For those of us from post-Protestant culture the notion of discipline in our practice often looms large. There is a sense that magical or spiritual practice is an obligation, something that demands a fierce activity and tenacity; this is ‘Work’ with a capital ‘W’, indeed it’s ‘The Great Work’.
As magicians we may wrestle with these feelings; the anxiety to get on with it, to do, to act, to turn up the heat on our practice. After all, if 20 mins of mindfulness meditation is good then seven hours of meditation must be better right?
Phil Hine in Prime Chaos expresses these feelings beautifully in the opening to this seminal work:
“A friend said to me recently, “I’m just not doing enough magical work at the moment.” I nodded, thinking, “Yeah, I’ve been there.” There is a kind of creeping Protestant Work Ethic implicit in modern magic, a view that you have to work at magic before you get anywhere, doing your regular practice-visualisation, meditation, daily banishing, muttering your chosen mantra on the train, controlling your dreams etc.- until it becomes ‘hard work’ accompanied by a guilt trip if you slacken off or take a break. Some time ago I was reading a basic magical training programme in some book or other and I thought, “Yeah, I bet this guy went to a public school”- the kind of place where you get up at dawn for a cold bath, run round the playing fields and get beaten senseless at every opportunity. The way the guy was going on, I wouldn’t have been surprised if some Archangel had appeared, thundering, “HINE! You didn’t do your daily banishing this morning! Stand in the corner boy until you can recite all the godnames in Assiah!” That sort of thing.”
It’s true that self-discipline matters and that magical practice is just that, a practice, something that needs to be enacted to be real. Chaos magic’s emergence into late 20th century occulture was predicated on this observation. You want to be a magician? Great! start doing something about it! Don’t wait until the guru, the Order or the Holy Book turns up. Pick up your wand (or just use your finger) and start experimenting. The attitude of punk and D.I.Y. culture informs this approach; sure your guitar playing, at least initially, may suck, but you’ve started a practice that potentially will lead to mastery. Lao Tzu, who knows a thing or two, points out that, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Those feelings of practice inadequacy apply to many people. While some of us might have the luxury of spending weeks on silent retreat or months chowing down on Master Plants in the jungle – unless we adopt a monastic lifestyle – we inevitably return to the day-to-day world and often the day job. After the ecstasy the laundry, as they say.
We can feel that once we are back at home, back in the office, that the magic fades into the distance. These feelings can result in us imagining that ‘the sacred’ is dependent, by contrast, on ‘the secular’. We feel that we’re doing magic when we do rituals, when we do our tai chi, when we meditate but not necessarily when we answer our business emails, when we walk the children to school or when defrosting the fridge.
If these feelings emerge it can be helpful to set goals and to recognize that even tiny steps towards achieving our intentions are important. We can seek the support of our community and find opportunities to practice together. This support may be in person or online and the very act of signing up to a course of study (and perhaps telling our friends and peers we have done so) can be just the spur to action that we need.
Another approach is to remember that perseverance is a virtue too. For while seven hours of meditation may be great in itself it’s better to do 20 mins when you can over a longer period of time. In my own case; my hatha yoga practice is something that I’ve done at various levels of intensity for 40 years. Doing yoga irregularly but persistently has helped me be more aware of my bodymind and develop my interoceptive awareness. My formal yogic practice conditions me to stretch when I’ve been sitting for a long time as an automatic reflex. Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to have received teaching for some formidable practitioners of yoga and other body arts. At times I’ve joined classes. I’ve had opportunities to teach and share what I know with others, and to and to learn from Youtube teachers (my go-to practitioner is Adriene). In other periods I’ve done very little formal practice; just a few morning stretches and deep breathing. My overall approach to yoga is informed by the action of water; an irregular drip-feed of practice, variable in its details from week to week, but gently persistent over time.
Finding ways to keep our practice up when we are householders can certainly be a challenge but it’s also an opportunity since by bringing our magic into the everyday we aspire to recognize the everyday magic of the world. We can aim to notice what we do naturally, what actually arises, and then discover ways to formulate these everyday, even humdrum occasions, as practice. This isn’t a new aspiration as indicated by the words of the ancient tantra dedicated to the Goddess Parvati the Saundarya Lahari (‘Waves of Beauty’).
“Let my idle chatter be the muttering of prayer, my every manual movement the execution of ritual gesture, my walking a ceremonial circumambulation, my eating and other acts the rite of sacrifice, my lying down prostration in worship, my every pleasure enjoyed with dedication of myself, let whatever activity is mine be some form of worship of you.”
Here are a few more thoughts on embedding our practice in daily life…
…and a few reflections on mindfully moving through the landscape (psychogeography) – providing us with an opportunity for practice with every journey to work and each time we walk the dog.
May we each find ways to discover the magic in every moment!
Saturday 31st August
Magical Words Workshop
In this one day workshop Julian Vayne will help you discover your own magical words. We will use a range of practical techniques, including working with the spirit of the fabulous library of The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic. Explore the power of magical words and signs; from Enochian to mantras, from sigils to poetic invocation. Bring writing materials and your curiosity for this adventure into the magic of text, language, symbol and literature. View details of this and other events here..
I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be speaking at Breaking Convention, the mother of all psychedelic conferences, at the University of Greenwich, 16-18th August. This is going to be a massive, multidisciplinary event hosting more than 150 interdisciplinary presentations over three days, across FIVE simultaneous academic tracks. The conference expands this year and features more than a dozen interactive workshops, a visionary art exhibition, installation gallery, psychedelic film festival, a comedy night, theatre and performance programme, evening banquet, and celebrations every night at the new Student Union bar within our Telesterion building!
At Breaking Convention there’s something for everyone, with contributions from cutting-edge neuroscience, clinical psychology and psychiatry, pharmacology, sociology and criminology, policy analysis, anthropology, archaeology, ethnobotany, music, art, history, literature, theology, mysticism, indigenous perspectives, parapsychology, and much else besides. Hope to see you there!