I was having a nice conversation with my husband recently about magic. I love that my husband is a relative newcomer to Paganism and magic, but he has managed to circumvent that whole “have to find a box to fit myself into and get all the right bells and whistles before I can hope to do magic or call myself a Pagan” thing.
I think that is so cool, because there is so much pushing the other way in Paganism, partly I think because people are insecure and want to “belong”, partly because we have the hangover of ritualistic occultism as an inheritance, partly because there are parts of neopaganism that want very very badly to be taken seriously as “real religions”.
I’ve been there and I’ve done that, though it was a long time ago in a pre-internet age. I was delighted when Paganism and magic became more open and individualized, though some people are still crying about that.
About time, and a breath of fresh air it was too. It took me a long time to listen to myself and my own heart, to cultivate intuition, and to trust my own inner senses. I’d like other people to get it a lot quicker.
Self-doubt and over-trying are understandable. It’s what most of us do, and if we haven’t got a physically present mentor then searching for what is actually just our own natural self in everything that isn’t us is what we often do, until we finally come home to our real beginning, waiting there all along. You also have to be honest with yourself, and an amount of self doubt is healthy at first.
Knowing how much effort, search and striving it takes many people to find that non-striving thing, you have to ask yourself, is there a simpler way? Not that search and effort is a bad thing, but you don’t want some kind of Protestant work ethic, some high church where form outweighs content, or something akin to an academic course with a presumed rubber stamped certificate at the end. Difficult doesn’t equal more real. That really isn’t spirituality, and it ain’t much of a life either.
An awful lot of people who approach magic and Paganism are sincere. They are really looking for something, or feel a calling there, an aspiration. And that is enormous, because what people are doing is discovering spiritual intention, and spiritual intention will carry you through. It gets answered.
Gently exploring intention should I think be one of the foundation practices of magic. Never mind the endless, grinding practices of honing the will and sharpening the imagination (it shouldn’t be grinding – and if it’s grim it really isn’t doing it), intention really is a key, because energy follows intention, and intention gets answered. I think people understand intention better than they understand will, without fetishizing it, or turning it into a kind of psychic constipation. Just my opinion.
Visualization is another thing. We all know that imagination and visualization are important in magic. But not everyone imagines visually, or at least clearly. However, everyone visualizes just fine for themselves. Visualization truthfully is a stand in term for all our inner senses, and frankly in my book, feeling is the royal inner sense. It is the tone that is modulated into other sounds, the lamp that lights the projector. It might be different for you but the point is, in your practice, it’s how you work that counts. What it all transmits is (yup) intention. So play with it, it’s not a university course, and no one is going to give you a degree, and no one of any sense is going to judge your inner experience but you.
Ritual is another one of those things which people can get hung up on. Again, not surprising: you can see what happens in ritual, you can enumerate it, reproduce it, get it “right”. Ritual gives us a sense of certainty, the sort of finished certainty which isn’t actually like life. Part of me loves ritual like I love old books, beautifully landscaped gardens, or well arranged museums. There is art and craftsmanship there. And it is an art of potentially great beauty and undoubted efficacy, but once you’ve got it, it gets to be, well ritualistic. Of course any good ritual is one that works as simply as possible for you, but some things are meant to fall away, and some things aren’t needed. When you’ve learnt to roller skate, you just go, and an amount of ritual is crutch and learning tool, an amount is just elegant movement. Ultimately the dance should be how you and life move.
One of the most fruitful things from my point of view is the practice of discovering what you truly hold dear in yourself and in life, and doing that without the restrictions of received, inherited teaching or training. This is also like investigating, with more than just one part of yourself, one’s inherent sense of “the good”. It’s a foundation which I think everyone needs in one form or another, and it’s something which we instinctively try to do anyway.
My own sense of magic I understand in terms of relationship and interrelationship, pattern, holism and intelligence. Energy has inherent intelligence, and magic is intimately wrapped up with the process of change. Magic changes the world, and it changes us. The process of change and becoming is intelligent. It is a language that ultimately speaks both “us” and the world. We are in a miraculous process of communication.
Such is an inherent part of magic. All that calling and asking – that’s real for me. And the listening, and the practice that helps you find the amplification of the subtle, and the translation capacity of your own inner senses – that’s real for me. If you can pray or wish as purely as a child can, then you can do magic. The gods of the heart are not distant or unconcerned. We have real relationships with them, and when you understand that, that is when things really start to flow.
Above all, the key to magical living is the opening of the heart in my view. That is something that can only happen in its own time, though knocking on the door has its place. The head is full of obstacles and pictures of the world that are upside down and back to front. It is through the heart that we see and hear truly, and that is within everyone (or you could say that everything is already within the heart).
But you know nowadays if someone asks for leads on books for a beginner on magic, I recommend stuff which makes some “hardcore Pagans” hiss. And I do it because it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks, I think it works as simply as possible, in the easiest and most balanced way, and that’s what people need. They need something they can start to make their own, not something that will brand them “one of us”.
So if you want a guide to visualization that will lead you into magical processes that you can work with in your life right now, try Shakti Gawain’s “Creative Visualization”. Yes it’s “new age”, and it’s brilliant, accessible, and beats any occult reference material on the subject I’ve ever found.
If you want a basic primer on magical theory that as simply as possible shows how magic can be a life affirming spiritual practice, try Marion Weinstein’s “Positive Magic”. Sure she is a little whacky, and says some silly things about some subjects, but there is plenty of subtlety and coherence in her work, and her ethical basis is sound and clear. Spell work, the poor relation of “high magic”, actually has a very luminous and open ended potential for spiritual growth.
If you want to explore energy work (and you will in any case once you start practicing), try learning a simple and free flowing technique like Reiki*. You’ll get to play and experience all kinds of things about intelligent energy, relationship and intuition, and you’ll do it quite naturally.
And if you want to find the “big” mystical stuff, study the many different wisdom traditions there are in the world. It may or may not be what you are actually looking for. You may be surprised (or not!) at what counts for you at the end of the day.
Above all though, you follow your heart, develop intuition, and love. I really do believe that the truth is simple. It’s all the wrong questions that are complicated. In light of that, many solutions can be very fast, and some instantaneous.
If in doubt, heal. Healing is the lingua franca, the Rosetta Stone, of mysticism.
And here’s a little gem I really like:
* I recommend these folks.