A poster named Neptune on Occult Corpus asked the very good question of what skills and qualities the beginner in magic–and magicians in general–should strive to develop. Here is a list of 12 such abilities and characteristics that I have found incredibly important in my own practice:
1. Meditation – the specifically the ability to concentrate, silencing all unrelated thoughts, on a single thing for an extended period of time (starting with a few minutes and working up to a few hours–the required time for long ceremonial magical operations, if you intend to pursue that path). One can sit comfortably on a chair with hands on one’s thighs and the spine straight, or on a cushion in a meditative pose (asana). One can either meditate on a single object or image for an extended period of time, or simply observe the breath coming in and going out and allow the mind to settle down. This latter approach, called Zazen in the Zen Buddhist tradition, is my preferred meditation technique.
2. Visualization – the ability to call up images in your mind and hold them there, beginning with simple things (e.g. a yellow X) and leading up to full-color figures (e.g. a godform).
3. Creativity – the ability to come up with original and creative solutions, ideas for rituals, etc. One way to develop creativity is to take a given object and try to come up with as many possible uses for that object as you can. For instance, a paperclip. At first, you may only be able to come up with 10, but gradually this will increase to 50 and higher. Then you’ll learn to think outside the box — why not make the paperclip 50 feet tall? Why not give it neon lights? etc.
4. Willpower – the ability to direct your will towards something and intensify it. Cultivate this by doing exercises that heighten your will, e.g. willing not to use a certain word for a whole week, willing to give up something you frequently do or enjoy for a week, willing yourself to take up a practice for a week, etc.
5. Critical reason – the occult is replete with great wisdom, but also with a great deal of utter nonsense and crap. Learn to discriminate. Study some basic logic and logical fallacies. Learn to be skeptical and to think carefully.
6. Energy manipulation – by whatever means you wish: psionics, visualization and willpower (e.g. in the Qabalistic Cross), Qi Gong or Tai Chi, Wiccan-style ‘raising energy,’ etc. Any way to raise energy within your sphere of sensation and direct it as you will.
7. Ritual practice – the ability to carry out a ritual with a formal beginning, middle, and end. Learn a Wiccan ritual or a Golden Dawn ritual or a Thelemic ritual and practice it until you master it. Learn to enter an altered state of consciousness while in the ritual state.
8. Breath control – or pranayama – the ability to deepen the breath and thereby calm the whole body and mind. Start with the fourfold breath, 4 second breathe in, 4 second hold, 4 second breathe out, 4 second leave lungs empty. Gradually work up to 4 movements of 8 seconds instead of 4. Then you can try bringing it up to 10 or so seconds so you are breathing 1 or 2 times per minute. This is a very deep state of consciousness. I use this kind of breathing especially for the Middle Pillar Exercise.
9. Self-hypnotism – I only recently began to study this area of occult practice after a suggestion from Poke Runyon. However, I believe it can be helpful for any form of magic, to hypnotize oneself and then enter ritual thereafter, coming out of the hypnotic state with the competion of the ritual. In the hypnotic state, the conscious mind and unconscious are working together. This is a fertile and potent state of mind.
10. Basic artistic skills – in magic, especially in chaos and ceremonial magic, we often make and use tools. It can be helpful to learn how to draw sigils, how to paint wands, etc. Learn how to use acrylic paint, acrylic varnish (overlay it over the dried acrylic to give it a shiny sheen and brighten the colors), as well as paint pens and markers. You can also cut complicated shapes out of foamboard with an exact knife, cover them with electrical tape so they don’t flake apart, and paint over them. This was how I constructed the Keryx’s Wand within the Golden Dawn system.
11. Mindfulness – this is the ability to be very aware of your body, the flow of your thoughts, the movements of your feelings, and the content of your senses. Learn to witness the movements of your mind without getting involved with them – learn to see when your mind is clinging to something (attachment), pushing something away (aversion), to pretending it knows something it doesn’t (ignorance). Your mindfulness will weaken the pull of these things over time and needless suffering will subside. You will get more peaceful as well. Mindfulness is essential for magic both because it cultivates a calm, fulfilling life and because it allows you to be aware when the results of your magic manifest in your own body-mind and in the world around you. Without mindfulness, your ritual may yield its effect while you do not even notice that it has done so!
12. Compassion and awareness of interdependence – compassion is the ability to care for others and feel for them on a level of equality, realizing that their concerns matter as much as your own and that they suffer just like you do. Developing compassion will make you a deeper human being and positively enhance all of your relationships and interactions with others. Try to meet people on a level of care and respect. Awareness of interdependence is the ability to recognize the connections between yourself, others, and the world around you. See how the apple you eat depends on the whole water cycle, on oxygen and carbon dioxide in the whole atmosphere, and on the sun thousands of miles away. See how you depend on the apple for food and hence on all of these things as well. Trace the lines that connect all things. Cultivating compassion and awareness of interdependence will save you from the trap of egotism into which far too many magicians fall.
Developing these skills and qualities will be of great benefit to the Neophyte and Adept alike, regardless of one’s magical path.