21ST CENTURY MAGIC – a lecture given at the XVIII Foro ACCE in Nerja
21ST CENTURY MAGIC – a lecture given at the XVIII Foro ACCE in Nerja

21ST CENTURY MAGIC – a lecture given at the XVIII Foro ACCE in Nerja

The following is the speech I wrote for the XVIII Foro ACCE in Nerja Spain in 2017. In fact I tinkered with the talk considerably “on the fly” to adjust for the audience. I went over time and was only about half way through what follows. Still it was a great time, and my first time in Spain.

Magicians living in the 21st century are living in a time of transformation where the structures upon which magic is built are changing. Magic has emerged from an effective 2000-year-old slumber where practitioners lived in fear of their neighbours reporting them to the authorities. There was a flowering at the end of the 19th century with the likes of the Golden dawn, Alister Crowley and Dion Fortune, this nearly died out after WW2 until the late 1960s when it resurrected itself again in the 1980s.

But this current situation magic might not remain and in fact the movement might move underground again.  Any current renaissance you might see is doomed unless there are some major changes in the way that magicians see themselves and the society which surrounds them

The 20th century magical revolution failed because of several key reasons.  It was over-laden with baggage from the Christian dark-ages, including masonic and theosophical structures, it watered itself down under the influence of the New Thought or New Age movement and it secularised too much under the chaos and psychological magical models.

The result is a quasi-institutionalised hierarchical system, recycling new age mantras, about self-transformation of the psyche and other things which were once a component of magic but not the main event. It has become light, fluffy and peppered with images of crystal unicorns and rainbows with practitioners who insist on renaming themselves like Rob Wind-Breaker, Melissa Wolf-Spirit.

Many “magicians” are now those who have read a few books and might do a couple of rituals a year while claiming that they are working on their personalities to tackle actual or perceived neurosis.

When you compare this image of the modern magician with those who followed the hermetic current from the dawn of time you see our problem here.

Historically magicians were not nice.  They were often bad tempered distant times who did not play nice with others.  Sure they might have overcome some of their “issues” so that they could function in the real world but the real adepts I have met were not saccharin types pretending to be Jesus or Buddha.

A magical adept is a person who is most themselves. To put it simply.

“I did not choose to incarnate into this form of existence to be Jesus or Buddha. Something else has already done that job – my only purpose is to be Nick Farrell and I have to do that to the best of my ability.”

Life is a story and you are the hero. You cannot steal someone else’s character in this story you must be you, otherwise your story is going to fail. Heroes cannot suddenly say “I don’t want to kill this dragon, I think I will take up origami instead” equally stories are full of the dangers of walking off the path.

Therefore, a magician is one who says this is my path, I am who am and from that the story begins. If I fail at something in my life that is part of the story from which I have climb back. This is the opposite of the New Age self-improvement victim blaming myth which says all things are caused by bad thinking. While the New Ager might say “shit happens to me because I caused it” a magician says “shit has happened I have to change it.”

These two attitudes lead to different life approaches.  A New Ager would say “that person is poor because of the bad decisions in their life, they need to visualise and think more positively.”

The Magician says “this person is in a difficult part of their story, what can I do to help.”

But one of the problems we have with 21st century magic is that it is system of thought which has not been defined. If you ask a modern magician “what is magic” they will confidently quote Crowley that “Magic is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will” or Dion Fortune that “Magic is the art and science of changing consciousness at will.”

These definitions have one thing in common.  They do not define magic at all.

Magic does cause change to occur in conformity with will but so does flicking a light switch.  No one constructs a ritual to create a cup of coffee, they get water, fill up the coffee machine and put coffee in. If it is my will to have coffee I do not need magic.

Dion Fortune’s definition leans heavily on psychology and implies that magic requires changes of consciousness, but the reality is that it doesn’t, some magical techniques involve changing conscious but not everything involves going to the inner planes or getting into a relaxed state.

Let’s prove it by all doing a really basic magical ritual to get something we really want – something simple.

Before we start the key thing about this experiment is the Divine name IAO – Iota, Alpha and Omega which is pronounced Ee AH Oh.  As a name it is associated with Christ in revelation saying I am the Alpha and Omega… the beginning and end.  But the name is much older than that.  First it was the Greek at-tempt to phonetically say the Hebrew name of god, Tetragramatron, Yod Heh Vav Heh. Before that though it was a divine name of Jupiter and was uttered in the Greek Mysteries.  In Greek Magical Paprii it is one of the names of power for the divine light.  In the Golden Dawn tradition it is the name which brings down the divine light and unites God with Matter… so it is very powerful.

So let’s first have a crack at vibrating it because it is key part of this little ritual we are going to do.

(audience vibrates IAO)

So lets have a think about something small that we might want, it might be that we would like a bit more cash, love, or anything really.  For the purposes of this experiment it does not matter.  Just some-thing you want.

Now think of an image of that thing.  If it is money, like most of you are thinking about now see it as a simple gold coin, if it is general love see a symbol of a valentine, if it is someone specific see an image of them kissing you… you get the general idea.  Now visualise that symbol rising up in the air until it is half-way between you and the roof.

Now look to the ceiling and imagine a sphere of white light.  This represents all you expect from God, just abstracted.

Now vibrate the name IAO three times at the white sphere.

Now I want you to vibrate the letter I and see white light descend from the ceiling hit the image of the thing you want

See the white light hit that image and it comes alive now vibrate the letter A

Now see the image and the white then come down and connect to your aura and vibrate O.

Time will tell if you get what you desire and we would like to hear back from you, after all we just got a theatre full of people doing a magical experiment and it would be rather good to know what happened.

So what is it that you learnt from that ritual?

Firstly, you did not change consciousness, you connected with something to make something happen.  You did not actually change anything, at least not immediately.  There was no divine will you were obey-ing your personal will to get something you wanted and you were effectively negotiating with the divine to get it.

So we get closer to understanding what magic is when we start to think of it as a god. In fact the Ancient Egyptians personified Magic and called it Heka.  He was depicted as a man with his arms in the form of an old pre-digital TV aerial.

If you are a monotheist you can see it as god in action. Either way Magic is the raw energy of God in action which the magician is trying to direct in a way he or she wants.

If you go back through time to the first magicians, who were probably shamans, the central part of what they were doing was working with spirits and gods.

And here we come to the central issue of the 21st century. Most occultists become very uncomfortable when you start talking about God. Most of this is due to a bad experience in their upbringing.  Some mix and match things they like from one religion while rejecting most of the key parts of it. Others adopt all the attitudes and morals of Christianity, but project it on to a new Goddess or God. But the vast majori-ty, like many in the 21st century see themselves as spiritual rather than identifying themselves with a specific religion.

As someone who walked away from Christianity in my late teens, I really understand that, but if magic is an interaction with Heka then it is something we need to overcome.  It might help if we work out what a God is.

Personally I see God as an abstract infinite field of intelligent energy which creates a universe within itself as part of its process of trying to understand itself.  Because humanity is conscious it is dimly aware of its divine nature. So it has some of the same characteristics of that intelligent and conscious divine field of energy.

Before we visualised God as a ball of white light which was total abstract. Humans have attempted to understand that un-unstandable ball of light   through-out their evolution.  Infinity is too big.  So what they did was break it up into different functions and give each a mask.  Because we have some of those divine creative qualities in ourselves those masks became “real.”  Ancient humans terrified by a lightning storm made that aspect of God into Zeus, or Jupiter, or YHVH and started to build up myths and stories about those gods to explain those powers. Priests appeared to regulate the worship of these gods.

However, a magician has a different view of Gods which is not quite the same as religion.  The magician knows that they are masks.  They know that they are bit and powerful, and can be activated by worship, but they don’t worship them.

The fantasy writer Terry Pratchett put it well when he said:

“Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believ-ing in the postman.”

To that I would add that the magician respects the gods and will often stand in awe of them, but the role of the relationship is different.  The Magician works with the Gods.

We can see that in the difference between a magical invocation and a prayer. On the surface, they are similar.  Both tend to start by stating how big and powerful the God is.  For the follower, such statements are simple devotion. To quote Monty Python:

“Oh Lord, oooh you are so big. So absolutely huge. Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here I can tell you. Forgive us, O Lord, for this dreadful toadying and barefaced flattery. But you are so strong and, well, just so super. Fantastic. Amen.”

But for a magician the statements are aligning themselves to those power aspects of the mask which they are hoping to turn into the ritual.  Moreover, they are taking those divine titles and weaving them into the form of a god about them.

So if you take the Priest in the Roman Catholic Eucharist rite, he will take the wafer and ask god to make them into the blood and body of Jesus.  Compare that with the Golden Dawn Magical Eucharist where the “priest” takes on the godform of Osiris and does it himself.

I am Osiris Onnophris who is found perfect before the Gods. I hath said: These are the elements of my Body perfected through suffering, glorified through trial. The scent of the dying Rose is as the repressed sigh of my Suffering. And the flame-red Fire as the energy of mine undaunted Will. And the Cup of Wine is the pouring out of the blood of my heart, sacrificed unto Regeneration, unto the newer life. And the bread and salt are as the foundations of my body, which I destroy in order that they may be renewed.

In a magic ritual then the magician takes on the form of a god to do the work. So today we are going to see what it feels like.  I am going to give you a technique which is stage one in God form working.

So what I want you to do is shut your eyes and relax.  Just hear the sound of my voice and concentrate on your breathing.

Now visualise a small statue of a god or saint or angel which you are familiar with.  See it as about 30 cm.

In your mind’s eye draw it to your groin centre or chakra.

Now imagine your own personal divine light (which is a white sphere over your head)   This is your slice of god which you carry around with you.

Imagine a line of light from that divine source send a line of white gold light down you your back and connect to the statue. Silently say the name of the god you have visualised.

See the statue start to breath and come alive.

With each in breath I want you to see energy come down that line of light into the statue and for it to get bigger

… and bigger

Until it has grown to just below your eyes. The statue’s eyes are shut.

With your mind reach out to the god form inside you connecting with that ancient divine force.

Now allow your consciousness to enter the statue so you become the god.

When I say “now” I want you to open your eyes and see the world as the god sees it.


You are the god looking through the eyes of a human.

Now shut your eyes again.  Thank the god for taking part and with draw from the statue

See the white light withdraw from the statue and see it begin to shrink

And shrink

Until it becomes a tiny dot

Now open your eyes as a human again.

The practical use of this experiment is to take on the divine force of the god in a ritual.   So that when the magician wants something happen it is not them that is asking, but the God itself.

If you think about it, I am too small in the scale of the universe to make anything happen outside my own sphere of control.  But as a god I have the power to negotiate with other gods, or beings.

Throughout the Egyptian Papyri we here this technique constantly used.  The magician says “It is not me that does this but the God who does this.” “It is not Nick Farrell that orders you to change the orbit of the Sun, but it is Helios the god of the Sun who orders this.”

Now one thing you will have realised from your little experiment is that while you might have felt the power of the being you invoked into your Aura there was nothing there which could be remotely called worship.

In fact, the priest of any religion would say that what you had just done was heresy.  You are not supposed to USE the god, you are supposed to reverentially worship it at a distance and, if you are really lucky, that God might not smite you, or may give you a blessing.

Using that technique I just gave you, the magician can stand in sacred space as the God and re-negotiate creation.

A magician works with the Gods, sometimes using one God to order another about. You have a paradox – the magician acknowledges the Gods and their power and yet at the same time is directing them in the same way that someone might turn a stage light onto an actor.

What is more, when a magician uses these divine forces, he or she does not care which is the right religion. Instead of taking a Richard Dawkin’s approach saying all religions are wrong, and god does not exist, the magician says all religions are in some measure true and all Gods exist.

Another important modern magical tool which has been re-discovered and refined under the influence of modern psychology is pathworking.

Pathworking which is broadly the magical use of imagination has been around since the shamanic period. When we look at some of the descriptions of magical events we are very often looking at a pathworking which has been adapted for a ritual.  For example, in the Egyptian Papyri there is process to obtain a divine assistant.  Part of the ritual involves you sitting on your roof until a hawk delivers a special stone which you carve a sacred image upon it. Having tested it both ways I can tell you that the chances of a hawk showing up anywhere let alone with a rock which is capable of being carved is remote.  But, if you invoke Horus and imagine a Hawk coming down from the sun and blessing a rock you have found (which is conveniently flat and is easy to carve) then you get the same magical effect without spending the rest of your life sitting on the roof for a hawk to show up.

Magical journeys to the underworld which are described in myth are clearly pathworkings.  Homer wrote a very vivid description of an underworld magical rite where Odysseus journeys to a specific magical spot does a ritual and then pathworks meetings with the dead.

Pathworking can be a mixed bag. Some of them are just nothing more than barely controlled daydreams but others speak deal truths about ourselves which are more powerful and direct than any oracle or dream.  Still others allow us to interact with divine powers. But magic traditionally had a problem.  While it knew that some pathworkings were real and true, there was no way to separate the sheep from the goats. For example, if a 19th-century magician dreamt of being attacked by a black dog while defending a small girl that since the black dog was a symbol of the Dog Star and the small girl would represent Virgo. Psychology would ask “who is the dreamer and what do they understand by those symbols?” While the symbolic approach would provide a very interesting and esoteric response, the psychological model would give a more practical answer.

As I wrote in my book “Magical Pathworking” pathworking has become more flexible thanks partly to work carried out in the 1970s by psychological researchers. By partly applying the psychological model to pathworking we can see that some of what we imagine is driven by the desires and wishes of the lower self. Sometimes this can be useful, particularly when we are trying to understand our subconscious desires but magically they are less interesting.

The psychological model started to make an impact on magic in the 1930s. It had champions such as Dion Fortune, Paul Case and Israel Regardie. To them, and modern magicians, it provided an explanation of occult processes of the mind. It was especially good at pinpointing those processes which stood in the way of successful living and magical attainment.

If we were doing a ritual and something happens it is vital to rule out any psychological quirks as influencing the working. Divine beings rarely say what we want to hear, so if they suddenly start telling you that you are the new messiah and are going to be the prophet of a New Aeon, and people for generations will be looking to you as the way shower of a new religion then you know that is your ego talking.  Likewise, if you have sudden visions of a past life where you were a high Tibetan Lama, or High Priest of Atlantis and are now some sad alcoholic who can’t get a partner and is doing the same sort of magic you did 30 years ago then you are desperately wanting to be superior so are projecting it back to an imaginary time when you might have been.

We can now define two different types of pathworking the first is subjective which works within a person’s inner kingdom and tells a magician all about themselves and their complexes and wishes.

For example, it was not possible to identify that some esoteric experiences might be fulfilling important, repressed, unconscious desires rather than being an objective spiritual experience. As WE Butler pointed out, a modern psychologist would see some of the experiences of Christian saints as neurotic complexes often based on sexual repression.

The psychological approach also provided an excellent explanation of the processes that a student suffers during the beginning of their training. Teachers with some understanding of what their students were dealing with could help them overcome psychological issues which might have otherwise been misidentified as magical ones. Magical methods could be applied to these psychological processes, like the ones I described in my book Magical Imagination.

But as psychologists started to enter in the magical arena and define or dismiss all magical experiences in psychological terms they started to undo the important parts of magic.  Magical spirits, contacts, gods suddenly became complexes. The complex, and problematic, work of mediation with divine entities was effectively written off as a form of elaborate talking to yourself.

Nearly 50 years after the event, Regardie dismissed the channelling of the Golden Dawn secret chiefs in the Bristol vault as a pointless sub-conscious masturbation, even if they correctly said it was his mission to seed the Golden Dawn current in the US.

But the writing off all occult experiences as subjective and therefore open to psychological interpretation is dangerous. If it is “all in your head,” esoteric experiences are reduced to a nihilistic horror where perception is everything, and there is nothing other than what you experience in your own mind. It is unsurprising then that rather than tempering ego, the psychologically minded occultist has become a basket case of narcissism.

These pathologies of psychology attempt to place the study into the spiritual realm where it does not belong. While useful for mapping the lower aspects of Yesod, it has started to comment on Tiphareth and beyond. It has crossed the line of being helpful and become something to be discouraged. If occultists do not believe in a subjective occult experience, where there are spirits, angels, and gods out there, then they certainly will not have one.

Now let’s look at the role of the occult training in the 21st century. Occult Order in the 21st century which is certainly past its sell by date.  Many occult orders were based on a German book called the Crata Ropia which carefully arranged the grades of the Egyptian mysteries for different groups to follow. It showed the transformation that a magical student had to undergo as part of their magical path.  I published a translation of it because it was important to understand some of the spiritual processes found in the Golden Dawn, which used it as a background document.

The only problem was that we know that Egyptian society and the mysteries were never like Crata Ropia suggested. The book was a hugely influential 18th century masonic fantasy. While the book was forgotten, its teachings remain in the orders it influenced.

Formal Occult Orders are still around, particularly in the United States, but those in Europe have suffered badly simply because the premise that they were founded upon – the ability to impart secret information and wisdom appears to have faded due to the mistaken belief you can find all occult information in Google.

This is unfortunate because an occult order would take a student through a step-by-step process through the information while at the same time doing magic upon them so that they could take the load of the levels of information. Magical experience is not the acquiring of information.

The modern internet magician lacks that realisation and often thinks that they can do magic at a level which is impossible for a beginner because it has become accessible. It is a bit like saying I can be a brain surgeon because I have read a few books on it.

But magical training is a slow unveiling where you get better and better until you have got the hang of it, have a few short years of being useful and train someone else and then you die having advanced the path one step on.

These seven stages are 1. A basic intellectual understanding of the concepts. 2. Practicing the basic concepts. 3. Obtaining and working with your spiritual guide or contact. 4.Obtaining and working with your divine self. 5. Developing spiritual techniques for yourself. 6 working for the good of humanity or your community.  7. Preparing yourself to meet the infinite.

For this to work you need a human teacher – often several. This is another part of the tradition which has suffered from the fact that in the 19th and 20th century esoteric teachers were presenting themselves as being gods and therefore their words were set in stone. So if Dion Fortune, or Alistair Crowley had a daft idea about the nature of reality then their students were expected to believe it. A student who was dependant on the intellectual knowledge their teacher imparted to them was not going to get much in the way of other information so believed it completely. If you read some of the ways Crowley treated Victor Neurenburg you can see how dangerous this situation was. This deification of esoteric teachers in that period continues even today.

I wrote a biography called King over the Water about one of the founders of the Golden Dawn Samuel Mathers. In the book, I did not exactly say he was “as mad as a box of frogs” but I did hint that he was a lazy, eccentric, autocrat with right-wing leanings who had proto-nazi friends. One esoteric Golden Dawn group which claimed descent from Mathers launched a huge public campaign against the book, demanding it be burnt because it did not show Mathers as the occult messiah it saw him.

But this occult image making has become incredibly difficult to pull off since the Internet arrived. In fact, few modern occultists with an internet connection see their teachers as gods. An occult teacher who writes a book, or sets up a group will find themselves with followers and people who will make it their life’s work and hound them for the slightest perceived offence. The modern Golden Dawn, which started in 1979, was destroyed as a practical esoteric movement because two internet literate people decided to form Golden Dawn orders and obliterate all the competition.  This created the internet perception that the Golden Dawn is fractious and groups fight all the time. It is false, but that is the sort of perception that will stain the Golden Dawn as a working group forever.

All this caused students to be hyper-critical of their teachers.  In many ways this  is fair enough – discrimination is one of the most important early lessons on the magical path. In fact, in the early days of magical history you tended to stick with your teacher because, although he might have been a complete idiot.  finding a magical group or individual was nearly impossible.

Now the internet gives students the illusion that there are a lot of good teachers out there and they are competing for students. If a teacher challenges a student too much (and all the good ones do) the student just leaves.

Another issue is that there is very little financial support for teachers any longer.  Many students are so worried about falling for confidence tricksters they view any payment to a teacher for a course or workshop with suspicion.

In the 20th century teachers got around this by writing books.  It was possible to make a living from the occult book market with many occult books managing to sell 10-20,000 copies.  Now an occult writer is lucky to sell 4,000.  It can take two years for someone to write an occult book and if they are lucky they will make 3,000 euro from the exercise.  To make matters worse that 3,000 will be spread over a decade.

In the 1980s another method of teaching appeared – the workshop. These too were a way of supporting teachers while providing a very good method of learning techniques.  However, these dried up completely as students did not want to pay.

So now we have a situation where teachers train a smaller number of students who they train as a service. Very few write books and fewer train people in workshops. Sadly this also means that the chances of there being other Dion Fortunes, Samuel Mathers or Alistair Crowley’s being ever discovered is remote. I will give you an example. Donald Kraig wrote one of the most influential training manuals of the 21st century. I might not have agreed with a lot of it but it was influential. He died two years ago and his wife could not even afford his funeral expenses, Hermetic Golden Dawn leader Chic Cicero was dragged through the  courts by one of his students who trademarked the Golden Dawn name and was insisting that he run the order. When most have retired he is still working to pay his court bills because most of his students would not help out.

All these changing attitudes mean that Occult orders have also changed.  The big public groups such as BOTA, AMORC, OTO and the Golden Dawn are still there, but they are not the forces they once were. They have been replaced by much smaller groups centred around the ideas of one teacher. The good ones are a lot harder to find and even harder to get into. This is because although occult information has become easier, real occult training is just as hard as it ever was.

On the plus side, Occult groups are however much better networked.  A group like mine is connected to lots of other groups and we talk often to other occult leaders.  There is a sharing of information, training and techniques.  Suddenly as a teacher I can ask another teacher for help if I don’t know the answer to a student’s question. Unlike many 19th century occult teachers I don’t have to pretend to know everything.  I also do not have the problem of having to stop my own spiritual path because I teach. I can remain learning and developing my system.

So where does this leave magic in the 21st century?  The truth is that it is entirely in the hands of students.  There does need to be some changes. Firstly we need to find religion in magic again, we need to understand better what magic is and finally we need to support those who have the skills to teach, instruct and write better.

Then rather than the weakened new age flavour of magic we can create magic with an edge which fuses the historical and other data which we have found in the 21st century about the magic of the past, and develop a spiritual magic system which helps humanity develop.