In western ceremonial magick, there is often a tendency to view a magickal operation as something that is at odds with the natural order of the universe. This is very much the core of the western mindset, where nature is something external to oneself to be "conquered." Human individuality and the Will of the magician are thought to be somehow separate and unique, a special aberration that sets us apart from nature and can be strengthened and empowered to such an extent that the individual consciousness can rage across the empyrean of reality, conquering realms both subtle and terrestrial. Colonialism and imperialism even in the realms of the astral are often the underlying mindset of the ceremonial magician, although it is not acknowledged as such.
The special robe, the implements, the prayers and orations and invocations, the setting of the space with banishing rituals…all of this and more has the effect of isolating the individual from the rest of the universe, in an attempt to prepare a sacred space from which the magician, through invocations and conjurations, has now become an individual God that will then "penetrate" reality or pull down the fire from heaven, as in the Promethean myth, working their Will upon nature. "Through the magickal path I have used my Will and Weapons to overcome the elements, carve out a section of the astral plane, conquered the very throne of the Gods and given commands to create anew as the Lord of the Universe itself!" Fiat Lux indeed!
In this mindset, the magician, through elaborate rituals and long orations, sets themselves up as a point of individual Will against the entire manifest universe. "Nature unaided, fails" is one of the mottos of the western hermetic traditions, implying that the entire course of nature is in some way blind, idiotic almost, and the solitary magician stands alone as able to resist this relentless ignorant flow of nature. The magician is to, in some way, stand isolated from the very universe that gave birth to them, and conquer it forcefully, bending it to the personal will. The great traditions of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and even more so the work of Aleister Crowley have emphasized this importance on the individual Will and the ability to overcome nature and, "storm the gates of Heaven by force." Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Whose Will is it, anyway?
We see this approach underlying the western magickal path in most of its phases. The grimoires of the middle ages are filled with this type of duality, although the emphasis may not be so much on individual Will but on asking God to fulfill such requests as may be given in prayer and evocation, to "confine" and "bind" different spirits and intelligences for the bidding of the magician. For a time, the magician sets themselves up against the natural order in order to "rise above" and control it for their own purposes. The magickal circle carves out a special region of space and time that is apart from the rest of the world; the banishings help to remove negative influences that are contrary to the desired goal of the ritual; the invocations and evocations further enhance the sense of self identity and set up the dualistic vision of light and darkness, subject and object.
This is very much a western mindset, where the individual is somehow at odds with the universe, and must continuously advance and conquer it in some heroic way. There is certainly some benefit to aspects of this approach; look at the improvements in science, industry, commerce. Civilization has pushed forward remarkably; technology has made incredible leaps forward; science has opened up our understanding of the universe and nature in ways undreamt of just a few years ago. Still, something is missing. With all of this rapid growth in intellectual and rational sciences, with every seeming new conquest of nature, it is as though humanity becomes more cut off from some part of themselves. The disconnect from the natural world, from the elements, from the present moment, grows and deepens, underlying every new seeming progress forward.
Could it be that the western approach, as it is so focused on the individual and the emphasis on the apparent differentiation between self and other, is missing something so integral to the very fabric of reality as to make it almost comical, if it were not for endless cycles of delusion and harm to the natural world it engendered? How is it that humanity has managed to get so lost while seemingly convincing itself of its great advancements and intellectual pride? In particular, why are so many western magicians so seemingly at odds with every aspect of the natural world and daily life that they appear impotent? Why does a God incarnate have so many health and financial problems? Why do they appear so sad and pathetic when compared to, for example, a single leaf that has fallen from a tree? Looking up into the night sky, at the vast expanse of stars, how can one really think they are somehow separate? Or is it that our advanced technological society has polluted the air with both streetlights and noxious chemicals such that we cannot even see the stars? Out of sight, out of mind. We conquered nature such that we do not have to acknowledge its very existence. Who needs to actually look into the stars, when I can open an app on my smart phone and see what constellations are above me? "Nature, unaided fails?"
The western magickal approach, with its emphasis on the separate individual and its desire to bind and control nature, has lost something. How many western adepts actually spend time in contemplation? Even those few magicians that try to meditate will usually see it as a courageous effort to "control the mind" and "bind it" to their Will. What is the individual, anyway? And what is the Will? How is it separate from the universe? What makes you, god incarnate with your vast and mighty titles and grades in grandiose magical orders, able to separate yourself from the very reality of which you are made up? "Didn't win the lotto again, eh? Back to that 9-5 in the morning, but when I get home I'm going to put on my robes and transform from my daily mundane self into a super hero again, and this time I'm sure to win! It's my Will!"
This separation of self is part of the game, and everyone is playing it. The rules are all assumed and change as our "understanding" changes, like a house of mirrors. This is the alluring perfumed form of maya, that Great Goddess that plays hide and seek endlessly throughout every aspect of reality. The very thought that you can find reality is part of the game; you are inside of it; you are it already, only it is not the you that you commonly think is you. Almost saw a glimpse of her? Just another reflection in the leaves of that tree outside, or the clouds passing by…or that television show I'm blankly watching. And by the way, who are you again?
Rather than gear up again for another conquest, another battle to beat nature, why not spend some time getting acquainted? Could it be that what I truly am is not so much separate and distinct, some unique and isolated point of light in the darkness of the natural world, in danger of becoming blotted out by that blind, idiotic force of nature that is always trying to annihilate me, but rather very much the same thing as the universe itself?
Outside of my experience of the Universe, what is there? Where am I right now, right this very instant? Am I awake? Am I dreaming? What is the difference? How am I different from the Universe? What makes me different from Nature? What would happen if you took a moment to just stop and observe?
The next time you are robed and armed with the magickal weapons of the ceremonial magician, and are about to banish the elements, pause. Become aware of the earth underneath your feat, the weight of your body that connects you to all the rocks, soil, earth, minerals, and mountains of the earth. Feel the water inside of your body, and become aware of all of the lakes, rivers, storms, moisture on and in plants, the snow-capped mountains, the vast deep oceans; feel this in the base of your spine. In your stomach, become aware of the fire of digestion and the life force pumping through your veins, resonating with all of the fire of the stars and cores of this and every other planet, the electrical lightning of storms, electricity in all of its manifestations, fire burning through forests, and light itself. In your heart become aware of the feeling of the atmosphere, the winds, torrential hurricanes, gentle breezes, your breath as it flows in and out, the element of air in all of its manifestations. Open up your consciousness to the present moment, allowing yourself to be present to all of space, the vastness of consciousness, the deep space between stars and objects, the space between thoughts themselves, the space between one breath and the next.
You can acknowledge each of the elements as your awareness expands to encompass them. For the solidity of the earth, a single vibration of the bija mantra LAM, seeing a yellow square at the base of the spine. Moving awareness to water, visualize a silver crescent at the genitals and vibrate VAM. Coming up to the stomach, feel the warmth of the fire while seeing a red triangle and intoning RAM. Move up to the center of your chest, the heart, and visualize a blue circle while vibrating YAM as the winds and atmosphere of the planet are awakened. As awareness moves to your forehead, see a radiant black oval, as dark and vibrant as the deepest night sky as consciousness opens up, completely expansive as the sky, as space itself. Seal this by vibrating HAM.
With all of the elements awakened and acknowledged, both "inside" and "outside," you can then circulate them throughout consciousness, feeling the nurturing ground and strength, the undulating waves, cleansing rainfall and flowing rivers, the empowering, scorching flames and warmth of the sun, the refreshing and invigorating power of the winds and breath, the vast openness and limitless nature of space itself. All of this is present eternally now, in the only moment of space and time that there is, the present immediate moment.
With every breath, inhale the cool watery starlight, feeling a blue flame ascend up your spine. With each exhalation, relax into the feeling of a warm, honey-like nectar of red stellar flame slowly dripping down your spine. Become aware of your entire consciousness breathing, pulsating, throbbing in unison with all of nature and the elements; feel the pulsing heartbeat of the universe itself flowing through you. Move awareness to the crown of your head, and vibrate OM. Be present in the moment, experiencing the entirety of the universe in naked awareness, beyond all conceptual and temporal limits.
Resting in this awareness, you can relax into the present moment, free of conditions. There is no past no present and no future—there is only the immediate awareness. Feel how awake you are with every breath, each movement of blood circulating through your body. All of nature is alive and radiating in harmony with your self.
A passage from the Yoginihrdaya1 describes this natural condition as the very essence of the Great Goddess Herself:
The supreme reality (paraman mahat, mahatattva, or mahasatta, the "Great Being") is described as transcendent, undivided (niskala), transcending space and time, pure light (prakasa), and consciousness (samvit). It is also the phoneme A, the "unsurpassed" or "peerless one" (anuttara). This absolute flashes forth, vibrates luminously (sphuratta, ullasa). It expands as a luminous wave (sphuradurmi) by its own free will (svecchaya) and manifests the whole cosmos made up of the thirty-six tattvas, from Siva to the earth. This universe, manifested as if by play (lila), is pervaded by the divine power or energy; everything, from the gods to this earthly world, is in fact the Goddess herself, supreme splendor (param tejas), "surrounded by the sparkling waves of her multitudinous energies." Of this manifestation, the Goddess is luminously conscious (prakasamarsana), as it unfolds "on the screen of her own self" (atmabhittau). She vibrates (spandarupini), being immersed in bliss (ananda). Although transcendent (visvottirna), the Goddess as supreme power (paramasakti) is also immanent, "made of the world" (visvamaya), that is, embodied in everything that exists. This cosmos is her manifested form, but although she is shining, "Flame of the essence of divine play" (divyakrid rasojjvala), as the absolute, she is ever pure, undivided light and bliss.
From the standpoint of awareness, the so-called individual and the True Will is identical with the Self and Will of the Goddess. There is no difference. Her nature is Bliss (ananda) and she is beyond all conditions, the source and essence of all manifest and unmanifest. Consciousness itself is luminous and void, the body of this Great Goddess.
This Radiant Goddess of the Void, of reality itself, is not empty in the sense generally thought of when we try to conceptualize infinite space or voidness. The void, sunyata, is an attempt to use language to identify something that is beyond comprehension. It cannot be described, so we resort to language to speak "around" the essence, as though the words are the matter collected around the event horizon of a black hole, forever falling into the singularity at the heart of reality yet never quite finishing the journey, as the journey is beyond conception; in fact, there is no journey. It is experiential, where the natural condition of awareness is beyond subject and object. Even calling reality void is conceptual, an attempt to convey something that is just beyond the ability of language.
This immediate presence of awareness must not be confused with nihilism. What is not described is that which is indescribable; the void and everything discussed about it is to show what it is not. The void contains everything: all potential, all times, all dimensions, all of manifestation. The present moment is eternally now; this is infinity, beyond all conceptions and limitations. Conceived of as the Great Goddess in all Her forms, her lila is the cosmic play that spins the web of maya, keeping us enthralled and entranced.
As that great sage of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi, had said when quoting the Crest Jewel of Discernment:
There is neither creation nor destruction,
Neither destiny nor free will,
Neither path nor achievement;
This is the final truth.
Wherever you may find yourself, in any circumstance, you have an opportunity to simply be awake and aware. It is not necessary to reserve a certain time for "waking up." Instead of limiting your practice times to a temple room and robes, try observing your natural condition in any circumstance. You do not have to try to change anything, or think "magickal thoughts" to be on a path. You are alive now, conscious and awake. Be awake and aware. Observe your natural condition, without judgment or the need to change or struggle against anything. Unconditioned and uncontrived, you already are very much the center of the universe, and your individuality is the experience of the universe of itself.
1The Heart of the Yogini (Yoginihrdiya), translated by Andre Padoux and Roger-Orphe Jeanty. Oxford University Press, 2013.