I have been involved in the practice of magic for over twenty years. When I first started I was surprised by the number of magical systems that are available. It seemed that every Wiccan coven or group and every ceremonial magic group had their own system. And then there were the books that had other techniques, too.
übersystem, that would explain how all magic works. After about six months of study with this focus in mind, I thought that I could come up with such a system. Those who were teaching me, as well as some of the books I read, advised caution and suggested that I learn one system first. I didn't, of course, and ended up alienating people and feeling superior to them when I should have kept them as friends and mentors.
That phase of my magical career lasted for seven long years. I finally realized that my determination to stay on this path in spite of my failures (see below) was based on my ego and not on my higher self. I came to terms with that egotism and realized the error I had made. I started to correct my mistakes, mending fences and studying one system until I really knew it deeply, practically, and even intuitively (practice has that result). Then, and only then, did I start to explore other systems. Most of the people I had alienated forgave me—probably because they had seen it before—and freely offered me advice, information, and guidance. I now can appreciate their wisdom.
More than that, I had floundered for years. I took a little from this magical system, a little from that magical system and had a mishmash which logically sounded good but was ineffective on a practical level. By going back to the beginning and studying one system thoroughly, my magic started to come alive. As I relearned magic, I started to see the real links and differences between systems. I now laugh, embarrassed, at my earlier misunderstandings of magic. I had thought my combinations were logical but see how, due to my ignorance, they were actually quite illogical. Now I can add things from different systems when and where they are truly appropriate.
Teaching a Pig the Nature of Magic
With my current understanding of magic, I realized my major error in the mixing was looking for an übersystem. As a result of my investigation I can say that I have not found such an ultimate system and the it is quite likely no such system exists. In retrospect, trying to create such a system was a colossal waste of energy. I thought that it was like the old joke about trying to teach a pig to sing: it wastes your time and annoys the pig.
I realize that journals are the place for serious discussion and not for bad jokes like the above. But the joke, as you will see, was key to what I discovered. Specifically, it led me to consider a simple question: "What was the music?"
If the übersystem I had sought was the singing of a song, what was the nature of the music? I thought about this for some time. I realized if many different systems are like singing various songs, there must be music for each song. Now my search had a new direction: discovering the nature of the music. But I did not find the direction to my journey in this question because I kept thinking in terms of sheet music—notes on a page of paper.
The notes of such songs are merely indicators of pitches, duration of tone, quality of tone, and instruments. But they are not the music. They are only a map of the music. It is up to the musician to interpret the notes and approximate what is written. I felt that there must be something beyond the written notes. And this led me to Plato.
The famous philosopher Plato (427? – 347 b.c.e.) is the father of Western philosophy. Alfred North Whitehead, in his book Process and Reality (Free Press, 1969), writes that, "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." (p. 53)
One of Plato's famous concepts is that of Forms (we might refer to them as archetypes today, albeit not in the Jungian sense). According to Plato, the shape of something we see, or the substance of which an object is made, is not its essence. Nor is the color, texture, or any other physical aspect of an object. However, it is through an object's form that we know its essence.
Plato's philosophy continues by saying that this essence, or ultimate Form, was absolutely perfect and didn't exist in time or space. The manifestation of that Form does exist in our space-time continuum and we can use our senses to grasp it. For example, we can see one or more apples, which are spatial, temporal, and imperfect, but we cannot see the Form "apple," which is flawless and exists outside of time and space.
In my Platonic musings, I started to conceive of a theory that there is a magical Form that is pure, flawless, and free from the restraints of time and space. The only thing I could conceive of in this aspect was not a thing per se, but a potential, a capability of doing work. And the one thing that is the potential for work and does not obey normal (Newtonian) physics of time and space, but instead follows the seemingly bizarre set of rules explained by quantum physics, is the Form which can be called magic energy.
Energy is simply the capacity to do work. It is not a "thing" that we can detect through our regular senses. Although it works through our time and space, and has effects that our physical senses can detect, energy on a micro level can instantly travel great distances and even go back in time. So although I could not find an übersystem of magic, perhaps there is an universal energy of magic and each magical system allows its practitioners to manipulate that Form.
Now my question changed to, "What is the nature of the Form called 'magic energy?'" This was a real puzzler to me. I could identify when it was in a magic system. I could work with it. But I didn't know its actual nature. (Note: This, of course, assumes that magic—willed change using means not currently identifiable by Western science—actually manifests external to the practitioner and is not simply a "change in consciousness" as some people theorize.)
As I continued to consider this problem, my study of various styles of magic continued. Although I am involved with several groups, most of my study and practice is left up to me. While in a bookstore recently, one title caught my eye, Write Your Own Magic by Richard Webster. As I read through it I saw that there were several systems of magic described in its pages. Yet, because they all captured the essence of magic, I was easily able to identify the Form of magical energy which the systems addressed.
Webster reveals that "words hold enormous power." He illustrates this with words such as "love, hate, betrayal, revenge," and the expression "I love you." (p. 3). Certainly, one of the great traditions of magic is the performance of "spells," which literally "spell out" the desired magic. Webster gives this example of using words for magic:
"If...your goal is to become rich, there are several questions that you can ask yourself. Just how rich do you want to be? Write down the specific amount of money you want to have. What will you do to make this amount of money? Is this something that you will enjoy doing? It is not easy to make money, and you will find it extremely hard to make a great deal of money doing something that you hate. How long will it take you to make this amount of money? How will your life be different once you have this amount of money? Will making this amount of money make you happy? What will you do once you have this money? Writing down the answers to these, and any other questions that occur to you, will help you clarify your thoughts..."
"It is important to write down the answers to all these questions. Once you have recorded them in your notebook you can then rewrite the main points as a goal. Someone who wants to become rich, for instance, might end up with the following goal: 'I intend to make one million dollars by owning and operating my own pizza restaurant. I intend to create my own distinctive recipes to make my pizzas different—and better—than anything else on the market. I will do this in the next ten years. Once I have made one million dollars, I will buy my dream home on the east side and be able to devote at least a third of my time to helping people less fortunate than myself. Signed, John Smith.'" (p. 54-55)
The author then goes on to describe ways to send this information out to the universe. He gives instructions on how to prepare for magical workings (a good introduction if you're new to magic), including how to meditate and use mantras. Next come methods of presenting your Will to the universe. Included are burning the paper on which your desire is written, writing your request on the sides of a candle and burning the candle, and even using vanishing ink.
I started thinking about this. The ultimate system presented here was very natural: working with words. Yet, there were different methods you could use within the same system. The book includes information on other such technologies, including color magic, working with stones, talismans, and other techniques, but what I want to focus on here is the concept that I realized because of this book.
One Magical Energy Form, Many Magic System Forms
I have now come to believe—as the result of both my studies and personal experience—that the reason we recognize something as being magical is because we recognize that whatever system is being used taps into the Form known as magic energy. If it doesn't tap into that Form, it's not magic.
To this day, I cannot define, limit, compartmentalize, or directly measure the magic energy Form. But I can use different magical systems to tap into that Form. Whether it is high magic or low, Enochian, Chaos, natural or ceremonial magic, techniques from any culture, talismans, amulets, spells, healing, general helping, or any other kind of magical technology, I can easily tell if it has the potential to work and produce results. Does it tap into and partake of the essence of the magic energy Form? If not, it isn't magic.
Once I understood this, my direction of magical studies changed. I no longer seek to know the inner workings of the magic energy Form any more than I seek to know how a photocopier works. All I care about is that it makes good copies. Likewise, my search now is to find the most effective ways, the most productive technologies of doing magic that works for me. This means whatever system or practice I choose and use, it must link to the magic energy Form. I do this with all of the systems of magic I practice.
It is therefore my conclusion that any system of magic can work if it links to the magic energy Form. If it does, chances are that success will result. With this understanding, you can apply any techniques—such as the ones in Write Your Own Magic, which not only give a variety of magical methods, but also the practices to become aware of and link to that Form—with positive results.
Editor's Note:All quotes used by permission. Teresa "Tera" O'Connell is the pseudonym of a well-known financial planner. She wishes to keep her mundane life separate from her magical life.