I've been thinking a lot about magic lately and the changes that the active practice of magic make in the magician. i am glad i'm not apprenticing now. I see the garbage that's out there, the feel good pabulum presenting itself as knowledge. I don't know how I would have fared were I coming up in the Art these days. I was really lucky: my training was old fashioned and severe. I was never allowed to forget for one moment what magic was: the application of power. I hated it at the time but i could sense, smell, the threads of power there; every so often i tasted the glory of its revelation and that was enough to keep me going until i realized my teachers were right. The discipline was essential.
It's a truism amongst us that magic changes as person. The one who began learning is not the same person in any way, shape, or form, as the one who reaches adept level. I see a lot of bullshit being touted as magic on the market today, most of it written to cater to the New Age market, suffering from an excess of WASP ethics. Forget all of that. Magic is power and it is the application of power to take care of oneself and one's people. Period. To be really good at it, a magician must seek power as avidly as an addict seeks his next fix, as consistently as the average person seeks love and pleasure, or success, or money, well being or whatever it is the average person seeks. I wouldn't know. Those things too go up very early on in the altar of one's training and if the discipline is not there in training magic doesn't just change a person, it eats them up, spits them out: it destroys them.
Ironically though, insofar as those "good things" in life are concerned, one acquires them in time, if one is a competent magician. They come because one has learned to order one's life both physically and esoterically in ways that encourage them, in ways that allow abundance to flow, in ways that summon it. By the time one can do that, however, one's priorities may have radically changed. One's relationship with those things might be very different because there is a ruthlessness about high level magic, real magic. there has to be.
One of the first exercises an aspiring magician should learn (and these basics are shared across various disciplines not just magic) is grounding and centering. The usual analog is for the student to be told to imagine a tree. This is a good analog. In Norse magic, in Kabbalah, in several other systems too the image of the World Tree is a powerful one in esoteric lore. We work and work for years to learn how to ground and center properly, how to send energy down into the earth, and into otherworldly places, and we learn how to draw it up and channel it into the physical world. Thus passes the first several years of training.
What no one ever talks about though is the work that comes after that, after the roots of the tree are established. Then one works on the branches, on reaching out, making connections with the sepiroth, with the various worlds, with the places of power with which one will work, making connections, alliances, and learning to link into all of them at once. The magician stands in place of the Tree, connected above and below to realms of power and he or she learns to maintain those connections and to allow those lines, those rushing flood-tide rivers of power to flow into her and then --without any apology or hesitation--opens up and wields them on the human world at large. That's magic. The magician is the lens through which massive lines of power are focused, and it is the magician's will that's doing the focusing.
Much of the severity of training is designed to ready the student over a period of years to endure that. Discipline is essential. I just laugh when the average New Ager, fruit of the hippy womb comes up to me babbling about "Magick" and yet they have no physical endurance to any discomfort, and their emotional resiliency is nil. They are committed and loyal to nothing. They do what makes them feel good and avoid any challenge. No. I don't think so. It is sometimes hard not to play with such people but they are so earnest in their errors. I have long ago disciplined myself in such cases to be kind, usually.
Let me give a better, more accurate exactly of how a magician thinks. A good magician calculates the potential value of every person he or she meets. A good magician is always aware of power dynamics and where he or she sits within them. A good magician is generally calculating several steps ahead on how he or she may acquire better positioning or at least avoid inconvenience. Power games grow tiring after awhile and after a certain point in one's work, are no longer necessary but the awareness of it is always there.
If all of this sounds quite ruthless it is and let's not pretend that modern ethics and morals have any use in magic. The sooner a student can be eased away from them the better. That is not to say a magician should be without morals. I think that would be a very, very dangerous thing indeed. Rather I think a magician's moral code evolves out of the magic he or she studies and therefore it is necessary and good to balance such training with devotional practice, with piety, with the structure of a strong, supportive House. I had that, early on and I learned that magic has a cost, that nothing's free, and that a House takes care of its own.
Since I began to advance in magic, I have been quite often referred to as cold---not by other magicians mind you, not by my House and my friends, spouse, and teachers, not by those who have gained entry into my inner circle of friends and loved ones and who know me well, but by those outside that, who see only my professional facade. I can be. I save my commitments for my own. I may feel a thing deeply but dependent upon my commitments those feelings may not motivate action. I may be capable of tremendous passion but i channel it in very specific ways. emotions and emotional attachments are sources of power or loss of power and need to be approached as such. One should not squander and waste power. For women who come into the Art, this is often a steep hurdle to overcome (though it was not, in my case).
Even amongst traditionally trained magicians --who are not immune to the culture in which they were raised no more than anyone is immune---it is sometimes difficult for them to see a woman wielding power ruthlessly and without apology. This is usually where a cultural disconnect happens. I have a good friend who is a priest and grows continually weary of people expecting her to be nurturing and motherly. She is not and am not. Neither of us give any indication that we are or will be and yet people insist in their own minds that because we are female this will be the result. They build up expectations that have no bearing in reality and become upset when we prove quite, quite different. As women, there is a cultural expectation that we will cater to others needs. This is occasionally problematic for female magicians and it complicates training: there are powerful barriers of social conditioning that must be overcome; and make no mistake: they must be dispensed with sooner rather than later.
Quite recently I was discussing case studies with a friend, who is also a magician similarly trained as I. She'd recently had a client consult her about a love affair gone wrong. There had been a bad break up and it was largely due to the man's inability to keep it zipped. The client wanted ..well, she wouldn't say precisely what she wanted. She came to my friend wanting to know her options yet she was almost incapable of admitting that she was even angry at the guy. She wanted, let me tell you, retribution but she wanted it without taking culpability for either the desire, the attendant anger, or the results. She simply would not admit she was angry. My friend called her on it, and then told her the options of course. Neither of us has time for bullshit, but both of us see this type of thing more often than I can count.
this is incomprehensible to any well trained magician. One: admit your emotions and deal with them. Two: decide what you want to do and do it. If you want vengeance, fine but don't hedge. Own your emotions, own your desires and stop worrying about being a "good little girl." It's a huge cognitive leap for way too many people.
Now, my general rule of thumb in going about my day is simple: don't be an asshole. Being a magician doesn't give anyone an excuse to act like a total jerk. Courtesy and kindness are not misplaced actions, but they're decisions, choices, conscious behaviors. They are useful disciplines in and of themselves. Lack of control after all in any venue is not a virtue in magic and there are more important things than the acquisition of power. This article however, is specifically about the inner nature and mindset of a good magician….i'm not talking about piety or relationships or how one should behave as a decent human being. I'm talking about a very specific area of one's life, a very specific avocation taken out of the context of a greater community life.
With that being said, what qualities are the most usual, perhaps even necessarily in a student of magic? Well, being nice doesn't make the list. One should be bright. It's not enough just to be willing either. One should have a measurable degree of a psi-gift---it doesn't really matter which one though empathy and sight are the easiest to work with. If you don't have a high level of psi-talent, develop it. the basic exercises are useful for doing so. There is nothing more tiresome and irritating than someone well meaning who is both dim and almost head-blind, but who insists they're magicians. It's not my job to challenge anyone on their self-definition of choice (unless that person comes to me as a student then it becomes my job) so I'm inclined to give people who come to me the benefit of the doubt. But when I have someone who is convinced he or she is a spirit-worker or a magician (two different things, i might add) but then, in the midst of a conversation about oh i don't know, say energetic taint asks "well how do you know it's there?" when to anyone with a decent level of psi ability it's glaringly obvious,…well, that shit gets old mighty quick and it just seems to rude to say "you're way out of your pay grade, honey."
Part of the problem I suspect is the idea that this Art is accessible to anyone. It's not. It's not even always accessible to those of us who want it badly and who are willing to make the requisite personal sacrifices…no more than musical virtuosity or mathematical genius might be. Like any other craft of value, it takes a tremendous amount of work and most of that is not in spells and exercises, it's in honing the will and carving out a character worthy of enduring without breaking, without becoming corrupt, without becoming mad; and that is not something that's going to be found in the latest feel good tidbit of new age philosophy.