1-25-17 The other day I attended a lecture about Gurdijieff’s work. It was quite fascinating, especially when the person giving the lecture talked about a person’s actions were essentially just reactions to everything that had had influenced the person. While my initial response was to be skeptical, when I considered the idea, I found it made sense in a way. When I look at all my choices, there’s a history behind those choices and there’s environmental factors. It doesn’t take away from my responsibility for those choices, but recognizing that your choices aren’t solely based on internal motivations can be helpful…It’s too easy to take on so much responsibility that you ignore the other factors. There’s a balance to be struck and when it is, it can help a person with internal work in a way that actually helps produce genuine conscious change that can be acted on.
I thought I would share a few examples of how my own aesthetics of magic have changed. The first two examples are recent ones that have to do with art magic, but the final example is really a discussion of how my use of magical tools has changed over the years and why. I’d originally intended to share these answers in a class I’m teaching, but after a bit of back and forth with my friend Felix decided to make a video discussing these examples, because its a good way to continue fleshing my own thoughts on the aesthetics of magic and where that really fits in my own work. I’m sure I’ll be doing some further work around this line of inquiry because there’s a lot to consider and explore.
In the video below I share the three examples of changing aesthetics in my own magical work.
And if you want to learn more about the principles of magic…
In my previous post I talked about the aesthetics of magic and why that perspective can be a useful part of your process of magic. Now I want to explore why its useful to question your aesthetics and how that can benefit your magical practice. While your aesthetics of magic is useful for helping you understand what makes a magic working magical, it’s not a good idea to treat your aesthetics as set in stone. If anything, questioning your aesthetic filter can help you recognize how it might limit you magically, or what you could change about a magical working.
In the example, I used in the previous post, the person mentioned that sigils didn’t look magical, which was why trying to do magic with them didn’t work. One question I found myself asking was, “What could this person change about the sigils to make them look magical (and therefore buy into them being a viable magical operation)?”
It’s important to recognize that the Aesthetics isn’t limited to the appearance. When I think of an aesthetics of magic, I’m thinking of what makes the experience magical, which can include (but is not limited to) visual appearance, but can also include the smells, sounds, feelings, taste, as well as movement and stillness (and whatever else you might think of that contributes to creating the experience). This distinction is important to note because if we’re going to question our own aesthetics, we need to recognize what we are specifically focusing on.
So how do we question our Aesthetics?
First you need to decide what is aesthetically part of your magical workings. I suggest looking at a number of magical workings you’ve done over a period of time to identify the aesthetic elements that consistently show up in those workings. This will tell you which aesthetic elements are considered necessary on your part in order to make a magical working happen.
For example if you find that you consistently use candles in your workings, then candles would be an essential aesthetic element of your magical practice.
Now take a look at what aesthetic elements don’t show up in your ritual or workings. For instance, you might not do chanting, because you might think its a distraction or that it doesn’t sound magical (or whatever the reason is).
List the aesthetic elements that you consider essential in one column and in the other column put the elements that are non-essential.
Why are the aesthetic elements in the essential column necessary for your magical working?
This is the question to ask yourself. Beside each element write down your response. No answer is wrong. The point of this exercise is to understand what makes a given aesthetic element essential to your magical practice.
Why are the aesthetic elements in the non-essential column unnecessary for your magical working?
Just as with the previous question, write down why a given aesthetic element is unnecessary or not magical enough for you. Again there’s no right or wrong answer. The point of this exercise is to help you understand why a given element isn’t aesthetic enough for your workings.
Now it’s time to try something new…
You know what the essential and non-essential aesthetic elements of magic are and why they are or aren’t essential to your practice, but it can be a useful exercise to try something new with your magical practice. Try putting together a magical working where you don’t use all the aesthetic elements you normally use, or where you mix in some aesthetics that you normally wouldn’t use. Then record what the results are, but be willing to do this multiple times, to see if there are any differences.
Also if you’re using an aesthetic element of magic that you normally wouldn’t use, ask yourself what you could do to make it magical. Don’t be afraid to make some changes. For instance, in the case where the sigils didn’t appear magical, the person could try drawing the sigils differently or using colors or try a different sigil technique.
The benefit of experimenting with the aesthetic elements is that it gives you an opportunity to challenge what you consider to be essential. And even if you come away with realizing that what’s essential is really what works to make a working magical, at least you’ve questioned and challenged your aesthetics and discovered for yourself why those elements are essential.
The benefit of working with aesthetic elements you don’t consider essential is that it allows you to discover if you can make them essential to your practice and also provides you an opportunity to challenge your ideas about what is or isn’t magical.
Share your results with this exercise in the comments below. I’d love to discover what you learned 🙂
And if you’d like to see my answers, check this video out.
The other day an acquaintance emailed me and asked me what I thought about sigils. What the person wanted to know is if I thought chaos magic style sigils were an effective form of magic. I’ll admit to being surprised by the question, because I’ve generally found the work, but then I read a bit further and I recognized why sigils hadn’t worked for the person. The person explained that the sigils didn’t look magical.
The issue was an aesthetic one. And it’s an important issue actually, because if you look at the practice of magic in general there is an Aesthetic aspect to it that shows up across various systems and traditions, and yet isn’t overtly acknowledged or recognized for the most part.
I got to talking with my friend Felix Warren about it, because in the past he’s shared his own perspective about the aesthetic of magic and how he uses an aesthetic perspective in developing his magical work and he agreed that if there is an aesthetic quality missing in a magical working that can affect the person’s process of magic.
Let’s define the word Aesthetic. Aesthetic is a set of principles that underline and guide the work of a particular artist or artistic movement. It’s also the appreciation of beauty.
So what’s that have to do with the practice of magic?
If we look at a given magical working from a design perspective, we see the aesthetic principle of magic show up. The design perspective is concerned with the trappings of magic and what trappings are needed in order for the magical working to happen. For example, what tools you will use, what clothes you will wear, but also how you will get your conscious and unconscious self to align and buy into the magical working.
This is why some people need incense and candles when they do magic. Aesthetically the incense and candles creates the right design that allows the person to fully commit to the magical working, because they’ve created a space that is magical.
Now what’s important to remember is that not everyone’s aesthetic is the same. For example, I don’t need incense or candles to do magic. My aesthetic of magic is fairly minimalistic in some ways…yet there is an aesthetic that informs the magical work that I’m doing.
I would also say that your aesthetic for a given magical act can actually differ depending on what the magical working is. For instance if I’m doing a chant to evoke an archangel…that chant and the correspondences in it will be the aesthetic that makes the working come together. On the other hand, a painting of a sigil doesn’t need a chant, but does need the paints and the experience of paint, and so that becomes the aesthetic.
Now that’s just my take on the aesthetic of magic and as you know I’ll all about personalizing magic, so to me it makes sense to take an approach to the aesthetics of magic that personalizes them according to the magical working that you’ll be doing…but a reasonable question to ask is if a person should develop a universal standard of aesthetics that they apply to their magical practice.
The answer to that question is that it depends on the person. For that matter it also depends on what spiritual system or tradition they are engaged in, because a given system or tradition of magic has its own aesthetic of magic that informs the design of the rituals and how people should show up. You can question that aesthetic and modify it, but you also have to consider whether said modification will be welcomed in general.
If you’re developing your own system than you can create a codified aesthetic for that system. That codified aesthetic is essentially your brand and it describes how your magic should be designed and why that design will play a role in the magical work you do, as well as the interactions you have with the spirits that are part of your system. This codified aesthetic should also have some input from your spirits, because of course they’ll have their own expectations and correspondences that need to be considering when you’re doing a working with them.
How does the Aesthetics of Magic connect to the Process of Magic?
I think the aesthetics of magic offers another angle that you can use to help you understand your process of magic and why something is or isn’t working. And recognizing that your magical practice should be experienced a certain way helps you to appreciate how you design your magical works, as well as what is essential and what is optional in those workings. Additionally, there’s something to be said for simply appreciating the qualities of a magical working that make it magical.
Did you miss an episode of Magical Experiments podcast in January? All of them are here, for you to listen to, plus a book review.
Book Review: The Tao of Craft by Benebell Wen
In this book, Benebell shares an Eastern esoteric tradition of charging and casting sigils. It’s a fascinating book to read, and the author does a great job of making the material approachable. I particularly like how she breaks the process down and then explains how each principle works. She also provides historical resources and references which is helpful, but most of all she encourages readers to experiment and make the work their own. I felt like this book explained and filled in some gaps of knowledge I had about Eastern esoteric practices, while also enhancing the magical work I’m doing. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in understanding Eastern esoteric practices or wanting to integrate such practices in their own spiritual work.
12-23-16 Patience is something I’ve been meditating on lately in relationship to stillness. I am both good and not good at being patient…it depends on the context I suppose. I’m currently working on a couple projects and really want the work to be done, but feedback I’m getting suggests some further refinement, so I’m reminding myself I need to be patient and focus on getting it right because that’s what will matter most. That can be hard for me. Conversely though I can be patient for years and years, waiting for the right moment to make something happen. I learned that early in life, because I had to bide my time due to circumstances where I had little to no control. So meditating on patience makes me appreciate how patience can be its own form of stillness, the potential waiting for the right moment to be unleashed and realized.
Sometimes your magical working fails. It happens to all of us, but if you don’t understand why it fails, you can’t do much about it. However if you’re willing to take a step back and look at why your magic might be failing, then you can start to address that problem and make changes that help you get consistent results
In the video below I share the top 5 reasons why your magic fails and how to account for those variables.
Sometimes what stands out to me about why someone is having problems with their magical work is that the person is complicating the magical work. It likely doesn’t help that in your average book on magic you find tons of information about magical tools, herbs, crystals, and candles that you are supposed to have in order to do magic. Throw in a magical grimoire and now you need to get golden tablets, and various other arcane tools that the author assures you is absolutely essential to doing the magical working.
Let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. And if you come away reading a book that suggests you use a specific tool or do a specific activity, but it’s not clear why you should do it, then you need to back up and liberally douse that book with a bar of salt before doing the working.
The reason why people complicate magic is because there’s a tendency to take whatever is presented and treat it as the final word on the subject. But here’s a little secret for you: You are the ultimate authority of your spiritual practice and you don’t have to do magic the way people tell you to do it.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t read books on magic or try the exercises, spells, or whatever else, but if you find it isn’t working, it’s okay to try something different or take the working apart and figure out what part of the process doesn’t actually make sense. To this day, I do this with much every practice I read about. I try it, figure out what makes sense and get rid of the rest. And the practice consistently works without the unnecessary information.
So how do I simplify my magical work?
I’ve already explained that if you don’t know why you’re doing something or what the purpose of something is, it can be useful to consider discarding it, but let’s explore 5 other ways you can simplify your magical work.
1. Design your own tools. Magical tools have a place in magical workings, but it can be helpful to design your own tools. There’s nothing saying you have to use an Athame, wand, or whatever else. They can be useful tools, provided you understand their purpose, but what if you need a specialized tool?
For example I created a memory box, a specialized magical tool for the purpose of helping me do space/time magical work. No conventional tool would have worked, but the memory box helped me connect with past memories and future possibilities, providing a model I could work with. By designing my own tool, based on my needs, I was able to simplify the magic and get more from the workings.
2. Develop your own list of correspondences. Lots of magic books come with correspondence charts. The purpose of a correspondence is to help you understand how a crystal, plant, etc. is connected to a specific spiritual power. However there’s nothing saying you can’t come up with your own correspondence list, based on your own experiences. In fact, developing you won correspondence list allows you to personalize your understanding of the spirits and forces you’re working with, which simplifies your magic because you aren’t having to remember someone else’s correspondences.
3. Take a critical look at the ritual you want to do. When I learn any given magical technique, I like to take a critical look at it and ask myself what each part of that technique or ritual is supposed to do. This helps me determine what I do and don’t understand about the technique or ritual. And then I can either do further research or cut out what doesn’t make sense and see what happens. Either way by taking a critical look at the technique or ritual I’m simplifying the magic because I’m taking time to figure out what I know and what may need to be modified.
4. Take out elements of a working that are optional. Sometimes you’ll discover that a magical working has optional elements. Well optional for you anyway. The person who put together the original working might disagree and say everything is required, but in my experience you can likely get the same result doing a stripped down version of the working. You can always do the full version of a ritual and then strip out what you consider is optional and see if there is a difference.
For example a meditation technique I was learning had a lot of visualization in it. Trying to remember all the visualization became a real distraction from learning the technique, so I stripped the visualization out and focused on the sound and tactile sensations. As a result I was able to hit some very deep spaces of altered consciousness that were consistent with what the defined outcome of the meditation is. By simplifying the technique and getting rid of what I felt was optional, I was able to focus on what was essential for learning the technique.
5. Use your talents in your magical work. We all have our own talents. I think it’s a good idea to apply your talents to your magical work. For instance, I use my creativity in my magical work, in the form of paintings and writing, collage art and song. By taking what I’m good at and applying it to magic, I am able to develop my own processes and practices. I simplify the magic by using my talents to connect with it.
One of the ways I’ve simplified my magic work is to create paintings that are evocation portals. The paintings contain the sigils of the entities I’m working with and when I need to evoke one of the entities, I can simply use the painting to connect with the spirit and call it forth.
If you want to learn even more about about how to simplify your magic, check out my 5 secrets for personalizing your magic that gets you consistent results.
The other day, in the magical experiments newsletter, I shared a story about why I walked a way from a mentor I was working with. In short, his biggest lesson was showing me how close-minded he was. I don’t have time for narrow perspectives of magic, but it got me thinking about how you choose to work with someone magically and what you do to recognize the warning signs if a person isn’t a good fit to work with. I share more in the video below.
My magical theme of the year is process. I explain why in this video: