Julian and I were recently chatting about our own initiatory experiences that related to undertaking intensive periods of magical practice and training. In this case it was Liber MMM from Liber Null and Psychonaut:
Me: “How’s Bob getting on with MMM?”
Julian: “Yeah pretty well, lots of great diary work but things do seem to be unravelling a bit for him personally…”
Me: “Do you know anyone that this process hasn’t shaken-up in a major way?”
Julian: (thoughtful pause)…ah,…No, I guess that’s what it’s supposed to do!”
It seems my Christian friends were right, Magick is dangerous. These technologies are designed to plunge elbow deep into your unconscious and give it an almighty stir. As much as results magick might produce quantifiable change “out there”, it seems undeniable that the major locus of magickal activity and change is “in here”, “in consciousness according to Will” (Dion Fortune). If it’s stability you’re seeking stay away from religious and spiritual traditions that have a major magickal component (and that’s most of them) – you’re only going to upset yourSelf.
This stirring of ourselves potentially disturbs not only material that we may have supressed into our personal unconscious, but it may touch upon shared ancestral memories. None of us come into the world as blank pages, we come with the genetic load of our ancestors and are we are born into cultural settings that define us from the very point of conception. As we engage in the type of transformational work that most magical curricula lay out it seems likely that we will need to address issues “within” ourselves, but also relationships and the contextual conditioning that have shaped the self-image with which we are currently engaging.
Personally I think being upset can be a good thing, temporary abandonments of apparent sanity (whatever that might be) allowing us to avoid complete melt down. Magick often provides the psychological equivalent of dynamiting the San Andreas’ fault to prevent a major earthquake. Such a metaphor does however raise the question of how much explosives to use!
During my own involvement with magick there have been definite periods where I have experienced a type of Gnostic burnout or overload where I have had to take my foot “off the gas” and seek far gentler pursuits. In many forms of psychotherapy (my day job) one of the primary dialectics that need to be held in tension, is that which exists between acceptance and change. If all therapy does is accept, it will never be truly healing, and if all it does is ask for change without truly listening to reality as it is for the client, then it is both an imposition and a misuse of power. How, in my spiritual life, can I access this place of acceptance rather than bleeding myself psychically dry through endless sorcerous “doing”?
All this has got me thinking about the wisdom of spiritual paths that seek to view magic as part of a more holistic sadhana or spiritual practice. My own development has been greatly inspired by the fourth Way work of Gurdjieff, and Ouspensky that seek to harmonise the path of gnosis (the way of the Yogi) with that of the embodied wisdom (the way of the Fakir) and also the bhakti path of devotion (the way of the Monk). At the risk of sounding like a bad chaos magician I wonder whether the pursuit of magick outside of a spiritual or religious context is sustainable or even desirable. Perhaps what I’m grappling with is the importance of having a symbol set that has been deeply internalised, so that when our self-induced shape shifting intensifies, we have a psychic map via which we can get a better sense of our bearings.
Even when armed with such portentous warnings, we can still end up flattened by the spiritual shock waves that focused spiritual activity can induce. During my own work with Liber MMM over 5 years ago, I undertook an intensive piece of devotional work connected to the dark mother figure Sekhmet from the Egyptian pantheon. My motivations for undertaking this work were complex, but needless to say that after a prolonged focus on this wrathful, lion-headed goddess I ended up feeling both devoured and dismembered. I felt emotionally hollowed out and was psychologically confused to the extent that I took a several month leave of absence from the magical group with which I was working.
Surviving such spiritual crises can be a tricky endeavour, but I think that the following factors were helpful in helping me find a way through:
- Magical colleagues who were wise enough not to pressure me and were able to normalise my experience. Whether framed as a “dark night of the soul” or an abyss type experience, periods of disorientation and psychic exhaustion are exceedingly common for those pursuing paths that use radical means. Having a network of supportive chums telling you that you will get through it helps.
- Returning to core practice that sustains you. When I felt broken, I returned to stillness and bodywork. Mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga practice allowed me to ground myself again rather than seeking to extend further via more active sorcery or divination.
- Letting go of the project. The “lust for results” can be as much about the project of self-improvement or awakening as it can be about sorcery. Sometimes we need to lean towards accepting things as they are rather than continually pushing for change. Paradoxically, it often feels that when we slip into that “neither-neither”, non-dual state of awareness and rest, that a new sense of freedom and openness can be experienced.