On a recent trip to South Dakota, I met my ancestors. I walked among their gravestones, walked in the places they lived, looked at pictures of them and heard stories about them that brought them to life for me. And although I didn't speak with them directly, I still felt like I had a dialogue. Since that trip I've continued to meditate on the presence of my ancestors.
In the title of this article I claim they liberated me and really they did, because what I learned about them put my own life and experiences into a different context. Instead of just focusing on the singular I experience of my life, I stepped back and looked at the generations that came before me and asked the question, "What were their experiences and how did those experiences convey themselves to my life?"
One of my fascinations in life is human behavior. I'm reading Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and it's a book about irrational behavior, and ultimately human behavior and why people make the choices they make. Reading it is enlightening, but even more than that I want to apply it to my magical work. See, one of the things that I like about magic is that I think it can be applied quite productively to human behavior. But that can only occur when you take the time to study human behavior and ask yourself the question as to how you could apply magic to that behavior. Whatever being human really means, when we apply magic to the mix what we seem to ultimately be doing is changing behavior and habits. We uncover and examine the unconscious behaviors we've taken on and use magic to bring them to a level of conscious awareness that can then be applied to change that behavior. Here's a few thoughts on how magic can be applied to human behavior:
1. Stop an expression of behavior. This is a typical act of magic that many people do. If you are doing a behavior that you find to be harmful, use magic as one of the ways to help you stop the behavior. When you use magic to help you stop a behavior you are finding some way for the magic to actually redirect the behavior. So you'll also want to think of what behavior you want to redirect it to. If you want to stop smoking, you typically start by cutting down on the smoking and or replacing it with a supplement, such as chewing gum, but you also need to change the behaviors associated with smoking, in some form or manner. For example, there may be specific hand gestures you did when you smoked, that you might need to change in order to avoid calling up the associations with the smoking.
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.
It seems obvious that magic should instill some kind of change within you, but I feel compelled to write this article because so often what I see in occult texts is a emphasis on changing the environment around you, as opposed to changing yourself, or a focus on changing yourself solely through spiritual means and the assistance of spirits of some type. There's this dualism within Western Magic, where you apparently have two schools of magical practice. The theurgic school is a spiritual school, wherein the magician practices high magic in an effort to connect with spiritual powers and and gradually change him/herself via that contact. The thaumaturgic school is a practical school, where magic is done to solve problems and change the environment to one that is more pleasing. I think of it as reactive magic, done to solve the current crisis in one's life. This approach to magic breaks down various magical actions by the results, and depending on what the results are a magical action is lumped in one of the two schools of magical thought and practice.
In my previous post I discussed how to emotions could be used in magic and made the point that an emotion such as anger is not inherently negative. What makes anger negative is we choose to express it. In thinking further about my own approach to magic and what I use to fuel my magical work, I recognize that it's not just emotions I draw upon, but experiences and the feeling of the experience. A feeling is not necessarily the same as an emotion. A feeling is the awareness of an experience and emotions are just one component of an experience and the expression of that experience. This is important because when we work magic to bring a possibility into reality part of what we are working with is the feeling associated with that possibility.
Think about love for a moment. What does love feel like? Don't think just in terms of the emotion, but also the physical sensations of you holding someone else's hand, or holding the person or kissing the person. What does that feel like? How does it make you feel emotionally? How does it make you feel intellectually, spiritually, and physically? All of those feelings and experiences are what love (romantic) is comprised of. So if you were to do a love magic working, you'd want to draw on those experiences as part of the fuel for the workings, because those experiences shape that feeling in your life.
In my previous post, I defined various elements of identity that I thought should be considered in choosing to work with identity as a principle of magic. However what I didn't do was explain, in full, how identity could be applied to magic. It's not enough to simply recognize identity as a principle of magic or to even define identity, but consider this: The various elements I used to define identity all play a role in our lives, and in how we interact with other people, and the world. Understanding this about identity is important, because if we are apply identity to magic, we need to understand that we are working with these elements of identity and choosing to use them in a conscious, purposeful manner to effect change.
For example, your family is one of the elements of identity I mentioned in the previous post. There are a number of ways you could work with family as an element of identity, and apply that your magical work. You could do internal work via meditation, where you explore your dysfunctional issues and trace them back through your family, from generation to generation. The meditation could be a pathworking where you traveled into each each ancestor and experienced the dysfunction as it showed up in their lives. It might help you better understand it as well as look at how you could break the cycle. You could apply this working to life skills you learned from your family as well, such as finances, or your work ethic. You could also take this working and apply it forward to your descendants.
In my previous post, I discussed why I thought identity was an essential principle of magic and explored what magic as an ontological practice might look like. In this post, I want to unpack identity further so that we can learn what makes up identity and how we can work with it as a magical principle. Some of what I discuss below can also be found in my book Magical Identity.
Your Family is one of the foundational elements of your identity. Your mother and father, and siblings (if you have any) provide you the initial experience of the world, as well as modeling behaviors about how to interact with the world. They pass down both their functional and dysfunctional behaviors, both in terms of how they interact with you and around you. It's fair to say that your identity is shaped by them for your entire life. I'd argue that your family is one of the more influential elements of identity and one that needs to be carefully explored in order to change a lot of your own behaviors. Your family also models financial and health skills to you. Even if they never explicitly discuss finances or health, they nonetheless provide you with standards that impact how you handle both throughout your life.