Walter Ernest Butler – Basics of Magic

Basics of Magic






Walter Ernest Butler

As we have said books on magic seem to be largely made up of quotations from and comments on other books on magic, and this, in the end gives very little enlightenment. People who enquire into the subject are disappointed by this negative result. They want to know not merely what magic is, but how it may be practised. To be able to do a thing oneself is much more satisfying to many of us than simply to hear or read about what other people have seen or done. Kipling, in “The Ballad of Tomlinson” indicates from another angle, the futility of second-hand knowledge and experience.

In his former book, the writer tried to show some of the general principles governing the Magical Art, and as a result of the recep­tion of that book, he now feels that it may be as well if he provides whatever practical instructions may safely be given out openly. Obviously, there are increasingly complex depths in magic, and for one who is unprepared to try to plunge into those depths is the sheerest of follies. But for anyone who is prepared to work steadily and to avoid unnecessary risks, there is everything to be said in favour of such general instruction. In any case it carries implicit within it a perfectly satisfactory regulating mechanism, as anyone misusing it will find by personal experience. Others, who follow the system given will be rewarded by an increasing sense of fulfilment and satisfaction, with wider and deeper insight into life and destiny, and with increased powers with which to serve their fellows. Arcane knowledge and power give great responsibility, but also great joy and happiness as one begins to take part in the Great Work which ever goes on in the souls of men.

“I desire to know, in order to serve” such is the password which admits to the arcane knowledge, and those of my readers who can honestly affirm this can safely essay the way of magic. Safely, that is, if they obey instructions. One of the many traps that beset the student of these matters is the temptation to experiment with “bits and pieces,” adding something here, subtracting something there, “taking a chance” somewhere else. Such behaviour is silly and dangerous.

The enquirer desires to learn the Magic Art. What guarantee can we give him that he will be successful? Can anyone be a magician? What are the qualifications? How can he make a start? What are the signs that he is gaining proficiency? All these, and many more questions have been put to the writer since the publi­cation of his first book. The present work is by way of an answer to some at least of these questions.

One of the most cogent of these is “Can anyone be a magician?” The answer is yes, anyone can become a magician, but there are phases of magic which are not within the capabilities of some people, though they are in others. The Victorian novelist, Bulwer­Lytton, in one of his stories which gives its title to the book of the same name, quotes from Albertus Magnus to the effect that the description of the magical process he describes “will instruct and avail only to the few … that a man must be born a magician!”, that is, born with a peculiar physical temperament, as a man is born a poet. Now this is very true, but it is not the whole of the truth. Poets are born, not made; that is great poets. But many minor poets spring up, and though their verse is not of the quality of that of the great immortals, yet do they find satisfaction in the exercise of their modest powers, and so do they also add to the enjoyment of many.

There are two aspects of magic which appertain to the spectacu­lar. One, “Evoking to Visible Appearance” is the high-light of phenomenal magic, the other, the “Transmutation of Conscious­ness,” though less objectively spectacular is equally important. It is found in practice that certain people are expert in one or the other of these aspects, whilst others seem to have little or no power in either of them. On investigation it will be found that invariably the successful evokers to visible appearance possess the peculiar psycho-physical type of body which characterises what the spiritu­alists term the materialisation medium. A classic example is Madame Blavatsky.

This does not mean, however, that the magician is a medium in the ordinary sense of the word. This is not the place to discuss the merits or demerits of mediumship, but put briefly the difference between the magician and the medium is that the one is controlled and influenced by his own spirit self, the other is the channel for the forces and influences of others. Of course, there are no cut and dried lines in these matters, in many mediums the inner spirit-self is working through their mediumship. In the case of Madame Blavatsky, the unregulated “physical phenomena” of her early years were brought under her conscious control, as Sinnett records in Incidents in the life of Madame Blavatsky.

The other type of magical work is perfectly illustrated by Dr. Paul Brunton in his book A Search in Secret India. Between these two extremes of objective and subjective magical phenomena, there are many grades, and every sincere student who is willing to obey instructions and to persevere, can find some aspect of magical power which he can develop and use for the common good.

Many books on our subject give exhaustive lists of magical practices (indeed, that is all that many· of them seem able to give) but in this book we shall only touch briefly upon the various practices which are included under the name of magic. We have already shown the basic division of the magical art “objective” and “subjective” phenomena. All feats of magic combine the two, and, in fact, the main difference between the various magical hap­penings is the proportion of “objective” to “subjective.” Always there is definite interaction between the magician and his environment, and here we come to one of the fundamental principles of magic.

The modem world, with its increasing use of scientific knowledge, and its lack of faith in anything except matter, as it is com­monly thought of, has divorced man from his environment and made him simply a fortuitous form of life on a second-rate planet revolving around a second-rate sun. It has become the fashion to think with kindly contempt of the ancients who regarded Man and Nature as parts of one living universe. “Great is Science of the Modern World” is their cry, as their predecessors cried in similar terms “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” It is true, of course, that solitary members of the race have risen up and protested against this deification of modern science, and it is true also that the more advanced scientists of our day, when unhampered by political ideologies, are beginning to regard man and the universe in a differ­ent light.

But popular opinion has been said, quite rightly, to be always fifty years behind the growing point of knowledge; even though it uses the latest terms and symbols of that knowledge. By a process of unconscious “rationalisation,” as the psychologists call it, popular opinion charges the new word-symbols and ideas with the old interpretations of fifty years ago, and fondly regards itself as being up-to-date in scientific knowledge!

Deep within humanity there is a desire for stability, for security and for safety, and this desire operates always in the direction of maintaining whatever status quo it regards as embodying that state of safety of stability and security. Whatever intellectual, philoso­phical or religious system they may adopt. it will be found that for them this is a veritable ark amidst the roar and turmoil of the tem­pest of the world. But those there are who in divine desire for “Light -more Light” scorn the safe refuge, and press fearlessly onwards into the Unknown-to find in the words of a great scientist of today, that “the universe is friendly.”

If it is in this direction that true and unfettered science is today moving then perhaps we may look back to those ancients and briefly consider the philosophy which underlies the whole of their teaching. We in the Western world, having had our main philoso­phical systems mediated to us through the Schoolmen of the Great Western Church, tend to think in terms of what may be described as “dualism.” Always we are setting the Eternal Source, God, over against Its manifest creation.

But the philosophy which underlies magic is the philosophy which appears in the Indian “Vedanta” the philosophy of “Monism!’ In this philosophy God and His Universe are seen to be one and the same. But this, it will be said, is Pantheism pure and simple. It would be if we were so foolish as to regard Nature as the whole of God. We do not only hold the idea of His being in and through His Universe, but also we believe He transcends it.

An Immanent, and Transcendent Being is the God of the magical philosophers. But both these terms can easily be misunder­stood. If, by “immanent” we think of “something” behind manifest­ation as we see it then we are beginning to use the philosophic counters of Aquinas, “substance” and “accident” Though this is a perfectly valid distinction, the magical philosopher would go further and say that all manifestation exists as an expression of that substantial Being and because of that it possesses Reality after its own kind. It bas been said that the touchstone of a philosophic system lies in its use of the word “Real.” In one Eastern prayer it is said “From the Unreal lead me to the Real,” and those monistic philosophies which stem from the Eastern teachings are mainly based upon such an idea.

In the early Christian Church certain Gnostic “heretics” taught such things, and for this reason were repudiated by the great councils. Such heretics were the Docetae and the Manichees. One of the greatest figures of the early Church, St. Augustine of Hippo had followed the Manichean philosophy before his conversion to Christianity, and traces of it are to be found in his teachings. As he later became a great authority for the Roman Catholic Church, some of his views distorted the Christian philosophy, and even today they cloud the teachings of some of the sects. But the doctrine of the evil nature of matter is not a part of the Christian philosophy or, indeed, of any of the great philosophic systems of East and West. The doctrine of the unreality of material manifestation, however, is part of several Eastern systems, and in certain Western systems which owe their inspiration to the East it is also to be found.

It is not, however, an essential part of the true magical philo­sophy. It has sometimes been said that the magical doctrines are doctrines of “emanation,” and in one sense this is so. But if by this it is thought that they teach that {in all reverence) God emanates the universe from Himself as a kind of Cosmic Spider spinning His Web from Himself, then such a conception is entirely foreign to the magical scheme.

The magi teach that the whole universe of matter in all its grades, physical and non-physical, is the manifestation of the very Essence and substantial Being of the Eternal. So the physical universe, so far from being evil or “low,” as so many “spiritually minded” folk would have us believe it to be, is as holy as any other plane of being-there is nothing common or unclean. “The ignorant man gazeth upon the face of Nature, and it is to him darkness of darkness. But the initiated and illumined man gazeth thereon and seeth the features of God.”

So it is not matter which is unreal, only the appearances it pre­sents to our consciousness, and as that consciousness is evoked and expanded, so do we begin to see in all things the Presence and very Being of God. Thus the magical path is no mere way of escapism. even though many try to use it as such. It is an adventurous, God­seeking quest, as true and as holy as any Mystic Quest of the Grail. Indeed, it is that Quest, undertaken “after another manner.”

The basic ideas of this magical philosophy are embodied in a very wonderful “glyph” or composite symbol known as “The Tree of Life,” Otz Chiim, and this is the meditation symbol or mandala which is used by the Western magician, since it is the philosophical symbol of that system of Hebrew thought which is known as the Quabalah. This is that body of esoteric teaching which was imparted “from mouth to ear” as its very name implies, It was regarded by the Rabbis as the inner spirit of their religion, even as the Torah or Law was its body, and the Talmud its soul. It is this basic Hebrew theosophy, enriched as it is by the Egyptian, Chal­dean, Greek, Persian and Arabian elements, together with the mystical stream of the inner Christian Schools, that forms the tradition to which the magical student is heir.