For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.
—The Book of the Law, Chapter I, Verse 44
Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.
—Dan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior
Dr. Walsh: So, the Slayer.
Buffy: Yeah, that’s me.
Dr. Walsh: We thought you were a myth.
Buffy: Well, you were myth-taken.
—Buffy the Vampire Slayer, episode entitled “A New Man”
An absolutely phenomenal number of books, bloggers, writers, speakers, and teachers tell us it is important to strengthen our wills. If there is something lacking in our lives, it is because our wills aren’t strong enough to drive us to obtain it. When we do achieve something, it is because we have somehow made our wills strong enough to make us do what was necessary to obtain it. We are told to strengthen our willpower, find our True Wills, and we’ll live completely fulfilled, successful, and happy lives.
After decades of studying, learning, practicing, and teaching occult techniques, I’ve come to a conclusion that is outside the box, a box in which we find most occultists (including, formerly, me), mystics, and people following a spiritual path.
The idea that strengthening the will is important to create a successful, superior person is not a presupposition limited to occult philosophy and practice. It has had an enormous impact on Western civilization and is found in numerous traditions of Western philosophy, going back at least to the time of the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta, over 2,500 years ago.
I remember a story from Plutarch about some young men in ancient Sparta where supposedly stealing was okay, but getting caught would result in punishment. One of the young men had gone out at night and stolen a fox. In the way I was told the story, he brought it back, but the camp was roused and all the young men were forced to stand in line in order to reveal who had left. Giving up the rule-breaker would have been seen as a weakness, so none did. Plutarch, in The Life of Lycurgus, wrote, “The boys make such a serious matter of their stealing, that one of them, as the story goes, who was carrying concealed under his cloak a young fox which he had stolen, suffered the animal to tear out his bowels with its teeth and claws, and died rather than have his theft detected.” He said nothing as the wild animal clawed at him. He was honored for not shouting out from the pain. What willpower!
Well, I don’t believe the story. Why was somebody keeping a fox in the first place? Why did this unknown person keep the fox in such a poor way that nobody noticed when it was stolen? In fact, why would anyone bother to steal a fox? That seems like an incredibly stupid thing to steal. And really, as the fox was tearing into the boy’s guts, did nobody notice the pools of blood forming at the boy’s feet? The story is highly unlikely, and I would contend it was actually a myth stressing a belief in the importance of willpower. That myth has become part of the Western psyche. We don’t question it, we just accept it as a truism. “Everyone knows that if you want to improve yourself, you have to improve your willpower!” It’s a powerful and enduring myth.
And, as Buffy said, we are “myth-taken.”
The Real Power of Magick
The myth of the power of the will is so grossly overstated and believed in that we should all (yes, I’m including myself,) be embarrassed. Let’s step out of our tiny boxes and presuppositions and forget that “willpower is all important” is a truism that must be accepted. If, for a moment, we just assume that the will isn’t the most important tool of the magician, what is? Where does the human aspect of the deepest power of magick really come from?
You’ve probably heard of the following scenario many times. A person standing in front of a refrigerator. “I shouldn’t have another piece of pie. I should have the willpower to say, ‘No!’ to the pie. But a part of me wants it so badly…”
And you probably also know that most of the time, that piece of pie (or ice cream, or the purchase of some gadget, etc.) wins out. But why? Is it because our wills are weak, or because there is something far stronger? And if there is something that is part of us that is so much stronger than the will, shouldn’t we harness that and apply it to magick? If this power is real, what could it be? The answer comes from one of the greatest minds that ever lived:
I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
Our pie eater, while standing in front of the refrigerator, is imagining what it’s like to eat that pie. The person is imagining how it will taste, the satisfaction and the pleasure of eating it. As Einstein also said, “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” In a battle between the will and the imagination, the imagination always wins. It is naturally far more powerful than the will.
“Always” is a strong claim. Aren’t there many people who will imagine the pleasure of eating the pie and use their willpower to not eat it?
It’s true that many people won’t eat the pie, but that’s because their imaginations are considering something else, such as how they’ll feel not gaining weight, knowing they’re in control of their desires, etc. That image becomes stronger than the image of immediate gratification. The imagination always wins. Stronger or more important imagined images overpower weaker ones.
At this point you may be thinking, “Okay, so why don’t we make our wills even stronger than the imagination? Couldn’t that be seen as a goal of magickal training?” Perhaps. But let’s look at a quote from another person, the artist Pablo Picasso. He said, “Everything you can imagine is real.”
And that is the key. Imagination isn’t just “make-believe.” Real imagination is the process of allowing the mind to create and then make manifest anything we desire. Visualization is the use of the imagination. Designing magickal rituals uses the imagination. Seeing pentagrams and archangels while performing rites such as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram involves using the imagination.
The will is a slave to the imagination.
Imagination is the key to the power of magick.
Learning to control the imagination
—without limiting it—
gives us ultimate control of the will.
If we abandon the futile quest to master and empower the will, and instead see if we can discover ways to master and empower the imagination, we can immediately be struck by this regression: to control the will, we must control the imagination. One thing leads to another. This, however, leads us to wonder, does this regression go back even further? Is there something else we can seek to control that will give us control over the imagination?
Escaping the Box
The clarity is devastating. But where is the ambiguity? It’s over there in a box.
—John Cleese as an art critic in Monty Python’s Flying Circus
The philosophical movement known as The Enlightenment was a driving force that helped the Western world finally climb out of the pit known as the Dark Ages. One of its primary concepts is that only the physical world is real. This allowed for more advances in science than perhaps any other development in human history. But it also created a box. Everything (including ambiguity) must fit in the box. If something doesn’t fit into our materialistic box we need to denounce it and not believe it. Debunkers and pseudo-skeptics love this box and go one step further, they don’t want others to believe there can be anything outside of the box, either.
The problem with this is that by their very nature, boxes have boundaries and are limiting. Neuroscientists can show images of the brain’s neurons firing when we have an imaginative thought, but they cannot show us the imagination any more than they can show love or patriotism. The imagination, then, doesn’t fit into the box of the debunkers. So if the imagination isn’t part of the brain, where is it? And if it is part of something else, does that something else control the imagination? And if it controls the imagination we need to learn to control that aspect of ourselves in order to be masters of the imagination and of the will.
Help! My Brain is Splitting!
According to a recent study, the concept of people being left-brained or right-brained isn’t backed by facts. Oh, it is true that different people have different sets of qualities, it’s just that they’re not linked to one or the other side of the brain. Sorry, this is another myth busted. Or is it?
If we stop looking at the concept of left-brained/right-brained as a physiological fact and instead approach it as a paradigm for understanding how people function, it still makes perfect sense. It’s a model or a map that allows us to understand how people function. That’s all.
Often, people equate the mind with the physical brain. However, they are two different things. For proof of this, time and again people who are declared dead (i.e., no breathing and no brain functioning) are restored to life, not just after a few moments but often after long periods. I like to consider the brain as simply being the physical manifestation of the non-physical mind.
The brain is unitary. It is only looked at as being divided by hemispheres to better understand how people function. Similarly, the mind is unitary, although we have a model where we divide the mind into two parts, the conscious and the unconscious or subconscious. The conscious part of our mind deals with aspects on the lower astral and physical planes. The unconscious deals with the higher levels of the astral plane.
In a previous post I explained how what we create on the astral plane must manifest on the physical plane. In a following post I showed how this can actually prevent our desired magickal results from occurring. Therefore,
The will is associated with the conscious.
The imagination is associated with the unconscious.
So the key to improving and controlling the imagination, which in turn controls the will, guiding it to do our bidding, is to control the unconscious mind. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done! There is a barrier between the conscious and unconscious (remember, this is just a model to help in understanding) called the “critical factor” that prevents us from reaching the unconscious with instructions. It logically critiques everything that comes through the senses and conscious. If you want to create health, an education, a new car, etc., its programming which, for example, may say, “it cannot be done,” can prevent the message from getting into the unconscious and the imagination. Somehow, we need to be able to get around the critical factor.
There are several ways to do this.
- Conscious repetition of desires in the form of positive affirmations can accomplish this, but it can take a long time. Most people give up before the repetition can have its effects.
- One of the aspects of magickal rituals that is frequently overlooked is that the most powerful rites are not merely ritual drama. Rather, they affect participants so deeply they achieve altered states of consciousness during the ritual. The combination of an effective ritual’s powerful symbolism bypassing the critical factor during this ASC means the ritual can directly affect the unconscious, resulting in triggering the imagination and bringing about manifestation.
- Although certain psychoactive drugs, especially when taken during shamanic or ritual work, can also result in an ASC, the challenge is that quality and dosage can vary wildly, making a formula (take X amount of drug Y) to get a consistent result questionable at best, not to mention that in many instances possession of such substances is illegal.
- And speaking of shamanism, there are a variety of shamanic techniques—chant, dance, fasting, isolation, endurance of pain/hardships, etc.— that can aid a practitioner in achieving an altered state wherein the unconscious can be directly accessed, however it is common to allow the shamanic journey to follow its own path, and while that may result in a wide variety of benefits to the practitioner, they may not be the intended benefits.
There are probably several other systems that can assist you in this, but there are two more I specifically want to mention. Hypnosis allows you to bypass the critical factor, but hypnosis and self-hypnosis are skills, and skills take time to understand, practice, and master. Many people feel that by just relaxing they are going into hypnosis. While relaxation often accompanies hypnosis, and can be used as a lead-in to hypnosis, hypnosis is not merely a form of deep relaxation. In fact, relaxation is not even necessary for hypnosis. But because many people don’t understand this, they think they’re hypnotized when they are merely relaxed. Relaxation, by itself, won’t allow you to bypass the critical factor or access the unconscious. As a result, people who only get relaxed end up assuming they were hypnotized and that hypnosis doesn’t work. In fact, hypnosis works brilliantly, they just didn’t achieve a hypnotic state or, if they did, they didn’t present instructions to the unconscious in a manner that would influence the unconscious. That’s why learning hypnosis and how to make suggestions requires skill and practice.
There are some books that can help you to learn this skill. I particularly like:
Hypnosis for Beginners, New Age Hypnosis, and Self-Empowerment Through Self-Hypnosis. These books won’t make you an expert at hypnosis or self-hypnosis overnight, but with practice you can discover what a hypnotic trance feels like to you and how to appropriately send messages past the critical factor to the unconscious and the imagination, leading to physical manifestation: magick!
Is There Another Way?
Some people don’t want to go into a hypnotic trance for any of a variety of reasons (reasons that are usually based on myths and misinformation). However, rather than spend lots of words overcoming the seemingly unlimited incorrect information and objections to hypnosis and trance, it’s easier, once again, to step outside of the box and ask, “Is there a way to directly bypass the critical factor, give appropriate suggestions to the unconscious, triggering the imagination leading to manifestation of desires enhanced by the will? Absolutely, although the beginning of codification of this system began only about forty years ago. This is the second system I want to mention, and it’s name is abbreviated as NLP.
NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is a set of skills that allows you to communicate more effectively and more persuasively. Usually, it’s seen as a means of being better at communication with others. However, it also has skills and techniques that allow your conscious to more effectively communicate your desires to your unconscious. The unconscious mind/imagination makes decisions and can be the instigator that sets things in motion. The conscious mind/will is simply the doer that does what is necessary to help manifest what the unconscious/imagination decide to create.
Note that I wrote that NLP began to be codified, not that it was invented. Almost everything in NLP was known before the concepts were created. The unique thing about NLP is that it brings a wide variety of techniques together in a comprehensible (but certainly as complex as the Golden Dawn’s teachings) system. When I was in college, I earned money doing telephone sales. One of the things I learned was the “Yes Technique.” This is the idea that if you get a person to say yes a number of times in a row, they’re likely to continue to say yes when asked to make a decision.
Salesman: Your phone number is still XXXXXXX, isn’t it?
Salesman: And you’re still living at XXXXXXXX street, aren’t you?
Salesman: And I know you want a stove that is safe for your family and one your friends and family will admire, don’t you?
Salesman: So we’ll write up this order for you and have it delivered, OK?
The idea is that it’s just easier to keep saying “yes” rather than saying “no.” In NLP this is called the “Yes Set.”
Just as this particular pattern works with someone else, NLP has techniques you can use to make changes in yourself. These are not just mental or emotional changes, they can also help you change your physical world. One of the techniques I give, working with your personal time line, is revealed in Modern Magick. Other writers, including Patrick Dunn in Magic, Power, Language, Symbol and Philip H. Farber in Brain Magick are introducing NLP concepts into magick, too.
The will and the conscious mind are definitely worth strengthening. However, their importance in magick is greatly overplayed. The real prize is working with the unconscious and the imagination. They are the true entryway to the world of magick.
I start trying to stay unconscious. The problem with this is that no amount of willpower can change the reality.
― Lauren DeStefano, Fever
Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners.
― William Shakespeare Othello: Act 1, Scene 3
* * *
Thursday, August 29, 2013
8:00 p.m. Eastern——5:00 p.m. Pacific
Live Interview with me on Aphrodite’s Kitchen
Tune in and listen: www.paraencountersnetwork.com
Next Thursday, the 29th, I’m scheduled to be talking with hosts Anita Perez and Tidal Millar of Aphrodite’s Kitchen. Among various topics we’re going to be discussing is Tantra as a complete spiritual system. Even though most people think Tantra is just “that sex stuff,” it’s actually a full Pagan system that has been practiced and evolved for thousands of years. To find out about real Tantra, be sure to click on the link above and listen in! Oh, we may get into a bit of Tantric sexuality, too.