Strength of Voice
March 24, 2014 Leave a comment
One of the most difficult problems I had in starting my career as a magician was speaking. I mean, I’ve always had a way with words; writing has always been my forte, and was one of the things that saved my ass in college when other projects didn’t go so well. Speaking, however, was another story; I often speak too quickly for many people to follow, and according to my parents (though I have no memories of this) I had a speech therapist help me when I was really young. Public speaking has always given me a minor case of stage fright, and I used some herbs now and then to calm the shaking of my knees and slow me down when presenting a topic to a class. It’s gotten better over time, but the written word was always better than my spoken word for years.
In magic, of course, one can’t always get by with writing things out, despite the inherent magic in the written word (a la Thoth-Hermes). Prayer, for instance, nearly mandates speaking things out loud, especially in a Hellenistic or pagan context, and making my prayers “feel” powerful wasn’t a matter of my word choice. It was a matter of speaking things willfully, intentfully, and powerfully on their own using the here-and-now voice rather than preserving and enduring ink. Saying a consecration of fire over my altar candles never really “felt” like it took effect, and though the angels came when I conjured them, it still felt like my words were empty though I was using the proper channels and ritual to back them up. Speaking out loud is something that has been a weak point in my magical practice, though it’s gotten better with practice. This practice is more than just focusing on the words. This rings too close to contemplation and meditation, and that’s not always the proper thing to do in a conjuration or a quick blessing of something, especially if you’re pressed for time, and ultimately isn’t helpful if you’re already in a meditative or focused state. Focusing on the words is important, of course; any ritual action can benefit from increased or single-minded focus, since having the mouth talk in one direction while the mind is running in the other never helps to complete a ritual successfully. Still, focus wasn’t really the issue.
Recent studies of mine have pointed out where this practice really took off for me, though I’m thinking about it in a new way than I did before. In my style of aikido, there are five disciplines, one of which is called sokushin no gyō, or bell purification. You sit down and clear the breath, then ring a bell in tune while performing a simple but loud chant. This is usually done for a substantial amount of time, often forty minutes or more, and chanting anything loudly for forty minutes can wreak havoc on the vocal chords. That is, unless you chant in the proper way. Aikido teachers call it “speaking from the one-point”, or the center of the body, which is energetically the same as speaking from the navel/svadisthana chakra or the lower dantian in Chinese medicine. Although we speak using our vocal chords, if we merely chant “from” there, we end up stressing them and causing damage; if we speak “from” our center, the vocal chords are more relaxed and aren’t stressed out from the chanting.
This is an important part of aikido in any of its disciplines; one moves or pushes the individual parts of the body to change things, but always moves with the one point and letting the rest of the body follow with it. Walking, for instance, involves moving the one point forward and letting the legs carry it in that direction, rather than just moving the legs one in front of the other. It’s weird to think about, but it’s an important point in aikido. By acting from the center, we end up acting with our whole body as well as our whole mind, since the center is both the energetic center of the body as well as its physical center of mass. If we chant or speak from the center, then, we speak with our whole body and mind unified as one, which can be done for much longer and with less strain than if we spoke or moved from any other part of the body. The kiai, or force shout that martial artists often use, is done in the same way; instead of shouting it from the vocal chords or lungs, one shouts it from the center which helps to coordinate the body better when executing a particular technique. Moving and acting from the center projects energy and strength in a way that uses our entire being more than if we used an individual part of the body, which uses just the strength of that part alone.
This aikido-centric way of thinking about speaking from the center is what’s really being meant when other magicians talk about vibrating or intoning words or sounds. Some magicians talk about this from a physical standpoint, where you feel your body reverberate or feel the words reverberate in your head. What’s really being meant here is that you’re using your entire being to speak the word, not just the body with the lungs nor the thought with the mind. By all means, of course, vibrate your godnames until the Sun sets for the last time; it helps, and producing these sounds in the world is enough to cause changes in it and in yourself! It’s just like me speaking the prayers of conjuration without really saying them, as it were, since the prayers still worked when I merely spoke them. But it’s the unification of the mind and body that really puts these prayers and names and sounds and chants on a whole different level than just saying them mentally or just saying them physically with no such unification.
Unifying the mind and body feels different, too, when speaking in this way. Physically, it doesn’t feel like much, save for something much stronger than a simple reverberation in the head; it feels like everything goes comfortably fuzzy and fizzy, or like you’re entering a trance state. Mentally, however, it’s a lot more noticeable. You’ll probably be aware that the thoughts in your head “feel” different depending on who’s saying them and how; for instance, your own thoughts about something you’re actively thinking about “feel” different from the chatter going on in the back of your head about monkey-mind concerns, just as the thoughts that you think “feel” different from those that spirits speak in conjuration or communion. Likewise, thoughts that are spoken with a unified and directed mind “feel” different from thoughts with a non-unified mind. To me, it feels like these unified-mind thoughts are “higher up”, or clearer in some way that’s hard to put into words. It’s really similar to how the Hymns of Silence feel, now that I have experience with those. Speaking in this way, in a sense, is applying the Hymns of Silence to back up any prayer or speech you have, which can cause far more change in the world than merely spoken words, since you have the force of the cosmos backing up your own vocal chords at that point.
When you get this feeling even once, it’s easy to keep going with it, and soon it becomes second nature to speak with this. Spirits come to your call more often and with less delay; blessings feel more assured and secure; people snap to attention and hear you out for longer. It still requires practice, of course, and a lack of focus can easily take away from this style of speaking, but this is a strength of voice that rivals even what Dune’s Bene Gesserit can muster. Channeling the sacred words and names, the sounds of the vowels, and prayers takes getting used to, and it’s important to build up a familiarity with the words themselves first so the mind can easily recognize them just as so the body can easily pronounce them. Again, it’s like aikido: it’s important to learn what the name and ideas are of the technique as well as the proper hand, arm, foot, and body motions are before one can properly apply them from the center rather than from individual body parts. In order to unify the actions of the body and the thoughts of the mind, it’s important to have the actions and thoughts known ahead of time; you can’t unify things without anything to unify together.
If you’re not in such a martial art that puts a focus like this on its motions, never fear! I got the hang of speaking with unified mind and body without taking aikido, too, though aikido has certainly already helped me in that regard, as well. When you pray, don’t just rattle the words out from a book; study the prayer, feel how each word feels in the mouth, understand what feelings are triggered in the heart and what thoughts come from the mind, and then put them all together praying, essentially, from the heart. When you vibrate the vowels of the planets, don’t just sing them loftily; feel the energies of the planets within you being directed outwards in all directions from you just as your voice can be heard in all directions, unifying you with the planetary energies already around you and strengthening yourself as well as your environment. When you intone sacred names in the LBRP or similar rituals, don’t just shout them out; connect, commune, and open yourself up to the beings and forces behind and within those words and bring themselves to you just as you bring yourself to them. It takes practice, but then, no strength can be developed without a good and repeated workout.