Beginner’s Practices

Recently, I’ve been getting more requests for consultations, which I’m happy to do for people.  (Yes, I charge, and you can find my rates on my Services page.)  Normally, people book a consultation for the purpose of an extended divination reading, where I do as many questions as time will allow and talk them through problems or offer advice as the situation calls for it.  However, a few consultations lately haven’t been anything of the sort, and fall under a type of consultory category that I personally love to do: ritual advice.  This is where, essentially, you ask me questions about practice, methodology, technique, or philosophy when it comes to magic and the occult, and I share with you my experiences, research, and the like, kind of like a 1-on-1 tutoring session.  I personally love doing this, since I typically learn as much from people as they learn from me, and we’re both better off for it.

However, I’ve also noticed that I’m seeing an uptick in the number of people who are new to magic and the occult asking for advice, like people who are in Fr. Rufus Opus’ new Seven Spheres classwork who want another view or advice from one of his other students.  Some are just studying on their own and want to know where to go or how they might accomplish something with a bare minimum of resources, while others are just wondering where to begin at all.  This is awesome and flattering, because even though I don’t consider myself a teacher (I’m still pretty damn new to this all myself as it is), I’d love to share my own experiences and lessons (sometimes learned the hard way) so that others don’t have to bungle things or get a slow start when they can hit the ground running.

For people who are utterly new to the occult, seeing all this stuff about grimoires and conjuration and sacrifice and Greek/Hebrew/Latin/Sanskrit/Egyptian terms and whatnot can be downright pants-shittingly frightening, not to mention bewildering.  I know that, when I first started, I was a little overwhelmed myself trying to figure out where to begin or what texts to read (assuming I could read them at all in modern English), but also what it is I should be doing to start.  That’s a crucial thing for a magician, and the line that divides an armchair magician from a practicing magician: what is it that you’re doing?  It’s all very well to rattle off the history of a particular incantation or memorize all the variations of the seals and designs from the Lemegeton Goetia, but if you’re not putting them to use, why are you doing this at all?  Magic should, in my opinion, be more than just a hobby of curiosity, but something that mixes a good way of living with a method of helping yourself and others in this world and all others.

Still, there’s a lot to do, and there’s always more to do even when you think you’ve done what you need.  So, if I had to suggest some basic practices that anyone interested in practicing magic or any spiritual way of life, what might I suggest?  Three things, all of which are pretty simple but which are endlessly profound and rewarding.

1: Learn two forms of divination.
You can’t figure out shit if you don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t always mean by talking with spirits.  Divination is an excellent way to get your foot in the door with magic; it’s how I got started, and this is my view on the subject.  Back in the day, I considered myself only a diviner and a seer, because I didn’t want to get involved with all that magic stuff.  I just wanted to see what was going on and help others make good decisions with new information they couldn’t get on their own; actually changing that stuff was out of my scope, as I considered it.  Then again, one thing led to the next, and I found myself researching what the planets and elements could be used for instead of just what they meant in astrology or Tarot, and the transition was so subtle that I became a magician without even really recognizing it.  Divination was the gateway drug for me, and it makes sense, because it helped inform me every step of the way, and still does as a matter of fact.

Now, I say that you should learn two forms of divination, if only to increase your skill set and to broaden your horizons.  These can be any two, but I recommend two different forms: a simple one that focuses on yes/no answers, and a complex one that can describe a whole situation at length and help provide detail as well as judgment.  The complex one is considerably easier to find in modern use: Tarot, runes, geomancy, astrology, I Ching, grammatomancy, astragalomancy, and the like are all good examples of what I mean by “complex divination”.  The easier one is more like child’s play and some diviners find it beneath them to just focus on yes/no queries, but at the same time, this is a vital skill to figure out.  Sure, you could use one divination system for both purposes, but I find it better to have two methods that complement each other.

Add to it, there’s an added benefit to learning two forms of divination like this.  The complex divination method you choose is excellent for understanding a whole system or situation when you need the guidance and detail that such a divination system can provide.  The simple divination method can be used for this, too, if a simple answer will suffice, but the real purpose I suggest the simple method is for communicating with spirits and discerning their will.  Having a yes/no method of divination, like chamalongos or coin tosses, is amazing to figure out how to proceed with offerings or rituals involving a particular spirit in conjunction with actually listening to them and getting the proper feeling of action.

2: Learn psychometry.
Psychometry literally means “measuring souls”, but it’s basically a fancy way to describe getting the “feel” or “vibe” off something.  It’s one of the first distinctly magical practices I picked up from my sister years ago while I was in college, a few years before actually getting into Hermetic stuff, since she’s more attuned to it than I am, but it’s turned out to be a valuable skill and one of the ones I recommend beginners to pick up ASAP.  Although the notion of reading the energy off objects seems simple and underneath some people, it’s one of the most vital skills a magician can develop, since it can be used in so many instances and is far more applicable than mere objects alone.  The point here is that you’re not just getting the impressions, charges, memories, and the like off of objects, but that you’re actually measuring the soul-stuff of a thing, and it doesn’t have to be tangible; in other words, you’re learning to sense magic itself.

The process of psychometry is simple: focus on a particular object, and figure out what it “feels” like.  How do you perceive the stuff in the object?  That’s really basically it; it’s no more complicated than touching something or coming into contact with it and getting information of the color, weight, temperature, or texture of an object, except that it doesn’t rely on the physical senses.  My sister’s advice for psychometry made a distinct impression on me and guides me to this day, not only in matters of psychometry but in pretty much all magical endeavors: “it feels like you’re making it up, but you’re not”.  The information pretty much pops up in your head, and to a less discerning mind, it would feel just like normal thoughts arising and coming and going.  The thing is, though, that these thoughts aren’t yours; they’re no more “your” thoughts than the sensation of your keyboard or phone in your hand is “your” sensation.  This is information, energy, spirit, presence, whatever that is simply coming in contact with your own sense abilities; there’s not much active practice to go with this, just like how seeing or hearing isn’t an active process but merely light or sound entering into your eyes or ears.

Now, once you get the hang of getting the feel or vibe off a particular object, it’s not a hard leap in any sense to go from small hand-held things to bigger things.  The size of the thing ultimately doesn’t matter, but what does matter is the power inside the thing.  (That’s what he said.)  The more something has been carried around, used, loved, or hated, the more power increases in the thing.  Animate things, like people and animals, naturally have a strong power in themselves, and one can detect how they feel or what they know but also how energy and power flows through and within them.  That said, I would recommend the following general process to practice learning psychometry:

  • Small objects (pebbles, jewelry, cell phones, writing utensils)
  • Large objects (cooking utensils, computers, cars, machines)
  • Places (graves, buildings, fields, forests, mountains)
  • People and animals

Not everyone will get the same type of vibe off an object.  My sister gets emotions and physical states (angry, happy, caffeinated, sweaty, etc.) off of objects, especially worn objects, but I get memories and impressions of place or use.  Some people will find that they get impressions or vibes in the form of colors or images, while others get sounds, yet others get temperature, and others just get pure thoughts or verbal statements arising in the mind.  This is important to recognize, since how you get impressions and sensations the best indicates how you best perceive magical presence and energy.  Not everyone will “see” stuff; I myself don’t have a strong psychic visual sense, but my psychic taste and smell are excellent, and I get the same information as others would but delivered in a different way.  I just have to translate them into the same ideas that others might get in a different “language”.

Just as it’s not a big leap to go from small inanimate objects to larger animate ones, it’s also not a big leap to go from tangible things to spiritual entities.  This is why psychometry is vital: the ability to perceive information spiritually is what we use to sense and detect spiritual presence, energetic flows, and the like.  If you can’t detect the presence of a spirit in conjuration, why bother calling them up?  If you can’t get a feel for where a strong place of power is, why bother tracking ley lines?  The ability of spiritual/energetic perception is vital for anyone who works with spirits/energy, since if you can’t perceive what’s going on, you won’t be able to react to it.

3: Meditate.
This is big, and even though I’ve listed it here last, it really should be first and foremost in everybody’s lives, and not just magicians.  Jason Miller, Rufus Opus, and any number of magicians, occultists, priests, monks, and spiritualists have gone on at length about the importance of meditation, so I won’t describe the nuances or details here, nor will I talk too much at length about why it’s so important.  But I will say this: meditation is the art and practice of understanding and working with your own mind.  If you don’t understand how your mind works, and if you don’t know how to react to your own mind’s actions (especially the involuntary ones), you won’t know how to best use your mind.  Seeing how your mind is literally the place where everything happens for you, if you don’t have a basic grasp of how to work with your mind, you won’t be getting far in anything.

Meditation is basically mental exercise.  I’m not talking about strengthening the logical faculties with puzzles or the emotional ones with empathy, but strengthening how your mind itself acts underneath any other action.  The mind is crucial to everything we do.  Writing a novel?  You’ll want to organize your thoughts and focus on the story.  Coding a program?  You’ll need to form a clear design and take into account abstract and obscure exceptions.  Working in retail?  Keep your cool with people and don’t try to let them influence you when it’s your job to influence them.  Running a marathon?  Don’t let your body dissuade you from completing your goal with pessimism despite it being within your body’s ability.  Literally everything we do, from thinking to planning to seeing to hearing to wanting to getting to creating and beyond, takes place in the mind.  If your mind isn’t strong, you don’t have a strong foundation to build great things.

There are so many ways to meditate and any number of traditions have ten score more methods to do so, but I’m a fan of the simplest and most bare-bones way:

  1. Sit comfortably.  Wear relaxing, non-constrictive clothing and sit in a way that allows you to maintain focus without getting sleepy or sore.
  2. Observe your mind.  Just watch how thoughts come up and do their thing, but let them go on their own.  Let those random thoughts arise and fall without getting attached to them or following any train of thought.  If you realize you’re following a thought, become aware of it and let it go.
  3. Continue for a reasonable length of time.  If you’re just starting out, try five minutes.  Work your way up from there.
  4. Repeat daily.  You don’t need a lot of time for this, but I recommend it in the morning when you first get up before you even look at your phone.  If you want, try twice or more a day, but always regularly at least once.

You might get bored.  You might get distracted.  You might get worried or angry or sad or any number of things.  Good; let that happen and keep going.  I’m going to warn you: even the Dalai Lama sucks at meditation, and even the Buddha and the Christ themselves kept meditating because there was always more to do.  The thoughts that arise will, eventually, begin to slow down and relax until they stop arising entirely, even if it’s just for a split-second, and that’s awesome.  Over more time, those periods of thoughtlessness will continue longer and longer.  Over more time, those periods of thoughtlessness will themselves pass away into something deeper.

The more you meditate, the healthier you’ll be, both mentally and physically; you’ll be able to focus more, have a better grip of your emotions, direct your thoughts better, develop more complex thoughts more easily, manage your body and its voluntary and involuntary actions, remember more things that happen to you, and so much more.  Add to it, the spiritual benefits aren’t to be neglected, especially for magicians; with meditation, you’ll be able to understand what “your” thoughts are versus “something else’s” thoughts, which is crucial when spirits communicate with you (because there’s going to be a mental part of this, and if you can’t discern what they’re saying from what you say to yourself, you’re not going to get very far).  You’ll be able to discern what a thought is from a perception from an idea from a want from a need from a physical lust from an emotional attachment from a logical prerogative from a spiritual command.  You’ll be able to work with spirits better and develop other spiritual and psychic powers that you’ve only heard legends and myths about.  All from just sitting down and shutting up.

So what are you waiting for?  Go do your thing.  Experiment with what you like, read history, study techniques, talk with other occultists, take notes and journal entries, make a plan for what you want to accomplish, develop some crafting skills in a medium that catches your eye.  Conjure spirits, sacrifice to the gods, appease your ancestors, take an astral journey, go into the underworld, open your mind with entheogens, prophesy in the name of your patron, heal with energy and prayer.  For the sake of the gods, of the cosmos, and of your own self, just get to it!

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

7 Responses to Beginner’s Practices

  1. Andrew says:

    I’ve been a bad commentator and visitor of late, and my apologies for leaving for so long. I still read on occasion, but I’ve had less to say.

    This is a good piece. Lots of good advice, and lots of quality points here that you’ve made. If I had to add a fourth and fifth point to your three — two divination systems, psychometry, and meditation — it would be to practice at least one hands-on skill, practical or not (anything from carpentry to origami); and to make headway in the study of the seven liberal arts of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.

    I think, in the Western tradition at least, the magician or the magus or the druid is expected to be as much of an advisor on worldly matters as on spiritual ones. But we live in a world of made things, be they books or bottles, pencils or printers, apps or appliances. Knowing how to make real things, as opposed to working entirely in abstractions, is one of the ways to remain attuned to the realities of the world. At the same time, the study of the liberal arts helps us to apply rigorous and deliberate attention to more abstract and conceptual attitudes. Call them the hands and wings of the magician, this attention to the practical and to the abstract simultaneously.

    But that’s my process these days, and not necessarily yours. Keep writing!

    • polyphanes says:

      No need to apologize! I agree that picking up a crafting skill and studying something not-exactly-magical, like one of the liberal arts (though I’d expand this to any field of expertise, including technology, engineering, machining, or any handiwork) are also good things for any magician to pick up. That said, I didn’t list these because neither are strictly necessary as an absolute-must thing I’d consider; they may be necessary, but these aren’t as necessary as the three I listed above. I don’t consider a crafting skill to be an absolute must because not all styles of magic need tools or have a need for talismans, statues, or whatnot; some forms of magic are entirely astral or simply don’t need materials to work, so it’s not always necessary to develop a crafting skill if it won’t be used. Similarly, although I agree with the notion that magicians should also be advisers (a la what JMG proposes), I don’t think that’s utterly necessary, either, since it’s not always the case that a given magician should be an adviser, take clients, or deal with others in a magical manner.

  2. Eri Kuudere says:

    Beginners dont need to worry about protection from enitities or outside energies?

  3. Great post. Inspires me to brush up on psychometry. I would add one skill that I am joyfully building upon myself and that would be scrying. Essential for clear contact and communication, and full of possibilities for exploration of Self & Cosmos. Just sitting in front of the mirror and asking my HGA to be present is turning into a wonderful daily communion ritual.

  4. Adam Beld says:

    Very nice.Some good gnosis

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