Magic: The Challenge of Opening Doors

“I do not say that [Napoleon’s army] cannot come. I simply say that they cannot come by sea.

—Lord Saint Vincent to the House of Lords, c. 1803.

Tonight, I was a little overeager to do a path working. I’m working my way through a Druidic curriculum based on the Tree of Life diagram (Celtic/Welsh/geomantic/alchemical associations, rather than cabalistic), and I’m eager to finish before January, so that I can do my initiation to the Bardic grade in early February, which has special associations for me with the role of the Bard.  And that means that I can begin my formal training as a Druid, then, too.

But today, I rushed.  The druidic work I’m doing involves opening a series doors, if you will, between me and the path-working rites.  First, there is a temple to be prepared in the physical realm; then there’s a set of mental exercises to do beforehand, and then a set procedure to go through to open the temple in a particular grade.  Once the temple is open in that grade, there’s a further effort to open on the Inner Plane, where contact with spirits and with spiritual forces is easier.

It’s kind of like entering an airlock, really: first the doors to the outer world must be shut, then the doors to the inner realm must be opened, after some preliminaries to equalize the pressures between outer and inner. And it must be done correctly; as with an airlock in space, or underwater, there are fail-safes which prevent the outer doors from being entirely closed unless the correct procedures are followed.  And there are fail-safes which prevent the inner doors from being opened at all when the outer doors are still open.

Once these preliminaries are finished, of course, one slips into meditative and astral states quite easily — the barriers are lowered, there are no outside distractions, and there can be no interruptions.  Once, I was doing the rites before some friends came over for dinner… I lost track of time, and drifted in meditation nearly 45 minutes after I was supposed to stop.  I came out of meditation, did the exit procedures, passed through the airlock… and at that very moment, my friends all arrived simultaneously, having been delayed by traffic, construction, and whatnot, all fearing terribly for the delay… we had a fantastic dinner together.

Tonight, I skipped a step in closing the outer doors.  I ran through all of the other procedures, but nothing happened.  I went nowhere. Called upon the powers correctly.  Heard nothing. Called up the spirits. Saw nothing.

Instead, I saw and heard the sounds of the world, which normally fade away: my upstairs neighbor clunking around; my side-neighbor changing his laundry over in the basement; my dad calling on the phone.

I made an effort to shut out these distractions.  I called up an image of the gateway that led to the path I was intending to walk tonight.  It came… but it was immediately apparent that it was the memory of prior visits, and not the thing itself.  The thing itself is solid like a mountain is solid, vast and unknowable even though it’s only ten feet across and sixteen feet high or so; the memory is pale and wan, like a mist in the valley under the moon.

I did what any sensible sorcerer should do.  I undid my work, went backwards through my checklist, and closed the temple, snuffed the candles, and went back to my grimoire and guidebooks.  I found the mistake: three circumambulations of the altar during the invoking of the temple.  And for that, an hour of my time, lost.

Dumb me.

In another hour, I’ll try again.  I’ve got the procedure written out by hand in front of me, and I’ve re-set the temple, and I’ve reviewed my error.  I know that I’m going to do this right, probably, this time; and if not today, then tomorrow.  And I’ll power through it, and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

But there’s another side to this.  The walls between there and here, they are not easily breached. You can do it with drugs, though I’ve seen that end badly for a good many people and *I* recommend against it.   You can do it by living for extended periods of time in nature, or through special diets, or through programs of sleep disruption.  Those have their own problems, too.  You can do it with ceremony, and I’ve seen everything from Buddhist ritual to a Lakota sweat lodge to a Jewish Friday-night service to a full-on High Church eucharist, and a Pentecostal hands-in-the-air do it effectively, and reasonably safely — although, again, they have their own problems.  You can do it with dance and with music.

But after fifteen years of this, I’m more or less convinced that opening this door between here and there cannot be done by closing one’s eyes, wiggling one’s nose and wishing.  At least, *I* cannot do it.  And I tend to look askance at those who can, or who claim that they can.  When I look at people face-to-face who I think can communicate with spirits, I find that I see a transformation, a clarity, in them, which is difficult to hide and even harder to fake.    I’m going to have to think long and hard about whether this is a matter of my own strengths and weaknesses; or whether I hold this as a general principle. But my heart and my own experiences such as this evening, as well as my rational faculties, tend to suggest to me that not everyone who claim communication with the spirits from moment to moment can genuinely do so.  It simply seems that it is too difficult, and requires substantial practice on the part of most people, that there could be so many who can achieve it so easily.

I’m writing this entry in part to revisit this issue later.  But if you have thoughts or responses, please feel free to comment.

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  1. […] That basic lodge work is formal because its destination is formal. It is why it works best with the system of airlocks that Andrew so well-described recently. Without those airlocks, the noisy hurly-burly of daimonic reality tends to make it hard […]

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for this great post! Your descriptions and analysis, are IMO, excellent and bang on the money 🙂 I really like the air-lock analogy. If I may be so bold, I will paste some text from a recent lecture I gave that resonates with your observations and experiences.

    I think a very important aspect in magic, getting from here to there, is not only the safeguarding of the sovereignty of the self here, but the strengthening of that sovereignty. In this way we can withstand the movement/earthing of the vast spiritual powers we contact through ourselves to the earth. And thereby we become one of millions of humble vehicles for the One. 🙂

    Anyway, GREAT post ! 🙂

    “To illustrate with metaphor: we are all born into a box.

    This box defines who we are; our identity, our viewpoints, our consciousness and thoughts. Not merely how we perceive, feel, think and experience but what we are ABLE to perceive and experience – our entire reality. The box’s edges are our limits of experience, and are generally and roughly shared with most people born into the same culture and time. Generally this boxed consciousness may be called ‘the lower self’. In Golden Dawn terms it is state of the ‘natural man’, borrowing from St Paul.

    In the ordinary course of events we never cross the boundaries of our box into the vast unknown, and there are only a limited number of ways we may do so: typically through trauma, drugs, consciousness changing sexual practices, the immediate presence of inner-plane beings and spiritual practices (here defined in a broad sense to include practices like artistic vocation).

    In all of these cases our consciousness is affected: either our consciousness is forced out of the box and into the unknown – as occurs during trauma when the pain and pressure of what is occurring within our box is too great. Or, the boundaries of the box become diffuse or broken, and the unknown, the mystery beyond the box seeps into our consciousness – for example through the unwise use of drugs such as LSD.

    The only way we can control this movement of consciousness out of and back into the box safely – with the boundaries of the box not only maintained but strengthened – is through the spiritual arts such as magic. And this is why the Golden Dawn exists. The fact that it offers clear, accessible and understandable spiritual technology to enable this crossing is why it is still the foremost magical Order in the west.

    To examine this metaphor in another way: we need to awaken from the biggest lie we have all been taught to believe – that we have an individual separate existence, that we are real, complete entities in and by ourselves. That our box, our separate identity is real, that all outside the box is either unreal or ‘not us’. In actuality of course it is the box which is unreal, and it is that which will perish and die when we ourselves die.

    The awareness and practice of moving our locus of consciousness out of and back into the box develops what is generally called, ‘the Higher Self’. The mystery beyond all boxes that the Higher Self interacts with and is a part of we may call ‘God’, ‘Goddess’, ‘Mystery’ or the One. In Golden Dawn terms those who are aware of this reality and participate consciously with ‘the Higher Self’ in co-creation of themselves and healing of the world are called ‘Adepts’.

    If we have consciously gone beyond the box in our lives, if we have done the hard miles of spiritual work and know our true self and do not identify with the box, all well and good. Otherwise the shattering of our box when we die will be the most traumatic event we experience and to quote Gurdieff we will ‘die like a dog’.”

    • Dear Peregrin,

      Thanks for the note and the encouragement. Sorry about not responding immediately. There’s a lot going on around here, including the preparations necessary to become Master of the Hall, in the words of a recent post of yours… not so much of a temple with two pillars, as a workshop with a couple of drill presses and a band saw. 🙂 Strange that my Higher Self is calling me to work with the tools of artisans… but sometimes that’s how it goes. And it’s fun!

      I think I would add to the airlock metaphor after a few days, that the more we practice entering and exiting the airlock, the easier it becomes to remember the checklist, and to understand how the airlock works.

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