Once upon a time, I was speaking with a friend online about some aspects of shamanic work, and the old axiom of “keeping silent” came up as a topic relevant for both us. Sometimes the things we see or experience in our Work can contradict what is generally accepted or acceptable among modern magical practitioners, and we keep quiet lest someone declare that what we are doing is wrong. I realized that I have internalized this attitude to a certain level. It keeps me from actually doing or trying different things, not just in trance work but in any sort of esoteric practice I might undertake.
Letting yourself be limited isn’t a healthy approach to spiritual work. When worry about things you cannot control, like potential failure or community censure, comes into the picture, it can quickly overshadow anything else happening in your practice. Fear can keep me from undertaking any sort of new or unfamiliar practice, which is probably the worst possible response.
First, on the matter of failure itself. It’s easy for me to sit here and type that if you tried and failed, at least you tried, which is better than not trying at all. I can also tell you that people doing their work for years or even decades, whether mundane or magical, will still fail sometimes. The key is how you handle that failure. Do you get up, dust yourself off and try again, or do you wallow in the feeling of failure? I know how hard it is to pick yourself back up when you’re in that moment — wondering if it’s even worthwhile to make the effort to continue or to simply keep replaying that failed moment in your head.
The only thing that seems to help is to learn from it. Don’t give up, and don’t feel sorry for yourself. Take an inventory: Is your failed magic based upon a technique you have previously used successfully, or is it something new? Is there some bigger reason for your magic not succeeding? Maybe you have doubts as to the wisdom of the work, or maybe you feel you don’t deserve success. Is it perhaps time to try a new technique, or a different practice entirely? Maybe you need to shift your perspective from, say, a particular concrete result to the efficacy of the process itself.
If you are in suffering a failed working, I would suggest not making any rash decision in the heat of the moment. Take some time to distance yourself from the event to gain impartiality, and work from there. If you let missteps keep you from walking, your only option is to stay in the exact same place, never progressing further. Rather than giving up, step back and look at things more objectively.
When the fear comes from a worry of being shunned, that is more difficult. I am well aware of the drive in most people to seek both approval and success. Positive reinforcement from others is a powerful motivator, and success means you live to see another day. But what do you do when you fall on your face? Or do not receive reinforcement? Or when people tell you exactly how you messed up? Are these people, the ones who’ll be judging, of any real consequence? Do their personal opinions really matter to you? Do you even need to share what you’re doing? Community is a wonderful resource for support, and it helps knowing that at least one other person has possibly tread this path before you. There is no substitute for learning from others, even if we are a community made up of people who most often learn from books. But when we worry for our reputation, often it’s a misguided need for validation that will enhance (or at least not undermine) our self-esteem.
Are their reactions knee-jerk? Are they responding from a place of concern for your well-being? This is one that is not as easily answered. I would hate to sound like a relativist and somehow allow my words to imply that if you’re doing something, it’s automatically okay. On the other hand, in my own Work I often find myself at the boundaries, which is not a regular space for most people, nor a comfortable one. Some of what I learn, I share — and some of it is meant to be shared. A great deal of my work is private and, at this point, meant for me first and foremost. I find that it’s a balancing act.
My best advise it to take a good look at why other people might not agree with the directions your magical work takes you. Are you ready to be taking this step? Could what you’re doing cause a great deal of hurt or harm? These are necessary questions to ask
yourself in this situation. Don’t shy away from the answers if they are not to your liking.
Hopefully, you are not in a position in which your choices are potentially harmful, and the fallout from whatever you’re doing will be minimal. If this is so, and you’re still feeling fear, and you’re not doing as a result, what can you do?
Perhaps a divination is in order, either cast by yourself or someone you trust. Or you could set this particular Working aside for the time being and focus on another project, or even on another aspect of your life, whether it be magical or mundane. You could throw caution to the wind and do it anyway, and see what happens. If you fail, so what? You’re not the first person to do so, and certainly not the last. That’s when you pick yourself up and learn from the experience.
And, perhaps, you’ll succeed.
©2010 by Soli.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
This leg of the Witches’ Pyramid is probably the simplest on the surface, since it involves doing the process that you’ve already decided upon. The decision to do the spell has been made; the caster’s Will is honed and ready to force the change; but now you get your tools out and start the chants to cast the spell. Sounds simple, right?
But there is much more than that to this aspect of magic. Daring to do a spell means you have a self-confidence that says you have the divine right to impose your Will on the universe, that you have the right to actually make things happen simply because you want them to happen.
To my mind, that takes a special kind of arrogance. To say to the Universe and to whatever form of Deity you honor, “I know better than you do, and I am going to make this action happen.” That sounds pretty severe and arrogant in my opinion.
It is saying that your life is not good enough. It is saying that you know how your life should be, in opposition to how it actually is, and it is saying that no matter what, you will use any methods, fair or foul, to force the outcome you wish to see.
It is daring the Universe to do its worst to you.
It is acceptance of not only the outcome, but also all the additional problems and unintended consequences of this spell.
Daring to do something can be a problem if you are going against the powers-that-be. If a deity has decided that the person you are trying to help is supposed to be sick at the same time you are trying to make them well, and you heal them anyhow, despite all the warnings and problems of that healing, there may be divine retribution. To Dare means you are willing and able to accept that and deal with it.
No matter what anyone says, there are powers in the universe that could be upset that you are doing this spell. Perhaps, it is because there will be unknown “butterfly effect” problems in another segment of creation. Maybe it is because there will be a power drain from something else that is needed and it may simply be that the desired outcome is supposed to be one that is out of reach. It is possible the binding you are doing is in opposition to the protection this God has promised to His follower.
Daring to do this spell then sets you up to be in direct conflict with that power. It means that there is the possibility that They will be upset with you and make your life “interesting” for a while as retribution and punishment.
Now, assuming that your Will and your Knowledge is up to snuff in this whole process, the Dare stage is when you actually start doing the spell. At this point, the recriminations and self-examination should be done, the decision made and now you actually get out your tools and start the spell. Just that act should throw you into an altered state of consciousness. This is the physical stage.
If we relate these legs of the pyramid to different sections of our being, then To Know is the mental preparation part; To Will is the spiritual part; and To Dare is the physical part of this entire process.
Remember what I was saying before about humanity being wish generators? Well, wishing for something is only part of the whole process. Wishing will only get you so far magically; it’s the actual process of doing the spell that will achieve results.
But then there is still one part that needs to be addressed, and thankfully it is showing up in more and more teaching texts. Part of the To Dare process has to be actually doing the mundane things that will help the spell along.
In other words, if doing a spell for a job, Knowing what job you want is good; Willing that job into your life is another good part; Daring to actually do the spell is good; but having the courage to go out and face rejection over and over is the most important part.
Daring must also encompass the mundane. It does take effort and courage to follow through on the mundane side of things, if only because we might fail.
In a post he made in his LiveJournal, Taylor Ellwood made the very interesting point that most people are conditioned to avoid failure at all costs. As part of that, we are also not trained to accept success, and current societal standards are doing no favor by encouraging a similar mindset of “it’s okay to fail” in the next generation.
In any spell, simply beginning the process of the spell will open the door for failure. Failure will become an option. So one of the goals in any spellcasting process must be accepting that the spell might fail, and striving to prevent that failure. Don’t go into the spell with the thought that it will fail, but accept that the “nature of the beast” is going to include the failure of the spell, and then strive to overcome it.
Of course, the standard excuse is to blame other factors for that failure. “The Stars weren’t right,” or “Goddess must have other plans for me,” or “It will happen eventually,” are all excuses that come very rapidly on the lips of those who try spells and fail.
But as one Doctor Who episode1 pointed out, what if we dream the impossible? What if, despite all things to the contrary, we actually make it and make our dreams come true?
No one is trained to consider that, but we are trained to fail. So Daring to be courageous, to actually do what we say we want — that is real magick. To think that it is possible to achieve what we want, to have what we dream about — that’s wonder.
This attitude is prevalent in most of modern Western Society. The very first word that most children learn to understand is “no.” From then on it is “don’t,” “can’t,” “Ain’t gonna happen,” and more negative assertions. Very few opportunities in our life teach us how to succeed and what to do when one achieves a goal.
This is one reason that there are so many books and seminars that try to show people how to succeed. But I have rarely seen anything that shows you what to do when you do succeed.
Our culture is built on the supposition of failure, and thus to actually attempt something that is highly unlikely to work is an incredible step of confidence. Actually taking the step to face that possible rejection for the bare slim chance that we could have a better life is truly Daring.
This is the core of To Dare. It’s taking that leap of faith, that step that may pay off and may not, even after been told all your life that you probably aren’t going to make anything of yourself. You must be ready to take that step despite the array of problems in your way, from the mundane to the deities themselves. You must take that step, knowing that it may not pan out, but trusting yourself, your knowledge and your training to see it through anyhow.
Then you must have the confidence to follow through with the mundane work as well, to see the process through.
Then, to add another layer, Daring to continue, even if the original spell didn’t work — doing it again, despite disappointment in the past. Making sure that you do not, do not, do not quit, even when logic says “give up,” even when reason says “enough already,” and even when the universe orders you to cease, stubbornly going on is the essence of, the heart and soul of, To Dare.
- Transcript of the relevant episode is found at here. The exact quote is this, when speaking of the End of the Human Race: “You lot. You spend all your time thinking about dying. Like you’re going to get killed by eggs or beef or global warming or asteroids. But you never take time to imagine the impossible. Maybe you survive. This is the year 5.5/apple/26. Five billion years in your future.” —The Ninth Doctor, “The End of the World”
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Eric “Daven” Landrum is a Seax Wiccan and the author of Daven’s Journal.
Aleister Crowley said that the True Will is one of the crucial things a magician should know, since the True Will is the basis of the being.
He goes on to talk at length about how True Will is the culmination of the basic core of the person. It is the most selfish part and is most concerned with the success and survival of the person — the part that is most likely to reflect what the person truly wants and needs.
It’s important to realize that just Knowing how to accomplish a goal or that Knowing yourself is not enough. You must also actively make the decision to do what you want, or all the training, all the experience is useless.
This is the essence of “To Will.” This is the actual decision point in the spell-casting process; it is when the magical process, the spell, actually begins. The training and study are the lead-in, the preparation to do the spell. Will is the stage where the decision that the spell is needed is made. It is when all the options are considered and the spell becomes one part of the overall process to cause the desired change to occur.
Many experienced magicians say that this point is when the spell is actually starting to be cast. This decision begins the consciousness shift to the altered states that are key to manipulating magic and successful ritual.
This act of deciding to cast the spell takes the process to the level of a goal instead of allowing it to remain as a simple desire like wanting to get a cola for lunch. It becomes a true desire, such as finding a job that will allow the caster to support their family better, one that motivates the caster to attain their goals no matter the cost or the obstacles placed in the way.
“To Will” also implies that the first leg of this pyramid has been attained. Knowing implies that you know what you really want, to the bottom of your soul. That is where your “True Will,” as Crowley put it, resides. Understanding your own Will, your own mind and desires, is paramount. How can you do a spell to bring success if you believe in the bottom of your soul that success of the spell means you will become something you despise? The ends are counter productive to your True Will.
Therefore, knowing your True Will is another critical part of this whole process.
The True Will is one part of every magician that should always be examined. Willing something into existence, as the Magician of the Tarot deck does, is a hard skill to master; you better be sure that this is what you want. There are no take-backs, no do-overs when you create something out of nothing.
Remember the advice, “be careful what you wish for, you might just get it”? That’s a heck of a double-edged sword.
Human beings are essentially wish generators with no off switch. Think of how many times you say, “I wish” in a typical day, without even meaning to. Once you start paying attention to that statement, you find that you say it a high number of times. You think it more than you actually say that phrase. And each of those thoughts and statements go out into the aether and have an effect there, even if we don’t see it.
Exactly like dropping a pebble into a pool of water, those ripples spread and start affecting other things and people. Eventually it does get reflected back, warped and diminished, but those reflections are still the original wish that was Willed into being.
So while a trained metaphysician and magician can create a situation that didn’t exist by will alone, they should always be cognizant of what can happen if they don’t watch what they think.
This discipline of the mind, of basic thought processes, should be one of the first goals for any training program of those who are psychically aware. Unfortunately, many of those who begin studying those who wish to begin immediately using power, to start casting spells without first understanding the discipline that is part and parcel of this path.
This series of articles is starting to show that there is a method to the Pyramid’s quick mnemonic, a level of depth that many don’t see. We can already see how “To Know” and “To Will” are fitting together and interlacing. It is becoming rapidly apparent that one cannot have just “To Know” without also having “To Will” and the other two legs of the Pyramid.
All this discussion on the Will may make you ask, “where do I train my Will into a razor-honed weapon?” I can’t help you with that because most of training the Will is about practice.
First you have to decide on a goal, preferably a goal that is difficult and which others say can’t be done. Then start on the journey to attain that goal. Along the way you must not despair and you must keep trying, believing even when it’s hard. Perseverance here is the key, although outsiders may see you and call you stubborn.
Keep doing that, over and over, keep out-stubborning the nay-sayers and keep attaining your goals, even if the effort may not be worth it in the end. That is a good primer for a strong Will. When problems appear, decide immediately that you will overcome them instead of denying the problem or capitulating to the problem. Your first reaction to a problem should be, “Okay, how do I overcome this?” instead of, “No, this can’t be happening.”
Choose goals that are attainable and reasonable. Don’t pick ones that are easily attainable, for that defeats the purpose of training. Pick ones that are difficult to gain, and then keep going at it until you gain that goal.
For example, one of the proudest moments I have had in my life was in martial arts when I severely hurt my hip in the dojo. I kept going anyhow with the night’s exercises for kicks, especially side kicks, which work the hips strenuously. I kept going even though I was in a lot of pain; I would not quit. I saw a lot of admiration in the eyes of my teachers that night.
There are all kinds of opportunities that present themselves. Just watch out for them, and understand that when you are training your mind you can’t give in even once, for that tells the subconscious that it’s okay to give in occasionally. It is the subconscious that really needs to know that you have a strong Will. If you choose to give up occasionally, this action destroys all the headway you have made during your training.
When you decide to out-Will a situation that could defeat you, you must carry through to the end, no matter where that decision leads.
Humanity is the only species I know of that can create simply with their thoughts. It is a huge gift and an awesome responsibility. This ability must be tempered with experience and wisdom. Knowing when to use Will is as important as knowing how or why.
The Will then becomes the paintbrush of Creation, and like all tools, it should be kept in good working order and put away safely, so it is not used inadvertently or carelessly.
©2007 Eric “Daven” Landrum
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Eric “Daven” Landrum is a Seax Wiccan and the author of Daven’s Journal.
This corner of the Witches’ Pyramid1 is not only what it appears to be on the surface. It is not solely “book learning.” It is also knowing that you possess the skills to put what you have learned into a practical application, using the knowledge you have garnered to put your magic into practice, knowing the means to cast spells, and doing inner alchemy.
For example, there is the classic Greek admonition gnothi seauton, or know thyself. Carved at the entrance to the temple in Delphi, the Greeks inculcated this belief in their society, believing that each individual must know himself before he could dream of approaching the oracle. Otherwise, what he might learn on the journey of oracular discovery could well be catastrophic to the psyche.
This admonition is not a new one in the context of magical study. Many authors and classic magicians have said this through the ages, most notably in recent times Aleister Crowley. Heck, alchemy was all about self-discovery, and there have been many transcendental movements through the ages focused on discovering the self.
This journey of self-discovery remains at the core of similar movements to this day. The most natural thing in the world is to look for answers to questions like “who am I?” When one group, such as religion, doesn’t satisfactorily answer those questions, it is normal to look for groups who do. If that quest takes people into esoteric fields of study, then so be it.
Magic and religion are only two of many different ways to start this journey of self-discovery. Unfortunately, most of the other methods that society accepts are expensive or time-consuming, like psychologists or self-help books. I can think of only one other freely available method of self-exploration: the BDSM community. But that pathway demands its own price. It is also very far outside the norms of society, making it anathema to many.
This is how it should be. For any esoteric discipline, such as divination, a magician must start with knowledge of self. With that foundation, a magician can separate himself from the process he is calling into being. He then has the ability to see where his prejudices and his insecurities have influenced the process he hopes to create. Put simply, because of having this anchor point, he can be more efficient in his magical pursuits.
A starting place is important in this or any journey. Just like trying to navigate in space, you can find a destination easily enough, but you must have a beginning point.
In many classical references, we find that that this discovery is mandated. In Aeschylus I: Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides (The Complete Greek Tragedies) (Vol 1), Zeus lays down the law: mankind must suffer to be wise.2 This theme repeats itself in the Gardnerian Wicca initiation and in many other groups’ initiations. Any practicing magician must understand that those who are unwilling to sacrifice will not have the knowledge they seek available to them.
There is a direct correlation between how much the student will learn and how much of his own pleasures he is willing to sacrifice to attain that knowledge. Those unwilling to pay the price demanded will not achieve the knowledge they seek. This means that the student must be totally aware of how much he is willing to give up and what he is willing to do without to attain his goal.
Then we come to another often-overlooked aspect of “To Know” — the consequences. Let us assume that the magician actually knows who he is, where he fits and so on. He also knows what kinds of prices he will be paying and has made the decision that those prices are reasonable to attain what he wants. He also knows the techniques involved in actually casting the spells and the theory behind that process. This same magician also has to be aware of what kinds of outcomes are most likely, as well as the potential unintended consequences.
Many think of magicians as amoral creatures, but this is simply not true. A magician has to be more aware and willing to take care of the unintended consequences of his actions, if only because of the “butterfly effect.” A corporation comes in and clear-cuts a forest. This tragedy will have global repercussions. It will have future consequences as well. But I know of no corporation that can affect the past by their actions. Magicians can affect the past and do, at times.
It is up to the magician in question to be self-policing and to deal with the messes he creates. It is only enlightened self-interest. If the magician wishes privacy to do his work, then he must be invisible. If he casts too wide a spell and it affects those other than the intended target(s), he must be willing and able to deal with the consequences. Time and experience will teach him to understand how to limit those effects. Personally, I don’t think he should be casting spells unless or until he can mitigate those effects.
The Military says, “Information is king.” In the battlefield, in magic, in growing up, knowledge is the whole battle. If you know something, you can deal with it, you can cope with it, you can assimilate and correct problems caused by it. But you cannot do that without knowing what “it” is.
All these factors combine to make this leg of the Witches’ Pyramid a very important one. To recap slightly, a magician must know himself, know the skills necessary to cast a spell and understand how to deal with unexpected outcomes of the use of those skills. It is helpful to be able to plan ahead and anticipate problems before they occur, as well.
Once the magician understands himself, he can take the step to understand others around them, since it is most likely that others want the same things he wants. Conversely, by seeing qualities in others he can also find those same qualities in himself and work to bring them out.
Robert Heinlein had a wonderful concept for this called “grok,” a verb that means, “to drink.” He defined this concept very well in Stranger in a Strange Land. Grokking something is to know it so deeply that the boundaries between you and it are lost. He then knows the other part of himself so deeply and so intimately that it is impossible to separate out those elements that are “other” and “self.”
Is it reasonable or possible for a magician to grok and simultaneously separate enough of himself so that he can see where the magical process is messing up due to some aspect he is projecting into it? I think it is.
We aren’t dealing with minor truths here, ones that are immutable and verifiable like 2 + 2 = 4. We are dealing with Great Truths that are mutable and subject to other factors, with the result that all answers are just as true. It is possible to be so intermingled with a spell as to have it profoundly impact and affect ourselves, indeed, why would you do a spell otherwise? At the same time it is possible to be objective enough to see where those factors of self that we don’t care for, but which are intermingled with the spell, are affecting the spell.
Once again, this mandates that we know ourselves, if simply so we don’t fall into Oedipus’ trap of dancing to a tune we neither hear nor understand. When he went to the Oracle at Delphi (the same oracle where “Know Thyself” was carved on the lintel), he was told that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Since he didn’t want to kill the people he knew as his parents, he left, argued with a man on the road, killed him and married that gentleman’s widow. This fulfilled the prophecy, as it turned out.
Had he known himself and his life, he would have discovered that the man he killed was his father. Thus, all of this could have been avoided had Oedipus known himself and the truth.
The skills necessary for this corner are obvious, but the knowledge of when to apply them is just as important. It does no good to spend years learning how to cast a spell if those skills are never used. It also makes no sense to go through all this training and sacrifice if the knowledge gained will only be used for the most mundane of purposes. Knowledge of where and when to apply those skills is paramount to a successful outcome.
When you know yourself, you are aware of the energy you are raising, what it feels like when it is static, when it is moving. You will understand how to give that energy shape and purpose. It’s very important to be able to recognize and separate your body’s reactions from those of the magic you are invoking. You also have to know when you have a situation where the bodily reaction you experience is caused by the energy you are using.
One of the basic exercises in my “Energy Work and Magic” class consists of taking in a massive amount of energy that the students have been gathering over the course of two months, and holding it in their bodies for 24 hours. This shows them very clearly what that energy feels like, what their bodies feel like and how they reacts. This exercise is critical so the students know how to operate despite having the energy overload, because that energy interferes with their perceptions and balance.
There are those of us who have medical problems, such as diabetes. I am on medication for my diabetes, but if I couldn’t separate myself from the magic I’m working with, I would never know if my spell was working or not. The energy of the magic is very similar to how I feel when I’m going into sugar overload.
This is a set of skills that the current crop of instant spellbooks seems to gloss over or skip altogether. The student is the one who suffers from this lack.
Knowledge is the key. Information is the key. To know. And knowing is half the battle.
- It has been pointed out to me that this is known by another name, the Magician’s Pyramid. Since I have never heard of this before now, I did not include this fact in the article. I didn’t want to comment and speak on a subject of which I have no knowledge. But it does not surprise me that this meme or philosophy has been used in other groups, as it is another Great Truth.
- Referenced from here.
©2006 Eric “Daven” Landrum
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Eric “Daven” Landrum is a Seax Wiccan and the author of Daven’s Journal.