A magician without a religion is like a Roman Catholic priest who spends his spare time fiddling with kids – they may say they are following Jesus, their job might be helping Christians, but at the end of the day they are just an evil paedophile who wears a dress to cover their crimes.
Religion is an unpopular subject among magicians. They see religion as the cause of a lot of the world’s problems, forgetting that most of those problems are caused by humans rather than the religion they follow. If humans had no gods they would be fighting wars over who owned the correct smartphone (if you follow tech sites you will discover that Nvidia and AMD fans have been having wars for the 30 years). Humans do not need Gods to have silly wars. Some magicians think they can get away without God. But religion serves a function which is vital to a magician’s progress.
The religion of the Magician
A magician must have a religion, because the most important magical path is to develop a relationship with divinity and work with it. The name of that divinity is unimportant, neither is how you work with it. What is important is that you see it in a way that you can believe and follow the concepts which are defined by it. To be fair, one thing that a Magician must know is that their religion is not exclusive, even if that is one of that religion’s central premises. Nor can they act like that religion is the only one. However, they must still believe in something much bigger than themselves.
Hegemon and religion
The Golden Dawn has an officer called the Hegemon, who guides the candidate through most of the outer order. They hold a mitre-headed wand which symbolises religion which the Hegemon says, “Guides and Regulates life.” She is a symbol of balance, so the implication is that she is the balanced application of religion. She also does not say what religion in fact later the candidate is told all religion holds a spark of the Divine God and all must be held in reverence.
What this means is that the balanced approach to religion acts as a guide for magicians when there is training, and if you look at the function of the Hegemon through-out the outer order rituals you will see that her function is vital. A candidate without a religion cannot even get into the Temple, let alone face most of the tests and trials of the path.
God’s face is not your own
The first and most important thing about religion is that it provides a basic face for the occult teaching to express itself. It tells you that this face is God and you must see yourself in the light of that being. Without an external face, it is human nature to see themselves as the god of their own universe. While there is some measure of truth behind this, the magician is no more the totality of god than the nail of my big toe is all of me. We are sparks of that central fire which is God. Religion correctly teaches however that there is a separation between that unity which needs to be overcome. Without religion, the central problem behind magic rears its ugly head – narcissism and megalomania.
Religion gives rules. Some of these rules might be silly but the magician looks to understand the reality behind them. Christians and modern pagans are fond of laughing at Jews and Muslims for banning bacon, forgetting only Nicene Christianity, has no restriction on kinds of animals that can be eaten.
Pagans also forget that one of the few things we know about Celtic religion is that people often declared certain foods out-of-bounds. Cú Chulainn was forbidden to eat dog meat. Pythagorians were not allowed to eat beans.
While Christians object to Islamic killing of livestock, it is unchristian to have bloody meat a practice that both Jewish and Islamic methods of slaughter also prescribe. But this is the extreme end of religion, which the Hegemon wishes to avoid. One avoids eating pork in the Middle East because it was often infected with human diseases and they tended to be seen as a portable sewerage treatment plant. But the weird Eastern prohibitions are not the real rules which a religion provides. Most of the rules that a religion gives you enable you to survive in a material society without stepping on too many toes. Most religions demand, for example, that it is not ok to kill another person. Another set of rules which are useful to a magician are religious worship rules.
While the rules which make a religion unpopular they offer a focus or discipline to daily life which many magicians still mimic even if they are unaware of it. The morning, noon and sunset salutes, practiced by many magicians is a standard religious practice and for a similar reason. The practice of offerings, which is suddenly fashionable amongst magicians is also religious. The reason we follow it though is forcing ourselves to follow a regular practice in which we acknowledge divinity. We can’t do that if we don’t have a divinity.
Moral conduct is close to being universal and this is thanks to religion being an important part of human society. While Christians and Muslims have issues about how those morals are expressed they have similar concepts. In fact, when Christianity had the same level of control over its population that some Muslim states have now, it was doing the same things that we find objectionable in Saudi-Arabia. Once a religion has political power this function becomes impossible. Once morals are defined by the state, moral failure must be legally treated. For example, I do not park on double yellow lines, not because I am especially moral, but because I don’t want a parking ticket. Morality has been lost.
A magician wants to be the best person they can be. Sure they know they fail, but they must always try. That moral code is very often defined for them by the religion they follow – even if it an ideal.
Reforming the religion
The Rosicrucian manifestos talked about religious reformation and this has been mistakenly used to to talk about protestant versus Catholicism. What each magician does is that they reform their religion until it fits better with the image of god they are working with. This means that they take the most important aspects of that religion and work outwards from that. So, a Christian magician would look at concepts like compassion, and non-judgement and decide that homophobia is not an important part of their Christianity. A Muslim might consider devotion to Allah as the most important thing and dietary or dress code unimportant. This has already happened with Pagans who have already discovered that what you sacrifice is less important than the act itself.
One thing I have noticed since adopting a pagan approach to religion is that I have ended up following a daily pattern of work which is JUST religious. I light candles to different gods and an invoke them. The purpose of this is not magical, as such. It is using a regular rite to connect to the Gods so that when I do need to invoke them, they are not strangers. They know I respect them because every week I have done a little ritual doing just that. It is not worship, really, but it is religion.