For quite some time now I’ve been hosting weekly ask-me-anything sessions on occultism on my Dreamwidth journal at https://ecosophia.dreamwidth.org. Magic Mondays, as I call these sessions—I’ll let you use your psychic powers to figure out which day of the week they happen—have attracted a fair number of people who want to know about various corners of occult theory and practice. Many of the questions I field are fascinating…and some were fascinating the first time around, but not so much the hundred and first.
It’s quite understandable that the same questions should come up over and over again, since modern industrial society is impressively clueless about occultism, and human beings are a lot less unique than we’ve been taught to think. Thus I’ve compiled a list of questions that a lot of people have asked me over the years, with my standard answers for them. Yes, these are the answers you’d get if you asked these same questions in a Magic Monday session.
This is version 1.0 of the Magic Monday FAQ, by the way; I expect to update it regularly as more questions come in.
Really Basic Questions
What is magic?
The art and science of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will. That’s Dion Fortune’s definition, and it’s the one I use.
What is occultism?
The word “occult” literally means “hidden.” (When your doctor does an occult blood test, he or she is looking for blood hidden in your stools, not trying to find out if you’ve sacrificed any chickens lately.) In the Renaissance, people started using the phrase “occult philosophy” to mean the secret philosophy, i.e., the stuff you had to keep hidden in order to avoid those annoying visits by the Inquisition. The English word “occultism” was coined in the 19th century, and it refers to the same things that occult philosophy meant in the Renaissance: magic, alchemy, astrology, divination, and the theoretical, philosophical, and symbolic teachings that go with these things.
What is natural magic?
The kind of magic that works with herbs, stones, and other natural objects, which contain magical influences you can put to work if you know how. This is the safest and easiest form of magic, and in cultures that are sane about magic (i.e., not ours), most people practice it as a matter of course.
What is ceremonial magic?
The kind of magic that works with words, gestures, and the trained imagination. This is a lot less easy than natural magic, and is mostly practiced by people who have chosen to devote serious time and energy to it.
Is there such a thing as Christian magic?
Of course there is. Most of the people who’ve practiced magic in the Western world for the last fifteen hundred years have been Christians of one kind or another. Two books that discuss the Christian approach to magic are Experience of the Inner Worlds by Gareth Knight and Mystical Meditations on the Collects by Dion Fortune.
Questions About Magical Safety and Protection
Don’t you think it’s a bad idea to dabble in occultism?
Absolutely! If you’re going to study and practice occultism, you need to take it seriously, and not just dabble. For exactly the same reason, I think it’s a very bad idea to dabble in Christianity—and I think most devout Christians would agree with me.
But isn’t magic dangerous?
It’s a lot less dangerous than driving a car, or doing a lot of other things most people do as a matter of course. Does it have dangers? Of course, which is why you should take it seriously if you’re going to deal with it at all.
Is magic safe around children?
This is probably the single question I field most often, and it’s noteworthy (at least to me) that a lot of people misunderstand the answer, and have to have it explained to them a couple of times. Please read the following carefully.
If you’re pregnant or nursing, prayer, meditation, and maybe a little light divination is as much as you should do. You’re busy with one of the most powerful magical workings a human being can engage in—the rite that summons a human soul into physical incarnation—and that’s what you need to work on for now.
If your children are under the age of three, basic magical practices — the Sphere of Protection, the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, or the Middle Pillar exercise — are fine, but don’t do them in any place where your children spend much of their time. Any more complex ceremonial magical working? Leave it until later. Your kids come first.
If your children are between three and seven, you can practice ceremonial magic to your heart’s content when they’re out of the house, or when you are. Don’t do complex magical workings (i.e., any ceremonial magic workings more complex than the Sphere of Protection, the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, and the Middle Pillar exercise) when they’re within a few hundred feet of you.
If your children are more than seven years old, they’ll be fine around ceremonial magic. Don’t worry about it. They shouldn’t start learning it themselves until after puberty, though, because the energies of magic are also the energies of sexuality, and the subtle channels in their bodies need to open up naturally, rather than being forced open by magical workings.
What about seasonal celebrations? That depends on the kind of celebrations you have in mind. The seasonal rites in my book The Druidry Handbook are fine for kids of any age, and so are equivalent workings such as the seasonal rituals of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD)—your kids can even take an active role in these rites. The serious magical workings given in my books The Celtic Golden Dawn and The Druid Grove Handbook are for trained adult practitioners only, and should be treated according to the rules given above.
What about natural magic? Kids are fine around natural magic—in most traditional cultures it’s common to use various forms of natural magic to protect and bless children from the moment they’re born. If you’re pregnant or nursing, have your partner or a friend do the magical work; otherwise, you can do as you wish. By the way, many children love natural magic and can be introduced to the simpler forms of it at an early age; teaching your kids to make an amulet with herbs of protection and blessing, and recite a prayer over it, makes a great project for a rainy day.
I think I’m being targeted by hostile magic. Is there something I can do to keep myself and/or my loved ones safe?
Yes, there is. Fill a bathtub half full with water as cool as you can handle. In it, dissolve a quarter cup of kosher salt, and add a quarter cup of ordinary white vinegar and a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper. (Put these in as you’re filling the bath and the movement of the water will mix them quite adequately.) Strip naked, stand in the tub, and with a clean washcloth, wash yourself all over, starting from the crown of your head and always rubbing downward with the washcloth. Don’t forget to soak and ring out the washcloth at intervals! (Yes, you can have someone else wash your back or any other part of you that you have trouble reaching.) When you’ve washed all over, get out of the tub, towel off, dress in clean clothes, and take a bucket or other container of the bathwater; the rest can go down the drain. Take the bucket of water outside and pour it on the roots and lower trunk of the biggest, healthiest tree you can find. Then go about your day.
This purifying and protective bath is a standard practice in traditional Southern conjure, one of the great traditions of American natural magic. Give it a try any time you think you feel a need for spiritual cleansing.
Is there a protective amulet I can make that will ward off hostile magic?
Yes. Get or make a small red bag (small enough that you can wear it on a cord around your neck without it being conspicuous. Get a small sharp nail of iron or steel—white metal, in other words, not a yellow metal like brass—and a teaspoon or two of kosher salt. With two pairs of pliers, bend the nail at an angle. Then put the nail in the red bag and fill the bag with salt. Tie it shut and wear it near your heart. (The ladies have an advantage here, as it works very well to tuck it in the front of your bra.)
Depending on how much noxious energy is flying around in the places you spend time, you’ll have to replace the amulet every one to three months. If you think yours might be losing strength, open it and see if the salt has changed color or the nail is tarnished. If so, replace it, with a new bag, a new nail, and fresh salt.
Questions About Psychological Issues
How should I deal with my [insert emotional or psychological issue here]?
One way that many people have found very effective is journaling, which involves doing written dialogues with yourself. Get a notebook and a pen, sit down, and for fifteen minutes or so every day pose questions to yourself and write down, without censoring, whatever answer comes to mind. Let the “other voice” in the dialogue be whatever issue you’re trying to deal with. If you’re dealing with feelings of shame, for example, dialogue with the shame. Ask it questions and write down its answers—and let it ask you questions, and write down the answers. This may seem very forced and artificial at first, but it can do a very effective job of bringing forgotten experiences and unnoticed patterns to the surface of your consciousness.
It feels to me as though I’m in the wrong body. Could there be an occult reason for that?
Yes, there could. Due to the extremely high human population on Earth just now, souls are reincarnating before they’ve had the chance to process the experiences of their last lives, and so a lot of souls are ending up in one body while they haven’t yet worked out the patterns absorbed from their last body. My guess is that the high rates of gender dysphoria and similar conditions have this as at least one of their sources.
Questions About Weird Experiences
I think I saw the ghost of a recently deceased family member. Am I crazy?
Nope. That’s far and away the most common kind of ghost encounter, and something like a quarter of the world’s population have had it happen to them. Life after death is a real thing, and your family member is experiencing it right now.
I think I remember parts of a past life. Am I crazy?
Nope. Reincarnation has been a standard part of occult teaching for a very long time, and a large part of the reason is that many people remember glimpses of previous lives, especially once they practice meditation for a while.
I dreamed something one night, and then it came true. Am I crazy?
Nope. That’s called dream precognition; some people have it, others don’t. Back before the militant atheists took over science, a lot of really interesting research was done on it. If it happens more than once, consider starting a dream journal in which you write down every dream you remember as soon as you wake up, so you can make the most use of your gift.
Questions About Reincarnation
Is it possible that I’ve lived before?
According to occult tradition, it’s not just possible, it’s certain.
How much time goes by between one life and the next?
It really varies. An infant or young child who dies usually reincarnates right away, but other than that, it depends on the rate at which new bodies are being born, and the particular needs of the individual soul. Some occult writings have it that in ancient times, two incarnations per thousand years was more or less average; more recently it’s been a lot less—thirty years is a common figure in some sources, though it can be a matter of just a few years.
Could I have been an animal in a previous life?
You were many different animals in many different lives, but it was probably a while ago. According to occult philosophy, all of us start out the incarnationary journey as simple, single-cell organisms and work our way up from there, life after life, picking up the capacities of will, thought, and memory as we go. By the time you got to your first human life you’d already been through thousands of animal lives. There are an unusually large number of souls doing their first time around as human beings just now, for reasons discussed below, but most such souls are too busy figuring out how to be human to have much interest in occultism; the fact that you’re here and asking questions suggests that you’ve probably been human a while, and are starting to get ready to head onward.
How can I remember my previous lives?
Past life memories surface naturally once you’re ready to start remembering them. It’s not a good idea to force them. Your higher self remembers every detail; as you follow the path of occult training, and attune your lower self (that is, your personality) with your higher self, memories of previous incarnations will start to come through.
What about hypnotic regression?
Memories “recovered” through hypnosis are no longer accepted as evidence in US courts, because hypnotic regression so often produces distorted or entirely false memories. Thus your chances of being able to rely on the truth of past life memories extracted through hypnotic regression are not good.
How does karma work?
The word “karma” simply means “action” in Sanskrit, and the rule of karma is simply that actions have consequences. Everything you do influences you on various levels, and those influences attract certain experiences to you. Put another way, actions become habits, habits become character, character becomes destiny—and destiny follows you from one life to the next, attracting to you in future lives the life experiences that are the consequences of your actions in this life.
If reincarnation is true, when the population of the world soared over the last century or so, where did all the extra souls come from?
As the number of human bodies needing souls went up, the number of large animal bodies needing souls went down just as sharply. Obviously a lot of souls that would otherwise be incarnated as whales or bison or elephants are incarnating as humans right now. Have you noticed how many people these days seem to have a very hard time with abstract ideas that previous generations handled a lot more easily, and seek safety in a herd mentality instead of thinking their own thoughts? This may be why.
Questions About Magical Training
What does training in ceremonial magic involve?
A daily ritual practice such as the Sphere of Protection, or the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and Middle Pillar exercise; a daily meditation on occult themes; and a daily divination using the oracle of your choice. It typically takes 30 to 40 minutes a day. Add in a couple of hours a week of study, and you’re set.
Where do I learn how to do these practices?
Why, from my books, of course! 😉
Which of your magic books are compatible with one another?
The books of magical instruction I’ve written so far fall into three groups:
Classic Golden Dawn Group: Learning Ritual Magic, Paths of Wisdom, Circles of Power
Druidry Group: The Druidry Handbook, The Druid Magic Handbook, The Druid Grove Handbook, The Gnostic Celtic Church, The Dolmen Arch
Celtic Golden Dawn Group: The Celtic Golden Dawn, The Coelbren Alphabet, The Mysteries of Merlin, The Litany of the Tree of Life, The Celtic Cabala (forthcoming)
Any book in any of these groups is compatible with any other book in the same group. No book in one group is compatible with any book from a different group.
If I want to study one of these kinds of magic, which book should I read first?
I’ve listed them here in order of difficulty—i.e., if you want to learn classic Golden Dawn magic, start with Learning Ritual Magic, and so on.
Do you take personal students?
Unfortunately, I’ve found that far too often, people who want to become personal students of mine are looking for a guru to solve their problems for them, on the one hand, or on the other, are hoping to parade in front of their friends whatever supposed status they would have as the personal student of a moderately well known occult author. Neither of those habits seems productive to me. If you want to study one of the kinds of magic I teach, you’ll find detailed instructions for practice in my books, and you can always ask questions on Magic Mondays.