A Year of Ceremonial Magic: Month Eleven

Cover art for Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts by Donald Michael Kraig

It’s been over six years since I worked this book in its entirety over the course of 12 months. I failed to finish writing about the last two chapters back then, mostly because I was distracted with further research.

In what was formerly the final chapter of Modern Magick (1st and 2nd editions), Lesson Eleven, a grab bag of topics, may be the most important chapter of the book.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Lesson Eleven begins by stressing that finding your own way of making magic is essential. Finding the systems, traditions, or figuring out if you prefer groups or solo work can be time consuming and frustrating, but critical. Until the mid-1990s, there weren’t many options for exploring the variety of occult experiences and traditions. If you’re stubborn like me, you waste decades doubling down on a tradition you lucked yourself into, hoping that epiphany is just around the corner. With the advent of the internet, chatting with magical people from all over the world practicing a great many different kinds of magic is much easier.

Arguably art and religion are our two most prized cultural institutions, the saving human graces from which have arisen many of the most noble virtues and glorious achievements of our species…Perhaps it can even help us to answer what Lewis-Williams called ‘the most important archaeological question we can frame’: ‘How did people become human and, in the process, begin…to make art and to practice what we may call a religion?’

Graham Hancock – Supernatural

If religion is our desire to touch the numinous, to communicate and have communion with the divine; if art is our unique ability to partake in creation and express both our connection to the divine and our ability to act as creators, then magic is the fusion of both. Through your personal palette of psychodrama and ritual, music and hymns, iconography, costume and tool making, you make magic (sometimes called an art itself) to create and make change. It is your birthright, it is what separates us from not only other animals, but from other hominids.

Magic becomes then, over many rituals and operations, a highly personalized art project. What you seek to affect in your life is just as individualized as the relationships you form in the spirit world, the rituals you perform, the prayers you speak, the incenses and candles you burn, the offerings you make, and the tools you use.

I once watched an interview with Janet Farrar. She with her late husband, Stewart wrote several influential books on Alexandrian Wicca. When asked about the rituals contained in her books, she replied, “Oh, those are rituals for other people.” Meaning, that the rituals she herself practiced were deeply personal (and probably oath bound to secrecy) and what they wrote in their books are meant merely as a guide to be personalized and changed as other magicians saw fit.

We need to reconsider our relationship to authority and “experts”. The occult landscape is littered with malevolent people ready to take advantage of the seeker. There are are also sincere, experienced magicians worth your respect and consideration. The trick is telling the difference.

Knowing when to follow the instructions to the letter and when to color outside the lines is the result of experience. The magical revival we are currently enjoying is thanks in large part to those who had the balls to make bold changes to existing formats and methodologies. Magic is not for the faint of heart for the magician needs to trust themselves and not abdicate their judgment to others, expert or not. Think for yourself. Use your own discernment. Avoid those who would dictate how you use magic. Learn to follow trusted spirit allies and your inner compass.

This isn’t to say that specialists, authors, and teachers can’t be effective and helpful. Their input can be supportive in moving your skills and experiences forward without having to recreate the proverbial wheel. Classes and books are wonderful, but also recognize no one has a monopoly on spirit contact. Benefiting from their research is one thing, relying on them for an introduction or to mediate your relationship with spirits is quite another.

Ethical Considerations

Earlier in the book, magic is described as “Black,” “Grey,” and “White.” In chapter eleven, he writes there is no such thing and magic is just magic. Kraig uses these descriptions to illustrate the need to develop ethics. Unfortunately his discussion of ethics throughout the book has not aged well. There are much better terminology he could have used – ethics is imperative, but one need not use racist expressions to do so.

I encourage everyone to learn about consent and to have enough self respect to resist manipulative or coercive magic. I find I get much better results from working magic that does not require me to affect individuals (and I can look myself in the mirror without horror).

Those We Meet Along the Way

Kraig includes a small section on spirits, before laying out the preparations for exploring on your own. It is a curious assortment of types of entities: elementaries, ghosts, poltergeists, and larvae. An oversimplified and short list of creatures – it lacks the more nuanced animistic view of the spirit world I prefer.

A wider inclusion of classes of spirits will serve the magician well. Most begin with the Gods, which seem to me powerful spirits who after centuries of entanglement have a great interest in humans and their affairs. There are also the dead, both human and animal, named and unknown, the “neighbors”, land spirits, saints, djinn, sages, angels, demons, and so many others, many defy description or classification.

How to Fly

The rest of the chapter is focused mostly on what Kraig calls pathworking, sometimes called journeying or astral projection/travel (though I don’t think that the terms are interchangeable). He recommends the reader/magician “travel” and learn secrets on their own.

My consciousness becoming untethered from my body was not new to me, but I wanted to have more control over it. The first time I remember having an out-of-body-experience (OOBE) was in elementary school. There were some balance beams made from logs in the playground. I was on the tallest one, carefully walking back and forth. When I went to turn around, I slipped and ended up straddling the very end of the beam. With no extra log in front of me to grasp, I fell face first in the dirt and gravel – about four feet down. Suddenly, I was floating above my body, a little higher than the roofline of the school. After less than ten minutes, I was just as suddenly back in my body (and in a lot of pain).

The second and last time I had an OOBE was on Easter when I was 15 years old. My mother was driving and I was next to her in the passenger seat. My little brother was asleep in the backseat. We were on our way to visit family and as we passed through a small town, I had a feeling of unease. I asked my mother to stop someplace so we could stretch our legs and use the restroom. She declined as she was eager to reach our destination and we were soon on a fast-moving two lane highway in the middle of farmland.

We were behind two other cars, with plenty of distance between us and the Jaguar ahead. Lulled by the boring stretch of highway, my mom didn’t notice that the big Ford sedan in front had slowed to make a left turn without signaling. At the last minute, the Jaguar swerved to the right, narrowly missing the slowing car. I calmly but firmly said to my mother, “Stop now.” As my mother slammed on the brakes, I closed my eyes and leaned back in my seat, quietly confident that we would stop in time.

As soon as my head touched the headrest, I was floating above the highway about 20 feet off the ground. I could see fields and farmland for miles around. Just as suddenly, I was back in my body. As my eyes refocused, I saw a 5-inch rounded dent in the dashboard where my forehead was moments before, and the crumpled front end of our car.

This car accident and subsequent OOBE occurred around the same time I was regularly attending a weekly drumming circle held in the home of a local eccentric. It was a good sized group where everyone took turns drumming and then dipping out on floor cushions and beanbags to experience trance states. It took weeks and weeks of regular attendance before I experienced an altered state of consciousness and found myself in a clearing, not unlike descriptions of the Shire in JRR Tolkien’s work. This newfound ability to enter trance and journey to another world was wholly unlike my OOBEs.

In my case, out-of-body-experiences were caused by physical trauma that launched my consciousness from my body. Although Kraig doesn’t make the distinction, I now think out-of-body-experiences (OOBE) have maybe more in common with remote viewing. My theory based on my experiences is that “journeying” is traveling in the spirit world. The spirit world, or the imaginal is perhaps also where we go in our dreams. Out-Of-Body-Experiences and remote viewing are traveling in the material world.

It was at this point, I picked up this book found in Kraig’s bibliography:

Astral Projection Books

I thought that maybe I could learn to have controlled OOBEs. I found the instructions in Ophiel’s book to be easy to follow. Influenced by theosophy, and probably the Golden Dawn, the book includes procedures such as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and transferring your consciousness to a body of light to provide protected travel. One of the methods of astral travel described uses tattwa symbols, another memory exercises. I found none of them particularly helpful. The exercises are reliant on an ability to visualize or “see in the mind’s eye” places and objects that act as landmarks for the astral traveler. However, I didn’t have the experiences nor the results outlined in this slim paperback.

As an aside, the instructions are easy enough to follow unless you have aphantasia. I was chatting with another occultist friend who mentioned their frustration at not being able to visualize objects, scenes, or anything else in their imagination. Vivid visualizations have been pretty easy for me, so I was curious about this other way of being. Luckily my friend was pretty handy with photoshop and pen, ink, and colored pencils; they could draw or create images for themselves to aid in their magical practice. It’s a shame that most books on magic stress the ability to visualize or see things in “your mind’s eye” as a requirement for magic. Not everyone has the ability to do this and there are alternatives available. If you have a form of aphantasia, please don’t be discouraged.

It is simply a fact, and not even a controversial one, that all human beings everywhere, at all periods of history and prehistory, have had the ability – through the use of psychoactive plants and other means – to enter states of consciousness so deeply altered that they believe themselves transported to an otherworld where they can interact with its supernatural inhabitants…not all human beings use this ability, but all of us have it, and this is not in dispute.

Graham Hancock – Supernatural

The stained-glass pattern on the cover, according to the author, is what you are supposed to see as your consciousness breaks free of the constraints of the body and you begin astral projection. I did not see this multi-colored pattern the two out-of-body-experiences I had, nor did I see it during my drumming circle trance sessions.

Most likely plant hallucinogens were discovered by hunter-gatherers who initially tried them out as a food; but, whatever the reason, those who ate these substances entered trance and experienced visions of a seamlessly convincing and terrifyingly real supernatural otherworld inhabited by non-physical beings. As is common in such trances – however they are induced – these visions would have included the luminous geometrical and abstract patterns known as entopic phenomena, gradually merging into fully iconic hallucinations…

Graham Hancock – Supernatural

What Ophiel seems to be describing then, is actually a common occurrence to those in an altered state of consciousness, and in my experience – not altered by means of rhythmic drumming or dancing. However, Hancock gives plenty of examples of shamans who can achieve full trance states without the assistance of plant hallucinogens, but it does require experimentation and in my case, perseverance.

After reading Ophiel’s books, I re-read Alan Moore’s Promethea while I made my own chart of the “paths” on the tree of life. I took about five feet of white butcher paper and drew the tree of life. I then made reduced-sized color copies of my Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck and glued them to the appropriate sephiroth and paths. Meanwhile, at night (taking advantage of hypnagogic states) I would experiment with Ophiel’s exercises.

Most of my experiences were informed by the beautiful imagery of Promethea. I did not travel all of the paths, and to be frank, I grew a bit bored because it felt artificial and constructed, not organic and “real”. The entities I met and interacted with felt robotic. It seemed like I was having an experience of others’ interpretations of a manufactured world – a kind of Golden Dawn theme park with animatronic entities – that wasn’t very interesting or meaningful. I never did finish visiting each path, and I doubt I ever will.

I continued to perform the other rituals – the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, the Circulation of Light, etc. but it was starting to feel stale, even when I tried performing the rituals on the “astral plane” (I now prefer the term the imaginal). I was looking forward to the last month of my project, which turned out to be the most transformative and life-changing.

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