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Defining Magick

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Magick is the art and science of mastering the mind. There is no religion in magick, though there is heavy use of symbolism (often confused with religion or the occult). The symbolism is useful, it helps direct the mind and associate ideas. The key is not to get caught up in the symbolism and mistake it for reality.

The infamous Aleister Crowley was the first person to coin the term "Magick" and his definition is: "Magick is the Science of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will."

What I've always liked about Crowley is that things are never as they appear with him. I can't say that I totally understand everything that Crowley talks about, there is a way to look at his work from a perspective outside of religion or occult theory - that makes some of it rather practical and brilliant. Take for example the following paragraph:

"The sincere student will discover, behind the symbolic technicalities of this book [Magick in Theory and Practice], a practical method of making himself a Magician. The process described will enable him to discriminate between what he actually is, and what he has fondly imagined himself to be. He must behold his soul in all its awful nakedness, he must not fear to look on that appalling actuality. He must discard the garments with which his shame has screened him; he must accept the fact that nothing can make I'm anything but what he is. He may lie to himself, drug himself, hide himself; but he is always there. Magick will teach him that his mind is playing him traitor."

Of course, not all of what Crowley writes is useful but that can be said about anything.


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  1. neuroasis's Avatar
    This is a 'can of worms' and a topic that can (and should be) discussed at great length for those who are interested. It should be realized though that Crowley is the 'deep end' of the pool. To most people first considering the subject he is absolutely incomprehensible. Later along the road one may begin to decipher his writings. There is no doubt that he has impacted everything in this field that has come after him. So by reading modern authors you are still to some degree reading him.

    Part of using a magickal symbol system is to believe (at least temporarily) in the reality of those symbols. It really doesn't matter what symbol system you choose. Some have a longer history than others and are well established for the purpose. Many also have a lot of baggage. The point is to 'enflame thyself with prayer'. Meditate upon those words for awhile and look at their meanings from many different perspectives and gather what it is that is intended and how it applies to a modern mindset.

    For a Western practical perspective 2 worthy books are Donald Michael Kraig's "Modern Magick" and Frater U.D. 's "High Magick". The first is rooted strongly in the Golden Dawn Judeo-Christian pantheon (sprinkled with a bit of Eastern, particularly Egyptian, practice). However, it is a lucid presentation with a strong foundational framework for practice. "High Magick" is a little more agnostic with many exercises but it is a little bit deeper. You should have at least some familiarity with traditional approaches which you will get from reading "Modern Magick".

    Each of these books teach "Ceremonial Magick" whose intent is to align oneself with higher forces and progress along an active evolutionary path. This is to be distinguished from "Low Magick" which is to put simply but somewhat inaccurately "spell craft". That is, results-oriented magick to gain love, money, protection, revenge...

    Crowley's work falls into the "High Magick" category regardless of what popular culture would have you believe.
    Updated 06-15-2011 at 12:22 PM by neuroasis
  2. Marisa's Avatar
    I don't think you need to believe in the symbols in order to use them. You only need to know what they mean and how they associate to other ideas. It's quite an effective way of designing neural pathways.

    Belief - now there's an interesting topic. I guess it's best to define what kind of beliefs I'm referring to. This would be the belief in god, spirits, demons, angels or other planes of existence. I currently take the position that religious/spiritual belief can actually get in the way of growth. Beliefs tend to conflict with change and the evolution of ideas. Beliefs tend to get stuck in dogma and the "rules" of that particular belief system.

    Having been on both sides of the fence, I also do appreciate where you are coming from concerning the study of magick or spirituality. Perhaps it boils down to what the individual is looking to get out of the discipline? For myself, I use my knowledge of magick for the ideas and creative approaches to understanding and using the mind.

    "Modern Magick", I agree, is a good book if someone is wanting to understand how that system works. It's one of the most comprehensive books out there. One of the foundation books that I would say is noteworthy is Franz Bardon's, "Initiation into Hermetics".

    Now that I am looking at things from a different perspective, it will be interesting (at least to me) to see how my perception of the teachings has changed or if I can translate it in practical terms.

  3. neuroasis's Avatar
    "Belief" is the key to activation of the symbols. It is the crossover point between suspending rational examination and taking a leap of "faith". That is letting the symbol take on a life of its own and operate outside your recognized sphere of influence. Now, these are religious terms and that is what causes many people pause. I don't really intend them in that sense strictly, although that is the mechanism for the transmission of those tenets.

    Here is an example of how we commonly put on and pull off beliefs everyday. Whenever we watch a movie or a television show for us to participate in the story we have to 'believe' that those actors are the characters that they are portraying. We may have seen them dozens of different times in other roles but for the purpose of this particular screenplay we must accept them as this character.

    It is the same when working with aspects of ourselves or intelligences beyond ourselves. Remember how we talked about associational clusters of relatedness? That is all a symbol system is.

    For instance, it wouldn't make much sense to ask Buddha (to pick a rabbit out of a hat) to give you a new recipe for oatmeal cookies. That is not what that symbol is for. The character that Martha Stewart plays would be a much better choice for this.

    In Catholicism the saints play these various roles in Christendom. This is why it was so easy for African religions to adopt this pantheon when they were 'converted'. They recognized the 'function' of their Orishas contained within these symbols. Of course, pagan religions are replete with a multitude of gods and spirits serving various roles.

    It seems in the memory stores of the Universal Mind there are these clusters of relatedness as well. Being shared among many intelligences, the symbols are adapted to the worldview and folklore of many cultures. That is why I say that to a large degree the symbols are interchangeable. Crowley gathered many of these worldwide associations together for the first time in his seminal book, 777.

    When we fall in love with someone we see them transfigured. We see beyond their everyday persona and all their flaws into that which most highly reflects a Perfection. We say that we 'believe' in them and see what marvelous things they are capable of. To work with a symbol, one falls in love with it.

    These aren't religious principles or even spiritual principles necessarily. I can use whatever terminology in science, psychology, mythology, or esotericism and still really see and mean the same thing. Certainly, I could improve in ways of describing it.
  4. Marisa's Avatar
    I respectfully disagree with you regarding belief being necessary to activate symbolism. While symbolism can be linked to a belief, it is the acknowledgment of association between the two objects or ideas that makes the symbol workable. I do agree that it usually makes most sense to use symbol structures that are already in place - for example, the number "1" being associate with a single object or Christ on the cross being associated with Christianity etc.

    Crowley's work in 777 is not based on symbolism, it's based on Hebrew numerology. Numerology in itself though does use both symbolism and belief.

    Sympathetic magic is more of a related subject and is more in line with what you are talking about (or so I think). While sympathetic magic uses symbolism and belief, it does not encompass all that is or can be symbolic or all that needs to happen to make something symbolic.

    Methods such as "anchoring" (NLP) are ways to create symbolic associations (on purpose) that can operate outside of belief. For example, the smell of a rose being linked to a feeling of happiness. Anchors can also be created accidentally or unconsciously (for example, see wolf = feel fear) and those usually do involve a belief of some sort about the object.
  5. neuroasis's Avatar
    Sorry but you are actually talking about Sepher Sephiroth when you are talking about numerology (gematria). It was a work that was included in the modern editions, part of the 'and Other Qabalistic Writings'. Here is the entry on Wikipedia.

    Liber 777 Vel Prolegoma Symbolica Ad Systemam Sceptico-Mysticae Viae Explicande, Fundamentum Hieroglyphicum Sanctissimorum Scientiae Summae (whew, thanks to copy and paste!) is a work where pantheons and symbols for ritual (gemstones, plants, godforms, tarot cards....) are all aligned to the Qabalistic Tree of Life. I am referring to the Tables of Correspondence.

    I'll accept that as defined I may be referring to Sympathetic Magic. Certainly, Crowley was strongly influenced by Frazer's Golden Bough which is where this idea was formulated. I'll also accept that we may use different or broader terms (even more precise) than 'belief' and arrive at better understanding. I would never insist that there is only one way of doing things or at looking at things. I don't mean to suggest that the case I am making is the definitive one.
    Updated 06-17-2011 at 12:59 PM by neuroasis
  6. Marisa's Avatar
    I stand corrected. That's what I get for trying to rely on memory. Hmmmm over to the book shelf - ah, the copy I have is "777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of AC" (it's three books in one).

    Anyway, Crowley was only involved in my initial post because of a couple of quotes, which tied into my definition of magick. In this case, it's the words, the idea of the subject that matters - the source of those words is acting as a distraction and it shouldn't.