The First Steps
For those who don't know quite where to start in the path of magic, this article is directed at you, written in a way that should be understandable for anyone not already familiar with magical terminology. In this article my aim shall be to present to you, the reader and aspiring magician, a few of the basic concepts of magic, as well as a very brief overview of a few of the forms of magic one can learn today. In addition there is also a short F.A.Q, to answer some questions you may have before you ask them, and therein save some repetition in the forums.Before Beginning: Things to Consider
Before a profitable traveler goes somewhere, he must first decide two things: Firstly, where he is going, and why he is going there. Secondly, how he plans to get there at all. Likewise, we find these same preliminary ideas to have value to the potential aspirant who is considering the path of magic.
Where do you wish to go, and why? To what end do you wish to practice magic? Look within yourself, and find the answers to these two questions. Some want to practice magic merely as a means of acquiring some kind of power, whereas others practice for the attainment of some virtue or inner nobility. Some practice magic only to make their lives here a little easier, where some practice magic in order to ascend upwards and connect themselves with divine forces. There are those who study and practice magic only to see if it is possible, or to test the limits of what a human can really do when not confined to the conformed mind-set of the masses. Some people believe that magical study has no practice, but is merely the intellectual and philosophical examination of the universe and one's place in it, spiritually speaking. Some magic is theoretical and speculative, some is almost entirely practical. Some magic is meditative, some is ritualistic, some is impromptu and spontaneous, some is based on exact will. Some people are merely looking for that fabled "something more," because they are convinced that there is a greater purpose to living and they have hitherto been unable to discover that purpose in materialistic living or in established religion. Some people are looking for a lifestyle and destiny, some are looking for a hobby. As a potential student of magic, you may belong to any number of those categories.
You may also belong to a wider group, that group of aspiring students of occultism who do not quite know why they are here, why they are reading this article right now at all. Sometimes a person is merely drawn, in an effortless movement of the soul, to his natural place. In that case you were always going to discover spirituality, as surely as by the same mechanics as those which cause the moon to orbit the Earth, and the Earth to orbit the Sun. It is simply in your nature. For such a person, there may as of yet be no defined purpose for pursuing magic beyond a simple feeling that it should be pursued. Some people such as this will jump from system to system trying to get a general feeling of why they are interested in magic, looking for that something they know is calling them. If I might be so bold as to make a suggestion, however, I recommend that such a person choose a path centered around self-revelation. In learning more about who you really are, the real you and not this perishable temporary you, meaning may manifest of its own accord.
So which of these is it? Or is your intention not in the list at all? Whatever it is, grasp it and contemplate it. Think long about where it may take you. If you seek power, remember that it often comes at a great price. If you seek harmony, do not forget that great power may therein become past your reach. If you seek wisdom, remember that wisdom is only intellect that has been applied, and that knowledge without application is only a waste. If you seek to prove yourself to the world, remember that the people of this world fear change and challenge, and shall see you as a threat, forever persecuting you once you have presented yourself to the public. Magic is very much a two-sided sword, and it was for good reason that we find in the gospels "They will hate you for my sake," and also in the Book of the Law, "They will say that you are fallen."
In beginning this incredible path, though, there must be a kind of disclaimer. Throughout the course of the magician’s journey, he shall both see and learn things that shall forever imprint, taint or scar the way he sees the world. There are walls along the path, each one impossible to see through(though you may guess as to what is on the other side), and which must be broken through if the magician is to proceed from the level of understanding he has at that point attained. However, sometimes we see that what that wall hid from us could, and very well may, destroy everything we thought we knew up until that point. Entire viewpoints and goals, not just in magic, but in life itself, change in the coming and passing of a light breeze against your cheeks. Therefore, choose your path and your goals now, but remember that they may not stand once you progress in wisdom.
Thus, allow yourself to learn. If you intend to be a student of the path of magic, then make of yourself a student. This doesn't mean that cocky psuedo-student in the back of your highschool classes. It means that little child in elementary school, which more heart than mind, and not yet resistant to new ideas. If you intend to learn, then learn! Magic is not for people who are simply seeking validation or support for their own ideas. Everywhere there are charlatans, there are hundreds if not thousands of websites about magic, and thousands if not tens of thousands of books available on the subject of spirituality just from this past century. Any fool can find someone out there, supposively of authority, that agrees with his own views. It is best for the aspiring student of these arts to humbly bow his head, and to work from the understanding that he likely has some erroneous ideas due to a lack of proper training and instruction. The Importance of a Teacher
A teacher, or at least some manner of guidepost, is of absolute importance to the aspiring student of the magical sciences. Some people are "luckier" than others in this regard, in that they may have teachers from previous incarnations that will magically draw the student back to them. For others this may be one of their first incarnations seeking spiritual wisdom or magical ability, and so they will have to find a teacher instead. Yet others may have had teachers in pastlives, both those teachers may not be advanced enough themselves to form cross-lifetime links with their students. In the end, there are several possibilities like this, and it is better if at least in the beginning the student just assumes he is on his own thus far, and therefore conducts his own research.
In this research a student must not only investigate a certain system of magic, but at least as importantly, he must investigate what kinds of magicians that path has produced. In every system there should be at least a handful of "lighthouse adepts," adepts from that system of magic who lived that system's teachings, and were living examples of its success. By their success, by their examples and their teachings, you can get a general idea of the power of the system itself. Thus search for these examples of adepts within the systems you are interested in, and see if you can find any adepts who represent what you hope to achieve. Finding such a person, or a combination of such persons, is a very valuable discovery. It will provide a clear goal, a clear route torwards that goal, and in times of doubt will provide a glowing inspiration. There will hopefully be examples of such adepts in the history of the system you are investigating, and if you are lucky, you may even know living examples to learn from.
The latter is the real ideal. To find good examples in history of what you are looking for is fantasic and of great value, but to find a living example, a living adept of a certain system that may be accessible to you personally, is truly priceless. The immediate instruction and mentorship of a teacher who has achieved at least a majority of the goals of his system of magic, and who's life and governing self principles set great examples for the validity of that path, ensures the swiftest and most complete success for the student. As it is said in the Wisdom of Sirach, you should certainly wear out such a man's doorstep with your feet, and weaken his door with your knocking. If he is a teacher by nature, he will not mind. If he is only a teacher by circumstance, then humbly learn what he has to offer, and ensure you are no burden.
To that end there are several kinds of "teachers," which can more or less be categorized and explained in this way:
- Mentors: Mentors are fellow students who happen to be further along in your intended path than you are, and though they themselves still have much to learn, they can offer a helping hand. This is sometimes called a proctor in magical circles.
- Teachers: A teacher is more advanced than a mentor. If he is really a qualified teacher, then he is one full "portal" beyond you. To understand this, it should be understood that most systems have major "initiation points," or major spiritual achievements that move them up into a new level. Imagine the public school system in the United States for example, with an Elementary School, a Middle School, and a High School. If you are in the proverbial "Elementary School" of your system, then your teacher should be beyond Middle School, and actually in the "High School," so to say. If, continuing the analogy, you are in 1st grade, then a mentor can be as close to you as 2nd grade, just one grade away. A teacher though, should, proverbially, be in 12th grade at least, or have already graduated High School and moved on to significantly higher education. It is a crude analogy, but hopefully it helps illustrate how much further than you a person should be to really be considered your teacher.
- Teaching Adepts: A "teaching adept" is someone who has achieved all of the normal attainments along that particular path, within his system. He is "illuminated" as far as his own system and its students are concerned, and is in a position to lead a student all the way to the end of that chosen path, and even to point the student where to go from there should he accomplish everything. Whereas mentors and teachers have students, an adept can truly have a disciple.
- Master: In the western tradition such a person is also called a Hierophant or Perfect Illuminati. This is someone who is literally a living, breathing embodiment of the system of magic he represents. For all practical purposes, in the eyes of those following that path he is considered a perfect product of that path. Masters are few and far between. To follow a master is a weighty responsibility, and various masters sometimes demand certain sacrifices on the part of the disciple to prove the disciple's heartfelt yearning. A master has absolute spiritual authority in his system.
So you’ve thought about WHERE you’d like to get. Now how do you get there? The paths of magic are many; more complex and in greater multitude than the secret paths of the tree of life. Therefore, before you decide to go somewhere, consider how you wish to get there. The roads and highways are the systems of magic which have arisen to present themselves throughout the course of thousands of years. Some new, some old, none less efficient in its progression than the other(depending on the magician). I, for example, have chosen the path of Hermeticism, trying always to come closer to my God, and have within that decided to exercise my magic via what is known as High Magic, which involves meditations, evocations, and invocations. However, that I have chosen summoning, and another has chosen elementalism, does not mean that I shall arrive at power, understanding, virtue, wisdom and/or harmony before him. The best way to begin your path into magic is to sit down and research as many different types of magic as you can, if only for a brief moment, so as to learn what they are all about, and what fruits they may bare for you. To help in starting that, I have provided some basic bare-bones explanations of a few different systems:Chaos Magic
Chaos magic was founded by A.O Spare, a magician in the earlier part of the 20th century, and revolves around two things: Chaos theory, and the use of any religion or belief required for the successful casting of a spell. The former is simply a theory which states that all things exist as chaos before they are organized into a state of completion. So, essentially, it is viewed(for example) that before the universe was created, all that existed was the state of being known as chaos. It is only because chaos exists that it can be organized, and therein the source of all organized existence is the chaos which existed before.
In the latter component of chaos magic, the idea is that the magician should not be restricted to any one religious belief, and therein be bound to a specific set of spells within that belief system. It is held among chaos magicians that the magician should avail himself of any religious beliefs required for the successful casting of a desired spell. So if for the successful casting of one spell you need to be Jewish, and adhere to their hierarchies and pantheon, then you shall do so, dropping that belief after the spell has been cast. If the spell requires the worship of an Egyptian deity, then the magician shall adhere to the Egyptian pantheon for the entirety of the operation, and believe in it for as long as the spell requires.
The most popular aspects of Chaos magic are sigilization and servitore creation, which are essentially the catalyzing of the magicians thoughts into some type of form, be it a symbol or a type of entity thought-form. Its contribution to modern magic has been a large part of magic theory.
Chaos Magic has very few ethical or spiritual overtones in most instances. Various pioneers of the system have even suggested that the "Chaote" should go out of his way to be hedenistic in some ways, and disregard moral concepts as products of religious dogma. Towards that ends it is sometimes called Discordian or Luciferian, with a heavy emphasis on personal liberties.
Positives: Chaos Magic is a very liberating experience for many people, and offers a certain fresh breath of air morally and ethically that many people today yearn for. It is in some ways especially appealing to youths who grew up in households where an established religion was forced upon them, since it allows them to stretch their legs, so to say. If you are looking for a no-strings-attached approach to causing natural phenomenon and controlling your inherent abilities, Chaos Magic may be worth a look.
Negatives: Because of its more libertine type, it attracts alot of "rebellious youth" which often makes it difficult to take the system and its representatives seriously. It is also, incidentally, quite "chaotic." Many of its teachers disagree on sometimes very pivotal issues, there are few universally practiced techniques, and other such things, which makes it hard to make a brotherhood out of it. The speed with which control over basic natural phenomenon comes to the successful Chaote often exagerates the ego as well, and makes him think he is a teacher before he is ready, causing a number of pseudo-teachers within the Chaos Magic community. Chaos Magic is also a very new system of magic, and therefore has not produced a number of model magicians to examine, in order to grade the efficiency of the system as a whole.Qabalah
The Qabalah is an ancient mystery school within the Jewish religion. It first began to become popular in western magic in the early 1600's with the emergence of some Rosicrucian fraternities who taught religious symbolism of the Judeo-Christian paradigm. Simultaneously a number of so-called Qaballistic "grimoires" surfaced, which claimed to use Qaballistic symbolism for its magic. It was taught intermittently in Masonic and branched Rosicrucian organizations until the late 1800's, when the Golden Dawn brought it together as a valid system for categorization, proposed its use as a general tool of classification for the magician, and subsequently made it famous in the field of magic.
The Qabalah has speculative, theoretical, mathematical, practical, and mystical meanings and applications. On a basic level, the corpus of Qaballistic wisdom was originally compiled as the means of interpreting the Old Testament of the Bible, the Tanakh, and understanding such sacred texts as the Talmud and Mishnah. In that light the Old Testament was held to be highly symbolic, and to contain amongst other things teachings on doctrines such as the creation of the universe, death and reincarnation, and magic. It was thought that the Tanakh was compiled divinely by master adepts, and that the most sublime teachings were codified within it for those who knew how to look. The Qabalah was the method of searching for those secret teachings.
Within Qaballistic circles of initiation, which there are now few legitimate groups for, there are entire sets of magical and mystical practices. The Qaballist avails himself of the Ma'aseh Merkava, the Celestial Chariot thought to immortalize and deify the self, and bring the soul of the Qabalist to sit at the right hand of God. This is accomplished by following "the way of return," a secret system of rituals, spiritual adherences, and meditations meant to gradually illuminate the soul. Though there are teachings involving the control of the outer world, such as the use of symbolism and of various Divine Names, the bulk of the teachings are transcendental. None the less such fantastic accomplishments as the prophetic golem of Albertus Magnus and the homonculus of Abbot Trithemius are attributed to a knowledge of the Qabalah.
Positives: There are many rich texts and rabbinical writings on the Qabalah, both magically and mystically inclined. Over at least two thousand years the system has been refined to a complete unit, and it has produced quite a number of saints and adepts about whom stories abound. For those who are drawn to long hours of study, there is enough provided in the Qabalah and in the interpretation of the Tanakh to busy a dedicated person for the rest of his life. There is also the western take, called the "Rosicrucian Qabalah," which provides definite templates for the use of Qaballistic knowledge for magical purposes of lower and higher natures.
Negatives: Since the open publication of the Qaballistic system of categorization called the Tree of Life in the early 20th century, it has been subject to a good bit of butchering from various so-called authorities. The actual bulk of the Qabalah, which has little to do with the Tree of Life, has become more or less ignored. This can make it difficult to find someone who actually knows what they are talking about. Another difficulty is the problem presented of trying to become accepted by a rabbinical Qabalistic adept, with an established initiatory line. Such rabbi are often racist, and are hard pressed to teach anyone but a sworn Jew of Jewish birth. Unfortunately it is in such air-tight lineages that many of the greater secrets of the Qabalah are concealed. Hermetics
Today, the Qabalah is considered part and parcel of Hermetic Magic. In truth the Hermetic Sciences have been around for centuries, and likely predate the Qabalah by a healthy two or three thousand years. In a way the Qabalah evolved from the Hermetic tradition of Egypt, which the Qabalah is largely a translation of. The science is named in honor of its semi-mythological founder, Hermes Trismegistus, the great magus who so powerfully impacted the spiritual teachings of Egypt and Greece.
Hermeticism revolves around heavy moralistic and transcendental ideas. The hermetic magician rejects the physical world as an illusion of ideas, a play of lights against a backdrop. He is seen as living in a world of ignorance, on a ladder of such worlds where each new level is progressively closer to Truth. "Truth" is seen as the First Cause, the silent, eternal, self-begotten beginning of all things that is considered the highest God, and often called "The Good." The magician seeks union, or "Henosis," with that Supreme God. This is achieved by proper living, the observance of spiritual principles and laws, meditation, and ritual magic. Very little emphasis is put on magically influencing external phenomenon, though it is taught that such powers automatically develop for the hermetic magician over time, as a result of his ascent towards divinity.
The Invocation of God-Forces and the Evocation of Spirits are central practices of the Hermetic Science, which undertakes "The Great Work" of purifying and deifying the self. Control over the four elements, which are seen as the most immediate stepping stones to climb out of the influence of this world, forms a bulk of the initial training in this system, according to such Hermeticists as Agrippa and Bardon. Practices such as Alchemy and Astrology also play central roles in the progression of the system, and the creation of the fabled "Philosopher's Stone" is ascribed to this path.
Positives: A morally strong system focused on purification and evolution, it perfectly fits those students who are more mystically inclined, and want to focus on advancing themselves in a transcendental direction. Many of the most famous magicians of the past 2,600 years have been Hermetic Magicians, including such towering figures as Pythagoras, Hermes Trismegistus, Apollonius of Tyana, Iamblichus, Agrippa, Paracelsus, Francis Bacon, Benjamin Franklin, Le Comte St. Germain, Aleister Crowley, and Franz Bardon. This results in there being a huge body of text available for study, and plenty of examples for motivation and inspiration. There are also a number of Magic Orders, which serve as colleges for magical training within the Hermetic paradigm, all over the world. This means that every hermetic student will have a place to go to learn.
Negatives: Hermeticism is morally strict, and has a tendency to develop into dogmatism, especially in second and third-generation schools. Likewise though much has been written about its philosophies, there has been comparatively little written about its practices. What little has been written is often very ritualistic, which makes its practice difficult for those who have never had a teacher, or for those who have trouble securing privacy and enough space. Because of its age, there are also many "splinters" of the tradition, which can make it difficult to decide on a good Order or Teacher to begin the path with. The Northern Path
What has been labled "The Northern Path," for lack of a better term, is the pursuit of magic and mysticism through the tools and symbols of Scandinavian mythology and its initiates. In many ways this winds up revolving around a knowledge of the runes and their uses for magic and for divination. However the true initiate of this path must also be familiar with the symbolic meaning of the travels of Odin, with the initiatic symbolism represented by Baldur, and with the proper means of invoking the Gods of Asgard.
Today, the principle use of this path involves Runemal, the application of the 24 runes for divinatory purposes. The Gothi ("priest") will case the 24 runes in any of a number of ways, and according to the tradition he has learned, will interpret them in a manner similar to the I-Ching, the casting of lots, or the Tarot. Another common practice is that of making Bind Runes, which is an ancient practice of combining the runes into symbols appropriate for the task at hand. This serves as a sort of sigil creation method for the Gothi, and is used specifically to accomplish some kind of magical effect.
Another part of Scandinavian Magic is the use of the Gladr Charms, which are a series of charms which bring about specific effects, and of which Odin speaks in the Havamal, a poetic recording of the Allfather’s words to men. They essentially contain a combination of bind runes which will best bring about the desired effect. The proper enaction of the Galdr charms requires that one be in turn with the runes via the Oral Galdr Incantation and Vibrations.
Positives: There is a rich and interesting mythology intimately connected to this system of magic, which allows the student to immerse himself in lore. The runes themselves are provably very powerful magic talismans, and with consistent use natural magic can be easily worked with bindrunes and the galdr. They also provide for a very easy but accurate system of divination which has become increasingly popular over the last forty years. I personally often use the runes for a "morning casting," a quick and easy divinatory casting to get a basic glimpse of what the day will likely hold, though I often only do such on days of importance.
Negatives: There is a massive circle of misinformation in the area of runic magic, largely due to a New-Age inspired, heavily Wiccan-like earth based religion called Asatruism. Family lines of Scandinavian Magic have openly spoken against the inaccuracies of the magical practices taught by these Asatru groups, but little real headway has been made. Unfortunately, most books available on the use of the runes come from this movement. There is also extremely little written record of the traditional teachings and practices of runic magic, and by the time what few ancient texts we have today were finally written down they had been influenced by the migration of Christianity into the area. This makes a genuine pursuit of this system nearly impossible today. Talismanic Magic
Also called Enchantment, talismanic magic is the “blessing,” or enchanting of an item to magical ends. The operation of the enchantment may involve the vibration of divine names, the inscribing of words in magical alphabets and languages, the charging of sigils and power words upon the item, the simple infusion of energy and will, or many other approaches to the same ends, each with effectiveness which vary only with the magician’s personal preferences and attitude.
However, Talismanic magic extends as the system of enchantment to more than simply inanimate objects. The skilled enchanter can cast what is often called a bewitchment upon a desired person, bringing love, bad luck, good luck, etc, upon that person. In this way, the dynamics learned in enchanting can be easily applied to regular magical operations.
Most commonly, talismanic magic is used to create things such as protection amulets, to guard houses and people from attack by both entites and the malicious wills of other people.
Positives: Usually taught in easy and straight-forward manners. A number of occult authors over the centuries have published encyclopedic collections of talismanic knowledge. Though recognized as a system of magic within itself by some groups today, it was traditionally a part of many larger magical systems.
Negatives: Fairly restrictive, in that one consistently needs something to carry the energy in. However, the enchanter will gradually develop the power to manipulate energies more directly. It also requires a considerable amount of study to become an accomplished enchanter, since one needs a vast understanding of the interrelations of complex sets of symbolism.Elementalism
The backbone of beginning magic, in my opinion. Elementalism is the use of those energies which are associated to the four elements as recognized by Plato, which are earth, fire, air, and water. A full and very complete look at the ins and outs of elemental magic is provided in my "Treatise on Elemental Magic," available here on Veritas. Suffice to say here that it has long been held by many genuine magical traditions that the elements are the basic building blocks of our world, and that their mastery is the first step to liberation from the sorrows and sufferings of this world.
Elementalism entails not only the use of all those elements on a celestial, intellectual and manifest level, but also the conjuring of those spirits which are called “elementals,” and the use of them in order to enact magical operations.
Positives: Unlike a majority of magical traditions, the practice of elemental magic for both natural magic phenomenon and spiritual evolution has been clearly outlined in a published work called "Initiation into Hermetics," written by Franz Bardon. This has given a sort of frame of reference for practical elemental work on an effective scale.
Negatives: Franz Bardon's works are really the only straight-forward authoritative books available for the practice of elemental magic. Many works, like Agrippa's, are cryptic and hard to transfer into practice, whereas those of people such as Paracelsus are largely alchemical in application. Shamanism
Shamanism is best known as the old Indian methodology of magic, in which each tribe had a “witchdoctor,” or “medicine man” of sorts. This tribal leader was in charge of all religious rituals, making sure the tribe stayed in good favor of the gods, dealing with any diseases within the village, protecting it from outsiders and evil spirits alike.
As great as that all is, a complete system of divination, healing and summoning within itself, most modern magicians only worry themselves with the shamanic methods of certain meditations, in which the magician will learn how to induce a state of trance, other important states of altered mindsets, as well as induce “shamanic adventures,” in which the mind is set free, residing in some place within the depths of the soul in meditation. The difference between this and basic visualization of being in, lets say, a windy field, is that in shamanic meditation, you can actually feel the wind, hear the surrounding wildlife, and smell the grass.
"Shamanism," however, applies to a rather wide array of spiritual practices, and not just a particular path. The Shamanism of the Native Americans for example, which is most popular in the United States, and which has many similarities to Amazonian Shamanism in South America, is quite different from the Samian Shamanism of northern Europe. Other "Shamanic" practices such as those of the Kahunas of Hawaii, are quite similar to the tantric practices of yogis in northern India. Some are more concerned with phenomenon, whereas others are more focused on spiritual evolution. Thorough investigation will bring to light which system of Shamanism is suited for you.
Positives: Regardless of where on the globe it is, a defining characteristic of Shamanism is often that it is practiced by cultural tribes that were comparatively technologically unadvanced for most of history. The result is that it is usually intense natural, and connects its students intimately with the energies of the Earth, and of the nature spirits. This is largely the reason for its boom in popularity amongst the New Age movement, since as the world becomes more technologically advanced, many people seek relaxation in nature. In a full Shamanic tradition, should one be fortunate enough to have access to such a lineage, it is usually a highly diverse and practical system which will develop many magical skills across multiple levels.
Negatives: The embrace of Shamanism by the New Age Movement has caused a flow of misinformation regarding the actual nature and practices of the tradition. So-called "authorities" on the subject are often only people who went to a village and studied the shamans for a handful of years, and not fully initiated masters from a direct lineage themselves. Because of the nature of the tradition, many Master Shamans are not able to write, or have no access to publishers and the likes, or simply have no interest at all in the modern world. Thus very few real authorities have written good sourcebooks for the practice of Shamanism. Instead, self-proclaimed shamans, usually Americans, make up techniques and publish them as being Shamanic practices. Wicca
Though it has slowed down some in this last decade, Wicca is still likely the largest portion of the New Age Movement. It is a nature-based pagan religion, as well as a magical tradition, since much of the religious worship is magical and ritualistic in nature. The common nomenclature of "spells" and "hexes" is due largely to Wicca and its offshoots, and the system has essentially taken over the title "witch," a witch now being largely considered a Wiccan. The common use of the pentagram and the appearance of "wands" and the likes as hobby shops and New Age stores is the direct cause of the success of Wicca in the west.
Wicca was founded in the 1950's by a man named Gerald Gardner. Gardner was a student of the Golden Dawn earlier in his life, before its collapse, and blended much of what he learned there into the rituals and theories of Wicca. By his own account, while in northern England one year he was drawn during the night to the sound of drums and celebration in the woods. When he found the source of the sound deep in the forests, he was confronted by a group that called themselves "the Wica," and was told that this group constituted a "coven." It is said that he was initiated into their practices, and after recieving instruction for several weeks, the group disappeared. Gardner took the initiative and began spreading this system, into which he heavily breathed traditional hermetic practices, as "Wicca."
The actual practice of magic in Wicca revolves largely around five elements, being the traditional four with the addition of spirit, represented by the pentagram. Their "holy symbol" thereby is the pentacle, being the pentagram within a circle, usually worn as a necklace or a ring. Various divisions of Wicca also incorporate some zodiacal astrology and basic alchemy (potions and the likes) into their repetoire. The witch eventually builds up a collection of spells and recipes, commonly referred to by the Wiccan tradition as a "Book of Shadows." Some "covens," groups of practicing Wiccans, are more influenced by folk practices, whereas others are more influenced by the hermetic tradition and the writings of such magicians as Aleister Crowley.
Positives: Because of the enormous success of Wicca in the western world, there are more recently written books on it than probably any other system of magic. This makes learning Wicca very easily. Many Wiccans have published their Book of Shadows, which also makes it easy for a new student to immediately begin practicing Wiccan magic. Another major benefit is that in most major cities there is at least one coven accepting members, allowing a student to join a group and learn from various other Wiccans. Being a nature-based pagan faith, it is a nice break from the ordinary for many people, and gives them a sense of connection to nature.
Negatives: Alot of liberty has been taken with defining Wicca, and therefore a number of different sects within the tradition differ quite radically in belief and practice. Often times, a Book of Shadows will read more like a collection of superstitious folk remedies than a collection of scientific magical operations. The image of Wicca as being for middle-aged women and teenage girls also deters a number of would-be applicants of the faith. Thelema
Thelema was founded by Aleister Crowley as a means of spreading the teachings of the Book of the Law, as well his own ideas about what magic should be. In reference to those teachings, Thelemites often refer to magic with a "k," spelling it "magick," this being Crowley's addition to make a distinction between real magic and stage magic.
Religiously, the pantheon of Thelema is Egyptian. The premise is that Osiris, the god of the last Aeon of Man, was giving way to the rising of Horus to be the god of this new "Aquarian" age of man. This "changing of the guard" is said to occur every 2,000 years or so, and is held by Thelemites as indicating a new direction for humanity. The "Law" of the new Aeon is summarized, according to Crowley, by the dictum "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will."
Thelema is both magical and mystical. Mystically, it is seen as the sacred duty of the Thelemite to unite Nuit with Hadit, and to merge into the infinitude of Hadit, and become a god himself, a "star" of the universe. It has its own set of rituals, most of them devised by Crowley, but still based on principles he learned from his time in the Golden Dawn in his youth. Crowley is considered by Thelemites to be the Prophet of the New Aeon.
Positives: Crowley left behind an enormous collection of writings for aspirants and initiates of various levels. He also used a large Order, the O.T.O, to spread his teachings, and established the A.A., both of which are still functioning today. Many of Crowley's books can be found for free online, which makes studying easier, and a number of exercises are mystical and meditative in nature, meaning they can be easily enough practiced by most people.
Negatives: The image associated with Crowley is often negative, and on a surface level, the Book of the Law is offensive to many people's senses. As a result, Thelemites sometimes recieve criticism from the magical community as a whole. Alchemy
The art of alchemy is sometimes practiced as part of a broader system, as it is in Rosicrucianism and Hermetic Magic, and sometimes practiced as an individual path. With used in conjunction with a larger system, alchemy is often used to support and compliment the training was is already undergoing. In "Initiation into Hermetics," for example, Franz Bardon teaches some alchemical creations to aid in meditations for the development of clairvoyance, clairaudience, and clairsentience. When alchemy is practiced on its own, then alchemical creations are used to develop spiritual energies within the alchemist, as well as to attain magical faculties and powers.
There are a number of aspects to alchemy. Tinctures, elixirs, essences, oils, balms, and salts are employed for the accomplishment of personal, magical, mystical, and medical ends. Some alchemists specialize in homeopathic and spagyric remedies as alternative medicine, whereas other alchemists choose to focus on purely spiritual applications. Many choose to do both, and get the full use of this art. Traditionally the alchemist starts his work in the vegetable kingdom, learning how to use the alcohols, oils, and salts of various plants and herbs. When he has achieved competence in that field, the alchemist may choose to advance to mineral alchemy. This can include using mineral homeopathy, or in more advanced practice, the transmutation of metals into other metals. The fabled accomplishment of the master alchemist is the transmutation of a base metal, such as lead, into a valuable metal such as gold.
The goal of alchemy is the "Great Work," which often means a literal and allegorical creation of what is called "The Philosopher's Stone," or the "Stone of the Sages." On an allegorical level, the "Philosopher's Stone" is the perfect art of spiritual evolution, the "base metal" is the animal and worldly nature of the alchemist's self, and the transmutation of that base metal into gold becomes symbolic of the self illumination of the alchemist. On a practical level, it is thought that a master alchemist really can create a stone, or in some instances a powder, which allows him to replicate gold by projecting it upon a base metal, and causing a transformation of that metal into gold. Then gold is thought to then be purified to its highest quality by using other methods. Ironically, however, many historical alchemists have taught that only an adept purified from the desire for wealth can achieve this, and that obtaining of the Philosopher's Stone should simply be sought after as a demonstration that the alchemist has conquered nature.
Another famous product of alchemical lore is the Elixir of Immortality. This is thought to be either a red elixir or a white powder, which when taken in small quantities on certain days in certain months, causes a rejuvenatory process within the body. By its use, it is taught that the master alchemist can prolong his life indefinately. Incidentally it is taught that whoever can creat the Elixir of Immortality has the knowledge required to create the Philosopher's Stone, and vice versa.
Man's greatest fear is death, and his greatest desire is wealth. With that in mind, it becomes obvious why alchemy has always captivated the minds of men throughout all of history, since it seemingly promises a solution to both. The stories of the "staged deaths" of people such as Nicholas Flamel, Cagliostro, Francis Bacon, and Le Comte de St. Germain, and the rumors of their ongoing life for decades or centuries afterwards, have ensured that people will still be practicing alchemy far into our future.
Positives: Alchemy is comparatively easy to start, with a basic distiller being possible to make from home, and the surface of an oven sufficing to begin initial experiments. With only a little bit of practice alchemy can yield immediate results, such as noticeable increase in health and energy. Its practice and experimentation is also wide and diversified enough to promise that the student will always have "the next step" to work towards. There is also a fair amount of written information available on the subject.
Negatives: There is nothing inherently spiritual about doing alchemy, which means that spiritual and magical progress will really only be guaranteed after you have spent quite some time getting the various tinctures meant to cause that growth correct. Experiments often fail for no apparent reason, and this can cause frustration. Extensive experimentation can be quite expensive over time. Suitable ventillation is required for metallic experiments, and this can be hard for the average person to secure. While vegetable experiments are usually harmless, the more advanced mineral alchemy, which is seen as a necessary step in advancement, can be deadly depending on the minerals being worked with.
Those are a few of the more well-known systems of magic, to give you a short head start in the research. I strongly advise examining the aforementioned systems to see if any of their dynamics appeal to you on a personal level, and seem to easily compliment your intended goals.F.A.Q: My advice in light of certain questions
Q: Which system is the easiest to learn?
A: None of them are “easy” to learn. They all require a great deal of dedication on the part of the magician, from the time the path begins, and onwards until it ceases.
Q: Which system do you think a beginner should start with?
A: Personally, I strongly advise taking up studies in the field of elementalism while a novice in the field of magic. The reasoning for this is that it will provide the aspirant some very simple, yet invaluable, magic theory, as well as get him into the habit of feeling, identifying, and ultimately working with those energies of the universe which shall be called upon time and time again by the magician in his future operations. If pursued in connection to a larger paradigm, such as Hermeticism, then elemental work can blossom into the safe and effective practice of invocation and evocation, and will give the student to accomplish essentially anything.
Q: Is magic evil?
A: I refer you to another article, "Introduction to Magic," which provides a more thorough look at what magic is as a whole. Suffice to say here that magic is simply a tool, and it is the wielder who defines whether that tool is used or abused. In general, though, you would have nothing to lose by experimenting with magic yourself, and seeing first hand if it is evil, or if it is a very positive and uplifting practice.
Q: How can you tell if a teacher or master is the real deal, or a fraud?
A: Until you develop skills such as clairvoyance and clear psychic intuition, this can be difficult. It is best to rely on experience. If you have been around that person enough, there will be clear signs that will indicate whether he is genuine or a charlatan. Until you know for sure, act with reserve and caution.
Q: Is ritualism needed?
A: Ritualism is not necessary, but its value as an aid can not be ignored by an intelligent student. No matter where you are in your progress, the application of a well thought-out ritual will likely be of some further use. In the beginning, though, it is usually recommended that the student learn basics that have nothing to do with ritual work, such as how to calm his mind, and control his thoughts.
Q: You said that elementalism is a good place to begin. That’s all good, but there are four elements. Which one should I start with?
A: You should develop a spiritual practice regime wherein you will be able to practice with all four elements an equal amount. Even if this means that Monday you practice with fire, Tuesday with air, Wednesday with water, etc, due to time constraints, that is fine. However practicing too much with a single element over the others can cause imbalances in one's character, and in the lower spiritual bodies. This is called an Elemental Imbalance. An initiate should seek Elemental Equilibrium instead by working with all four elements.
Q: Do I have an element that I’m associated with?
A: No. A common misconception amongst the uninitiated is that each person has a particular element which they are most related to. The reasoning for this exists within the realm of psychoanalytics, not elemental association. You do not possess within you more of the air element than someone else, etc. However, it shall perhaps be worthy to note here that many people have a particular element which they find easiest to work with, and which resonates nicely with them. The reasoning for this is, as mentioned, not etheric, but intellectual. If your traits correspond with the intellectual manifestations of water, then you may find it easier to work with water. You are the cause of this, not the element.
Such aspects of the personality will cause certain elements within you to manifest more visibly. This will give the appearance that you have too much of a particular element, and some occultists and teachers will even refer to a person as having "too much fire" or the likes. This is more a matter of convenient phrasing, however, since technically such a person would have just as much fire as anyone else. It is simply that the personality expresses that element more dramatically.
Q: I’m an otherkin! Shouldn’t I be naturally more inclined towards a specific element?
A: Herein exists another large misconception amongst particularly the young audience which graces the OEC(Online Energy Community). The physical vessel, which is called the human body, and furthermore the etheric vessel were created to compliment one another, and exist in both form and characteristics in a way that causes a parallel between the physical self and the etheric double. Basically what that means is that the human body is designed for the human soul, and vice versa. Likewise, any disruption in this natural order causes an inability to manifest. In other words(once again speaking in lay-man’s terms), if the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit(the soul and the body), you have no puzzle(the existence of an individual human). I tell you, unless the earth, the sky, the fires or the waters of this world made you themselves, with no woman as a medium for birth, you are a human. Nothing less, and most certainly nothing more.
Q: Should I tell my parents?
A: This is a common question, since much of the online community is young. The answer depends on your parents. If you have a very catholic family, for example, it may not be a good idea. If your mother or father studies anything occult, then of course. However, I will say this much: Eventually, your parents will find out. Are you going to let them do it by sneaking around your room and looking through your computer files, or are you going to come out and tell them, and therein sustain a level of suspect later on down the road? Somewhere down the line, you’ll have to come out of the closet. When that happens is up to you. You may be pleasantly surprised, even, and learn that your parents do not care about it as much as you thought they would.
Q: If I’m not going to do any ceremonial magic, should I still read the esoteric texts, such as the works of Solomon?
A: In my personal opinion, yes. I’ve read almost every esoteric text that is accessible to the public, and some which still aren’t. There have been many great minds in occultism before this modern time. Why should you not benefit from them?
Q: How long before I will start seeing real progress?
A: This depends on the goals of that system, as well as the intensity of your own dedication to it. There is not set or guaranteed timeline that works for everyone. Some students, for reasons usually to be found in previous incarnations, will advance very quickly with comparatively little work. Others will advance slowly with lots of work. Most advance normally with good dedication. Likewise if you are practicing a system which involves less tangible phenomenon at first, such as a path more mystically inclined, then you will need to search out the positive changes you are seeing in your life, as these are harder to see sometimes. As a general idea, though, most students have experienced real progress within three months.
Those are a few of the questions I find myself to be asked quite often. If you’ve read through them and still have more concerning starting magic, please contact me and ask. I can assure you of an answer, and if the question is particularly valuable, I will edit this article and add your question to the F.A.Q.