The Lost Art of Magickal Exploration

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

I was taught that Witchcraft is a science, art, and religion, but through its practice, I learned that magick is way of life, a state of being, and most importantly, an adventure. The science, art, and religion were the foundations to learn. The adventure, the journey, was the means by which I could experience magick as a way of life and a state of being. I often tell people we start out by learning magick. We then do magick, putting into practice the ideas we learn. Then we become the magick itself, or rather, we fully realize we always have been, and so has everyone and everything else. While we can understand this idea, we can’t live it and embrace it fully until we go on the journey and travel the path.

Today many people can get too caught up in the public and private recognition of others, or in the collecting of things, be they certificates, initiations, or simply arcane information. A true seeker wants to know everything about everything, but there comes a point where we must digest what we have learned and put it into practice. Sometimes in the quest to find out everything about everything, particularly in this day and age where esoteric information is so abundant and easily accessed, we get distracted from the firsthand knowledge that comes with experience. Even when applying our skills, we can get too enchanted in the process of psychically or magickally impressing other people, particularly doubters. It’s a fun practice, and I must admit I’ve done it in my time, but it should be a phase, not a lifestyle choice.

The basic techniques, when practiced diligently before and beyond the altar and temple room, will teach us directly. When we put them into practice in our daily life, we begin to see the wonder of the subtle world supporting our day-to-day reality. The two are not separate. Whenever and wherever you safely and appropriately can, open all of your senses and look for the patterns and the spiritual forces engaging in the world around you. Do it in cities. Do it in the countryside. Do it in stores and restaurants. Do it at gatherings and rituals. Do it outside your home. Do it at work. Engage your psychic senses when you are witnessing, but not necessarily involved in, dynamic things around you. Observe what a fight looks like psychically. Observe the energies of a loving exchange. Observe what is occurring at your gym. You might be surprised, literally, by what you see. Or perplexed and confused. Or confirmed. But you’ll never know directly unless you engage.

Commune with your allies and guides. Don’t get too caught up, early on, on “serving the gods.” While I think service is great and I dedicate my life to it for spirits, community, and planet, some too quickly get into a master-servant relationship with divinities and mistake it for spiritual growth. From a magickal perspective, a priest/ess is a partner working with, not necessarily serving or recreating old worship patterns. That work has been done, and from a magickal standpoint, there is new work, new ally-ship to be done. Yes, it is rooted in the old, but it isn’t just a repetition of the old. We live in a different age. Speak with your allies. Ask them what work you have together. Let them show you and teach you. Be open. If your only expectation is to recreate old patterns of worship, they’ll oblige, but if you are open to new exploration, they will also oblige. Find inner world healers to help you release and heal. Will they ask you to help them, or other people, or the planet, in exchange? Find teaching spirits to tutor you. While messages of love and forgiveness are wonderful, I’m talking about those that will teach you esoteric techniques not found in any book…yet! Perhaps you’ll be guided to share it with others or write about it. This is how new techniques are best birthed into the world, in cooperation with the other side. Some might be unique to you, but others might be transmission of lost lore, or new lore to help our current generation. They help you pick up old threads and weave new patterns with them, patterns for our current age.

When out and about in a psychically receptive mode of perception, be open to communing with the genius loci, the spirit of the place, and any other entities you encounter. You might take them by surprise because so few people acknowledge them. What is your main spiritual intermediary—guide, go-between, control, familiar, or fetch? Whatever way you categorize it by function, who acts as your intermediary? Ask for information as you observe. Ask your spirit to lend you its perception or awareness. Ask your ally to translate communications between you and unknown spirits. If you want to know about something happening wherever you are, commune with your ally.

Engage in what some would call “psychic questing,” especially in the company of a small, intense group of practitioners. Use the information gained from spirit communion to guide you, like following a trail of breadcrumbs. Interact with the land and the spirits of the past. Engage with sacred sites, old churches, standing stones, and other places of powers. Do so with respect, and always start with the question “Is there any work for us to do together?” and be accepting when the answer more often than not is “no.” Follow up with “May I observe?” and often the answer is yes, as long as you don’t interfere. Such quests sometimes lead into bizarre territory and can reflect far more about the group consciousness than literal truth, even if it’s presenting as objective history with bits that can be verified. But such explorations can often lead to work to heal the land, release spirits in torment, shift an institution, and work with the folk soul of a people and place.

A group setting can be both good verification and support in such psychic questing and prepare you for later “assignments” as a solo magical practitioner. In fact, while coven, lodge, and circle structures are great, unless there are strict rules in your community, don’t be afraid to “play” with others. Yes, magick is an intimate act, and I’m not saying to do deep magick with just anyone, but often a circle of peers across traditions and between communities is a wonderful thing. Like a musician who starts playing guitar in her room, then joins an intense rock band, and then expands outward to play gigs and sessions in a variety of bands, the life of a Witch can be the same. We put a lot of time alone in a room practicing our “chops.” Then we join whatever “band” (aka coven or lodge) we think will “make it” and be our band for life, and sometimes that is true, but more often it is not. Covens, like bands, can disband or even implode in drama, which offers a different type of learning. Then we have a common experience and desire to play in a lot of different projects, some ours, some to help friends and peers as they help us. It can be a wonderful way to learn new things together in a supportive setting, just outside of our expected trajectory, providing a scenic detour that can offer a great education.

Psychically explore the subtle planes of the world you observe. Travel! Journey! Let your allies be your tour guides and take you places on and off the familiar maps. Ask questions of your allies and request to be shown how, and where, and why. You’ll find not everything is written about in the myths or found in the Shamanic Tree or Qabalistic glyphs. Of course, it is somewhere, just not a place easily described by our current maps of reality. This is good. Find places somewhat beyond human consciousness. Observe. Interact when appropriate. While you approach, do so with caution and respect, but don’t be so cautious that you will not be willing to make a mistake, get lost, or get hurt. Just like life, those are a part of learning too. We try to minimize them, but if we play it totally one-hundred-percent safe, we would never leave our houses. Life and magick both contain risk. Be sensible, but also be adventuresome. Explore and play along in addition to being disciplined and pious. The playfulness might get you as far, maybe even farther, than the strict discipline, at least after you’ve put in some time being disciplined enough to learn the basic skills. Stretching beyond the familiar territory builds a level of spiritual “muscle,” strengthening the light body to hold more and more consciousness, a key to our evolution.

For some wise magicians and Witches out there, this is all common, basic sense. Who isn’t doing these things? You might be surprised. Some get stuck in what they are taught and never dare to go beyond it, looking to earn the approval of teachers, yet this art of exploration was common amid my teachers and in my own life. Somehow, unfortunately, this practice has gotten lost along the way for many people seeking to stay within the “lines” of their book or tradition, or stay in their “lane” and not mess with forces they feel are beyond them. Do as you Will, but do so because it’s your choice to do so amid all the possibilities, rather than a choice made out in ignorance. Know that it is all possible, and not either-or. Know that you can have a unique path while simultaneously participating in a system, tradition, or community. The exploration, along with progress in a training program or tradition, will be the combination that can really promote your magical development and spiritual evolution. A regular deep practice with a large portion of it devoted to being guided by allies and exploring things off the books has been key for me. It’s also been key to have mentors, peers, and teachers who could affirm and confirm and challenge my explorations in educated, heartfelt conversations.

All of the above assumes you have the basic foundation and training to approach these things with common sense. You know how to enter in and out of trance; you’ve opened to psychic perception without being overwhelmed, you know how to ground, shield, and center; you have an effective guardian spirit ally and know how to operate and offer respect in the spirit world; and you have the common sense and intuition to know when to get out and when you are over your head. Don’t try to run before you can walk. If you don’t have all of these things under your belt, work on that first and then engage in the lost art of magickal exploration!

Temple of Witchcraft