Hidden in a dark tree
is a golden bough, golden in leaves and pliant stem,
sacred to Persephone, the underworld’s Juno, all the groves
shroud it, and shadows enclose the secret valleys.
But only one who’s taken a gold-leaved fruit from the tree
is allowed to enter earth’s hidden places.– Virgil
One of the things I have observed and been asked about a great deal, particularly by magicians in their earlier stages of development, is how to ‘get there’ – as though there is a defined end point where someone ends up as an adept and they have ‘power’. This need for a horizon and final destination that is so inherent within us has been a major influence in how magical training lodges and groups organise themselves and the training path.
Subsequently, training groups, lodges and organisations have clear defined steps of training; exams, hierarchies and grades encourage a budding magician to study, strive and achieve. The effect of such a path leads to magicians approaching magic like a college or university course: if they do the study, pass the exams and get the certificate then they will be a magical adept. It’s easily understood, is a predictable path to walk and gives the magician a sense of control –‘if I pay for a course and study, I will get there’. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is very different and unpredictable. Magic is not study; it is not grades and cannot be followed like a science or history course. Many do undertake to study the history and philosophy of magic, usually in the form of an MA in Western Esotericism. But that is something very different; that is not about learning magic any more than studying Talmud will take you closer to G-d.
And yet, paradoxically, study is a major part of the magical path. But often the study needs to be not just magical theory, but a much wider net of knowledge that encompasses ancient history, medicine, biology, philosophy, religious texts, geometry, archaeology…. the list is endless.
So it is little wonder that when someone begins on the more serious path of magical awakening, the mountain before them is very steep indeed. The summit of the mountain is the resting place of the adept, and groups that offer well defined attainable and predictable paths to that summit have a constant swelling of their ranks by young hopefuls. But that path usually levels off in the ‘foothills’ leaving the magician ten years down the line and still feeling like the summit is out of reach.
In truth, walking the Path of Hercules up the mountain is the achievement of the adept, not the act of reaching the summit. Magic is a constant death and renewal, an unpredictable force that flows like water, finding its own route and frequently changing its path according to the land, the weather, the creatures: it is a living force that cannot be contained and controlled.
If a person truly wants to evolve within magic and penetrate even a small fragment of her mysteries then the organisations and safe boundaries need to be cast off, and the magician must forge their path of magic while wandering through the forest of life. There are no short cuts, there is no ‘destination’, magic is constantly all around you: the key is to pay attention.
What do I mean by that? Learning how to be still, how to observe, how to listen are the main skills a magician needs in the early phases. When someone wakes up to the path of magic, that awakening does not go unnoticed. Inner beings begin to draw close, to watch you, to place things, people and events in your path that will take you on another step forward. If you are too busy drawing out impressive sigils, or scouring grimoires or ironing your new robe that has magical script all along the hem, then you will miss the quiet voice that says, ‘hey, look at this, its important’…. or ‘go and make contact with that person, its important’.
Magical learning is a series of stepping stones that can often appear random and unconnected. And it can take you many years before you are able to turn back and reflect upon your path only to see that your steps were in fact well defined, very necessary and all led to points of major learning/training: you just didn’t realise it at the time.
Sometimes you will come across teachers (and not all teachers are obvious) who will be in your life for a while and will teach you a great deal. Some of it will be useful and some not. There will be teachers who you will not recognise as teachers – you meet, shake hands, have eye contact, maybe have a single conversation and then part ways. You will not recognise for a very long time that such a meeting was a major turning point and that something, some knowledge, some connection, was transferred to you in that brief conversation.
Sometimes you will miss a train and end up waiting in a bookstore. A book catches your eye and you buy it. It sits on your shelf, maybe for years, before you pick it up. And you pick it up at the right time and begin to read. What you learn, or what unfolds from that book lays down another stepping stone. Sometimes you have a deep instinct to read a book, which you do, and it makes no sense to you but something within you tells you it is important. Many years later the knowledge in that text suddenly unlocks for you and understanding falls into place.
Occasionally the nudges from the inner beings can be insistent and if you do not get it, they start shouting… An object comes your way, something strange or interesting. You have no idea about it other than you like it. It goes into the cupboard and you get on with your life. Suddenly one day you start to see references to that type of object every where you turn. So you retrieve it from your cupboard and put it out where you can see it. A few days or months later, you come across a text or a teacher who is explaining what that object is and how it works magically. Bingo… it has been waiting patiently for you to join up the dots.
Once that door is open, the door of contact, whether you are aware of it or not, magic will begin to seep into your life. Studies will help you and give you some foundation tools to work with but beyond that, it is about learning to listen, to observe, to explore, experiment, and practice…. and above all, to be truthful to yourself.
Some basic magical skills, which are known as ‘outer court’ skills, i.e. they are not profound (but can be), can be studied and practised predictably (and then you find after many years just how unpredictable and powerful they can be). These are; tarot, which is an essential tool for a magician (if you remind me I will do a post on tarot!), meditation, knowledge of the magical implements and elemental directions, basic talisman work, basic vision work, and basic ritual work – learn how to set up an altar (not a display table) and work with it. It really does not matter which style of magic you choose to work within to learn these basic skills, all that matters is that you do learn them.
Forget the rush to ‘Be the Magician’, and forget any idea that you can buy a book or go on a course that will ‘speed up’ the process or cut corners. Such books and courses are money spinners and ego strokers for the writers, or are written out of ignorance. Let magic grow with you, and don’t forget, magic and magical beings are all around you… talk to them, listen to that very quiet voice within you, and watch everything around you.
You never ‘get there’, you will always be a student, always learning and the more you learn, the more you realise how much there is that we just cannot comprehend. A magician has stood on an important stepping stone when he or she realises just how little we truly do know. I am still a student. I have been in magic for nearly forty years and I am still learning, still discovering… it is a constant awakening that never ends.
And remember; magic is hidden in plain sight… not in a goatskin grimoire that costs hundreds of dollars.
A noble inner shrine waits for you too in our kingdom.
There, gracious one, I will place your oracles, and mystic
utterances spoken to my people, and consecrate picked men.
Only do not write your verses on the leaves, lest they fly,
disordered playthings of the rushing winds: chant them
from your own mouth.
Virgil – The Aeneid book VI