Magick, in the context of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, is a term used to show and differentiate the occult from performance magic and is defined as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”, including “mundane” acts of will as well as ritual magic. Crowley wrote that “it is theoretically possible to cause in any object any change of which that object is capable by nature”. John Symonds and Kenneth Grant attach a deeper occult significance to this preference.
Crowley saw Magick as the essential method for a person to reach true understanding of the self and to act according to one’s true will, which he saw as the reconciliation “between freewill and destiny.” Crowley describes this process in his Magick, Book 4:
One must find out for oneself, and make sure beyond doubt, who one is, what one is, why one is …Being thus conscious of the proper course to pursue, the next thing is to understand the conditions necessary to following it out. After that, one must eliminate from oneself every element alien or hostile to success, and develop those parts of oneself which are specially needed to control the aforesaid conditions. (Crowley, Magick, Book 4 p.134)
Definitions and general purpose of Magick
Crowley defined Magick as “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.” He goes on to elaborate on this, in one postulate, and twenty eight theorems. His first clarification on the matter is that of a postulate, in which he states “ANY required change may be effected by the application of the proper kind and degree of Force in the proper manner, through the proper medium to the proper object.” He goes on further to state:
Magick is the Science of understanding oneself and one’s conditions. It is the Art of applying that understanding in action.
Techniques of Magick
There are several ways to view what Magick is. Again, at its most broad, it can be defined as any willed action leading to intended change. It can also be seen as the general set of methods used to accomplish the Great Work of mystical attainment. At the practical level, Magick most often takes several practices and forms of ritual, including banishing, invocation and evocation, eucharistic ritual, consecration and purification, astral travel, yoga, sex magic, and divination.
The professed purpose of banishing rituals is to eliminate forces that might interfere with a magical operation, and they are often performed at the beginning of an important event or ceremony (although they can be performed for their own sake as well). The area of effect can be a magick circle, a room, or the magician himself. The general theory of Magick proposes that there are various forces which are represented by the classical elements (air, earth, fire, and water), the planets, the signs of the Zodiac, and adjacent spaces in the astral world. Magick also proposes that various spirits and non-corporeal intelligences can be present. Banishings are performed in order to “clean out” these forces and presences. It is not uncommon to believe that banishings are more psychological than anything else, used to calm and balance the mind, but that the effect is ultimately the same—a sense of cleanliness within the self and the environment. There are many banishing rituals, but most are some variation on two of the most common—”The Star Ruby” and the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.
Crowley describes banishing in his Magick, Book 4 (ch.13):
[…] in the banishing ritual of the pentagram we not only command the demons to depart, but invoke the Archangels and their hosts to act as guardians of the Circle during our pre-occupation with the ceremony proper. In more elaborate ceremonies it is usual to banish everything by name. Each element, each planet, and each sign, perhaps even the Sephiroth themselves; all are removed, including the very one which we wished to invoke, for that forces as existing in Nature is always impure. But this process, being long and wearisome, is not altogether advisable in actual working. It is usually sufficient to perform a general banishing, and to rely upon the aid of the guardians invoked. […] “The Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram” is the best to use.
However, he further asserts:
Those who regard this ritual as a mere devise to invoke or banish spirits, are unworthy to possess it. Properly understood, it is the Medicine of Metals and the Stone of the Wise.
Purification is similar in theme to banishing, but is a more rigorous process of preparing the self and her temple for serious spiritual work. Crowley mentions that ancient magicians would purify themselves through arduous programs, such as through special diets, fasting, sexual abstinence, keeping the body meticulously tidy, and undergoing a complicated series of prayers. He goes on to say that purification no longer requires such activity, since the magician can purify the self via willed intention. Specifically, the magician labors to purify the mind and body of all influences which may interfere with the Great Work:
The point is to seize every occasion of bringing every available force to bear upon the objective of the assault. It does not matter what the force is (by any standard of judgment) so long as it plays its proper part in securing the success of the general purpose […] We must constantly examine ourselves, and assure ourselves that every action is really subservient to the One Purpose.
Crowley recommended symbolically ritual practices, such as bathing and robing before a main ceremony: “The bath signifies the removal of all things extraneous or antagonistic to the one thought. The putting on of the robe is the positive side of the same operation. It is the assumption of the frame of mind suitable to that one thought.”
Consecration is an equally important magical operation. It is essentially the dedication, usually of a ritual instrument or space, to a specific purpose. In Magick, Book 4 (ch.13), Crowley writes:
The ritual here in question should summarize the situation, and devote the particular arrangement to its purpose by invoking the appropriate forces. Let it be well remembered that each object is bound by the Oaths of its original consecration as such. Thus, if a pantacle has been made sacred to Venus, it cannot be used in an operation of Mars.
An example of the magic circle and triangle of art of King Solomon
Invocation is the bringing in or identifying with a particular deity or spirit. Crowley wrote of two keys to success in this arena: to “inflame thyself in praying” and to “invoke often”. For Crowley, the single most important invocation, or any act of Magick for that matter, was the invocation of one’s Holy Guardian Angel, or “secret self”, which allows the adept to know his or her True Will.
Crowley describes the experience of invocation:
The mind must be exalted until it loses consciousness of self. The Magician must be carried forward blindly by a force which, though in him and of him, is by no means that which he in his normal state of consciousness calls I. Just as the poet, the lover, the artist, is carried out of himself in a creative frenzy, so must it be for the Magician.
Crowley (Magick, Book 4) discusses three main categories of invocation, although “in the great essentials these three methods are one. In each case the magician identifies himself with the Deity invoked.”
Devotion—where “identity with the God is attained by love and by surrender, by giving up or suppressing all irrelevant (and illusionary) parts of yourself.”
Calling forth—where “identity is attained by paying special attention to the desired part of yourself.”
Drama—where “identity is attained by sympathy. It is very difficult for the ordinary man to lose himself completely in the subject of a play or of a novel; but for those who can do so, this method is unquestionably the best.”
Another invocatory technique that the magician can employ is called the assumption of godforms—where with “concentrated imagination of oneself in the symbolic shape of any God, one should be able to identify oneself with the idea which [the god] represents.” A general method involves positioning the body in a position that is typical for a given god, imagining that the image of the god is coinciding with or enveloping the body, accompanied by the practice of “vibration” of the appropriate god-name(s).
There is a distinct difference between invocation and evocation, as Crowley explains:
To “invoke” is to “call in”, just as to “evoke” is to “call forth”. This is the essential difference between the two branches of Magick. In invocation, the macrocosm floods the consciousness. In evocation, the magician, having become the macrocosm, creates a microcosm. You invoke a God into the Circle. You evoke a Spirit into the Triangle.
Generally, evocation is used for two main purposes: to gather information and to obtain the services or obedience of a spirit or demon. Crowley believed that the most effective form of evocation was found in the grimoire on Goetia (see below), which instructs the magician in how to safely summon forth and command 72 infernal spirits. However, it is equally possible to evoke angelic beings, gods, and other intelligences related to planets, elements, and the Zodiac.
Unlike with invocation, which involves a calling in, evocation involves a calling forth, most commonly into what is called the “triangle of art.”
Body of light
Rising on the planes
Trances and visions
The word eucharist originally comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. However, within Magick, it takes on a special meaning—the transmutation of ordinary things (usually food and drink) into divine sacraments, which are then consumed. The object is to infuse the food and drink with certain properties, usually embodied by various deities, so that the adept takes in those properties upon consumption. Crowley describes the process of the regular practice of eucharistic ritual:
The magician becomes filled with God, fed upon God, intoxicated with God. Little by little his body will become purified by the internal lustration of God; day by day his mortal frame, shedding its earthly elements, will become in very truth the Temple of the Holy Ghost. Day by day matter is replaced by Spirit, the human by the divine; ultimately the change will be complete; God manifest in flesh will be his name.
There are several eucharistic rituals within the magical canon. Two of the most well known are The Mass of the Phoenix and The Gnostic Mass. The first is a ritual designed for the individual, which involves sacrificing a “Cake of Light” (a type of bread that serves as the host) to Ra (i.e. the Sun) and infusing a second Cake with the adept’s own blood (either real or symbolic, in a gesture reflecting the myth of the Pelican cutting its own breast to feed its young) and then consuming it with the words, “There is no grace: there is no guilt: This is the Law: Do what thou wilt!” The other ritual, The Gnostic Mass, is a very popular public ritual (although it can be practiced privately) that involves a team of participants, including a Priest and Priestess. This ritual is an enactment of the mystical journey that culminates with the Mystic Marriage and the consumption of a Cake of Light and a goblet of wine (a process termed “communication”). Afterwards, each Communicant declares, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods!”
The art of divination is generally employed for the purpose of obtaining information that can guide the adept in his Great Work. The underlying theory states that there exists intelligences (either outside of or inside the mind of the diviner) that can offer accurate information within certain limits using a language of symbols. Normally, divination within Magick is not the same as fortune telling, which is more interested in predicting future events. Rather, divination tends to be more about discovering information about the nature and condition of things that can help the magician gain insight and to make better decisions.
There are literally hundreds of different divinatory techniques in the world. However, Western occult practice mostly includes the use of astrology (calculating the influence of heavenly bodies), bibliomancy (reading random passages from a book, such as Liber Legis or the I Ching), tarot (a deck of 78 cards, each with symbolic meaning, usually laid out in a meaningful pattern), and geomancy (a method of making random marks on paper or in earth that results in a combination of sixteen patterns).
It is an accepted truism within Magick that divination is imperfect. As Crowley writes, “In estimating the ultimate value of a divinatory judgment, one must allow for more than the numerous sources of error inherent in the process itself. The judgment can do no more than the facts presented to it warrant. It is naturally impossible in most cases to make sure that some important factor has not been omitted […] One must not assume that the oracle is omniscient.”
Other magical practices
Qabalah and the Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is a tool used to categorize and organize various mystical concepts. At its most simple level, it is composed of ten spheres, or emanations, called sephiroth (sing. “sephira”) which are connected by twenty two paths. The sephiroth are represented by the planets and the paths by the characters of the Hebrew alphabet, which are subdivided by the four classical elements, the seven classical planets, and the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Within the western magical tradition, the Tree is used as a kind of conceptual filing cabinet. Each sephira and path is assigned various ideas, such as gods, cards of the Tarot, astrological planets and signs, elements, etc.
Crowley considered a deep understanding of the Tree of Life to be essential to the magician:
The Tree of Life has got to be learnt by heart; you must know it backwards, forwards, sideways, and upside down; it must become the automatic background of all your thinking. You must keep on hanging everything that comes your way upon its proper bough.
Similar to yoga, learning the Tree of Life is not so much Magick as it is a way to map out one’s spiritual universe. As such, the adept may use the Tree to determine a destination for astral travel, to choose which gods to invoke for what purposes, et cetera. It also plays an important role in modeling the spiritual journey, where the adept begins in Malkuth, which is the every-day material world of phenomena, with the ultimate goal being at Kether, the sphere of Unity with the All.
A magical record is a journal or other source of documentation containing magical events, experiences, ideas, and any other information that the magician may see fit to add. There can be many purposes for such a record, such as recording evidence to verify the effectiveness of specific procedures (per the scientific method that Aleister Crowley claimed should be applied to the practice of Magick) or to ensure that data may propagate beyond the lifetime of the magician. Benefits of this process vary, but usually include future analysis and further education by the individual and/or associates with whom the magician feels comfortable in revealing such intrinsically private information.
Crowley was highly insistent upon the importance of this practice. As he writes in Liber E, “It is absolutely necessary that all experiments should be recorded in detail during, or immediately after, their performance … The more scientific the record is, the better. Yet the emotions should be noted, as being some of the conditions. Let then the record be written with sincerity and care; thus with practice it will be found more and more to approximate to the ideal.” Other items he suggests for inclusion include the physical and mental condition of the experimenter, the time and place, and environmental conditions, including the weather.
Components of ritual magic
As with Magick itself, a magical weapon is any instrument used to bring about intentional change. As Crowley writes, “Illustration: It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge. I therefore take “magical weapons”, pen, ink, and paper … The composition and distribution of this book is thus an act of Magick by which I cause Changes to take place in conformity with my Will.” With that said, in practice, magical weapons are usually specific, consecrated items used within ceremonial magic. There is no hard and fast rule for what is or isn’t a magical weapon—if a magician considers it such a weapon, then it is. However, there does exist a set of magical weapons that have particular uses and symbolic meanings. Common weapons include the dagger (or athame in neopagan parlance), sword, wand, holy oil, cup (or graal), disk (or pentacle), oil lamp, bell, and thurible (or censer).
A magical formula is generally a name, word, or series of letters whose meaning illustrates principles and degrees of understanding that are often difficult to relay using other forms of speech or writing. It is a concise means to communicate very abstract information through the medium of a word or phrase, usually regarding a process of spiritual or mystical change. Common formulae include INRI, IAO, ShT, AUMGN, NOX, and LVX.
These words often have no intrinsic meaning in and of themselves. However, when deconstructed, each individual letter may refer to some universal concept found in the system that the formula appears. Additionally, in grouping certain letters together one is able to display meaningful sequences that are considered to be of value to the spiritual system that utilizes them (e.g. spiritual hierarchies, historiographic data, psychological stages, etc.)
Vibration of god-names
In magical rituals involving the invocation of deities, a vocal technique called vibration is commonly used. This was a basic aspect of magical training for Crowley, who described it in “Liber O.” According to that text, vibration involves a physical set of steps, starting in a standing position, breathing in through the nose while imagining the name of the god entering with the breath, imagining that breath travelling through the entire body, stepping forward with the left foot while throwing the body forward with arms outstretched, visualizing the name rushing out when spoken, ending in an upright stance, with the right forefinger placed upon the lips. According to Crowley in “Liber O”, success in this technique is signaled by physical exhaustion and “though only by the student himself is it perceived, when he hears the name of the God vehemently roared forth, as if by the concourse of ten thousand thunders; and it should appear to him as if that Great Voice proceeded from the Universe, and not from himself.”
In general ritual practice, vibration can also refer to a technique of saying a god-name or a magical formula in a long, drawn-out fashion (i.e. with a full, deep breath) that employs the nasal passages, such that the sound feels and sounds “vibrated’. This is known as Galdering.