“Determined will is the beginning of all magical operations. It is because men do not perfectly imagine and believe the result, that the (occult) arts are so uncertain, while they might be perfectly certain.” – Paracelsus
As the quote from Paracelsus suggests, and many other esoteric philosophers agree, Will, Imagination, and beliefs are fundamental concepts to understand and master to achieve success in the magical arts.
The free magic lessons that I offer on Magical Path are based around a specific concept of education, the word deriving from the Latin word educere, meaning to “lead out”. In magical training, and the occult in general, I believe that education is about leading out that which is within each individual. It is not about forcing beliefs and rules on students. It is about providing them with tools and encouragement to discover for themselves. An analogy would be providing students with a rough map, a compass, and telling them to explore the landscape and discover whatever experiences, treasures, and dangers, lie in wait.
The following article summarises some of the concepts found in the first few magic lessons.
We all have beliefs. The beliefs we have shape, limit, and define how we behave and interact with all things, both in our waking life and within our inner worlds of thoughts, and dreams. Our beliefs are often unconscious, and without introspection we usually remain blissfully unaware of them, even while our actions are shaped and controlled by these beliefs. We may find ourselves arguing certain things, and struggling to understand why others don’t agree with us, and yet still remain unaware than it is simply a matter of beliefs. Yes, we may be right, and they may be wrong, but it is still a matter of beliefs; and these beliefs are seldom consciously chosen and formed.
It is possible to become aware of our beliefs. To consciously sift through our thoughts, analyze our interactions with others, and learn what it is that we believe about various things. This is extremely important with magic, as many people limit themselves by saying (and believing) things such as “I can’t visualize,” or “visualization is a difficult skill to learn.” These are simply beliefs, and it is possible to believe the converse of these, that “visualization is an easy skill to learn.” Of course, if you simply tell yourself that something you believe is not true, it will not instantly change it, because beliefs tend to be concrete and ingrained in us. It takes some conscious effort, and skill, to break down concrete beliefs and replace them with more useful and helpful beliefs.
It is important for you to realize that beliefs are not absolute truths. What works for you, based on your beliefs, may be a fact or truth for you, but it is not necessarily the same for me – or at least it may not have the same amount of importance in my life. For instance, you may believe that learning to levitate will provide you with the proof you need that psychic powers are real, whereas I may believe that levitation would be little more than a party trick and is not useful for developing useful psychic abilities.
Our beliefs are generally formed by our childhood experiences, both what we are taught by our parents and teachers, as well as the things we observe. As such, many of our beliefs are essentially childlike, and not necessarily helpful for coping with adult situations, let alone the rigors of esoteric training. Worse still, we tend to be unaware of the number of contradictory beliefs we hold and cause inner conflict, which often leads to conflict with other people in our lives. You have a belief that leads you to strive towards a particular goal, which seems elusive, as you remain unaware that another belief is blocking you because you also believe it is impossible for you to attain that goal.
Another aspect of beliefs is what we call belief structures. A belief structure is a group of similar beliefs, which are often variations on a particular theme, and the interconnections between these related beliefs. Even the paradoxical and conflicting beliefs are part of this structure, as they form a positive and a negative – or more correctly a weaker and a stronger – pair.
Our beliefs and belief structures form complexes within our personality, which are called subpersonalities, as they can be considered smaller parts of our personality. Subpersonalities are always found as pairs, based around a core concept (belief). One subpersonality is generally dominant and the other weaker, although both may become active within our personality and shape our behavior in different situations and circumstances. Although you may initially view one of the subpersonalities are negative, and the other as positive, it is important to understand that most have negative and positive aspects, and it is actually a balance of these traits that is important in your life.
While our beliefs tend to be concrete and fixed, it is possible to begin to develop a new belief that are our beliefs are able to be changed, and that beliefs that we hold and develop can actually be more flexible and fluid. The axiom states that “nothing is true, everything is permitted” is the expression of the type of belief that is actually beneficial to all spiritual training. It is not that you have to believe in nothing (“nothing is true”), but understand that there are many levels to reality and truth, and that your personal beliefs may work for you, but are not automatically universal truths. Believing that anything is possible (“everything is permitted”), on some level of reality helps develop flexible beliefs that all you to adapt and evolve as your experience and learn new things. This is particularly important when working with magic, as things you will experience may differ from your normal waking reality.
Eliphas Lévi wrote that “Learn[ing] how to will … is the first arcanum of magical initiation…” The type of magic I promote can be considered “willed daydreaming” (alternative knowing as trancework or creative visualisation). Essentially, you are learning to enter a dream-like state of consciousness while maintaining conscious control over your thoughts and actions.
The nature and function of the Will is often misunderstood. The Will is not what is commonly termed “will power.” The definition of the Will that I work with is: “the psychic faculty that transforms thought into action.” Take a moment to reflect on this, and then perform the following brief exercise:
- Think about lifting your arm (but don’t actually lift it yet).
- Imagine what it feels like when you move your arm, and, in your mind’s eye, see where your arm will be once it has moved.
- Now, lift your arm.
What happened? Thinking about and imagining lifting your arm didn’t cause it to raise (unless you were already in a state of trance). It is the process of transforming the desired outcome into the physical action that is the Will.
There is plenty of information available to read regarding the Will, and it is beyond the scope of this course to cover it here. You are recommended to read and contemplate the various beliefs and teachings about the Will, and how your experiences with magic relate to these things.
Albert Einstein wrote that “imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” This quote illustrates the importance of imagination. To imagine is not “just your imagination” in a fleeting, illusory way. Imagination is a type of reality, as are dreams, and fantasy. They may not be waking, consensus reality, but they are a type of reality, and the fact that we experience them makes them facts in, and of, themselves.
The visualizations presented in this course are all types of active imagination. You practice imagining the five main physical senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. You can also learn to stimulate physical feelings, sensations, and emotions through imagination.
The concept of magic I work with is that it is performed by combining Imagination with Will. Creativity is essential in any magical work, so you are encouraged to always find new ways to be increase you imaginative faculties – primarily through practicing trancework exercises such as visualisation and journeying. A valuable attribute when performing trancework is to set aside accepted practices, and spontaneously explore new and creative possibilities.
I highly recommend that you keep a written journal of your experiences with magical practices, to document your progress. Writing in your journal at the end of an exercise can help to ground the experience in the physical, and allow you time to be reflective and write about your thoughts, feelings, and any questions that may have arisen.
If you occasionally read through your journal entries you may find that you can begin to answer some of the questions. You may also begin to observe patterns in your thoughts and processes.
There are no particular rules for journal work. Being creative and using your imagination is useful in keeping with the aims of magical training.
Write poetry, draw pictures, diagrams, mind maps, fictional stories, or whatever else feels right for you do add. Additionally, focusing on feelings, as opposed to thoughts, is useful for future exploration of your psychological constitution.
I recommend that you keep a physical, written journal, as opposed to a computer based journal. The process of writing is recommended over the mechanical entry of data into a computer system. Your writing should be for your, not a ‘teacher’ or ‘master’, and should deeply express your opinions, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and emotions. This is not homework, and your ability or failure to keep a detailed journal should only be of personal relevance to you. Remember to write freely and expressively. This isn’t scientific or academic writing. Correct spelling and grammar, choice of language, or the correct way of keeping a journal are all irrelevant, and what is important is that you record your experiences and questions in a creative manner that is right for you.
One important note: I highly recommend that you begin writing down any dreams that you recall. Some of the exercises work with dreams, so beginning to take notice of your dreams is important for future exploration. You do not need to write down all dreams, and focusing on the dream that feels most important or relevant to you is recommended.
Modern research has shown that slow, contemplative reading is very similar to meditation. Deep reading is often called slow reading or close reading. Occult works are particularly suitable for deep, thoughtful reading, and particular passages meditated on. This can help you to understand what the author is really talking about.
I recommend that you read slowly through all the exercises, at least twice, before putting them into practice. You can make notes in your journal, such as writing down your feelings prior to doing each exercise.
Likewise, I recommend that you read slowly and thoughtfully through all the lesson material and any recommended reading articles you chose to read. I recommend printing out articles, and reading from paper, over reading from the computer screen.
- The Act of Will by Roberto Assagioli