by Christopher Penczak, Edited by Tina Whittle
I was working with a client recently, in a rare private session class that I’ll occasionally do. Questions jumped from Hoodoo and Voodou to Solomonic Magic, protection, mediumship, oracle decks, spirits, and angels. She asked about the Witchcraft I teach, what I learned from my own teachers, and whether I was Wiccan or not (I said that all depends on how you define Wicca.) We even got into a bit about demonic seals.
In the middle, she asked me if I thought a particular type of magick was good for her. Good how? It all depends on the type of experiences or results you want. I would not tell you what to do, but if you ask me if something is likely to yield a certain result based in where you are at, I’m happy to give an opinion. (Spoiler—I suggested avoiding the demonic seals at this stage of her experience when asked my opinion.) She then said something really astute:
“I feel like at times these are all different languages and I’m confusing myself by trying to learn so many things at the same time, but I am interested in them all. Are they different languages, or are all these magicks just the same thing in different ways?”
Like the word “Wicca,” it depends on how you define it. How do you define magick and the concept of sameness? Is there an overarching concept of magick and magickal theory that can be applied to all these things? Yes. This is occultism and the study of metaphysics.
Is magick itself a fundamental force? I think so. There is still deep mystery to it.
Are the types of magick all different? Yes. They often start from fundamentally different philosophies, worldviews, beliefs, and assumptions. They are not simply different window dressing. Yet they all lead to the same fundamental force.
Do they all work? Yes, theoretically, but that doesn’t make them right or wrong in the absolute. They can simply be right or wrong for you, at this time and by your general predispositions. Don’t mistake effectiveness for fundamental theological truth. And I’d argue a few systems out there and some new patchwork things don’t seem to work at all, but that’s based in my limited observation of them.
Can you get confused? Absolutely. I see it all the time, and often the most confused go on to pass their confusion onto others with such vigor, assuming if they get enough people to agree with their take that it will be “right” and they can feel validated, so there is little hope, without starting over or finding a clear teacher or school, to detangle the confusion. Things that are haphazard and work sporadically get passed off as knowledge, and true knowledge is often dismissed as archaic. Some get attached enough to their belief in an idea around magick that they then can’t evaluate whether or not it’s working due to that attachment. The idea becomes part of their identity and critique of the idea becomes a personal attack. The religion and art of such practices can blind us to the matter of effectiveness.
Magick and Language
If we are going to compare magick to language, then we should understand the greater concepts of both. So just as all languages are methods of communication, all magicks are methods of change. And all the different systems of magick are like all the different languages.
Some are related, branching off from similar sources. Some are seemingly unrelated but share similar concepts and techniques relating to basic human nature. We have fundamental things we wish to communicate with others in language, and we have fundamental needs in our lives. The spread of war, colonization, empire, religion, philosophy, medicine, technology, art, story, and illness contribute to the changes of both language and magick.
As many systems branch out, others cross together, loan and borrow parts, and even take sections and insert them into pre-existing systems. Some are graceful, and some are clunky, and sometimes the clunky ones just need a few hundred years to refine themselves. Things we cherish today as beautiful syncretic practices didn’t start that way, and some think syncretism is only valid if it happened a hundred years ago or more. They can’t see it when they are in the middle of it. The clunky awkward magicks of today that prove effective will smooth into the new systems of the future. If a system starts too smooth, too perfect, it won’t be organic enough to live in this world and last. Most living traditions, like people, have their little idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies in otherwise consistent patterns and paradigms.
Spirit Allies and Magickal Power
Part of our session was about spirit allies and the question of needing strong spirits on your side to be an effective magician. Was this true? And if so, which spirits? What are the “best” spirits? Some work with angels. Others work with ancestors and even others work with Pagan gods. Some call on the spirits in grimoires. How do I choose? Do I need to be a medium?
Yes, it’s true, having spiritual allies can be a great aid in both magick and in personal development. Some spirits offer teaching, healing, and support in personal development, all things that aid our growth as magickal practitioners. Some lend power in general, or when asked for intercession, will do things for us, (such as when we petition our ancestors). Some spirits can strengthen our divine link or act as intermediaries to higher non-human powers, such as the saints. Some are embodiments of divine powers, allowing us to commune with fundamental forces as deities. Many entities correspond with specific functions classified in elemental, planetary, and zodiacal terms, including angels and archangels and the spirits in the grimoires. Some simply correspond to a specific area of patronage, like many saints.
While spirits have always played a role in magick, in the last few decades, they have become a greater focus, a resurgence compared to previous decades where success was more about being a well-trained practitioner, with knowledge of the mechanics of magick and strength of will and vitality. And don’t forget, as Temple co-founder Steve Kenson is often fond of saying, “You are a spirit too. You just happen to be in a body at the moment.”
Sources of Magickal Energy
One of the reasons people today seek spirit allies in spellcasting is, knowingly or not, to tap a source of power. They see the entity as powerful, so they want it to lend its power to the fulfillment of the spell. Yet they are not the only “fuel” for magick.
Magickal energy can come from the magician, though many of us are much lower energy these days, our time and attention slowly drained away through the mechanics of modern life, with social media being the newest drain. Early traditional magickal training is about building the vessel, sealing the energetic leaks, and building up our power of consciousness to do magick. That’s a slow road, so today we want quicker sources, and in truth magickal cultures always had their serious practitioners and those looking for a quick spell to solve a problem. That’s natural, and honestly, it’s a good thing. Magick should be available to all who seek it.
Magicians—and the spells and formulas they craft—can also naturally harness the energy of the Earth, either directly or through materials and patterns in nature. Things found or harvested in nature have the power of the season and the cycles of the Earth to lend aid.
While the heavens are a part of nature as well, magickally we see heavenly forces of the sky, Sun, Moon, planets, and stars as of another realm corresponding to this world. Items both store and harness the power of the Earth and their corresponding heavenly power. If Venus embodies the magick of love, things ruled by Venus like copper, lady’s mantle, apple wood, and rose quartz all have the energy of the planet Earth where they form and the energy of the heavens, specifically of Venus, as they correspond with Venus.
And some practitioners have an innate or cultivated sense of connection to the divine, beyond any specific spirit, angel, saint, or deity. They are simply connected to the cosmos at a mystical level, as we all are, but they are more consciously clear of it, and this conscious connection fuels their Magick.
Top Down or Bottom Up
Part of the magickal paradigm that is not often talked about is the magick of working from either a top-down or bottom-up paradigm. Both work, and neither is better, except the one that is better for your temperament and yields results for you. But they are two different philosophies. While you can switch between them in your life, any single working should be set in a particular paradigm. And over time your own natural philosophies will lean towards a particular way of operating that is best. A single working trying to incorporate both can easily fail, and a single practitioner unknowingly bouncing between the two—or even including other paradigms—will be trying to move forward on a very muddled path.
One can connect to a higher level than the situation that needs to be addressed, and ideally seek a higher level of divine intelligence. Many words can be used to describe this, but most simply it is referred to as the “All” or in Western Magick, the Divine Mind. The intention is set at this level for the final result, given energy and released, trusting the divine intelligence to arrange all the parts from this higher level, guiding it down into manifestation. The idea is that the divine is wiser than us and can see potential avenues for manifestation we have no knowledge of that could be easier or more beneficial. Often the caveat of “highest good” or “harming none” is placed in the instructions, so an intention that is technically correct and easy, but potentially harmful, does not manifest itself.
Is this magick or prayer? Depends on who you ask. Can magick for a specific result have theurgistic qualities to it? Or must theurgy simply be magick for enlightened union? If one uses correspondences and ritual to align with the divine mind and have the right energy, once it is set into motion, it is set. There is little to no repetition. While one does not act contrary to the intention in daily life, one otherwise trusts it’s happening, like asking something from a trusted friend. Once they agree, assume all is in motion and you don’t have to worry about it or micromanage it. You can’t obsess and have a “lust for results” as they say. Some refer to it as “one and done” magick. It can work very slowly, but the changes tend to be long lasting with no need of regular repetition unless otherwise specified. Open-ended intentions like general protection or general health could be repeated on a longer-in-time basis, such as annually.
One can push an intention forward primarily through personal will and desire, fueling it with ritual, correspondences, and drawing upon the aid of spirit allies. Usually the method by which the intention happens is more specific. While the divine might be called upon in the sense of the creator, generally there is no safety mechanism of “harming none.” You want what you want and have to deal with the consequences, seen and unforeseen, much like life in general. Or there’s the assumption that if it does work, it has divine approval, and if it fails, it does not but personally I don’t think that is true. Often many workings are extended over days or repeated until successful and the next step of a complex intention begins. Sometimes one larger spell is a series of smaller specific goals. It’s a great method to keep those who will obsess on the outcome or be prone to pessimism focused positively on the goal, but it is also time consuming and can be personally draining. The practitioner is encouraged to become “single-minded” or “single-pointed” upon the goal to the exclusion of all else. This magick can be very forceful and manifest things almost immediately, but usually requires repetition and upkeep to maintain the results.
These two methods are gross generalizations, but two district paths. Many today mix techniques from both in ways that are fundamentally not compatible and never realize it, which gives them haphazard results. These are not the only ways to divide it, though a key dividing line is embodied by these questions: Is it guided by higher will or only your will? Is magick truly personal or impersonal? Is the higher will a specific entity, or the greater universe? What if you want something bad for yourself? Will it happen anyway, or will the “divine” stop it? The truth of these many possibilities is found in the paradox between these extremes, but we often need someplace to start in our philosophical foundation.
Another topic from our session was traditions, and if one had to join a tradition, and the difference between following a tradition and going for initiation.
Do I have to follow one specific tradition? No, no one has to do anything in magick.
Did getting initiated make you more powerful? More powerful compared to who or what? There are many paths and many ways.
I am a firm believer in the power of traditions and initiation. I am also a firm believer that everyone is on an individual path unique to themselves, and the challenge is to synthesize something dedicated to your own individual magickal will, but in cooperation with the greater cosmos, which includes other people and community as well as esoteric and sublime forces and spirits.
Following a tradition deeply for a time gives you a foundation, a basis, and a framework. If you have never studied a language before, you study one, even your native language, to understand its structure better. While many people can speak English, they might not clearly understand the concepts of verb tense and sentence structure, along with all the definitions of types of words and how they function. Once you have some of that understood, if you wish to formally study another language, you have a basis of understanding, being able to know that verbs are actions, as well as understanding nouns, pronouns, and prepositions. Many languages defy such structures but having this knowledge will help you realize that as well. While many people will naturally pick up language and have an intuitive understanding, if you want to be able to write in a language as well as be fluent, it helps to have these basic concepts.
You may go deeper in your native language, studying the history of its literature, and with the study of multiple languages, appreciate the translated classics coming to us from the past and from other cultures. Translations often miss nuance and beauty, and learning to read and appreciate things in their native language can be quite a boon to our study. The same principles hold in magick. Joining a group might give you a context for the streams of literature and a school of thought in how to best interpret them today.
Once you have the structure and cultural context, what you write is up to you. Just as a language might borrow words, your magickal tradition might also have loaned symbols and words, and after a long enough time, practitioners might not remember where they are borrowed from because they become ubiquitous in the tradition, gaining their own context within that tradition. As you practice and share, things you personally have brought together from your experience might become a part of the greater tradition, but if you are private about it, take no students, and never share, those practices will probably begin and end with you.
Initiation in a group or tradition gives you not just a cultural, philosophical, and symbolic foundation and context to use in your magick, but a direct link to energetic structure that is composed of what other members have contributed to it, and ideally, will also be composed of those non-human forces that are aligned to the tradition, also contributing to it. Many initiates find an initial level of success beyond their non-initiate peers because they are tapped into the egregore, the collective consciousness and its vitality, of a tradition. Those working in small groups within a tradition have the support of the group mind, often making difficult concepts easier to learn and hard tasks easier to accomplish by being in the proximity of those who have done it before.
Initiation bears a responsibility. If you draw from the bank of forces, you must also contribute to it through your activity in the tradition. If you have made agreements, taken vows, or otherwise agreed to do something in a specific way, place, or time, you have those obligations. While no one can take an initiatory experience from you, and many initiatory experiences have nothing to do with joining groups, your link to the collective group can go to sleep with lack of use, wither due to neglect, or be severed by the elders or spirits of the tradition when you have transgressed or violated.
The collective work will not only help you, but will be borne by you. As the group goes through its own cycles as an entity itself, you are a part of that process because you have a relationship to the group. It is often the duty of younger initiates to redeem and transform the mistakes of previous generations, though some will simply cut ties instead of participating within it. At the other end of the spectrum, some over-identify with their tradition or initiation group and cannot separate their own path from the group. Their over-identification can lead to dogmatic interpretations, or a lack of ability to take critique of self, elders, or tradition. Power struggles outside of the tradition—and within—are common when this occurs.
Like anything else, tradition and initiation come with both blessings and drawbacks. I know many incredibly successful, talented, independent practitioners, and I know so many successful and talented members of various orders, covens, groups, and lodges. One size does not fit all on the path. Your choice to join or not join depends on the type of experience you want, your intuition, and your own path. But if something is before you and a potential door is opening, I think it does help to investigate it, and ask yourself if it’s right for you. If you feel called to explore formal initiation, ask yourself why and in what form, and explore more. If you feel called to never initiate or follow a tradition, likewise ask yourself why and explore those thoughts and feelings more.
So in the end, all magick is not the same.
It’s all operating with the same underlying force, but how one operates with it is different. New things will be synthesized out of the old, but keep clear in your understanding of where things come from, what they mean, and how they fit together, if they fit together at all. In times past there was a huge push to keep Eastern and Western lore strongly divided despite a history of transmission between India, Persia, and Greece, to name just one pathway of connection among many, but today we can see how many ideas are complementary between Eastern and Western mysticism and can be used fill in the blanks of understanding and terminology. In time, new cohesive things will grow from that. The best ones will be consciously brought together and organically grow.
When we start, it’s good to learn our genres as they are, root ourselves in what is, and become fully conscious of not only what we are doing, but how and most importantly, why. Like any art, master some fundamentals and then go explore.
In my experience I would say magick, as a fundamental force, has some level of agency and intention, and is part of providence and magickal fate. When you begin, you use magick. As you grow more experienced, the magick uses you. That seems like a horrible step backwards for some, but the wise realize it is the true nature of things.
You study magick. You do magick. And you become magick.