The Magic dimension: Lexicon, History and Access Routes
Definition of the term magic
For many centuries, the word magic has been part of the common language, appearing in many expressions of remote origin that attest to the interest shown by all societies for these practices. I am convinced that everyone has an idea about its meaning, although it may not be based on the most accurate definition of the word.
Many people will be inclined to define as magical all phenomena that happen without a clear logical explanation or that are characterized in a way that makes you immediately think of the supernatural. In everyday language there are very frequent phrases such as “it has appeared at the precise moment, as if by magic“, “I would like to have a magic wand to get out of this situation”, “it is a magical moment that will hardly be repeated”, “you can breathe magical air in this place”, and so on. These are all phrases that many people have uttered or have surely heard a lot of times; these phrases give us a fairly accurate idea of the meaning and role commonly attributed to magic.
The most superstitious people pronounce this word with great caution so as not to distort its meaning, whose implications are still unknown to us and always arouse a reverential fear. That is why, more than once, in the course of a conversation that may take these directions, someone changes the subject abruptly saying, “it is better not to talk about these things; it can bring us bad luck”.
Much more different is the definition given by those who deal with or are interested in the paranormal or the esoteric, who prefer to approach the subject under the premise that magic is a discipline that helps to come into contact with astral forces. Although there is some truth to each of the definitions we have just seen, the complexity and subtlety of the latter require a much more extensive and detailed explanation.
Since I want to deal with the subject in a serious and profound way, I cannot be content to mention these ideas in a vague way, but I must try to sketch out a much more precise definition that will help us to understand this phenomenon in all its complexity.
One of the most important magicians of our time, Allister Crowley, whom I will quote often throughout this book, defined magic as the “art of bringing about change in accordance with the will. Each change can be obtained by applying the most suitable grade and species of force, in the most suitable way and through the most suitable means directed towards the most suitable object”.
Thus, for this scholar, magic is a form of knowledge that, moreover, is not abstract nor is it an end in itself but tries to project itself towards the attainment of a concrete end. In other words, we can affirm in more modern terms that magic is an operative knowledge of reality.
Anyway, although this definition is true, in my opinion, it is totally insufficient because it does not differentiate the magic of other completely different disciplines, such as, for example, science, because the latter, in fact, also teaches how to use the appropriate instruments to obtain the desired effects.
What differentiates the two disciplines is essentially the method used. While science constantly aspires to an impersonal and objective point of view, magic is based precisely on the personal and subjective experiences of those who practice it.
I would like to clarify this concept as much as possible because it seems fundamental to me for the correct understanding of the whole book.
When a scientist discovers one of the many laws governing nature, he strives to describe it in a universal way that can be applied in all cases. Above all, it is concerned with ensuring that the process that has led to the discovery is repeatable by all those people who, knowing the appropriate scientific method, want to verify the value. In this way, an American scientist seeking to build a radar will use the same formulas and the same basic principles that have guided the work of a Russian or Japanese colleague of his. This is because, in the specific case, the functioning of the radar depends on factors that do not change depending on the place, time and human intervention, i.e. that it is based on universal principles.
Another similar example is formed by the law that regulates the movement of falling weights, which Galileo Galilei and other physicists studied at the dawn of modern science.
This law was established after long and patient sessions of observation of the movement of various objects of various shapes and weights that were dropped on planes of various inclinations and of different lengths.
In this way, the times of fall and the length traveled were measured and compared; this led to the drafting of mathematical formulas that related them, describing the phenomenon in the totality of its factors. These formulas continue to be valid today, although no one is no longer observing the fall of objects: the principles that regulate the phenomenon are somehow innate in the natural phenomenon itself and, as everyone knows, they were true even before anyone discovered them.
Unlike what we have just seen, the magician does not behave in any case like a scientist, but tries to produce extraordinary events or tries to change different realities in a substantial way with a methodology based on the traditional knowledge of his people and his own personal experience.
For this reason, a sorcerer from Mexico who wants to invoke rain to fall on the arid meadows of his tribe will use formulas and operations very different from those that a Chinese or African magician would use.
I would also like to point out that all events that are really magical are never repeated, either qualitatively or quantitatively, by the same operator, because they depend on various physical and psychological factors. It is still less possible that another magician will be able to reproduce them exactly.
In other words, while scientific laws refer to nature itself (and are, therefore, also called “natural laws”), magical principles are based on the interaction between the magician himself and nature.
As an aside, it is precise because of this radical difference that official science observes magic and other collateral disciplines with such suspicion and sufficiency.
However, despite the subjective essence of the magical event, it is true that magic can be taught and can be learned if we stick to the existence of traditions and magical practices spread in a more or less extensive way and in addition some fundamental traces of magic are found in almost all the cultures of the earth.
But each magician, after having initiated his own path of knowledge, must develop on his own the different techniques which he has learned and make them his own in order to take flight; otherwise, everything he has learned will have no validity. It is precisely part of the essence of magic itself to involve not only the intelligence of the adepts but also a whole series of other aspects of the personality, among which the will stands out in a particular way, which is the motor necessary to make magical knowledge real. The training of the will constitutes an essential part of the preparation and maintenance of the forces of each magician, together with the study and accumulation of theoretical knowledge.
I don’t want to dwell on this elementary concept because later on, we will find all the explanations and, above all, the most suitable exercises to strengthen the mind and the will (see the second part of the book). Here it will be enough to specify that it must be constant and serious training, oriented to internalize the personal knowledge of each one. Those who wish to access the magic dimension must behave as if they were professional sportsmen and women, accustomed to carrying out all the exercises of their specialty with great naturalness as if it were something that belonged to their own essence, and not bound by external orders or demands, which only provoke mechanical attitudes.
Also from this point of view, the difference between the magician and the scientist is very profound: the latter, in fact, does not really have to do preparatory work on himself, but only has to study and learn methods, criteria, techniques, and notions. The work required of those who wish to learn magic, on the other hand, provides the adept who does not get lost along the way with remarkable inner growth, comparable to that obtained with other mental or mystical disciplines, such as yoga, for example.
In this sense, it can be said that magic takes place in the magician himself and that its external manifestations are nothing more than emanations of this first and fundamental “work” carried out in the magician’s personality. In order to complete this process of learning and initiation, magic, as it is necessary to face now the discourse that refers to the so-called “color” of magic.
In fact, it is commonly heard that it can be white, pink, or black magic as if the discipline had three different natures. Actually, magic is unique and has no colors. What changes are the motifs and the content of the ceremony used: only the content “changes color”. The expression white magic is intended to define all practices with good aims (purification, ceremonies of health, serenity, approaching people, work, welfare, etc.). The expression “red magic” refers mainly to rituals of love and passion, which are often of sexual background (bonds, sexual strengthening, etc.).
The expression black magic has very delicate aspects and deserves a separate treatment. Too often, when one hears about black magic, the mind imagines rituals of satanic origin, characterized by wild and bloody acts. At best, black magic is thought of as the arena in which rituals aimed at provoking evil are performed on someone (evil eye, spells, spells with the intention of dividing, destroying, and even killing someone). According to this point of view, black magic would only be exercised by evil people and deprived of any kind of scruples.
However, the reality is not exactly like this: even the most spiritually elevated magician is obliged to perform “black” rituals, precisely to combat and destroy negative operations produced in the same way. To explain ourselves better, we can use as an example the principle on which homeopathic medicine is based: to cure a disease, it is necessary to provoke in the organism the symptoms of the disease itself.
However, it must be clear that working with black magic in a positive way is extremely complicated and requires a lot of experience, so it is best to refrain from such practices. It is superfluous to say that people who, on the other hand, wish to devote themselves to this discipline in order to act in a negative sense, that is, to provoke evil, will have to pay a very high price, and not only in relation to their own conscience but even from a physical point of view.
In fact, in these cases, the energy that moves is so intense and dangerous that it is difficult to control it since the so-called return wave has caused enormous misfortune in many cases. Unquestionably, the methods adopted by these rituals are very powerful and effective; so, if anyone wanted to try them, the damages that would be produced would be such and so many that they would make even the most inconsiderate of men give up. After having brought to light, until now, all the outstanding aspects of the matter, I can define magic as a profound form of operative knowledge of the interactions between nature and subject, completely realized in the person who practices it.
In reading this definition, one may come to believe that magic is a very compromising discipline reserved only for a few adepts or higher spirits. Certainly, this is true for those who claim to make magic their raison d’être, who wish to undertake a professional activity and reach the highest levels of knowledge and power. Surely, some of the people who read this book will achieve it after a hard and awfully long initiatory path, but most of the readers will know how to be satisfied with more modest results, although not less interesting. On the other hand, many are born with a passion for skiing or football, but not everyone can or wants to sacrifice so much and reach the levels of a true champion.
The approach to magic: ideological perspectives
The study of magical phenomena can be approached from very varied points of view: I am convinced that it is useful to try to know at least some of them. The most important study perspectives are fourfold:
– the perspective of the magician, i.e. that of the adept at magic, who studies traditional techniques and deepens them through his professional experience;- the perspective of the parapsychologist, who confronts magical phenomena from the scientific point of view, as he would do for any other aspect of nature, and would try to reproduce them in the laboratory;
– the perspective of the historian, who finds himself – whatever period he is interested in – with an impressive number of magical or at least extraordinary phenomena; he must refer to them as historical facts and possibly make a judgement in relation to them;
– the perspective of the anthropologist, who studies primitive populations; he is also faced with an enormous number of magical traditions and rituals that he must describe and understand.
In general, the four points of view on this list are often adopted by people who are very different in terms of training and culture and who have difficulty collaborating with each other, so it is unfortunately difficult to find a single point of view.
A satisfactory synthesis of the various points of view allows a deepening of the knowledge of the true nature of magic. However, although difficult, this research is not entirely impossible: in fact, some scientists have begun to adopt this multidisciplinary method. I quote, by way of example, the American psychologist and parapsychologist Charles T. Tart (born in 1937) who states: “We will have to develop a psychology of mediation that has meaning for a medium, a phenomenology of magic that makes a sorcerer say: “by framing these facts in your schemes, we will have resolved many paradoxes inherent in our field”. It is true that to develop this phenomenology we cannot be satisfied with the “aseptic” parapsychology that we have cultivated until now”.
Unfortunately, these ideas are still rare. The majority of scientific communities have been pigeonholed in religious sentiment reductive rationalism that leads them to label in a very derogatory way as superstition everything that is inexplicable for science and they judge it antiquated insofar as it moves away from modern European thought.
For this reason, Western civilized cultures consider all those who practice magic as tricksters. In Eastern cultures, on the other hand, these people are esteemed and respected, just as they were in primitive civilizations. Because of this, magical phenomenology encounters much more fertile ground when it looks closely at the thinking of traditional civilizations.
That is why, throughout the book, I will keep in mind, in addition to Western magical traditions, those aspects of archaic and Eastern traditions, to allow a broader and deeper overview.
However, I would like to stress at the outset that, on the basis of an examination of all these traditions, there are certain elements, more or less relevant, which are common to all of them:
– the relationship between magic, official religion, and the religious sentiment is very important;- the magician’s inspiration is regarded as coming from divinity, so he works in the name of God and the gods;
– there is a direct relationship between magic and beliefs in the underworld, inasmuch as the spirits are regarded as the servants of the magician;
– in magical practices altered states of consciousness and related techniques are contemplated and resorted to;
– great value is attached to symbolism;
– magic possesses its own ceremonial;
– prodigies are expected as a result of magical operations.
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