From time to time I get a sequence of private messages from someone who’s started a serious magical practice — Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki’s Ritual Magic Workbook, for example, or John Michael Greer’s Learning Ritual Magic, or Donald Michael Kraig’s Modern Magick, or the granddaddy of them all, Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn — that brick of a book more suitable as a doorstop than a practical training manual.
There’s some variations on the conversation. First there are some general questions —
- What is this ritual for?
- Why am I doing this particular ritual?
- Am I doing this other ritual correctly?
- What does this thing in this ritual mean?
- I’ve been doing this thing for a few days now and nothing is happening. Am I doing something wrong?
You’ll notice that these are technical questions about the work. They’re phrased generally here, but usually they’re more specific — the pronunciation of a word, the reason we do such-and-such a thing in this ritual or that. Sometimes the questions are more philosophical too: not just how but why a ritual should be done. No one follows the directions exactly, either, which usually leads to problems later.
The second conversation usually amounts to a slightly different set of questions. They’re not less important, but maybe a degree of trust has been established in the first set of questions, and they’re ready to go deeper. These questions look more like….
- Is this the kind of result I should be getting from performing this magical working?
- This thing happened to me. Is this normal?
- My dreams are getting peculiar. Is this to be expected?
- I did this ritual, and then this thing happened, that wasn’t exactly likely, but it did happen… are they connected?
- I’ve been doing this thing for two months, and it’s sort of boring… but there’s parts of my life that have sort-of improved, and other parts that suck. Am I doing something wrong?
- I’ve found out about this other kind of magic that’s maybe more interesting and effective than what I’m doing. Should I change tracks? (the answer, by the way, to this specific question, is no).
By this point, Stuff! Is! Happening! But other stuff isn’t. And it’s really hard to tell if the first stuff happening, and the magic, and the second stuff not happening, are actually connected or not. Are they? Aren’t they? The person begins to question whether this magic is doing something at all, or if unconnected events are not just happening at the same time, but more than merely coincident, are causal.
And then the third conversation occurs after about two or three months (but sometimes this happens on the second conversation, and a lot earlier, maybe after only two weeks) occurs. And once again, a level of trust has been established somewhere along the way, and now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of the work.
- I deviated from the script, this genuinely terrifying thing happened, and now what do I do?
- This weird scary thing happened, and I don’t know what to do about it. Should this be happening?
- I’ve been at this magic thing for months, and I don’t know if I can go on doing this. My girlfriend is leaving me, and I lost my job, and the magic isn’t doing anything. What am I doing wrong??
- My life is falling apart, and I don’t know what to do about it. What should I do? I don’t know how to cope with all of this! Help? Please??!
Whups. You did magic reliably, and you’re getting results — and you’re surprised?
I’d like you to go back through those questions above, and see that there’s a progression here. At first, you’re absorbed in the technicalities of magic— the format of the rituals, the formality. And then there’s moment when a combination of oddities arises in other parts of your life, and the magic kinda gets boring. And then finally (or sometimes a lot sooner than you’re ready for), all sorts of stuff goes wrong in your life, and it feels like your world is falling apart.
You began a magical operation to bring radical change into your life. Ten minutes a day, maybe twenty, some days forty minutes. You’re two weeks in, that’s maybe five hours, maybe ten, into the biggest magical operation of your life. And now you’re surprised that it’s working?
This is what happens to people who decide to have magic in their lives, folks. The parts of their lives that are not magical, fall away. That significant other, is possibly not magical enough. If you genuinely love this person, this is the time to grab on, and take them with you, because you are not staying here, in this ordinary life. The whole world is going to go for a run, Alice Through the Looking-glass-style, while you’re working your way into a magical practice — and anything that you haven’t grabbed hold of and proclaimed with joy, “we’re partners in this,” has a very good chance of slipping away.
That job… is it a dead-end? Is it soul-sucking? Is it unholy, or mentally or physically crippling? Is it vicious or cruel to people, particularly the job-holder? Will you wither and die in that work?
That option to go off and join the military… you’ve just started to wake up to the potential of your own mind, body, and soul… and a few scary things leap out at you from the shadows, and suddenly you want to run screaming into the waiting arms of the Homeland’s defense forces. They’ll take care of you, mind, body and soul: in fact, if you’re so interested in demons, they’ll put some right in your brain to torment you for the remaining days of your life.
Or maybe a radical commitment to Jesus seems like the best thing right now. All this crazy stuff in your head, in your world… Jesus would take care of that. If you just become a church-going person, you can be normal. You can go back to being ordinary. I can stop doing this magic-stuff two or three times a day, just go to church on Sundays, get down on your knees and confess, pray for forgiveness for daring to set your sights higher than your allotted station in life — to be a God-fearing person who’s faithful to the end.
Or, you know… Buddhism suddenly seems really appealing. I don’t have to be around people… I could just meditate every day, shave my head, get really into the sutras, talk about radical enlightenment all the time, and throw my nose disdainfully in the air and talk about getting off the wheel of reincarnation, the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path… yeah, I don’t have to perform all these rituals… I could just go for supreme tranquility. That’s the ticket. Yeah!
Let me offer a counterpoint.
The experiences you are having are normal.
The terrors you’re experiencing? Normal.
The weird experiences? Normal.
The feelings like if you just got down on your knees and groveled before God for forgiveness, it would all go away? Normal.
The demons from your past or your future haunting you? The angels declaring that you’re on the verge of becoming the Chosen One? Normal.
Your real-world life falling apart? Your girlfriend leaving you? Your boyfriend abandoning you? The half-brain-dead manager finally giving up on you and firing your ass for being late/insubordinate/felonious/customer-unfriendly/a-risk-to-his-job… yeah. That’s normal too.
This is magic’s way of shaking the foundations of your world, to see what you’re planning on keeping hold of. You can’t start a magical operation to transform your life, and expect everything to remain the same. It doesn’t work like that. That’s not how any of this works, you see.
Magic, particularly initiatory magical training programs like the books mentioned at the start of this article (which is getting longer by the minute), are designed to Change.Your.Life. Top to bottom. Inside out. Above to below. Within to without. And vice versa, in all cases.
Sometimes they do that gently, and sometimes… not so much. You have to understand, that you have chosen to do this thing — to become a practicing, operant magician — and your life may not be in the kind of shape that a working magician can have. This can be… troubling, especially to beginners. It’s also the case that some currents or flows of magic are more likely to cause upheavals than others, and the path that is gentle for some, looks like deep catastrophe to someone else. Its first task is uprooting you from comfortable patterns and dead-end experiences. So don’t try to grab hold of all the familiar things, and say, “no I’m keeping this!” You’re being invited to consider carefully what’s worth saving, what’s holding you back — and you probably won’t get to keep it all. Job, partner, residence, vehicle, friends, family relationships, just about anything and everything is potentially on the block.
So… give the magic time to work. If you’re taking the time to actually practice magic, then Let. Magic. Do. Its. Thing.
At the same time, be prepared to work alongside and with the magic. If you’re about to lose your job, don’t try to keep it — Go find a new one. Keep doing magic; if the new job isn’t the right one, it’s OK — you’ll leave that one too, and find a new one. Your romantic partner is doing something that’s outside your commitments to one another (or you are? Be honest, here)… it may be time to end things as amicably as possible, and find someone new (or if you love them, to renegotiate your commitments and hold on tight). But keep doing magic. The rent is due on your home, and it’s a terrible place to live anyway? Find some new place… but keep doing magic. Need to move to a new city? Make a plan… but keep doing magic.
Magic can’t do everything. But it can do a great deal more than most people thing. And one of the things it CAN do very well is provide a firm and stable center while all around you is changing.
But it’s important to recognize — you didn’t take up magic because you were bored. You took up magic because you were trapped. Recognize that you have found the keys to unlock the cell — don’t make your first move, a step back into the cage.