A collection of ConjureMan Ali's thoughts about magic, the occult, and spirituality.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Energy In Spiritual Traditions

The debate over the role of energy work in spiritual traditions continues to rage over the blogs with comment fields flowing with points and counter-points. Jason Miller wrote up a new blog where he addresses some of the points made and presents his own paradigm.

I hope to weigh in with this blog. Now, my perspective on the matter is going to be heavily informed by my own personal understanding of cosmology and spiritual work and is informed by the traditions that I follow.

The argument so far has involved the role of “energy work” within the various magical traditions. Some have expounded that it is essential for magic while others have put forth that it is no such thing. Yet, the issue is far more complex than that.

“Energy” is a term that is used by some magicians to define the spiritual forces they work with. The issue that I see is that this term is misleading. We try to differentiate magical energy from the energy we see in physics, but the connotations are difficult to ignore. In the paradigm of those who hold an energetic model the universe and the magician’s subsequent engaging of the universe is reduced to a mechanical process aimed solely at directed this impersonal magical energy.

This stems from a reductionist view point that really fails to see the spiritual complexity of things like prayer and the interrelation between spirit and Spirit.

Yet, the denial of the fact that there is a spiritual force that permeates the universe and holds a place in spiritual work is also reductionist and does so by envisioning a world not unlike the one seen in the Bartimaeus Triology (for those of you who don’t know what this is, this a kids fantasy series not unlike Harry Potter, where in an alternate history of the world magicians rule and act as the politicians of the British Empire. The number one secret of these magicians is that all their magic is done by spirits—even the simplest of spells is actually a demon doing the work. So you get images of flying carpets, but in reality it is a demon holding up the carpet).

The universe is far more complex than either of these points makes it to be. To this end let us turn to Franz Bardon who represents an interesting synthesis of hermetic emanation and eastern mysticism. In his paradigm, the Source, or the All created the universe and everything it by expanding outward. All of creation is created from this force, this principle that descends downward through the spheres until it reaches material reality. At various points this force coalesces and is granted sentience. Depending on the level (and the proximity with the source) you get a differentiation in individualism in the entity as well as different personalities. So in the highest spiritual plane you get the gods and deities and archangels, on the astral plane you get spirits, elementals, and angels, and on the physical plane you get humans.

Now, that spiritual force that emanated down from the Source reaches a level in between the physical and the Astral where it is called vital energy. This is not unlike od, and is this spiritual force that can be manipulated by the magician.

The resulting cosmology has unfortunately been taken literally. This force, which has been called the Astral Light, od, Vital Energy, Ketheric Light, the Spirit of the Lord, and other names, including the modern one of “energy,” has unfortunately been taken literally as energy. Bardon speaks in an allegorical fashion referring to this principle and force as energy. In reality it is a spiritual concept that cannot be defined easily. To call it energy is no more accurate than saying that magical element of fire is literally the physical fire.

What we know is that it is a spiritual force that binds the universe together, is the link between Man and Spirit, and is the medium by which spirits act.

This thought is in-line with Hermeticism, Sufi doctrine of Barakah, traditional Jewish Kabbalistic thought on the interrelation of the Names and Forces under its control etc.

Does this force, or principle exist in conjure, hoodoo, and the ATRs? It does, but it is not explicitly talked about, nor is it philosophically contemplated. Instead it is taken for granted. In hoodoo, for example, we have no discussion on the soul’s journey after death, or any other complex eschatological ideology, but it is taken for granted that they can be contacted and petitioned for help. Similarly there is no extensive philosophical treatise on this spiritual force that other magicians label, but it is taken for granted.

In conjure it is considered personal power. You often hear conjure doctors talking about “raising power,” or having “their spirit rise.” Both of these refer to power or force that exists within the individual. An example of this is provided in the story of a conjure woman who lived on a plantation. She was feared by all the other slaves and her master wanted to find out what was to her. So one day he saw a deadly snake and asked her to pick it up. Without hesitation she did so. When he approached the snake it reared its head and struck out at him. Next he asked a man to go and pin her down, the conjure woman took one look at him and the man froze right in his spot.

The idea here is that she possessed an internal power that helped her do these things, a power that was connected to the spiritual world, but one that came directly from her. This power is not unlike the vital energy of Bardon.

Another example in conjure is healing by touch. I am not talking about laying on hands. Here a conjurer has some inner quality about him or her that they heal a person just by touching them, without prayer, intercession, but merely by virtue of their own inner ability.

For the conjure doctor the relation between personal power and the power of spirits can be seen in the analogy of influence. If you walk into a room your personal charisma and charm alone may compel people to be influenced by you. On the other hand having a strong network of allies and colleagues extends your power beyond the room. In conjure, ideally you would approach spirits with your personal charisma and the authority of the big man upstairs; the supreme authority.

But what does this all mean? It means that many traditions hold that there exist two types of powers, or means by which magic is accomplished. One involves working with spirits in a variety of forms in the celestial hierarchy of things. The other involves working with a personally generated power that is directly connected to the spiritual force that connects, binds, and permeates all.

The real difference is not whether these traditions accept the concept of an “energetic” force, but rather where their emphasis lies and their views on limitations. Spirit-centered traditions like hoodoo view personal power as limited and therefore the conjure doctors turns outside of themselves to the big movers of the universe to get stuff done.

“Energy”-centric traditions emphasize the ability of the magicians to directly influence things by virtue of manipulating that spiritual force that connects everything.

The issue is that we remember that terms like “energy” are meant to be metaphors for a spiritual reality that simply is far too complicated to define.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Appropriation In Magical Traditions

The magical blogosphere is a buzz with inter blog debating. It began with the topic of energy work as put forth first by Frater AIT. Naturally, the paragon of the spirit-model, Frater RO responded. Even the good Scribbler got in on the action.

 Jason Miller stepped in to take the middle ground, but his approach touched on the subject of doing whatever works to which my friend, Balthazar responded by taking the subject to debate over appropriation of magical traditions.

Frater RO responded by pointing out that a great deal of our current traditions are actually the result of a syncretic approach to magick.

So the question that gets begged is what is the different between appropriation and a syncretic approach?

It all comes down to the way in which it is gone about. Appropriation is the insenstive act of taking a technique or concept and ripping it out of its tradition and context. This is often done with a sense of entitlement that shows no concern for the tradition that is being butchered. We see this quite frequently in today's post-modern world where we view everything as up for grabs.

The issue is that not are things being taken out of context it is that they are being taken without a single bit of acknowledgement to the tradition of origin. But more than an issue of who gets the credit, appropriation in this matter targets someone's spiritual tradition, something near and dear to them, and rips it apart as if it were nothing more than a "thing." In the academic world we call this plagairism.

The syncretic approach is different. The syncretic approach is where cultures or traditions meet, cross-pollenate and through this both sides are enriched. This is called synthesis. Common ground or points of interest are found between the spiritual traditions which are then nurtured and grown into beautiful paths of their own. From this we get such beautiful traditions like hoodoo, the ATRs, Hermeticism, and much much more.

Each of these spirittual traditions came into contact with another tradition, learned from it, found points where their paradigms met, were found copaseptic and as a result grew. This isn't the haphazard mixing of ideas, but the natural spreading of thought that instigates further growth and evolution. In the academic world we call this building on someone's thesis by encouraging further investigation and research, but always ensuring to cite the source.

In spiritual terms, synthesis takes away from its parent traditions and helps preserve part of the parent tradition while continuing to grow. It is a marriage that produces a beautiful baby with the eyes of the dad and hair of the mom, but also something individual.

Spiritual traditions that fail to do this die out. Hoodoo is alive today because it was syncretic and remains so today.

Appropriation is vastly different. Rather than a marriage it is an insensitive dissecting of parts and pieces with little understanding or care for the traditions it takes from. The result is a Frankenstein monster.

I personally follow many paths. I am a conjure doctor, a hermetic, a conjurer of djinn, a goetic and much more. My approach is very traditional. Anyone familiar with my work can attest that as a conjure doctor I am familiar with urban hoodoo as birthed by the mail order supply shops, but that my work is more in line with old school ways of working. I am a strict traditionalist-- I am a powders, jars, crossroads, and graveyard type of guy. Yet, my approach is still syncretic. I find points where my paths merge into crossroads and from it try to nurture life. The recent manifestation of this approach is my work with the Grimoire Verum. Yet, this is always done in a manner that doesn't rip parts from its root, but rather cross-pollenates as carefully as a skilled botanist. As a root doctor, these roots are important to me ;-)

The ultimate manifestation of the syncretic approach is seen in the development of Sufism and its mystical doctrines. Sufism as it developed in al-Andalus and in eastern parts of the Islamic empire held the core perspective of Islamic mysticism, but as it came in contact with other spiritual traditions it grew and learn from the encounter. It adopted Graeco-Egyptian Hemetic thought, Hindu Numerology and breathing, Christian monasticism, Chaldean astrology and others. What resulted was a synthesis so powerful and compelling that it inspired the Picatrix, the European Renaissance and its subsequent interest in hermeticism.

Yet, this synthesis ensured that its parent traditions remained preserved and intact. It didn't gut them, but enriched its parent traditions. Hell, hermeticism exists today because these Sufis preserved it. Sufism learned from the parent traditions, it did not steal from them.

The ultimate differentiation is shown in the results. Syncretism produces growth, the evolution of a tradition, and smart and effective magick.

Appropriation produces degredation of previous traditions, muddied ideology, and weak and diluted magick.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Healing a Broken Heart

Valentine's Day is either a day of great happiness, or it can be a day of quite a bit of bitterness. In modern years there has been an "anti-Valentine's Day" movement. This "movement" is participated in by jilted lovers, poeple bitter with the way their heart has been dealt with, in otherwords it has become a day of heartbreak.

Heartbreak is part of life, but sometimes, like in the case of anti-Valentine's Day, our hurt overshadows our ability to see the beauty of life. When the hurts of life keep you from moving on, when the pain of past relationships overshadow the happy memories, and when you are filled witih sorrow rather than love, then your heart needs some healing.

Here is a work that can help heal that broken heart without cutting ties with our past.

What you'll need:
1 bottle of Healing Oil (or a similar type)
1 bottle of Power Oil (or a similar type)
1 bottle of John the Conqueror Oil if you are a male, or Queen Elizabeth Oil if you are a female (or a similar type)
1 Bottle of Venus Oil (or a similar type)
1 Bottle of Clarity Oil (or a similar type)
Rose Petals
Balms of Gilead
Violet Leaves
Venus Powder
Healing Powder
1 pink candle
1 purple candle
1 white candle

First make yourself a warm bath by brewing the Rose Petals, Balms of Gilead, and Violet Leaves into a teas. Stand in your bath tub and pour this water over your head while washing downward seven times. While you do this pray that as the water runs down your body that it washes you clean of past hurts and pains.

Step out of the tub and collect some of the used bath water. Air dry and take your bath water to crossroads where you'll toss it over your left shoulder while praying that the crossroads scatters your pain far away from you.

When you come back home set up an altar with images of love. Use pink and white colors for an altar cloth. Take a photo of yourself and on the back write out a list of your greatest attributes. Write out everything that is attractive about yourself. If are having a hard time coming up with a list write out a list as what God would see in you. Turn this paper clockwise 1/4th of a turn and cross your list with your name written out in bold and large three times. Make sure that your name crosses and covers your list.

Dab a bit of each of the oils on your finger and five spot your photo. Now take that photo and place it in the center of a triangle of candles. On the bottom left corner of the triangle place the white candle dressed with Healing and Clarity oil. At the bottom right corner place the purple candle dressed with Power oil. If you are a man dress that purple candle with John the Conqueror candle and if you are a woman dress it with Queen Elizabeth Oil.

At the top corner of your triangle place the pink candle dressed with Venus Oil. Now mix your Venus powder with Healing powder and take this compound and trace out a heart around your candle set up and picture.

Pray fervently over this set up that as the candles burn that your hurt's be healed, that you be given the clarity to look at your past relationships not with resentment, but with fondness. Pray with all your heart that your self-confidence be restored and that you begin to see and love yourself as you deserve. Pray that you grow from the past rather than be held back and that you go foward to the future with an open heart.

Light those candles and let them illuminate your heart and mind.

This work is ideal for those situation where you want the hurt to stop, but you still want to be able to take away the good from the situation.

May it be helpful to you and good luck!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mages, Chefs, and the Secret Ingredient

Have you ever come across a culinary dish that was just ambrosial? It could be a common dish, but for whatever reason it was just the best of that dish you’ve ever tasted? I know this one place near my house that makes these absolutely delicious kabobs. Now, I’ve had my fair share of kabobs in my life, but this place blows everyone else out of the water. How could that be though? It is a simple dish with skewered meat that is grilled and served up with the usual. Yet, something is done differently that makes a subtle, but profound difference in the taste of the dish.

This is the effect of the secret ingredient. The term “ingredient” may be slightly misleading because the phrase, as I’ve come to use it, refers to not only an additional physical component, but can also refer to a technique. The secret ingredient is that something extra; that secret element in the process of making a dish that takes it from being ordinary to something extraordinary. Now, the secret ingredient isn’t any old thing that is tossed in, but rather is a creative addition that works in a complimentary fashion with the tastes of the dish to give it that extra oomph.

This type of personalization of a dish is usually the sphere of the chef. While a cook can be anyone with decent enough skills and a sturdy enough grasp of the kitchen to follow a set of recipes and therefore produce an edible meal, the chef is an artist whose grasp of the principles of cooking is so masterful that they are able to work with their meals on a creative level. For the chef, each dish is more than the product of a set of ingredients, but rather is an artwork that is given birth by skill and creativity. What really makes a chef stand out is that their creativity is tempered and focused to a knife’s edge by an understanding of the very principles of their craft. It is this understanding that allows a chef to masterfully take their dishes to the level of artwork by using their creativity in a fashion that compliments the taste rather than muddies.

In comes the secret ingredient. This is that extra something that the chef does that amazes the taste buds. It can be as simple as adding an extra pinch of this, or as complex as altering the very method that the dish is prepared by. Whatever the case, the chef works within certain principles while using the original recipe as a guideline. In other words, when they take things to the creative level they do not mix and match the styles of food. You don’t want to combine things in such a messy fashion that the food goes from art to junk.

A skilled mage is like a chef. Unlike other practitioners who simply follow rituals and rites as if they were recipes, the talented magician understands the principles behind the formulae and uses that understanding to add that extra oomph to their work. Like a chef, these magi don’t mix and match by adding something from one style or tradition to another simply because it seems like a good idea. No, these magicians work in a fashion that does justice to the principles of their tradition, while taking their magical work to the creative level.

Again, enter the secret ingredient. Skilled magicians have that extra something that they add to their work that allows it reach the level of art. It can be anything from the inclusion of a specific herb or root in a mojo hand, a particular way they enter a prayerful state, or a clever technique. These secret ingredients transform what they are doing from merely rote practice of a recipe into something truly magical.

If you’ve ever studied with a truly talented magician you’ll see that the idea of a secret ingredient is accurate. They almost always have a unique addition that they add that compliments the overall style, tradition, and practice of their work.

This is something I do, many of my colleagues do, and something our elders do. More than just a personalizing element, the secret ingredient works on a creative level with the magical working that takes your results to a whole new dimension.

Whether chef or magician we find that both are able to produce wondrous results by:

1. Having a strong grasp of the work that they are doing on a fundamental level.

2. Sticking true to the principles of the tradition they are working with in order to produce consistent and clear results.

3. The personalization of what they are doing via the secret ingredient, or that extra something that allows them to take part in the creative process.

Unfortunately in today’s occult world everyone things they are the equivalent of a chef even before they’ve bothered to really understand the fundamentals of what they are working with. It is here we see such confused mix-matching of ideas and traditions that it completely muddies up the “taste” of the results.

Just as there will be a distinct difference between the food prepared by a chef and the food prepared by an amateur, so too will someone’s magic and their results show you if they need to go back to school.

So, to really start taking magick to a new level of power, I think it’s time we start thinking like chefs and not cooks. Heck, most of us magician’s already have the ego of a chef, might as well emulate their ability to transform craft into art.