“What,” asked my correspondent, enquiring about the School, “is magic?” It is not the first time I have been asked that question, once the difference between performance magic and the magical work of the esoteric path has been established.
Read any tale of magic, or indeed, the centuries-old treatises and grimoires that survive, and you would have to assume that magical work is all about gaining control. Spirits, demons, elementals and angels, all are to be summoned by the magician and bound to his bidding. Even those who have trained within an established and respected magical system will still use the old forms that look and sound as if this is the case. Young students who are just starting out on their path may well hold a vision of standing on a mountaintop commanding the storm like a Hollywood Merlin, anticipating the wild exhilaration of power. Are they deluded? Is there something real behind the dream? Or are they simply destined for disappointment?
The universe is held together by vast, natural forces; amongst them are many things science does not and may never understand. Is it really possible for a single human soul to take control of the machinery of the cosmos?
In his book, Magick in Theory and Practice, Aleister Crowley defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” Crowley, quite justifiably, acquired a polarising reputation amongst contemporary occultists that continues amongst their more modern successors. At best, that reputation is ambivalent, at worst downright unsavoury, but few would deny the value of his body of written work to the serious student of magic. Personally, I found his books invaluable… as long as you strip back the intentional blinds and ambiguities that are strewn throughout and read them with clear eyes.
Crowley’s definition is, in my opinion, probably the clearest and most concise way of describing magic. Yet, even in such a short phrase, there is enough ambiguity to lead the seeker astray. Over the years, I reached the conclusion that the magician’s quest for control is accurately described, but lacking one significant clue to the true nature of magical work; the arcane forces that are to be brought under control are all elements of our own being. We are part of the universe and its forces flow through us and have their echoes within us. The dark and bright aspects may be externalised and personified in order that we might work with them, but their source and the result of that work is the same; what changes is the magician.