As an operational mystery lodge within the Western Tradition, the core work of The Company of Avalon is Ritual Magic . Magic in this context has nothing to do either with pulling rabbits out of hats or with summoning "dark forces" for personal gain and power. Magic is a discipline in consciousness, honed through meditation and empowered in ritual and its objective is not to gain but to SERVE. Our distinguished predecessor Dion Fortune, described magic as "the art of making changes in consciousness in conformity with will". All that said the most effective injunction that can be given to any budding magician is "BELIEVE!"
Magic may of course , like any human faculty, be used and abused for self centred and ill conceived purposes, but any mystery lodge worthy of the name abhors such abuses. The use of magic in this and similar lodges is in service. But the essential question is not perhaps "what is magic?" but "WHY magic?"
Magic can't solve all the world's problems, but it can lay down patterns in consciousness, individually and universally, which encourage solutions.
In laying down such patterns it forms alliances with, and enlists the co-operation of, beings who are rarely apparent to normal human perception, hence the necessity of "making changes in consciousness". These "inner" beings with which the magician co-operates may be discarnate human beings and/or other orders of being, including the denizens of the Angelic, Faery or Elemental realms. The Western Mystery Tradition describes such alliances as "inner plane contacts" and rigorously trains and tests its initiates in the facilitation of such contacts. Mystery lodges who have established, tested, and are genuinely able to conduct and maintain such inner dialogue are described as being "contacted". The Company of Avalon is such a lodge.
This interaction between flesh and blood human beings and other orders of being is universally described in the mythologies of all races and nations. Mythology holds tremendous power and potential in the inner psyche, cultural reflex and spiritual destiny of a people. Consequently the magician frequently, though not exclusively, works with an appropriate mythology, to touch the pulse of a race or nation to initiate inspiration and healing. In the mythological world of ‘what if’ nothing is written in stone and mechanisms are available to change things. As to the "legitimacy" of inducing such changes, the initiate seeks inner validation for his or her actions, underpinned by a strong sense of ethical and spiritual responsibility. Good lodges look for this in their initiates before entrusting them with the means to unlock "the door that has no key"
Magical techniques for working in consciousness and tapping inner sources of potential have in the last seventy years or so, lead some to believe that magic can have some sort of "scientific" validity, in terms of psychology and, more recently, in areas of the "new physics" like quantum mechanics. But magic and science use different tools and functions of consciousness and consequently speak different languages. Magic must be honest about this and in this honesty it will find that science can only be a fellow traveler for some small sections of its journey. It can debate with science on the effects of human consciousness in Heisenberg’s quantum worlds of willful waves and particles, but the existence of and a discourse with other modes of consciousness and being in such worlds is outside the language of the physicist. Similarly, psychology, particularly Jungian psychology, can share some common ground with magic, talking about, say, archetypes of the unconscious. Yet (notwithstanding the psychic experiences and spiritual inclinations of its founder) Jungian psychology will never permit its inner archetypes to be anything but facets of flesh and blood human consciousness. So whilst science grudgingly maintains an uneasy truce with conventional religion, muttering that theology is not its field, it absolutely forbids the trespass of other intelligences, even discarnate human intelligences, into its Quantum realms. Meanwhile magic must have Faeries at the bottom of its garden and agree to disagree. The scientist and the magician do not in any case need each other's approval to do their respective jobs. Magic can certainly claim "results" from its endevours, but those results are generally (if not inevitably) set in a language which science is reluctant to speak.
Religion and magic have a somewhat different, but no less frustrating, relationship. Magic, as such, is NOT a religion but it may be seen as being a mode of service which follows on from deeply held spiritual convictions. Without such convictions (which may or may not be taken from a "religious" tradition) it tends in any case to lose much of its ethos and integrity. Institutional "revealed" religions (Christianity, Judaism , Islam) generally condemn magic, however, seeing it as human meddling in exclusively "divine" inner things. Much Neo Paganism by contrast, tends to blur the boundaries between magical work and religious worship, to (in our view ) the detriment of both.
changes in consciousness and operating effectively (and ethically) on
inner levels requires a good deal of training and work and ,from a very
long time ago, human beings have devised myriad ways of doing this . Most
magical systems beg steal and borrow their techniques from tradition to
tradition, modifying their methods in the light of experience within
changing cultural conditions...with one provisio ...that it works! A good
example of this is the Qaballistic Tree of Life... originally a glyph of
Judaic mysticism , subsequently "borrowed" to great effect in
the practice of both pagan and christian magic. Other patterns include the
time honoured pentagram and hexagram. Magicians realised from very
early on that "pictures of patterns" in the form of evocative
glyphs and symbols are a very good device with which to focus
consciousness and adjust the levels at which it operates. Consequently you
will see magical texts appended with all sorts and signs and symbols and
instructions for the use of these in both meditation and ritual.
Magic uses patterns in sounds (words, mantra, music), images, colours, objects, ritual actions and the other sensory stimuli (smell=incense for example) to provide inner gateways, and the means to nudge consciousness through them. In ancient (and some surviving ) ethnic cultures natural hallucinogens were also employed, but for a number of reasons these are no longer either advisable or necessary.... nor indeed workable beyond the tribal context of the cultures in which they were originally used. Mythology , however, remains a rich and powerful source of magical stimulation, in that its powers and scenarios provide well trodden inner routes into the collective consciousness of specific cultures. All these are utilised in a focused, systematic way to build bridges between the inner and outer worlds. In this magic can be both a mode of service and a means of personal realisation and transformation. Rightly understood these two facets of magic, personal realisation and service, are two sides of the same coin.
What is frequently forgotten, however, is that these inner /outer bridges are very much a "two way street"...they have to be for the magic to "work" ! This is especially apparent in ritual work, where specifically focused visualisation is combined with sensory stimuli, invocation and and physical actions to provide, as it were, the incarnate "earth" end of such a bridge. This facilitates, with meditational preparation and planning, a conduit for inner power to have credence in the physical world. To achieve such a focus magic is worked within defined parameters. The "circle of art" so beloved by occult novelists, is more usually known by magicians as "Sacred Space" and defines a specific area, a spherical pattern in time, space and consciousness within which the work is undertaken. In group work this area is physically defined in the horizontal circle of participants who generally sit or stand in a ring around a central altar in a lodge room or temple . This same definition of " a place set apart" as an area of focus where the inner and outer worlds may interact is apparent in prehistoric "sacred sites" such as Bronze Age stone circles. Many of these, not only define a sacred area but carry in their geometry, construction and alignments, sympathetic and symbolic associations with the magical work once done there. In modern ritual work areas of the circle/sacred space are defined by and associated with directions, seasons, elements through "magical weapons", typically the sword, wand, cup and disk which make the appropriate visual and tactile associations. In this the quarters of the circle define specific gates between the inner and outer worlds with selected individuals being responsible for mediating the powers that move through these gates. Whilst this very rarely results in the physical manifestation of "spirits", as described in the questionable "grimoires" of mediaeval magic, its effects can certainly be felt. Normally these feelings are uplifting, enlightening and life enhancing, but as magic is a discipline in consciousness, its results are very much coloured by the will and intention of its operatives...what you have in mind, is very much reflected in what you get !
All magical ritual work must be constantly supported by individual meditation....the serious magician builds and elaborates his or her personal bridges to the inner worlds on a daily basis and, in doing so also monitors his or her own will and motive. All magicians , whether members of groups or not, have to learn to work alone in a responsible and effective way. Some elect to ONLY work alone, and our course of training caters for both the lone magician and those who want to go on to work in this or other groups.
The Iron Age Gundestrup bowl from Denmark. The interior of the bowl shows mythological scenes, not least of magical transformation in a cauldron. The cauldron is emblematic of the chthonic aspect of the goddesses who initiate realisation and transformation. Magical rituals frequently use and enact such symbolism..
With dedication, belief and (most importantly) a lively sense of humour, magic can become a worthwhile and fulfilling calling. It can't answer all the world's problems, but it can build bridges between human nature and all nature and between a saner today and happier tomorrows. This alone marks it as a noble and worthwhile calling.
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© Mike Harris/ Company of Avalon, 2008