|Where in the world is magic? It is not in science, which denies the reality and value of anything not amenable to the scientific method. It is not in religion. The Church has historically looked upon magic as devilish, and in modern times regards it as a pathetic delusion. It is not in business, which has no money to waste on such frivolous pursuits as transformation of the soul. Neither is magic to be found in the universities or public schools, except as a footnote in the study of history and primitive cultures.
Magic is an outcast. Like all outcasts it is regarded as disreputable and viewed with suspicion by the bastions of the establishment. Bored people with time on their hands sometimes take up the practice of ritual as an amusement, and quickly abandon it. Those who seriously practice ritual in their daily lives maintain a prudent silence. True, sorcerers are no longer burned at the stake or hung, as they were in former ages. Even so, it does not do for those in sensitive occupations-for the police, doctors or commercial airline pilots, for example-to let it be generally known that they conduct magical rituals. Such an admission ensures that they will be labeled as the lunatic fringe, and deemed unsuitable for positions of responsibility. If they do not lose their jobs, they can at least be certain they will never be promoted.
Attitudes are changing. The expansion of New Age subjects into all walks of life has carried magic along with it. Magic has ceased to be a taboo subject and instead, has become a curiosity. Everyone is interested in magic, but they are afraid to admit that their interest is serious. Given half a chance, they would attend seminars and university lectures to learn the practice of rituals, if such schools existed, and if no one would laugh at them. Though magic is now being talked about, it is far from being accepted. It still requires personal courage to commit wholeheartedly to the study of the oldest and most sacred of the arts.
The question most often asked by readers of my books is: How can I find a teacher? It is difficult to answer specifically, as it depends upon the interest of the individual and the region in which he or she is living. Most groups devoted to ritual magic neither need nor want new members. The relationship between teacher and pupil is intensely personal, more so in magic than in any other field of study. It requires an unqualified devotion on both sides and complete trust. Regrettably, there are innumerable individuals and groups who teach, or pretend to teach, ceremonial magic for money. While they can teach the mechanics of the Art, which are basic and more or less universal, they cannot impart the living soul of magic that gives the Art its meaning.
I usually advise anyone wanting to learn magic to read as much as possible so that they will not be ignorant of the mechanics, and then to practice ritual in their own lives. Even if that initial practice is flawed technically, it has great value because it begins to open up the mind to directions from the level of spirit, and expands the perceptions of the world. At the same time, they should be attending lectures and seminars on New Age subjects in their area, keeping their eyes open for notices of clubs or groups being formed that have an occult focus, and following such disciplines as yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and other martial arts. In this way useful social contacts can be made.
Rituals can be conducted by an individual in solitude or with others in a group. Group ritual is favored by most people, who draw support from the other members of the circle. It is easiest to learn the basics of ceremonial magic through imitation. Those who work alone often become discouraged when they find themselves pouring large amounts of energy into their rituals while seemingly getting little or nothing in return. After working ceremonial magic awhile, you become aware of the long-term cycles of the mind that extend over a period of many months, cycles of energy and lethargy, of enthusiasm and despair. Group practice helps individuals get through the low points in their cycles.
There are two main groups practicing the Western magical tradition. The more numerous are the Witchcraft, Druid, and related pagan circles that incorporate magic into their ritual worship of Nature. The rituals worked by them may be called natural magic. Emphasis is placed upon the magical properties of places, stones, trees, herbs, and foods. Witchcraft has descended at least in part from the folk magic of the Saxons and Celts.
The less numerous groups practice a more abstract ceremonial magic that has its roots in Neoplatonism and Jewish mysticism. They deal in words, symbols, and numbers, and work more directly through the mediation of spirits to accomplish their purposes. This type of ritual may be called high magic or theurgy, and is deemed by some-erroneously, it seems to me-to be more potent.
Perhaps the reason theurgy is less widely practiced than Witchcraft is because it lacks an underlying religious structure. Witchcraft is foremostly a nature religion that uses magic to integrate the human soul with the Soul of the World. At its best, it is a gentle, earthy experience of great beauty and power. Theurgy is less concerned with worship and cannot be called a religion. Its ultimate objective is the alchemical Great Work of soul liberation through which the individual begins to act with full power and awareness in the world for the realization of personal destiny.
Ultimately, Witchcraft and theurgy have the same objective, which is the release and application of human potential through magic for the purpose of life fulfillment. This goal is not achieved all at once. Perhaps it is never achieved to its fullest possible degree-who can say how awesomely powerful a fully realized human being would be? Rather, it is achieved through small victories that make life a little more worth living.
Those who use ritual magic in their daily lives have grown disenchanted with the sterility of modern industrialized Western society. They want something more in their world than the laws of physics and the profit motive, and have not been able to find it within the existing network of social groups and religious organizations. They are people who feel they have lost control of the evolution of their souls and want to win it back. They seek fulfillment and purpose. They look for a viable mechanism for change, not only on the physical but on the emotional and mental levels as well.
Although the practitioners of magic make up a kind of secret underground, they are not drawn from any one stratum of society. They come from all backgrounds and walks of life. There are Christian occult churches, temples of the Kabbalah with strongly Orthodox opinions, feminist Wicca covens worshiping God as a woman, lesbian and gay circles, Druidic brotherhoods, groups based on the writing of the anarchistic Aleister Crowley, groups founded on the Victorian principles of the Order of the Golden Dawn, survivalists, racists, ecologists, animal rights activists-all using ritual to further their diverse goals. And I am referring here only to those who use predominantly Western magic. Groups based upon Zen and Buddhist techniques, Tao, yoga, and tantra are even more numerous.
I leave out of the discussion the groups classed as Satanic in the popular media. There are very few actually working magic in a serious way for outright evil purposes. Magic is a discipline that requires years of dedication, even when it is used to hurt rather than to heal. Most Satanists are mere posturers who adopt Satanic imagery as a fashion statement, or use it to embellish criminal acts which they would commit in any case. It provides a focus for the media but usually has nothing directly to do with whatever atrocity has drawn the attention. If torture, mutilation, murder, and other crimes are being committed specifically to raise magical power for some desired end, this is truly Satanic, in the loose sense of the word, but this is rare.