One of my fascinations in life is human behavior. I'm reading Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and it's a book about irrational behavior, and ultimately human behavior and why people make the choices they make. Reading it is enlightening, but even more than that I want to apply it to my magical work. See, one of the things that I like about magic is that I think it can be applied quite productively to human behavior. But that can only occur when you take the time to study human behavior and ask yourself the question as to how you could apply magic to that behavior. Whatever being human really means, when we apply magic to the mix what we seem to ultimately be doing is changing behavior and habits. We uncover and examine the unconscious behaviors we've taken on and use magic to bring them to a level of conscious awareness that can then be applied to change that behavior. Here's a few thoughts on how magic can be applied to human behavior:
1. Stop an expression of behavior. This is a typical act of magic that many people do. If you are doing a behavior that you find to be harmful, use magic as one of the ways to help you stop the behavior. When you use magic to help you stop a behavior you are finding some way for the magic to actually redirect the behavior. So you'll also want to think of what behavior you want to redirect it to. If you want to stop smoking, you typically start by cutting down on the smoking and or replacing it with a supplement, such as chewing gum, but you also need to change the behaviors associated with smoking, in some form or manner. For example, there may be specific hand gestures you did when you smoked, that you might need to change in order to avoid calling up the associations with the smoking.
2. Enhance or construct a behavior. When you think of the concept of a glamour, it's an illusion to used to enhance an image, but why not apply the principle to a behavior? For example, let's say you want to feel confident when you are speaking to people. You might observe someone you really admire for their confidence and analyze how they behave or act, and then construct a persona that allows you to access similar skills in order to improve your own confidence.
3. Become consciously aware of your behaviors and change them. Meditation is an excellent tool that you can use to step back and become aware of how you are acting. You can even apply this awareness to everyday behavior by making an effort to be present and aware of your behaviors by becoming an observer of yourself. You can use meditation to trace a behavior back to its roots and explore where the behavior originates from. Then, if you're feeling adventurous, you can do some some space/time magic work to change the root of the behavior, or do some other type of magical work that allows you to interact with the behavior and make changes to it.
These are a few examples shared of how magic could be applied to behavior, but in reading Predictably Irrational and a variety of similar books, what I've learned is that the majority of human behavior is unconscious. What this means is that a lot of the behavior we do is something we aren't even aware we do. It's behavior that we've learned to do to the point that it's become a habit. A habit is an automatic behavior that we do, which we don't really think about. There are both good and bad habits, and naturally we want to keep the good habits, while changing the bad habits. Some of the suggested ways that you can change a behavior apply to what was written above, but I think that to really change a given behavior it's important to understand it and its expression in your life.
If we are to apply magic to being human we need to explore what being human really means. Is being human a collection of behaviors, habits, and routines that each of us do day in and day out? Or is being human defined by the relationships we have with other people, our jobs, our hobbies, etc.? For that matter is being human based on the dysfunctions and virtues you express in your mannerisms? All of these are good questions to ask, when we consider applying magic to being human. And they aren't the only questions we can ask when we think of what it means to be human and how we can apply magic to that state of being. Asking and answering those questions can help us explore what being human really means and how we can improve on that state of being, by becoming more present and aware of ourselves and our interactions with each other and the world at large. In turn we can then consider how we can proactively apply magic to being human, in order to improve the quality of our lives and our interactions. I think that when apply magic this way we become proactive and practical in our application of it to our lives because we are looking to do more than just utilize it as a reaction. Instead we are looking at how we can shape ourselves into better people, and evolve whatever being human is.
What happens when your magic fails?
This is a question most magicians and pagans never want to ask or answer, but I think it's a question we need to ask and answer. It's a question that likely makes you squirm just a little bit, because it raises the spectre of "What if all this is just in my head?" The thought that it's all just in your head and that perhaps what you're doing is just a deluded fantasy is hard to face. It can cause you to feel some real doubt about magic and whether its real or just make believe. I think feeling such doubt can actually be healthy, because it teaches you to question critically and carefully what you're doing and how you're doing it. It also teaches you not to take magic for granted. If you assume that your workings will always be successful, you may be shocked when a working isn't successful. By cultivating just a bit of critical awareness, you can look through your magical workings and figure out why it didn't work as well as what you can do to improve your workings.
A good place to start is to actually determine how many of your magical workings have been successful. See if you can calculate a percentage and then determine what types of workings they were. Was it practical magic to resolve a problem, or was it a working to make contact with a deity or inner contact? Was it some other type of magical working? So for example, perhaps you calculate that 90% of your magical workings in the last year have been successful and you realize that a quarter of the workings were practical magic and the rest were devotional, theurgic workings. Once you have estimated the successful number of magical workings, then you can look at the remaining magical workings, the ones that didn't work and determine what type they were. You might discover that 75% of the workings that weren't successful were practical magic workings. What this will tell you then is what you need to work in your magical practice. It shouldn't be hard to determine these figures if you are keeping a magical record of some type and diligently updating it.
Now it's time to take a closer look at the magical workings that failed. You want to determine exactly what didn't work and why. There can be a variety of reasons why magic didn't work, so it's important to take your magical working apart and really understand why it did or didn't work. Let's go over a few of the possible reasons for why the magic didn't work.
1. You didn't clear define the desired outcome. If you don't have a clearly defined outcome, you don't have a destination or result for your magic to get to. A poorly defined result is vague and unclear and as such it's much harder to achieve. While there is a phrase in magic that is often thrown around that you shouldn't lust for results, it doesn't mean you shouldn't define your result (I'll explain the difference in more depth below). A defined result is the specific outcome you are doing magic for, and it provides you the necessary focus to direct your magical work toward achieving that result.
2. You lusted for the result. Have you ever gotten obsessively fixated on a particular result you wanted? You've probably noticed that when this occurs, the result seems to be just out of reach and unattainable. The reason for that is because you are still putting energy, effort, belief, emotion, thought, etc., into achieving the result. You haven't stepped back and let the magic work, and so the magical work hasn't actually happened. At some point, for magic to work, you've got to actually let it work (I'll explain this in more detail below).
3. You get fixated on how everything will happen. When you map out how something is supposed to happen, you aren't leaving any room for it to actually happen. As I mentioned above you need t let magic work and that means releasing expectations about the result, but also about how the magic will manifest. Sometimes magic will manifest in very subtle ways and sometimes it will be over the top flashy. But regardless of how something manifests, its important to allow it to occur without trying to map out how it will occur. Do your magical working and then let the magic go out into the universe and set everything up so that it happens.
4. You focused on other possible outcomes. Sometimes you'll get caught up in what if scenarios, especially if you're dealing with stressful situations. When you focus on other outcomes, you are losing focus on the outcome you want to achieve and essentially signaling that perhaps you don't want it after all. As such it's important that if you start to focus on other possible outcomes, you find a way to refocus and/or banish those other outcomes. Remember that when you are doing magic, you want to achieve a specific outcome, and you need to stay focused on that outcome.
5. You didn't pick the right technique for the working. Not all techniques are equal or right for a given situation. If you are too close to a situation, for example, then you might need to use a technique that provides some distance. On the other hand sometimes you need to be more directly involved. Knowing what techniques for different situations is important for effectively implementing magic as a solution in your life.
6. You put too much magic into the working. There is such a thing as putting too much magic into a working. If you feel the need to do multiple workings for a situation, you might consider that you're ding an overkill and that one working might interfere with the other. While it can sometimes be useful to do multiple magical workings, they should be well timed to work off of each other.
7. You haven't honored your end of the agreement. When you're working with entities, deities, spirits, etc., its important to honor your end of the agreements you make. If you aren't honoring your end of the agreement, why should they honor their end of the agreement? Any agreement you make is one you need to honor by following through on what you've promised you would do.
Sometimes your magic will fail. When it does, understanding why it failed will help you make adjustments in future workings and teach you about how magic works. If you've had a magic working fail, was it for one of the reasons above, or a different reason. Share your experiences in the comments.
It seems obvious that magic should instill some kind of change within you, but I feel compelled to write this article because so often what I see in occult texts is a emphasis on changing the environment around you, as opposed to changing yourself, or a focus on changing yourself solely through spiritual means and the assistance of spirits of some type. There's this dualism within Western Magic, where you apparently have two schools of magical practice. The theurgic school is a spiritual school, wherein the magician practices high magic in an effort to connect with spiritual powers and and gradually change him/herself via that contact. The thaumaturgic school is a practical school, where magic is done to solve problems and change the environment to one that is more pleasing. I think of it as reactive magic, done to solve the current crisis in one's life. This approach to magic breaks down various magical actions by the results, and depending on what the results are a magical action is lumped in one of the two schools of magical thought and practice.
In my previous post I discussed how to emotions could be used in magic and made the point that an emotion such as anger is not inherently negative. What makes anger negative is we choose to express it. In thinking further about my own approach to magic and what I use to fuel my magical work, I recognize that it's not just emotions I draw upon, but experiences and the feeling of the experience. A feeling is not necessarily the same as an emotion. A feeling is the awareness of an experience and emotions are just one component of an experience and the expression of that experience. This is important because when we work magic to bring a possibility into reality part of what we are working with is the feeling associated with that possibility.
Think about love for a moment. What does love feel like? Don't think just in terms of the emotion, but also the physical sensations of you holding someone else's hand, or holding the person or kissing the person. What does that feel like? How does it make you feel emotionally? How does it make you feel intellectually, spiritually, and physically? All of those feelings and experiences are what love (romantic) is comprised of. So if you were to do a love magic working, you'd want to draw on those experiences as part of the fuel for the workings, because those experiences shape that feeling in your life.
But we can also apply this understanding to other circumstances. For example, if you work at a job, there will also be specific experiences and feelings you associate with the job, as well as emotions. If you decide to look for a new job or just need to find one, then any magic you work you want to infuse with the positive experiences you've had. Maybe you were praised by a manager or took pride in what you did or got a pay raise. Take all of those feelings and infuse them into your magical working.
The point I'm making is that our feelings, which include our emotions, are fuel for a magical working. Our feelings, our experiences, our thoughts, and emotions inspire us, so why not let them inspire our magical work as well? In fact, I think we do, whether we realize it or not. Any magical working has at least a seed of emotion and experience that the magician puts into it. Whether you are doing magic to solve a problem or commune with the divine some part of that working is based on emotions, experiences, and needs. Consciously acknowledging that you are putting something of your emotions into the working can help you be more focused in terms of what you put into your working. Instead of sabotaging your working, you can put in the right emotions and feelings, which will help you accomplish what you desire.
You have a lifetime of experiences to draw on. Don't overlook the value of those experiences as a tool for magical work. What really shapes people are the feelings they have, the memories they draw on, and the experiences that they use to navigate life. By applying your experiences and feelings to magic, as well as your emotions, you can craft a working that has a full buy-in from yourself because it is something you relate to, understand, and want. You can consciously control what you put into your magical working by recognizing that you are always drawing on some aspects of your experience, and thus make sure what you put into your magic is in agreement with what you want to manifest in your life.
In my previous post, I defined various elements of identity that I thought should be considered in choosing to work with identity as a principle of magic. However what I didn't do was explain, in full, how identity could be applied to magic. It's not enough to simply recognize identity as a principle of magic or to even define identity, but consider this: The various elements I used to define identity all play a role in our lives, and in how we interact with other people, and the world. Understanding this about identity is important, because if we are apply identity to magic, we need to understand that we are working with these elements of identity and choosing to use them in a conscious, purposeful manner to effect change.
For example, your family is one of the elements of identity I mentioned in the previous post. There are a number of ways you could work with family as an element of identity, and apply that your magical work. You could do internal work via meditation, where you explore your dysfunctional issues and trace them back through your family, from generation to generation. The meditation could be a pathworking where you traveled into each each ancestor and experienced the dysfunction as it showed up in their lives. It might help you better understand it as well as look at how you could break the cycle. You could apply this working to life skills you learned from your family as well, such as finances, or your work ethic. You could also take this working and apply it forward to your descendants.
You could also do more practical work with your family by creating an ancestor altar and communing with your ancestors or asking for their aide in your spiritual workings. You might seek advice from them, or simply honor them with a ritual that celebrates their contribution to your life. And that's just two ideas for how you could apply the identity element of family to your magical work.
One element of identity I didn't mention in the previous post is that of religion/spirituality. The religion grow up with and the religion/spirituality play a role in defining your identity. I've recently read a post which argued that you can't worship Jesus Christ and be a Pagan, and it highlights to me how religion is a form of identity because the author places a lot of value in his identity as a Pagan and seeks to differentiate that identity from anyone who worships Jesus Christ. If we were to apply magic to religion, you could explore the religion of your childhood and how it has shaped who you are and your choices, or you could look at how you've carried over the religious icons, rituals, and tools into the current spiritual work that you do. And of course you could also explore your emotional triggers to religions.
But there's also another way to approach identity and magic. How do you integrate identity into the magic you do? How do you integrate your body (as an example) into the spiritual work you do? What is the relationships your body has to the spiritual work you do? These are questions that aren't necessarily answered or explored in much depth, and yet I'd argue that your body is one of the most potent forms of expression and magic you have available to you. You can decorate it with clothes, tattoos, and jewelry that show what your identity is. You can integrate stillness and movement into your magic and explore how each contributes to the work you are doing. Why do you do that gesture? How does that gesture contribute to the magic and at the same time express your identity?
And there's a third layer to this as well. I'd argue that every time you do a magical act you are not just acting on the world around you, but also upon your identity. You are changing the essence of your being and becoming something and someone else through the magical work you do. Whether you are using magic to solve a problem or doing a high magic ritual that allows you to achieve apotheosis with the divine, you are moving your state of being from where it was to a different expression that allows you to revise your relationship with the universe as well. After all when we do magic to solve a problem, what are we really changing? We are solving the problem, but we are also changing the context of that problem and our relationship to it. What is that, but the very act of also changing our identity to become something new and different, and in the process also changing our relationship to the world around us, as well as the various elements, people, things, etc that we interact with?
When you recognize this aspect of identity, it changes how you think of magic, because it's no longer a matter of doing magic to effect change in conformity with will, but rather doing magic to change your relationship with yourself and the world. You become the change you seek to bring into the world, and through that change become a new identity that expresses the change.
In my previous post, I discussed why I thought identity was an essential principle of magic and explored what magic as an ontological practice might look like. In this post, I want to unpack identity further so that we can learn what makes up identity and how we can work with it as a magical principle. Some of what I discuss below can also be found in my book Magical Identity.
Your Family is one of the foundational elements of your identity. Your mother and father, and siblings (if you have any) provide you the initial experience of the world, as well as modeling behaviors about how to interact with the world. They pass down both their functional and dysfunctional behaviors, both in terms of how they interact with you and around you. It's fair to say that your identity is shaped by them for your entire life. I'd argue that your family is one of the more influential elements of identity and one that needs to be carefully explored in order to change a lot of your own behaviors. Your family also models financial and health skills to you. Even if they never explicitly discuss finances or health, they nonetheless provide you with standards that impact how you handle both throughout your life.
Your Genetics are another element of identity. Your health is determined in part by your genetics and knowing your family's health history can help you plan accordingly. Many of the diseases we deal with seem to have a genetic component, which can also shape your identity and how you prepare to deal with those diseases. But beyond health, your genetics also plays a role in your overall appearance, which also creates a sense of identity that shapes your life.
The culture and subcultures you are part of also shape your identity. The cultural norms dictate what behavior is acceptable or unacceptable, as well as dictating what types of appearance is acceptable or unacceptable. But beyond that culture is formed by a shared discourse, with specific language and actions that determine who is part of a given culture/subculture and who isn't. High school is an excellent example of culture in action, with its various cliques which are actually subcultures, but you can see this at work in any kind of gathering of culture. Where you fit into culture shapes your identity and your interactions with others.
Ethnicity is another form of identity, which can be linked to culture. The ethnic background that a person has provides access to specific customs and behaviors and beliefs that are related to that ethnicity. Everyone has an ethnic heritage, but for some people it is more important or prevalent than others, because of the sense of identity and empowerment it provides them, or because it gives a shared identity which can be used to resist the hegemony of the dominant culture.
Class is also part of identity that is shaped by the economic status and opportunities a person has access to. If a person comes from a blue collar family for example, this shapes the identity of the person around the economic opportunities available to him/her. However class is also dictated by behavior. If you call someone a redneck, for instance, you are associating that person with a specific class, but also with specific behaviors.
Privilege is a part of identity that shapes the level of opportunities that has a person has access to. A person who is white and middle class and male, for example, will have a level of privilege in the U.S. that many other people don't have. If on the other hand you are a black woman your level of privilege will be different. In my opinion, privilege is one of the most overlooked aspects of identity, usually because people become uncomfortable when they realize that their level of privilege can either put them into a more advantageous or disadvantageous situation. Privilege demonstrates the inequity of identity, when identity is abused as a way of putting certain types of people into positions of advantage and opportunity that other people don't have access to.
Race is another part of identity. If you are an Asian that will provide a different identity than if you are a white or black person. I'd argue that race is separate from ethnicity. Just because someone is Asian, for example, doesn't mean that s/he is also Chinese or speaks the Chinese languages etc. However what it does mean is that there is a shared racial identity in a very general sense of the world that can shape how people treat someone.
Your gender is both a biological piece of identity, and a self conceptualization. It is a biological aspect of identity in terms of what genitals are between your legs, but it is also a self-conceptualization in terms of whether or not you identify yourself as male, female, or intersex. The self-conceptualization is an important distinction to make because even if you are biologically male, you may not think of yourself as male and may feel a need to change your biology to become the gender identity you feel yourself to be.
Sexuality is distinctly different from gender because it refers to your sexual desires and how they in turn inform your identity, both in seeking sexual partners, but also in how you relate to people in general, and how those people treat you as a result.
Your body is the physical representation of identity and how you treat yourself. Some people treat their bodies like a tool, while others treat it as a living universe. How you feel about your body and take care of it speaks to your identity on not just a physical level, but also an emotional, mental, and spiritual level.
I likely haven't covered every aspect of identity I could cover and what I've provided above are short definitions that provide a rough understanding of these elements of identity (We know that because of all the books that are available on each of these topics, plus all the conversations, etc.). I believe that some of these elements of identity can be changed, while others are fairly fixed. However, even the ones that can be changed usually involve change on a societal level, as well as a personal level. Working with identity as an element of magical can be useful both as a means of doing internal work, but also as a form of social inquiry and activism that prompts us to consider if we are really happy with the status quo of identity, or if we need to continue to push for change, so that identity becomes a form of liberation and empowerment instead of oppression (I'd argue it can be simultaneously both for people).
To work with identity as a magical principle involves exploring hard questions about respective places in the world and the level of opportunity that is available to a given person. But I think that integrating these aspects of identity into magical work can produce an opportunity for a spiritual and mundane journey that allows us to not only question the status quo, but also work toward a better world.
A year or two back I remember telling an acquaintance that I was actively exploring identity as a foundational building block of magical practice. He looked surprised and told me that he didn't recall seeing much about identity in Western Magic ad what he saw in Eastern Mysticism pushed for getting rid of identity because of the karma that holding onto identity causes. He was right that there wasn't a lot of material about identity in Western Magic (I've found a couple authors who write about it, but otherwise it is curiously ignored) and he had a point about Eastern mysticism and its relationship to identity. Still I felt like something was being missed by not exploring identity and its role in magical work and I explained to him that I felt that getting rid of identity actually worked against the practical applications of magic, because magic is very much about being in this world as opposed to to getting rid of your connection to it.
My exploration of identity came about as a result of my dissatisfaction with standard definitions of magic, which are usually variants of Crowley's definition of magic. Those various definitions focus on doing magic, on applying magic to change the world according to the will of the magician, but I disagreed with that approach to magic and felt that there had to be something better out there. I shifted away from doing magic and instead focused on exploring magic from an ontological perspective, a perspective based on being and on identity, which also examined the relationship of a person's identity in context to the world and other people around him/her.
My current approach to magic is formed around the following definition: My identity is the ontological state of being that includes an awareness of cultural, subcultural, spiritual, familial, physiological, and environmental aspects of identity. My identity is also an exploration of my on-going agreement with the universe and how I manifest my identity is an application of that agreement to the interactions I have with the universe and the various other identities within it. If I want to change my agreement with the universe, I can use a practical system or technology such as magic to help me change my relationship with the universe, other entities within the universe, or my own identity. In other words, if I don't like my experience of my identity and want to change it, I apply magic toward changing my identity and its place in the universe, as well as the agreement I have with the universe.
As you can probably tell this definition is quite different from the standard definition of the art and science of causing change to occur in conformity with will. It's a definition that recognizes that being trumps doing. Being is where doing originates from, and doing is formed by the state of being a person exists in. Most importantly if the state of being doesn't agree with the applied doing of magic, the applied doing of magic will fail, or the result will be sabotaged because the identity or state of being won't be in alignment with it. This fundamental realization helps the magician understand the value of doing internal work and balancing any magical act with the internal work.
An ontological approach to magic explores the principle of as above, so below by integrating identity into the spiritual work a person does. Instead of trying to divorce ourselves from identity and reach some higher level of existence, the ontological approach recognizes that the spiritual work needs to be done with a person's identity, but that a person may not fully recognize or know his/her identity either. Thus for example, exploring identity in context to one's body can be very revealing in terms of understanding cultural biases as well as working through personal beliefs about a person's body. Instead of trying to dissolve the essence of ourselves, we choose to work with the dysfunctions of our identities, while also retaining a connection to the world around us...not as an attachment, but rather as a form of liberation that opens us to experiencing new definitions of the world and its relationship to us.
A lot of internal work is an intrinsic part of my work with identity. Inevitably each of us will encounter our demons and dysfunctions and if we can't learn to work with them and change them, we'll discover that they define us and our sense of identity as thoroughly as any other factor mentioned above. Thus it behooves the magician to meditate and work with those dysfunctions, dissolving them and putting the energy and emotions into more beneficial realizations of identity that not only help him/herself, but also the world in general. In my next post I'll discuss some elements of identity in more detail and describe how you can work with them to define your identity and its relationship to the world more proactively.