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Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Classic Rant: Real Magic In RPGs Letter Day

I get some letters from time to time; and I thought there was one here I should respond to on this blog, its from "Sage Nagai":

Dear Pundit,

After all these years, I'm still reading your blog!

After your recent article on further reading on Crowley, you piqued my curiosity, and I ordered one of the Duquette books you recommended which provides an overview of Crowley's rituals. I enjoyed reading the historical and biographical intro chapter of the book very much, but when I got to the parts actually talking about specific ritual procedures and reproducing various texts, I felt confused.

The book did not make it clear to me exactly what a person is supposed to be able to accomplish, or what the exact purpose is, of doing the various ceremonies.

Let me try and put it this way. If someone asked me, "Why would someone want to practice karate, by doing the various training regimens and procedures listed in a karate book," I would be able to give a pretty concise answer. "By practicing karate, a person may enjoy the benefits of athleticism, flexibility, discipline, spatial awareness, confidence, and may enjoy the social aspect of development of combat or combat sports skills with a group of like-minded hobbyists. In the event that you're someday assaulted, expertise in karate may improve your probability of survival, depending on the circumstances, and the intensity of your training level and mindset."

But, when it comes to the question, "Why would someone want to practice Crowley's magick, by doing the various training regimens and procedures listed in Duquette's book," I have absolutely no idea what the answer would be.

I know that in your blog, you stated that if someone performs the rituals enough, they affect major changes in their ego because they realize that the day to day is less all-encompassing than it seems. But it is not immediately apparent to me what the rituals directly have to do with that, or the difference between doing the magical rituals towards that end, and simply having powerful ego-rattling life experiences, such as, for example, having worked in health care long enough to have worked with a number of patients who end up dying in spite of your best efforts, or having had combat experience in a war. I thought that maybe you would be able to help me understand what exactly a person aims to achieve or affect when they perform Crowley's rituals. 

Thanks very much for your kind help and consideration!


First, the series I've been writing on magick is not meant as a practical guide, its meant as a guide for RPG play. That said, it might be important for people in an RPG to have an answer to this question of "why bother with magick"?

You do magical rituals as a way to perform the Great Work. That is, the work of self-transformation.
The "ego-rattling" mind-blowing side of things is one part of that; and to answer one of your questions the point of doing magick to get that rather than just going through life and waiting for those experiences to happen, is that the magician does INTENTIONALLY and in controlled ways what happens to most people just by ACCIDENT. The point is that if rather than waiting for live events to cause shake ups, you invite them, and create them with specific circumstances, then you can create moments of opportunity for transcendence.

But the Great Work only starts with the whole "mind-blowing" experience. After that is the question of where to go from there. The second purpose of magick ritual is to prepare yourself, once sufficiently shifted in perspective, to be able to direct that perspective shift into a permanent communication with your "higher self", the intentionally-silly named "Holy Guardian Angel".
This is not just "you at your best" or something like that, but it is you at a level so beyond the ordinary definitions of yourself that it will seem like an entirely different human being, and hence one can literally end up engaging in conversation with it. Magick allows us regular glimpses of that higher self, but a magician who goes through the somewhat grueling process of breaking down the self and then opening up the self that is require to obtain full and regular knowledge and conversation of one's higher self is called an Adept.
This is a person who, in an RPG occult game, would have access to some serious power and wisdom.
They would be able to control demons (I'll explain more about that in some future blog entry), they would be able to see connections in things that a normal human being is unaware of, they'd have powerful intuitive senses, and would also by then have a significant knowledge of most forms of magick.

There's a further step beyond that in the Great Work, however. Once you have become complete and harmonized within yourself, comes the job of annihilating the self: jumping into the abyss, becoming a Master of the Temple. This is the ultimate challenge of magick, to be able to sacrifice all of yourself, to leap out of the ego completely, and become one with the great dark mother, with emptiness and infinity. It is precisely the same as Buddhist Enlightenment: you cease to exist as an ego.
In game terms, this can be quite a trip, as the process of crossing the Abyss involves passing through this vast expanse of emptiness and dispersion (basically, everything that could possibly be defined as "Wrong" is there), facing the great demon Choronzon (among many other dangers), and then willingly draining every drop of your blood into the Cup of Babalon that you may burn in her embrace, and enter as a pile of ashes into the City of the Pyramids.
This is basically a symbolic journey, often done by pathworking or astral travel (more on that in some future blog post too). After that, a magician continues to exist in the physical world, but has become a Master, far beyond in awareness and comprehension; which unfortunately, means that to many people he may seem batshit nuts, if he's not very good at dissimulation.

Also, many fail to give all their blood into that cup, they hold onto some tiny piece of themselves; they become a Black Brother. Their soul becomes shut up inside the abyss, and while the body continues in the ordinary world that Black Brother is now hopelessly corrupted, desperate to Live, above all else, the ultimate trap of Egotism. He believes himself to be the most important thing in the universe, and convinces himself and others of all kinds of lies. The Black Brother is doomed to slowly be consumed by the anti-energy of the abyss, and desperate to do anything he can to keep saving himself. He makes, in other words, a perfect mastermind villain or cult leader for a modern occult game; a kind of "false immortal".

So yeah, the short answer to your question is: you do magick because you want to create intentional effects to generate change in yourself that would otherwise just be dependent on circumstances; and with the higher purpose of spiritual transcendence, with the same ultimate goal of enlightenment as you'd find in Buddhism; except that in magick you get to face demons and cast spells and shit, while in Buddhism you mostly just sit around (except for Tibetan Buddhism, where you get to face demons and cast spells and shit).


(Originally posted November 3, 2011)


  1. Pundit, I have this question about magic, it would be great if you could answer it. Carl Jung came up with the concept of Synchronicity, an acausal connection between two unrelated things. He may have borrowed this idea from medieval philosophy, since he based a lot of his theory on that, but he clearly restricted Synchronicity in his writing to subjective interpretation, i.e. a person may attach synchronicity to events based on their personal experience - an innocuous observation may trigger an emotional response in a person based on their personal experience. After Jung died, some New Agers took to using the concept of Synchronicity outside Jung's theory - i.e. actual acausal connection between unrelated events in the real world as a basis of mysticism. If such as thing was true, it would be a good theoretical explanation for any divination - any oracle that can be interpreted is synchronistically linked to the event being predicted. So, my big questions is, based on your knowledge, did the concept of Synchronicity exist in medieval thinking before Jung, and if there any mention of it anywhere in the occult? Thank you.

    1. Not really. That's a highly modernist idea.
      The ancient notions are instead that there is a CAUSAL link between 'like forces'; often described as 'sympathy'.
      And the most powerful of such things is the connection between symbols and the things they symbolize. This is why, for example, systems of divination work: because they are based on cosmologies; they act like a model of the universe, like a kind of simulation of reality, and can thus predict patterns in reality.
      It's also why knowing the name of a thing gives you power over a thing. Or why mantras can tap into the forces those mantras connect to.

    2. This is great! Thank you. A while ago I read a book about magic in Ancient Rome, that was first published in 1902, and all in it precisely echoed your sentiment about symbolism and "like forces". I was disappointed to find no mysticism or mysteriousness in it. Around the same time I read the Ancient Roman account of the Druids in Brittania, by one of the Pliny's, I think. The impression I got was that historic Druids sand their scriptures like Muslims, except from memory, and that they believed in reincarnation, like the Hindus, and they convinced Romans that they were not afraid to die, because they will be reincarnated again, and the Romans treated them back then, in a very modern way, like dangerous religious fanatics, who aren't afraid to die and pose a special danger. Another piece of Ancient Roman writing I came across that blew my mind, was a message sent to the Roman authorities in Judea, warning then about a dangerous zealot named "something something Of Egypt" (I forgot the name), who was headed their way and a brief description. It was so much like US in Iraq, my jaw dropped! Anyway, I have one other question. You mentioned that Occult is similar to Tibetan Buddhism in that you get to face demons. Tibetan Buddhism features a thing called "Tutular Deities", i.e. dieties representing various aspects of human condition, say, addiction, indebtedness or gluttony. If you are suffering from one of those conditions, the deity appears as a demon tormenting you, but if you overcome it and master it, the demon transforms into a deity (usually a magical dog) and an ally. Does the occult feature the same dynamic or is this unique to Tibetan Buddhism. And while I am on topic, I came across the writing of Michael Aquino disagreeing with Anton La Vey. Aquino basically said that Pentegrams are nonsense, since the demons can cross them at will and destroy the magician summoning them, if they wished. You have to face demons you summon without any protective illusions, you must have the balls to go toe to toe with them, and a true magician doe snot use the same useless Pentegrams. Aquino was a Special Forces operator in Vietnam, and while he appears to have been responsible for psychological warfare (either harmless propaganda, he would have been stuck doing as a commissioned officer) or the much darker acts of violence to cow and intimidate the countryside (for which I seen no evidence for his involvement, but I never really looked). IN any case, his approach would have been much more useful outlook for an undercover cop, who has to infiltrate the violent bad guys without any real protection or hope of rescue if his or her cover gets blown. I.e. "demons" that can rip you to shreds (torture, murder you) at any time and there is nothing that can save you except how you carry yourself with the deadly psychos you happen to be infiltrating. SF soldiers were trained specifically to work underground in the enemy rear and to survive and resist capture. I can see where his military training may have influenced his philosophy. I have no idea why he discredited himself by appearing in Conan and with his pedophilia charges later on. My big question is, does his philosophy of facing demons with your inner resourcefulness alone have any basis in historical occult of medieval magic? Thank you again!

  2. Short answer: you do "magick" so you can blog about it and impress the easily persuaded.

    1. That's hilarious, I guess you think it's impressive.
      Anyways, I've been doing magick for something like 15 years before I started blogging.