Book Club Post

The Ritual of High Magic: Chapter 1

With this post we continue a monthly chapter-by-chapter discussion of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by Eliphas Lévi, the book that launched the modern magical revival.  Here and in the months ahead we’re plunging into the white-hot fires of creation where modern magic was born. If you’re just joining us now, I recommend reading the earlier posts in this sequence first; you can find them here.  Either way, grab your tarot cards and hang on tight.

If you can read French, I strongly encourage you to get a copy of Lévi’s book in the original and follow along with that; it’s readily available for sale in Francophone countries, and can also be downloaded for free from If not, the English translation by me and Mark Mikituk is recommended; A.E. Waite’s translation, unhelpfully retitled Transcendental Magic, is second-rate at best—riddled with errors and burdened with Waite’s seething intellectual jealousy of Lévi—though you can use it after a fashion if it’s what you can get. Also recommended is a tarot deck using the French pattern:  the Knapp-Hall deck (unfortunately out of print at the moment), the Wirth deck (available in several versions), or any of the Marseilles decks are suitable.


“Chapter One:  Preparations” (Greer & Mikituk, pp. 209-217).


Those of my readers who have been following along with my online essays will find little in this chapter that is unfamiliar to them. There’s a good reason for that.  Eliphas Lévi’s approach to ceremonial magic is the foundation of my magical philosophy and practice.  Partly that’s because I’ve studied his writings closely for a good many years; even more to the point, so did most of the other mages whose writings have influenced me.  When it comes to practical magic, Lévi casts a long shadow. I apologize, then, to any of you who were expecting something startling and new this month, and are left at the end of this post muttering to yourself, “There goes Greer again, rattling on endlessly about the magical will.”

I’m sorry to say that it can’t be helped. Magic is what it is, and the particular philosophy of magic that guides my practice is what it is. Are there other approaches?  Sure, but the one I use works, and works well, with little risk of disastrous blowback if you follow the instructions exactly as given; I can’t guarantee that for any of the others.  With that said, let’s proceed.

It used to be common in the occult community to encounter people who loved to talk about occult theory but turned bug-eyed and silent at the thought of occult practice. I knew one of them a good many decades ago:  the always genial Leon Reed, who worked at the Tenzing Momo herb and book store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Uncle Leon, as everyone called him, had been active in the occult scene since about a week before the dawn of time, and could point you to good books on just about any imaginable part of occult teaching, but he drew the line at practice. He once confided to me that the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram was so terribly dangerous that it should only be done once or twice in a practitioner’s life.

At that time I was practicing that very ritual at least once a day—that’s what you do if you want to master Golden Dawn magic—but I wasn’t interested in arguing the point, so I nodded and let the conversation go somewhere else. It was a familiar habit of mine in those days.  Not long before then, I checked out one of Franz Bardon’s books on magical training from Seattle’s Theosophical Library, and had the librarian glance up at me sharply and say, “What are you planning on doing with that?” I smiled and said, “I’m going to read it,” and left it at that. There were conversations you didn’t get into if you wanted to stay on friendly terms with that end of the occult community.

Though he doesn’t mention this anywhere in our text, I suspect Eliphas Lévi had his share of similar experiences during his magical education in mid-19th century Paris. Certainly he starts his discussion in this chapter by flinging down a gauntlet or two at the feet of anyone who believes that practice is unnecessary: “All intentions which are not manifested by acts are vain intentions, and the words which express them are idle words.”  This is true of life in general but it is above all true of magic.  “To be, one must do:”  Yes, and even more emphatically, to be a mage, one must do magic.

This is easier now than it once was.  When Lévi wrote, the only volumes of magical instruction that were generally available were late medieval and early modern grimoires, and these were (and are) a very mixed bag indeed. A great many of them were manufactured by frauds to be sold to the clueless, along the lines of certain branches of New Age literature more recently. They promised to teach the reader how to summon demons from the nethermost pits of hell for no better reason than to point out the location of buried treasures and hand over an assortment of magical trinkets that supposedly granted miraculous powers.  Did anyone ever get rich by way of these books?  Certainly the authors and printers did, which was why so many of them flooded the market. The readers, however, benefited mostly by getting the chance to learn a certain important lesson about what happens to a fool and his money.

There were and are grimoires that don’t fall into that category.  Most of them are deliberately incomplete, since they were written mostly for medieval and early modern Catholic clergy who came to them with an extensive background in theology, demonology, and ritual practice. (It’s not often remembered in the occult scene that the entire grimoire tradition was an offshoot of the literature of Catholic exorcism; if you’re going to have to command demons anyway, the idea seems to have been, you might as well make them do something useful.) All the grimoires without exception assume that their practitioners approach the work from within the worldview of late medieval and early modern Europe, which is very difficult for modern readers to do.

This is why Lévi refers to the published rituals as “mystifications or enigmas.” His approach to them, the approach that launched the modern magical revivals, was to try to understand the principles that underlay the complicated requirements of the old ritual. As a former Catholic seminarian, he had the necessary intellectual background to unpack the grimoires and the handful of other ritual texts available in his time.  The first half of our text, the Doctrine, outlines his understanding of the worldview necessary to make magic work.  This chapter and those that follow it, by contrast, plunges into the method itself.

Lévi is arguing here that the fine details of the ritual don’t actually matter, because what makes magic happen is the human will.  To some extent the will itself does all that’s necessary—you can transform your life from top to bottom by developing a strong will and using it intelligently, without any need for magical forces. You can accomplish much more, however, by focusing the will through symbols in order to set up patterns in the astral light, the Great Magical Agent of Lévi’s system.  This is what ritual is and what it does, and in Lévi’s view, at least, any ritual will do the job, no matter how eccentric or absurd.

Is he correct?  To a certain extent, yes, but only to a certain extent. One feature of the astral light that Lévi doesn’t seem to have understood is that it retains patterns.  Do the same ritual a hundred times and the effect of the hundredth repetition will be much stronger than the first, because the pattern of the ritual has been established in the astral light, which flows far more readily in an already established pattern than it does the first time the ritual is done. (Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphogenetic fields is more than a little relevant here.)  This is why it’s best to learn magic by taking up an existing system of magical training and following it exactly as given, no matter how peculiar or unwelcome its details might be. Partly this is fine training for the will, but it also means that your efforts will be assisted by the momentum of the astral light, and you will get results much more quickly than otherwise.

Training of this sort is not a casual matter, nor is it for everyone. Even the simplest works of magic require the practitioner to develop capacities uncommon in human beings—capacities to know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent.  To become an adept, it’s necessary to push these capacities consciously, deliberately, painstakingly beyond the limits of the ordinary human condition. There is another way, as Lévi also points out; it is possible to get magical effects by whipping yourself up into a frenzy of passion, drowning consciousness rather than exalting it; but the abandonment of clarity, insight, and self-mastery that comes with this latter approach involves unavoidable dangers.  The story of the sorcerer dragged down to Hell by the spirits he has summoned is among other things a reference to these dangers.

Whichever way you choose, it’s necessary to take it beyond the ordinary human level.  There’s a colorful passage in the Book of Revelations where Jesus, seen in a visionary state by John of Patmos, has hard things to say about the Christian church in Laodicea. Its members were the original lukewarm Christians, comfortable in their self-righteousness. Jesus wasn’t impressed:  “I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

On its own plane, magic has much the same attitude.  You can get magical results by losing yourself in frenzied passion, or you can get them by achieving perfect contemplative self-mastery. What you can’t do is mix the two.  The classic recipe for failure in magic is to dabble in self-knowledge and self-mastery while clinging halfheartedly to this or that craving, or to dabble in passionate frenzy while clinging halfheartedly to this or that token of respectability.

If you follow the path Lévi sets out, you need to keep your magic and your passions separate, and only use magic to achieve things to which you have no emotional attachment at all; if you choose to pursue something that you feel strongly about, you need to learn how to let go of your attachment to it;  you also need to accept that during the course of your training you will outgrow many of the passions you currently imagine are central to your identity.  Equally, if you choose the path of passionate frenzy, you need to accept that you will slam face first over and over again into the unintended consequences of your desires, however unwelcome those may turn out to be. As Manly P. Hall says in one of his books, the gods put the entire world before us like one titanic smorgasbord of experiences, and said, “Take whatever you want—and pay for it.”

Magical power results from unity of will. If you try to will two contradictory things at the same time you will waste your effort and achieve neither of your goals; it’s as though you decided to drive east and west at the same time, and spent half of every day driving east and the other half driving west. For the duration of any magical working—that is to say, from the moment you decide to achieve something until the moment you achieve it—you must focus all your efforts on that one thing, and treat everything else as an irrelevance if it can’t be put to work as a means to your goal.  Most people aren’t willing to do that, which is why most people never achieve great things. Again, magic is not for everyone.

What do you accomplish by following these instructions? Most people assume that magical powers are supernatural in nature. Our text accepts this only in a very nuanced sense:  only to the extent that the word “supernatural” means natural in an extraordinary or exalted degree. In any other sense, the powers of magic are natural. Lévi’s definition here is classic:  “Magical operations are the exercise of a natural power but are superior to the ordinary forces of nature.  They are the result of a science and a habit which exalts the human will above its normal limits.”

The effects of magic can look miraculous to those who don’t understand how they were brought about. The same is true all through human life, of course. We watch a juggler keep a dozen balls dancing in the air; it looks like magic, so long as you don’t think of the countless hours the juggler has invested into practicing the art.  Most overnight successes come out of long years of preparation. The same equation works just as well in the other direction: people are shocked by the sudden bankruptcy of an apparently prosperous business, but they haven’t noticed the long series of bad decisions and short-term gimmicks that made the bankruptcy essential. Magic very often works the same way: gradually, and then all at once.

Let’s suppose, then, that you decide to follow Lévi’s instructions and become a mage. Your will, if you’re like most people, is halfhearted, self-contradictory, unsteady, and easily distracted. How do you fix that? The same way that a physically weak person becomes strong;  by taking up some set of exercises and maintaining it no matter what. Our text points out that religions always impose certain disciplines and austerities on their believers, and those disciplines and austerities are the secret power source behind the miracles of the faith.  Thus Lévi recommends that the student of magic should follow the rules and attend the services of his or her religion, since—aside from the other spiritual benefits this may bring—it is excellent training for the will.

Lévi also recommends for the magical beginner a forty day period of celibacy, vegetarian diet, avoidance of intoxicants, and regulated sleep, together with such basic practices as daily bathing, scrupulous household cleanliness, and a simple ritual each morning on rising. The student must also keep his or her interest in magic completely secret from all other people. Yes, this is also training for the will, but it has another function. Of a hundred people who think they’re interested in magic, maybe ten will go on to attempt the practice, and one will persevere with it and become a mage. The sooner the other 99 can be encouraged to find something else to do with their time, the less time—their own as well as their teacher’s—will be wasted.

Thus it’s quite standard for occult teachers to require some mildly difficult task from students at the beginning of their training. One of my teachers called a task of that sort a flake filter; it’s a rude phrase but not an inaccurate one. The forty day period is Lévi’s flake filter. The 99 people who think they’re interested in magic but aren’t interested enough to pursue it will find as many excuses as necessary not to invest those forty days of mild inconvenience in the work. The one who’s seriously interested will do it, and come out the other end with a sense of achievement and a realization that he or she really can choose to do something and do it.

In the most precise and literal sense, this is the initiation that Lévi offers potential students of practical magic.  There are many other ways to initiate yourself into magic, and no shortage of ways to have someone else help you with that task, but this one remains available to anyone who decides to commit to it. I don’t advise you, dear reader, to do this, nor do I advise you to refrain from it. You and you alone can decide whether this is the right thing for you to do at this moment in your present life.

Notes for Study and Practice:

It’s quite possible to get a great deal out of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by the simple expedient of reading each chapter several times and thinking at length about the ideas and imagery that Lévi presents. For those who want to push things a little further, however, meditation is a classic tool for doing so.

Along with the first half of our text, I introduced the standard method of meditation used in Western occultism:  discursive meditation, to give it its proper name, which involves training and directing the thinking mind rather than silencing it (as is the practice in so many other forms of meditation).  Readers who are just joining us can find detailed instructions in the earlier posts in this series. For those who have been following along, however, I suggest working with a somewhat more complex method, which Lévi himself mention in passing:  the combinatorial method introduced by Catalan mystic Ramon Lull in the Middle Ages, and adapted by Lévi and his successors for use with the tarot.

Take the first card of the deck, Trump 1, Le Bateleur (The Juggler or The Magician). While looking at it, review the three titles assigned to it:  Disciplina, Ain Soph, Kether, and look over your earlier meditations on this card to be sure you remember what each of these means. Now you are going to add each title of this card to Trump II, La Papesse (The High Priestess): Chokmah, Domus, Gnosis. Place Trump II next to Trump I and consider them. How does Disciplina, discipline, relate to Chokmah, wisdom?  How does Disciplina relate to Domus, house?  How does it relate to Gnosis?  These three relationships are fodder for one day’s meditation. For a second day, relate Ain Soph to the three titles of La Papesse. For a third day, relate Kether to each of these titles. Note down what you find in your journal.

Next, combine Le Bateleur with Trump III, L’Imperatrice (The Empress), in exactly the same way, setting the cards side by side. Meditate on the relationship of each of the Juggler’s titles to the three titles of the Empress,  three meditations in all.  Then combine the Juggler and the Emperor in exactly the same way. Then go on to the Juggler and the Pope, giving three days to each, and proceed from there. You’ll still be working through combinations of Le Bateleur when the next Lévi post goes up, but that’s fine; when you finish with Le Bateleur, you’ll be taking La Papesse and combining her with L’Imperatrice, L’Empereur, and so on, and thus moving through all 231 combinations the trumps make with one another.

Don’t worry about where this is going. Unless you’ve already done this kind of practice, the goal won’t make any kind of sense to you. Just do the practice.  You’ll find, if you stick with it, that over time the relationships between the cards take on a curious quality I can only call conceptual three-dimensionality:  a depth is present that was not there before, a depth of meaning and ideation.  It can be very subtle or very loud, or anything in between. Don’t sense it?  Don’t worry.  Meditate on a combination every day anyway. Do the practice and see where it takes you.

We’ll be going on to chapter 2, “Magical Equilibrium,” on June 14, 2023. See you then!


In other news, I’m delighted to report that my exploration of polytheism as a live religious option, A World Full of Gods, is back in print in a revised and expanded edition.  If you order it from the publisher and use the discount code JMG20, you get 20% off the cover price. Enjoy!




  1. Here are all of the requests for prayer that have recently appeared across the Ecosophia community. Please feel free to add any or all of the requests to your own prayers.

    If I missed anybody, or if you would like to add a prayer request for yourself or anyone who has given you consent (or for whom a relevant person holds power of consent) to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below or in the comments of the prayer list page.

    * * *
    This week I would like to bring special attention to the following prayer requests.

    KayeOh, who is scheduled for total replacement knee surgery on May 15, to have a good outcome to the surgery, and to heal quickly and completely in the aftermath.

    Patricia Mathew’s friend Al (Alison Kulp) is in the hospital with a nasty life-threatening MRSA infection; please pray for her to be blessed, protected, and completely healed as soon as is possible. (Update here.)

    Luke Dodson’s friend B, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and is still in serious condition though she’s already had surgery; for blessing, protection, healing, and a full return to health.

    Lp9’s request on behalf of their hometown, East Palestine Ohio, for the safety and welfare of their people and all living beings in the area. (Lp9 gives updates here and most recently here, and says “things are a bit… murky”), and the reasonable possibility seems to exist that this is an environmental disaster on par with the worst America has ever seen. At any rate, it is clearly having a devastating impact on the local area, and prayers are still warranted.

    * * *
    If there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.

    Guidelines for how long prayer requests stay on the list, how to word requests, how to be added to the weekly email list, how to improve the chances of your prayer being answered, and several other common questions and issues, are now to be found at this link.

  2. What Levi says about restraining oneself from desires makes sense, in that desires end up being distractions. It seems harder to resist distractions which one knows shouldn’t be wasting time with, but it is another matter to avoid falling into distractions that seem quite worthy! To pick one intention from a number of extremely worthwhile intentions is darned difficult. Willing to do something, versus willing not to do something.

    Then there is the hairy issue of how to frame an intention. I found myself earlier today thinking of how much I’d like a simpler life. and I imagined what doing a working could be like to achieve that. Then I thought how a working with that intention could bring some surprises, like perhaps I’d end up being thrown in jail for a few years. That certainly would be a simpler life.

    Coincidentally, I am reading Practical Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill, and she has a lot of similar things to say in the ‘Preparation of the Mystic’ chapter. Admittedly I do get distracted by all these great books, but I do thankfully have a core daily practice.

  3. I’ve noticed that there are many variations of the Sphere of Protection (e.g. different divine names, words, and even visualizations), though a common structure does exist. Wouldn’t the existence of so many variations somewhat work at cross purposes to the Astral light pattern retention you mention?

  4. So it has always seemed to me that the frenzies of a Bacchus and the contemplative path of an Orpheus are not so very far apart as they seem to some historians, rather representing two routes–the impassioned and the dispassionate–in a single tradition.

    The Church’s role in preserving and propagating some parts of ancient magic is, I think, underappreciated. To your point about the confluence of exorcism and magic, a perhaps digression (if not pertinent, please delete): a reader on one of your blogs recently mentioned some (evidently esoteric) advice about not keeping mirrors in certain locations (I can’t find the original question). As it turns out, Monsignor Rossetti recently offered an exorcist’s take on the spiritual effects of mirrors that may be of interest:


  5. Thank you! This was a great explanation of the practice part of magic. As a musician who has often struggled with practice, especially when I was younger, it truly is about the daily grind of initiating yourself. Often when I don’t have time to actually pick up my instrument (for instance while driving) I will sing my own versions of Orphic hymns in the car. Since I have always had trouble memorizing lyrics — which makes zero sense as I can memorize 13 page piano sonatas in a few days — every little bit helps. I also will try to imagine hearing Orphic hymns in my head when I’m trying to go back to sleep… and have very little trouble sleeping these days lol.

    I think we (JMG, Ecosophia readers, Mr. Levi, and I) may be on the same wavelength in another sense too, because I have recently written a blog entry speculating about Ouija boards, seances, and what they have in common with modern mainstream religions: it’s the Lowest Common Denominator effect, a phenomenon where the members of a party are dragged down both by their own unrealistic and lathered up expectations of what is to happen but also by their own worst member. Is this sort of emotional overinvestment in the results of intention what Aleister Crowley called “lust of result”? I have always found Crowley’s writings extremely obtuse, and unfortunately that includes the tiny amount of his stuff I have tried to unpack in discursive meditation.

  6. @jbucks: “Then there is the hairy issue of how to frame an intention. I found myself earlier today thinking of how much I’d like a simpler life. and I imagined what doing a working could be like to achieve that. Then I thought how a working with that intention could bring some surprises, like perhaps I’d end up being thrown in jail for a few years. That certainly would be a simpler life.”

    In my tradition, we get around this by always remembering magic words ;-); they work to end a working whether it went as planned, or whether it was a curse thrown at you you needed to expunge, or whether it was a working that you began to foresee was going south.

    Possibly this is cheating, but I’m a politician, I like to give the people not just what they want, but what they need.

    They never strike at the true power because they don’t know where the true power lies. Or something some guy said.

  7. Moose, you’re most welcome.

    Quin, thanks for this as always.

    Jbucks, excellent. Underhill was an initiate of Waite’s branch of the Golden Dawn, so she had plenty of exposure to these ideas — and of course Lévi was also strongly influenced by the classic Western mystics, as Underhill was. That’s a good book to read alongside this one.

    Paul, that was a deliberate choice on the part of John Gilbert, who created the Sphere of Protection. His intention was to work with the middle ground between the strict “do it exactly this one way” approach of some traditional magical teachings and the “come up with your own ritual” approach of Chaos magic and related movements. It does mean less support from the egregor, but equally, you have less risk of trouble from a tainted egregor.

    Fra’ Lupo, in some traditions they’re parallel routes, while other traditions go all the way to one side or the other. It’s one of the variations between traditions! You’re right about the Catholic church, of course, and the same is true of all the older religious bodies.

    Kimberly, funny! There are several magical practices that involve keeping the mind focused on this or that topic while going to sleep, and I also find them very effective cures for insomnia; the subconscious mind is lazy, and it’ll go, “Well, fine, if you’re going to make me do that I’ll just put you to sleep.” As for Crowley, why, yes, he’s obtuse; he wrote in a florid Edwardian style and loved to pontificate, though I’ll grant him this — he was a better writer than A.E. Waite. Yes, that was part of what he was talking about when he went on about “lust of result.”

  8. JMG wrote, “The effects of magic can look miraculous to those who don’t understand how they were brought about.”

    I understand that magic can be done to affect many different realms of life, but might you tell us what are some of the most common effects people seek in their magical practice, especially the effects that might look miraculous to those on the outside?


  9. Mr. Greer, you mentioned Franz Bardon in your article and I am desperate to know what you, as an experienced mage, think of his system. Bardon’s Initiation into Hermetics has fascinated me ever since I read it with its promise of mastery of the four elements, but I confess that as captivated as I was, I never seriously undertook the exercises in his book. It wasn’t exactly laziness, but skepticism. I’ve no fear at all of rolling up my sleeves and getting to work, but to do it I have to believe that my efforts will be rewarded — though I suppose you would say that the effort itself is its own reward if it serves to discipline the will. Did you get anything out of Bardon’s method that made it worthwhile for you?

  10. It will take some thinking to get around the fact that to be a successful mage one must not be emotionally attached to the subject or outcome. Fair enough, best way to create wealth with magic is not to try and create it for oneself (“..can only exercise his omnipotence in the reverse direction of his material interests..”) but the kicker for me is if I wanted to use magic for “altruistic”* purposes, say, I want to help someone deal with evil being done to them or make a neighborhood better in some way, there is still an emotional attachment to the outcome and the dilemma is that if I truly did not have an emotional attachment (i.e. literally did not care) then why bother?

    I get it . Any residual emotional attachment would cause interference and the power is in working magic when most would declare “why bother?” but I’ll need to put some meditation work into: “…if you choose to pursue something that you feel strongly about, you need to learn how to let go of your attachment to it”.

  11. @jbucks

    Would you mind sharing some of the insights you received or relevant passages to this post from Evelyn Underhill’s Practical Mysticism?

    Like you, I’m buried in books that deserve to be read and want to avoid adding another one but it seems to be a timely book to mention for this subject.

  12. Thank you JMG so much for this post.


    All is good. The goodness was seemingly dropped on my doorstep today. It just might help make me more manly!

    I have a lot of work right now so this will be my last comment for a while.


  13. I’ve often felt that the idea of life completely devoid of attachment feels unrealistically purist and even puritanical—akin to the amputation mindset in some strains of Buddhism that you’ve discussed elsewhere; it also makes me think of the nihilistic life-denial that Nietzsche so trenchantly discussed.

    I take Lévi’s implied (I think) point that caring too much can create imbalances that compromise will and self-knowledge. I intend to meditate on the subject, but I’m curious as to your thoughts on how non-attachment relates to magic, and as to what one would even want to bother with magic for at all in the event that they had no attachment to outcomes.

  14. Why is The Magician dressed in all those different colors? Does he moonlight as a jester, or is there some other reason?

  15. Thank you! That makes sense, a follow up question if I may… I know the Golden Dawn rituals remain quite popular, and presumably effective. How was it that the egregor of those rituals was not tainted by the breakup of the order? And even further muddied by the wide variety of purposes they may have been used for through subsequent years?

  16. Tenzing Momo! I love that place. Once you manage to escape the mad crowds of Central Pike Place Market, you’ll find it cozily nestled in the back. I eventually found a side door on 1st Ave that helped me avoid the crowd. The rows and rows of smoky brown jars filled with herbs is a joy to see. Their essential oil selection is amazing.

    That and Quest Bookstore on Capitol Hill are the two places in Seattle I will miss.

  17. @Alex #14,

    I’m starting to think that what Levi is recommending is similar to how doctors, police and others that witness pain and suffering on a daily learn to deal with it (i.e. emotional detachment) though good doctors, police, etc., still care strongly about what they are doing.

    Additionally, Levi mentions magic “worked with patience and perseverance…it is like the tide, which always returns and ends up eating away even iron”. To continue the analogy above a doctor may lose a patient and the policeman may lose the killer but they must not succumb to despair and return like the tide to their work.

  18. Jacques, sure. Love spells are one very common example. Those work extremely well, provided that they focus on making the person who uses them more lovable; a little behavioral change, a little self-knowledge, and a little confidence at the right moment can make the difference between lonely Friday nights and a steady relationship. Success spells are also very common, and those also work, provided that they focus on becoming aware of opportunities to earn money, not getting money for nothing! There are always plenty of unnoticed opportunities to get money; notice them and act on them, and you can very quickly end up having more money than you need.

    Sybok, Bardon’s methods work quite well if you follow them exactly as given, right down to what look like minor details. I didn’t end up using Bardon as a primary source for my own training; I realized quite early on that you need to choose a system and stick to it, and I chose the Golden Dawn system instead. I know people who’ve gotten excellent results with Bardon’s system, however. The crucial point is to start with Initiation into Hermetics and do everything in it, step by step and stage by stage, until you’ve mastered that entire book; then you can go on to the others.

    Scotty, you can decide to do something, not because you feel this or that about it, but because you think this or that about it. Decisions do not need to come from emotion!

    Orion, you’re most welcome.

    Alex, Lévi’s not saying you shouldn’t have any attachments at all. He’s saying that you need to leave your emotional attachments at the door while practicing magic, especially during your period of training.

    Your Kittenship, Le Bateleur is a juggler, a stage magician, a mountebank, and a jester as well as a mage!

    Paul, it was very seriously tainted by what happened. That’s why the Golden Dawn kept blowing itself to smithereens after the initial crisis of 1900-1903, and why clashes between monumental egos are still a common factor in Golden Dawn circles. Most (though not all) of the groups that have done well with the GD system have made important changes in the system, precisely so that they don’t get drawn too far into the egregor of the original order.

    Jon, those are two of the places in Seattle I miss most.

  19. I am struck by the idea that the “passions” of emotion, which I typically consider out-of-control emotions that are potentiated by numbing the mind via drugs, music, ‘wild’ dancing, etc., are in fact a parallel to the “passions” of the intellect. Interestingly, passions of the mind may seem obsessive from the outside, while seeming the only rational course while immersed.

    For example – When I was about 15 years of age, I took up the (then esoteric) practice of fasting weekly (typically 36 hours). The impassioned resistance to my simply choosing to not eat on Sundays was literally stunning. Not just my mother but virtually every authority figure in my life acted as if I were actively suicidal, when in fact I was simply attempting to train my will. Admittedly this was the inter-mountain West and it was the 1970’s. As in many working class families that had survived but never forgot the Dust Bowl and the Depression, I had been raised with a “clean your plate” frugality, so there were multiple sacred cows I was probably poking with a sharp stick….

    The fasting seemed only sensible to me, while at the same time looking “crazy” to many well meaning people around me. My question then might be – Why does the exercise of one’s Will, whether physically/emotionally or mentally/intellectually, frequently seem extreme and/or obsessive to others?

    Our McCulture professes to admire discipline, primarily physically. But only to a certain degree. And as far as intellectual discipline? Seemingly since the Pilgrims, America has had an observable, persistent, anti-intellectual bent, but the current suspicion of anything that implies education or intellectual discipline seems to be increasing. It seems reasonable to suspect that his trend will only continue and intensify as we move ever more solidly into cultural senescence.

  20. Many advocates of New Thought tell us that we need to be emotionally involved with our goals, but Levi recommends having no emotional attachment when practicing magic.

    Perhaps the New Thought people are telling us to be passionate but to not expect the outcome we want? I heard someone say years ago that we need to let go of an expectation in order to release it into the world. To not release it would be like refusing to send an important letter in the mail and expecting a response.

  21. Is there a distinction being drawn between passion and emotion in this discussion? Because it’s easy to see how being governed by passion is not advisable, but I’m wondering where a person’s motive force comes from, without emotion.

    The DMH suggests a link between passion and will – one occurs in the unawakened person, the other occurs in the awakened person.

    But I’m also thinking of the Tree of Life, in which Hod and Netzach occupy fairly low-lying spots, and serve as vehicles and reflections of higher impulses.

  22. @asdf jkl;,

    Thank you so very much for your recommendation to read The Body and Its Symbolism last chapter. Just her chart of the Hebrew letters and her meanings for each kept me busy for days (Dalet is *resistance*?!? Shin is *movement*!?! ) And I finally paid attention to the Hebrew spelling for TO BE and I AM. (For people who didn’t pay attention to it in JMG’s commentary on the first chapter one (like me!), TO BE is Aleph-Heh-Yod-Heh. I AM is Yod-Heh-Vau-Heh.) (And spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book yet, yes, there is another level for TO HAVE, which is on the Malkuth end of the Tree. But I’m not saying what it is. Go read the book. It is that good.)

    And now I need to catch up with my Levi reading…

  23. “The fasting seemed only sensible to me, while at the same time looking “crazy” to many well meaning people around me.”

    Anorexia is a thing, I don’t blame your parents for being worried, especially at that age. I’d have had you on the scale every week to keep an eye on you myself. But as long as you didn’t lose weight I’d not worry too much, and just chalk it up to a weird teenage phase.

  24. “Paul, it was very seriously tainted by what happened. That’s why the Golden Dawn kept blowing itself to smithereens after the initial crisis of 1900-1903, and why clashes between monumental egos are still a common factor in Golden Dawn circles. Most (though not all) of the groups that have done well with the GD system have made important changes in the system, precisely so that they don’t get drawn too far into the egregor of the original order.”

    How can one best avoid getting drawn into the tainted egregor while still practicing Golden Dawn material? (I’m using Learning Ritual Magic; once finished, my plan is to move onto Paths of Wisdom and Circles of Power, if this matters)

  25. When I became interested in magic and occultism some four or five years ago, I took up practice with a bit more enthusiasm than sense. It was really exciting at first, but after a couple months I hit a few rather painful snags. As I now understand it, my practices had made me vaguely aware of my non-physical bodies, but I had such a poor understanding of how these worked that when I tried to make use of them it was as if I was trying to eat through my nose and breathe through my ears. The results were certain uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms across all my bodies, as well as a subtle and pervasive sense of being disconnected from everything, whenever I tried too hard to take charge of my non-physical bodies. Fortunately I had a good enough occult education to understand that this was something I could eventually work through, or else I might have thought there was no way out and have fallen into a serious depression.

    I had to step away from serious practice and focus on a few simple tools—namely journaling, meditation, and a basic awareness of my experiences across the various planes—so I could slowly get myself in proper order again. I’m still not wholly put together yet, but it’s been ages since any serious symptoms have troubled me, and faintly I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps once I’m all in one piece I’ll be able to take up magic seriously again. In the meantime, I’ve been focusing on building up my place in the world, as I believe Jung suggested people my age should do.

    “Most people assume that magical powers are supernatural in nature. Our text accepts this only in a very nuanced sense: only to the extent that the word “supernatural” means natural in an extraordinary or exalted degree.”

    Reading your work long ago taught me that the magical is more mundane than most people believe. Conversely, that also means the mundane is far magical than most people realize. But even the people who do realize one of these things often fail to realize the other.

    I guess you could relate this to enchantment versus disenchantment. Maybe (pure) disenchantment is when people understand that the magical is mundane but not that the mundane is also magical, and (pure) enchantment is the exact opposite of that.

  26. Ken, it’s quite simple. Most people, to use a phrase from a different occult author I’ve studied, are mass-minded: they think only the thoughts they’ve been taught to think by their parents, their culture, and the mass media. Anything that strays from the mass consciousness is frightening to them. To become an individual, which is the first step to becoming a mage, it’s essential to step out of the mass mind, and that guarantees pushback from everyone still inside it. I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s famous comment: “It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.”

    Jon, that’s a significant disagreement between New Thought and ceremonial magic. Me, I’m on Lévi’s side, but you’ll have to explore the question and make up your own mind.

    Cliff, the word “passion” has the same root as “passive.” The will is active. You fall into a passion; you choose to act from will. One of the many helpful exercises you can use to develop will is to pick up the habit of doing things just because you choose to do them, not because you feel this or that emotional compulsion to do them.

    Anonymous, the trick is to use the method of ceremonial magic but stay away from the classic GD initiation rituals. Those are where the symbolism is most deeply affected. That’s why Dion Fortune, among others, was able to avoid the tainted egregoe: she used GD magic but had her own completely different set of initiation rituals. The spiritual development rituals in Circles of Power function very nicely as initation rituals, by the way, so you can simply use those and call it good.

    Valenzuela, hmm! I like that way of thinking of enchantment and disenchantment. Something more to meditate on!

  27. “If you follow the path Lévi sets out, you need to keep your magic and your passions separate, and only use magic to achieve things to which you have no emotional attachment at all; if you choose to pursue something that you feel strongly about, you need to learn how to let go of your attachment to it; you also need to accept that during the course of your training you will outgrow many of the passions you currently imagine are central to your identity.”

    I will not say that I wish to follow the path of a mage. Still, I do find much of this teaching useful in relation to healing – the path which I do follow, and also – as it happens – the mistress I serve.

    One of the things that I have learned about detachment in this matter, which, you may guess I care about deeply, is the importancce of letting go any attachment to *outcome*. I do not know if this is close enough to what Levi is talking about. Still, I find that my clinic time must be carried out in a certain “state” that I cannot describe adequately, but there is something about being *present*, something about listening deeply, something about getting myself into the centre of whatever treatment seems to be indicated, and absolutely letting go of any investment in “outcome”.

    It seems that sometimes outcomes are very good, and people wish to tell me so. And when this happens (it turns out), it is *essential* for me to instantly pass on my gratitude for the good outcome “higher up” and then forget about it. Also, sometimes outcomes are not good, or simply indifferent. And when this happens (it turns out), it is *essential* to pay attention and study to see what learning there is for me, and also essential to pass on my acceptance, as well as gratitude, “higher up” where the full reality of the situation can be seen.

    Meanwhile, I think that if I remained emotionally entangled or emotionally invested in outcomes, I would not be able to enter the clinic every day and continue to serve as (I believe) I am directed to do. At least, until I learned these lessons, I was more prone to finding the work mentally draining, and now, less so.

    A data point? Anyway, make of this what you will.

  28. Greetings.

    So, in order to be effective, will has to be detached from passions. Easier said than done!

    In an initial stage, I may desire something because of my passions. I may then, set a goal. Now I decide that I want to do some magic, so I keep my goal and work on stop having strong feelings about it. If I am successful controlling my passions, I will still want to reach the goal as a duty, instead of a caprice, but I will no longer care if I can’t. So then I have one goal that I am treating as a duty, the same as I do my paid work, which guarantees I will commit to it the same as I commit to my job.

    In an evolved stage, I’m no longer driven by passions. I choose to set my goals based on a higher state of mind, with higher purposes. I only have to fight the temptation of leaving limitations aside.

    In both cases, I need to reframe the goals into specific targets. If I want good health, I would make a work for making sure I will exercise twice a week, then another for making sure I will stop eating junk from monday to friday, etc.

    The hard part is working on becoming detached of a passion, it takes a lot of introspection and meditation.

    Great thought! Being extraordinary is being magical. Many people are making magical works without knowing (people that have achieved the extraordinary), that’s one of the first lessons JMG gave us about magic.

  29. Jon G:

    I think the New Thought writer that may have gotten this balance right was Neville Goddard, who recommended a “living in the end” mindset as though what you seek is already done—attachment to outcome becomes less necessary when you are living with the confidence that it is complete and you already have it. Just my two cents, though; I don’t think Goddard got everything right but he’s the only NT writer who has ever resonated with me, perhaps because he had an understanding of the Cabala.

  30. Hi John Michael,

    Powerful symbols can also be found in the very land itself. I did mention this to you a long time ago.

    Personally, one of my favourite lines is: Talk, does not cook the rice. 🙂



  31. This discussion on passion and will reminds me of a line from the last chapter/introduction to the practice, that has remained lodged in my head ever since I read it:

    “If you do not obey the forces of destiny, the forces of destiny will obey you.”

    Bam! That’s powerful! It hit me like a brick, but in a good way!

    JMG wrote to Ken: “To become an individual, which is the first step to becoming a mage, it’s essential to step out of the mass mind, and that guarantees pushback from everyone still inside it.”

    JMG wrote to Cliff: “You fall into a passion; you choose to act from will.”

    These quotes seem to relate to the idea of the forces of destiny. Once you isolate yourself magically you begin to have more options. That can start with the kind of teachings in this chapter, which strengthen the will, and where you begin to notice how often many are just swept along by the tides of life. Once those forces are no longer impinging on you, from a position of dispassion, you can then survey the field of possibilities and plot a different course then the one that may have been handed down to you by family, church, state, society.

    With regards to New Thought and Magic as brought up by Jon.

    I have noticed the effect of the Law of Contagion from MOE to be very active at times:

    “The mere selection of some definite aim, with determination to realize it, starts the operation of hidden activities that provide us with the necessary materials, and puts us in contact with those persons whom we need to meet in order to attain our goal.”

    I have also noticed that when I completely gave up on my idea of success with regards to some of my aspirations, in a kind of turnabout, I had more opportunities and success in actually achieving my aims. I think this relates definitely to what Kimberley mentioned with regards to Crowley’s maxim about Lust of Result.

    As it is written in Liber Al Vel Legis: “For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.”

    Continuing to Will without a focus so much on what the end product is going to look per se, has helped me to get closer to the things I was lusting after with less will in the past. It seems to be a kind of paradox, one of those areas a large degree of equanimity is required.

    This was an excellent chapter. I also note the idea of keeping oneself and ones domicile clean is related to the spiritual/health benefits that come from doing so on an etheric level. Grubby surroundings attract the grubbier end of things on the etheric and astral planes, while good hygiene and a clean home work to do the same on the etheric and astral aspects of your body and abode also. I’m guessing that is what is behind Hoodoo floor washes, with the added bonus of natural magical elements.

  32. Just found out that a local magician will be hosting an event at my church that I will be attending. He is an expert at slight of hand. I’m looking forward to seeing him.

    I made softboiled eggs this morning for me and my son. From our backyard chickens and ducks. I hadn’t made softboiled eggs in a long while now. I have the egg cutter and little wooden holders, that look like little chalices, which I got in Finland decades ago. And I have a hand knitted rooster warmer cap that you put on them to keep them warm. My son really liked the rooster!

  33. @RandomActsOfKarma I’m glad you found the de Souzenelle of value. There is a reference to it in Jean Dubuis’ freely available course on the Qabala.

    This discussion reminds me that in the Orthodox hesychastic tradtion, apatheia is valued. Apatheia doesn’t mean apathy, but dispassion. Whenever I think of how passion is considered a plus (I see it often in position descriptions, Are you passionate about … [whatever it is]), I think of Adolf Hitler, who struck me as having been very passionate about certain things.

    JMG responded in a comment as follows. “One of the many helpful exercises you can use to develop will is to pick up the habit of doing things just because you choose to do them, not because you feel this or that emotional compulsion to do them.” This reminded me of Rudolf Steiner’s exercise for training the will. A version of it is given as the second exercise in

  34. JMG

    I suppose you could call me a dabbler. Or at least that is what I have been, dabbling a little with this, a little with that. Some of the reasons may be due to an atypical brain, but it does not matter. It is what it is. With Magic, however, I have tended to stick to the basic routine of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and attention exercises as described in your book “Learning Ritual Magic”. I have found that whenver I stick to the ritual, “my life is better”. When I lapse with the practice, “life gets worse”.

    In the meantime my life has gone through some serious overhauls. Or better, I have initiated them. Willed them, if you will. None of them felt like safe choices, but all of them have been radically important. Perhaps I would be as bold as to venture a guess that the major changes in my life have been of the sort that were necessary moves to be made before any sort of serious and sustained deeper practice was possible.

    It seems like things are on the right track.

    Finally collapsing with the beginning of the rush has the benefit of taking away quite a number of distractions. I have found that for one, practicing Magic is rather cheap. Now I just need to find the actual book so I can continue the studies.

    I have a hunch where I might find it. So… I will go look right now. An act of will. Just a thing I choose to do.

  35. I think the first book explained magic/creation “as above”, and this chapter seems to be the start of explaining magic/creation “as below”. “To will” is one of the four magical virtues that the wanna-be-mage must master. From JMG’s commentary: “Magical power results from unity of will.”

    In the first chapter one, Levi says the mage needs four things: “an intelligence enlightened by study, an audacity which nothing can stop, a will which nothing can break and a discretion that nothing can corrupt or intoxicate.”

    A will that cannot be broken is a unity. So, like Kether and Aleph, we (the Magicians of “below”) have to start with One.

  36. JMG, Alex, Justin Patrick Moore:

    Thanks for your comments to my question! This has turned out to be something very important for me to meditate on because of a lack of success in the past with a couple of goals. Alex, I’ll check out Neville Goddard to see if there’s also some resonance for me.

  37. Is there an incense made of the sap of the bay tree, salt, camphor, white resin and sulfur? What is white resin?

    JMG, thanks to your footnote, Levi takes us back to the mysterious cube on p. 171. Yet, he does not tell us to say the six sacred words, just four. I imagine the other two, Solomon and God would be above and below, but not necessary to say.

    As above, so below. We live our lives as an analogy to the divine? When we outstretch our hands in rituals, it always reminds me of spreading angel wings.

  38. Scotlyn, whether or not that’s exactly what Lévi has in mind, it’s certainly closely related. Thank you for the data point.

    Abraham, exactly. Nobody said that it was going to be easy, just that it works.

    Chris, they can indeed. Nature is the original source of all our symbols.

    Justin, exactly. Exactly.

    Also, “For the word ‘unassuaged’ is in every way mispronounced.” 😉

    Oskari, good. You’re paying attention, I see.

    Random, good! Yes, that’s a viable description.

    Jon, you can certainly compound such an incense. “White resin” is commercially known as white rosin; it’s the lighter colored form of pine resin.

  39. JMG

    What you have been saying all along finally clicked. I suppose it’s one of those “simple, but not easy” things. I went to look for the book (in a pile of still unpacked boxes since a move over a year ago) quite dispassionately, just methodologically going through the boxes and, unsurprisingly, it was not at all that difficult to find. “Not being able to find it” was one of those convenient excuses.

    It is an odd realization to kind of see the Will in a different light. Just as you say in the book. Choose a pebble and let the sand wash away. There is no strain. No “force”. It just “is”. It is amazing that one can read wise words but not grasp them, to truly understand them and their significance. You have written about it over the years in many places and still it just took the time it needed to sink in. Essentially, if I get this right, is that you quite simply “just do it”.

    But that it is a skill. A habit. A habit of following through on what you decide is the supporting structure. So you need to be very careful about what you decide, as to not erode the will in case you are inclined to not follow through what you have chosen to do. Which is, I suppose, a fine way to train against outward impulses as well, to not react to the world as a sort of an automaton.

    There is nothing novel in these musings. It’s just that now they are personal. I almost wrote “intensely personal”, but that’s just it. It is not an emotion. It scarcely “feels” like anything, and I get the idea that even that “feeling” is a distraction.

    It’s a great book, that “Learning Ritual Magic”. Very approachable. Very clear instructions. One of my all time favorites. It has been with me for more than ten years. Now I will move on with it.

    I’ll just do it.

  40. A place I always get stuck is finding a worthy goal to aim my will at. Desiring this thing or that situation definitely works and I’ve had some success, but in the back of my mind is the awareness that the satisfaction will only be temporary. Too often that conflict wipes out my motivation. Of course that’s not very healthy thinking but when I meditated on what I appreciate most, the idea of evolution came up and how life has gotten a lot more meaningful since the rules started coming into focus. Is “evolution” a good target in itself or does the will need to be directed to something more specific?

  41. Thanks for the tips. I’m working on it.

    Found this:

    Did I tell you that my grandmother’s Hungarian family name, even though I believe they were Carpathian rus, and spoke slovak, meant “the one that pulls the wagon”. And I found out the meaning to the name right before my mom’s funeral. I actually tell the story as part of the eulogy. (I also sang a song that I had written called Orion. “Orion won’t you guide me home tonight. If you’re not too busy I’d sure appreciate the help. Cause I’m on my way home…)

    Also, is it just me, or has anyone else been seeing a lot of Crows lately? All over the place!

    Including one that was just eating the garbage because my son didn’t put the bag in the trash can.

    I found the three sisters in Welsh myths. Interesting. I had a dream last night with a three legged crow in it.

  42. Hi John Michael,

    Ah, I see, it is larger than what I’d previously considered. OK, To wilfully (!) disregard those symbols (and tick, been there, done that in my earlier years) doesn’t that introduce an element of confusion in a society? Mind you, and I’m unsure why my experience has been thus, but to acknowledge and then begin to comprehend, not to mention work with, those symbols, incurs a cost. It frankly easier not to do so. I’m curious to learn your thoughts in this matter? And thanks for taking the time to work with us all here.



  43. Could I make incense of the type mentioned by combining rosemary, salt, dried ginger or horseradish, and resin from the violin rosin I have for my violin bow? Might not be as strong as with essential oils? Would fresh horseradish work better? I have that growing, but not the right season.

    Would love to get to Tenzing Momo sometime!
    The last time I was at Pike place Market I was with a friend and we bought a big, fresh salmon to grill that evening.

    I pointed at the fish I wanted and said, “That one looks good, but only if I get to catch it!”

    Without missing a beat the guy working there yelled, “One to go and he wants to catch it!”

    Then everyone else working there said, “One to go and he wants to catch it!”

    The guy in front then said, “Well, get back there!” And handed me a big piece of wax paper. Then threw the fish to me. Which, I am glad to say, I caught!

    My friend got pictures. This was back in the days of real film.

    It was lunchtime, on a weekday, as I recall, and busy. And everyone watched and cheered.

  44. @sarad: Ah, thanks, that makes sense to use magic words in that way, a kind of magical ejection seat! (And those clips are a blast from the past!)

    @Justin Patrick Moore: ”As it is written in Liber Al Vel Legis: “For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.”

    “Lust of result” reminds me a lot of what is in the Bhagavad Gita about non-attachment to results, thanks for that!

    @JMG: Thank you also for that Mark Twain quote, I hadn’t come across it before, and it sums up a lot in just a few words.

  45. @Scotty: Sure, I typed up a passage below (if our host doesn’t mind that I post a fairly lengthy passage for a comment). It’s hard to pick just one, because much of the early part of the book is relevant to this chapter in Levi.

    Here goes. I took the liberty of adding line breaks to make it more readable.

    “The surface-self, left for so long in undisputed possession of the conscious field, has grown strong, and cemented itself like a limpet to the rock of the obvious; gladly exchanging freedom for apparent security, and building up, from a selection amongst the more concrete elements offered it by the rich stream of life, a defensive shell of “fixed ideas” [reminds me of what Levi wrote in an earlier chapter in the Doctrine about “husks”]. It is useless to speak kindly to the limpet. You must detach it by main force. That old comfortable clinging life, protected by its hard shell from the living waters of the sea, must now come to an end. A conflict of some kind – a severance of old habits, old notions, old prejudices – is here inevitable for you; and a decision as to the form which the new adjustments must take.

    Now although in a general way we may regard the practical man’s attitude to existence as a limpet-like adherence to the unreal; yet, from another point of view, fixity of purpose and desire is the last thing we can attribute to him. His mind is full of little whirlpools, twists and currents, conflicting systems, incompatible desires. One after another, he centres himself on ambition, love, duty, friendship, social convention, politics, religion, self-interest in one of its myriad forms; making a core round which whole sections of his life are arranged.

    One after another, these things either fail him or enslave him. Sometimes they become obsessions, distorting his judgement, narrowing his outlook, colouring his whole existence. Sometimes they develop inconsistent characters which involve him in public difficulties, private compromises and self-deceptions of every kind. They split his attention, fritter his powers. This state of affairs, which usually passes for an “active life”, begins to take on a different complexion when looked at with the simple eye of meditation. Then we observe that the plain man’s world is in a muddle, just because he has tried to arrange its major interests round himself as round a centre; and he is neither strong enough nor clever enough for the job. He has made a wretched little whirlpool in the mighty River of Becoming, interrupting — as he imagines, in his own interest — its even flow: and within that whirlpool are numerous petty complexes and counter-currents, among which his will and attention fly to and fro in a continual state of unrest.

    The man who makes a success of his life, in any department, is he who has chosen one from amongst these claims and interests, and devoted to it his energetic powers at heart and will; “unifying” himself about it, and from within in it resisting all counter-claims. He has one objective, one centre; has killed out the lesser ones, and simplified himself.”

    The author goes on to discuss this as applied more specifically to mysticism, and continues to advance these sorts of ideas. I’m not done reading the book yet, but highly enjoying it so far.

  46. Chris, you’re very welcome! I hope things are thriving for you at Fernglade.

    P.S.: I’ve read a couple Conan and Kull short stories recently inspired by your frequent comments on barbarians!

  47. JMG, I am rereading some earlier Levi chapters and one of his comments was about how a lucid will can act upon the astral light, creating large and irresistible currents. This sounds similar to charisma.

    So is charisma a form of magic?

    (And if this is addressed somewhere else, please just point me in the right direction. I know I read the earlier chapters before, but when I reread them, there are parts I obviously just did not get at all the first time.)

  48. For those who have been pondering will vs passion, on page 78 (starting with “When the magnetic atmosphere of two people is so balanced…”), Levi discusses more about passion and intoxication. Justin’s comment “many are just swept along by the tides of life” fits well (Levi says “to dominate the circle of astral light, one must manage to get outside the currents.”)

    Levi also points out that the astral light is “indifferent… lend[ing] itself just as easily to good as to evil”, which seems to be a warning that when you are passionate and allowing the astral light to control you, rather than vice versa, you run the risk of being carried off in a direction you may not want to go.

  49. RandomActsofKarma

    Part One as Above and Part Two as Below really makes sense. He gives the four capacities, to know, to will, to dare and to be silent in the first chapter of each part. There is some symmetry there.

    Thanks for pointing it out.

  50. The following is from an email exchange with a PCT thruhiker. He posted on here before back in October or so

    “This is one of the reasons I like to hike alone. It’s one less logistical thing to think about when you’re walking, and when you stop for a break, all by yourself, it’s easy to get in The Moment. I didn’t like it if someone saw me taking a break and sat down next to me. I know we’re social animals, and a lot of people really enjoy being part of a Tramily, but that’s not what I was out there for. In fact, I was on the early side, and I knew it was going to be a big year with a huge herd, and keeping ahead of the herd introduced a competitive aspect to the hike nonetheless. One that I did not enjoy. I was looking for that personal journey that you mentioned.

    I don’t think setting out for a walkabout, with no clear goal would have been better. It’s much easier to get thoughtful time in the woods by car camping somewhere remote for a few days. The beauty of the PCT is the sense of PURPOSE. It’s a huge goal that will take you months, so the day-to-day is really free and flexible. But it was that awesome mission that made me leap up at first light every day and start hiking through the frost before the sun was up. PURPOSE is a huge element that needs to fit in somewhere.”

  51. Hi Justin,

    They are indeed! And I’m very glad to hear that you’re enjoying Robert E Howard’s words. It’s a lot of fun to follow along with the adventures of his protagonists. And in between the stories, the author sets about subtly describing how to run a kingdom so as to appease the folks who get stuff done, whilst countering the many fictional adversaries a ruler will encounter. Plus, did I mention that it’s just fun? 😉

    In the bookshelf resides a hefty leather bound low acid paper book of the collected Conan stories supplied in the order in which they were penned. The author had a solid work ethic and forged his own path (you know what I mean by that!) during the Great Depression. Mate, you could see the authors skill in the art evolve over time. There’s a message in there don’t you reckon? 😉 Plus the hefty weight of the book would be handy in a bar fight, just sayin… I’m seriously glad to hear that you’ve read a few of the stories. Respect.



  52. A few questions more or less related to the comments here:
    How best can I get a legit copy of Learning Ritual Magic (electronic or delivered to Europe) without using the big rainforest river dot fr?

    How comes Buddhism so often emphasises detaching from the ego and impermanent self, whereas the traditions you are pursuing seem to focus more on developing the self? Where is the truth between those, since people are of the same species Buddhist or otherwise?

    With regard to will, I noticed I was barely paying attention to the world around me before (where the people I pass by are going/doing, in which directions I am walking, as I have always had a poor sense of direction). And that all of a sudden I am quite good at setting myself exercises and using my time in transit to work on them. Does one still then need books to develop one’s soul’s capacity to reintegrate permanence and the world more fully?

    Going forward it seems that developing those simpler skills is vital in a civilization trying to cling to its stasis and meanwhile creating stress or dangers for its denizens.

    For this purpose I like Steiner’s way of initiation, but does his description of the four elements fit into the hermetic tradition?

    Regarding husks in the Astral, fascination with chatbots seems to be dangerous in the sense that it’s atral image feels like one of a dead soul, and thus any nonphysical opportunistic entity would have an easy time hiding behind it…

  53. I love all the personal experiences you shared along with the history of the occult world. It really does help the chapter reading feel more relevant.

    Every time I think I understand the will and how to apply it, I read something like this chapter or experience something after months of practice, and realize I had a kindergarten understanding. It makes me chuckle at myself and not get too attached to what is now.

    This time it is Levi’s admonishment to stay away from ugly people. My grandmother used that same word ‘ugly’ to describe a person who operated from emotion and forcefully put himself or herself into the way of others, often wishing ill or causing direct physical harm. A Christian today would say one should love and tolerate that kind of person. Give he or she what they want to pacify them. This modern Christianity is so different than the Christianity Levi is referring to and the kind people in the early 20th century practiced. My grandmother, who lived more in fear of God than anything, stayed away from ugly people because she thought they did evil to others and enjoyed it. It sounds like Levi’s use of ugly is similar. Ugly people just are and there is no fixing ugly. To say that I need to really learn this lesson is an understatement. I habitually feel that everything can be fixed or remedied. Perhaps if I let it be, respecting what it is without emotional reaction, I’d be more free to act.

    Last week, I suddenly, without any medical cause that could be found, passed out at home, hitting the floor. While I was out, which felt like hours to me but was less than 10 seconds, I was in another place and I can barely describe it except by emotions. Before this experience and since I’ve been meditating on what I am attached to and what matters. I feel like I’ve lived years in days. Every night I go to sleep and think I’ll feel normal tomorrow. I’m not feeling any more normal and each day is a new adventure of sorts now. The urge to shed and drop what does not matter is strong. I hope I can learn with getting head thunked but apparently that is what I needed.

  54. Neaj-Neiviv:

    Maybe or might be worth a look? They both have LRM in stock at the moment. I’ve used both to get books delivered to Germany without any problems, although delivery time is a bit longer than is usual for the other supplier you mentioned.

  55. If eros is a very important part of mysticism, whereas “if you follow the path Lévi sets out, you need to keep your magic and your passions separate, and only use magic to achieve things to which you have no emotional attachment at all”, then it strikes me that this is a very important distinction between mysticism and this path of magic.

  56. @Jon G,

    “When we outstretch our hands in rituals, it always reminds me of spreading angel wings.”

    I had been pondering clavicles (which Levi uses to mean ‘keys’, but I knew before as meaning ‘collarbones’). It seemed like there should be some sort of connection. Your comment about spreading angel wings seems important and I will be meditating on it. Thank you.

    I am glad my comment about Part One/Above and Part Two/Below makes sense. I have been tempted to read the next chapter, but have decided I will wait and see what image JMG posts when he does his next commentary. 😉


    “He has made a wretched little whirlpool in the mighty River of Becoming, interrupting — as he imagines, in his own interest — its even flow: and within that whirlpool are numerous petty complexes and counter-currents, among which his will and attention fly to and fro in a continual state of unrest.”

    Thank you for posting this. It isn’t a happy image, but it helps me visualize the effects of a divided will and gives me fodder so I can visualize (imagine!) the effects of a unified will. (Do whirlpools stir up debris and make the water cloudy? Hmm… I might have to do some research before my meditation…)


    That gives me a lot to think about. Thank you.

  57. Oskari, exactly! Congratulations; you’ve just grasped one of the central secrets of magic.

    Aloysius, good. No, you don’t have to have a specific focus; a broad focus is very often more effective.

    Chris, you’re getting very, very close to the theme I’ll be developing as we continue the conversation on enchantment and disenchantment. Yes, there’s a cost to attending to those symbols, and yes, there’s a cost to disregarding them; each leads to its opposite. More on this as we proceed!

    Catcher, yes, you can do that, and dried horseradish makes better incense than fresh — just be sure to use only a very little of it, because otherwise it’s like tear gas. Thanks for the story! That brings back memories.

    Random, charisma has magical dimensions, certainly. When it’s created intentionally — as a change in consciousness according to will — it’s magic.

    Patricia M, thanks for this.

    Will, that also can be a form of magic.

    Neaj, I’ll have to leave the question of how to get books in France to those who know how. With regard to Buddhism, it’s a mistake to think that human beings can only develop in one way! It’s not a matter of different roads up the same mountain — there are different mountains. That is to say, Buddhism and western occultism lead to different attainments via different routes. No, you don’t need books, but they can be helpful. Steiner’s take on the elements is idiosyncratic, but then the Hermetic tradition contains many variations, his among them.

    Denis, sorry to hear about the thump! The notion that abusive people should be loved and tolerated is an appalling failure of basic decency; it turns anyone who follows it into an enabler of abuse. Genuine mercy toward the victims of abuse requires justice, and often strict justice, toward the abusers.

    Asdf, that’s true — but eros is only central to certain kinds of mysticism, of course.

    Your Kittenship, fun. I shall definitely take my vorpal sword in hand!

  58. I would like to thank everyone, and I mean everyone! for all the help on this journey we are on together. I have finally reached a point of feeling connected to all of you, of being connected. And there is much work to be done as we go forth into a new millennium. And from my point of view, all of you, all of us, will be needed as we go forth to make new demands on life. And our love and energy, together, unified, is what gives us all, every single one of us, our infinite, AntiFragile strength.

    I am just at the beginning of my path, and I have much work to do. And I ask for your assistance and love, that is all. While I hope that my life may be a long one, who can say what tomorrow brings? I realize that we are not united, fighting over passions and gold. And I have been a part of this. While I have tried, it took all of your love to save me and bring me to this place, where I am healed, and at peace, and, all these at the same time, happy, sad, loving, willful, full of glory, and empty of glory.

    I am, here. Ousia. Ahani. I am balanced on the point of the Great Paradox of free will and fate.
    They are the same.

    I would like your indulgence to borrow from Theodore Parker, whom I have mentioned in the past, many times, and hope you have found him useful in your travels.

    I paraphrase: I but only see a short way, my vision is dim. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

    I would like to that, from my present perch, here in 2023, that my view is yet dim, my vision is but a short way as well, but I find we are sitting at the top of the arc as it continues it’s journey, flowing over the roots of the tree of life, as it slowly meanders within the world.

    And all of us are needed. All of us are equals, All of us will need help on this journey. I hope to give that to all of you, if only in these words, that I throw out into the aether, with only a dim hope, but still a hope, that you can hear.

    So on this Sunday I am now going to get up and go to bed with the congregation that I am a member of, in covenant. Today is an appropriate day for the message I have sent because it is the youth service today. And, like many religions in our society, attendence is way down at our congregation. But I will be there for the youth. I will be there for the future. I will always be there. I will always be here.

    I invite you to join me in celebration of life this morning at 10:30 at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Or you can join us online here:

    The hardest step I took when I hiked the Appalachian Trail was the first one. Travel well.
    Remember: Just be AND Just do.

    “Mount Katahdin ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Walk in Peace.

    Eric Alan Paisley Orion van Durland

  59. About the different mountains one can go up, or the different forms of attainment one could pursue… once somebody has achieved attainment of one sort, and somebody else has achieved attainment of another sort, then what? Do the paths split at this point? Or does everybody work their way up the same next step then (e.g. work on the mental level, or whatever comes next)? Are the paths different just on this level of being, in this particular step – or do they ultimately lead to different outcomes altogether?

    And if it‘s the latter: How can that work, from a perspective of occult philosophy, where everybody started out with a divine spark and has the aim to „move up“ towards the divine again?


  60. @Denis: your comment on ugly made me think of a few related things – The Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast, and the Velveteen Rabbit.

    I knew several Christian grandmothers who had similar thoughts about ugly people growing up. Oddly, one could be ugly and need to be shunned for essentially any trait that they were trying studiously to avoid noticing in their own granddaughters (but which I typically lacked entirely) which included the kind of “ugly” that had boyfriends and tightened sweaters suggestively.

    I know what their granddaughters went through later to get over that, so I believe avoiding such women who project their emotions is good advice.

    I noticed also, that one can contrast this advice with the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast. When I performed this play, my costar developed a taste for hurting me during our violent scenes – he wasn’t acting. And I’d say “stop, you’re hurting ME, in reality, ME” and he wouldn’t stop, and the director – an older woman with a pinched face -said I was whining. So I quit the day before opening night. I couldn’t stomach the idea of him getting off on hurting me in public. Years later, I read an interview with my absolute favourite Rebecca Caine – I have Phantom of the Opera performed by several casts, but I only listen to hers, because she can hit notes no other Christine Daae does. And she starred opposite Colm Wilkinson, in Phantom and earlier in Les Miserables. I loved him, too – but apparently as The Phantom, he’d done the same thing as my Beast, and her directors also didn’t care. People really struggle with dealing with those characters.

    Meanwhile, the Velveteen rabbit tells the story in a different way.

    I don’t quite know what to make of it, but it seems important – my Beast was a stutterer, a dork. Wilkinson was a grand star all the time. But neither could handle becoming truly ugly. But the rabbit does, and through anything but avoidance.

  61. …. And what happens if someone goes up a bit one mountain in one lifetime, and then up another mountain in another lifetime?

    Would the efforts still stack up to some extent? Or is this like starting out anew from the basecamp? Or maybe even a hindrance?


  62. Hi John Michael,

    Thank you, and I appreciate your reply. As usual, you’ve given me much to contemplate. It’s worthwhile, even at the risk of failure. Anyway, I respect your boundaries, and shall say no more on the subject.

    For your amusement, I wrote about: Peak Rocks

    It’s absurd, but also true. 😉



  63. How is magical blow back avoided practically? Being calm and clear at a crucial point in a ritual instead of in a passionate frenzy? How does one destabilizes things in “safer” way, magically speaking?

  64. Milkyway, in the Golden Dawn tradition the highest grade of initiation has the title of Ipsissimus, which means “most completely oneself.” The point of that is that spiritual development is about differentiation. The higher you climb the more unique you become, and at the ultimate level each soul has attained the complete expression of its own utterly unique potentials. Since the divine is infinite, how could it be any other way?

    As for different lives, the theory is that each soul, in each life, will find its way to the experiences and training it needs to continue to unfold its own unique potential.

    Chris, funny. Thanks for this.

    Bob, it’s very simple. You can’t avoid blowback, so you need to choose the workings you do so that you will benefit from the blowback rather than being harmed by it. If you heal, you will be healed; if you help, you will be helped; if you bless, you will be blessed. It really is that simple.

  65. Thanks. On first reading, this reply makes a great deal of sense – which is probably why I will need to ponder it for a while… 😉

    Thanks for taking the time to patiently reply to all my questions!


  66. JMG

    One more major revelation from all this is, which can seem a little bizarre at first, is that when things suddenly “click and start making sense”, the resulting potential excitement is actually a hindrance and a distraction. Progress with Magical training is an independent system separate of the dopamine reward mechanism. One can observe the excitement with a degree of detachment, acknowledge it and let it fade at its own pace, neither enforcing the excitement nor subduing it.

    It is a different thing, not related to the practice. One pointed Will does not care one way or another. With banishing the Mage is grounded and balanced, which makes both excitement or frustration irrelevant to the working. It would then have a steadying effect, which… could result in more consistent results. And in long term workings this would be then even more important.


  67. @sarad

    Thank you for mentioning “The Velveteen Rabbit”. I’d never heard of it and after a search came across this critique of the story, the author (Margery Williams Bianco), and her daughter Pamela who illustrated the book.

    You might enjoy the story behind the story; it goes deep into what it means to be human and how different children’s and “adult’s” worlds are.

  68. Something I’ve been contemplating lately and it seems very much related to this chapter.

    The skill that allows to stay on a topic of meditation while not being distracted too much and the skill that allows to pick one course of practice and complete it to the end without dabbling in others are both the same skill applied at different time scales. Applied to greater time periods, there is a similar sort of focus for a single human life and yet greater sort of focus for the whole set of human incarnations a soul goes through. In all of those, focus is achieved by relaxing in the direction of will.

  69. Milkyway, you’re most welcome.

    Oskari, excellent! Yes, and that’s a very important point.

    Ganesh, hmm! I’d never thought of that, but of course you’re quite correct.

  70. @JMG – thank you for your helpful answer to the question I asked you on Magic Monday. Applying it today came easily, as that sort of things does on Tuesdays, when I invoke Mars. Will work at keeping it up the rest of the week.
    Thanks again.

  71. @JeffinWA, thank you for that! I can’t believe it, now I’ve met two people who hadn’t read that book as children, what has the world come to? 😉 (the first one I just convinced to take it out from the library, and who did indeed “cry the whole way through”).

    I like to contrast that with The Ugly Duckling which has a similar but not quite the same motif – and the life (and death) of Hans Christian Anderson, who she is compared to, and see how the subtle difference there stack up, as well.

  72. Oh, yes. The Ugly Duckling was Andersen’s autobiography as surely as Baa, Baa, Black Sheep was Kipling’s.

  73. Hi John Michael,

    Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive, but yesterday there was a click, or a shift, or a lurch – or whatever you want to call it. Hmm. Smells of change or crisis to me. But dunno, not sure what it means.



  74. Magic only working for things you’re indifferent to is the best reason to form a co-op there’s ever been. Get a bunch of mages together and have them write down what they want. Sift through the pile until everyone finds a goal they don’t care about. Then it’s showtime. It’s like the long-armed heaven where everyone feeds each other.

  75. I’ve been ruminating about the problem of setting intentions around which to organize will. I tend to only articulate massive life-encompassing goals. Though recently, in relation to my work with this chapter, i have had some shift. First, I stated my ‘big goal’ as a kind of filter test to see if something is ‘in’ or ‘out’ of right action, with a specific flavor that i think will make answers clearer than if I stated it in terms of, say, enchanted humans: “I will make the world around me suitable for wild-minded (not hopelessly confused by being subjected to isolation and human artifice) dogs to thrive.” This world, you see, would include forests and small farmsteads and neighbors capable of negotiating conflicting wills among various people and animals without recourse to one-size laws that always wratchet down to the denominator most limiting/least open to discretion. In this world, people would spend more time outside and they wouldn’t psychopath repress their awareness of needs of bodies and emotions. I find that I am a lot dog and have capable and noble dogs in my family group, so this works for me.

    Since considering this framing intently, I had a woman parked across from my house (I hope looking at that rental) say upon seeing my pack ‘sometimes I wish people were more like dogs’, I’ve had a guy from the neighbor restaurant express interest in taking on one of the puppies of a friend who I am helping to get divvied up to a manageable point who seems like will now be in relationship with my family and my project. I got to do a daring fireman’s crawl catch on the scruff and drag out of a pit of black water rescue of one of the pups. So it seems like good feedback overall.

    Second, I did a specific ask. I saw a Pontiac vibe which has name associations for me and I heard it was a decent car before and I need a light good gas mileage suv shape for my coming job. My old tax money car is about game over and I have my new tax money waiting to find something. I passed a vibe on my walk. I said, ‘I’m going to get one of these.’ I looked ob Craigslist when I got home and one had been posted, one owner well-cared for it seemed, clean, just posted within the previous five hours. Within 3 days I had been able to go to ohio and pick it up and it was good. Making one’s word impeccable a la four agreements

    Third I started doing the Franz Bardon initiation into hermetics as directed by commentariat and jmg in order without wavering, so I’m only on the first thought exercise after the theory which was obviously already pretty familiar but I’m working on disciplina…

    I was finding it altogether hard to say ‘put your will to x and put everything else aside until it’s done’ since the goal is culture shift. But the dog framing is helping. I appreciate the heck out of you guys. Thanks for everything!

  76. This step reminds me of a few lines from Gary Snyder’s poem “What You Should Know to be a Poet.”

    work, long dry hours of dull work swallowed and accepted
    and livd with and finally lovd. exhaustion,
    hunger, rest.

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