What I feel to be missing from most discussions of magic (particularly the magic of practical manifestation, which concerns me most) is a down-to-earth acknowledgement of the actual hardcore madness that you need in order to execute it fully and well.
For example - when I'm feeling a bit down and in need of inspiration (as often happens in the midst of a dreary Pittsburgh winter [note to self - really must move to New Orleans before it gets cold here in Pittsburgh again!]) - I scour the interweb and bookstores and find that most popular discussions of the Law of Attraction and creative visualization and even ceremonial magick simply fail to inspire me.
Why? Because most just don't give full enough recognition and permission to how far off the deep-end of consensus reality I actually have to go (in my own previous experience) to actually make them work.
So I'm here today to affirm for you, dear readers, that in order to perform magic you really do have to let yourself go rather mad (by societal standards) and jump.
Because you're reading this on the internet, and the internet loves lists, I have organized what I know to be true about the insanity required for magical effectiveness and how to attain it into 7 easily consumable keys, which I now proudly present:
1. Magic is the art of unveiling your true self, which means you have to be willing to become immensely intimate with what's already present - so much so that you forget to judge against it.
So here you are. You're a being full of intense passions and ideals, goals and aspirations, with gorgeous visions of how things could be - and you find yourself in the midst of this mortal, decaying, messy world.
(The Magician card from the Light Visions tarot by James R. Eads, my personal favorite)
You notice that you and the people close to you are rife with tremendous beauty and also with wounds, fears, neuroses, blocks, limitations, illness - physical and mental disturbances of all flavors.
You notice that the landscape of your world includes lovely sunsets and adorable babies and tender tree limbs bursting forth in spring - and it also includes brutally ugly Big Box retail stores, suicides of great artists, used heroin needles and crack pipes on the sidewalk, children abused by their own families, tired elderly bag ladies shuffling around with their shopping carts, and perpetual news of war and disaster and broadcast everywhere.
So what's your subjective response to the ugliness and rot in your world and in yourself? Do you feel offended, insulted, disgusted by it? Do you want to make it go away as fast as possible so your shining vision can be unsullied?
Well, pretty much all of us do. But that very attitude of taking offense maintains you in a position of practical magic weakness.
Not to alarm you - but thinking in biblical terms, it's actually a Luciferian position. The proud Light-Bringer, accustomed to the unending effulgence of heaven, refused to humble himself and honor the fleshy mortality of God's creation, of humankind. In that refusal to bow to the stinky mess that is humanity and the material world, the bright angel Lucifer took himself straight to Hell. And that's actually what most of us do, all the time.
According to Milton's classic version of the tale in Paradise Lost, Lucifer got bored in his shimmering infernal palace and so he snuck up into the Garden of Eden, took the form of the serpent, and tricked our primordial parents Eve and Adam into eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
As soon as they did that, they became aware of their nakedness and became ashamed and hid from God. Their shame arose because they ingested Lucifer's idealistic point of view - and with it came negative judgment, a taking offense, at their own nakedness, weakness, material sensuality - which they now saw as "evil" - lacking.
(Eve Tempted by the Serpent by William Blake, who knew his stuff when it came to magic and imagination)
And then just as Lucifer banished himself from heaven, Eve and Adam banished themselves from the Garden of Eden (the experience of being alive in a lush, abundant and friendly world) and into the living Hell of having to work for a living, with all the attendant toil and stress that you're probably very familiar with.
To explain a bit more: this created world of flesh and blood and dirt and shit and death and birth is a dream, exactly the same as our nighttime dreams, but a bit more solid and slower moving. Lucifer's outraged insistence is that the dream be full of pure light, but it's not.
This means: as long as you are taking offense and wishing to distance yourself from the scary and sick and perverse and weak things in the dream (including the woundedness and sickness and nakedness and weakness in you) then you are negatively judging the dream from the position of what's favorable or unfavorable for the dream character that you appear to be.
Your very negative judgment and taking offense is what makes the dream seem wildly beyond your control, and causes you to feel like you're a victim of it, because it identifies you as a powerless character and positions you in what Kierkegaard liked to call demonic despair. Your very resistance to the ugliness in the dream holds it in place, energizes it, makes it more dramatic and big. Because that's the nature of your magical power. Sorry.
The answer to this magical conundrum is not to ignore, deny, or overlook the pain and ugliness of the world as the rather uninspiring, pop-magic Law of Attraction answer would have it. That's not a recipe for being a powerful magician. That's a recipe for being an asshole.
Instead - the paradoxical and intensely challenging answer is to recognize that you, the larger you, the dreamer of the dream, loves and desires the nasty, bloody, aging world and your messed-up self and all the messed-up people around you exactly AS IS, with all its wounds and used needles and war and belly fat and unsightly wrinkles. The answer is to become intensely intimate with the woundedness and sickness, so much so that you forget to take offense in it - you surrender to it, you honor it, you celebrate it. You dive into your aversion to creation and have a party. You do exactly what Lucifer refused to do.
(Gustave Dore's classic depiction of Lucifer / Satan from his illustration of Milton's Paradise Lost)
Let's think about it a second: what other famous biblical character was totally willing to get down and dirty, up close and very personal with the sick, the weak, the poor, and the generally unwholesome and fucked-up? What weirdo was always up for a party?
Oh yeah. That immensely queer, ridiculously insane, highly-laughable, very very BAD WITCH, the tantric-magician-poet, Jesus of Nazareth.
(wonderful Ted Neeley as sexy angsty hippie lord of hosts in Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973)
2. Your self-concept truly does determines everything.
As long as you take yourself to be the put-upon, insulted, offended dream character, as long as you're solidly identified in your aversions and attachments, you can't work real practical magic. You can't turn water into wine and you can't walk on water. You can't make the lame walk, raise the dead, or multiply loaves and fishes.
Fuck, about all you can do is sometimes manifest what's on your magazine-picture cut-and-paste Vision Board. Or maybe your Pinterest. And even if you do, if you're honest with yourself, you find that your manifestations are somehow rather remarkably unsatisfying once they appear.
You can't do all that cool miracle stuff, because all that cool miracle stuff is only what you get to do if you're fully lucid in the dream, fully identified as the dreamer instead of the dream character.
That was the immense trick that Jesus, our great queer bad-ass wizard, managed to do. He saw himself and everyone else and everything else as the dreamer instead of the dreamed. He didn't use his own puny human will to change stuff. He identified so thoroughly with the Great Will, "the will of God," the desire that creates all things, including the shit and the wounds and the horror and the ugliness and the nose hairs and the cellulite - that that Will had no problem moving through him and shifting the dream in his presence.
Just like when you become lucid in a nighttime dream - you realize you're the dreamer, asleep in your bed, and you can fly if you want to.
The bad news for us is that the key to this immense trick of shifting our identification from knowing ourselves as the dream character to knowing ourselves as one-with-the-Dreamer-of-Everything is that we have to assume the attitude of the Dreamer.
And if you think about it, the Dreamer's attitude to everything is that it's orgasmically deliciously perfect, it's flawless, it's loveable and it's whole in all its apparent twistedness.
3. You need to let yourself believe you're having a pre-cognition, a revelation that what you want is already done.
Okay, so that's the first big trick to magic. Profound intimacy and attention and surrender, non-judgment and non-rejection of what's already showing up. Got that down? Great. Check. Next step.
Mmmm... okay, slightly bad news again.
The next step is just as difficult and demanding on your heart and imagination!
(The Millionaire from Nazareth - a classic New Thought book by Catherine Ponder, I recommend it)
The next step is that even as you're totally loving and present with the twistedness that's already apparent, not judging it, not shaming it - you go ahead and just wildly, insanely, nonsensically, irrationally assume that your preference for how it could be different.... is already accomplished!
You see it as a done deal and express your gratitude for the doneness of the deal.
You allow yourself to experience your preference as a revelation, a prophecy, a pre-cognition of something which is inevitably already happening.
Weird magical facts about me: this is essentially how I got my book published, how I got my PhD, and how I fully healed my immensely-painful-ripped-cornea-which-was-so-damaged-that-the-best-cornea-doctor-in-the-world-told-me-my-only-hope-to-be-pain-free-was-to-have-my-eye-removed.
Wait wait now - what about hard work? What about taking massive action? Improving my productivity? Mastering my craft? Getting good medicine?
Well, you can certainly do all that stuff as a way of keeping yourself busy while the slow-ish dream moves. I did. But I'm really clear that the intuitively-received information that directed me to take the precise action steps that actually worked to bring forth these goals (in very weird, synchronistic ways) only came to me after I made the insane, irrational, internal decision that the goals were already accomplished.
But the real work is the inner energy it takes to allow yourself to experience your subjective decision as truth, to allow yourself to know that your choice of who you are and how your prefer the world to be is to be more valid, more true, more solidly done and factual than what's "objectively real."
My book is already published by a major publisher.
(except no one knows that and it isn't written yet)
I have my PhD.
(yet according to my thesis committee everything I've ever written is trash)
My eye is healed, perfectly functioning, and painless.
(except it hurts like a motherfucker, I have to wear a pirate eye patch, and the World's Foremost Cornea Specialist says I should get it plucked out of my head)
Still, whatever. My book is published by a major publisher. I have my PhD. My eye is healed. That's my irrationally chosen subjective crazy-town truth, and I'm sticking to it and basking in the glow of it. Yay, me! I'm a published PhD with healthy eyes! YAY!
And then it became objective truth. Very fast. That wasn't the Law of Attraction. That was the Law of Insane Assumption.
Sound like madness? Well, it is. The authorities of the world don't much care for that kind of imaginative madness. They're prone to burning people at stakes and hanging them up on crosses for it. So. Proceed if you're cool with that.
4. You can have everything you want - only after you stop attaching importance to it.
Here's something big: your subjective decision, your inner choice that your preference is already a done deal ("Hmmmm, I would prefer this water to be wine right now so the party can keep raging") - it will become manifest. Sometimes with stunning rapidity. The quickness of it is really only a question of how thoroughly you're identified with yourself as the dreamer. And it will only manifest if you're choosing it for the hell of it, if it's no-big-deal to you.
In other words, you can't be out to prove anything with your magic. If you're counting on the external manifestation to prove that you're rich, you're powerful, you're awesome, you're healed and healing - well, you've just kind of missed the point.
(beautiful Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdelene and Ted Neeley again as the Holy Lamb in Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973)
The point is that there is no point. There's no point because there actually is nothing to prove. Your power and wholeness and perfection can't be proved because they're already true. You already are the dreamer of the dream. And if you're really letting yourself know that, you won't be attaching any importance at all to the manifestation of your preferences, because the dream is already orgasmically, deliciously, insanely perfect.
If you're still attached to proving something, all it means is that you're still attached to seeing yourself as the dream character, and you're anxious for the dream to prove to you that you're the dreamer. Well, it won't. It can't. Because you're dreaming the dream, and it can only prove to you what you deeply assume to be true.
And if your boring, mundane assumption is that you're a separate, anxious individual with something to prove - well, that's what it will continue to show you. Anxiety, separation, and stubborn mundane boringness.
5. Your imagination is not fluffy pointless stuff - it's the shaper of realms.
Since the truth is that you are the dreamer, your imagination - that much-derided power - is not an idle force. It's what actively shapes all that you see.
So is the greatest thing you can imagine for yourself a 4-hour work week, naps in some tropical sunshine, six-pack abs and free time spent cheating at kick-boxing competitions? (Sorry dear Tim Ferris - you're a loveable dude but it's a Luciferian gospel of linear self-improvement that you're preaching.)
If your wildest dreams center primarily on the fulfillment of stuff that would prove that you're awesome, you're okay, you're a winner - that would tend to suggest that the most you dare to hope for is to be a really kick-butt dream character.
Which is cool and everything, but I invite you to take the imagination that you have for yourself and get way bigger with it, because...
6. You can imagine yourself all the way to enlightenment.
This is what Jesus did. He just had a way, way, way bigger imagination than us and Tim Ferris.
And this is pretty much the whole point of all the tantric and dzogchen Buddhist teachings (which are considered by many to be the highest teachings in Buddhism): you imagine yourself, you emanate yourself, as an already-fully-awake-and-fully-empowered Buddha. You do this instead of imagining yourself as what Lama Thubten Yeshe calls "your ordinary self-pity emanation." Damn, Lama Yeshe, do you know me or what?
Emanate, imagine, rinse, repeat.
(Tantric Buddhist thodgal tigle - it's a particle of sparkly light that the dream of the universe is made of)
Obviously this sort of imagination-towards-total-awakening takes some high-octane focus. It's not something you day dream about once and you're done. It's something that you practice again and again, deeply, maybe for years, and along the way you encounter absolutely everything in you that's ashamed, that's demonic, that's despairing, that argues against your total awakeness and perfection and power and oneness-with-the-Dreamer.
You might, for example, hang out for 40 days in a desert meeting all these protesting parts of yourself, or you might meet them in one night while you sit under a Bodhi tree. Either way, they'll show up and you'll have to meet them, maintaining your knowing (your imagination, your pre-cognition) of the truth all the while.
That sounds way more hardcore than six-pack abs to me.
7. You have to be willing to let the objective world fall by the wayside - and walk a thin line.
I'm repeating this last point because I need to get to a full 7 list items (7 has a sexy magic allure that 6 just doesn't, wouldn't you agree?) and also because it's an important bit of this insane dimension of magic that I'm trying to emphasize to you.
It's not really possible to be both a powerful magician and to also be completely committed to objective, verifiable, consensus reality. To do magic, you have to be willing to give giant amounts of energy and attention to your subjectively-felt truth, the truth that you're huge, you're awake, you're rich, you're whole, you're healthy, you're the Dreamer of the dream.
Very few people will give you support and permission in fully inhabiting this subjective truth. The world in general is way more down with "objectivity" and "verification" and "proof." So that leaves you to take your encouragement from crazy people on the internet like me.
So, with the full force of my not-inconsiderable-craziness - I say, do it. Inhabit your gigantic, subjective, unreasonable, irrational, nutty, beautiful truth. Allow yourself to know it as true, no matter if appearances and everyone else disagrees. And please don't forget to remain in huge, intimate, bloody, celebratory intimacy with the whole of mucky reality as you do so.
(the stunning Peter O'Toole as a mad man who believes he's a love god Jesus in The Ruling Class, 1972)
Let go. Love it all. Trust it all. Let yourself assume and know and remember that your most gorgeous dreams are already true. Feel the mad exhiliration and fulfillment of that.
Don't settle for mere Luciferian manipulation and self-improvement, please, darling soul.
A caveat: this whole bit of investing primarily in your subjective realization of your lucid magician Dreamer-ness is still a funny balancing act. Even our queer hero Jesus (who overcame death on multiple occasions, let's remember) still argued in favor of at least one part of the "you just can't avoid death and taxes" truism. He was really clear on the bit that you can definitely cheat death, and yet he also said "Render unto Cesar what is Cesar's" - meaning- well, you still gotta pay your taxes. And bills. Shucks.
If being a fully enlightened magician doesn't get me out of paying taxes and bills, what good is it anyway?
Not much, it proves nothing. And gloriously so. And with my whole-heart I want it for you. Go claim it.