By Frater S.C.F.V.
Introduction – Theoretical Underpinnings of Magical Practice
It is a common observation within the magical community that magicians tend to be pragmatists; we favour what works. The history of magic has also tended to be a history of experimentation that has stretched through the Egyptians, onwards through the Greeks, the Medieval grimoire magicians, the Elizabethan and Renaissance occultists, and on through the Victorian into the present day. As Dr. Stephen Skinner and others have suggested, the methods that have stood the test of time have tended to do so because they were thoroughly tried and found reliable in the crucible of practice, while less effectual practices were pruned like dying branches from a thriving tree.
For many, the question of how magic works is a moot point. For these practitioners, all that matters is that it does work. I sympathize with the view that it ultimately does not matter whether the spirits evoked in magical ceremonies are merely forces within human consciousness and psychology, as Ms. Dion Fortune and others contend, or whether they are objectively-existing entities, as Dr. Stephen Skinner and others suggest. Whether the final analysis reveals the truth to have been one way or the other, I will still have found the Way of magic to be a path worth walking that brims with mystery, insight, adventure, and avenues for development. As Jake Stratton-Kent once put the matter,
“I’ve found working with spirits as autonomous entities is the most straightforward and effective method. I remain largely agnostic as to the hows and whys.”
Having made these prefatory comments, it seems to me that humbly attempting to tease out and make sense of some of the fundamental principles that undergird the mechanics of our magical work can be a worthwhile exercise. I maintain this view regardless of where we happen to fall on the perennial continuum of positions between the extremes of “magic is entirely psychological and subjective” and “magic is entirely spiritual and objective.”
The truth, if the Golden Mean of Aristotle, the Middle Way of the Buddha, the Doctrine of the Mean of Kung fu’tze (“Confucius”) and other great sages are to be trusted, is likely to fall somewhere in the middle. Perhaps magic, like all other natural phenomena, has tetradimensional aspects that can be described as being at once subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective, as Ken Wilber’s integral theory might suggest.
In this essay, I will attempt to lay out 16 of what I consider to be the fundamental principles in which Western ceremonial magic has tended to ground its magical theory. For the time being, I will have to humbly set aside the fine points of historical derivation and parallels within African Traditional Religions, Santeria, Shamanism, and so on that Dr. Stephen Skinner, Mr. Aaron Leitch, and Mr. Jake Stratton-Kent have so eloquently covered in their fine scholarly analyses. For more on these aspects, I can’t recommend their works highly enough.
My own magical background is primarily in the Golden Dawn tradition, and less so in Enochian, Solomonic, and Sufi practices, so I will have to confine my discussion to what I have learned from studying and working within these traditions. In this analysis, I will be drawing on the key works within these traditions, on some of the principles outlined in Real Magic (1971) and Authentic Thaumaturgy (1998) by Isaac Bonewits, as well as on additional sources to develop as coherent an account of the fundamental principles of magical theory as is currently in my power.
- The Principle of Understanding as Power
Definition: “Understanding a thing gives power over it; the more intricate and multidimensional our understanding of a phenomenon, the easier it is to control it.”
This principle is a foundational principle of science; sciences have evolved through the progressively fine-tuned evolution of experimental, technological, and conceptual methods of studying and understanding natural phenomena, which have granted humanity progressively more control over phenomena that were previously taken to be chaotic and beyond our power. As Sir Francis Bacon pointed out in his Meditationes Sacrae (1597), “ipsa scientia potestas est” (‘knowledge itself is power’).
In Qabalistic magic, Understanding or Binah (בינה) is one of the Supernal Sephirot from which all of the more differentiated functions and forces of the Tree of Life emerge. Qabalistic magicians aim to understand the wisdom of the principles of the cosmos to facilitate our work as co-creators with the Divine in the Four Qabalistic Worlds. The principle of understanding as power is applied in Solomonic magic in the careful selection of specific astrological times to craft ritual implements, consecrate talismans, and perform evocations. Similarly, in Enochian magic, it is applied based on the suggestion that the understanding of the Watchtowers, Heptarchia Mystica, and Aethyrs enables the magician to work with the angels within each of these sub-systems.
Similarly, within the Golden Dawn system, as magicians proceed through the Grades, their understanding of the symbols and principles employed in the G.D. rituals deepens and becomes increasingly multilayered, which in turn, allows their magical operations to become increasingly finessed by the time they begin practical work in the Inner Order. In short, according to this foundational principle, applied magical understanding grants magical power.
2. The Principle of Self-Understanding
Definition: “The Way of Adepthood involves understanding and working with all aspects of one’s being, from strengths to weaknesses, the high to the low, and the above to the below.”
In Rosicrucian alchemy, central to the prima materia that the initiate aims to transmute through the Great Work are the various aspects of his or her being. These aspects must be understood–following on the principle of undertstanding as power–and equilibrated so that we do not sabotage ourselves as we are all too apt to do.
In the Golden Dawn system, for instance, Initiates spend the Outer Order Grades systematically studying and working with the various elemental forces and aspects of their being from their Earthy physical aspects, to their Watery intuition and emotions, their Airy intellect, their Fiery Will, passion and desire, and the all-balancing force of Spirit, which crowns the elemental pentagram in the Portal Grade.
The importance of self-knowledge is an ancient teaching that was well-known to the Ancient Greek Magicians; indeed, Xenophon reports that above the entrance to the Temple of Delphi, the words γνῶθι σεαυτόν or “know thyself” were inscribed. Plato’s writings inform us that Socrates, in his work with his own daemon, took these words very much to heart.
In a similar fashion, Qabalistic magicians aim to bring the various parts of their being into alignment, from the physical body (Gu’ph) to the sensing energetic soul (Nephesh) through the sense of individual personhood and the personal I (Ruach) and unto the higher Self, Awareness, and Will of the Yechidah, Chiah and Neshamah.
In Franz Bardon’s Initiation Into Hermetics, the Psychic Training in Step I requires the aspirant to construct the “white and and black mirrors of the soul,” which are lists of his or her strengths, weaknesses, virtues and faults, so that they may be frankly examined and worked upon along the Path. Authentic development presupposes self-knowledge because we cannot transform aspects of ourselves of which we are not aware.
Indeed, the importance of self-knowledge on the magical Path cannot be overemphasized. The consequences of failing to do this work can be severe. The history of occultism is replete with examples of otherwise brilliant and proficient magicians who fell prey to their own unabated or unexamined arrogance, egotism, delusions of grandeur, paranoia, and unbridled abuse of power over their students.
Countless working groups and Orders have been ripped asunder by the failure of their members to do this all-important work. It is indeed essential to the Great Work and vital to harmonious human existence more generally.
3. The Principle of Equilibration
Definition: “Cultivate balance.”
The Neophyte Grade Ritual of the Golden Dawn enjoins the Initiate to “study well that Great Arcanum, the proper equilibrium of mercy and severity, for either unbalanced is not good; unbalanced severity is cruelty and oppression; unbalanced mercy is but weakness and would permit evil to exist unchecked, thus making itself as it were the accomplice of that evil..” The ceremony later adds that “unbalanced force is evil, unbalanced mercy is but weakness, unbalanced severity is but oppression” and places the Throne of the Hegemon “between the Columns” in the “Place of Balanced Power, between the Ultimate Light and the Ultimate Darkness.”
The importance of balancing and equilibration is everywhere to be found in the methods and theories of magic. In the Golden Dawn, the magician equilibrates the elemental aspects of their being in the Outer Order Grades over the long term, but works at the short-term equilibration of energy within their Sphere of Sensation each time they perform the Qabalistic Cross.
The Solomonic magician stands in a balanced and elaborate circle of protection from within which he or she calls spirits into the Triangle. The Qabalist studies the balanced glyph of the Tree of Life with its Middle Pillar between the Pillars of Severity and Mercy. In the Great Table of Enochian magic, the Four Watchtowers of the East, West, North and South are balanced by the unifying and governing power of the Black Cross from which the G.D. derived the Tablet of Union. Franz Bardon’s Hermetic initiation path involves the balanced cultivation of the Mental, Physical, and Psychic aspects of one’s being and their four elemental dimensions in equilibrated unison. Similarly, the Tarot is balanced in its Four Suits, the Tetragrammaton in its Four Letters, the Zodiac in its 12 Signs, Triplicities, and Quadruplicities, and so on. The magical worldview is structured around balance within balance.
From another perspectice, in order to remain grounded, the magician must walk the tightope between faith and skepticism or risk toppling into delusion, imbalance, obsession, or self-destruction. Magical ceremonies, in the Western tradition, are frequently built around balanced frameworks, with openings, middle phases, and closings which mirror the openings. The Way of the Adept is the Way of Balanced Powers.
4. The Principle of Images
Definition: “By Symbols and Images, magical forces can be mobilized and directed in accordance with Will.”
One of the most impactful phrases in the Neophyte Grade Ritual of the Golden Dawn is that “by Names and Images, all Powers are wakened and reawakened.” The entire Golden Dawn system is founded on this single line. The Principle of Images speaks to the first part of this key fornula. In magical practice, images and symbols are used to activate, awaken, direct, and mobilize the forces they represent in order to bring about the results for which we aim.
Interestingly enough, magic by means of images seems to have emerged first as the prinordial form of magical practice par excellence and magic by means of words, to have appeared later on with the development of more abstract aleph-bets and alphabets from pictograms. Egyptian magic is an interesting case that straddles this divide with its potent picture-words, the hieroglyphs.
Images are systematically applied in the Golden Dawn system’s use of ritual Diagrams, in the Hieroglyphics on the Black and White Pillars, in the Implements and Lamens of the Officers, and most spectacularly, in the massive meta-symbol that is the Vault of the Adepti. The Solomonic grimoires also make thorough use of images in the Seals, Sigils, and the complex symbols that are to be inscribed on the Circles and ritual tools of the magician.
Agrippa’s Magic Squares provise ways of generating pictorial sigils from names. Qabalistic pathworking, Tattwa work, and Tarot magic all employ symbols as means of evoking changes in the microcosm of the magician’s conscious and subconscious mind, and gateways to access the forces of the macrocosm.
The connection between images and power is not so foreign to us even today. Indeed, it is well-known to all users of social media, who invest countless hours in manipulating the images by which they represent themselves to shape their social standing in the eyes of others — essentially a form of picture magic.
It is a principle that is well-known to marketers, corporate branders, artists, designers, and countless other fields. It is no coincidence that scientists use imaging methodologies, graphic representations, and mathematical symbols to represent the forces they aim to understand and direct in accordance with their Will.
Of course, this principle as applied in magic works on more planes than just the physical, mental, or emotional; it operates from Eliphas Levi’s “astral light” up into the higher planetary, zodiacal, Enochian aetheyric, and other realms, but it represents an instance of the same general idea in practice.
It is worth noting that according to anthropologist Henri Breuil, some of the earliest images found in the caves of Altamira in Spain and Lascaux in France may have been drawn by prehistoric shamans in an attempt to ensure a successful hunt. The sympathic magical theory underlying these early cave rituals may have been that to possess the image of the animal was to possess power over the animal as well as the means of communing with the spirit of an animal to be hunted to reassure it that it would be treated with gratitude, respect, and killed as painlessly as possible.
5. The Principle of Names and Words of Power
Definition: “Names grant power over the things named.”
The link between names and magical power is a fundamental magical idea and a truly ancient one indeed. The Torah suggests that God spoke the world into being by means of the Word and ancient Babylonian mythology describes the creative acts of Marduk through his capacity to “speak magic words.” Words and Names of Power were so central to the magic of the Egyptians that kings and priests often erased the names of certain people and gods from all past monuments to magically and symbolically erasing them from the universe and from history.
As another example, Sufis who practice the Islamic form of prayer-based magic called Ruqya often carefully select God Names from the 99 Names of Allah that are suited to the matter at hand (e.g. in a prayer to have knowledge revealed, Al-Lateef (the Knower of Subtleties) or Al-Haadi (The Provider of Guidance) might be used, Al-Hafiz (the Guarding One) might be used in a protection ritual, and Al-Kareem (the Bountiful One) might be used in a ritual requesting financial blessings).
As previously mentioned, name and word-based magic is as old as written and spoken alphabets themselves. The Golden Dawn system makes thorough use of Divine Names in its rituals from the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagam up through its most complex ceremonies. Qabalistic magic is fundamentally grounded in meanings and numerical values given to the Hebrew letters. Similarly, the magicians of the Solomonic grimoires inscribe Names of God on their implements and Circles and evoke and invoke by means of these names. Spirits in the grimoires are evoked both by means of these Divine Names for authority and through Conjurations using the names of Spirits alongside their sigils and Seals. It is no coincidence one of the Enochian systems of magic largely functions by systematically conjuring angelic beings by means of Names extracted from the Watchtowers.
In short, the essential idea here, as Mr. Boneswit points out, is that “certain words are able to alter the internal and external realities of those uttering them, and their power may rest in the very sounds as much as in their meaning.” The former especially holds true when one is working with the so-called “barbarous words” whose names are unknown to the magician, but are nonetheless able to exert effects through the sheer force of their utterance. Indeed, in bhakti yoga and Sufi dhikr, Mantras and Names of God are said to contain the presence of Divinity within their very sound and letters. It is a principle worth thinking deeply about since it lies at the core of all we do.
6. The Principles of Correspondence and Sympathy
Definition: Drawing directly from Mr. Bonewits here, “if any two or more patterns have elements in common, the patterns interact “through” those common elements, and control of one pattern facilitates control over the other(s), depending among other factors upon the number, type and duration of common elements involved.”
Ceremonial magic is largely based on an elaborate system of correspondences. In Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1531), for instance, numerous stones, plants, perfumes, and other objects are attributed to various archetypal Planets and Zodiacal signs. Mr. Aleister Crowley’s Liber 777 (1909) and Dr. Stephen Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables (2006) present more elaborate systems of correspondences that associate countless elements, spirits, stones, herbs, godforms, angelic choirs, and so on with Qabalistic Sephirot, Planets, Zodiacal Signs, and many other archetypal forces. It is echoed in the careful selection of metals and herbs in the Solomonic grimoires, in the sympathetic magical work of the African Traditional Religions, and in the notion of the Vodoun Doll used in the Haiti Vodoun tradition.
In constructing a magical ceremony, once carefully selects items based on their correspondences. A working for a Venus talisman, for instance, may feature a rose, a green altar cloth, images of attractive nude men or women, the Empress Tarot card, and so on and be performed during the Planetary Hour of Venus on the Day of Venus (Friday). By concentrating sympathetic elements that are associated or share a symbolic affinity, and charging them with directed force in accordance with a Willed outcome, the magician attempts to create a kind of “harmonic resonance” that is in line with the object of their working.
This principle is based on the observation, noted by the Buddha in his doctrine of interdependent co-arising, by multiple Indigenous Wisdom traditions, and by the Qabalah among other systems, that all things are interdependent, interconnected, and inextricably interwoven with one another. When things have an infinity or association with one another, they tend to interact and influence one another. Nothing exists separately; everything exists in a great web of inter-being. In the Kybalion of the Three Initiates, this principle is echoed in the Principle of Correspondence, which it explains in these terms:
“This Principle embodies the truth that there is always a Correspondence between the laws and phenomena of the various planes of Being and Life. The old Hermetic axiom ran in these words: “As above, so below; as below, so above.” And the grasping of this Principle gives one the means of solving many a dark paradox, and hidden secret of Nature. There are planes beyond our knowing, but when we apply the Principle of Correspondence to them we are able to understand much that would otherwise be unknowable to us. This Principle is of universal application and manifestation, on the various planes of the material, mental, and spiritual universe–it is an Universal Law. The ancient Hermetists considered this Principle as one of the most important mental instruments by which man was able to pry aside the obstacles which hid from view the Unknown. Its use even tore aside the Veil of Isis to the extent that a glimpse of the face of the goddess might be caught. Just as a knowledge of the Principles of Geometry enables man to measure distant suns and their movements, while seated in his observatory, so a knowledge of the Principle of Correspondence enables Man to reason intelligently from the Known to the Unknown. Studying the monad, he understands the archangel.”
In the magical worldview, everything is interconnected; the seemingly many are really One. This One emerged from infinite nothingness and now appears as All. Is the universe, as perceived by the magician, ultimately nondualistic, dualistic, or grounded in nothing? All of the above, and neither. Or, differently stated, each of these models is partially true and can offer a useful framework within which to work magically.
7. The Principles of Contagion and Metonymy
Definition: “Changes to the part can affect the whole; the part can represent the whole.”
A metonym is a way of naming a whole by one of its parts, or naming one object or person by means of something closely associated with it. For instance, a King may be referred to as “the Crown.” The principle of metonymy is one of the most ancient magical principles of all. Many Indigenous and Traditional religions contain applications of it. It is related to the principle of contagion, or the notion that two objects that were once in contact will continue to remain in contact regardless of their spatial distance from one another, like two quantum entangled particles on different sides of the universe that display state changes that are completely in harmony.
Ancient and Indigenous magical traditions may apply this idea to work magic on an individual by using a lock of their hair, a fingernail, a drop of blood, a piece of clothing, or an object that once belonged to them. The Vodoun doll creates an effigy of a person, often incorporating one of their hairs, which the magician manipulates to magically impact the targeted person. In the ceremonial magic tradition, this principle is one of the principles that underpin the charging of talismans and is closely related to the principle of correspondence and sympathy.
8. The Principles of Antipathy and Reversal
Definition: “Qualities, symbols, and energies can be used against their opposites.”
This principle is, in essence, the correlative opposite of the principle of sympathy. It suggests that anything contrary to the nature of a thing can be used to exorcise it, banish it, dispel it, or drive it out. This principle is central to the structure of banishing rituals such as the Golden Dawn’s Pentagram and Hexagram rituals. It’s also central to the functioning of Solomonic Conjurations, magic Circles, Exorcisms, and Banishings, particularly in work with the Goetia. In this tradition, for instance, Holy Water is used to constrain and control Goetic spirits. Similarly, protective amulets that are designed to ward off the influences of contrary forces represent applications of the principle of antipathy, such as the ‘evil eye’ amulets used in Greek magic or the protective amulets constructed for both the living and the dead in Ancient Egyptian magic.
Related to this is the principle of reversal, which can be stated as “what can be magically done can be magically undone.” There are limits to this notion, of course, due to the principle pointed out in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, namely, that Nature tends toward disorder. With that said, the principle can still be useful in magical operations. A Solomonic Exorcism is, in essence, a reversal of the notion of possession or a spirit inhabiting another living being or nonliving object, as in an Exorcism of Water or Fire. In the Golden Dawn’s Neophyte Grade Ritual, similarly, the Circumambulation of the Light, which is used to create a vortex of Light within the Temple, is followed by the Reverse-Circumambulation of the Light to reverse and undo the creation of this vortex.
9. The Principle of Probability-Shifting
Definition: “Because of the link between cause and effect, magical operations can make events more or less likely to occur.”
As every scientist notes and as the Buddha stated long ago, certain conditions are such that when they are present, they are more likely to bring about other related conditions. Certain effects tend to follow the occurrence of particular causes of contributory causal factors. Philosophy further analyzes the notion of causes into ‘sufficient conditions,’ which are enough to bring about particular outcomes on their own, and ‘necessary conditions’ which individually contribute to a particular outcome, but are not sufficient to bring them about by themselves.
In other words, the more contributory causal factors are present with the power to bring about that situation, the more probable it becomes. This is the basis of the principle of probability shifting as applied in magic. A magical operation is designed to shift the probability that something will or will not happen, to either increase it or decrease it, to promote its occurrence, or dissuade it. The greater the energy and Will invested into the working, the chain of sympathetic and corresponding forces involved in the ceremony, and the use of appropriate Names and Images, to name but a few forces, the more the probability can be shifted, this principle holds.
10. The Principle of Polarity
Definition: “Everything that exists has an opposite, a complementary pole, a quality with the power to balance it.”
This principle is related to the principle of balance or equilibration, and indeed, is the reason that the principle of equilibration is possible. As mathematics points out, all true equations are balanced. As Newton’s Third Law suggests, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Taoist magic is quick to remind us that Yin flows into Yang, and that one cannot work with one force without the other. In the Qabalistic Tree of Life, Sephirot attributed to opposite polarities balance one another, like Mercury balancing Venus, or the Greater Benefic of Jupiter and the greater Malefic of Saturn.
The practical application of this principle suggests that a ritual to gain money for the magician must involve someone else losing that money. To know light, darkness must also be known. Death presupposes life. A ceremony to attain a job deprives someone else of that same job. Growing into a new state implies growing out of an old one. When one person gains power, someone else loses it. Therefore, we must be careful about what we do magic to achieve; actions can have unintended consequences, often far more than we anticipate.
The Kybalion of the Three Initiates speaks of this principle in this way:
“Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its
pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are
identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet;
all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be
In the magical worldview, everything is dual AND it is nondual. It is One in its twoness and two in its Oneness. The seemingly Other is the Self in disguise; the Self contains the Other.
11. The Principle of Karmic Consequence
Definition: “As you reap, you shall sow.”
This principle is related to the principles of cause and effect and probability shifting. As we reap, we tend to sow. Wiccans combine this notion with a notion of exponential effects multiplying through interconnected networks of phenomena to develop their notion of the ‘threefold law,’ namely, that we receive in return three times what we sow in the long term. This may or not be true all of the time; some people invest tremendous amounts of money only to lose it, for instance, and sometimes a kindhearted action like helping another person can lead one to be killed, or an intentionally cruel action like attempting to harm someone by destroying their property can unintentionally benefit them by releasing them from having to worry about it. Very often, the selfish, petty and cruel prosper and the kind, compassionate, and wise are punished. The world is complex indeed as magicians and scientists alike both wholeheartedly agree.
What is certainly true is that it tends to be the case, as a general rule, that we tend to reap as we sow in one form or another. People who repeatedly do magic to harm others tend to be harmed by their own work in some way, even as basically and psychologically as feeding the aspects of themselves that are hostile, destructive, biased towards the negative, and so on. In this respect, like tends to attract like, as the principle of correspondence and sympathy points out. Harmful intent tends to attract harm in kind; generous and kind intent tends to attract like responses. It’s no surprise that coworkers quickly determine who is cooperative and aim to cooperate more with them and withdraw their cooperation from those who don’t cooperate with them. In Sanskrit, the word ‘karma’ literally means ‘action,’ for consequences are related to the notion of action, which brings them about as causes to their effects. And if we reap what we so,w then it seems prudent to sow carefully.
12. The Principle of Personification
Definition: “Anything can be treated as a person.”
This principle is an ancient one. It has its roots in shamanistic animism, the roots of many of the Indigenous Traditions that birthed the first magical practitioners, in which everything is seen to have some form of spirit or life to it. It is an idea that survived into the Medieval Solomonic Grimoires, such as the Key of Solomon, where we find magicians speaking to fire, for instance, as “oh thou Creature of Fire.” The Golden Dawn’s Inner Order Magic applied the same Solomonic formula to their Talismanic magical methods, in which the Magician may speak to a talisman as if it were a person, saying “Oh thou Creature of Talismans.”
Ancient Greek magicians personified the abstract principles of the Element of Wind as “the Four Winds” or Anemoi--Boreas, Zephyrus, Notus, and Eurus–and worked with them in their different aspects in this way. Donald Micheal Kraig, in his Modern Magick, applies this principle to exorcise unwanted personality traits, habits, thoughts, or emotions from the magician with what he calls the I.O.B. Technique (Identify, Objectify, Banish) by personifying them and banishing them. St. Francis of Assisi used this principle to commune with Nature and spoke of “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon;” the Haudenoshaunee Indigenous Nation similarly refers to the moon as ‘Grandmother Moon.” In short, the principle of personification makes magical use of the human tendency to detect agency and mobilizes it to open up lines of communication for the purposes of initiation, empowerment, and the achievement of magical goals.
13. The Principle of Invocation
Definition: “Bring an entity or force into your consciousness to communicate with or experience it from within.”
Invocation is one of the most important and ancient principles and practices in the magician’s repertoire. It involves bringing an entity or force into your sphere of sensation to commune with it or communicate with it from within. The Solomonic grimoires are replete with invocations of God and the Archangels and the Grade Rituals and LRP of the Golden Dawn are no different in this respect. In the Rites of Eleusis in Ancient Greek, the goddess of agriculture, Demeter, and her daughter, Persephone, were invoked by the psychopomps during the celebration of the Lesser and Greater Mysteries.
Prayer is the most common form of invocation, but far more elaborate invocations are possible. A devotee surrendering themselves to the Deity of their devotion to the point of identifying with them through repeated invocation is a well-known practice within the tradition of Bhakti Yoga as discussed in the Bhagavad Gita. Invocations of the Holy Spirit are common in Rosicrucian magical traditions.
One of the most sophisticated forms of invocation was practiced by the Ancient Egyptian priests. This technique, later referred to by the Golden Dawn as godform assumption, involves formulating and cloaking oneself in the astral form of an entity and performing actions and experiencing thoughts, feelings, and visions from their perspective. As practiced by the Ancient Egyptians, this method was employed invoke and garb oneself in the form of the Egyptian neteru, the name they gave to the god/goddess forces with which they worked, which carries various meanings, such as “supreme,” “great,” “deity,” “renewal,” and “divine.” In the Golden Dawn system, Officers assume and hold various godforms astrally for the duration of the ceremony as they manipulate the flows of energies in the Temple and make changes to the Initiate’s Sphere of Sensation as lucidly explained in Pat Zalewksi’s Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries (2010).
Jake Stratton-Kent describes an alternative to godform assumption he calls the astral assumption of theriomorphs or ‘animal forms.’ As he explains this practice:
Warping myself or my ‘astral body’ into the appropriate animal or beast-headed deity to – say – consecrate a talisman, connects with deeply primal magical currents.
14. The Principle of Evocation
Definition: “Summon an entity or force to external appearance.”
While invocation involves taking an entity or archetypal force into one’s Sphere of Sensation, evocation involves the corollary experience of causing the spirit to appear as experienced outside of the magician. This is the primary method that is applied, for instance, in the Goetia of the Lemegeton, to cause spirits to appear to visual appearance in the Triangle of Art outside of the Magician’s Circle.
The grimoiric tradition abounds with methods of invocation. In the Solomonic tradition, spirits may be helped to appear to visible manifestation by manipulating the movements of candlefire, shifting the appearance of incense smoke, or appearing in a black mirror.
The Golden Dawn magicians developed their own methods of evocation based on the Z-formulae embedded in the Grade Rituals. In the Enochian system of John Dee, angelic forces may be evoked into a crystal ball and produce visions there-through. In short, invocation is bringing a being in, while invocation is bringing a being into being experienced as external to your human form.
15. The Principle of Scrying
Definition: “Gazing into a medium can enable one to see visions or receive messages one could otherwise not access.”
The principle of scrying embodies one of the key magical techniques that are used in practical magic. According to some anthropologists, the practice of scrying dates as far back as 3000 B.C.E. in China where cracked eggs were used as a form of scrying and divination. Scrying may be performed to obtain personal guidance, revelations, inspiration, as a tool for divination, or to communicate with a force or entity, as in the principle of evocation.
The most commonly-used media for scrying are reflective, refractive, clear, or luminescent surfaces such as a bowl of water, a crystal ball, a black or ordinary mirror, a stone like the topaz used by Aleister Crowley to scry the Enochian Aethyrs in the Vision and the Voice (1911).
The Ancient Egyptians reportedly scryed into a vessel filled with oil. Nostradamus scryed into a bowl of clear water to receive his prophecies. The Oracle of Delphi allegedly scryed into a special spring to obtain answers to the questions posed by Kings and peasants alike. The Aztec Yucatan shamans are said to have scryed into reflective crystals and gemstones. In all of these cases the principle is the same: by means of a carefully-selected medium, the magician can augment his or her powers of astral perception to receive messages or visions.
16. The Principle of Murphy
Definition: “If it can go wrong, it probably will.”
Last, but not least, in this brief attempt to survey the principles that underlie magical practice, I must not neglect to point out the principle of Murphy, otherwise more commonly known as Murphy’s Law. Despite all of our best efforts and most-carefully designed rituals, things can and often do go wrong. Lon Milo DuQuette reports in My Life With the Spirits (1999), for example, that he accidentally had cinnamon-infused Abramalin oil run into his eyes during an evocation and had to leave the Circle and run screaming into the bathroom!
I once neglected to properly take astrological influences into account when consecrating a Saturn talisman and ended up making one that gave an Adept friend of mine splitting headaches every time he looked at it. On another occasion, I failed to print out one of the key pages of my two-hour consecration ceremony and had to ad lib it on the fly. Other friends have run out of incense during evocations, leaving the spirit with nothing to manifest with and had the spirit tell them “you need more incense than this…”, or knocked over candle sand set the Temple on fire. Long story short: if it can go wrong, it probably will, and in the most annoying way possible, so be careful!
In this essay, I have attempted to provide a selection of fundamental magical principles that magicians have used throughout the history of magic to gain a sense of what they were doing in ritual, and which are still current to the understandings of contemporary practitioners myself. The way of magic is a way of experimentation, discovery, investigation, and experience. Like the sciences, in magic, theory and practice continue to emerge and be evolved as both persevering solitary individuals and the collective community of practitioners push its frontiers ever forward.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
~ Arthur C. Clarke, in Profiles of the Future (Revised edition, 1973)
Did I leave anything out or present any unintentional inaccuracies? Have you found any other principles to be worth including? Please feel free to share your feedback in the comments. I am an eternal beginner on this Way and benefit a great deal from what I learn from all of you who are wiser than I, thank you!