Formal Definitions

68. Magick and the Brahma Viharas   |  The Brahma Viharas

Consciousness plus intention produces magick. Anything that was produced by these two, even in the least conscious or subtlest way, is a magickal act or product. This broad definition of magick, while more correct than less inclusive ones, can be limiting, so I will define two subsets of magick for the sake of discussion.

a. Ordinary magick: that which most people don’t call magick, involving what the ordinary person generally believes to be simple intentions leading to actions (realizing that intentions themselves are actions, and very important ones), like lifting a spoon with your hand or composing a symphony. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to ordinary magickal effects simply as “ordinary effects”.

b. Extraordinary magick: includes the levels of causal effects that are beyond what most people consider the ordinary world of cause and effect, for example, the realm that science (with the occasional exception of some theoreticians in quantum physics and a few in what are still considered the fringes of science) considers mythical, such as invoking an angel or hearing someone else’s thoughts. In short, what most people would call magick, regardless of whether they believe in it, would fall into this realm, including magickal effects from “ordinary actions”, that is, effects beyond what ordinary people imagine come from what they misperceive to be simple, non-magickal acts, something I term “collateral magick”. For the sake of clarity, I will call extraordinary magickal effects simply “magickal effects”, realizing that this may cause confusion in those who do not understand the full implications of the broad definition of magick.

The more we increase our ability to concentrate and to perceive reality clearly, the more we will begin to perceive the extraordinary magickal aspects of reality. Magick can be looked at from two points of view:

a. the ultimate, in which all that occurs is the natural, impersonal unfolding of the lawful pattern of totally interconnected causality; and

b. the relative, in which each individual agent has the power to influence their field of experience/universe/life.

The combination of understanding ordinary magickal effects and relative reality is something I will call “conventional reality”.

Next is the degree to which the act is consciously perceived or conceived as a magickal act. For instance, an ordinary, non-magickally-oriented person might, in a moment of rage, suddenly decide that they wish to send that rage flying through space against the person they are enraged by. If they consciously understood that this act was causal and magickal, they would be more likely tempered by their own moral and philosophical codes than if that act were not recognized as the clearly magickal act that it is. Thus, we have “conscious magick” and “unconscious magick”.

By way of another example, someone might just be walking around in a self-obsessed rage with no obvious awareness that this internal state is very likely to have significant real-world, not to mention subjective, consequences, and this would be an example of unconscious magick.

Since most people do not think that their every conjunction of consciousness and intent is magickal, then from this point of view the majority of their magickal acts will be unconscious ones, meaning that they are not recognized to be as causally effecting as they are. Those who can identify their mind states and emotions as they arise will have taken a crucial step toward making their magick conscious and thus hopefully more skillful.

I would very much like to be able to say that unconscious magickal acts are likely less powerful or effective than conscious magickal acts, but I unfortunately do not believe this to be true, and I view unconscious magick as one of the primary problems facing the world today. In other words, the failure of most of us to consider every intention a magickal act with implications beyond what we can imagine is possible—and thus the failure to have a potent impetus to apply a carefully chosen moral and philosophical code to every waking and dreaming intention—results in an inconceivable amount of “collateral unconscious magick”, much of which ranges from being immoral, unkind, unsustainable, and unskillful, to being extremely destructive, toxic, and ruinous. I encourage you to apply at least a basic universal non-harming ethic to your every thought, word, and deed, and you will help reduce this ongoing catastrophe. Remember the first training in all things! I wish you the best of luck balancing this high standard with the realities of being a hominid.

My point here is not to cause practitioners to become filled with guilt and neuroticism about every unskillful thought they have, as that would likely proliferate the sorts of mental qualities that I am trying to reduce. So, the trick is to find a skillful, kind, and reasonable way to treat your heart and mind and the various forces and feelings that roll through them.

These definitions of magick and the ultimate and relative points of view help define various axes of perceptual and paradigmatic development.

a. The degree to which practitioners perceive and appreciate ordinary and extraordinary magickal aspects of reality.

b. The degree to which they perceive and appreciate the ultimate aspects of reality, which include such fundamentals as:

i.complete interdependence

ii.perfect lawful causality and causal efficacy

iii. total agencylessness (which yet avoids unskillful nihilistic or responsibility-absolving distortions of that perspective) [My editor reminds me that emphasizing agencylessness to non-ariyas (the unawakened) is perhaps not the best idea, so, if the concept of agencylessness throws you, let it go and focus on the other qualities.]

iv.lack of a fixed or unchanging centerpoint

v.lack of an independent, autonomous, separate perceiving subject outside of the causal matrix

vi. a comprehension that transient manifestation is equivalent to awareness, both ontologically and geospatially

vii.   atemporality

viii.  boundarylessness

In general, the more the ultimate aspects of reality are directly and perceptually experienced and appreciated, the more obvious it is that things are interconnected and interdependent to a degree that makes magick much more workable, and provides a deeper appreciation of the vast complexities of causality.

To the degree that the relative perspective is valid, where our experience field overlaps with someone else’s experience field, there is an interplay of forces shaping that conjunction, specifically the consciousness and intent of each of those perceiving that conjunction. In this case, the difference between belief, intent, and force is an arbitrary one.

The corollary of this is that the less obvious the conjunction of experience fields, the less obvious the interplay. This has important implications for those who practice magick, as becomes clear when we examine the next few points.

Different effects may occur if the interplay/overlap is more or less overt, particularly if the beings involved subscribe to different paradigms of what is possible. That is, if some of the beings involved think that some effects are impossible and other beings involved think that those same effects are possible, there is potential for very deep conflict, as well as for experiencing those “same” effects totally differently, as our presumed knowledge of the world affects how we think we perceive the world, and even how we perceive it at some basic level.

Our expectations, beliefs, previous experiences—and the paradigms that guide us—condition, color, and filter what we perceive. They have a direct effect on our field of experience and life. Most people don’t have a well-developed understanding of the vast and complex terrain of the magickal world. These factors create a type of causality that can have extraordinarily powerful magickal force, something I will label “the field of disbelief”. While not nearly as static or simple as this name would imply, the general nature of its effects can be commented upon in rough terms. The field of disbelief is actually a field of beliefs generated by all involved agents about how things are.

That thirteen is sometimes considered an “unlucky” number, while rabbit’s feet are sometimes considered “lucky” (though not for the rabbit), illustrates the point about various beliefs and how they may influence people’s perceptions of their world and how they literally construct the world, such as the designations of hotel floors, house numbers, and the like. That thirteen is avoided and omitted so often is revealing of how potent and causally efficacious various beliefs are in the world today.

The fields of disbelief and belief may vary radically among people. For example, one person may consider a rabbit’s foot to be very powerful, whereas another may have occasional premonitory dreams but think that a rabbit’s foot taken as lucky is pure superstition. One person may think that traveling out-of-body is not that unusual but that telekinesis is completely impossible. Some believe in angels, devils, spirits, fairies, pixies, trolls (beyond the warty internet species, which we know exist in staggering abundance), and/or ghosts. Some think it possible to speak with the dead, heal by the laying on of hands, read other people’s thoughts, or divine the past or future. These are but a few examples of common magickal beliefs in modern times.

In general, the more people’s fields of experience overlap, and the more obviously they overlap, the more fields of belief and disbelief you have to deal with. In these circumstances, overt magickal acts that do not fit with the paradigms of these fields become more difficult. Ways to deal with this include:

a. Giving up and not attempting magick. I call this dodging the issue, or settling for the lowest common denominator. Magick is happening regardless of whether you wish to acknowledge it, and beyond a certain point pretending magick it isn’t occurring option is not really possible and certainly not ethical, given that all our actions are causal.

b. Attempting magick in “private”, with the thrust of the work being to cause effects that will have minimal if any obvious overlap with anyone else’s field of experience, with intentional magickal set-up to help block the bleed-through of those magickal effects into the wider world. This paradigm is still extremely naive, in that causes ring out widely in time and space. However, in practice, doing magick in private can be quite effective. I call this “private magick”. It is clearly the easiest of the lot. While there is no such thing as private magick, as this field of manifestation is interconnected in deep and resonant causal ways, still, there are some basic, functional reasons to think about magick done in private versus that done in public. However, like all the others, even so-called private magick still involves the most important field of disbelief of them all: yours.

c. Attempting magick that does overlap with others’ fields of experience but does so in ways that all the effects appear to be either ordinary, or at least not noticed to be magickal. I call this “stealth magick”, as it gets in under the radar of the field(s) of disbelief.

i.Example: you are in a conference in a small, poorly ventilated room with a guy waving around a dry-erase marker with the cap off. The solvent smell is causing you nausea. After careful consideration of the ethics involved, you mentally will him, with no external indication, to put the cap back on the marker when he is not writing with it. He puts the cap back on the marker and doesn’t notice at all. The act was clearly magickal but didn’t run into anyone’s field of disbelief.

ii. This example brings up another sub-point of great profundity: it is impossible to distinguish between spell-casting and prognostication. It is purely a matter of convention. One could just as easily say that your internal experience of willing him to do something was just a clue concerning what was going to happen anyway. To needlessly anthropomorphize causality, it doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.

d. Attempting to work with the specific holes in a person’s or a select group of people’s fields of disbelief, thus working specifically in ways that they truly believe are possible, so that you do not overtly run into the blocks in their field of disbelief, but instead work with what the group feels is possible. I call this “public consensual magick”, as there was a consensus as to what was possible and what was acceptable. Just as the medical profession highly emphasizes informed consent—so as to respect the patient’s beliefs and rights—so we should adopt a similar view regarding magickal acts and those involved in them. Obvious examples include such things as faith healing and fortune telling. As those who were there often share what happened with people who have different beliefs, public consensual magick often enters the next category.

e. Attempting to work in public ways that directly contradict a person or group’s field of disbelief. This can be done, but the backlash tends to be significant and often much more harmful to the practitioner than to those whose paradigms were challenged. I call this “public non-consensual magick”. Important points about this are:

i. It can be astounding how dense people can be in the face of magickal experiences that might challenge their paradigms. The connections people can miss and experiences they can seem to forget happened or that they compartmentalize away can be amazing. While this can be very useful for the magickal practitioner, it is not an effect that we want to count on happening in the face of repetition, nor even count on the first time.

ii. People often react negatively in relation to those whose paradigms diverge from their own. This is instinctual and, while these reactions can be clothed in the predominant institutions, laws, and decorum of a specific time and place, nonetheless they can be extremely detrimental to the magickal practitioner. We can look to myth, legend, and history for illumination on this point. Consider a fanciful medieval setting and the reaction that various non-magickal people or groups (or those of another competing magickal tradition) might have towards various other magickal ones. Note the common elements of denial, fear, anger, bargaining, and manipulation in the following scenarios.

The local ruler might size up the old wizard in the lone tower on the hill. He might believe that the wizard was just an old wacko or, if he believed he had some power, would want to know how to keep him on his side and his chances of doing so. Could he be bought, seduced, or coerced through threat or otherwise manipulated? The local townspeople might know of a witch out in the forest. Many would fear her. Some would seek her out for help with love, illness, or obstacles. Others might think she was just an old madwoman. Religious people might think she was in league with Satan and burn her at the stake. Reactions like these take place today all over the world and in “civilized” societies. The more your basic paradigms and lifestyle diverge from those around you and the more obvious you are about this, the stronger the reactions you will encounter. Consider those of one religion or political party killing those of another, as we see on the news daily.

f. Attempting to alter the paradigms and expectations of a person or group before performing public magick, thus changing it into “targeted public magick”. Skeptics would call this suggestion. I would call it education.

Another extremely important point about having magickal experiences is that your paradigms will begin to diverge from those around you who haven’t yet had magickal experiences that they acknowledge as such. There is no way around this. The more times you see visions, travel out-of-body, do energy work, trace glowing pentagrams in the air, speak with spirits, shift into altered states of consciousness, manipulate the world in various extraordinary ways, understand aspects of ultimate reality, or radiate glowing beams of love out into the world, the more you will be out of alignment with “conventional reality”, not that you could get two people to agree about exactly what that is, which itself is very revealing. Real practical wisdom involves working with this to everyone’s benefit or at least not to anyone’s detriment if you can help it.

There is a difference between our inner world diverging from “the non-magickal norm” and our appearance diverging from it. This has to do with external marks of being “different”, such as unusual clothes, tattoos, hairstyles, props (such as wands, daggers, pentacles, crosses, amulets, dorjes, bells, incense, etc.), special languages, special symbols on belongings, etc. Having cool and unusual props can be great fun, as well as help to create situations that are more conducive to certain desired roles, behaviors, and states of mind. They can be useful physical reminders of more seemingly abstract spiritual qualities and principles. For example, I have a Medicine Buddha thangka that I take as inspiration to use magick in healing ways and to develop healing qualities. Props can have the positive impact of giving us a sense of there being something special and symbolic in what we do.

Props and trappings may also attract people of like mind, but they can repel those who have prejudices against the particular tradition we are working within, and so are a mixed blessing. Props can also attract undue attention and can adversely affect jobs and relationships. While props have their distinct advantages, particularly as they may work with deeper aspects of your own magickal mind to short-circuit part of your own field of disbelief, and to focus and firm-up various aspects of your vision and intent, there are reasons to get used to working without them initially, since if you are going to do stealth magick it is much easier if you are free of props and trappings. I myself have some props that I consider skillful, helpful, inspiring, and aesthetically pleasing, but strangely enough, most of the time I do my most important work without them. This is merely a personal quirk of my own.

The counterpoint to this is that props can alter other people’s fields of disbelief based upon their own internal paradigm conflicts, just as they can alter our own. A person who claims not to believe in magickal things may still react strongly to something like an evocative tantric image, a statue of the Virgin Mary, or an incense-filled room decorated with curtains and a magick circle with associated symbols drawn on the floor, creating the possibility of doing more consensual magick.

Another important factor influencing the interaction of any magickal act and people’s reactions to it is the timing of the act. There is “immediate magick” and “delayed magick”.

a. Immediate magick is that which has an immediately obvious effect: you wish the candle flame to move, and a few seconds later it moves. Immediate magick is more impressive to all involved, including you, and thus much more likely to garner stronger reactions if it falls outside of the categories of private magick or stealth magick.

b. Delayed magick is often of broader, subtler, and more complicated scope: you wish for some complex work situation to resolve in your favor, and two months later it does. This sort of magick can be much more satisfying in some ways, as typically it involves situations that in the grand scheme of our lives are more important than many immediate magickal effects, but it lacks the spectacle of well-done immediate magick. Delayed magick is much more often done as private or stealth magick, but if you advertised it and turned it into public magick—however consensual—negative reactions often would be forthcoming, and you would have to deal with fields of disbelief. All other factors being equal, delayed magick is usually easier to accomplish than immediate magick. That said, immediate magick will always have delayed consequences we won’t necessarily recognize are a result of the spell we cast, as causality rings on and on and on.

The example of the candle flame moving versus the work situation resolving raises another important consideration: there is magick that works within what might appear to be natural causal mechanisms and effects, for example, the work situation resolving, and magick that works by what are, for most, clearly extraordinary or unnatural magickal methods and effects, such as the candle flame moving. For lack of better terms, and defaulting to limited and inaccurate paradigms, I call these, naturally enough, “natural magick” and “unnatural magick”.

a. Natural magick is clearly magickal, and yet the way that everything worked out could very reasonably be explained by a so-called “rational” or “scientific” person as being within the laws of what they think of as “ordinary reality”.

b. Unnatural magick is also definitely magickal, and much more in line with what most people think of as magick, in that something truly extraordinary appeared to happen, such that a so-called “rational” or “scientific” person will have to resort to some very complicated mental gymnastics to try to fit the occurrence within the “standard” physical laws of “reality”, and those engaging in these mental gymnastics may include you. All other factors being equal, unnatural magick is generally more difficult to do than natural magick.

Also influencing the likelihood of success, we have the degree of alignment between your true desire and the specifics of the magickal result you ask for, which is to say the degree to which you know what you really want and your willingness to intend for that specific outcome. This simple dynamic is one of the most challenging aspects of good magickal work. This breaks down into its two component parts:

a. The degree to which you want the spell to work at all. As the force of desire is the driving force behind magick, if you are apathetic about the outcome, the force behind the magickal act will likely be small, while if you are passionate regarding the outcome, it is much more likely to result in something happening.

b. The degree to which you are specific about exactly what outcome you desire and exactly how that will come about will have an influence on the outcome. If you are more specific about the desired outcome, it is often harder to get what you wish, though certainly not always. The degree to which you should be specific about the details of the outcomes is an extremely complicated topic. While there are definite exceptions depending on circumstances, in general it is advisable to ask for the most nonspecific outcome that will still result in the fulfillment of the core aspects of your true desire. For example, it may often be best to ask for the best possible outcome for all concerned rather than asking for a very specific outcome, though this is not always true.

In a similar vein, each one of us has an ability to feel into the specifics of the web of causality that relates to our specific true desires. This has three aspects:

a. The degree to which you can imagine the outcome you wish for happening, in other words, its “plausibility”. The greater the degree of plausibility, the less you will have to deal with your own and everyone else’s fields of disbelief. For instance, if you wished to point your finger at the sun and have the sun suddenly vanish forever, this is obviously significantly less plausible than if you wished to have a black sphere appear between you and the sun that only you could see.

b. Deeper than that is the degree to which you can feel out the possible waves of resonance of broader implications of what you truly desire happening.

c. Finally, there are issues of how you feel about those possible waves of resonant broader implications, as you may be just fine with the central object of desire manifesting, but you may not be comfortable with all the related outcomes. Some good outcomes arise by mechanisms that are distinctly unsavory. The degree of moral conflict you are willing to tolerate reflects the extent to which you accept the so-called “good outcomes” arising through unsavory mechanisms.

Related to this is the degree to which the intentions of independent agents (from a relative point of view) align with your own. Let’s view experiential reality as the sum of the fluxions of the magickal influence clouds (of which fields of disbelief are a small subpart) of the conscious agents in the universes. The degree to which your true desire aligns with or is not explicitly countered by that sum of influence clouds will also influence the outcome. In plain terms, if a number of beings have wishes in line with, are neutral towards, or are in conflict with your own wish, this is significant. This I term the degree of “synchrony” or “asynchrony”.

Of great significance are also underlying abilities of the agent performing the act. Briefly:

a. The degree of concentration skills will have a direct effect on the power behind the act, and this is particularly true for unnatural magick and immediate magick, though it applies to all other types as well. Most magickal practitioners greatly underestimate the degree to which very strong concentration skills open doors to experiences and abilities. As mentioned earlier, a hyper-concentrated mind becomes malleable, pliable, bright, and jumps to any magickal task with great ease. At a certain point in concentration, phenomena occur by merely inclining to them. As stated earlier, you wish to draw a symbol in the air: there it is, trailing off your finger like syrup. You wish to visualize an image: it appears fully formed, vivid, and radiant. You wish to jump out-of-body: suddenly you are out. You wish to have deep intuitive insight into some situation: there it is. You wish to see past lives: there they are. Learning to concentrate well opens a universe of ability that those who have never really learned to concentrate might touch on occasionally in fits and starts but otherwise will never know. For me to get to this level generally takes at least 150 hours of practice in a short time with few distractions, but I can’t predict how long it will take you.

b. The confidence of the agent: never underestimate the ability of someone who truly believes they can succeed, or the degree to which a lack of confidence can scuttle an otherwise very well set-up magickal act.

c. The level of single-mindedness of the agent. Having the sum of our attention, passion, and intent dedicated to our act is much more likely to result in stronger effects than the mind that is distracted or divided. By “divided”, I mean that it is common to have mixed feelings about our intended outcomes, even if we are not entirely in touch with those internal conflicts.

d. The familiarity of the agent with that specific act will also make it much easier: repeated practice of an act makes it easier and easier, with some notable exceptions that are too complicated to detail here.

There is also the issue of the set-up. Taking the time to really set up the magick correctly can make a big difference. The set-up is implied in many elements of a magickal working, such as having good props (or not), feeling out the situation, learning what you can about the causal system you are trying to influence, refining the degree of specifics and alignment, and then doing the magical act at the right time, in the right setting, and in the right frame of mind; all these will have an influence on the outcome. It also generally involves rising to the highest and most exalted state, such as the highest jhana one is capable of, leaving that state, and then resolving to have the magick occur with full and unbridled intent.

Finally, as the web of causality is so infinitely nuanced, there are innumerable factors that can’t possibly be known (except perhaps by the most highly advanced yogis, so the traditions may tell you), and these will be generically and only somewhat appropriately called “luck”, or “karma”, if you prefer. Regardless of what you call it, this could in many ways be considered the most important of the factors, but in this case luck clearly favors the well-trained and well-prepared, though not always.

We now have enough categories to be able to flush out a large swath of categories of magick and how they relate to the field of disbelief, as well as how people are likely to react to them, and how easy they are to pull off. At one extreme, we have “unnatural immediate public nonconsensual apathetic poorly-aligned poorly-felt-out morally-conflicted implausible hyper-specified asynchronous weakly-concentrated low-or-no-confidence distracted unfamiliar poorly-set-up ill-timed disgruntled unlucky magick in a non-conducive setting that sucks”, and at the other extreme we have “natural delayed private passionate well-aligned well-felt-out morally-pure unconflicted plausible nonspecific synchronous well-timed concentrated confident single-minded joyous benevolent familiar well-set-up lucky magick in a conducive setting that rocks”. Were we to put these on a spectrum, we would find that the closer we are to the former, the harder the magick is to pull off, and the closer we are to the latter, the easier it is to pull off. There are exceptions, as an extremely passionate feeling or an unusually concentrated mind might be enough to create powerful effects regardless of other factors.

That list of closely related conditions also clearly hints at how various factors might influence each other. For instance, morally conflicted magick is also likely unconfident magick, as is unfamiliar magick. Unconfident magick is likely to be distracted magick. Poorly aligned magick is likely to be apathetic magick, which itself is likely to be poorly concentrated magick. This leads to the next point, and finally brings things back into a more Buddhist context. Training the mind to have positive mental factors, ethical motivations, and less specific and more universal forms of well-wishing and compassion is an extremely good plan from a magickal point of view, both for ordinary magick and extraordinary magick, meaning the sum of intentions and their effects.

68. Magick and the Brahma Viharas   |  The Brahma Viharas