How I Came to Write Modern Magick
Years ago I was living in Encinitas, a beautiful, oceanside town north of San Diego, California. I was studying experimental music at UCSD and, on my own, studying Kabalah and magick. I was sharing a house with a man who was teaching Shiatsu (acupressure massage) and he let me attend his classes. After taking the series of classes several times he asked me to assist him. Then, one day before a class, he told me he had to be out of town and wanted me to teach the following week’s class. Although I had taught classes in how to perform magic tricks while I lived in Los Angeles, I didn’t think I knew enough to to teach a class in Shiatsu. He told me I did and just follow the notes I had taken. I agreed.
At the beginning of the class that night he announced I’d teach the class next week. Over the next few hours a few people came up and talked to him quietly. Before the class ended, he said the students had something to ask. One person said, “Instead of Shiatsu, we’d like you to teach us Kabalah next week.”
I was totally surprised for two reasons. First, I didn’t know that anyone knew I was studying the Kabalah. Second, from my studies I knew there was far more about the Kabalah that I didn’t know than what I did know. “But I only know this much about the Kabalah,” I said, holding my thumb and index finger an inch apart.
“We only know about this much,” the student replied, holding his thumb and index finger a fraction of an inch apart. I agreed to teach Kabalah.
The small class was successful, so I went to a nearby occult shop, Phoenix Phyre Books, and asked if they’d like a class on the Kabalah. They said they were looking for such a class and agreed to it on the spot. That single class expanded to a series, first to four classes, then six, and finally eight. These classes, which I taught many times, became the basis for Modern Magick.
Cover from Second Edition
But why did I turn them into a book? Well, after teaching the same course, saying the same thing, answering the same questions dozens of times, I became…bored. I had taught hundreds of people but only a dozen or two at a time. I thought I could reach far more people by turning the classes into a “distant learning” (AKA “mail order”) class. So I turned my classes into a series of 52 brief lessons. I re-wrote these into larger lessons for a person who offered to distribute my course. When his mail order school closed, I re-wrote everything again in a format for a book. That was the manuscript which was accepted and became the first edition ofÂ Modern Magick.
Cover from New Third Edition
Why I’m Sharing This
I was reminded of this by a blog I read, Gleamings from the Dawn by Morgan Drake Eckstein. In his post, he describes his experience in a Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn group. The first ritual people learn when becoming members is the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. That means it is taught more often and to more people within the Order than any other ritual. Eckstein writes:
Due to the neccessarity of it being taught to every new member (aka Neophyte), most of us have attended this lecture [on the ritual] a million times (ok, maybe it just feels like a million times). The only thing that I can imagine more boring than attending the lecture would be teaching it. You can see the eyes of the Praemonstrator [the Order officer charged with teaching the ritual] twitch as they think about having to do yet another round of teaching it.
The title of his post is “Trying to Make the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram Interesting.”
I completely understand this! Teaching the same thing repeatedly becomes boring. And when you’re bored, you don’t do your best job. That’s unfair to your students. I got around this issue by writing a book. Eckstein suggests that the “only solution” he has for teaching the same ritual repeatedly is to consider that you have different audiences and teach to them. I’m not so sure that would work for me (I think I’d still get bored teaching to the same thing even to two types of audiences), but if it is an effective solution for him, that’s great.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about.
In the study of magick, there are rituals that should be performed every day. Some are done more often. In your first year of practice, you might perform the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram as many as one thousand times! It’s easy to become bored. I’ve attended public and private rituals where people read sections. I don’t mind that, especially when rituals are long or you’re learning them. But some people who have read them hundreds of times still stumble over the words as if this were the first time they ever said them or read them with all the passion of a rotifer wandering around a petri dish.
As a result, the ritual suffers or is ineffective.
Two Possible Solutions
I think there are two basic ways to overcome this problem:
1) Familiarize yourself with the ritual. Memorize shorter rituals and read through longer rituals (ones where you need to read lines) enough times so you won’t stumble over words, you’ll know the meaning of every word, and you’ll even know where to take breaths.
2) Enflame yourself with prayer. This is a line taken from the book, The Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage. It has been adopted by many magicians, including myself. You should never perform any ritual perfunctorily. NEVER! Period. Full Stop. Every ritual you perform should be done with full passion and energy. It should be meaningful to you. It should be performed as if your world depended upon it. If you understand every aspect of your rituals and perform them with passion you will be successful.
A Caveat: Actors are A$$-hats. There are some people who are natural-born actors. Virtually every Order or Coven or Grove or Grotto has one or more. They can often be found at larger public rituals. And when it comes to magick, they are A$$-hats.
By “actors” I mean the people who exaggerate their actions, often looking like the archetypal silent movie actor, throwing their arms about and rolling their eyes. They over-enunciate every syllable of every word. They are acting as if they are in a poorly-staged melodrama for an unsophisticated, 19th century audience. The passion and flames of energy they present are not real. They are just bad acting. Often, they are so used to acting this way all the time they don’t even realize that their passion is an act. It’s fake. It’s unreal. I don’t appreciate it. I’m sure the gods don’t appreciate it, either.
True passion, the type of passion with which you should enflame every ritual without exception, comes from the heart, the soul, the spirit. It doesn’t have to include exaggerated acrobatics and rolled “r”s. If it comes from within and is real, it can be intense and subtle or loud and large. The important thing is that it should be real, not acting.
How do you make sure that you
always perform rituals in a way that is
filled with passion and that you
don’t become bored?