An unholy manifesto
The greatest danger to magickal practice is orthodoxy. Orthodoxy can assert itself in surprising ways and at unexpected moments. This is a cri de coeur against orthodoxy. I call my personal system anarchic magick. And if you like my approach, I invite you to honor it by throwing away my term and using your own.
Here’s the rub: Our alternative spiritual culture is rife with systems, many of which I honor and practice. They go under names like sex magick, ceremonial magick, chaos magick, New Thought, spell work of varying sorts, and so on. All are focused on the same goal. Which is tapping the powers of psychical causation, of locating a medium between oneself and creative forces.
If you take a spiritual approach to life, as I do, you share my conviction that we participate in some process of mental and emotion selection (a term I prefer to manifestation). I have written previously about the process of how metaphysical and magical systems may work. Those I mention above have aesthetic and sometimes intellectual differences, as well as different lineages — but all are geared toward tapping and directing one’s causative spiritual power. By spiritual I mean extra-physical.
My problem with all these approaches, including the least conformist of them all, chaos magick, is that each assumes a set of psychological and even liturgical boundaries. This can needlessly limit and box in the individual. Consider, as an example, sigil magick, the central practice of chaos. In essence, this practice asks the individual to distill his or her desire into an abstract symbol; with the symbol as a decoy for your desire, you focus on the sigil and “charge it” in a moment of ecstasy, usually through sexual climax; then you purposefully forget all about it.
The principle is that by transferring your wish onto the sigil, you have eluded the rational apparatus of the mind. You are no longer “in desire,” which is a feeling of want not fulfillment, and you allow the sigil itself, through climax, to enter into the subconscious , and thus be joined to the transcendent channels of causative intelligence. Some people offer different explanations; but I think this is a fair representation of what occurs in sigil magick.
I know many gifted and capable people who report extraordinary results with this method. But, as much as I respect and admire the practice (I have a sigil tattooed on the back of my neck), I have not, as of this writing, personally experienced success with my use of it. I have wondered why. It is probably because I, and maybe you, experience difficulty with one of the key facets of sigil magick, which is purposeful forgetting. Virtually every guidebook and every practitioner counsels not to dwell on your desire, not to remain in a state of hope or wanting. Rather, you must transfer your desire onto your sigil and, through the process of concentrated climax, effectively satisfy your desire. This assumption is at the heart of most ritual magick.
If you’re like me, however, the imperative of bypassing may prove a chronic barrier. Personally, I think eagerly and continually about my wishes. I cannot “forget” or transfer them. It is not in my emotional or intellectual nature. Magickal partners have scolded me about this quality — but it persists. I think, just as the bird rides air currents, the shark hunts, or the cat roams nocturnal. It is not a barrier to be negotiated around, as New Age or Eastern orthodoxy often goes. It is my nature.
Here enters anarchic magick. I do not believe there is any sole way to approach New Thought, magick, ritual, affirmation, prayer, or spell work. Call it whatever you will, all of these methods involve externalizing and concretizing your wishes; arousing and employing the causative or selective agencies of the psyche.
Many occult writers and practitioners insist that the royal road to psychical causation necessarily involves working around, not through, the rational mind. I question that. Based on personal result and observation, I believe that we can employ these psychical energies through consciously aware means. Our lives are innately physical and extra-physical; five-sensory and extra-sensory; linear and infinite; material and transcendent. You are not bound by any sole method or approach in exploring and exercising the wholeness of your nature.
I am not taking issue with any system. A system is valuable based on its results, and on the conduct it produces. That is all. I am taking issue with any dictate about what is required to obtain the result.
Anarchic magick allows you to be you. If you’re hyper-intellectual, and hence prone to dwell on your aim, or if you’re emotive, or movement-oriented, prone to ponder or roam, mentally, physically, or otherwise, let no one tell you that quality is a barrier or requires compensation or a workaround. Why would that be so? Has that been proven in the laboratory of experience? Not for me. You can devise you own approaches, like the 10-Day Miracle Challenge, to cite one example, which encourages dwelling on rather than evading your desire. Or the practice of “sex transmuation,” which involves consciously redirecting your thoughts away from physical satisfaction when aroused and toward some concrete aim.
The point is to question and overturn every assumption in favor of whatever spiritual method provides you with functionality, variety, self-direction, and result. Anarchic magick is purposeful heterodoxy.
* * *
I do poorly with timed rituals and spells. I never fully know when I will be prepared to bring passion and a sense of internal morale (call it faith) to the wish at hand. Mind and emotion united prove a powerful combination. Hence, you must remain open and ready to practice, the same way a sculptor, painter, writer, or noise artist must have his or her tools at hand for when momentum bursts into action. Spontaneous practice can be very powerful. I find it much more efficacious than stratified and orderly spells or rituals. In a previous piece about anarchic magick, I made this observation:
On a winter afternoon about 10 years ago, I climbed to the top of a stone tower on the banks of the Charles River in Weston, Massachusetts. The Victorian-era oddity was built in 1899 to commemorate a Viking settlement that some believe Norse explorer Leif Erikson founded on the banks of the Charles around 1,000 A.D.
Named Norumbega Tower, after the legendary settlement, the 38-foot column had iron bars on its windows and doors to keep out snoopers, ghost hunters, and beer-drinking high schoolers. All I knew was that I wanted to go inside. I slithered my six-foot-two-inch frame through a loose grill, discovered some graffiti left by devil-worshipping metalheads (Satan love them), and climbed a dank stone stairway to the top.
At that time in my life, I had one great desire burning in my heart: to become a writer. I had already been active in this direction, but I was not young — I was past 40. I swore from the top of that tower that I would establish myself as a known writer. I asked all the forces available to me on that frigid winter day, seen and unseen, physical and extra-physical, to come to my aid.
Something swelled up within me at that moment: I felt in sync physically, intellectually, and emotionally and at one with my surroundings; my wish felt clear, strong, and assured, as though lifted by some unseen current. It was a totalizing experience, which went beyond the ordinary. In the years immediately ahead, I did become known as a writer — I was published by Random House and other presses, won a PEN literary award, and received bylines in places including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Politico, and the Washington Post — publications not typically drawn to the kinds of occult topics I pursue.
My act that winter day was entirely spontaneous and spur of the moment. I didn’t plan or prepare for it, and I wasn’t reciting any ceremonies, spells, or rituals from a book.
I recently had a similar experience in the lobby of a magnificently restored neo-futuristic hotel in New York City. I experienced a moment of utter conviction and self-unity, similar to the one I just described, about the people and settings I wish to dwell among. Something went forth from me. I am awaiting (and will report back on) the results.
* * *
In anarchic magick the world is your temple — quite literally. I believe deeply in petitionary prayer, of a radical sort. I think we have overlooked great wisdom and possibilities by neglecting the petitionary outlook of our primeval ancestors. Our ancient ancestors personified energies as deities, giving them names like Set, Minerva, Jupiter, or Kali, and sought relations with these deific beings. I consider such an approach deeply valid and intimate. (In fact, I believe the old gods are lonely and hungry for our attention — note this as a special opportunity.) I offer this exchange that I had in an interview with the journal Secret Transmissions:
Q: Mythology is intimately intertwined with magic, whether it’s Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Celtic or other. But let’s say that you don’t feel compelled to join a group ruled by a specific pantheon but are nevertheless deeply moved and inspired by these deities and want to make them a part of your spiritual life; how might that be achieved?
A: Well, to share a personal story, many years ago on Canal Street near Manhattan’s Chinatown, I discovered an old office building that had a beautiful profile relief of Mercury above its entrance. Apropos of what I was saying earlier, I harbor questions about the lingering energies of the old gods.
I made a practice, for many weeks, of taking the subway to that slightly out-of-the-way place every morning and praying to that image of Mercury. I used to stand on the sidewalk in plain sight and pray in front of a very nice and indulgent Latin American woman who sold newspapers from on top of a milk crate in front of that building.
I don’t know whether she thought I was crazy — there is a greater tolerance and embrace of occult religious methods in Latin America, so I might not have seemed very odd to her. In any case, I venerate the personage and principle of Mercury, and this was a means of expressing that, as well as petitioning favor. I felt some satisfaction, though no sense of conclusion, from this act.
These are private acts to be conducted based on one’s set sense of need, aesthetic, disclosure, and passion. Your practice of worship is exquisitely personal. You can experience worship, which I define as self-expansion (“as above, so below”), in any setting, including a movie. My friend Michael Muhammed Knight, a brilliant scholar of Islam, began his conversion at age 15 after seeing Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. “Can a film be sacred scripture?” Mike wondered. I say emphatically yes. I find a similar experience apropos of the character Abel played by Oscar Isaacs in the movie A Most Violent Year. Abel embodies the kind of self-sufficiency and hard-won ethics that I venerate. The movie takes me to an elevated state and opens me to a wish. A podcaster told me that she saw qualities in artist Courtney Love that she felt drawn to emulate, even to worship in the sense of expanding oneself. Traditionalists be damned, I say that all this represents a legitimate spiritual act.
Most traditionalists (I use the term colloquially, not to describe the thought movement called Traditionalism) do not know what spirituality is. They know a system, usually one that makes them feel protected from perceived dangers, such as irrationality or irreligiousity, and call it truth.
If I have any ancestor, it is Emerson who wrote in Self-Reliance:
I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, — “But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.”
If I have an adversary, it is an English professor who wrote me several years ago to complain about the paucity of analytic notes that appeared in a small collection of Emerson’s essays I had once published. He protested that it is “impossible” (he used that word) to read Emerson without analytic notes. I cannot imagine anything less Emersonian, less validating of the search. But even my Moriarty’s dogmatism facilitates my search. We need polarities. To exist is to be in polarity.
In 1790, William Blake wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Opposition is true Friendship.” Only through being tested, opposed, and thrown onto our hidden reserves do we get anywhere. That’s what drove me to anarchic magick. Years of study within more formalized orders and systems (both alternative and traditional — I had an orthodox bar mitzvah and later spent much time within esoteric communities) forged my conviction that every principle must be challenged, tested, and measured. Including the old saw that a teacher once used on me: “There are no shortcuts.” I do not know that. Neither did he.
I noted above that we all have a sense of our personal nature — and such a nature should not be mislabeled as barrier or attachment. Who’s to judge what should be considered personality versus essence, inner versus outer, material versus spiritual, higher versus lower, and so on. I am not throwing out ethics or principle. Not at all. I have written widely about the necessity of soundness and purpose in how we treat others. But I am persuaded by years of experience that life, despite whatever terms we use to demarcate it, is all one thing. I can no more criticize my neighbor for the drive to attain than he can criticize my drive to express. (And I honor attainment, as well.)
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Now, I have often said that to throwaway the rulebook you must have first mastered the rulebook. This principle appears in the process of many artists, writers, and thinkers. It has been part of my own approach. I have argued that the astrologer should know something about astronomy. The Kabbalist should possess a working grasp of Hebrew. The Tarot reader should know the authentic history of the cards (even it it challenges one’s sense of romance). The witch or wiccan should be versed, to the extent possible, in the ancient nature religions. Focus creates power and true choice.
And yet, as I was remarking to a brilliant podcaster this morning, I am loathe to create a new tollgate to experience. Efficacy is in result. Hence, anarchic magick requires only satisfactory outcome on the part of the user. I believe in an ethic of cosmic reciprocity, but that, too, is a truth that the user must forge for him or herself.
The highest honor you can give my ideas is absorbing what is useful and throwing out the rest, including terminology. Whether I like it or not. Now go and experiment.
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