The Spirit of Magic
Rediscovering the Heart of Our Sacred Art
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The Spirit of Magic is designed to aid those working through all forms of magical systems. The author skillfully addresses many of the obstacles that practitioners face along this path through the use of allegory, examples and anecdotes citing many references to illustrate important points.
This title is engaging but also poignant in its delivery. It is a manual and goes into great detail of preliminary steps of all magical systems including Bardon’s IIH.
CHAPTER 1: Asana
An asana is a posture. The practice of asana entails remaining in a posture for a set amount of time. When the student can remain indefinitely in an asana perfectly still and perfectly comfortably, the student has mastered that asana. The specific asana I use is known in some systems as the “throne posture,” and I will refer to it by this name throughout this book.
The throne posture is very simple. Sit in a chair with your back straight, knees slightly apart, and palms facing downward on your thighs. Your toes should be pointed forward. Your body should not be stiff, nor should it be so relaxed you are slouching. Your lungs should be unrestricted, and you should breathe with ease. Your eyes should be looking forward.
The general course of practice for mastering an asana is very simple. Pick a posture and remain in it for ten minutes. Each day, increase the amount of time you spend in the posture by one minute until you have reached thirty minutes. Continue to practice remaining in that posture for thirty minutes each day until you can remain in it perfectly still and perfectly comfortably.
Those who intend to advance beyond the most basic levels in magic will find this exercise to be of the utmost importance. In addition to being an essential precursor to more advanced exercises that take it for granted that the magician can at least sit still without fidgeting, the practice of asana will also provide the aspiring magician with several immediate benefits, including the following,
Self-discipline is absolutely vital to the practice of magic, and there are few better ways to begin the cultivation of this quality than with the practice of asana. The lower animal self is always restless and those under its control constantly move about without ever staying still for a prolonged period of time. Before we can express the nature of our higher selves, we must first gain control over our lower animal selves, and because it is restless, learning to sit perfectly still goes a long way toward achieving this control.
The practice of asana is a basic exercise, and as I will show later on, the basic exercises in magic are never flashy or dramatic. They are always simple – so simple that those who cannot see their value ignore and pass over them, ensuring they never make any real progress. This is a good thing, and is one way magic protects itself from those who are not suited for it. It does not take much effort to make a wand and carelessly walk around a circle while absentmindedly drawing pentagrams in the air and singing divine names you do not know the meaning of. Sitting perfectly still for half an hour, on the other hand, is a very difficult task for many. It is no wonder that so few people bother attempting such a feat.
Patience is an important trait that all aspiring magicians should possess. Lust for results often leads to no results at all, and the desire to advance quickly in magic can a cause a student to skip exercises or even entire steps along the way. This sort of attitude leads nowhere at all. Obviously, it takes patience to sit perfectly still for a long time, so asana is a great way to develop this trait.
Persistence is another important trait to have. Someone who is trying to master an asana will find that steady and consistent progress only comes with daily practice. This is true of most exercises he will encounter later on his path no matter how basic or advanced they are. It is best for the student to realize this at the beginning of his training and establish the habit of practicing daily right from the start.
With other more complex exercises, the lower self can make a wide variety of excuses to skip practice. Perhaps you have run out of the necessary ingredients for a ritual, or you can’t find the tools you need, or you don’t have enough space, or you are afraid that your neighbors will hear you vibrating divine names. With something as simple as asana, there are few excuses the lower self can make for skipping practice, so it is ideal for building up the habit of daily practice.
The student working to master his asana will also learn to be more aware. At first, this awareness only occurs on a physical level. He becomes aware of the cramp in his ribs, the pain in his back, the tension in his knees, the itch on his scalp, and the feel of the cold wood of the chair beneath his buttocks. With practice, he will also learn to become aware of his feelings, and eventually his thoughts patterns too. This is an important precursor to the practices of concentration and meditation.
It is important to note that the awareness I speak of is a passive process. In other words, this increased awareness is something that arises on its own, by itself, after you have remained still in your asana for some time. There are exercises specifically designed to develop body awareness that require a student to actively explore the sensations in his body, and there are exercises in mind awareness that require him to actively monitor his thoughts. These exercises are not the same as asana. When practicing asana, you should focus on remaining still. If you do this, your awareness will grow by itself.i
The ability to focus is also developed to a great extent by the time the student has mastered his asana. Whenever one’s attention strays from the exercise, the tendency is to slouch and move around; even if the student is not aware he is doing this because he is not paying attention. To ensure that he has indeed remained perfectly still throughout the duration of the exercise, the student must be able to keep his attention on his body the whole time.
A magician’s asana is his home, and all homes should be peaceful. When the student has mastered his asana, he will find that the stillness of his body and mind that comes from sitting in it will give him a great sense of peace. With further practice, he will be able to carry this peace with him throughout his daily life, even when he is not sitting in his asana.
Success in magic requires the student’s full commitment to the path. He must be resolute and determined to succeed despite all obstacles. This is reflected in the practice of asana. During a student’s first few practice sessions, his body may itch and cramp up. He may feel uncomfortable and wish to stop. If this is not enough to cause him to give up, his mind may also come up with many excuses to end the exercise. Regardless what happens, he has already made the decision to remain in his asana for a predetermined amount of time and must do so until that time has passed.
As useful and important as all of the benefits listed above are, they are merely side effects of the practice of asana. In the context of magical training, the purpose of this practice is not to develop willpower, patience, awareness, or decisiveness, nor is it to promote health and physical fitness. The purpose is to ensure there is at least one posture which the student is able to remain in comfortably for an extended period of time. Having mastered his asana, he should remain confident that he will not be disturbed or distracted by his body when performing the various exercises of the magical system he has chosen – plastic imagination training, depth point meditation, pore breathing, VOM, exteriorization, etc.
Not too long ago, I was reminded just how important it is to be physically comfortable when entering altered states of consciousness. No, I was not meditating or performing a ritual. I was lying in bed sick and trying to fall asleep, however my migraine and my constant need to cough kept me from drifting off into the bliss of sleep. Similarly, itches and cramps in your body may impair your efforts to achieve VOM or an akashic trance.
Earlier, I compared a magician’s asana to his home, and this is indeed the way I have come to think of my asana over the years. Just as it is important for a person to feel comfortable in his home, it is important for a magician to feel comfortable in his asana. Not everyone wants the same sort of home. Some people prefer homes by the bright sunny beach. Others prefer homes in the dark quiet forest. Some people want large mansions with expensive furniture. Others prefer simple huts. Similarly, there is no asana that is perfectly suited for everyone. Some asanas involve sitting in a chair. Others involve sitting or kneeling on the ground. Pick one that suits you and stick with it. Someone who changes homes all the time without ever settling in will find it very difficult to build up a family life. Likewise, someone who changes asanas all the time will never build up a magical life.
A person should also be able to engage in whatever activities he wants in his home. I like to sing, but I am terrible at it so you will never find me singing karaoke in front of a large crowd. At home, I can sing whenever I want and as much as I want without feeling self-conscious. Likewise, a magician in his asana should be able to do whatever exercises he wants – breathing exercises, visualization exercises, concentration exercises, meditation, etc. Some people require a special room or even an entire building just for their magical exercises, but I have never found that necessary. Whenever I am sitting in my asana, the external outside world fades from my awareness anyway, so it does not matter where I am sitting.
Life is a rollercoaster, and several times, my life has taken a sharp turn for the worse. The first time this happened, I was in the middle of mastering my asana. The practice was painful, but the pain was physical and it distracted me from the emotional pain I was going through at the time which was much worse. In this way, I came to seek refuge in my asana.
This continued on through the next few years, even after I had mastered my asana and sitting in it was no longer painful. Whenever I went through dark times, my asana became more than a home. It became a veritable fortress. Whatever anxieties or worries were on my mind would immediately vanish upon assuming my asana. It eventually got to the point where I was hiding from life by sitting in my asana. Whenever I felt I couldn’t handle life, I’d just sit in my asana and let the outside world fade away. During this time, I wasn’t practicing any magical or spiritual exercises like visualization, meditation, or japa. I was just sitting. I might as well have just slept my life away, as most people do when depressed, but I preferred siting in my asana even to sleeping! Of course, in retrospect, it is never a good idea to hide from life in any way. I bring this up only to show just how comfortable I am in my asana, and why I have come to think of my asana as a home.
Later on, when I experimented a little in ritual magic, I ended up thinking of my circle in the same way – as a home. As with any good home, I felt comfortable and “at home” in my circle. I personalized it so it appealed to me and called in energies that resonated well with me. I designed it using symbols and patterns that were aesthetically pleasing to me and brought in objects that were meaningful to me when I performed my rituals. My circle also became a fortress against the outside world. When I drew that line of golden fire in the air around me and closed it, I was sealing out anything related to work, school, or relationships so I could focus on the magical task I wished to accomplish.
The practice of constructing circles is one that is found in many traditions of magic, and one that is given great importance. New members of the Golden Dawn were given the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram to practice the act of creating a ritual circle right at the beginning of their training. Some Wiccan systems also teach this practice at the beginning of their training because it can be a powerful tool for enhancing the effectiveness of a magical working. I am sure most practitioners of magic would agree with me that a magician’s circle should feel like a home to him, but how can a magician feel at home in his circle if he does not even feel at home in his own body?
Many magicians attempt to master their asana by sitting in it for thirty minutes or an hour each day right from the start. It is much better to start with ten or even five minutes and gradually work your way up to half an hour by adding a minute each day. If you attempt to sit for an entire half hour at once the first time, the practice session will be very painful. You want to associate your asana with the idea of comfort, and practicing in this way will only cause you to associate your asana with discomfort and pain. I am not saying you will never experience discomfort or pain while mastering your asana, because you probably will. All I am saying is there is no need to feel more discomfort or pain than is necessary. This is the case for many other physical activities like jogging, tennis, basketball, or swimming. If you push yourself during your training because you want to excel, you’re going to experience some discomfort and pain, but if you experience unnecessary discomfort and pain, you are probably training incorrectly. This can even result in injury if continued for a long time. A weak swimmer who wants to improve does not start by swimming the English Channel. A student of magic who wants to master his asana should not start by trying to sit in it for a half hour or an hour at once.
The throne posture requires the magician to keep his back straight. In traditional yoga, the explanation for keeping the back straight while sitting in an asana had to do with “prana,” the vital force animating the body. The idea was that if the back was straight, prana would be able to flow better through the channels around the spine, promoting good health. This is true, but there are less esoteric reasons why a student should keep his back straight while doing this exercise.
Harvard professor Amy Cuddy specializes in body posture and differentiates between “low power poses” and “high power poses.” A low power pose, according to Cuddy, is any posture that makes someone feel weaker and less confident simply by being in that posture. In her works, she gives several examples of low power poses. Nearly all of them involve slouching and crossing the arms over the chest to form a shield. These are things people do when they are trying to make themselves small or hide.
The high power poses are much more varied, but many of them involve a straight back and an open unrestricted chest. Cuddy recommends that everyone spend a few minutes in a high power pose before any stressful encounter like an interview because the posture itself is enough to make a person feel confident and powerful. The throne posture obviously leans much more toward being a high power pose. Think about its very name – “throne posture.” Look at pictures of kings and gods seated upon their thrones. Do any of them seem unconfident? Do any of them look like they doubt their power and authority? Do any of them slouch?
An asana is more than just a physical body position. It is also a feeling and a state of mind. When the throne posture is assumed correctly, it should result in a feeling of confidence and power. This is much more important than one might think because a student’s confidence in himself will greatly impact how well his magical training goes. Whether or not you are confident in your ability to successfully complete an exercise may make all the difference in whether or not you actually do so.
This is also why frustration is very detrimental. If you continually become frustrated while practicing an exercise, you will quickly lose confidence in your ability to do it. The proper thing to do whenever you feel frustrated is to immediately relax. Remind yourself that you will inevitably master the exercise if you persist, and that magical advancement is not meant to be a race. Repeat to yourself “I am confident.” In fact, if you have doubts about yourself before even starting the exercise, which may be the case if you have been repeatedly unsuccessful in the past, then repeat the suggestion to yourself several times before starting and imagine that you have already mastered the exercise. You will never successfully complete any exercise if you practice it with a negative attitude. In fact, if your frustration ever gets too bad, stand up, go to the nearest sink, turn the water as cold as possible, and use the magic of water to wash the frustration down the drain, as well as all failure and doubt.
No one wants to remain in a home that is not safe. Likewise, no magician wants to remain in an asana that is injurious or unhealthy. Remaining slouched is terrible for the back. At one point, sitting with the back straight was considered to be the position healthiest for the back. For this reason, schoolchildren were told to sit in this manner. It has since been discovered that this position puts a lot of pressure on the lower back, which has to support a lot of weight, but it is still much better than slouching. Just be sure to stretch your back before and after practicing. The best position for the back is laying down flat, but the problem with using this as an asana is that it is very easy to fall asleep in such a posture.
Many authorities on yoga claim that padmasana, the lotus posture, is the best position for meditation. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it isn’t. I don’t know, but what I do know is that the throne posture is more than sufficient for the Western magician, as is any other posture he can remain in comfortably for an extended period of time. Padmasana requires a lot of training to do properly, and the magician who insists on using this as his asana might end up wasting several months if he is not naturally flexible. It can be compared to a home that requires many years of paying mortgages before you can truly call it your own. Since the throne posture is much easier, master it first so you can move on to more advanced exercises. Then, take your time mastering padmasana if you choose to. Some people choose their homes based on how visually appealing it looks, but this is an aspect of choosing a home that does not apply to choosing an asana. Do not choose a posture because it looks more impressive than others.
Some people have two homes – a normal home and a summer home. In the same way, I kind of think of padmasana as my summer home. When I wish to practice my magical exercises but can’t use the throne posture because there isn’t a suitable chair around, I’ll sit on the floor in padmasana. The student who travels a lot might also want to master a posture for sitting on the floor in case he finds himself in similar situations. Unless you are using the practice of asana for the purpose of developing willpower, there is no need to master more postures than that. People who own more than two houses tend to be celebrities with more money than they know what to do with. Time is more valuable than money, and the magician’s time is better spent moving on to other exercises once he has mastered his asana. While the hatha yogi might see mastery over the body through the practice of asana as an end in itself, the magician sees it only as a means to an end. Do not mistake the means for the end. As a magician, your end goal is to make society a blessed place to live in, and not to be able to twist your body into bizarre postures and remain in them for a long period of time. Asana is not the end goal of magic, but a (genuine) means to the end.
There are several variations of the throne posture. Some of them keep the legs together while others keep them separate. Whether you keep your legs clenched together or slightly separated is entirely a matter of personal preference. I myself have chosen to keep them a little closer than shoulder width apart. Having them too far apart may lead to slouching and having them too close or together feels unnecessarily awkward. Find the distance that feels the most comfortable for you. Someone once told me that keeping the legs clenched together as in Crowley’s variation (which he calls the “god posture”) is better because it is more difficult, and therefore the student’s willpower is strengthened more than if he keeps them separate. This statement reflects an improper understanding of the practice of asana in the context of magical training. The purpose of asana is not to develop one’s will power but to ensure the student can remain still in one position comfortably when doing later exercises.ii Therefore, it does not make sense to intentionally choose a more uncomfortable position than necessary. Of course, if you feel more comfortable keeping your legs together than apart, then keep them together.
It has been said by the adepts of the past that a magician is an active individual and that idleness and inertia are great enemies of magic. I agree with this view. On March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death and died because out of all the people who were close enough to hear her screams, none of them bothered to call the police until she had lain bleeding for quite some time. I like to think that a magician is someone who would have acted immediately – someone who is immune to the bystander effect because he relies on himself and does not lounge around hoping someone else will solve the world’s problems.
Having said this, it may seem like a contradiction that I attribute so much importance to asana, after all, how can a person be active if he is sitting in a chair trying to remain as still as possible?
Have you ever gotten into a car to drive somewhere and suddenly found yourself at your destination with no recollection of your journey? Your conscious mind was distracted. You were daydreaming or thinking irrelevant thoughts, and were it not for your subconscious mind who was the real driver, you would probably have crashed and died. The vast majority of people spend most of their lives in this absent-minded state. If you are aware and focused, you are an active participant in the present moment, even if you are not physically moving. You may be still, but you are not idle. Also, let us not forget that the discipline and sense of peace the student brings about within himself through the practice of asana will help him be more active and productive in his other daily tasks.
The Bardonist who has read this so far might be wondering why Bardon put asana in Step 2 instead of Step 1 if it is so important. As I’ve stated earlier, someone who is absent-minded or daydreams while practicing asana is wasting his time. Therefore, Bardon wanted the student to have some rudimentary skill in concentration before practicing this exercise. In Liber ABA, Crowley also discusses this problem of drifting attention during asana. His suggestion was for the student to choose an awkward and cramped posture to master so the uncomfortableness would constantly draw his mind to his body and prevent it from wandering around. I have already explained why I disagree with this solution.
If you have decided on IIH as your path, then do practice the exercises in order. There is a very clear logic behind the sequence Bardon chose. The Step 1 mental exercises are relatively simple and do not require the student to sit still for long periods of time, but for later exercises like depth point meditation and accumulating the elements, it is imperative that the student has mastered an asana and feels completely at home in it.
In bringing this chapter to a close, I’ll point out that when Crowley says getting into a mastered asana is like getting into a nice hot bath when tired, he is not exaggerating. When the student has mastered his asana, it will provide him with the stillness of earth, the clarity of air, the alertness of fire, and the serenity of water.
iThus, the practice of asana is not the same as the first exercise in Israel Regardie’s book The One Year Manual. That exercise is an exercise in body awareness that requires you to actively focus your attention on being aware of bodily sensations. In asana, however, the entirety of your attention should be focused on remaining still.
iiThe text of IIH reads “Should anyone wish to use these exercises of physic carriage for the purpose of developing the will-power, he may make out various carriages at his own discretion, provided he is able to sit relaxed and comfortable without any disturbance at all for a full hour. […] We need a certain position for our magical development, no matter which one, the simplest being that which we described above.” In other words, after you have mastered an asana so you can use it to do the later exercises, then you can continue to master other asanas for the purpose of strengthening the willpower if you want to.
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