Playing at Magic
Playing at Magic

Playing at Magic

There was a time, in the English language, where you could only dabble in the occult. The implication was that no matter how seriously you took your magical path, as far as the real world was concerned you were only mucking about. The idea of “dabbling” mean that if something went wrong in a magical experiment, it was down to you not taking it seriously.
One of the downsides of the modern age is that beginners have access to more information than they used to and this makes “dabbling” much easier than it was before.
As a result you find views being forged which are based on reading books by “new age experts” or “fantasists”. This type of person shows up on web groups saying that the “know nothing” but at the same time often pontificating at great length in vacuous New Age statements. They usually finish their posts with phrases like “my two cents” as if to hint that they are not really sure what the hell they are talking about, but they will say it anyway. They are also fond of trying to take people down a peg or two if they are disagreed with.
Voodoo has become the new black
when it comes to magic
In addition you can usually tell if someone is playing at magic by their tendency to do a lot of different systems, often employing them all at once. They universally have Reiki degrees, often have trained in a form of martial arts, like Chi Gung or Buddhist (usually Zen) techniques. Weird fashionable magical ideas pop up, in the last few years it has been Voodoo.
But not one of them has focused on a training system to be any good at it, and none of them amounts to much when it comes to magic.
On one web group there was a recent discussion about Goetia, which is another hot topic amongst those who do not understand it. They were talking about a technique which involved sticking Goetic demons into spirit pots. This is a voodoo technique and means that you lure the spirit into a pot with a promise and it will do your bidding.
Rock me Asmodeus.
While I get that this might work with weak, terminally stupid, astral demons, or ancestors, I cant see how it would work with Goetic demons. I had an image of some magician asking Asmodeus, King of the Nine Hells, embodiment of the seventh deadly sin of lust willingly going into a bean tin. Think about it, how can you stuff the concept of lust into a peanut butter jar? When someone with a little more experience pointed this out, he was told that such magical techniques were successfully worked in Brazil, so that was the end of the matter. Even if that were true, it does not mean that they have bottled real demons as if they were preserves.
Part of the problem is a literal idea of magic which most people get kicked out of them by experience, but the rest is simply because they do not think about what they are doing. They are playing with what sounds cool, rather than doing real magic.
The number of people out there who say they have had no teachers, but have actually experimented with heavier ceremonial magic techniques is frankly alarming. It shows, amongst other things, a level of arrogance and a belief that they are so important that training within an esoteric school is not necessary for them. They have the answers already because they have read about it. But it is not as if they have really studied, or done regular meditation work to reach that state. After playing around with systems they did not completely master, they have just moved onto something else.
Ways you can tell if someone in a web group is playing at magic
1. They use out-of-date flowery language in web posts.
Today we will teach you how to mix your traditions until they are light and
fluffy and do what you want them to do.
2. They mix traditions and systems.
3. They use esoteric terms without understanding them.
4. They interpret magical teachings literally.
5. They mention UFOs, or conspiracy theories alongside occult teaching.
6. They refer to their “past lives.”
7. They use books and references instead of personal experience.
8. When personal experience is used as a reference, it is usually conventional, literal, and could have been read somewhere.
9. They write long posts with extensive quotes from other people to give their words authority.
10. They use long sentences which contain phrases that they think sound good, but don’t actually mean anything.
11. They revise basic magical techniques without understanding what goes on behind them.
12. They say what they think the web group wants to hear, and will attack who they thing the web group wants to attack. Often they will praise the leader of the web group highly.
13. They often complain that they cannot do practical work because their house is too small, or they are disturbed by their children or spouse.
Pah, Christians, Jews or Pagans, they all taste like Chicken
14. They attack other religions, normally Christianity, because they are trying to rebel against their upbringing.
15. They often try to mention science, particularly things like quantum physics so that they can demonstrate their intellect without having to talk about magic which they know nothing about.
16. They admit that they don’t belong to a school, or have a teacher, or if they do it was a group that did not last long, or treated them badly.
17. They go into detail about the nature of their contacts with angels, demons, secret chiefs, God etc.
18. They ask for help from the rest of the group to carry out magical operations, under their directions, for the good of humanity.
19. They recount how they are being magically attacked or been psychically vampired by someone.
20. They take personal umbridge when people disagree with their latest theory. Often “telling the person off.”
21. They think this list and article is all about them.


  1. Great post, Nick 🙂 Thanks.

    I do understand where you are coming from in this post. I think a great problem is the lack of single focus and commitment to traditional methods and principles. While self-teaching and development is to be lauded, it needs to follow traditional principles. In the GD system these meant you did not practice magic until the Inner Order.

    The same principle, the need for apprentice-preparation BEFORE depth spiritual work is found in all traditions. This is can be quite a lengthy process. Folk don’t like this.

    I once had a stand up argument with a friend of my girlfriend who was about to teach ‘Celtic Spirituality’ at adult school. I asked about this, as she had not previously expressed interest and she said she had read three books. That was what equipped her for this teaching role, and she could see no problem in it.

    Sadly, the same mentality is influencing the expression of more ancient traditions. My son has a DVD and book set on Tibetan Buddhist meditation by a western monk, published by a large international company. The blurb proudly announced the author had been meditating for seven years. Traditionally Tibetan teachers had at least 20 years experience.

    And again, I agree with your concern about the folk taking magic as literal. I mostly let this slide, as there is too much to counter. For example on a Facebook occult practice group recently there was a discussion on whether smudge sticks were or were not effective. No one was talking about the USE of the sticks in a magical manner. Only if they, somehow, ‘cos of their supposed links to ‘native American spirituality’ they worked or not. On their own.

    Anyway, I do hope to see the wheel turn at some point and people, in groups or not, decide to follow sensible, traditional patterns of training and discipline.

    THANKS 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    Oh, ah, do both the essay and the reply strike a chord … or a nerve. My husband/priest and I recently conducted a public Samhain ritual. It was pretty good considering it was a public ritual. But I was a bit surprised afterward when a young person declared that one of her peer group had become possessed and that “other deities” had come through the portal we’d opened. One had followed her group back to her campsite, and she had to grab white sage and smudge the heck out of her group to get rid of this “other deity.” The whole problem was that we were working with “underworld deities” and she and her peer group believe themselves to be at enmity with the denizens of that “underworld” because they regularly go in and do battle with them. Yeah.

  3. Anonymous

    There is definately an issue with people totally lacking in all real education in occult matters ‘screwing around’. Thing is, I have not seen any actual greater competence as a result of lodge training in magic, and in fact the best mages I know-the people who actually can literally do things with magic that are, well, magical… tend to be dedicated independents. While those with lodge training often seem far, far more interested in playing political games and deriding the very concept that magic has anything to do with actual wonders. Why might this be, one has to wonder?

  4. I dont think I ever said that if you join an occult group for training you can’t play around . From the list of points above any, some or all can apply to someone who is playing at it. Point 16 is the only one which mentions anything about belonging to a group and what I am saying is that this is basically a flag that someone knows nothing. It is common on GD groups for someone to pop and say something like “I am not a member of the golden dawn but I have been experimenting with using using Egyptian god names in the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram instead of the christian ones and I think this is superior.”
    Many of the people I am talking about are lodge members or members of orders. As you said they are more interested in grades and playing politics. It is easy in a lodge system to just go up the ranks and do nothing but pass examinations.
    My definition of training is not simply being a member of a group. It is actively working on the material so that it is built within your universe. This cannot be done by someone who is self taught. The standards of self taught magicians are a lot lower. They have not had someone stand over them and make sure they are working and they have made the right leaps of understanding. Dion Fortune once said that self taught magicians were like self taught brain surgeons. If a teacher is doing their job, then a person has had their ego curbed and forced to look at things that they do not like, both in the system and in themselves. A self taught person finds this a lot harder. It is not impossible, but less likely.
    None of this is about intellectual material… it is all about application of that material.
    That being the case I also do not believe that someone who has not been trained can be a significant magical person. Many of the so called loners out there who are significant have had some training at some point in their lives and are happy to look at these as “influences”. Of the top of my head I cant think of a any writers who have not been trained somewhere by someone and have used that as a bridge to leap somewhere else. Off the top of my head I cannot think of any significant “self taught” magicians out there.

    1. Anonymous

      While you make a good point I disagree rather stringently with your absolutist stance on this, and also think that your view of who constitutes a ‘significant’ magician is subject to confirmation bias. You make some very good cases about some of the advantages of having a teacher but they are not insurmountable obstacles; let us take as one example a superior method of magical training suitable for the self-taught, Franz Bardons IIH. In the first step alone introspection of a severe quality is recommended that also serves the double purpose of building up within the individual an association with the elemental ‘key’, allowing the person to use this in terms of character work in a way that is beneficial for later practice. The void of thought exercise if it is honestly followed will as presented encourage a most severe humility; it is agreed upon by most people who have seriously pursued it that the timetables he gives are far too low, and I myself had the frustrating experience of having to do it for up to six hours a day before I could meet the requirements which certainly helped encourage some humility(before this I was rather enamoured with my own gifts as a mage; having to go to such lengths to perform adequately was crushing for me). In general IIH presents extremely high and stringent standards, both for practical magic and for self-development, and as a general rule I have known those following it to have developed a deep humility as a character trait(I am an exception, my ego is still a bit of a problem but then I had a much greater degree of personal arrogance to work down from as compared to most since it was one of my primary character defects). While Bardon does implicitly recommend a teacher, in fact giving some instructions for psychic disciplines to help with obtaining contact with one, the degree to which Bardon himself was taught in his incarnation as Bardon(he does of course claim past life teachings, but so does nearly everyone who gives any credence to reincarnation at all) is something still debated. The fact the teachings are given on three different levels also helps with the building of the material within the universe of the person practicing to a degree that in those who pursue the matter seriously tends to have rather severe effects on the persons life; at the very least to the same degree as I have ever seen from formal training. Though the fact success with IIH comes to so few is perhaps an indication that at least a formal teacher is better for most, the fact that even one-and other possible cases could be given-viable manual for self training exists disproves the absolutist stance you present and in my view modifies it down to at least “in most cases”.

  5. “I am not a member of the golden dawn but…”
    – That is an old chestnut that surfaces regularly. Fair enough, some have not yet found a suitable lodge (we were all there at one time), but for the most part, the tone of the emails that say that, is that “I am not interested at all in joining a lodge and learning this stuff properly, but I am prepared to pontificate to you naive people who are foolish enough to join lodges and show you where you are all going wrong” Not always, but often.

    “They were talking about a technique which involved sticking Goetic demons into spirit pots…with a promise and it will do your bidding.”
    – I have never personally been particularly interested in the Goetia, but I think anyone who wants to lock any spirit or being into a jar and force it to do their bidding should see a shrink and work out their control issues. I have always found I could accomplish my will perfectly without imprisoning or attempting to control any other being or spirit and instead simply take control of my own mental processes. Banish by all means, threaten if absolutely necessary, but imprison and order about, I don’t think so.

    “ They universally have Reiki degrees”
    – I have always been surprised (and unimpressed) by people calling themselves Reiki Masters after a couple of years of alleged “training”. I am uncertain as to how you can claim to be a master at anything worthwhile in two years, let alone the healing arts!

    “The number of people out there who say they have had no teachers, but have actually experimented with heavier ceremonial magic techniques is frankly alarming.”
    – I have never understood that resistant to having teachers. Personally I have always sought out teachers and mentors in whatever skill, magical or otherwise I am seeking to develop. In my day-to-day business as a business consultant I sought out the best mentors and teachers money could hire. Even today, now running (along with 2 other Chiefs) my own Order, this has not changed and I, thankfully, still have a magical teacher. It has always been my mentors and tutors who gave me my magical practice an edge; meaning, metaphorically, from my own solitary study and practice I produced good blunt instruments, the teacher showed me how to sharpen the magical sword so-to-speak.

    “They usually finish their posts with phrases like “my two cents” as if to hint that they are not really sure what the hell they are talking about, but they will say it anyway.”

    – I won’t end this post with “just my two cents”. lol. I remember the first few times I heard people ending posts on Golden Dawn forums with “just my two cents”. Didn’t bother me at first, but about the 20th time you hear it, it does tends to get a bit tedious. It is an insecurity thing really, they probably feel deep-down that their view is only worth just that: 2 cents.

  6. You know, for me it is really simple. If I want to learn to do something and I don’t know how, I look for a teacher. I may decide, if it small, like making Jam, the internet is fine. If it is large and I want to develop skill in it, like yoga, Adobe CS 6, I look for a teacher.

    After 20+ years of Western magic when I decided to practice Tibetan meditation, I looked for a teacher. I had been teaching western meditation for ten years, but knew that even if I could know ALL a Tibetan teacher could impart to me, it would be much better to begin again as a student. The relationship dynamic, putting ourselves as a student, learning FROM another not interpreting from a book, is so important. And does not even touch upon a whole raft of inner dynamics.

  7. Fabulous post, Nick … and made me chuckle too. So much of it rings true. I suppose there’s a reason why this work is called “esoteric”, because it’s only “the few” who are ever going to put the work in, no matter how fashionable the outer trappings may be. The lodge I belong to has a fairly hefty study course which weeds out a lot of people very quickly (some people are disappointed that they can’t become a master adept in three weeks over the internet) but really, the learning only starts properly when you reach the level where you can attend lodge meetings and pick up experience and responsibility. I think responsibility is one of the things missing from a lot of people’s magical lives, and anyone who thinks it’s OK to “bind” an inner plane entity of any kind is seriously lacking in it. I agree with Soror SD that it has a lot to do with personal control issues – why force something to act as your slave when you might do a lot better by asking it nicely!

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