Two days ago was the Spring Equinox. The Sun was exactly overhead at noon. This solar influence has been so important on the history of humanity that it is celebrated in numerous cultures going back thousands of years. Zoroastrians call it Nowruz. Jews identified it with Pesach (Passover). Some Pagans associated it with the goddess Eostre and Christians adopted the name and timing for Easter. Some Pagans call it Ostara, Other pre-Christian names includeÂ Alban Eilir and Bacchanalia. Some refer to it as Lady Day and many consider it the start of the new year.
Billions of people have considered this time the end of the cold darkness of winter. Life is returning and plants begin to show leaves and animals begin to have new births. The darkness ends; the light begins. Warmth begins to fill us. It’s time to have a spring cleaning in the houseâ€”open the windows and get rid of the accumulated dust, dirt, and cobwebs of winter.
That goes for your physical home, your school or place of work, and your most personal and private house, your mind. It’s time for a change.
A Question I Frequently Receive
The particular wand in question is a molded hunk of plastic, so her response is that because it is “synthetic object,” in “some” cases it is “is not conducive to spellwork.” Â This immediately leads to my question, “How do you know which magick it’s not appropriate for?” Her solution: “â€¦give it a whirl and see how it works out for you.”
I think I may know how Patti feels. When I started teach b.i. (Before the Internet), I would receive (snail) mail with questions like this all the time. Today such mail has trickled down to almost nothing. Instead, I receive similar questions via email.
Can I use this wand?
Can I change the ritual this way?
Can I use a paper cup instead of a chalice?
Can I incorporate this exercise?
Can I use this color scheme?
Can I hold the dagger this way?
Can I use a different divination system?
Is it okay to use this Tarot deck?
All of these questions are asked honestly. Most often, they’re asked by someone relatively new to magick. I understand. For the past few months I’ve become an acquisitions editor for Llewellyn* and one of my responsibilities is entering information about new manuscripts into Llewellyn’s computers. I still feel insecure about it because I’ve only done it three times and I ask questions to find out if I’m doing it right.
But there’s a slight difference, here. I make the entry and ask if I’ve done everything correctly. I try, then ask for feedback. The people who ask the questions above, like the people who asked the same type of question to Patti Wigington, hadn’t tried anything. They wanted approval first. Part of this is natural, neophyte insecurity. But there is also an implied idea that the techniques of magick are more of a religion than a science. They are written in stone, never to be changed, and people with a little experience, such as myself, or those with far greater experience and fame, such as Israel Regardie or MacGregor Mathers or Aleister Crowley are magick’s interpreter/priests who, like astral Popes, can give authority to use a plastic wand or paper cup. I have to let you know the following:
â€˘ We can’t give you the authority to use a non-standard magickal tool.
â€˘Â We aren’t interpreter/priests.
â€˘ The rules of magick are not written in stone.
â€˘ Magick is not a religion.
Â Magick is a Science
One of the descriptions of magick is that it is an art and a science. This is often interpreted to mean that people can have innate magickal skills, like a natural-born artist, and magick can be a learned skill, much as being a chemist is a learned skill. But there is another aspect of science that is important, perhaps best exemplified by this quote from the late astronomer Carl Sagan:
In Science it often happens that scientists say, â€śYou know, thatâ€™s a really good argument. My position is mistaken,â€ť and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesnâ€™t happen as often as it should because scientists are human, and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.
The implication here is that science is not written in stone. Ideas about scientific concepts change. How do such concepts change? Because experimentation leads to new conclusions. So because I contend that magick is scientific, the response I give to the questions above is usually, “Try it. If it works, use it. If it doesn’t work, try something else.”
I have been criticized for this scientific approach to magick. If my approach is accurate, a few people say, then all of the books and traditions of magick are meaningless. You just do whatever you like and if it works, you use it. So why have any books at all?
To those who criticize this approach, calm your jets! There’s a powerful reason to study and practice what’s in various traditions and use the traditional methods: they’ve been tested over time and, for thousands of people, they work. Most people who diligently use them will have success. Some will not. If, after diligent practice you still aren’t succeeding, it’s important to try something else.
That’s the way science works. Prescription drugs have saved hundreds of millions of lives. Some drugs, however, only work on a small majority of people. That means for many people a particular drug is ineffective. Doctors don’t keep prescribing the same drug thinking that it will eventually work (well, effective doctors don’t do this). Instead, they look to alternative drugs and treatments.
Similarly, the magick that is taught in those books that have stood the test of time and the classic systems shared by teachers** are effective for most people. But if they don’t work for you, try something else. If you have access to something other than what is in the book or shared by a teacher, try it. If it works, use it. If it doesn’t work, go back to the tradition.
My saying that people should try alternatives and see if they work does not mean to abandon what others have done before. Rather, it means we should learn the science and help develop it further.
Treat Magick Like a Science
I think all magicians go through periods where they wonder, “Can I alter a ritual this way?” or “Can I use this very non-traditional tool?” As we enter a new spring season and clear out the cob webs, I would encourage you to think as a magickal scientist.
What if there were no books?
What if there were no interpreters of supposed rules?
What would you do?
Try the changes. Try the different tools. Keep records. See my previous post on this. If new things work, use them. If they don’t work or aren’t as effective as you’d like, go back to the tradition. This is the way to become a magician/scientist. This is the way magick will advance.
Happy Vernal Equinox
*I’m now an acquisition editor forÂ Magic(k) and Occult Topics. Do you have manuscript or idea for a book? Email me: DonK@llewellyn.com
**Some teachers create unique systems that work for them but may not work for many others. Unfortunately, some of those teachers don’t understand this, instead presenting their system as the real, previously secret, most powerful, etc., etc., system of magick while they denounce all others. They make the mistake of assuming that the specific (that their system works for them) can move over to the general (this system should, therefore, work for everyone) without any evidence to support this. Even worse, because some of them can’t stand the idea that their system is not the only system of magick that works, they may attack what others do. This may lead to ego inflation, instigating us vs. them fights, and the accumulation of a small, personality cult following.