Magic du Jour

I recently came across a discussion in the “r/occult” Reddit feed about something called “Gallery of Magic,” which is apparently a series of books (reported by detractors to be dumbed-down grimoires full of angelic names in modern Hebrew) that purport to demystify (I would instead say “denature”) ceremonial magic for today’s instant-gratification crowd. As a long-time student of the historical works on which they’re based, I can’t help but think that this is only a “Law of Attraction” spin-off for the occult set, or what Mel Brook’s once cynically dubbed “the soitch for more money.” The material is all available in other books, so the only excuse I can see for this initiative is to ideally make the information more accessible and digestible for the modern dilettante/dabbler.

Although I haven’t delved into the assumptions behind its creation, I can’t shake the impression of “Ouija board” insipidity. I learned enough from the conversation to know that the approach is more about “getting things without working for them” than about striving to make ourselves more metaphysically astute. One online proponent implied that the authors “do all the heavy lifting” for the aspiring neophyte, but my take has always been that the difficulty involved in mastering the techniques (in short, “testing our mettle”) is the point and not merely an annoying obstacle to success. Someone else observed that the streamlined simplicity just makes those who follow more conventional methods jealous. Let’s just say I’m skeptical. The whole thing reminds me too much of George Carlin’s comedy bit about the new Hispanic priest who couldn’t understand a word of Carlin’s confession, so he just said “Tres Santa Marias!” and sent George away under the delusion that all of his lewd transgressions would be miraculously absolved if he said the Catholic “magic words.”

I suppose it depends on what we think the purpose of magic is. Those old-time magicians who invoked angels were mainly after esoteric enlightenment and universal wisdom, not merely the material advantages those contacts can bring (on the other hand, summoning – or “evoking” – demons seemed more like a “power grab”). The goal was to reach a transcendent state of being, the kind of spiritual transmutation symbolized by the “Philosopher’s Stone” sought by the ancient alchemists and in some systems called the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” (if I’m mixing my metaphors here, I apologize but the point stands). I worked with it years ago (in the 1980s to be exact), mostly in the pragmatic sense of creating and using talismans in the performance of simple rituals like the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. I was criticized at the time for calling on exalted entities in the pursuit of fairly pedestrian objectives (one of my favorite analogies is “swatting a gnat with a sledgehammer”), but my understanding was that this was all part of the journeyman’s path to mastery and wouldn’t be held against me in the “final accounting.” My one attempt to join the modern Ordo Templi Orientis (“OTO”) was ignored, which was probably a good thing since I lived too far away to participate in chapter activities and group work was really what I was interested in. I had no mentor and no peer-group access in those off-line times, so I was basically self-initiated; consequently I didn’t range too far afield in the Astral realm, even with the questionable crutch of another “new Age-y” formula, The Inner Guide Meditation.

Since that era I’ve moved on to the more transpersonal (not to mention less arcane and therefore more transparent) application of predictive astrology and cartomancy to the human condition. In the case of tarot and other forms of card-reading, I’m convinced that the “magic” lies not in the tools nor in the reader but in the seeker, although the true source is undoubtedly higher up the chain of consciousness in the abode of Spirit. The “magical act” amounts to opening the subconscious portal or channel that lets illumination “from Above” (or perhaps, for the non-mystical, from the Collective Unconscious) penetrate the art of divination, something that doesn’t take arduous preparation or the recital of complex invocations but rather the ability to bring sincere intention and focused concentration to bear under the guidance of a wise and sensitive practitioner. Although I will always have a strong interest in exploring the Unseen, I’ve been content to let its more demanding disciplines lapse; the equivalent of “Learn Magic in a Day” isn’t likely to change my mind.

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