An investigation of the misunderstanding and misuse of the magical arts in modern times
Do not be misled by the title of this article. It does not provide hints and tips on how to cast spells for love or money, predict the future, summon spirits, curse enemies, draw sigils, create servitors, make pacts with the devil, invoke succubi, or all the other nonsensical rigmarole popularly thought to constitute practical Magic. If that is the reason you have stumbled on this page you will be sorely disappointed. We have not, and never shall provide any practical instruction in the magical arts. The wise man or woman on the path to the Light will discover all they need to know anyway and use what they learn for good only, whereas the vulgar, the thrill-seeker and the merely curious, though they search an entire lifetime, will never discover the true Arcanum of Magic. What they may learn are those lesser arts which have leaked out to the masses over the course of time, most of which are misunderstood and misused as we shall see as we develop our theme.
In our customary afterword, we spell out the many dangers which the misunderstanding and misuse of Magic poses to the body, mind and spirit and the ways in which the so-called "Left-Hand-Path" (LHP) has been whitewashed to make it palatable to the modern practitioner. We covered some of this ground in our occult studies course article on Magic, in our critical review of the books and teachings of Franz Bardon, in our Occult Faq, in our investigation of sex magic in Tantric Buddhism, and many more articles. You can find a full list of these resources in the Further reading list at the end of the sidebar. We will now consider the subject of practical magic in much greater depth.
In an article published in The Theosophist in 1879, the 19th century occultist and mystic, H. P. Blavatsky wrote: "Neither white, nor black magic are what popular superstition understands by the terms. The possibility of 'raising spirits,' according to the Key of Solomon, is the height of superstition and ignorance. Purity of deed and thoughts can alone raise us to an intercourse 'with the gods' and attain for us the goal we desire." These words may come as a surprise to those who fondly imagine that 'spirits'—whatever they may mean by this word—can be summoned by anyone armed with a spell downloaded from the Internet, a wand and a few so-called 'magical' accoutrements, such as candles and the burning of a few noxious herbs.
In the afterword to the penultimate article in Flitterflop and Bombast's series of twelve Astral Conversations, we quoted the 19th century French occultist and magician Eliphas Lévi. He taught that it is the astral shells of dead human beings, bereft of the Higher Self that animated the body during life, called elementaries by occultists, that are most often evoked by such spells and rituals, and not the 'gods' and 'demons' they purport to be. It is these deceptive and cunning phantoms that dabblers in the occult place themselves en rapport with. That is, when the evocation is genuine, and not simply a drug-induced fantasy on the part of the would-be magician which is usually the case.
Eliphas Lévi tells us in his Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Dogma and Ritual of High Magic) that: ". . .if a man has lived in crime, his astral shell, which holds him prisoner, seeks again the objects of its passions, and clings to the life it left behind. It torments the dreams of mediums, bathes in the fumes of spilt blood, and hovers about the places where the pleasures of its life flitted by; it watches continually over the treasures which it possessed and concealed; it exhausts itself in unhappy efforts to make for itself material organs and live forever. But the astral light attracts and absorbs it; it feels its intelligence weakening, its memory is gradually lost as its being dissolves."
These are the 'spirits' so many misguided and troubled individuals deliberately try to get into contact with, hoping they will help them to achieve their petty and selfish goals. Only a fool would dismiss this testimony, coming as it does from H .P. Blavatsky and Lévi—two eminent occultists with long experience of practical Magic. Unlike today's so-called 'chaos magicians' Madame Blavatsky actually demonstrated the 'magical' phenomena they would like to be able to produce. She did so on many occasions before reliable witnesses, as anyone can learn by reading the many excellent biographies about her. Given the fact that in 1879, Magic meant stage conjuring and sleight-of-hand in the popular mind, Blavatsky's words which we quoted above are even more applicable today. In the late 19th century those who knew anything of the magical arts in the West could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Nowadays, every adolescent, more or less, reared on a diet of vampires, werewolves, demons, zombies and necromancers via films and videos thinks they know all about 'magic.' But do they?
Fiction and fantasy versus fact
Let us begin by ditching Harry Potter's 'wizardry', the antics of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's battles with the undead and similar fanciful portrayals of Magic, its uses and practitioners; it is pure fiction and nothing else. Let us explain why. Although J. K. Rowling drew upon a genuine tradition of magical lore to create her imaginary world, none of the spells or rituals employed by the wizards and witches in the Harry Potter books will work in real life because they are based on an incomplete and completely wrong idea of what Magic is and how it works. If you doubt us why not try bellowing 'expelliarmus' or 'stupefy' at someone whilst pointing a wooden stick at them. We should add that the writer of this article has read all the Harry Potter books and thoroughly enjoyed them. But he's also read Alice in Wonderland and is in no doubt that both are works of fiction. Original and powerful fiction, meticulously crafted with great skill and ingenuity in the case of the seven Harry Potter books, but fiction nonetheless, and a long way away from the real facts of Magic, as we shall see later on.
Spells and wands may summon objects, levitate brooms and stun enemies in the fictional world of Harry Potter, but not in the real world, or none of us would be safe from magic-obsessed twelve-year-olds throwing temper tantrums because a parent told them to go to bed or confiscated their iPad! The only bit of 'magic' that is true in the Harry Potter books is the importance placed on the power of the human will. "You have to mean it, Harry," shrieks the evil witch Bellatrix at one point in the story. It is willpower, aided by imagination and concentration that produce magical effects. This is hinted at in the Harry Potter books, but never overtly or very often. Consequently, it is not surprising that those reared on a diet of such books and films cling to the misconception that all it takes to be an accomplished wizard or witch is mouthing a few spells and the possession of a 'magic' wand.
It is this compelling notion that captivates thousands of edgy American teenagers seeking thrills and leads them to want to emulate the miraculous antics of Harry and his chums, all for very little or no effort. You might suppose that this woolly-headed pipe-dream is limited to impressionable twelve-year-olds. But you would be wrong. With a few embellishments, such as the obsession with sigils and servitors which Bombast and Flitterflop thoroughly debunk in a recent investigation of theirs, what we have said so far comprises what most people remotely interested in occultism regard as 'magic'. No wonder it is seen as a quick and easy fix for life's problems by some and utter nonsense by others. As we shall now explain, both viewpoints are completely wrong because they are based on false premises.
Let us deal with the 'quick and easy fix' misconception first. This draws many credulous and inexperienced individuals to seek 'magical' solutions for their problems. We touched on this in the third of our articles on the esotericism in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Therein we quoted from a letter written by Tolkien in which he wrote: "The basic motive for magia. . .is immediacy: speed, reduction of labour, and reduction also to a minimum (or vanishing point) of the gap between the idea or desire and the result or effect." In the Harry Potter books Mrs Weasley's ability to send soup saucepans flying through the air, charm knives into peeling potatoes and getting bread to slice itself accurately mirrors Tolkien's views. This is the stuff of fairy-tales not real Magic. However, further on in the same letter he writes: "magia may not be easy to come by." This explains why so many would-be magicians and witches become disillusioned and disheartened so very quickly when their haphazard and desultory efforts produce little or no objective results. Not only is Magic not 'easy' to come by as Tolkien thought, it requires a lifetime, or several, to develop anything like the powers attributed to such magicians as Apollonius of Tyana, Paracelsus or Jesus in the gospels.
From this it will be clear that if a 'quick and easy fix' is what is wanted Magic is best avoided and ordinary means employed. Let us take two common examples to illustrate our point. If one wants to attract a partner, good grooming, personal hygiene, an ability to listen rather than talk, a sense of humour, charm and courtesy, are far more likely to get results than any number of 'love' spells. Is this blindingly obvious? Perhaps, but you would be amazed at the number of otherwise intelligent people who place more faith in spells than in the attractive qualities we enumerated! Much the same applies to those who look to Magic to help them get a better job, more money, or power over others. Such people are invariably lazy, lacking in willpower, self-confidence and discipline. For if they possessed any of these qualities, or even the desire to get off their backsides, they wouldn't need to resort to 'magic spells', 'sigils' or 'servitors' to get what they want. On the contrary, a sensible person would first cultivate and then use the qualities we've just mentioned, and having done so, stand considerably more chance of success than some idle spell-caster.
Having said all this, there is some truth in what Tolkien says. Magic when rightly understood can reduce the 'gap between the idea. . . . and the result. . .', though 'will' would be a better word for the initial impetus to action rather than 'idea' or 'desire'. We might go further and say that the only difference between a magical act and an 'ordinary' one is that in the former the will acts directly upon matter via the mind, while in the latter, one or more intermediaries are required, such as the nerves or muscles of the human body. But how many know how to use mental power to affect matter in a magical way?
In order to do so one must first learn how to concentrate on a specific idea or image to the exclusion of all other thoughts. Then the will must then be brought into play and directed with pinpoint precision. All this takes a great deal of effort and years of practise as anyone who has tried to silence the mental chatter of the lower self through peaceful, spiritual meditation will know. Who, among the thousands of would-be 'magicians' who hold forth on social media can truly claim to have such abilities? Frankly, we know of none! So we have now come full circle—a 'Magic Circle' if you wish—by demonstrating that Magic does not provide a quick fix, nor is it easy to learn or use.
John William Waterhouse — The Magic Circle — oil on canvas, 1886
What of the accusation that Magic is utter nonsense? As we have seen so far, what passes for it in the popular mind mostly is nonsense! Let us explain. Those who go looking for information about Magic on the Internet and in contemporary books, will sooner or later stumble upon a weird subculture, predominantly comprised of testosterone-fuelled males in their early twenties and often much younger. Many are obsessed with contacting demons, summoning succubi, conspiracy theories, and using spells to obtain money, power and sex—though not necessarily all at once! Others use mind-altering drugs, have low self-esteem, and often suffer from depression and various mental disorders. We say this not only from personal experience, but because it is well-known that troubled individuals are drawn to the occult like moths to a flame in the hope that Magic will provide solutions to their problems. Sadly, in most cases, dabbling with the occult only makes things worse—often much worse.
Why? Because those who offer to help the newcomer via social media are often most in need of help and guidance themselves. Another reason is that even the more mature and sensible online occultists lack the knowledge and basic skills of the least accomplished of their predecessors. If you doubt us, which would be an eminent attitude to adopt, as we ask our readers to take nothing we say on trust, but to think for themselves, then one has only to peruse the articles written by the practising occultists of the past to see how far standards, not to mention, levels of education, morality, and magical knowledge have declined. During the last century such respected journals as The Occult Review (1905-1951), The Occult Observer (1949-51) and The Occult Digest (1925-1947) carried articles by such eminent occultists as Max Heindel, Rudolf Steiner, Dion Fortune, Franz Hartmann, H. Spencer Lewis, Israel Regardie and J Michaud PhD. These are just three among the many dozens of journals and magazines devoted to the occult sciences which flourished in the last century, many of which have since been digitised and are available to read online.
Along with this decline, there has been a general tendency to whitewash what was widely regarded as black magic 100, or even 50 years ago, and to conflate white with black magic to the extent that many now believe there is no difference between them at all. We explore this regrettable and dangerous trend more fully in our afterword. Meanwhile, what has not changed, are the large numbers of young people hell-bent on using 'magick' (as many like to spell the word) to gain power over others, have sex, get rich, become famous (or infamous) get a better job (or any job!), or revenge themselves upon a perceived enemy. We use the words 'hell-bent' deliberately, because nothing good can come of the modern fascination with Magic for selfish ends. Even if the magician or witch does acquire riches or fame, these have to be paid for. If so-called 'spirits' have aided the magician to achieve his goals on earth during his lifetime, these same entities will exact FULL payment for their services after his death.
This is not some fanciful theory of ours, nor is it intended to frighten off those readers who are using magical means to gain riches, fame or material power, or would like to. Rather, it is a simple statement of fact—an occult law which we are all subject to whether we like it or not. This is the real meaning of the Faust legend, which despite its fictional elements, is based on this same universal occult law. If the debt incurred by the magician is an especially heavy one (and we know of such cases from our own personal experience) it may take many lifetimes to repay it. Lifetimes during which the magician will suffer for their past misdeeds, often in the way of ill-health, dire poverty or mental illness. You can read more about the fate of such black magicians in The Quest of Ruru, published in full on this website.
In our introduction we mentioned sigils and servitors as examples of things popularly thought to constitute practical Magic. Those who know little or nothing about them may be wondering what they are and what they do. Let us begin with sigils. The word comes from the Latin sigillum, meaning 'seal' and is commonly used to represent the 'spirits' which the magician desires to summon, or certain powers he wishes to employ in diagrammatic form. Such diagrams are composed of a number of lines, circles, squares and other shapes, joined together to form a composite symbol. Sigils are also used by some practitioners in contemporary Alchemy, though it is only fair to point out that this has little or nothing to do with black magic in most cases.
The sigils employed in modern magic are another matter. These either come from, or are developments of, those found in the magical grimoires, such as the Key of Solomon mentioned by H. P. Blavatsky in our introduction. Such books emerged mainly during the mid 17th century and comprise the stock-in-trade of the modern practitioner of Goeteia, so-called 'chaos magick' and similar arts, all of which can at best be described as 'grey', and at worst, black magic. A sigil is not the same as a symbol, though the two are often confused. The former is a tool used to evoke or control a specific entity or force whilst the latter, as we explain in our articles on symbolism, is an idea, teaching or fact preserved in a symbolic form, such as the symbol of a bed to represent an hotel.
Moreover, symbols are among the oldest ways of communicating information, sigils are a comparatively modern phenomenon, and in the sense they are employed today, no older than the magical revival of the 19th century that spawned such occult orders as The Golden Dawn. For this reason, you won't find a single sigil in any of the Books of Hermes, nor in any of the ancient Egyptian papyri dealing with white magic, or Netra as it was known to the Egyptians themselves, who distinguished it very thoroughly from Heka, or sorcery, as you can read in our article on The Magic of Egypt.
A particularly well-known list of sigils can be found in the Key of Solomon mentioned earlier, in which the seals of the 72 princes of Hell are given for the magician's use. Such sigils were considered to represent the true name of these demons, and it was believed that this gave the magician complete control over them. If the magician does succeed in invoking an entity with a sigil, and not merely the figment of his overheated imagination, then, as we said earlier, any services rendered by the infernal spirit will have to be paid for. Sadly, in most cases the magician does not realise just how heavy the price is until it is too late, as you can read in The Quest of Ruru.
So much for sigils, what about servitors? This is another modern construct mainly employed in chaos magic, itself largely an invention of the eccentric English artist and occultist, Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956), though the idea behind it is not new. A servitor is generally described as a 'psychological complex', deliberately created by the magician for a specific task or purpose which appears to operate independently of his consciousness. The experienced occultists among our readers (and we know there are a few!) will smile at this point, for the servitors of chaos magic are simply the artificial elementals of Occult Science under a new name. Whilst most servitors do little harm due to the weak will and low mental capacity of those who create and employ them this is not true of the really powerful thought forms the trained black magician fashions to serve his evil purposes.
Dr Michaud discusses these artificial elementals in his monumental book on the Occult Arts, The Golden Star. His description is worth quoting in full. ". . . .there are now in the nether heavens, such as you see here, some forms that were made many millions of years ago. Thousands of incarnations have passed and still their makers have refused the Light. Instead of redeeming the creatures of their thoughts, they have made new ones to add to them, and throngs of evil beings beset their path and lurk in unexpected corners, full of hatred for their masters, who with fresh hate respond and live and die in endless woe." Some will dismiss the wise and true words of Dr Michaud with a smug sneer as the exaggerations of an outdated and irrelevant mystic.
Let them not be too certain they are right. Only the other day we read of a sixteen-year-old boy who had brutally murdered an elderly pensioner during a violent burglary. This deeply disturbed boy broke down during his trial, and filled with genuine remorse claimed that demonic voices had made him do it. We have no reason to doubt him. Modern science has no answer to such confessions other than to fall back on the explanation of schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder or some other label for abnormal mental states it does not understand. Occult science, on the other hand, does know all about the mind, or rather minds, for, as we discuss in several of our articles, we each have two minds, not one. Moreover, Occult Science affirms that the lower mind or self can become obsessed or possessed by other minds.
Many crimes are committed for which the perpetrator is not, strictly speaking, guilty, for he or she, like the poor lad we have been discussing, was driven to their acts by an evil entity of some kind, which either temporarily or permanently, took possession of them. If the former, they may recover and go on to lead perfectly normal lives. If the latter, their destination is the insane asylum. All this can and does arise from dabbling with black magic and witchcraft, whether in this lifetime or a previous one. When people say "the devil made me do it," they utter an occult truth without realising it, whether that 'devil' is their own uncontrolled lower self, or some outside agency or entity. Some readers may think we exaggerate, but we know what we are talking about, and if we deter only one good person from meddling with forces of which they have little understanding and over which they have less or no control, we shall not have written these words in vain.
We haven't touched on altars, wands, incense, 'magic' mirrors, daggers, candles, and a thousand and one other weird and wonderful paraphernalia connected in the popular mind with magic. Why not? Because there is simply no end to such things. Were we to deal with even a fraction of them, it would require several large books. Nor is there any need to do so, for if you haven't realised it already, these things are all props and nothing more—the 'magical' accoutrements we referred to at the beginning of this investigation. The white magician does not need such aids to produce what the ignorant would regard as miracles. Need we mention the magical cures and wonders performed by Pythagoras, Apollonius of Tyana, Simon Magus and the primitive Druids of Great Britain? For the practitioner of White Magic, his own indomitable will, unwavering faith in God and knowledge of the hidden laws of Nature are all that he needs to achieve results which today's 'chaos magician' can only dream of.
Magic was originally one of the great concealed sciences. It is the highest form of accomplishment any human being can aspire to. Eliphas Lévi says anent this: "To accomplish anything we must believe in our ability to accomplish, and this faith must be at once translated into action. Faith has no tentative efforts; it begins in the certainty of finishing, and works calmly as though it had omnipotence at its disposal and eternity before it. Thou, therefore, who hast introduced thyself to the science of the Magi, what dost thou ask thereof? Dare to formulate thy desire, whatever it be, then set to work immediately, and cease not the act in the same manner and for the same end; what you wish for will take place, and has already begun for you and by you. Sixtus V., while tending his sheep, said: 'I determine to be pope.' Thou art a mendicant and dost seek to make gold. Get to work, and never give in—I guarantee thee, in the name of science, all the treasures of Nicholas Flamel and Raymond Lully."
The emphasis is Lévi's—not ours. How many who call themselves 'magicians' today possess such iron determination, dauntless courage and perfect faith? Let the pretenders to the science of the Magi answer! We mean those imposters of Truth who infest the Internet with their vain boasting and write countless books filled with the fruits of their inane speculations and fevered fantasies. Lévi further advises: "A sluggard will never be a magician. The operator of great works must be absolute master of himself. He must know how to subdue the allurements of pleasure, appetite and sleep, must be as insensible to renown as to reproach." Ironically, it is precisely the 'allurements' which Lévi warns against that drive the desires of most of today's would-be 'adepts'!
Good as Lévi's advice is, this peer among occultists fails to mention a most important qualification, and one which is sadly lacking in those who call themselves 'magicians' nowadays, namely purity of heart, mind and body. This is the secret of real Magic which is all too often overlooked by the neophyte and despised by those on the highway to black magic and sorcery. Lévi goes on to tell us that the magician's life must become a will directed by one thought, and served by the whole of the Kosmos. Every faculty and sense must share in the work and nothing must be idle. In this way he will become a magnet which will attract the desired object. Lévi is right again and there is nothing wrong in these things, always provided we remember those who lack this strength of purpose and don't slam the door in their faces when they are in need of our help. He further advises that: "The milder and calmer thou art, the more will thy wrath be effectual; the more aggressive thou art, the higher will be the worth of thy meekness; the more skilful thou art, the better wilt thou profit by thine intelligence, and even by thy virtues; the more indifferent thou art, the easier will it be to make others love thee." All this contains great magical wisdom of the right sort.
The white magician, unlike his black counterpart, seeks nothing for himself. His whole nature is directed towards one end; the salvation and emancipation of his fellowmen and women. Being in tune with the Divine Mind that moves the world, he obeys the laws of Nature and working with them to the fullest extent, draws his power from Above, not below. All that he does showers unseen, but nonetheless real, blessings upon mankind. Once this is understood, the distinction between white and black magic becomes clear.
We have all read the so-called miracles of Jesus in the gospels. These supernormal, but not supernatural feats, have been repeated time and time again by men and women who made no claim to any special status but who did know the universal occult laws governing the material and spiritual worlds and were able to employ them for the greatest good of the most deserving few. Need we give examples? The healer, who lays his hands upon the skin of a suffering patient and cures them of their infirmities, is a white magician, whether he calls himself such or not.
The man or woman who, during sleep, travels in spirit to the bedside of the despairing, the unloved, the suicidal and lost, and brings comfort to the sleeping sufferer, so that they awaken with renewed hope and courage, not knowing whence these blessings come, is a white magician. There are many such benefactors of mankind who, unseen, unknown, and unrewarded, do the work of the Angels, and are angels though garbed in the habiliments of the flesh like every other mortal.
But the greatest magician of all is he or she who raises the dead to life. Not the body of flesh and blood and sinew, which once dead, no power on earth or Heaven can restore to life illusory, but they who have the magical power to awaken the spirit that dwells within—the Higher self. For this is the real man or woman behind the earthly mask, asleep in most, it dreams it's time away on earth, unconscious of the good it might do were it awake and free to act.
White magic, when rightly understood, unveils all the mysteries of Man and the Universe. It reveals the causes of suffering and their remedy. It shows us what we truly are, whence we came, and whither we are headed. By helping us to understand our own nature as immortal spiritual beings incarnated in mortal material bodies, we come to understand the nature of all living things. It places within our hands a mighty weapon of great power which can move minds and send forth Light and Love to every corner of the globe and all who dwell upon it. Such is white magic—real Magic—and it differs from black magic and sorcery as the blazing Sun shining in the firmament differs from a guttering candle in a dark cellar full of bemused bats.
Let us conclude our investigation with an axiom of Hermes Trismegistus which will be familiar to many of our readers: "that which is above is like that which is below, and that which is below is like that which is above." Now, how many of those who call themselves 'magicians' understand what this really means, or how to employ it for their benefit and that of others? If you know anything at all about the subjects we have discussed in this investigation, you will agree with us that the answer is 'very few indeed'. Yet it is upon this Universal Hermetic Law of Correspondence that the whole edifice of the arcane magical sciences has been built up over thousands of years by generations of Adepts. The key to this doctrine lies in the fact that the visible is for us the proportional measure of the invisible. In this simple, but much misunderstood axiom of Hermes Trismegistus lies concealed the key to all the secrets of Magic and the mysteries of nature that will forever remain beyond the grasp of the merely curious, the thrill-seeker and the impure in mind and desire. This axiom is the essence of the path to the Light—the Right-Hand Path of White Magic as it is also called—which leads to the very throne of God, the immortality of the soul (Higher self in our terminology) and liberation from further servitude on earth.
This is real Magic and where it leads those who practise it. Where black magic leads we discuss more fully in our afterword. We all have the free-will to choose the right-hand path or the left, but once upon the latter we must go on until either the time of cruel awakening and disillusionment arrives, or we for ever join the throngs of the lost. When we do wish to return to the path to the Light we shall have to cross an ocean of tears in bitter agony. Both paths have a terminus, and our reward lies at the end of each, according to whether we face the darkness or the Light. We talked about willpower earlier and its importance in any magical act. Well, the most important act any of us ever perform is the exercise of our FREE-will. We do this every day, often quite unconsciously, in little things as well as large. And each time we do so, we grow a little closer to either the dark or the Light. Truly, free-will is a terrible responsibility, but a necessary one for the growth of the Divine mind within us.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 26 May 2019. Updated 17 May 2023.