Jason Miller recently wrote a post arguing that DIY magic is overrated. He makes a good point about DIY Magic and how it can be overemphasized to the point that a person ignores tradition. In my own experience, you can’t effectively experiment with magic or DIY it (if you prefer) until you’ve grounded yourself in the traditions/foundations of magical work. While I’m a big proponent of experimentation and personalizing magic I agree with Jason that you need to know what’s come before in order to understand what you can do with what you’ve got.
My own magical practice is grounded in tradition, in so much as I’ve studied various works of authors and replicated their practices before experimenting with them. I am, unlike Jason, not part of any formal occult lodge or order, so in that sense I’ve never belonged to a spiritual tradition (nor felt called to), but I’ve always believed that understanding magic involves learning from the people who came before me, and that in order to effectively experiment its essential to ground yourself in the theory and practice provided by others. The choice to ground yourself in the work of others doesn’t mean you unconditionally accept everything they’ve written or done, but rather that you try it and learn it before you experiment.
At the same time, I think that experimentation is essential for advancing tradition. It can be all too easy to get caught up in tradition and mired down by what others have done, but when you do so, you lose an essential part of magic which is found in the creative experimentation with it. DIY is one approach to experimentation and what it provides us is a way to create our own tools for magic, to personalize what we do, based on the intimate recognition that knowing magic can ultimately be a very personal act. now such DIY can’t effectively happen without being grounded in tradition. For example, while I paint my evocation circles and sigils, which are a DIY tool, before I even do that I make initial contact with the spirit and get its insights on the process because I understand it to be an essential part of the magical work I’m doing.
What tradition really provides is context for DIY to occur in. In other words, just going and experimenting without really having a foundation in traditional approaches to magic isn’t going to work very well, for the simple reason that you can’t even call what you are doing experimentation. You don’t know enough to experiment without having a foundational knowledge in magic that provides you enough context to question it and examine how you could improve on what you know. That’s what tradition provides…the experiences and knowledge to allow you to question what you know and change it.
What DIY does for tradition is show how the tradition can evolve and change. What tradition does is ground DIY by providing perspectives of what came before. Both are needed in magic, and neither is necessarily better than the other. A magician who knows what s/he is doing is able to draw on tradition as well as do DIY magic, and should be able to get consistent results with both.