magical theory Tag - PaganSquare - Join the conversation! Tue, 23 May 2017 14:06:20 -0700 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb How to Learn and Experiment with Magical Techniques For many people in the Pagan and Occult communities, their initial journey into magic is one which is self-taught, with the majority of learning occurring from reading books. Even when you do encounter a teacher, you still may find that a lot of your learning occurs on your own, with the expectation that you will teach yourself and also discipline yourself to do the work. In my own experience, the majority of my magical education has been self-taught. I've only had one teacher show up in my life, and he's only appeared in the last couple of years, and I've been practicing magic for 21 years now. Whether you are just starting to practice magic or have been practicing it for a while, it's a good idea to develop your own process for learning and experimenting with the magical techniques you learn.  In this article, I'm going to show how I learn and experiment with techniques I read from books, as well discuss how you can apply the same process toward what you learn from teachers.

Right now I'm reading a book called The Sacred Cross by Anastacia Nutt, which teaches a stillness technique that I'm using as part of my daily work, and as a foundation tool for deeper ritual magic workings. In this article, I'm going to use my own journey in learning and experimenting with this technique as a case study to illustrate the process of learning. The process for learning and experimentation doesn't need to be formalized or tedious, but there are certain considerations that need to be factored in with the learning of any technique. These considerations are: your learning style, patience, carefully checking in with yourself, Integration of the technique into your practice, and Careful experimentation and modification of the technique. Let's look at each of these considerations in more depth.

Your learning Style: Different people have different learning styles. For example, with meditations my wife likes to have a recording of the meditation she can listen to. She is an auditory learner. I, on the other hand, don't need a recording to learn a new meditation technique. I can simply skim over it, commit it to memory and replicate it when I do the meditation. Your learning style may be something else altogether. It's important that you know what it is and how best you learn so that when you are studying a technique you can apply your learning style to it. In the case of my work with the Sacred Cross, as I've read the book, I've stopped wherever there is an exercise in the book, read the exercise and then having committed the essentials of it to my memory, practiced the exercise. I'll practice that same exercise for the next couple of days until I'm satisfied that I know it and understand it. Then I'll continue reading the book. With an auditory learner, what might be involved is listening to the recording until you know it well enough that you no longer need to hear the recording.

Patience: When you are learning a technique, its really important to be patient with yourself and with learning the technique. Too many people, when reading a book on magic, will skim past the exercises, instead of doing them or will do the exercise once or twice and consider it mastered. It takes a lot of time to learn a technique. The repetition is important because it allows you to not only learn the technique but also adjust to it and its effect on you. Whenever I get to a place in a book where the instructions for the technique are presented, I read the instructions and stop reading any further. I follow the instructions and do the practice until I feel that I understand it and I'm aware of its effect on me. Then I'll read further, because I'll be ready to dig in deeper on the subject matter and the technique. With the Sacred Cross I've been working my way through the book for the last month or so. I'm about halfway through it and at the time of this writing I'm learning both the long and short form versions of creating the cross. I'm learning both at the same time because the author recommends it, and I'm finding it helpful to be patient and really work with each variation. I won't continue further into the book until I'm satisfied I know each technique.

Carefully check in with yourself: When you learn a new technique, its very important that you check in with yourself. How are you feeling? How is your body, physical and energetic, adjusting to the technique? Does anything feel off or wrong about what you are doing? You should ask these questions each time after you've done the technique, so that you are sure you are doing it correctly. If anything feels off, stop doing the practice and look over the description and instructions for it. Was there anything you missed or left out? If yes, then you need to slow down and include everything. If nothing is missing (as far as you can tell) then start over, but do the practice with increased awareness and if you feel off again, stop doing it altogether. When I was learning a Taoist meditation technique a while back, I noticed that I was getting ill after doing the technique. I stopped doing it and got better and realized that something wasn't right in the technique or my execution of it. 

Integration of the technique into your practice: Once you've learned a technique you naturally want to integrate it into the rest of your practice. You need to think about where it'll fit in your practice. For example, with the Sacred Cross, it's a stillness technique that essentially sets up sacred space and time with a connection to underworld and overworld energies. I consider this a foundation technique, so I'm using it with my daily practice and before I do any ritual magic in order to create a state of mind that is most receptive and focused on the working at hand. Various techniques have their place in your practice and knowing where that place is can be quite helpful in doing the work you do.

Careful Experimentation and Modification of the Technique: If you're like me, you may like experimenting and modifying a technique. I always suggest doing this carefully, because experimentation with a technique brings with it potential danger if you don't understand the technique or what you are changing. There are reasons the technique is presented in the way it is and while some of those reasons may just come down to the teacher's personalization of the technique, some of how it's presented is usually done for good reason. Once you know a technique, examine it carefully and ask yourself what you specifically want to change. Then consider how changing it will change the technique and result.

In my case, when I change a technique, I usually change it in several ways. First, I look at what I can strip away. For example if a candle is included in the technique, I'll see if I can get rid of the candle (you usually can). What I strip away is usually optional. It's only needed because people doing the technique think its needed, but if you get rid of it, you can still do the technique without it. The second kind of modification I make is a personalization of the technique. I understand the technique and as a result I'll personalize it to fit my style of my magic work better. For example, a lot my non-anthropocentric magical work has involved getting rid of visualizations and props and focusing instead on the feeling generated when doing the working and using the feeling to guide me in the magical work. 

When you learn a technique from a book, which is how I've learned the majority of my magical practices, it's important to take your time and really learn the technique. Know it as an experience, instead of as a concept. When you read about a technique, you are learning the concept, but when you practice it and experience it, that's when you really learn the technique.

A word about learning from teachers: If you have the fortune to learn a technique from someone directly, it can be different, because what you are learning isn't just a concept but also experiential. Nonetheless you likely aren't going to have access to the teacher 24-7, so while you might initially learn a technique directly from the teacher, you may still end up reading a book with the technique and continuing to learn via what's written in the book. All of the suggestions above apply to what you learn and even if you by some rare circumstance have access to a teacher on a steady basis, ultimately you have to teach yourself because while the teacher can provide a construct of what to do, you have to actually experience it and make the technique your own. 

Read more]]> (Taylor Ellwood) Studies Blogs Tue, 27 May 2014 15:28:10 -0700
K is for Kicking Ass I had been slowly acquiring archery equipment since Christmas.   While Katniss was admittedly and unashamedly the tipping point for me, there have been others.  Buffy.  The Amazons from Xena.  I wanted to know what it would be like to be able to kick ass.

Buffy is not interested in excuses.

I took my intro to Archery class and it was a stark moment of clarity for me.  Not in a I AM MOMENTS AWAY FROM KILLING AND EATING MY OWN PREY AND BECOMING A PREDATOR sort of way.  More in a, girl this is going to be a looooooong journey. Our class was taught by a perky geeky girl wearing a red shirt with the Chinese blessing cat playing with string.  She was relentlessly upbeat while she drilled safety issues into us, all the while managing to be incredibly assertive.  Her calm demeanor had a steel undertone from being Olympic trained in competitive archery and the Vice President of the NJ Archery association.  She would decide who would be allowed range privileges.  She was a little younger than me and I was deathly afraid of her.

Half the class claimed to want to learn the recurve bow but they were traitorous cowards who bent under her sharp glare and meekly took up the compound when she "suggested" to do so.  Watching me be scolded from the moment I stepped onto the range until the moment I left probably didn’t help the cause either.

I would not be deterred!  We were allowed to learn whichever one we wanted and damnit,  I wanted to learn the recurve.  Katniss would not have looked nearly as cool with a compound.  There's a beauty and grace to shooting recurve that's not there with a compound, not to mention skill and strength.

The recurve is hard.  Getting honked at about my stance and the way I held everything and did everything did not do my always tenuous-at-best nerves any good either.  I almost cried out of frustration at one point until she got all up in my personal space bubble and whispered in my ear, It doesn’t matter for the rest of them.  With the compound, they will still get really close to their targets consistently.  Even if they're standing incorrectly.  Even if they're not trying very hard to aim.  You’re different.  You need to be good at this right now all the time or you will never get good.  

I took a deep breath and I shot my arrow.

I needed more than a week before I felt brave enough to go and practice what I learned.  I went during the day on a Monday when I knew no one would be there because I needed to practice without getting distracted by being told that I suck beyond measure.  In some ways that made it better and in some ways it made it worse.  I felt less anxious but my internal monologue was less than kind.  I put myself through a half hour before I felt like crying again and then I left.  The next Monday I went, I took Jow and was able to hit the board consistently which I desperately needed.  Now, I'll likely start practicing with my local SCA group.

I’m impossible to teach anything, especially anything physical, thanks to being left handed to write and right handed for everything else.  My brain gets jumbled and confused.  I’m one of those rare female INTJ/ENTJs which also means that I suck at listening when being taught because, naturally, I know best.

But if I really want to learn something?  I will keep pushing and pushing no matter how much it hurts.  This has always been my saving grace/downfall (we'll be getting more into all that in the third installment of my Glamour series).  I’m a pusher, Cadie.

It’s not uncommon for me to be faced with people I care about a great deal telling me why they can’t do what I do.  In other words, that person can't achieve x goal of theirs like I can achieve y goal of mine.   Generally, I now respond to that was a calm, "Right now it’s not a high enough priority to you and that’s okay."  You know what the knee jerk reaction to this statement is, right?  HOW DARE YOU TELL ME THAT IT’S NOT A HIGH ENOUGH PRIORITY.  I WORK REALLY HARD AND SHOULD BE TOLD I’M AMAZING AT EVERYTHING AT EVERY TIME AVAILABLE.  

I follow it up with examples from life. I have sample chapters that need to be written for two books for two interested editors, but I still have a lot left to be written.  I have not yet started circus classes, I don't do yoga at home, I eat carbs like I will never be allowed to eat another again after today, my house looks like toddlers are in charge of cleaning it, there are Nuno scarves to be felted, blog posts to be written, light and water offerings to be offered, the list goes on.  I have chosen to make other things higher priorities for myself.  Sometimes to retain sanity.  Sometimes because of the time of the year.  Sometimes to make enough money to pay my bills.  Sometimes because I’m feeling lazy.  Sometimes because I need a break and some self care.  All of those reasons are perfectly valid, but they’re choices.

I spent most of the last two years profoundly uncomfortable working on my book and my two shops - The Glamoury Apothecary and La Sirene et Le Corbeau.  Overworked, stressed out, not much of a social life, hair in questionable condition.  If you want to kick ass, if you want to achieve the next level in your whatever, you can’t do it and be comfortable.  Sorry.  Scratch that, rarely does anyone get to get to the next level without being profoundly uncomfortable.  It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of stress, it’s a lot of changes and it’s not the hottest thing to bring to your relationship.  You have to take risks, you have to put yourself out there, you have to work a lot.  A whole lot.  Just because you like doing something doesn’t magically make it not work.  I work pretty much from the moment I get up until the moment I go to sleep with an occasional break for socialization and leaving my house.  

My bestie, April teases me about how much television I watch (um, a lot but she’s a Netflix junkie so whatev!) but I watch a ton of television because it’s something to do while I spin.  I have friends over and I spin.  I bring my spinning with me.  I write during my day job on breaks.  I’m going to start reading during them too for my research for my next book.  I never stop working because that’s what I need to do to get to where I’m going.

If you don’t want that kind of life, that’s more than okay!  Most people like working eight hours a day, making a comfortable salary, having benefits and a decent amount of free time to spend with friends, family, lovers and on an occasional hobby as well as an hour or two on their spiritual practice.  This is a lovely way to live and it’s why most people chose to live this way.

But if you want to start a business, climb as high as you can on the corporate ladder, start a serious meditation practice, get a black belt, do daily ritual practice, write a book, lose 50 pounds in a year or anything else in that vein, don’t ever think you can do that comfortably and without sacrifice.  Because you can’t.  And just because someone else makes it look easy or makes it look like "an overnight success" doesn't mean that it actually is easy for that person or that the success came quickly.  A figure skater makes a triple salchow look effortless at the Olympics, but it starts with a single salchow (which is not very easy, I can tell you from personal experience) which is pretty complicated in itself with edges and checks and your 6 and 9.  Before that?  You need to be able to do about a bazillion backwards crossovers so you can work up enough speed to make the jump.    

Figure skating parallels aside, when has magic ever been comfortable?  We do magic to change ourselves, our local universe and to shake up our internal ant farm.  If magic was easy and didn't require much work for it to be successful, wouldn't everyone practice magic then?  When has it been easy to find three hours to do a complicated ritual when you don’t live alone and work a full time job?  A lot of people like reading about magic a lot more than doing it.  Understandably so, when you perform magic, you’re inviting the universe/spirits/gods to notice you.  Really think on that for a moment.  Think on your greatest desire.  Now think about how you can't control what will happen to get you there or how you'll feel once you're there.  Do you still want it?  Do you want it badly enough to Work your best magic and work harder than you've ever worked in your life, giving up unknown small and large comforts to get there?  As Workers we live in a constant tension, strung between hope and fear that we will become what we pretend to be.

What are you willing to sacrifice on the altar of your dreams?  Is it worth it?

Only time will tell.

Read more]]> (Deborah Castellano) Culture Blogs Fri, 07 Feb 2014 08:10:38 -0800
Paging Thoth & Athena


I read a lot of blogs, go to a lot of conferences and festivals, teach a lot of workshops, and have lively discussions with friends related to all things Pagan and Magickal. Although I can say that ease of access to ideas through the internet, bookstores, and Pagan and Magickal events has increased awareness of many social issues, ideologies, religious and theological perspectives, and the vast amount of minutia related Pagan culture and fads, there is an increasing percentage of the Pagan community that is magickally illiterate and innumerate.  I’m not saying that people are less serious, less devoted, or less committed to their path. Nor am I saying that the level of discourse has dropped, in fact in many ways it is much more sophisticated in exploring the development of Pagan culture. What I have noticed is that the technical end of things, magick theory, sacred sciences, and the like, are less well known. I've also noticed a trend towards focusing more exclusively on the lore and mythology of a specific people or a specific time at the expense of a generalized understanding of how magickal paths manifest in a variety of cultures and communities.


There has been an increase in the academic study of both historic and current Paganism, which I greatly appreciate, but much of that research is magickally illiterate and innumerate even when it is well done. The criteria for what is valid and what has merit in academic circles is often quite different than what would be valuable and applicable in magickal circles.  Also it seems to me that most of our pagan academics model their work on paradigms from the mainstream culture. I do understand the dilemma involved in trying to balance the need for acceptance by the broader academic community against the goal of creating our own sort of academic model. It is hard when “magical thinking” is used as a loaded term to describe irrational thinking when from a Pagan perspective it could mean thinking that includes an understanding of causality and synchronicity larger in scope than the shuttered limits of the mainstream.


 Let’s start with the basics. The capacity to read, to write, and to do arithmetic is considered essential to the foundations of learning, hence the many programs throughout the world to reduce illiteracy and innumeracy. There is no existing word that I am aware of in a Pagan/Magickal context that is analogous to the core capacities implied by literacy and numeracy so for the moment I am just adding the word magickal as a way of exploring the question. So what do I mean by what I am tentatively calling magickal literacy and numeracy? It is not as easy to define as reading, writing, and arithmetic. By extension, magickal literacy and numeracy involves an understanding of symbols (the equivalent of letters, numbers, etc.) and of grammar and rules of operation for the manipulation and measurement of subtle forces. Magickal literacy and numeracy also means that a person has a way to read, to reason, to understand, and to make comparisons between magickal concepts, practices, and experiences.  Integral to this is the capacity to analyze and to quantify what works, what doesn’t work, and why in rituals, operative magic, divination, and other similar practices.  Magickal literacy and numeracy are hard to separate from each other, but this last description leans more heavily into the idea of magickal numeracy. 


This kind of core capability would probably arise from a basic working knowledge of magick theory (laws of magick), metaphysics (philosophy of being and reality), trusted systems (Qabala, Astrology, Alchemy, etc.), and other related frameworks. This may be a good starting point from my perspective, but the next obstacle is in creating an agreeable curriculum. There are so many different approaches, schools, and systems that it becomes almost impossible for any one individual to have time to truly become conversant in more than a small sector of what is available. Moreover, the choices to be made and what is valuable to be included or excluded in such a curriculum would be determined by the sensibilities of the person’s starting point. There is also the predicament of finding adequate teachers for each of the topics that are included in such a curriculum. For many years, the rate at which new people have been entering into our communities far exceeds the rate at which adequate teachers can be trained so the challenge of finding teachers is significant.


 This particular blog post is meant to be the start of a conversation around these issues. I’m still working on understanding what I have observed in the last few decades in our community and I’m still in the process of formulating both questions and proposed solutions. It may be that there are no good solutions, and if that is the case then the focus may shift to reducing and mitigating harm. I am still hopeful that over the next several decades we will make progress. I also understand that we are not a monolithic community, we are more like an ecology of communities. Different communities will have these issues move through them at different times and in different ways as each reaches the developmental stage where they become relevant.  How much help we can be to each other hinges upon how much we actually know about each other and how much we hold as common ground.


 If we work hard and are fortunate, then perhaps we might be able to take things a step beyond simple magickal literacy and numeracy. Perhaps we can increase the range of what is considered common knowledge in a magically educated person. Let's say that there were an imaginary college for all things magickal. In that college you might major in Druidry, or Heathenry, or Thelema, or Wicca, etc.  By the way, this college is a thought experiment and not proposal. In addition to the courses that relate to your major, you would also take courses that are part of  general education. The general education courses allow exposure to a broad range of disciplines that provide context for your major and the capacity to communicate and to interact with those things that lie outside of your major field of study. By the way, I believe that sometimes our best insights into our major come from looking at it from outside using the perspective of another field. 


Those general education courses are really a subset of what corresponds to a liberal education. The goal of a liberal education is to empower people with the capacity to think and to understand and to adapt to a changing world. Today, that often means teaching a broad range of disciplines, multiple systems for knowing and analysis, and a grounding in ideas from both art and science. The origin of today’s concept of a liberal education evolved from the historical Artes Liberales with its Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music), also known as the seven liberal arts.  Perhaps one way to begin the discussion of what would be included in a curriculum for a general education that provides or expands upon magickal literacy and numeracy could be started by having discussions about which seven systems you think are needed for clear magickal thinking. Lest you take me literally, I don’t necessarily think that it is seven systems. It is just useful to have parameters if you’re going to be doing brainstorming and exploring.


I may write another post about this topic in the next year if I get clearer and sharper on my analysis of this concern. If you’d like to engage in a conversation with me about this, please look me up on my website or on Facebook. I gave a talk at Spring Magick 2011 in Pennsylvania called “The Touchstone: Discerning Magickal Truths” that has material germane to this blog. You may listen to it or download it at this link.


Read more]]> (Ivo Dominguez Jr) Culture Blogs Tue, 12 Nov 2013 16:03:30 -0800
What Happens when your magic fails? What happens when your magic fails?

This is a question most magicians and pagans never want to ask or answer, but I think it's a question we need to ask and answer. It's a question that likely makes you squirm just a little bit, because it raises the spectre of "What if all this is just in my head?" The thought that it's all just in your head and that perhaps what you're doing is just a deluded fantasy is hard to face. It can cause you to feel some real doubt about magic and whether its real or just make believe. I think feeling such doubt can actually be healthy, because it teaches you to question critically and carefully what you're doing and how you're doing it. It also teaches you not to take magic for granted. If you assume that your workings will always be successful, you may be shocked when a working isn't successful. By cultivating just a bit of critical awareness, you can look through your magical workings and figure out why it didn't work as well as what you can do to improve your workings.

A good place to start is to actually determine how many of your magical workings have been successful. See if you can calculate a percentage and then determine what types of workings they were. Was it practical magic to resolve a problem, or was it a working to make contact with a deity or inner contact?  Was it some other type of magical working? So for example, perhaps you calculate that 90% of your magical workings in the last year have been successful and you realize that a quarter of the workings were practical magic and the rest were devotional, theurgic workings. Once you have estimated the successful number of magical workings, then you can look at the remaining magical workings, the ones that didn't work and determine what type they were. You might discover that 75% of the workings that weren't successful were practical magic workings. What this will tell you then is what you need to work in your magical practice. It shouldn't be hard to determine these figures if you are keeping a magical record of some type and diligently updating it.

Now it's time to take a closer look at the magical workings that failed. You want to determine exactly what didn't work and why. There can be a variety of reasons why magic didn't work, so it's important to take your magical working apart and really understand why it did or didn't work. Let's go over a few of the possible reasons for why the magic didn't work.

1. You didn't clear define the desired outcome. If you don't have a clearly defined outcome, you don't have a destination or result for your magic to get to. A poorly defined result is vague and unclear and as such it's much harder to achieve. While there is a phrase in magic that is often thrown around that you shouldn't lust for results, it doesn't mean you shouldn't define your result (I'll explain the difference in more depth below). A defined result is the specific outcome you are doing magic for, and it provides you the necessary focus to direct your magical work toward achieving that result.

2. You lusted for the result. Have you ever gotten obsessively fixated on a particular result you wanted? You've probably noticed that when this occurs, the result seems to be just out of reach and unattainable. The reason for that is because you are still putting energy, effort, belief, emotion, thought, etc., into achieving the result. You haven't stepped back and let the magic work, and so the magical work hasn't actually happened. At some point, for magic to work, you've got to actually let it work (I'll explain this in more detail below).

3. You get fixated on how everything will happen. When you map out how something is supposed to happen, you aren't leaving any room for it to actually happen. As I mentioned above you need t let magic work and that means releasing expectations about the result, but also about how the magic will manifest. Sometimes magic will manifest in very subtle ways and sometimes it will be over the top flashy. But regardless of how something manifests, its important to allow it to occur without trying to map out how it will occur. Do your magical working and then let the magic go out into the universe and set everything up so that it happens.

4. You focused on other possible outcomes. Sometimes you'll get caught up in what if scenarios, especially if you're dealing with stressful situations. When you focus on other outcomes, you are losing focus on the outcome you want to achieve and essentially signaling that perhaps you don't want it after all. As such it's important that if you start to focus on other possible outcomes, you find a way to refocus and/or banish those other outcomes. Remember that when you are doing magic, you want to achieve a specific outcome, and you need to stay focused on that outcome. 

5. You didn't pick the right technique for the working. Not all techniques are equal or right for a given situation. If you are too close to a situation, for example, then you might need to use a technique that provides some distance. On the other hand sometimes you need to be more directly involved. Knowing what techniques for different situations is important for effectively implementing magic as a solution in your life. 

6. You put too much magic into the working. There is such a thing as putting too much magic into a working. If you feel the need to do multiple workings for a situation, you might consider that you're ding an overkill and that one working might interfere with the other. While it can sometimes be useful to do multiple magical workings, they should be well timed to work off of each other.

7. You haven't honored your end of the agreement. When you're working with entities, deities, spirits, etc., its important to honor your end of the agreements you make. If you aren't honoring your end of the agreement, why should they honor their end of the agreement? Any agreement you make is one you need to honor by following through on what you've promised you would do. 

Sometimes your magic will fail. When it does, understanding why it failed will help you make adjustments in future workings and teach you about how magic works. If you've had a magic working fail, was it for one of the reasons above, or a different reason. Share your experiences in the comments.


Read more]]> (Taylor Ellwood) Studies Blogs Tue, 17 Sep 2013 18:05:40 -0700