The Witches’ Pyramid #1/4 – To Know
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.