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The Philosophy and Practice of Magick

by Peter J. Carroll

Some general considerations on the philosophy and practice of magick now follow:

The effectiveness of magick depends heavily on the skill and subtlety of those performing
it, and on the careful choice of, and preparation for, a desired effect. In general, one should try
and bring about events which have a measurable probability of occurring by chance alone, and
one should not be too proud to do everything possible on the physical plane to help it occur.
Thus, magick should be something thrown in to tip the scales of chance in one's favour when all
possible physical action has been taken. By neglecting to maximize the probability on the
physical plane, one sets up an internal conflict, in which magick is expected to make up for poor
preparation. Thus, in divination, one should not shy away from first exhausting all mundane
sources of information that might be relevant, and in enchantment assist the spell both before and
after casting by all possible ordinary means.

The purpose of performing magick is not to test the efficacy of magick. If it is performed
in this spirit of challenge, the subconscious challenge for it to fail will be the only result which
manifests. Magick is to be performed to get results, and even if one at first achieves results only
a little better than chance, then it at least provides an edge which can be turned into a
considerable advantage if subtly employed.

One should always look for an avenue of reasonable probability through which chance
can be bent towards desire. For example, the probability of spontaneously materialising a
substantial fortune is rather low, and even doubling that probability by magick is unlikely to lead
to success. On the other hand, even a small advantage in gambling or business can produce a
decisive effect. Similarly, divination should be regarded as a means of distinguishing the correct
information from amongst those alternatives of which one is aware or able to imagine. In
magical acts of illumination, it is better to conjure initially for modest specific improvements, or
even arbitrary changes to oneself, rather than for ill defined or grandiose modifications.

Although the lore of magick is peppered with tales of really extreme and improbable
events, remember that even the best of the magi rarely pull off more than a dozen such events in
a lifetime. The aspiring magician should seek to work on the simpler schemes first, and to
immerse himself in the belief structures of magick, and the really great acts of power will
gradually begin to manifest in his work.

At any time in life, but most commonly in late youth, when we have the vague intuition
that there is something profoundly bizarre and inconsistent about life, the universe, and
everything, there may suddenly be a horrifying or ecstatic certainty that one's own self is illusory,
and that reality is also an illusion. One's carefully defended identity seems to be a pointless
pretence and an empty shell. The world becomes a cacophony of meaningless sensations. Most
people will reject this initiation, and manage to fill their lives and identities with sufficient
concerns until perhaps an awareness of mortality reminds them of it again. Those who do drink
the poison must seek stronger medicine or become sick or mad.

Rational materialism is the least powerful of the antidotes: little more than an assertion of
the reality of the ego, or self-image, and the reality of physical objects, yet it works for some, and
if they pursue it rigorously, they may become that much more effective in philosophy and
science for the serpent's kiss. However, it does impart a veiled destructiveness to these
endeavours. Religion and mysticism offer a different form of medicine. Transcendentalism is
the acceptance of the emptiness of self, and the unreality of phenomena, as symptoms of our
temporary estrangement from some greater fullness in reality, be it Nirvana, God, or
Enlightenment. Those with a particularly deep terror of extinction and nothingness become the
most passionately religious and mystical, precisely because that negation is always with them.
Finally, there are those brought close to death by the serpent's bite, and those who found in the
poison itself a source of freedom and laughter. These are the potential magicians.

Debilitating and depressing maladies with no obvious cause were recognized as the
shaman's sickness in the old hunter-gatherer societies. If the sufferer could rebuild his identity, or
spirits, and hence his bodily heath, with or without help from other shamans, then he could
become a shaman himself. In our own culture, there is too much symptom-suppressive
medicine, and there are too many subcultural identities available for this tradition to have

However, there are many who do become magicians after a struggle with illness,
typically asthma, or after the struggle with the temptations of suicide. For some candidates, the
serpent's bite is an ecstatic awakening, and they proceed directly to a purely magical answer
without suffering. If the self is an elaborate pretence, and the world is without a fixed meaning,
then one is free to be anybody and do anything. Such freedoms equip one well for the theatre or
espionage, or if one has a taste for tampering with the fabric of illusion itself, magick. After the
absurdity and eventual collapse of their empire and class system, the British have often only the
most tenuous grip on any kind of credible identity, and it is unsurprising that such a high
proportion of notable spies, actors, and magicians should emerge from that race.

Of course, there are many people who look to magick merely as a means of augmenting
their lifestyle, whilst retaining an essentially materialist or transcendental worldview. The
materialist who dabbles in the occult is usually looking for something transcendental. He never
finds it, because no proof or refutation of parapsychology really implies anything at all about the
existence or nonexistence of anything transcendental. Transcendentalists who dabble in magick
usually obtain results as spectacular as they are useless. Quite quickly, they are surrounded by
demons and spirits, powers and principalities, and notebooks full of outlandish visions and
communications. Soon they are alternating between excessive humility and megalomania.

Those who approach magick from a materialist or transcendental point of view may
succeed in getting a few magical effects, but only an acceptance of magick on its own terms is
likely to confer the persistence to actually become a magician. Thus, it is worth contrasting the
magical paradigm with the rational and transcendental paradigms to see how they might usefully
be untangled from each other. Although the paradigms are not mutually exclusive, they do not fit
comfortably together; yet, of all people, the magician is the least likely to feel that they should be
forced to fit, and the contemporary magician has most to profit from a working understanding of

The materialist, transcendental, and magical paradigms each recognize a different basis to
reality. The materialist universe consists of matter and energy in space and time. The
transcendentalist universe is created of spirit or consciousness. As there is no universally
accepted word for the underlying reality of the universe in magical terms, I shall borrow and
adapt the word "mana". All magical systems are explicitly or implicitly structured around the
recognition of mana in some guise or other. Mana cannot precisely be described in materialistic
or transcendental terms, but, as magical terms are rather limited in our culture, it is worth
attempting these descriptions.

Mana, in materialistic terms, is the information which structures matter, and which all
matter and thought is capable of emitting and receiving across space, and perhaps time. Mana, in
transcendental terms, is a sort of life force present to some degree in all beings, objects, and
events, and able to act between them. In magical terms, mana is the power which shapes
phenomena, and which phenomena emit to shape other phenomena. It is also knowledge, in the
sense that the shaping power imparts information.

Mana is not synonymous with consciousness in the transcendentalist sense.

Consciousness is no more than a word used to describe the sensation arising from mental
activity. Mana is analogous to spirit only to the extent that spirit is taken to imply communicated
information. Mana is not an attribute of matter. Rather, it is the other way around. Matter is the
way in which mana most commonly appears to us. The so-called scientific laws of the material
universe are an expression of mana. From a magical point of view, the laws of nature are
incomplete. Future events are not entirely determined in advance. Mana acts chaotically within
those arbitrary limits it has already invented. Thus, mana is creative and unpredictable in those
situations where there are insufficient mana conventions to determine what will happen, and this
includes everything more complex and clockwork; and it is here that magic, or mana projection,
can be used to force the hand of chance.

Divination must always be difficult or subject to large inaccuracies, because many

aspects of the future are indeterminate. The decision to develop one's psychic powers primarily
for enchantment, which is making things happen, rather than for divination is a large part of
actually becoming a magician.

At many points in its history, magick has been heavily contaminated with mystical and
religious beliefs. The term "chaos magic" is used to designate a philosophy of pure magick
unadulterated with transcendentalism. There are two basic principles underlying it, and these
give structure to the magician's identity. The first is that mana is spontaneously self-creative.
Mana creates itself in the manifestation of phenomena and events, and, having been created
arbitrarily, tends to stick to a pattern. Thus, the universe is arbitrary within arbitrary limits.
There are ultimately no reasons for the laws of the universe. They arise chaotically, and take on
the appearance of causality by repetition. Now, these arbitrary limits are less confining than most
people think. The sun will rise, and water will still run downhill tomorrow, but much of what
will happen is at this moment still undecided.

For the magician, the core of the microcosm and macrocosm doctrine is that man and the
universe are both based on the random chaotically creative powers of mana, and that both have
considerable power to exercise that freedom. Thus in the magical paradigm, there is no need to
debate free will versus determinism. Any sufficiently complicated system will exhibit some
random behaviour, and if we choose to identify with our random behaviour, and call it free will,
then we should be prepared to affirm that the weather, for example, also has a degree of free will.

All this soon leads the magician to the recognition that it is he who has effectively created
much of his own universe by investing or withdrawing meaning or belief in various parts of the
surrounding reality. This is likely to lead the magician, particularly the younger magician, into
some fairly extreme forms of behaviour, as he tests his mana against that of the arbitrary
conventions in the environment. A certain perversity, iconoclasm, and antinomianism is likely to
colour his extreme individualism. He is as likely to experimentally deify some ruffian fetish as
his is to desecrate what others hold sacred. To survive in this mode requires a considerable
lightness of touch. A huge sense of humour is all that stands between the magician and social
ostracism or madness. He would be the first to proclaim that when the possibilities of common
sense prove insufficient, one can often make nonsense deliver the goods.

The second core principle of magick is also subsumed within the microcosm and
macrocosm doctrine. Because mana penetrates everywhere, all parts reflect the whole; and the
magician is, at least potentially, in instantaneous two-way contact with all phenomena. In
practice, a magical link is required. The magician must possess some image or memory or a
connection to some material substance through which mana can operate. Mana operates between
phenomena of similar type. Transmitter and receiver must share common characteristics. Like
attracts like.

The magician aims to establish certain symmetries between the inner and outer
landscapes. Being aware that mana is playing a game with itself, and making up the rules,
prizes, and forfeits as it goes along, he decides that it would be more fun if he were to cheat a
little himself. To do this, he must first prepare his internal landscape. It is basically the great
variety of methods of preparing the internal landscape which accounts for the rich diversity of
magical identities and magical symbol systems.

The practice of visualisation is basic to them all, however. Visualisation should also be
understood to include intense ideation, sustained emotion, and other forms of mental focusing,
concentration, and imagination. It is a state bordering on hysteria in the clinical sense, where the
whole of the attention is directed toward some particular focus. It is usefully augmented by
various physiological practices, ranging from sensory deprivation to frenzied ecstasy, that are
collectively known as methods of attaining single pointed awareness, or gnosis.

The oldest magical systems, known as shamanism, populated the internal landscape with
the spirits of natural phenomena, diseases, plants, and particularly animals in an attempt to gain
control over these phenomena. Nowadays, a number of neoshamans practice identification with
animal form, not so much for hunting purposes, but as a gateway to gnosis in which to perform
other magics.

In religious periods, magicians have often filled their internal landscapes with angelic or
demonic images. Each entity would have some specific function in the world, and each wizard
would have a grimoire detailing the connections he had forged between the parts of his inner
landscape, conceptualized as entities, and the outer landscape, the world.

In their baroque symbolism, both the shaman and the goetic theurgic traditions reflect the
fact that it is considerably easier to handle the internal landscape if one fills it up with
spectacular and emotive artefacts. The continuing popularity of Satanism amongst agnostics is
testimony enough to this.

There is some reality to the tradition of demonic pacts. Whatever is accepted into the
internal landscape becomes part of you, and will grow if fed. There is always a danger that
design faults in an internal landscape lead to a progressive detachment from the external
landscape. Then he who would be a magician ends up merely as an internal landscape gardener,
or mystic, as he usually dignifies himself.

Modern Cabalah, in which I include the whole vast overblown edifice of correspondences
between archaic pantheons, metals, plants, stones, tarot, and astrology, can often be more of an
obstruction than an aid to magick. Those who attempt to use the system in its entirety tend to be
too preoccupied with patching incongruent maps to each other, and to their experience of the
outer landscape, to actually do much effective magick.

Partly as a reaction to such stultifying systematisation, and partly out of a desire to evolve
a pure magic, which is structuralist, eclectic, and free of transcendental contaminants, a freestyle
tradition is developing. The principles behind the freestyle, or Chaos tradition, are that there is
usually plenty of material already in one's internal landscape; that deficiencies can be made good
by blatant invention or theft of appealing symbols from any other system; and that all methods of
gnosis are interchangeable. Nothing is sacred, unless one finds it is useful to regard it as so.

The personal arcanum is a natural source for internal landscape material. Everyone will
find themselves richly endowed with fears, terrors, lusts, and desires if they look, and what better
material to manufacture gods and demons from is there? Past lives, explored, or even invented,
in trance, dream, or revelry, can also be a key to the worlds within us, as can work with atavisms,
the backward exploration of genetic memory to tap the powers of beasts.

To reestablish participation in natural phenomena, the magician may need to re-

mythologize his internal landscape. It is easier to call down lightning or quell a sea storm via
one's concept of Thor or Poseidon then it is by direct will alone. The reason for this, and indeed
for the oblique nature of most spells in general, is that our unconscious is far better at magick
than our conscious mind. Sigils, spell procedures, and entity visualisations keep the conscious
mind occupied with a complex tangential activity, while sending a simple message, insulated
from conscious interference, to the mighty subconscious. Some magicians find it expedient to
create fetishes and visualisations of machine entities for psychic interaction with computers or
complex and temperamental mechanical devices. The same principle applies to divination. The
conscious mind is deliberately preoccupied with manipulating a net of symbols in which
clairvoyant messages from the psychic subconscious can be caught.

The subconscious is a highly imprecise term drawn from materialist psychology. Nothing
is ever forgotten, but some things are more easily recalled than others. There is no serviceable
magical equivalent, because magicians never found such distinctions of this type useful.
Nevertheless, the doctrine of the subconscious is a useful way of reminding the rationalist that
there is more to him than his ego admits. As sunlight obscures the stars by day, so does
wakefulness obscure the fact that we are still dreaming.

Any serious exploration of the possibilities of the internal landscape should eventually
force the magician into the materialisation that he is more than a single being. The rational ego of
materialist psychologies, and the single soul, or God, of monotheist religions, are merely tricks
we have been taught to make us more predictable and controllable. The fact remains that when
one is angry, lustful, terrified, in love, or ten years older or younger than one is, one no longer is
who one is at present. The magician, who may at times experience himself as the horned god, a
bear, an empty void, a spirit medium, or a businessman, should come to realize that there is no
fundamental need for consistency. Once free of the illusion of self, he does not need to
rationalise his activities into a consistent ego pattern, or order them into a spiritual unity.

It must be said that many magicians, perhaps a majority, effectively abort their further
development by making a disastrous mistake here. During his career, a magician will accrete
various secondary identifications to match or balance his personality. Thus he may work in the
magus, teacher, light, charismatic mode, or the joker, initiator, dark, reclusive mode, or a mixture
of these. This will effect his tertiary identifications, which are basically the lifestyle and
symbolic system he chooses. The secondary and tertiary identifications are merely tools the
magician uses, and not, in themselves, of any danger to the magician.

A primary identification is made when the magician accepts some goal, or power, or ideal
as absolute and outside of himself. In technical terms, this mistake is known as discovering one's
holy guardian angel. The magician becomes a tool of his obsession. Beyond this point the
magician can make little progress. He has lost his fluidity, because he has filled or obscured the
creative magical chaotic void at the centre of his self with a partial and artificial conception. In
effect, he has simply become a transcendentalist or ideologue by a very roundabout route, even if
he still dabbles in magick.

But, for the true magician, nothing is true, and everything is permitted, which is to say
that all ultimate truths are lies, and that anything he does is justified simply by his doing it. By
accepting that he is a colonial being, the magician is able to unlock the world within. He whose
name is legion can do anything, and that is, of course, what the priests and politicians have
always been afraid of.