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by Cysylltiwr Stormmarchog
So youve read all the books on witchcraft and magic for beginners and done all the exercises. Now what? Youre ready to take the next step, to try some more advanced exercises, to hone your developing skills; but youre still not sufficiently proficient to tackle the difficult and individualistic work of advanced magic. Thats when you discover that theres a genuine lack of practical information for people working magic beyond the beginner level but not yet at the advanced level.
The explanation for this lack of intermediate level information can be traced to Paganisms emergence from hiding over the past few decades. That emergence helped spur an interest in the practice of magic. As the number of people wishing to learn how to practice magic grew, so did the demand for practical information. Up to that time, the usual method of learning magic was by apprenticing to someone who already knew how to do it. When that traditional method proved to be unable to meet the rising demand for information, the first books for beginners began to appear in the marketplace. These books have now been in circulation long enough to have created a demand for information above and beyond the beginner level, at the next step up--the intermediate level.
But what exactly is intermediate magic? The best way to answer that question is to use an analogy from everyday life. Almost every course list from a high school, college, or adult education program contains at least one series of three courses that are labeled beginner, intermediate, and advanced. This tripartite division is usually applied to foreign languages--French, for example. In the beginner course, the student learns a basic vocabulary and the rudiments of grammar, just enough to hold a simple conversation. In the intermediate course, the student builds on that vocabulary while learning more complex rules of grammar--enough to hold a more realistic conversation. In the advanced course, the student learns enough vocabulary and nuances of grammar to hold a discussion on all sorts of esoteric topics. Yet the completion of the advanced-level course does not mean that the student has mastered all of French language and literature. What it does mean is that the student has acquired the tools to begin the lifelong task of mastering French language and literature. And so it is with magic. At the beginner level, students of magic learn the rudiments, enough to actually do some simple magical work. At the intermediate level, students build on that base by learning how to tailor existing exercises and rituals to their own individual situation, and how to complete existing exercises, rituals, or other magic tools that are described in outline form. And at the advanced level, students learn how to devise their own unique exercises and rituals from scratch, thereby acquiring the final tools necessary to begin the lifelong task of practicing magic.
In a nutshell, the essence of intermediate level magic can be summed up by the understanding of two things. The first thing to understand is that you already have access to all the knowledge you need to practice magic. Although an experienced guide can be of some benefit, no teachers are necessary. As the Sufi leader Pir Vilazat Khan put it, if a teacher tells you what to do, that would weaken your ability to come to your own decisions, and that is what the work is all about.1 Or as R.J. Stewart put it, I think formal training is very useful as something you grow out of and that for most of us it is a phase you have to go through to know that you dont have to do it. I dont think it has any inherent value in its own right, but it is important.2 And yes... that includes this series too. As a Buddhist friend used to say, There are many paths to enlightenment. Some paths are more direct than others, some are easier to travel, and some lead first to places you dont want to go. But all of them reach the same end. This series should be thought of as one of the more direct paths. The second thing to understand is that all the tools you will use, including both intangible ones such as rituals and exercises, and tangible ones such as athames, are most effective when they have special meaning and status to you. Among the Zulu, for example, a diviner will spend years acquiring an individualized set of very personal tokens that will be used to give readings. The number of tokens and their meanings are unique to each diviner. It is the special relationship between the diviner and the tokens that imparts meaning to the divination. As these two understandings indicate, the essence of intermediate level magic is the development of your ability to take an existing exercise, ritual, or other magical tool and customize it to fit your own personal work, even if that magical tool is presented only in the form of an outline.
A more pragmatic reason to develop your own tools is that using other peoples rituals, exercises, and the like can hold unexpected surprises. It is an unfortunate fact of life that there are people and groups who practice black magic even while maintaining a facade of respectability. In my own more naive days, I inadvertently began using a set of elemental invocations that sounded really great. I stopped using the invocations when I began working with a group of people who had their own invocations, and immediately experienced a noticeable boost in my ability to work magic. It wasnt until some time later that I discovered that the invocations I had adopted were developed by a black magician for use in questionable rituals. Since then Ive learned the benefits of developing all of my own tools. Ive also learned to uncover the origin of any magical tool that I might wish to adopt, and even then to adapt it in some way to my personal work. In short, Ive learned to practice safe magic.
This five-part series of articles was written to help address the lack of practical information on intermediate level magic. The goal of the series is to provide a structured, year-long program by which people who have read the books on witchcraft and magic for beginners and have done all the exercises might hone their existing skills while acquiring a new set of more appropriately advanced skills. The exercises in the series form a well-structured, efficient and effective bridge from the beginner level, where the books leave off, to the advanced level, where books are no longer necessary. The value of the material contained in this series is that it consists of a set of proven techniques that have been perfected over time. It is simply an aid, a tool for you to adapt and use. The series itself was written to be a practicum--a how to manual--and not a treatise on magical theory. The closest we will come to discussing theory--other than in Part I of this series of articles--will be the occasional mention of a rule of thumb. The work contained herein is based on my own personal work, which is shamanic in nature. The exercises are also shamanic, although the single most important one comes from medieval Irish Christianity. Other exercises derive from the trance ceremony of the San people of the Kalahari desert in southern Africa, modern neurolinguistic programming (NLP), anthropological reconstructions of stone age European shamanism, modern Mayan shamanism, and traditional neo-paganism
Much of what follows will seem to be incomplete. Thats only because it is incomplete. It is incomplete because, while it is possible to use elemental correspondences, exercises, and rituals that were developed by other people--especially other compatible people, the best results come from using the tools that have the most proper fit for you. For this reason, there are no step-by-step exercises in this practi-cum. Instead, each exercise is presented in outline form along with a few suggestions about how best to use it. Neither is there a hard and fast line of demarcation between the exercises, the rituals, the preparatory work, and the completion work. Western culture is obsessed with deconstructing and classifying everything, but as much of the rest of the world observed long ago, all acts done with magical intent are magical acts. All of the work presented here is magical, and all of it is, to some extent, an exercise. So nothing is entirely one thing or the other. Its entirely up to you to adapt what is presented in these pages to your personal situation. You have a lot of leeway, but remember, in magic, as in all aspects of life, there are no shortcuts; the more effort you put into doing your best, the better the results will be. In short, you get out of it what you put into it.
The five parts of this series explain the preparatory work, exercises, and rituals that make up a year-long magical practicum. Although there is a fair amount of preparatory work that should be done first, the essence of the work itself begins on the winter solstice with a short beginning ritual for the element Spirit, and concludes the following winter solstice with a complementary closure ritual that is similar.3 During each of the four seasons and on the summer solstice, there will be another elementally appropriate ritual. Upon completion of this practicum, you will have advanced sufficiently in your magical work to have progressed from the beginner level to the intermediate level. The practicum consists of ten elementally based exercises and seven rituals. Each ritual concludes with a photograph-ic session. The photographs are magical constructions that are used in the making of a personal mandala. They are placed on a representation of the year in which you do this work, as will be described in Part V of this series.4 The completed mandala then serves as an anchoring mechanism that will allow you to tap into and use the benefits of the exercises long after the practicum has concluded. The photographs are meant to embody the symbolism of each element, and thus should contain as many personal symbols and elemental symbols as is possible. Upon completion of the program, you will have acquired a set of elementally based magical tools, an individually designed mandala for further work, a set of exercises that will continue to be useful, and the knowledge of how to properly use all of them.
Before we get to specifics, one last bit of explanation needs to be given about the nature of magic.
Magic, like religion, is one of those unruly concepts that defies a precise definition, Ask a dozen different people what the word means and youll get a dozen different answers. Yet almost immediately it will become obvious that, while most people have trouble defining the term, they do have an intuitive, though hazy, grasp of what magic is.
Fortunately for those of us who would practice it, we dont actually need to have a formal definition to work magic successfully. In fact, we dont really need to know very much about magic at all to become proficient practitioners of the art. In this respect, magic is very much like electricity. Even small children can be taught how to use electricity safely and effectively, although few of us have more than a practical understanding of just exactly what electricity is. And as with electricity, magic is most democratic. Anyone can learn how to work it... anyone. For any reason. It can be used equally as well for the basest of motives as for the noblest of motives.
Yet magic operates within a universe that obeys a law of causality. Each magical act--indeed every act, whether magical or not--sets in motion a chain of cause and effect that spreads outward like ripples in a pond when a pebble is tossed in. Because of the interconnectedness of all things in the universe, these cause and effect ripples inevitably ramify back on the practitioner herself. Thus, in a very real sense, the magic you perform carries within itself the rewards or punishments of each act. In more familiar terms, karma is inherent within magic.
SPIRIT EXERCISE ONE
The first exercise is to determine if you are ready to advance to the intermediate level. The work contained in this practicum is not particularly easy. If you dont have the ability to see it through to completion, you will simply be wasting your time. Moreover, if you dont have enough trust in your own ability to make decisions without needing confirmation from someone else that those decisions are correct, you will not be able to do the rest of the exercises correctly. Spirit Exercise I consists of asking yourself three questions. 1) Can you diet without cheating or making excuses to quit? If you dont have the same amount of self-discipline and focus required to go on a diet and see it through to completion, you wont get the full benefit of this work. 2) Can you learn difficult subjects on your own without being spoon-fed the information tiny bit by tiny bit? If you dont have the mental ability to learn complex subjects on your own, you will not be able to gain the intricate knowledge necessary to properly direct the results of your magical work. 3) Why do you want to learn intermediate magic? Magic itself is neutral; it can be used for good or evil. However, magic also follows a law of causality. Every magical act you perform will ramify back on you: the ramifications of white magic will be good, and the ramifications of malevolent magic will be malevolent. Thus, when performing magic, the best protection is a pure heart. I know... it sounds corny. But its true that intent matters.
If you can honestly answer yes to the first two questions, you have the ability to successfully complete the work of this project. Your honest answer to the third question determines whether or not you should complete the work of this project. If you decide to continue with the project, you will need to make preparations for the first ritual, the opening Spirit ritual, by completing the next exercise.
SPIRIT EXERCISE TWO
The goal of Spirit Exercise 2 is to create a set of tables of elemental correspondences that is unique to you. The point of the exercise is to begin developing your ability to reach deep within yourself to find information that is pertinent to the work you are doing, and to begin cultivating a trust in the appropriateness of that information.
The elemental correspondences that are presented in Tables 1 and 2 are incomplete. Its up to you to complete them and, in so doing, create the personalized set of correspondences that you will use throughout the rest of the practicum. Even though traditionally there are either four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) or five elements if Spirit is included, there are seven rows on the tables. The two extra rows, labeled Shadow 1 and Shadow 2, are actually part of the element Spirit.
The four elements can be seen as pairs of opposites or complements. Earth, for example, is the element of winter, while fire is the element of its opposite, summer. As the fifth element, Spirit is usually said to encompass the other four, but it has no obvious opposites of its own. That does not mean, however, that Spirit has no opposites. Spirit contains its own opposites within itself. Thus the appropriate color for Spirit is both white and black.
The two extra rows and the terms Shadow 1 and Shadow 2 are purely a device of convenience. There are three Spirit rituals, each of which is somewhat different from the others, so each gets associated with a unique row on the tables, and each gets a unique name. For the first Spirit ritual, the one that marks the formal beginning of the work itself, you will use the correspondences in the row marked Shadow 1. For the second Spirit ritual, which is performed at the half way point, you will use the Spirit row. And for the closing ritual that marks the formal closing of the work itself, you will use the Shadow 2 row.
Because Shadow 1 and Shadow 2 are nothing more than convenient fictions, their rows are completely filled in. The Spirit row is also filled in. Thus, these rows can also serve as a guide for filling in the rest of the columns and rows of both Tables 1 and 2.
The best way to go about filling in the tables is to choose a column heading--color, for example--and spend some time contemplating each element. The element Earth, for example is associated with winter and the north. The winter colors of nature here in New England are primarily grays and browns. Yet as I look out across the field of white snow, I see a thick stand of evergreens. Other personal Earth associations could involve such things as the red of holly berries, or even the blue of the overstuffed chair that sat in the living room of great-aunt Martha, whom your family always used to visit between Christmas and New Year. So which color best represents Earth to you: gray, brown, white, green, red, blue, or some other color?
If you end up with the same color associated with more than one element, thats perfectly all right. If you end up with more than one color associated with an element, that too is all right. After all, the point of this exercise is to develop a set of personalized correspondences that helps you achieve a magical state that is appropriate to the essential nature of each element.
The column headings are, for the most part, self-explanatory. Basically, they deal with the magical garb that you will make or otherwise acquire for each elemental ritual, the location where the ritual will be performed, the time the ritual should be performed, and the style of the ceremony. The style can be something familiar, like Celtic or Egyptian, something less familiar, like Dogan (from western Africa) or Maori (from New Zealand). It could also be in the style of a particular tradition, or it could be something totally different. Im deliberately being vague about precisely what the column headings mean. A good part of what you want to develop is not just the particular entries you make in the tables, but the ability to adapt the meanings of the columns themselves to your personal circumstances. You might consider making your own subtables by using the blank table (Table 3) as a template to create such column headings as primary color, complimentary color. You might also consider using Table 3 as a template to create columns for the colors of any jewelry, footwear, headwear, or for any other purposes that might manifest themselves to you during the exercise. Consider also making subtables for each of the other column headings, or creating new column headings entirely. The only limit is your creativity. Take your time in filling out the tables. Find a quiet spot and meditate on the correspondences. And dont worry if you discover that you are compelled to make changes later. The tables are a reflection of you, and as you change, they too might change. Note that there is no column heading with the name Style on either Table 1 or Table 2. Use Table 3 as a template to create a Style column. The style for the Shadow 1, Spirit, and Shadow 2 rows is generic. That is, the style of the ceremony used in Spirit Ritual 1 should be simple and basic, with few if any characteristics that would associate the ceremony with a specific tradition or deity. The Deity column of Table 2, by the way, has three deities listed for Shadow 1, Spirit, and Shadow 2. I used the names of European versions of the deities, but since many cultures have equivalent deities with different names, I could equally as well have used one of them. The fact that the deities have European names, therefore, should not be interpreted to mean that the style of the ceremony should be that of the named deity.
For the most part, each column heading is specific enough so that its meaning is intuitively obvious, while remaining vague enough so that the meaning does not dictate what entry must be made in each box on the tables. Two column headings do need a bit more explanation, however. The column titled Governs indicates the different facets that make up a human being. Spirit, for example, governs spirit. Shadow, as Spirits opposite, governs gender and sex. Other possible facets that make up a human include, but are not limited to, intelligence, reason, emotions, the soul, the will, the body, the shade, the Kaa, memories, and many more. Western culture is used to dividing humans into two parts, the body and the mind, or occasionally three parts if the soul is counted. Other cultures believe humans are composed of different numbers of parts, many of which have no equivalent in English. When filling out this column on Table 2, you need to determine what facet of a human being is governed by each of the four elements.
The second column requiring a word of explanation is Dress. This column indicates the style of the outfit that is appropriate to each element. (This should not be confused with the style of the ceremony mentioned above. Although the style of the ceremony might influence the style of dress, and vice versa, this need not always be the case.) Earth, for example, is a loose robe. Thus, for the Earth ritual, you will need to acquire a loose fitting robe of the color indicated in the color column of the Earth row of Table 1. For the Shadow I row, the style of dress is male, in whatever form male takes for you. Note that Shadow 2 is the opposite of Shadow 1, female, in the sense that the sexes/genders are opposite, while Spirit is the opposite of both Shadows 1 and 2, in the sense that no sex/gender is the opposite of having a sex/gender. Over the years, I have personally seen more different forms of magical dress than I could have believed was possible. Your task in filling out this column is to determine a form of dress that is appropriate to each element.
Upon completing the two partially filled tables and any subtables you might have created, you will have completed Spirit Exercise 2. You will have, in effect, just created a mag-ical system that is unique to you. It is this magical system that you will develop and use throughout the rest of this practicum.
SPIRIT RITUAL ONE
The informal part of the ritual begins with the preparatory work. You will use the correspondences of the Shadow I row of Tables 1 and 2, as well as any other tables you may have created yourself, to make a magical outfit to use in the ritual. The guidelines for making the outfit, as taken from the tables, are that the outfit should be black in color with silver or black accouterments. The gender of the outfit is male--that is, it should convey male symbolism in whatever way you deem appropriate. Some form of silver pentacle should also be worn. It is not strictly necessary to make the outfit yourself. I bought various pieces of my outfit and made the rest myself. I created a subtable of appropriate jewelry--all silver--and one for all of the possible accouterments that I added to the outfit, such as footwear (shoes, boots), headwear (hat, helmet), waist wear (cord, belt), and the like. Although its not strictly necessary, I used a new athame that I made myself when doing the work of this project.5 I also made a scabbard for the athame out of a cow horn and a piece of oak board. Remember, the point of this practicum is for you to make the effort to fill in the blanks yourself. Once you assemble your outfit, keep it in a special place, and dont use any of it for non-magical purposes.
You will also use the information in the tables to determine the time and place for the ritual. Since the Shadow I row is already filled in on both tables, the time and place of the ritual have already been determined. Table 2 indicates that the setting for the photograph, that is, what you want to appear in the background of the photograph, should be an older suburb. I used a quiet side street late at night. I stood in the middle of the street, facing down the street, while an assistant took the photographs. The background was a street lined on both sides with triple decker apartment buildings. The place where each of the rituals is held should be appropriate to the element. The place could be the deep woods, an open field, a sacred spot, a beach, or even such a place as a city street. All of the places that are part of this world are appropriate candidates for a ritual. The choice of an older suburb as the location for the background of this set of photographs is to symbolize what is the home environment to the majority of Americans. It is our personal cave into which we retreat for the duration of night and of winter.
Spirit Ritual 1 defines the start of the practicum. It should be done as close as possible to the exact time of the winter solstice, as long as the moment of solstice occurs at night. If the solstice actually happens during daylight hours, the ritual should be done on either the night before or the night after the moment of the solstice, whichever is closer. The ritual should be performed as close as possible to the time of the winter solstice, but preferably in the dark of night. Night and winter have a deep association in Western culture, and that symbolism should be apparent in the photographs. While it is possible to perform this ritual alone, the help of an assistant is recommended.
For this ritual, you will also need whatever tools you use to cast a circle, something to smudge with, a ritual cup, preferably silver in color, and a rock or large crystal.
The ritual begins by casting a circle in some private spot. A close friend of mine lives on a quiet side street of an older suburb. She provided the space to perform the ritual in her home, and easy access to the spot in front of her house where the photographs were taken. Finding the spot to perform the Shadow I Ritual and to take the photographs was easy for me. Finding appropriate spots for the rest of the rituals and photographs was not nearly so easy. But an important part of this practicum is using your creativity to find ways to do all of the exercises and rituals.
Once the circle has been cast, clear your mind, then concentrate on the darkness of the winter solstice and the new growth of your work that is yet to come. Smudge yourself or have your assistant smudge you, concentrating on dedicating yourself to the successful completion of the practicum. As you go to the spot you have picked, imagine yourself walking through a doorway. Behind you is the mundane, work-a-day world youre leaving behind. Ahead of you is the magical world you are entering. Remember, when you walk through that doorway, youre making a commitment to complete the practicum.
Once through the doorway, you are Shadow. Walk with self-assured steps to the spot you have previously chosen. Hold the rock in your right hand, raise it above your head with your right index finger pointed up. Hold the cup in your left hand at your side with your left index finger pointing toward the ground. This is a variation of the magus stance used in some tarot decks. It symbolizes the multifaceted, often contradictory nature of human beings. The rock and cup are symbolic of the two seasons that are separated by the winter solstice. The cup symbolizes autumn, and the rock symbolizes winter. Your assistant should take several photographs at this time. (Obviously, since youre taking pictures at night, youll need a flash camera.) Once the photographs have been taken, return to the circle, sit quietly, and concentrate on merging with the essence of night and winter. When you are finished, be sure to ground yourself and take down the circle.
Because the work of the element Earth includes the two exercises upon which all of the subsequent exercises will be built, you will need to begin preparations for the Earth exercises and ritual described in Part II of this series.
The element Earth corresponds to the physical body and to the foundation of any undertaking. Thus, the preparatory work for Earth is concerned with ensuring that your body is in the correct shape to perform the exercises and rituals that follow. Since the results of the practicum can be only as good as the foundation allows, we will spend more preparation time on the work of Earth than on that of any other element.
Begin the preparatory work by getting a physical check-up. Let your doctor know you plan to fast for religious reasons and ask if there will be any problems with your doing so. If your doctor detects any problems or potential problems, get them taken care of before doing the exercises. If your doctor says that you should not fast, dont. Fasting is an effective way to induce the altered state you will be trying to achieve in the Earth exercises, but it is by no means the only way to attain an altered state. Remember, the quality of the results you get from the exercises is directly dependent on your ability to do the essence of the work and not on following the letter of the instructions.
At the same time that you make an appointment with your doctor, make one with your dentist to have your teeth cleaned and examined. Again, if there are any problems, have them taken care of before proceeding. Those of you who wear glasses or contact lenses should also have your eyes examined. If youve already done any of these within the past few months, theres probably no need to do it again unless circumstances have changed. If youre the least bit flabby, this is also the time to begin a regular exercise program. Likewise, if you are over your ideal weight, its time to diet. You might also consider beginning a regular program of fasting one day a week. This is also the time to evaluate the use of any vitamins, minerals, herbs, glandulars or other supplements. I suffer from night blindness, so I take vitamin A and billberry supplements to alleviate the symptoms. I use several other supplements, but Im not going to name them. The point is not for you to take the same supplements I do--or even to take any at all. The point is for you to make the effort--to do the research--and to determine what exercise program, what diet, and what supplements, if any, are appropriate for you.
By undertaking this practicum you are setting out to make major changes in yourself. Such is the essence of magic. This is also the time to reevaluate your image and wardrobe. I realize not everyone can afford to ditch their entire wardrobe and replace it with all new stuff. I certainly couldnt. But total replacement isnt necessary. What I did was to examine every article of clothing and determine if it was compatible with the direction I wished to take my life. I ditched what didnt fit, decided what I needed, and made a list of things to get in the future as I could afford to.
And finally, although it is not strictly necessary that you do so, you might use this opportunity to make any other changes in your life, such as finding a new job, changing your place of residence, or anything else you may be dissatisfied with or have thought of changing.
The Earth preparation is about getting your body in its best condition and minimizing any negative distractions in your life so that you can focus entirely on the work.
In Part II of this series, we will discuss the two most powerful and important exercises that form the heart of the practicum, and upon which all of the succeeding exercises will be built. Exercise 1 consists of a technique to mentally relive your life from different perspectives, as if you had been born a different sex, race, ethnic group, or even species. Exercise 2 consists of a basic technique for inducing shamanic trance that has been used time and again since the Stone Age.
CYSYLLTIWR STORMMARCHOG has been practicing magic, both Christian and Pagan for almost three decades.This article was featured in issue No. 1 of Obsidian.
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