The Causes of Magickal Power: A Brief Essay

by John L. Steadman

Among occultists, there is some debate about the actual causes of magickal power. There are three schools of thought in play here.  First, there is the theory that the source of magickal power derives from the extra-terrestrial entities that are the target of magickal practice. This theory is certainly the earliest theory and can be considered as the “traditional” view.  The rituals used by magickal practitioners prior to the twentieth century were derived from the grimoires and magickal texts of the 13th, 15th and 16th centuries in western Europe, and these practitioners commonly assumed that the extraterrestrial entities, whether invoked or evoked, as the case might be, served as the “causes” of magickal power.  This is evident when we examine the texts of some of the actual grimoires, such as the Greater Key of Solomon, attributed to the historical King Solomon who lived in the 10th century B.C.E., but likely written by one of Solomon’s followers in the 12th or 13th centuries.

In these prototypical rites, the magickal practitioner not only exhorted the various demons or evil spirits to bring about the results he desires, but went so far as to offer prayers and supplications to angels, archangels and even God himself to compel the demons to do so.   As the medieval practitioner, did this, however, he believed that he was working with real, empirically-existent entities- as ontologically real, in fact, as he was himself.  This belief in the reality of the entities was, of course, held by the early church; the Holy Roman Catholic Church cited doctrine that “proved” God, Christ, the Holy Ghost, and the various angelic and demonic entities were actually in existence; Ephesians 6; Colossians 2:17; Job 4:18; Isiah 45:7.  Similarly, the Protestant sects, from the earliest times, accepted the ontological nature of angels and demons.  As a case in point, the great New England divine Cotton Mather, chief apologist for the Salem Witchcraft crisis of 1692, firmly believed that the afflicted girls were possessed by actual devils, and he himself had an encounter with what he saw as a “good angel when he was in his thirties. But Mather was very careful to state that the devils which afflicted the girls in Salem, though real devils, were allowed to do so only by the permission of God himself.  And likewise, Mather’s contact with his own angel was allowable only through God’s will.

The second school of thought about the source of magickal power is the “inner” explanation.  With the advent of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and psychiatry in the early 1900’s, many occultists shifted away from the strictly “outer” explanation towards the belief that magickal power originates in the mind and brain of human beings themselves.  Accordingly, or so these occultists argue, the extraterrestrial entities are not real, objectively existing beings, but rather, personifications of specific qualities and psychic predispositions that reside within each magickal practitioner. Thus, when a magickal practitioner evokes Metatron, for example, an archangel of the sphere of Kether, who manifests in a cloud of blinding white light- much like a conventional image (caricature?) of God, the Father- this being is only a mental construct and has no reality outside the mind of the magickal practitioner.  The practitioner is, in effect, “seeing things”.  In addition, Metatron would be entirely invisible to the physical eyes of any objective onlooker, even though the power of this entity can still be used by the practitioner for his or her own ends.  Therefore, the magickal power has its source in the mental, imaginative powers of the practitioner; the devices used in the ritual, the trappings, the image of the entity itself, etc., are only symbols that allow the practitioner to access inner reservoirs of psychic energy.

The third school of thought provides a compromise between the strictly “outer” and strictly “inner” positions, arguing that magickal power has both an outer and inner dimension. Kenneth Grant, one of the proponents of this third school of thought, acknowledges that there are objectively real extraterrestrial entities present in any successful magickal rite, but he focuses his attention on the inner aspect whenever he describes the generation of magickal power.  Drawing on his knowledge of the East Indian Tantric texts, particularly the texts of the Sri Vidya sect, which he adapted freely for his own use in the Typhonian O.T.O., Grant pictures the awakening of magickal power in terms of the rising of a red dragon, or fire snake, which resides inside the body of the magickal practitioner.  The fire snake, also known as the Kundalini, lies coiled at the base of the spine.  During the course of a given magickal working, the fire snake ascends the spine and charges the chakras, i.e. specific power zones located in the human body.   As the fire snake rises, bodily secretions occur at each of the seven main chakras, the Sahasrana, Ajna, Visduha, Anahata, Manipura, Svadisthana, and Muladhara, respectively, and these secretions then manifest as magickal power once the fire snake begins its descent.  If the magickal practitioner is a male and is performing an act of sex magick with a female practitioner, then there are subtle energy fields in the body of the female, known as kalas, which are also charged by the rite and contribute their own essence or effluvia to the secretions at the point of the chakras.  And this, in turn, tends to intensify the magickal power generated by the rite as a whole.  Grant describes the process in the following terms.

In order to transform sexual energy into magical energy (ojas), the dormant Fire Snake at the base of the spine is awakened…the chakras..the lesser lights glowing and pulsating like stars throughout the ganglionic network of nerves which constitutes the subtle anatomy of man…become fully energized only when the Fire Snake arrives at their several loci during Her ascent…When the Fire Snake emits its luminous venom, it gushes over and permeates the entire body.  The overflow contains ojas, the magical current that electrifies the cerebro-spinal fluid in the region of the sushumna (spinal canal)…Finally, She attains the calm purity of Her lunar-sattvic essence as She reaches the brain, above the visuddha power-zone.  It is on Her backward journey that She collects these essences into One Supreme Elixir and discharges it through the Secret Eye of the Priestess. [i]

 

The Elixir alluded to in this passage is the combined sexual fluids of the magickian and the priestess, and the “Secret Eye” is, of course, the vagina of the priestess. The fact that Grant’s emphasis here is on sex magick, however, does not mean that the awakening of the Fire Snake and the resultant development of magickal power is confined only to sex workings.  Grant, in Aleister Crowley & the Hidden God (1992), makes it clear that the Kundalini can be fully awakened by ritual magick and, interestingly enough, by other methods which may or may not have any connection with the practice of magick at all.[ii]   In fact, Grant provides a list of methods for generating magickal power which includes such activities as listening to certain types of music, getting high on drugs or alcohol, and even aesthetic rapture induced by the contemplation of art objects, as viable alternatives to magickal rites.

The magickal practitioners who do not engage in sex magick and yet, adhere to the “inner/outer” theory of magickal power, hold views similar to those articulated by Grant, though they usually don’t describe the generation of magick power in terms of the chakras, kalas, sexual secretions, etc.  On average, magickal practitioners still accept the traditional theory that magick works on three “planes.” I am not sure that I accept this theory at all; I tend to hold a Quantum Physics view of magick, which I have articulated in my two books: H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition: The Master of Horror’s Influence on Modern Occultism (2015) and H. P. Lovecraft’s Magickal Persona: The Evolution of an Occult Archetype (2016). Nevertheless, the theory of planes stipulates that there is a physical plane, an astral plane, and a mental plane.  According to this theory, human beings inhabit all three of these planes simultaneously.  In effect, the planes coexist around us, and we have three “bodies” that allow us to move between the planes. These are the physical body, the astral body (which is often equated with the “soul”) and the spirit itself- this “spirit”, presumably, is the purified body that returns to Heaven or to God after death.

Konstantinos, magickal practitioner and well-known author on occult subjects, elaborates on how a magickal evocation is enacted, at least in terms of the three planes, and how magickal power is generated.

In a magical evocation, your calling of the entity is done on the mental plane.  After it “hears” you, it either comes to the astral or physical planes, depending on the type of evocation you are performing.  The calling of the entity is performed on the mental plane because all magic begins in the mind, is powered by the will, and causes change.

Why do evocations work?  Why do entities feel compelled to come to the magician when called?  To answer this question…. When a magician stands in the center of the circle, he or she is able to invoke the power of Divine Providence.  In the Opening by Watchtower, a vortex of power descends upon the magician, which the magician can use to empower the ritual he or she is performing.  Since this power comes from God, the magician can in effect command Holy Energy, granting him or her Divine Authority.[iii]

This is a very interesting statement.  According to Konstantinos, the magickal practitioner calls the entity in his mind; this part of the theory conforms to the “inner” view regarding the causes of magickal power.  But then, the entity answers the call; this, in turn, conforms to the “outer” view.  The  entity, thus, is a real entity, since it can travel on its own volition between the astral plane and the physical plane,  and when the entity manifests, particularly on the physical plane, it’s ontological reality is confirmed.  Konstantinos’ discussion of the vortex of power and the “Holy Energy” is interesting as well; here, he rather sounds like Cotton Mather, essentially arguing that the power of magick is given, or “granted”, by God.  The medieval magickal practitioners, mentioned previously, would certainly concur with this view.

[i] Grant, Kenneth, Cults of the Shadow, New York, Samuel Weiser, 1976, 64-95.

[ii] Grant, Kenneth, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, London, Skoob Books, 1992, pp.97-8.

[iii] Konstantinos. Summoning Spirits: The Art of Magical Evocation. Woodbury, Minnesota, Llewellyn Publications, 2005, 111-112.


John L. Steadman is the author of H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan.

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