Thursday, January 15, 2009

Magical Kindergarten

In the pursuit of esoteric, magical or shamanic training, there is something that must be explained to all prospective and interested students. It's a condition created in our instant-gratification society by movies such as Harry Potter or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." In these movies the high arts of advanced sorcery, magick and wizardry are taught from the beginning. Harry Potter goes to school and is immediately taught alchemy, transforming objects from one form to another. He can fly on a broomstick right away. In "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," almost all the characters know some form of Kung-Fu, and can levitate and fight with a great degree of skill. While all of this makes for great movies, it seriously misrepresents the learning process for magical knowledge. These movies portray in two hours what can take decades to learn, if at all.

Having said all that, let's now talk about magical kindergarten. There is a kindergarten for magical learning just as there is a kindergarten for public school. In every form of learning, you must master the basics before you can move on to more advanced techniques. Many fantasy novels do a much better job of portraying the process of learning than current movies. For instance, in a fantasy series like "The Belgariad" by David Eddings or a novel like "A Wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula K. LeGuin, the period of early learning and apprenticeship is spelled out in more detail. In both of these books, young magicians-to-be balk at having to learn the fundamentals of magick before being able to cast spells, shape-shift or levitate. But in all cases, the masters force their young apprentices to learn the fundamentals, sometimes for years at a time. In this early process, they are teaching their apprentices the skills of seeing, stalking, will and control. A person's knowledge can only be matched with his level of being, and all of these skills contribute to the level of being. You can have a person with a lot of magical knowledge and no being (a powerless magician), or a person with a very high level of being but no knowledge (a stupid saint). In either case, neither will be very effective in the worlds of magick and shamanism.

So if and when you embark on a journey to learn the arts of magick and shamanism, be patient with the process. Learn the fundamentals well because you'll need to know them instinctively later on. If you are going to do a banishment and you encounter a being who could be either a ghost or an archetype, you'll have to know immediately how to distinguish them because you won't have time to think! A ghost can be banished with a blast of electric blue, but an archetype will fight back and send 10 times the blast of electric blue back at you. It sometimes takes years before you understand the implications of the knowledge that you already have, and this is a rightful part of the magical journey. An author who does a great job describing this path is Tom Brown, Jr. His books include "This Vision," "The Tracker" and "The Journey." If you want to get a real sense of what magical kindergarten looks like, read his books, then add about 15 years to it, since he started when he was 8 and most of us don't start this journey until much later.

Does the thought of magical kindergarten sound boring and interminable? It is in some ways because we don't get to satisfy that need in us to do something really big and glorious in the magical realms. At the same time, though, remember that kindergarten was a lot of fun. In kindergarten, you get to play a lot, and you're not required to do much. As you take this journey, the path keeps getting narrower and narrower, so enjoy the path while it's big and wide. Kindergarten is kindergarten, whether you're 5 or 50. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Real Book of Shadows – What Is It?

A lot of people wonder, "What is a book of shadows? Is it fact or fiction?" In fact, thousands of people type in the search term "real book of shadows" every month to try to find out. If you watch the TV show "Charmed" then you'll know that the Halliwell sisters have a giant book of spells written by their ancestors called a book of shadows. Others will take a hint from the title of the second "Blair Witch" movie, despite there being no actual book in the movie. Still others think a book of shadows is something of a personal journal for Wiccans, an idea popularized by Gerald Gardner, who brought Wiccan practices to public attention with his book "Witchcraft Today," published in 1954.

Obviously the definition of a real book of shadows varies widely in popular culture, and it does among magical and shamanic practitioners as well, depending on which tradition they practice. However, most practitioners agree on three common usages and purposes for a real book of shadows.

** 1. Record Spell Details **

A real book of shadows is used to record all the details of spells that have been cast, including the divinations used prior to casting the spell, the directors and limiters (or parameters) of the spell, the actual methods used in the spell, the results of divinations to check the progress of the spell, and any results of the spell. These details are crucial in case a spell ever goes wrong and has to be taken down. The way a practitioner takes down a spell that has already been cast depends on the way that the spell was cast. For instance, if a spell was cast using a carved candle then to take down the spell the practitioner could break the candle used in the spell and bury the remnants in the garden for a moon cycle.

** 2. Track Magical and Shamanic Research **

Magical and shamanic practitioners are often engaged in research. This research can be to discover facts about past lives, divine future events, try out new techniques, or travel to different planes. For instance, magical practitioners in our tradition will record the results of walks in the black mirror, which is a portal to other planes of existence, commonly called the half-worlds. When walking in the black mirror, the practitioner needs to use a litany or chant to direct the walk and keep from getting lost. After returning from such a walk, not only will the practitioner record the results of the walk in a real book of shadows, including any new facts or revelations, but will also record the effectiveness of the chant so that it can be used again or fine-tuned for future use.

** 3. Preserve Magic and Shamanism for the Future **

Of course, one of the most important purposes of a real book of shadows is to preserve magical and shamanic knowledge for future practitioners. Practitioners of most traditions "stand on the shoulders" of those giants who have come before. There's no real reason to keep re-inventing the wheel. A real book of shadows, which can contain the research and results of multiple generations of practitioners, is usually handed down through the generations. Each generation of practitioners (who are not necessarily related) adds their experience to the book. In fact, the material in a real book of shadows is often so voluminous that the "book" becomes a multi-volume set.

A real book of shadows is really a record of magical and shamanic experience that is preserved either for an individual's use or for future use. Some practitioners keep individual books of shadows and never hand them down, either because they have no one to hand them to or because they are secretive. In any event, if you are a practitioner of the magical arts, you should definitely start your own book of shadows. It will help you remember what you have done, track your magical experiments, and possibly create a magical asset for the future.

In Magic,