by putting all your effort into the most important. Get it, stabilize it, reshape your life as needed to keep it, and then look at the next thing on the list and put all your effort into that. Proceed from there, reassessing your goals at regular intervals.

John, true enough!

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, I wouldn't be surprised at all if that was an important part of it. You're quite correct, by the way, that effective magical training requires a lot of steps, and a lot of hard work, before practical magic is on the agenda at all. If you want to practice operative magic, you have to become a magical person, and that means you are going to have to change a lot of things about yourself that make you nonmagical. A vast number of people don't like to hear this, but then it's always popular to demand that the world should change so that you don't have to... ;-)

Emmanuel, oh, granted! Magic simply intensifies the effect, because you're focusing specific influences in your own body and mind. As for redemption, I don't think any human being is qualified to say whether another human being is or is not capable of redemption; it seems much more sensible to leave that sort of thing to deities.

Maria, welcome back. I don't happen to recall how much magical training you have already. I don't recommend Enochian workings for anyone who hasn't already done a great deal of appropriate training and practice already, and I don't recommend Crowley as a practical guide for anything at all -- if he wrote a book on tying your shoelaces I doubt I'd recommend it. He liked to put "practical jokes" in the form of garbled instructions inside his books. If you've got the basics of Golden Dawn magic down pat -- as in, have practiced it for several years and can do the usual ceremonies, scryings, etc. effectively without having to look up the details -- then by all means scry the aethyrs; otherwise, I'd advise against it.

Unknown Deborah, I'd heard of the "karma dump" spell, too. I never knew anyone who tried it -- nobody I new was willing to get all their own karma dumped on them.

Virgil, exactly. (For those readers who don't recognize your references, I'll note here that the White and Black Mirrors are notebooks used by students of Franz Bardon's very solid magical system, as taught in Initiation into Hermetics, and Rawn is Rawn Clark, a very capable occultist and Cabalist who developed a system of his own partly based on Bardon's work.)

Candace, that's not just a Christian thing; people were invoking deities with that in mind thousands of years before that rabbi from Nazareth started his career. As for using magic to change society, the classic advice -- and it's very good advice -- is to start with yourself. How do you depend on the injustices of the system, and how can you change your life so you can let go of the benefits you gain from it? Start there, and doors open...

Kfish, to each their own. There are many different ways to practice magic -- but secrecy helps them all.

Somewhatstunned said...

Presumably, JMG, you reckon the Rasperry Jam priciple also works in reverse. That's to say that if the conciousness you are trying to change is your own, then this will also affect other people (if you are putting jam on your fingers in order to lick them, it inevitably gets spread around elsewhere)?

(That's rather a nice idea)

ed boyle said...

Ok magic ain't my cup of tea old boy but i know hate boomeranngs as it poisons the soul. Love is the answer in liverpuddluan speak. Was the woman unjust in prevuious life or the young man done a lot of good which were extenuating karma? Weird thoughts. Changing consciousness willfully as definition of magic seems to have little to do with physical justice. Vigilante justice or helping poor woman would be normal emotional reaction to rape. Only ond is allowed under law. Otherwise the judge could be targeted for a recall or fixed sentences mandatory fixed by law or an appeal made to higher court or other jailbirds who despise sexual criminals and themselves serve 20 years on 3 strike rules for misdemeanors could make his life in jail so bad he would hang himself. Better he got hard sentencing. Public backlash usualy takes care of it. Say he gets out after short time on good behaviour. Ostracism, no job prospects, women know and won't touch him. These things tend to take care of themselves somehow. In reality though evil sometimes pays. British empire was built on drug trade.

Ing said...

"If you want to practice operative magic, you have to become a magical person, and that means you are going to have to change a lot of things about yourself that make you nonmagical."

This is a very helpful little gem on my haphazard journey into things deeper than I ever would have thought to choose for myself.

Chevaliermalfait said...

in the 'hex dept.' often just alluding to a 'hex' and not much else can be effective. Just let 'suggestion' take its course...
probably under 'to know'- means/ends dept.--a rule of thumb from my old teacher-"divine long, cast short"- a divination on the matter can yield a wealth of 'intel' on how to proceed... and 'forces' working for or against the goal, or perhaps things are already moving in the desired direction. One can then 'tweak' as necessary.
Henry Buchy

Eric S. said...

Re: Peace workings: One thing I often do when I'm doing my Druid grove ritual, and I begin sending peace to the quarters, which I see as a small scale magical working, is study the news in the global North, East, South, and West, and find a specific event in that region that I'm called to, and I focus my visualization and working on that specific event. Sending peace to a few small lives or landforms in the sea of horrors that the world is awash in every day seems to be a way of doing that work that can generate something a little more useful than a "feeling of self righteousness."

Regarding magical training, since you brought up the Druid Magic Handbook, I do have one small question on the system you've got laid out there: how strict would you say the specific approaches you take to them are in order to use the Ogham system compatibly with the Druid magic system you have in the book? One of the things I've found as I've deepened my work with the Ogham is that the kennings in the old glosses have been a powerful meditation tool, and I've been working with them heavily in that form, but of course there are huge differences between the way the Ogham is handled in the Scholars Primer and in the way it's handled by Graves and the Murrays, and there are some times where a synthesis of the two approaches has generated powerful results (for instance, with the first few of the Forfeda, I had a powerful experience of the grove, the salmon, and the rivers in Cormac's Cup when I was meditating on the writings on Ebhadh in the scholars primer, as the fish and the fair swimming letter, and its relationship with the more modern reading of the first Forfeda as Koad, the grove, and began trying that practice with the others, and have gotten fascinating results.) There are also some places where I learned things a different way early on (such as the ordering of the first Aicme, or the ordering of the symbols of the Forfeda, both of which I find myself the scholar’s primer approach feeling more natural and less forced). And there are other things that have developed in extremely personal ways out of meditation. I've internalized the letters, and have been using them effectively in daily divination for a long while now, so I've developed a relationship with them that has its own idiosyncrasies, and is expanding and leading to really interesting work. But that means that my own ways of seeing the ogham look a little different than yours and there are some things that would need to be changed (particularly when I eventually get to the pathworkings, which is the main place where choosing between BLNVS and BLNSV seems to really matter). So I guess my question is… how much does doing the work in the Druid Magic handbook exactly as is matter for the working of the system, or is there room for some tweaking and modification along the way when I find I have a different symbolic language? I suppose the equivalent is the controversy in Tarot, over whether swords and wands are air or fire… and in that case, it matters quite a lot depending on which deck you’re using. But since the Ogham, the symbols are the same no matter what, all that changes is how they’re read, and Ogham as a divination and magical system is a much younger (at least in its unbroken lineage) and still evolving practice, so does that make it a little more flexible? (I guess that question can be expanded into a broader question about interpretive wiggle room in magical symbols in general… is what matters turning the magical symbols into something that can pierce your subconscious in a resonant way? Or is it about getting the magical symbols just right and working with them as the system dictates?)

over the hill and down the other side said...

Thanks for the posting!

This may apply to your subject. I have long pondered why one should, in all matters, "take the high road." After all, the bad guys often flourish. What is the benefit of integrity, kindness, wanting healing rather than retribution?

Recently, I found one answer to this in Aldous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy." The answer being that negative thoughts and actions confuse and blind the person doing them.

There doesn't seem to be any downward limit on this. Extending this...one could say that if there is any area where a person takes "the low road," in that area he will be blind and confused.

Clarity of mind comes on "the high road."

Scotlyn said...

Several commenters here are grappling with concepts of "consciousness" and "will" - all very thought-provoking I'm glad to say.

For my part, JMG, when you raise the question of whose consciousness comes into play, I immediately wondered, whose will does likewise?

If, the universe is alive with multiple consciousnesses at multiple levels, is it not equally alive with multiple wills at multiple levels... both consciousness AND will embedded in the compound concept of "conscious agents".

And if there is a fallacy you, JMG, have oftened referred to as "expecting conscious agents to respond to our acts/desires like the buttons on a machine" (paraphrase) does this attitude lead to trouble when bringing other wills into play in a magical working? What if your working is aimed at by-passing or overwhelming or binding or rendering impotent the will of another?

onething said...

John Michael,

I have a question about this ends and means business. I don't have a magical path as many here, but I do occasionally pray to or talk to the universe. A couple of years ago I had some financial outlays and was having a hard time catching up because I pretty much make what I need to live on. So I asked for some money, around 1.5 or 2 thousand dollars. I couldn't really see why money would land in my lap (nor do I ask for such very often) so I kind of intuitively came to the idea that it was not needed for me to give the universe directions or ideas, and didn't really have any ideas anyway. I sort of said that I didn't know how the money ought to come and "It" would have figure that out. I felt a bit humorous when I said that and as you will see I got a humorous-dangerous-scary poke back.

A couple of months later I was driving to work in the dark on a day with some snow on the road; the road had been ploughed but at the county line the other county had not ploughed the road. I saw the snow ahead and took my foot off the gas pedal, intending to ease up slowly but as soon as I hit that line I lost control of the car. I tried but could not regain control, and I had a VERY bad couple of moments when my car was sliding sideways and should have dumped me in the creek in February, but there was a guardrail I didn't notice and it stopped my car. When I told the insurance guy sadly that I had been intending to sell the car (I gave a post to you about my downsizing and simplification) he said, you know, you will probably come out ahead if you take the insurance money, do not fix the body damage, and then sell the car as is for less.

So I got my money, probably a little more than 2K, didn't have the hassle of fixing the car. I was not actually ready to sell it for quite a while after that and that money was already pledged.

My question is, that event did not hurt me physically, but it freaked me out considerably, and has made me more rather than less afraid to drive in any snow. I left out the means but what did I do wrong? How should I have done it?

Patricia Mathews said...

Magical question: if someone is totally convinced that something is going to happen, keeps on proclaiming it, and urges others to agree and/or prepare for it, could that bring it about? Saving the laws of physical reality, of course. But having grown up on the Future According to Heinlein, and having seen the results of the Future According to Ayn Rand, and noting the incredible success each had (well, up to a point), one wonders.

Heinlein? A very large chunk of the space enthusiasts of the 1960s, whether NASA or Star Trek, believed in the FATH, and I think today's billionaire enthusiasts are 2nd generation believers. And certainly powerful enough believers in The Apocalyse, in high enough positions of political power, could touch one off with the touch of a button. And of course history is full of those who sold their visions or nightmares to entire empires, with fairly bloody results.

So perhaps the believers in the Deindustrial Revolution are working the same sort of magic?

Eric S. said...

"will from a magical perspective is far more basic than consciousness; we become conscious of something only if it resists our will"

Or to rephrase it in the language of another classic occult maxim: "God is pressure."

BoysMom said...

Onething, that is also one of my big concerns. I would want to be certain, at the very least, that in working for my desires, that others never be harmed, bearing in mind that one cannot always tell what is harm and good in advance or from outside--some people say later that losing their job was the best thing that ever happened to them, while others fall into depression, for example.

I've been reading Scott Adams (the Dilbert author)'s blog with some interest. He's been writing about Trump's manipulation of the public's opinions for months. He started off calling his idea 'Master Wizard' but later switched to 'Master Persuader'. But if I understand it correctly, Adams is, in fact, talking about magic. (I can't find the relevant blog post for the name for this category of magic.)
I also've noticed while the media likes to talk about Trump as being angry (I don't watch video, so it's articles and speech transcripts for me) that Trump says "I love *group*" a lot. The "I love *group*" repetitions--bearing in mind that I haven't watched any video--sound like they might be a spell to both protect himself from being racist and to influence his followers, at least some of whom are certainly in the group of Americans who wish to lash out violently, away from racism. (Given how few reports there are of racial violence instigated by Trump supporters, I'd say that, if so, it's working amazingly well. I'd expected many more.) My question then is, if one can, how does one tell if an individual is deliberately using magic, as opposed to copying something he's seen work for others?

onething said...


Good point. I could have said, "and no one is harmed."

"My question then is, if one can, how does one tell if an individual is deliberately using magic, as opposed to copying something he's seen work for others?"

I'd say that sometimes people, especially charismatic leaders, use that kind of magic instinctively, not consciously at all.

onething said...

Oh, OK, now I have another question. I've been told somewhen that you do not put out negatives, that the universe does not understand them. You can't say, I don't want this to happen. All it hears is the idea, whatever "this" is.

Rita said...

@onething--not sure about the universe, but two year olds don't understand negatives very well. So "pet the kitty nice" rather than "don't hit the kitty." There is also an old Eastern story (maybe Hindu, don't recall) about an atheist who spends his life ardently proclaiming that there is no god. When he dies, he immediately meets god, because he thought about god so much. Guess Richard Dawkins is in for a big surprise. There is also evidence that thinking about losing weight is counterproductive because the mind interprets any loss as bad. Better to think 'achieve healthful weight" or words to that effect. A lot of these traditional cautions may be in place to force the magician to give a lot of thought to the actual object of the working. In the case that sparked this debate, I would feel that working to get the judge off the bench is justified in that he has clearly allowed personal sympathies to sway his judgment. Since judging is what judges do, he has disqualified himself. Trying to bring a worse fate down on the assailant is more problematic. I bet a lot of people are out there hoping (and maybe doing magic toward the event) that he is sexually assaulted while in custody. If this occurs, it is unlikely to make him a better person. Nor will it help heal his victim. Two wrongs don't make a right.

As for spells toward an accused rapist--I think the safest course would be to ask a goddess to intervene appropriately with divine knowledge of the guilt or innocence. Of, course, this is prayer rather than magic, so outside this particular discussion.

As for 'karma dumping runs,' those few I have heard rumors of were done by groups--does that spread out the repercussions? Anyone have any experience of any such "get what's coming to you" working?

ed boyle said...

Odd experiences lately which made me look up concept mirror mind in buddhism. Quotes like the bhoddisattva is like a clear pond reflecting current reality without bias. I find I absorb people's emotions, character, experiences and relive them extensively like a professional actor does after intimately studying for a character role. It can bs difficult to get out of character ynd find mysel again. The whole process becomes more easy and fluid over time. In this way I understand deeply how certain people feel, think, move, experience good as well as bad. They become very 3 dimensional. It seems that energy bodyis like water pond literally, holding an image and spreading it through every nerve in brain, whole muscles, everywhere. Very little conscious effort neccessary but quite a long preparation in acquaintance with individuals to acheive such pure replicative results. Being 'someone else' can be irritating or pleasurable. Know thyself is a great line but I come to doubt it's usefulness as such an experience becomes more normal. As needed, according to situation, I slip seemlessly into correct personality. Some people can handle certain things better than others, intellectual stress, pleasurable moments, mechanical problems. This sounds like multiple personality disorder but is more a smorgasbord sampling a la carte of the best of the best. It just gets deeper all the time as energy increases and flow.

This really fits your definition of magic perfectly, wilful consciousness change. Mix that with buddhism and my memory of other's energy body, i.e. feelings, allows a real life technique to willfully effect consciousness change and increase emotional flexibility. That deep spirituality and artistic genius can verge somewhat on madness and that unfortunate artists and others often use drugs to acheive what spiritual practitoners acheive naturally is sad.

Sven Eriksen said...

So, evil magic, eldritch tentacled horrors, operative nazi mages and a solid explanation of the futility of political correctness mania spread over two blogs this week... I somehow can't help thinking that you often feature heavily in Mike Mignola's wet dreams, John... ;-)

John Roth said...

For people interested in astrology, the British vote on Brexit (11 Sag R) comes on the Saturn Return of the European Union's Single European Act (Feb 1986 - 9 Sag). It's also when the EU flag began to be used (it had existed for several decades in another usage).

Saturn Returns are interesting things; the First Gulf War came on the Saturn Return of the country that was being invaded.

Steve from Lakewood said...


I have been a follower of magic for some years, and will probably undertake formal training some day. (My 96 year old father lives with me now, and he is a strong christian, so the books are bought and put on a shelf for reading later, and the exercises, like the Middle Pillar, are on hold while he live with me.) But, I have read most of the classics from many of the various schools (including yours) and have taken many of the lessons to heart, with benefit. I had a long commute to work, and rather than responding to stupid or uncaring ("careless") drivers with name calling and profanity, I took the lesson of return seriously and came to realize that they may already be "cursed" and that living their life may be curse enough, and that there was no need to tie myself to their unhappy situations. Not instantly, but shortly my own life slowly began to get a little better. A little bit better paycheck (yay!) and other material improvements, fewer hassles with bureaucrats, etc., and I began to note that the bad driving I did see seemed to occur at least a half a block away, that sort of thing. Then they announced light rail to my area, and now I commute by train, with minimal encounter with driving. A slight change in consciousness....it works! It seems to help to be non-specific, like focusing on abundance rather than money--enough, and without depriving another.

grisom said...

Synthase: Yes! Here's a modern expert talking about metta, magic, and repercussions at some length.

John: I'd say formal metta practice is a magical ritual. Done correctly, it's an exercise of Imagination and Will; "basking in feelings of kindness" is not doing it quite right, though it can be a good first step. Acting it out in daily life is of course very good advice!

Dammerung said...

I find that overwhelmingly, what I've directed magical energy to in my life is something like trying to command from myself a more authentic performance. To become increasingly me. Overall, I've found the consequences to be not unlike those of driving too fast down a mountain road. Occasionally you find yourself in a barely-controlled skid, but the exhilaration is so high that I can't bring myself to downshift two gears and stick behind a plodding RV.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Dammerung: I remember a period of having repeated dreams of driving too fast down a mountain road. But when I got into Wicca seriously, my dreams were of driving into strong direct sunlight right in my eyes, enough to blind me. And yet, in those dreams as in the mountain road one, I always made it and never had an accident, but it was heart-stopping every time. Scary.

Repeated dreams MEAN something,they sure do.

ed boyle said...

After I wrote my last entry I read 26th canto of dante's paradise and he used the word mirror several times or more in the 3 pages, which did not happen before. I have often experienced prescience in my readings before but now I realize that the whole Commedia was an allegory, like sufi literature for example, of a torturous kundalini awakening. Seven circles of hell are chakras(like 7 in revelation s of john), beatrix smile carrying unbearable energy is a real life experience for me as well and at the end the holy trinity is god as an eye, where pure energy lies. A glance can cause real pain to me from certain women. God mirrors himself in chapter 26 in the angels. Nice to know, as in Savitri by Sri Aurobindo, that this experience portrayed in literature, revelations, etc. a constant over time, cultures.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Makes sense. One step at a time, while focused on the ultimate goal.

restfulleyes said...

While I agree with everything you've written here, there is something about Raspberry Jam Principle that was left unsaid- that it is simply another factor that needs to be taken into account in a magical working(not only malefic ones), and dealt with. To continue the Jam metaphor, after the Jam smearing session is over, it is common sense (and good manners) to wash one's hands.

There are still living traditions that are quite happy to cast curses, such as hoodoo or East European witchcraft, as well as historical precedents like magic of ancient Greece. These traditions usually contain and strongly promote cleansing operations that come before and after workings as a method of dealing with any blow-back that might happen from using malefic forces. One may even notice a correlation between degree of reliance on using chtonic and malefic forces (be it for curses or otherwise) and amount and frequency of cleansing done. In any case, Raspberry Jam Principle is definitely something that is and has been noticed by many practitioners, but it is hardly a complete obstacle to such workings.

I'm also avoiding question of ethics (personally I shy away from such workings, as I often find easier ways of dealing with my problems), but I feel that from a practical, operative approach it should be mentioned there is a way of avoiding the blow-back.

Eduard Florinescu said...

@grisom which are the pages that have the illustrations?

Maria Rigel said...

JMG, I hope you don't mind a couple of questions not closely related to post above. I'm sure you are familiar with the Great Work. What are your thoughts about it? More specifically, I've come across rumors that in the near future (meaning, within our lifetimes) somebody may perform the Great Work publicly. How likely do you think is that?

grisom said...

@Eduard, there's a list of illustrated pages near the start, labelled "CLASSEMENT ET EXPLICATION DES FIGURES". Note that the scanned copy numbers the pages differently from the printed book!

Eduard Florinescu said...

@grisom @JMG

I looked over the Doctrine on archive and here you can find an archive with the jpeg files, png files and vector files I made with potrace.


If I left something out, please remind me, if you find some in other edition not included here please remind me with a reference.

grisom said...

@Eduard, that's awesome! Hooray for teamwork!

The "FIGURES" list actually continues for several pages -- if I'm counting right, there should be 25 illustrations in all. The next one is a Baphomet figure on page 408 of the scan.

valekeeperx said...

Excellent post. You explain very clearly many things that I have understood intuitively or that were just below my full awareness. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and point of view. Your posts here and at ADR, and your books have been very helpful to me over the last few years.

Regarding the Raspberry Jam Principle, yes indeed. I definitely have had my share of personal experiences with this phenomenon. BTW, I discussed this particular post with my wife (Wiccan) and she said that she had seen some of the on-line calls for hexing and thought that it must be coming from novice practitioners who don’t really know or understand what they are doing or the potency involved.

WOG Commentariat,
Thank you also. I appreciate your willingness to share your experiences (some quite courageously personal) and viewpoints. These have been very helpful also.

Best regards to all.

Eduard Florinescu said...

@grisom, some of the references don't point to pictures and some of the figures are actually on adiacent pages, if you find that there is actual pictures that I didn't include and you checked them visually and you found them to be at the respective pages please point me to it with a page reference

Kfish said...

Well, I've engaged in some small-scale thaumaturgy of my own. The craft group I was elected president to a few months back is shrinking, moribund and trapped in a series of traditions that no longer appeal to its target audience. The members recognise the need for change but also fear it.

Today we presented our case for change and the presentation featured a number of techniques - a fearful future to avoid; a binary between change and stasis; emotional charges attached to both extremes. I noted the fact that the presentation was prepared by a professional marketer - though I doubt that she would appreciate her profession being described as magic.

Normally the meeting furniture is arranged in rows of tables and chairs. As I arranged them in a more lecture-like format, in order to signal that this meeting was important and different from the others, I started wondering: where is the limit in using non-rational means? Are good intentions enough?

jessi thompson said...

Ooh excellent topic, too intriguing for me to pass by without taking a crack at your puzzle. Is will able to perceive? I would say no. Will is action, it is what your consciousness chooses to make happen. It is based on the perceptions of consciousness.

"To change the universe in accordance with will" is almost redundant. But I will paraphrase my understanding of it. "To change the universe to reflect the thing that I am willing to happen" or "to change the universe so that my will succeeds/comes true."

The science and art of shaping the will in accordance with consciousness (my favorite sentence in your post) sounds exactly like the types of magick that work by changing subconscious behaviors and revealing subconscious motives.

I am by no means an expert in zen, martial arts, or lao tsu, but I have read the tao a few times, and I felt that a large part of zen practice was surrendering will and learning to accept everything in the universe right now exactly how it is right now without any labeling or value judgements, because everything is a reflection of the tao and the tao is perfect. Even when a master does take an action, he does it with no attachment on any outcome of the action, knowing that whatever comes to pass is the tao.

I think that in everyday life, zen and magigickal will complement each other well, if done correctly. Take a zen acceptance of everything, but when you choose to act, act fully, completely, in the moment, with the singular focus and unshakable determination of a mage, and then when the act is done, return to the placid acceptance of the tao.

jessi thompson said...

I don't. It would be more effective to talk someone else into casting the curse for you. You direct the energy with your mind. There isn't a geometric shape in the world that will keep it out of there.

jessi thompson said...

You could have done it with less humor and more humility. Or you could specifically limit the spell to only harmless results. Wiccans do this with phrases like "by the free will of all and with harm to none, this spell is done." Also, when you envision your desired result, envision also that you are happy with the outcome. If you envision yourself happily receiving a few thousand dollars, it's a lot less likely to come from an inheritance (and therefore a death) for example.

jessi thompson said...

Excellent essay! Thank you for sharing your wisdom. It's refreshing to find such thoughtful, insightful and relevant information, which is rare in our increasingly shallow world today. I look forward to then next one!

John Michael Greer said...

Somewhatstunned, excellent! Yes, and that's one of the beneficial side effects of certain kinds of magical lodge work -- everyone benefits from everyone else's jam-covered fingers... ;-)

Ed, depends on whose consciousness you set out to change.

Ing, glad to hear it.

Chevalier, one of the basic ground rules of magical practice as I learned it is that, before you do any work of operative magic, you cast a divination to make sure that the working is a good idea, and if it says no, you don't do it. Period. Of course, depending on your choice of divinatory methods, the reading may tell you a lot more than that, but getting an outside perspective on your plans is always a good idea, at least in my experience.

Eric, if you get good results with peace workings, by all means. It may just be that I've gotten cynical through overexposure to too many pseudomagical dress-up games in which the only noticeable change in consciousness goes in the direction of puffing up the ego. As for the Druid Magic Handbook system, if you prefer a different set of Ogham symbolism, by all means. The Auraicept na nEces, iirc, says that you should go ahead and come up with your own Ogham symbols, and so that offers little support to dogmatism there!

Over the Hill, a valid point. That's one aspect of the Raspberry Jam Principle -- to use occult jargon, it's a repercussion on the mental plane. There can also be repercussions on the astral (read: emotional), etheric (read: health), and physical (read: incidents of daily life) plane. No, there's no limit to how far down you can go, nor how far up.

Scotlyn, excellent. Yes, the question of "whose will" is as important as "whose consciousness," and forcing someone else's will to conform with your own is a very, very risky thing for an operative mage, as it makes it more likely that the mage's own will may be bypassed, overwhelmed, bound, or rendered impotent!

Onething, you asked the universe for something and it gave you that thing. What did you do wrong? Nothing, as far as I can see. Here's the thing -- if you ask the universe for anything, you can expect to pay for it one way or another. This is especially true of money spells. I'm probably going to have to do an entire post, if not more than one, on money spells; the short form is that they tend to backfire spectacularly if you try to get the universe to give you something for nothing. Ask for an opportunity to earn the money you need and you'll be much more likely to have a good result.

Patricia, to my mind, that's a weak sort of magic, in that talking about it ends up absorbing most of the energy -- watch a bunch of space travel enthusiasts these days and you'll see that in action. I have no particular desire to see the deindustrial future arrive -- as I've noted repeatedly, a lot of things I care about are going to be lost forever when it does -- and so my work focuses on encouraging people to get ready for what, after all, is the normal completion of the life cycle of a civilization.

Eric, and the universe is resistance to pressure.

Onething, that's a good rule of thumb if you're doing the "ask-the-universe" thing. It isn't quite so necessary in ceremonial magic, though even there it's better to state things positively.

Ed, some people have an innate talent for certain modes of magic. Others have to work at it -- and yes, others try to skip the work and use drugs instead.

Sven, hah! Funny.

John, hmm! Worth noting.

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, an excellent example! That's the sort of simple but effective practice that used to be taught by a lot of occult schools in the early 20th century, as an intro to magic, to give people a taste of what they were getting into and to give them something to work with while they tackled the distinctly laborious tasks of learning to meditate and studying occult philosophy.

Grisom, fair enough; you know the practice and I don't.

Dammerung, that's certainly one valid goal. As long as you don't push your speed to the point of causing a crash...

Ed, yes, that's one way of understanding Dante. It's not the only one. Be careful of assuming that because you can read something into a book, the author intended to put it there...

Restfulleyes, I'll quibble about your proposed correlation. The Golden Dawn system, for example, isn't known for its malefic workings -- quite the contrary, initiates are expected to pledge themselves not to practice malefic magic at all -- and yet your practicing Golden Dawnie does the basic cleansing practice of that tradition, the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, at least once a day. On the other extreme is the magic of the Picatrix, which includes some stunningly malefic workings -- when I was translating it with Chris Warnock, I was startled to find no discussion of cleansing practices at all.

More generally, though, cleansing rituals can get rid of some of the consequences of malefic workings but not all. I can't speak to Eastern European folk magic, but I studied hoodoo with Cat Yronwode and did a certain amount of research into trad rootwork, and it's interesting to note how many of the people who were famous for "bad work" ended up poor, hated, and burdened with various troubles, while those who specialized in positive workings -- I'm thinking here especially of the Reverend Mothers of the Spiritual churches, who won't do "bad work" at all -- tended to have much happier lives.

There are good reasons for this. If I may resort to the jargon of traditional occultism, cleansing workings affect the denser planes but not the subtler ones, and the subtler the plane, the more powerful it is as a cause of effects on planes further down. Since a malefic intention is formulated on the subtle planes, that's where it has its primary impact -- and cleansing can get rid of some of the short term consequences but that's all.

Maria, the term "the Great Work" has been given a lot of meanings over the years. Do you mean the alchemical Great Work, the confection of the Stone and its use in transmuting lesser metals into silver or gold?

Eduard, thank you.

Kfish, good intentions aren't enough. You need to constantly assess the means that you're using and ask yourself: if this were being used on me, would I object?

Jessi, who said that the will in question is necessarily yours?

Patricia Mathews said...

No cleansing practices at all in the Picatrix? Even fantasy writers know you don't use a system of writing that has no eraser, and every householder knows about using prodicts you can't clean up. Shudders - strike that book off any list of mine.

Maria said...

(The other Maria. :) )

Thanks for this series of posts, JMG. It's answering a lot of questions I've had. As always, I'm learning a lot from the comments section, too.

It's interesting how practical this stuff actually is. My (very basic) magical knowledge and practice have helped me to survive and thrive in a job where I thought I had about a 50/50 shot. (Others on the team, I found out later, thought I was much more of a longshot.) Meanwhile, my health, which was ruined by my prior attempt at dealing with a workplace bully, continues to improve. Your writing has been a huge part of that, so thank you.

I am intrigued -- and dare I say, challenged -- by this statement: "If you want to practice operative magic, you have to become a magical person, and that means you are going to have to change a lot of things about yourself that make you nonmagical." I will be meditating on it.

Maria Rigel said...

The alchemical Great Work is what I meant, yes.

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Suddenly, something about my life makes a lot of sense:

I've been using magic in a haphazard, untrained way for years (without knowing it), always for silly results (I realized at a young age visualizations work, and use it mostly for things like getting a top hat in London), and my life is filled with frankly absurd events, even when I'm not trying for it. That would likely be the raspberry jam principle, right?

I should probably start to try to focus it more, given I'm already seeing how powerful it can be, and I've not done much training to work with it yet...

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, the Picatrix is not a safe book to use. You can work with it if you have a solid knowledge of medieval astrology, philosophy, and medicine, and doublecheck everything, but like many books of its era, it's boobytrapped, and you have to figure out where the tripwires are. The wealth of really nasty malefic workings in it may be part of the boobytrapping, for all I know. (A note to any reader who might be tempted to work with it: before you use any of the herbal preparations in it, look up everything in a good modern herbal. There are apparently innocuous potions in that book that will quite literally drop you in your tracks, stone cold dead.)

Though it's not the worst example I know of. There's an alchemical text called the Red Lion of Trismosin, which instructs you to take gold and process it with certain acids according to a complex recipe, producing a sediment. You then pound the sediment up in a glass mortar and voila! The philosopher's stone. There's only one problem: that sediment is a violently unstable gold fulminate, and the first time you bring down the pestle on it, BOOM -- you, your laboratory, and quite possibly a significant portion of the block you live on are going to be blown to smithereens. Whoever wrote that had a very, very nasty sense of humor.

Other Maria, you're welcome and thank you!

Maria Rigel, such rumors get tossed around every few years. They're as perennial as the rumors that sometime soon the aliens are finally going to lane on the White House lawn, or the Rapture is going to happen, or what have you -- and like those rumors, they never turn out to be true.

W.B., good. Everyone practices magic all the time, whether they know it or not. The difference between operative mages and everyone else is that operative mages do it consciously and deliberately, choosing the goals of their workings in accordance with what they want out of life, while most other people do it unconsciously and automatically, and get whatever results their hangups and random psychological dysfunctions happen to have picked out for them.

grisom said...

JMG, what are your thoughts on psychological health and magical training? You've said in a few places that proper magical training makes you a healthier, more balanced person. Others, like Israel Regardie, insist that everyone should get Jungian psychotherapy first, lest magic drive them horribly insane. What gives? Does e.g. your Learning Ritual Magic curriculum accomplish much the same thing as psychotherapy? Was Regardie's magical curriculum just an especially dangerous one?

BoysMom said...

So as I consider my current physical situation (3000 sq foot 1950s house coming apart at the seams, eight+ acres of ill-maintained land, water right), I should visualize what it ought to be, with a particular focus on the things most in need of attention and easiest to change to more sustainable options? For example, the passive cooling system doesn't work right now because of windows that no longer open. My efforts to get my parents, the property owners, to agree to have these windows replaced, have thus far been based on logical argument, to which they agree quite readily until they are faced with a quote and a workman ready to go, then they balk. The appropriate magical technique to encourage this process is to visualize working windows and a cool house in the summer? The half-functioning electric ovens and range, I should visualize replaced with a nice wood burning stove. The fascia under the roof repaired and the mice barred from entry. The falling down fences and weedy fields replaced with sturdy fences, healthy orchard trees, and thriving livestock, with a cistern and windmill to move the water from creek to pasture/orchard.
I am working in The Upper Room, Chapter VII, in Experience of the Inner Worlds by Gareth Knight. I am deliberately moving very slowly in this practice, for I have much to do, and it seems better to spend three or eight months on a single chapter than to rush. Would I be getting ahead of myself if I added a few minutes of visualizing this place as I wish it to be to my daily practice?
And now, while my husband grills up a feast, I am off to work in the gardens.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)


Perhaps you should visualize the three of you together, on the property, enjoying one of the improvements.

Kfish said...

#CursetheTories and #CurseNigelFarage are currently trending on Twitter.

Eric S. said...

I just ran across this interesting piece on cursing and hexing over on Patheos, that seems to take the issue from a fairly balanced perspective, pointing out that just like any other offensive martial technique of the physical sort, cursing and hexing has its place in any world in which conflicts and a need for weapons exist. It then points out that there are consequences and blowbacks to prepare for if one is doing it, and that just like any other magical technique, mastery is necessary. The general rule this author uses is that if you wouldn't do it in real life given the opportunity, you probably shouldn't do it magically either. Looked like a perspective that would contribute nicely to the conversation over here:


Nano said...

@jmg - funny thought. I wonder if jack parsons ever messed with the Picatrix. BOOM! Rocket man!

Maria Rigel said...

JMG, I'm trying to understand better how workings for justice and the like actually play out in practice. I think it would be easier with a specific example, so I'll pick one: the Holocaust. I'm picking it simply because it stands out like almost nothing else in the astral plane. It's immediately clear that some Jews and friends of Jews used magic for help. It's also fairly clear that the Nazis did some counter-work, though I'm still hazy about what and how. I'm not asking about the magical detail, I just want to understand the practical implications. Since it's obvious that magic didn't stop the genocide, how much did it actually help, and in what sort of ways? I can see how magic would help some Jews escape Nazi Germany. I gather it also helped families of those that died in concentration camps get some compensation, though it's impossible to really compensate for something like that. Did it make a difference in other ways? I'm trying to make sense of how the cosmic balance works, especially in a situation as terribly unbalanced as that. Also, if WWIII broke out in the near future, would magic be able to help in similar ways? I'm thinking the world has changed a lot since then, and WWII in particular looks like it shook the astral plane like few other events.

If you think the Holocaust is too big or too extreme an example and it doesn't connect well to the sort of things that may happen to a mage nowadays, feel free to use another example to clarify how these workings may play out.

W. B. Jorgenson said...


If all it takes to be an operative mage is to do it consciously, then I guess I'm already one. I am still planning to do some training for it though, because it's a lot like playing a sport, to my mind: sure, I can do it, but doing the proper learning for technique is bound to help, no?
Even if it won't objectively make me any better, it will still make me feel more confident about it, which is a big part of magic anyway.

John Roth said...


About the Holocaust. I'm not going to try to talk about the magical implications, since JMG was probably more qualified to do that a couple of decades ago than I'll ever be. What I want to address is the more generic question of societal karma.

When someone incarnates, they bring in a lot of "stuff" that's part of the setup for the lifetime. Some of that's individual, but a lot of it's due to their connection with a social-level drama that they're participating in. When we talk about "Generation X" or "the Millenials" or "the Boomers," we're talking about a construct that has a reality on the Astral plane; you can probably find some of them if you're comfortable with astral travel and poking around the Astral plane. Not everyone in a certain time period is part of that "story," but most are. There are a lot of other stories that are intertwined. One very powerful story that's nearing its end is Progress. Another one that's nearing its end is Capitalism. Those stories intertwine in very complex ways.

The Holocaust is what we today call "ethnic cleansing." It's been a feature of society for thousands of years, to way back before written history. Contrary to what a lot of anthropologists would like to believe, cultural revolutions usually happen by the sword, not by peaceful diffusion. This is becoming really clear with the amount of "ancient DNA" that's becoming available. The "one world" story is one attempt to address this pattern; the idea is that if there's one society, there won't be the impetus to demonize the "other," since there will be no other.

To bring this down to individuals. If a death camp guard was following orders strictly and not causing any additional harm or misery, he wouldn't have incurred any individual karma beyond that implied in the "honorably serving a corrupt master" monad. He's still participating in a group story that spiraled out of control and will need balancing in the future, and will probably participate by doing something that involves helping people who are unjustly imprisoned or otherwise marginalized. Or he might directly attack the stories that perpetuate that particular practice.

There are a lot of these group stories that involve both balancing previous group karma and which create new group karma that needs balancing. The Holocaust is special only because it's still current: it needs balancing. A couple of thousand years in the future, it'll be of historical interest, in the same sense as the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Hebrews when they conquered the Promised Land. At least according to the book of Joshua.

Yellow Submarine said...

Regarding periodic rumors about someone performing the alchemical Great Work in public in the near future, your discussion with Maria Rigel reminded me a lot of Alexander Scriabin's Mysterium, which was intended to bring about the end of the universe via a public musical performance in India, but which was never performed in its entirety because he died young and never finished the composition.

Brother Guthlac said...

“Everyone practices magic all the time, whether they know it or not.”

Know what you actually want and focus, raspberry jam, and don’t talk too much.

Not to offend those interested in magic, but these principles seem to fit sacraments (in those religious traditions that might still recognize or admit to sacraments).

Especially raspberry jam.

onething said...

"If you want to practice operative magic, you have to become a magical person, and that means you are going to have to change a lot of things about yourself that make you nonmagical."

If I didn't also ask about this, I intended to.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@onething--An example is keeping one's word. Telling oneself or other people that one is going to do something and not following through weakens belief in one's own intentions and will. This is a failing I struggle with and I know it undercuts my magic.

Chevaliermalfait said...

here's an interesting take, i think is relevant to this month and last month's postings here. it introduces a new term 'Kafkatrapping'

Robert Mathiesen said...

What Deborah Bender just said! If your words don't even have power over your own behavior, how the frack can you ever expect them to have any power at? They who do not understand to bind and loose themselves will never be able to bind or loose others.

Myriam said...

Completely off topic, but this may interest someone so I'm hoping JMG lets it through.

David Abram, who is Jewish, has a simply beautiful explanation for how to pronounce the Tetragrammaton, JHWH, in this video (starts at 37:36)


The whole video is worth watching.

Seb Ze Frog said...

Good Morning.
Robert Mathiesen, thank you for your mighty answer to Deborah. I admit to have the weakness of understanding what she meant, on a very personal and directly experienced level. What is funny is that I also understand exactly your words, on the same level.

To me, this dichotomy between knowing the binds and looses that I (think I ) want to apply to myself, and those that I actually apply to myself is at the core of my struggle in understanding will, consciousness, and what the hell is meant by changing one according to the other.

Now, I am glad to have finally find one who understands and knows this right, and I would be very and sincerely grateful if you were to tell me how you managed to get to this level of power and freedom. Of course your direct experience won't apply right away to Deborah's or mine, but I am sure it could bring some light to some of the shades that still clobber our paths.

Thank you in advance for this

grisom said...

Chevalier (and everyone), you may also enjoy the same author's Cryptotheories and cognition, where he independently reinvents the same emanationism JMG described in his first post here!

Patricia Mathews said...


On my daily walk this morning, along Central Avenue, a woman was raking some dead looking city plants on a side street. When I stopped, explained that the City hadn't watered any of the vegetation along Central for *two months* because the Mayor wants to take out all the vegetation to put in his vanity Rapid Transit project, a cheap imitation of light rail only with pretty buses. Along the most overserved corridor in Albuquerque. Progress Forbid we put the money into the feeder lines, which bring all sorts of the Wrong Sort Of People into the area we want to Upscale!

From his public pronouncements I have a clear idea of what our mayor is thinking. "If we try our best to *imitate* San Jose, we will attract the sort of people who made San Jose great, and then we will be as great as San Jose."

Those who study magical beliefs will automatically recognize it as the same sort of sympathetic magic used by those who shake their rainmakers in hopes of bringing rain. Except that no magician with more than an hour's training would imagine that the mayor's project has the slightest chance of working. We're a medium-sized Southwestern city which keeps trying to bribe businesses to settle in and make us prosperous, and the ones we woo that way keep taking the money and jilting us after a few years. The latest theory as to "why?" is that we don't look impressive enough, it seems. Gaaaah....

Robert Mathiesen said...

Good morning, Seb!

Many of my insights into magic (for whatever they may be worth) didn't come from my own study of magic, but from various family stories and/or mundane studies of my own. The insight you praise came from my 'teen years, when I spent a good amount of time learning escape artistry (and lockpicking, which is part of that craft). I got so good at it that I even once recklessly tried the water-escape challenge, where others bind you and throw you into deep water, and you have to escape before you drown. I survived. (But I never cared to try that challenge again. Young men are more reckless in their 'teen years than later, and I was no exception.) Many of my ancestors were successful con-artists, carnival sharpers, or criminals, and I learned from the cherished family stories about their more striking exploits.

In a few cases I have actually taught magic to interested people, and I have always begun by teaching them how to pick locks, and also do what stage-magicians call "cold reading." Only afterwards do we begin exploring how to work powerfully with the imaginal world and to make imaginal constructions that are powerful enough to effect changes in the physical world. The line between an ethical spiritual leader and a skilled con-artist is razor-thin: both require an unusually high level of skill at "reading" people and an unusual degree of unflappable open-mindedness.

Hope this is helpful ... -- Robert

Robert Mathiesen said...

I should probably explain a little more about lock-picking as training for magic. A person learning how to pick a moderately complicated lock (e.g. a five-pin pin tumbler) for the first time will often misjudge just how much tension to apply with the tension wrench, and also over-think how to move the pins against that tension with the pick -- watching like a hawk what their hands are doing as they try to use the small tools "just so" -- so that the lock never opens. But as soon as you add a blind-fold, everything can suddenly come out right and the lock pops open. For most of us, sight is the sense we rely on the most and is the basis for most of our conscious thinking about the material world. Take sight away and our others enses -- there are far more than five senses -- become keener. Then we are forced relate to the world differently, and our old habits of thought about what to do are productively derailed.

And, on a metaphorical level, what is magic if not the art of picking the "locks" of mundane thought and action that tell us what is possible and what is not?

Phil Harris said...

Late in the day this month but fascinating. I think I understand your comparison btween picking and magic. I would be very interested for you to expand: "there are far more than the five senses". I can take guesses but whether they would ovelap with your experience I cannot know.

I have been thinking over 'bonds' and 'loosening'. There is a whole biology of what they call 'bonding'. Bonding in my experience tends to create 'sacred places', though I guess we must allow for the hellish ones as well.

Phil H

Robert Mathiesen said...

I think you're quite right, Phil, that "bonding" (in the biological sense) can create a sacred place. Numinous places acquire their numinosity from the interaction of the place itself with the visitor to the place, not from the unvisited and unobserved place alone.

As for senses other than the traditional five, one of the most important is proprioception, and another is perception of pheromones (by the vomeronasal organ). So far as I can tell, people are not able to bring their perceptions of pheromones into conscious observation, but some people do seem to be able to turn pheromonal signals on or off, or increase or decrease their intensity. They do this without any sort of conscious perception of their pheromonal output, but rather calibrate their emisison of pheromones by observing behavior in those with whom they interact. (And pheromones seem to be not only, or even mostly, sexual signals, but can also signal or elicit trust, fear, disgust, or general "creepiness." There is probably some connection between certain numinous places and pheromonal output, possibly dependant on the plant or fungal life that thrives in the place in question.

There is also what might be called "spatial sense," which can be connected with any of the senses (or several of them working together). Certain configurations of built or natural places seem to be inherently perceived as "spooky" or "uncanny." I suspect this is a holdover from human life long-ago in the wild, since the places of this sort I have observed in buildings all seem to be either (1) difficult for the mind to "map" comprehensively without blank spaces on the map, or (2) to include spaces thst are inaccessible or accessible only with very great difficulty. The common feature seems to be the age-old, extremely important question, "Is this a space where a predator could conceal itself from my observation?" Lovecraft grasped this well, see his "Dreams in the Witch House" with its trapezoidally delimited room(s).

Robert Mathiesen said...

And there is also something else, Phil, a kind of perception that seems to operate wholly apart from the msterial body and its material senses. I call it "direct perception." When it occurs, it is not delimited in space or time, but can perceive at any distance in space or time. "Direct perceptions," when they occur, seem not to be describable, or capable of being thought about, in any human language: there is nothing even remotely like them anywhere among perception through any material sense. They seem to be free, too, of any emotional color or affect. Perhaps the term "ineffable" is useful here. They are utterly transformative, without either meaning anything or eliciting any feelings or emotions. They are fundamentally inmhuman as well as ineffable.

There is a short anonymous Byzantine monastic treatise usually called (in English) "On the three methods of prayer." One might try to approach the Divine through sensory images (icons, hymns, incense, etc.): what one gets in thst way is illusory. Or one might try to approach the Divine by intellectual activity (logic, meditation on scripture, etc.): what one gets in that way is also illusory. Finally, one may try to approach the Divine by avoiding all use of the senses (aisthesis) and also by avoiding all use of the intellect (noesis): what one gets in that way is nothingness, but that nothingness is the final illusion -- do not abandon your seemingly worthless practice, but presevere. The final illusion will dissolve, and what then floods in on you is like nothing obtained either by aisthesis or by noesis, beyond all words and experience. Think of a darkness so dark as to be a light beyond all known lights ...

Phil Harris said...

I would like to continue this conversation as convenient.
There is quite a lot of overlap between us.
This month's comments presumably are 'out of time'.
I hope something transfers to next month and that others might comment.

I have been out all day (something directly to do with proprioception no less!) and have a busy weekend in front, but will try to thoughly digest.
I have some experience that suggests that certain kinds of perception (perhaps more than one kind) are as you say not delimted by time or distance. Some, for me, seemed directly shareable to (with?) others in the here and now. This is not 'telepathy' as far as I understand it.

to be continued I hope...

Phil H