As I’ve been digging deeper and deeper into various fields of study within the realms of what you might call, in general, “the Occult” — and here, I mean fields of study like Tarot, Runes, Astrology, these kinds of things — it’s become increasingly apparent to me that people today actively practice magic. As I’ve done before, I’ll again borrow a definition from infamous 20th Century occultist, Aleister Crowley, to state that in this context, “magic” basically means applying your will in order to cause desired change in the world around you, sometimes/often in conjunction with rituals, incantations, tools, other props, costuming…(by the way, Crowley popularized the convention of spelling magic of this nature as “magick,” with a “k” at the end, so as to distinguish it from the kinds of sleight-of-hand tricks performed by stage musicians for pure entertainment value…so you might notice that spelling here and there if you start studying such topics yourself…).
Anyway, so back to that notion: people practice magic. Interestingly, you can find plenty of people who are into the Occult engaging in such practice, which shouldn’t be so surprising…but then, you’ll also encounter no shortage of people who otherwise have little to no interest in the Occult also making use of things like “love spells” or “money spells” or picking up potions or crystals or tinctures to keep bothersome spirits at bay — in other words, even people who don’t believe in magic, commonly sort of believe in magic, too, if in somewhat more limited fashion.
But belief, as I understand it, is an incredibly critical factor in this whole “magic” business.
Modern magic draws from plenty of sources, including the extremely influential organization Crowley was affiliated with for a time: The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, or more familiarly, just The Golden Dawn. It’s an organization that gave us, among other things, the two most overwhelmingly popular Tarot decks in existence (the Thoth deck that Crowley created with Lady Frieda Harris, and the even more wildly widespread Rider-Waite-Smith deck), and the Golden Dawn seems to inform almost every approach to magic you can find in the modern world. The Golden Dawn was arguably at its peak about a century ago, and even then, it, too, was drawing from even older sources. My point is that even in a field that’s as seemingly radical and rebellious in our present intensely intellectual/rational world, magic does have its traditions and its structures and its hallowed practices and ideals.
There’s a very modern sub-branch of magical exploration, though, called Chaos Magic. This offshoot has only been around for a couple of decades, and a part of its central identity — and to me, a big part of its charm — is that it encourages a far more eclectic, personalized, and non-traditional approach than anything else I’ve yet come across. And one very core tenet is the notion that belief is a tool; belief can be altered and flip-flopped as one wishes in order to accomplish magical ends. You can perform a ritual in the morning that seems based on total belief in Runes, and the Norse Deities they call to mind and with whom the Runes are associated…and then after a nice lunch, the Chaos Magic proponent would tell you that you’d be perfectly fine to go and enact another ritual, this one geared toward working with, say, Judeo-Christian notions of Archangels. You just need to fully believe in each set of governing concepts during the applicable rituals, that’s all…
“That’s all.” But wait — isn’t it inherently contradictory to say that one minute you believe in the Norse Pantheon as actual existing Deities who hold sway over our reality just as the wandering Germanic tribes from several centuries ago believed, but then half an hour later — after a lovely repast of tea and finger sandwiches — you believe in Old Testament stuff?? You can’t do both, can you??
As stated, the Chaos Magician would tell you that yes, sure you can believe in both — definitely in rapid succession as suits your needs, and maybe even at the same time, if you can swing it. In the Chaos view, belief isn’t some intrinsic, unchanging characteristic that defines you like, say, your blood type defines you — it’s a tool you can manipulate, thus allowing you to transform the world around you. This principle is often applied in conjunction with a concept called “gnosis.” Very briefly — although this is worth looking at in greater depth — gnosis is a state of consciousness in which the mind is focused like a laser-beam on one single thought/concept, with all other thoughts momentarily blotted out.
This is no easy thing — our minds are cauldrons of thoughts, furiously boiling… Thoughts intrude. They swarm. They’re insidious… But the idea is that if you can combine gnosis — that focus on one, single point — with pure belief in the reality that not only is that single thought-point possibly true, but that it is already true, even as you’re thinking it…you then just need to take the final step of shoving all subsequent dwelling on that point out of your conscious mind, and that single thought-point will then become reality. That’s Chaos Magic. Of course, this not-thinking about something that had just been the only thing you were thinking about is as tricky as the only-thinking-about part in the first place! There’s an old notion about how if someone tells you not to think of an elephant, all you’ll be able to think about at first is an elephant:
But a central thrust of Chaos Magic principles is that if you can achieve gnosis, and then utterly banish the object of that gnosis into your subconscious mind…magic.
I’ll give you an example of one time in my life when I feel I inadvertently accomplished just this. The occasion in question happened a long time ago, and way before I ever started seriously studying Occult matters. I still feel it was an actual incident of gnosis followed by gnosis-point dismissal, and it resulted in something extraordinarily unlikely happening…
So, 20+ years ago, I got invited to go to a baseball game with a friend. I lived in San Jose, California at the time, and my friend, his dad, and one of his drinking buddies were going up to Oakland to see the A’s play at the Coliseum. I accepted, and the four of us drove up.
When I say my friend’s dad and his pal were drinking buddies, I am not joking. These guys brought multiple cases of beer with them, and they put it away like they were hollow chambers in the shapes of grown men. The two older gents started consuming on the way up to the game (a drive of about an hour), and paused to knock back a few more in the parking lot when we arrived. I couldn’t keep up — not even close. And this was when I was in the prime of my youth, too, and it was a day game, so I was even well-rested — my tolerance was as robust as it’s ever been in my life, but these guys just buried me. I was totally hammered before the game even got underway.
I have a very, very vivid recollection, though, of lurching behind them toward the stadium, and having this odd, unbidden thought come to me, fully formed: “You know, I’m just drunk enough that I could totally catch a foul ball.”
What some part of me was attempting to convey to the inebriated rest of myself was the idea that despite seemingly impossible odds, somebody had to catch each foul ball that went into the stands during a game, and with the alcohol temporarily blotting out any objections that my rational mind might have had to the possibility that I might be one of those somebodies (not to mention also vigorously drowning all problematic humility that might have resisted on the grounds that I wasn’t “worthy enough” or “special enough” to be the foul ball-catching somebody in question)…well, it could be me who snagged an errant ball that day. Forget that there were about 35,000 other people who might by vying with me for possession of any stray line drive, and forget any other factors that might interfere with me heading home a few hours later with an official MLB souvenir of passing rarity — I could totally catch a foul ball.
And that was it. Once I’d had this thought — intensely, and awash in gnosis — I promptly forgot about it. Just navigating crowds and obstacles so as to get to my seat without falling on my face took up whatever consciousness I had left at that point, and thoughts of foul balls and who might catch them were kind of obliterated.
And then a few innings later, a player named Tony Phillips stepped up to bat, a pitch came in, and…crack!!
I knew instantly. It all unfolded in slow motion, and even as the sound of bat hitting ball and vice versa was reaching my ears, I knew:
“Ah, here’s that foul ball I’m going to catch/I already caught!”
It was familiar. I recognized the moment. The ball was now probably a meter or two from Phillips’ bat, no more. No one else knew yet that it was headed my way…
I seemed to have all the time in the world. I calmly set my drink down at my feet. The ball picked up speed, rocketing through its trajectory, but as I perceived it, still so slowly… The rest of the crowd was starting to understand what direction it was taking, though. They oriented toward it…toward me.
I waited. When the moment was right, I stuck out my hand. I didn’t even get up — I knew I didn’t have to. People around me rose to their feet. People around me thrust their arms forward, a weird, wavering little forest blossoming outward from the bleachers. I just kept my hand held out, directly in front of my face…
And the ball landed smack in my palm. It didn’t even hurt. You’d think it would have — you’d think being struck in the bare flesh by a hard baseball moving faster than a car on a highway would be something you’d want to avoid at all costs — but it didn’t hurt at all. The ball hit my palm, and I caught it. People around me cheered, and strangers clapped me on the back like I’d just sacked Rome single-handedly. I stood briefly and waved my white prize at the fans, as they seemed to expect that, and my friend and his father and the father’s drinking buddy all roared in triumph.
I’m not much of a sports fan. I’ll go to the occasional game, because live sports can be fun once in a while, and I’ll watch sports on TV if it’s playoff/championship time, but that’s about as far into it as I ever go these days. That afternoon in Oakland isn’t memorable for me because it represents contact with the world of pro sports for me — it’s memorable because something so incredibly improbable happened to me, and I believe to this day that I caused it to happen. I believe I achieved the kind of gnostic state that Chaos Magicians speak of, and then I successfully pushed the object-point of that particular bit of gnosis — the catching of the foul ball — entirely from my conscious mind, just as those same Chaos Magicians would advise. And in using my belief-in-something-occurring as a tool…that something did, in fact, occur.
Now, how to do that on a regular basis would take up vastly more space than a single blog post, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers here. I just felt that relating this example might be interesting and hopefully illustrative. I should also point out that I really don’t at all advise alcohol as an aid in this kind of thing — it happened to work in my favor that one time, but mostly I’m not so sure that depressants are the way to go in this or any other activity. Then again, I do agree with the Chaos Magic notion that personalizing is key — whatever works for you, the individual, works…so you get to make your own decisions on which substances you may or may not want to incorporate into your own experiences.
But anyway…a bit more personal data than I often relate when it comes to the Occult. Hopefully it benefits, and wasn’t all for gnothing! Please feel invited to share any thoughts or experiences of your own on this subject, as I’d be very interested in hearing them!