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What is magic?

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What is magic?

The existence of magic presupposes various things, the most obvious of which is the issue of control. Magic can be defined as: causing change according to one’s will, expanding one’s attainable reality, seeking power, and so on. All these definitions place control at the center of the topic of magic. This is all well and good, but it illustrates the fact that from a magical point of view, we are unable to go beyond the zone of control. These are issues that usually devolve into mysticism and are denied or cursed by chaos magicians. This is a mistake, as half the quality of our experience is dependent on our ability to let go, stop worrying, stop controlling, and allow ourselves to have fun. Ramsey Dukes, in a 1993 lecture (Thelemic Symposium, Oxford, UK), made this point: whatever our level of control, we have no guarantee that the result will be satisfactory to us. He used to illustrate this duality with the Tarot cards, the Mage and the Fool. The Mage represents control, the Fool represents ecstasy. In their extreme forms, where their true nature is revealed, the Mage would want total control of the universe, everything working according to plan; the Fool would be the mystic, an ethereal form of bliss. Between these two extremes, all magic is contained. Ecstasy is the basis of gnosis; without the counterbalance of concentrated will, it slides into unstructured play. Control is the basis of magical structure, it defines the magician’s will in a given situation, but without ecstasy it will not work. Without a tank full of gnosis, the magic vehicle won’t start.

Basic magic training builds firmness, strong will. Completing good basic magic training makes the practitioner capable, through sheer persistence, of persevering when practice becomes arduous. This self-discipline interacts dynamically with the flexibility of faith, and together they are the magician’s base assets. Take one definition of magic: the pursuit of power. In a magical context, what is power? Power is the ability to do things. The more ‘horsepower’ or kilowatts an engine has, the more it can do in a certain amount of time. When we do magic, we can harness a gnosis that requires physical exertion, like dancing or drumming for a long time, and by doing so we combine our sweat work with our magical power. In our astral image, we can visualize ourselves growing, enlarging, shining, sizzling, glowing with a kind of magical potential. Our visualization of power in this case is based on images of physical power.

However, equating magical power to physical power can be limiting. Placing this type of technique in any ritual can only improve magical efficacy by the contribution the effort gives, for magical trance or gnosis intensity. Even the impression of the intensity of the gnosis scale can be misleading: we may be tempted to completely disregard the impression of physical energy or feel only extreme disorientation as an adequate state of gnosis, and thus be puzzled by the lack of results from our magic. The physical image of magical power has a further disadvantage: it suggests pressure against a kind of resistance. This resistance is most often found in magic whose source is in the mind of the magician, and the harder he presses against it, the harder it will press against him. This is the paradox of Lust for Results, and the sorcerer must show cunning to get around this paradox and succeed in his magical art. Incivility is thus a threat to efficiency. The Daoists understood this. Power is more like a fluid quality, where the magician glides freely from one reality into another, taking his Universe with him.

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