The Great Occult Schism
Have you ever noticed there is a distinct separation between modern Western occultism (i.e. Wicca, Thelema, Golden Dawn, Theosophy, the New Age, etc.) and the indigenous occultism practiced by the rest of the world? Our techniques are different in fundamental ways, and (historically) both sides have suffered from various amounts of disdain for one another. The traditionally negative Western attitudes toward African-derived faiths (like Voodoo or Candomblé) is a perfect example. owever, there are equally negative opinions of Western occultism prevalent among the witches and shamans of non-Western cultures.
Thanks to the great melting-pot that is social media, I have encountered more than a few non-Western conjurors and shamans who describe our magick as more fantasy than reality. They suggest we don't know how to perform real magick, that we simply don't get results. If they are being especially nice about it, they'll say that our magick is primarily mental—meaning our systems are designed to create change within our brains rather than in the physical world. Wiccan ceremonies, I have been told, come across more like self-help or group therapy than ancient magickal rites. And most Golden Dawn or Thelemic practitioners are written off as arm-chair wizards at best.
Now, before you take personal offense to those opinions, consider how many Western magicians apparently agree. If you ask around any modern occult community, you'll find more than a few who insist that magick should only be an inner spiritual pursuit, that it should be used strictly to rectify the soul and move the Self of the magician closer to God/Goddess/Source/etc. (this is commonly called theurgy). Meanwhile, practical magick (or thaumaturgy) is sometimes considered a vain pursuit, based on greed and bordering on black magick. Those who wish to cast it in a more positive light often call it "grey magick," as if to suggest it is either inherently black magick being used for good, or perhaps good magick being used for selfish ends. (An exemption is given to healing magick, of course.)
Therefore, when lay people need practical help—with money issues, friendship, love, protection, revenge, divination, etc.—they are more likely to seek out their local conjuror, shaman, or Santeró than, say, the nearest Golden Dawn temple. Modern Western magick is unfortunately dismissed as ineffective for such purposes. Like it or not, we Westerners have acquired that reputation (or stereotype) somewhere along our way.
But Why Should This Be the Case?
The divide between Western occultism and the rest of the world is found first in the Catholic and Protestant Inquisitions that stretched from the medieval to the Renaissance eras, and then in the following Age of Enlightenment that launched our modern scientific materialist culture. It is perhaps obvious that Christianity's centuries-long war on heresy and witchcraft had a devastating impact on our indigenous magickal traditions. Quite simply, they were declared illegal—punishable by arrest, torture, death, and forfeiture of all of your remaining family's assets. Traditions that had developed naturally for thousands of years were wiped out, or co-opted and watered down to the point they were no longer recognizable.
During the Renaissance era our culture moved away from complete domination by the Church, which resulted in an occult revival in Europe and England. Yet, the laws of the Inquisitions were still in effect in both Catholic and Protestant countries, and occultists of the day had to tread extremely carefully. (It didn’t always work.) Finally came the Enlightenment—the dawn of the Age of Reason—where the West basically decided it had had quite enough of all of this God and occult jazz. This was the birth of the modern scientific community. And since they were studying many of the same things occultists had studied before them (chemistry, medicine, astronomy, etc.), they worked very hard to distance themselves from the old "superstitious" ways of magick.
Those occultists who insisted on continuing the practice of magick under the nose of unrelenting Science found themselves re-interpreting many of the old ways into new pseudo-scientific forms. This was aided in no small way by the advent of psychology, which allowed them to interpret all things magickal or fantastical as mere aspects of the human psyche—convenient fictions created by primitive men who simply had no scientific language to describe their world. In time the Industrial Revolution came, and Western society (including its magick) was re-cast in a mold entirely removed from the agrarian life that had given birth to the old ways.
Thus was a schism formed between ancient forms of magick and the Western form. This is why, today, we have to make a distinction between the "Old Magick" (pre-Enlightenment) and modern magick. This is why practitioners of indigenous folk magicks and ancient Pagan religions around the world see themselves as set apart from us—and why many of us seem to agree with them.
What Was Lost Along the Way
So the West left "superstition" behind and decided that everything could be viewed through the lens of science and psychology. Consequently, that is what their magick became, and it is why to this very day Western systems are accused of being "purely mental." What was lost along the way? Why, all the so-called "superstition," of course! As our culture broke free of the dark ages and embraced the future, I think we threw out a few proverbial babies with all of the old bathwater.
We've stuck with this "scientific occultism" model now for several centuries, and frankly the results are less than impressive. Make no mistake, we are incredible at theurgy! We've entirely cornered the market on it—and even now traditions like the Golden Dawn are increasingly sought by non-Western occultists for inner spiritual work, or "high magick." I've personally encountered seekers from Brazil, Nigeria, and Ghana, to name just a few. However, to be completely honest, our thaumaturgy is still lacking. (And by this I mean Western occultism as a whole; there are certainly individual exceptions.) It has taken many generations for us to overcome our negative attitudes toward practical magick and witchcraft, and now we find ourselves novices in the art.
Of course, I do not mean to imply our modern magick is entirely ineffective. That is merely a negative stereotype. I have performed or participated in more than my share of both Neo-Pagan and ceremonial rituals that have had solid results. I only wish to impress upon you the simple idea that we still have some way to go, and that we can learn new (or, better, re-learn very ancient) techniques to make our magick even stronger. Perhaps, in time, we can even overcome the stigma we currently possess as less effective magicians.
So, if you are struggling with your magick and would like to know why you aren't achieving the results you desire, or you simply want better results than you've attained in the past, or even if you are simply always seeking to expand your practice with techniques that work—then you've come to the right place.
The Lost Secrets of Magick
Of course, each of these magickal secrets could fill a book, or several volumes, in order to relate even a fraction of the teachings behind them. Given that this is a short article, what I can do is provide you with pointers in the directions you need to study. I can tell you which techniques are missing from our Western magick, even give you some practical tips, and then you'll have a good checklist of subjects to go out and explore on your own.
So let's take an honest look at some basic—and extremely ancient—techniques of practical magick. Techniques that make magick work, and which our Western shamans (that's you!) too often overlook, ignore or simply don't know exist.
- Ancestors: Across the globe, ancestral spirits play a vital role in all forms of witchcraft. The ancestor altar is considered one of the most basic magickal tools, and the intercession of one's departed family in the spirit world an indispensable aspect of successful magick. Yet here in the West we typically celebrate our ancestors once a year (Samhain) and then forget about them.
Of all the spirits you might choose to work with, your ancestors (especially the most recent ones—grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, spouses, etc.) are the most easily accessible and actually have a reason to give a damn about you. Your ancestors should have an altar and should receive regular offerings on whatever is the Sabbath in their religion. Give them water and candles, coffee and sweets, cigars and cigarettes, and anything else they loved in life. Talk to them as if they were alive and listening to you—complain about your problems and talk about your dreams.
If you learn the art of ancestor magick (there are rules and protocols to ensure your safety) and do it properly, you will find your familial spirits will act on your behalf, help solve problems, procure things you need or want, protect you, and empower your spells. It is a lifelong commitment that will greatly expand your connection to the spirit world.
- Intermediary Spirits (Gatekeepers): If you want to work magick, you have to gain access to the spirit world. The deities you invoke, the angels and/or spirits you summon for your spells, even the invocation of raw elemental and planetary forces—all of these require you to establish an open line of communication between yourself and the "place" where they live. And that is accomplished with the help of certain spirits who know how to open the gates between "here" and "there."
Most often these entities are Mercurial or Solar. Mercurial spirits are tricksters or psychopomps (or, in some cases, both) and know all the secret pathways in and out of the spiritual realm. Examples are Hermes, Prometheus, Anubis, Hermanubis, Elegua (or Lucero or Eshu), Michael, Lucifer, Satan, Cerberus, Typhon-Set, Nebirus, etc. We can also include in this group countless types of familiar spirits.
Solar and Divine Reagent entities are members of the Celestial Court and therefore have top-level clearance to come and go between the realms as they please. Examples are Apollo, Michael (again), the Holy Guardian Angel, Uriel, Jesus/Christ, Sophia, Mary, Hecate, the "Supernatural Assistant," the Angel of your Nativity, etc. You can add your own patron deity here as well.
These intermediary spirits must be invoked before attempting any kind of magick. Offerings and prayers are first made to the keeper of the gates, and divination is done through him or her to determine if the proposed work is permissible or correct. If not, one can ask the intermediary how to make corrections or re-determine the goal of the spell. Once this is settled, the spirit will then go and "fetch" whatever entity you wish to contact, or otherwise see to it your spell makes it to its destination.
- Familiars and Patrons: I mentioned familiars and patron deities in the above section, because they act as intermediaries between the shaman and the spirit world. However, Westerners have forgotten they have an equally important role to play in our magick—the magick itself.
The most powerful spells you will ever work are not those you learned from a book or a teacher, they will be those you learn directly from your spiritual contacts. What they teach you will most often include the direct involvement of themselves or other spirits. They might give you a new ritual to perform or offering to make at a specific time and place, after which the spirits will handle the rest of the work. You might be told to gather certain ingredients or to fashion a talisman, along with instructions for how to use these items once created. Follow those instructions and the associated spirits will know what to do.
Also make sure you know how to properly ask for their help. The common method of merely stating your desire and expecting your spirits to make it happen is the least effective. Instead, you must ask the spirits how to accomplish your goal. The summoning of the spirit is not the spell—it's just the preliminary. Once contact is made, you have to ask what you should do next. This is where your spirits may give you new rituals or spells, or straight-forward advice. In some rare cases the spirit will inform you that they will handle it alone, but this should always up to the spirit rather than something you commonly expect.
- Offerings and Spirit Feeding: Herein lies one of the most glaring differences between the Old Magick and modern systems. Throughout history, ritual offerings have been the central pillar of all magick (and religion). Very often, a magickal ritual consists of nothing more than the making of a prescribed offering to a particular spirit in a specified time and place. Yet, here in the West, the making of an offering has been equated with the worship of the spirit receiving it. The act of offering a spirit something as payment for services rendered has close associations with the dreaded "pact with the Devil," by which a magician surely sells his soul to damnation.
But, to the rest of the world an offering is intended to feed and empower a spiritual entity, and to pay it fairly for the work it does. We cannot expect the spirits to simply manifest what we desire out of thin air—it takes energy for them to accomplish your goals, and they need to get that energy from somewhere.
Toward that end, you should make offerings a part of your spells. It is traditional to offer something small during the spell itself, along with a promise for a larger feast when the work is accomplished. The art of making proper offerings to spirits is a complex one, rife with strict protocols and warnings for your safety. However, you will do little harm with basic offerings such as incense, candle, water, bread and honey, and alcohol. For larger offerings (if the spirit is being fed periodically, or when they have succeeded in a task), you can cook a full meal for them. Only offer meat for big jobs, and then make sure it is well done with no blood! One can also leave gift offerings of trinkets, toys, or even tools for the spirit to use in his realm.
Doing this will supercharge your magick like nothing you've experienced before.
- Physical Bases: Here in the West, we have a tendency to perform our invocations, make our requests, then close down our temples and return to our usual lives. This does work—I've done it many times myself. But, the fact remains it doesn't work nearly as well as the older methods.
You might notice that the evocations in the old grimoires nearly always include a talisman as a central element of the work. Besides that you will find traditions around the world and throughout history that place great focus upon icons, statues, relics, and other physical objects. Why?
Spiritual entities, even those with access to vast cosmic power, cannot easily manipulate things here in the physical. This simply isn't their native habitat. Even you, in order to interact with the physical world, incarnated in a body&3151;because that is simply the best way to go about it. A spirit, be it a lower demon or a celestial deity, also needs a solid place from which it can affect the world. The icon, statue, talisman, or other cultic object or fetish placed upon your altar is a place for the entity to stand in the physical. It is not only a useful focal point for your work with that spirit, but it serves as an anchor allowing them to better affect our world.
Due to space constraints, I have passed over a few magickal secrets I wanted to discuss—such as establishing altars, spirit pots, ritual possession, the proper way to utilize talismans, building long-term relationships with spirits and more. All of these are finding new in-roads into Western occultism.
Plus, I state once again, what I have described above is merely a scratch on the surface of each subject. I strongly advise you against implementing any of these ideas until you have done further research and learned from others experienced in the practices. These are powerful techniques, and the capacity for your magick to cause harm increases along with its capacity for good. It is possible to make mistakes, to offend or anger your spirits through lack of knowledge or experience.
Therefore, proceed carefully; seek out and study as much as you can about each of these subjects before attempting the techniques. Otherwise, I can only close with a warning that you must proceed at your own risk.