Magic…walking the path..

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

About Josephine McCarthy

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19 Responses to Magic…walking the path..

  1. Michael Winn says:

    Like it was meant to be. I’m gracious and aware. And wait for patiently for the next sign.


  2. Sometimes they come thick and fast when you are not expecting them… and if you are as dumb ass as me, you will walk past it the first time (as I have done many times)….hence they sometimes shout 🙂
    Thankyou for your comment and thankyou for taking the time to read the blog

    Liked by 1 person

  3. June Courage says:

    HI, Josephine, and many congratulations and blessings on the new blog. I wish you every success.

    June Courage


  4. Scribbler says:

    i’ve also been pursuing this “art” or “science” or whatever it is for over thirty years. Damn near lost the red thread several times, actually thinking I could give it up and lead a “normal” life. And then, one day I realize, “Oh, right. Magic. That strange man who came into my life when I was seventeen and pressed a copy of Crowley’s theorems into my hands. This incarnation only makes sense if I keep working on magic.” And I often still feel like a dumb ass. I think the worst thing is to compare yourself to others, thinking they are so much more skilled than you. But… well… you are doing what you need to do, and they are doing what they need to do. And you should be happy with that. Even though I’m not a Clive Barker fan (don’t think I’ve ever read one of his novels) I saw a quote of his from an interview that really resonated with me: “You just have to trust your own madness.” Indeed. Some people might think you’re slightly mad. Even YOU will sometimes think you are slightly mad. But like Hamlet, there is a method to you madness.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. fannyfae says:

    “… it is about learning to listen, to observe, to explore, experiment, and practice…. and above all, to be truthful to yourself.” Truer words were never spoken, nor have I ever so resoundingly agreed with. Your post is incredibly timely and I am grateful. Dua Sekhmet en etj! (I thank Sekhmet for you. ) 🙂


  6. Great Article. I agree with what you wrote when you say: 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.

    I’ve never really joined a magical organization. I found them to be too narrow, too closed off from magic. There’s lots of talk, but not much doing.


  7. Hi Taylor, thanks for your comments!


  8. I very much enjoyed your article, and found much within it that resonated with my own practice, which has been slowly, but steadily defining itself, both consciously and unconsciously, for over 25 years. If I am not mistaken, the photograph is of the passageway to the cave of the Sibyl of Cumae, is it not? I first attempted to visit in 2002, and arrived too late to the site, discovering to my amusement that the parking lot is used for lover’s trysts. The following year, I was able to return, and was privileged to stand in such a hallowed place.


  9. Pingback: You are your best teacher | Magical Experiments

  10. Jason says:

    Having been walking the path for about 20 yrs now I find that as long as there is movement the winds of the inner planes will guide you to where you are meant to be. When I was younger I actually tried to live a normal life and give up my magic only to have my life go to shit usually within a few weeks. Just to make sure I tried giving up a few times and found that the knuckle rapping gave quicker and stronger and have resigned myself to the fact that the path I am walking now is the path I was always meant to tread. A magician born as the saying goes, hence something I can’t walk away from.

    Thanks to your teachings I have gone back to the basics so to speak, as due to talent or what have you I skipped ahead a lot.

    Thank you for what you have done and continue to do. Your teachings have resonated very strongly within me and my path.


    • it is true, that a magician is born… and you cannot dodge it no matter what… I have also tried a couple of times to back out gracefully only to feel the hand on my collar yanking me back. Thankyou for your kind comments and hope your knuckles don’t get rapped too often!!


  11. Josephine, with articles like this one, including the books you write, its no wonder that ‘a hand has reached out for your collar and yanked you back’. I say thank you to the hand!!! And a big thank you to you too. Comforting & inspiring article for me on many levels, explains so much going on in my life, wherein I have not connected the dots as clearly as I have now in this moment…..and a kick in the butt to become more observant and still. With immense gratitude ~ Michelle

    Liked by 1 person

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