What We Mean By Magick

Magick – What it is And how it is Used in The Order

Magick (it is often now spelled with a ‘K’ to distinguish it from stage illusionism) attracts lots of interest, often combined with correspondingly little actual knowledge. It conjures up (sorry for the pun!) vivid ideas and images. One of those images is the evil Magician, in long hooded robes, standing in his magic circle and calling up demons to do his bidding. He’s not someone that you would like to annoy, or even to have as a neighbour. People who don’t believe that the Magician has actual magic powers still imagines that he is in it for the ego trip, the sex and the power over others.

Recently the stereotype has been centred more around Harry Potter. His antics in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have brought him international fame and given the impression that magic is about wands, spells and potions, all of which can, at the flick of a wand, create huge changes to the universe without leaving the outside world any the wiser.

Possibly the most prevalent view of Magick is that it is merely a bunch of sad inadequates who like to dress up and give themselves high sounding titles to make up for their bleak, empty, pointless suburban lives; a sort of Freemasonry without charitable donations but with regular nudity and sex.

I can’t pass over popular definitions of Magick without mentioning sex again: it is popularly supposed that sex is a key component in Magic, and that Magickian will, at least, be irresistible to the opposite sex. Money and power also come into it somewhere.

You will not be surprised that I don’t think any of the above is really what Magick is about, although I do recognize some elements of truth in all of them. But it really isn’t that easy to define what Magick is, and this is a problem that Magickians have had over the years, often coming to blows about it. This introduction is about what I think Modern Magick is and how it’s done, as well as our programme for training in Modern Magic.

It is also relevant here to say that I am a psychotherapist, counselor, coach and facilitator, so I see Magick very much in psychological terms. Actually I see the processes of psychological development and Magickal development as parallel ones, with huge areas of overlap.

Aleister Crowley famously described Magick as “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with Will”. The meaning of this simple sentence could take a lifetime to unpack; sadly we have not got that much time here! But it’s a good place to start looking at what Modern Magick is and how we learn to do it. Crowley expanded on this definition by giving an example in purely physical terms: by focusing his Will, by taking the necessary actions and by enlisting the help of others, he managed to get his book published. This did not involve any supernatural processes, but it still qualifies as Magick by his definition.

It follows from this that developing the True Will and learning how to focus it and use it, is the key skill of the Magickian. And all Magickal training is, in one way or another, about this process. Everything we do, how we dress, how we stand or sit, the nature of the rituals we undertake, the words we speak, all of this is designed consciously to facilitate the development and focus of the Will.

Our Order’s approach to Modern Magic has some distinctive features, and in order to highlight them I have to air some of my personal thoughts and issues about Magick. Since my original Magickal training whilst at University, in a Magickal Order which was an offshoot of the Golden Dawn, Magick has been a huge influence on my life. My life has been punctuated by things like training, working and raising children, so sometimes Magick has taken the form of very active work, and sometimes it has just been a philosophy which underpins my values and attitudes. I have subsequently studied a number of spiritual systems, as well as trained in psychotherapy and counseling, and have always incorporated the Magickal philosophy into my thinking and action. So Magick has been extremely important to me; but I have to say that it has also been a source of profound irritation.

There is a common view in Magickal circles that Magick is an all-or-nothing. Either you dedicate your life to it and become one of the elite, or you don’t bother. To undertake the ‘Great Work’ is to cut yourself off from normal life and live outside humanity in the rarified air of the Magickal Order, which lifts you above the run of the merely human. I find this deeply wrong, as well as quite mistaken. Aleister Crowley (himself an elitist who had little sympathy with the average person) stated clearly that his task was to bring Magick to the everyday person in the street, who may not be able to dedicate their whole lives to it but who could profit greatly from familiarity with Magickal principles. (Crowley also said that no-one could become a Magickian who was not a ‘gentleman’ i.e, someone who did not have a private income and so had to work. But then, Crowley enjoyed inconsistency!)

It is my view that every human being does Magick, usually unconsciously, and everyone has a Magickal ability. The difference between the average person and the Magickian is not in their level of skill or innate ability but in this: the Magickian uses Magickal principles and practices consciously to achieve his/her aims, whereas the non-Magickian does not. That means that the Magickian is much more likely to get the outcome s/he wills.

I believe that the principles of Magick can usefully be applied to life by anyone, and that this will benefit them and make their lives more successful. But this does not mean that they will have to dedicate every moment to Magick – it is perfectly acceptable to dabble in it to the extent you wish. It is also quite possible to keep your religion (or your atheism) and work with the principles and practices of Magick.

I also don’t think that there is one way of doing Magick. I tend to do it one way because that follows my training and predilection. But I don’t think that my way is the Truth – that is a much higher concept than Magick. I believe that it contains sufficient Truth to make it useful, but Magick is not a destination – it is a vehicle for us to use to get to the destination. So I’m not too attached to the forms and traditions of Magick. It is a vehicle, so my question is always: “does it get me to where I want to go with the greatest efficiency possible, given my current circumstances?”

So Modern Magick as taught here in the training Order is user-friendly. It aims to give to people what they need to help life get along better; as much as they need and when they need it. It won’t drive you crazy, or take over your life (unless you choose to let it). It won’t talk complete twaddle or be too complicated or too expensive.

I have to say something about “complicated and expensive” – two of my greatest bugbears with Magick. Magick is truly a very complicated business. To become a Master of Magick is to dedicate the whole of one’s life, waking and sleeping, and there will always be more to know and experience. Complicated goes with the territory. But whilst Magick can be complicated, it doesn’t have to be. In the same way that we can be interested in how the physical world works without having to get a PhD in Quantum Physics, we can get to know about and use Magick to the extent we choose. It can be the most important thing in life, or it can be an interest. Either are OK.

There is a view in Magickal circles that inconvenience is a necessary part of the process, which shows your dedication. Unless you make your wand out of the wood from the topmost branch of the tallest oak in the legendary Forest of Druids, at midnight on the third day after Hogmanay, at the full moon when Venus is in the House of the Crab, whilst walking widdershins dressed all in white, using a silver sickle that has never been used before and holding a black candle made from the fat of a virgin wallaby, then you are really just playing at it, aren’t you?

Of course, I do see the value of making things difficult, and I certainly don’t like the idea of just popping down to Wands ‘R Us and buying the one that most takes my fancy. Magic is certainly demanding, but creating difficulty for its own sake is just another way of being elitist, of making Magick so difficult that only the dedicated (or obsessive) few will ever get the opportunity to study it. So our approach is to make it as accessible as possible for as many people as possible.

Alongside complexity goes expense. It would be quite possible to spend a fortune on Magick. Consumerism exists in all areas of life, and Magick is no exception. We always want nicer robes, more impressive knick-knacks, a better Magickal temple to work in, etc, etc. All of this is very seductive, and I have to say that on the rare occasions I have seen a Magickal temple which is purpose-built and designed, the results are truly magical! But it is not necessary, and the Order will show you how to create a very effective Magickal space without overwhelming expense or inconvenience.

Above I used the word ‘twaddle’. Perhaps I should have said ‘bullshit’. Spiritual development in general, and Magick in particular, are very prone to using terminology that is verbose, dense, incomprehensible and which pretends to have deep meaning, whilst actually saying nothing of real value. Of course, it’s true that spiritual work is not easy to describe. It deals with concepts far outside our usual everyday level, and to describe it to an outsider – or even to oneself – is a huge strain on vocabulary. But that challenge is still one that has to be faced, if you want to communicate its meaning effectively. And it’s one thing to fail to describe Magick because it transcends normal language; but it is a very different thing to deliberately try to confuse and impress the reader by using screeds of meaningless words loosely cobbled together. That’s what I mean by bullshit, and I really, really don’t like it. It is the responsibility of a teacher to convey difficult concepts in a way that listeners and readers will understand, and Magick is no exception.

Any learning starts with the student knowing less than the teacher, and so there is a need for the student to trust the teacher and acknowledge their own lack of experience in the area. This is especially true of spiritual training, where the student may be faced with information which is utterly foreign to their previous experience and which leaves them unable to assess its worth (and not just in spiritual work: I have this problem every time I need my car mended). Sadly, this means that the student is also in danger of exploitation and abuse from teachers and organisations.

The vast majority of spiritual teachers I have met are genuine, honest and humble people who want to help the student develop and are willing to put huge effort in to help them. But some are not, and so this opens the question of how to distinguish between the genuine teacher and the abusive one.

To complicate matters, many spiritual teachers are perfectly genuine and honest, but are working with systems they believe to be the Truth for everyone. They will try to shoehorn the student into an acceptance of their system in ways that may ultimately be damaging for the student. Add to the mix the undeniable fact that people often come to spiritual training and practice when they are themselves vulnerable, low, or in a crisis; and throw in the other fact that spiritual training will inevitably cause changes, upsets and crises: and you have huge potential for problems.

The Order tries to address these problems by emphasizing the following things:

  1. Magick, and the teaching of the Order, are not the Truth. Hopefully it contains truth; but it is not the answer to all of life’s problems and questions. No single system is going to give you that – the Truth is too complex to be grasped by any human system, and all systems contain biases, personal preferences, errors and some degree of craziness. As long as you are aware of this, the likelihood for abuse is limited.
  2. We need to learn critical thinking and feeling skills (which the Order also teaches) and be able to distinguish between the true and the false, the right and the wrong, the helpful and the unhelpful, and the healthy and the damaging. All spiritual systems should happily submit to being evaluated critically by their members and students, and be able to acknowledge their limitations.
  3. The terminology of Magick and the way it is described should make sense. It should use words in ways that mean something, and should put those words together in ways that illuminate rather than obscure the subject. If you don’t understand what is being said (and there is genuinely much that is very complicated) you should always pin the teacher down for a meaning. Don’t expect to understand everything in the beginning; but do expect to understand it in time.
  4. Spiritual systems should produce people who are psychologically healthy. This means people who are able (as Freud said) to work productively and effectively, to form relationships in which they can love themselves and others, and to engage in playful and lighthearted activities. The point of the Order is to produce balanced and fully functioning personalities, not lunatics, egotists or abusers. Modern Magick will help you get access to and control increasingly greater parts of your life, both internally and in your outer relationships.
  5. Serious spiritual seekers are notoriously individualistic, and trying to get them to agree about anything is a source of huge frustration. Running a Magickal Order really is like herding cats. In spite of all the frustration, however, this is a very good thing, because we are trying to create independent practitioners of Magick rather than mindless clones. Modern Magick is not a creed to be slavishly followed, but a resource that can and should be increasingly tailored to the needs of every individual as they get more knowledge and experience.
  6. One of the severest criticisms of Magick is its amorality. Crowley’s dictum “’Do what thou wilt’ shall be the whole of the Law” is often taken to be a license to do whatever you like to others without any thought of morals, to behave as badly as you choose, and to be as selfish as you want. The Order rejects all of this and teaches a moral position. It doesn’t have a Ten Commandments, because it doesn’t tell you what moral decisions to make; but it teaches the value of honesty, respect, compassion and decency. Abuse is abuse, no matter that it occurs within a spiritual context. Abuse can happen in many ways: financial, sexual, intellectual and emotional. The Order does not condone abuse of any kind, towards people or animals and there is no room in the Order for abusers.
  7. In the same way that it sees itself as a positive developmental force for the individual, the Order sees itself as a positive developmental force for society as a whole. To that end it runs its own charitable programmes and donates to agreed charities.