“What,” asked my correspondent, enquiring about the School, “is magic?” It is not the first time I have been asked that question, once the difference between performance magic and the magical work of the esoteric path has been established.
Read any tale of magic, or indeed, the centuries-old treatises and grimoires that survive, and you would have to assume that magical work is all about gaining control. Spirits, demons, elementals and angels, all are to be summoned by the magician and bound to his bidding. Even those who have trained within an established and respected magical system will still use the old forms that look and sound as if this is the case. Young students who are just starting out on their path may well hold a vision of standing on a mountaintop commanding the storm like a Hollywood Merlin, anticipating the wild exhilaration of power. Are they deluded? Is there something real behind the dream? Or are they simply destined for disappointment?
The universe is held together by vast, natural forces; amongst them are many things science does not and may never understand. Is it really possible for a single human soul to take control of the machinery of the cosmos?
In his book, Magick in Theory and Practice, Aleister Crowley defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” Crowley, quite justifiably, acquired a polarising reputation amongst contemporary occultists that continues amongst their more modern successors. At best, that reputation is ambivalent, at worst downright unsavoury, but few would deny the value of his body of written work to the serious student of magic. Personally, I found his books invaluable… as long as you strip back the intentional blinds and ambiguities that are strewn throughout and read them with clear eyes.
Crowley’s definition is, in my opinion, probably the clearest and most concise way of describing magic. Yet, even in such a short phrase, there is enough ambiguity to lead the seeker astray. Over the years, I reached the conclusion that the magician’s quest for control is accurately described, but lacking one significant clue to the true nature of magical work; the arcane forces that are to be brought under control are all elements of our own being. We are part of the universe and its forces flow through us and have their echoes within us. The dark and bright aspects may be externalised and personified in order that we might work with them, but their source and the result of that work is the same; what changes is the magician.
On the surface at least, that sounds as if all you would have to do is train the will and bring it under full control and focus, in order to effect change. That would fit the common understanding of the type of magic of which neophytes might dream. It is, I believe, behind the misconception that human will is the highest manifestation of man. But what if the Will of Crowley’s definition is not our own, but that of the Divine? Is it then not saying that magic is the art and science of causing change by conforming to, and aligning ourselves with a Higher Will than our own? Creating change, both within the world and within ourselves, in accordance with the Cosmic Will. When you get right down to it, that is pretty much the aim of all spiritual and religious practices, regardless of the name or definition that is applied to divinity.
The definition is a clever one, precisely because of its ambiguity. Within the phrase lies the story of the seeker’s quest… a journey from the reactions and desires of the ego, through realisation, to harmony. How it is read reflects where we are on the path and whether it is to our own will or a higher Will that we surrender ourselves.
Within the Silent Eye, it is this change from within that we seek and encourage, allowing our Companions to seek their own, personal path to realisation and their own door to open to the forces of being. But where does that leave our hopeful Merlin? Is there no storm to control after all? No wild exultation to feel as the forces of the universe course through him, body, mind and soul? On the contrary, once we ’open up and get out of the way’, setting the stormy and imperative desires of the ego aside and allowing the universal forces free expression, through and within us, we experience that change in accordance with Will. And that is truly magical.