This series of posts is based on a list of initiatory Vices and Virtues of the Left Hand Path found in Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the Left Hand Path by Don Webb. It is done with the permission of the publisher, Lodestar. If these posts pique your interest in the Left Hand Path, please look for the book at Lodestar’s site, http://www.seekthemystery.com , or at Amazon. I highly recommend it, along with many others.
Vice #6: Obsession with Magic
Magic is an important part of the Left Hand Path. With its focus on the world (and the process) of Becoming, this is a natural combination–for what is magic but the raw process of becoming, harnessed by a human mind? Looking at it one way, even if the practitioner doesn’t engage in ritual practices, the act of formulating dreams in the mind and manifesting them is magic at its purest.
Another reason magic goes so well with the Left Hand Path is that traditionally, many religions proscribe it (and today, the established belief system of materialism mocks it), which makes it a quintessentially antinomian practice. Practicing magic, especially openly, places you at the margins. It’s a wonderful adjunct to other LHP work.
However, some people get really carried away with magic. Don Webb likens it to other addictive distractions like TV and the internet; In the proper dosages, both have great utility, but they also both put a gloss over the world that gives them a certain allure, and people can easily spend way too much time engaged in either or both. The same holds true with magic, and this can play out in a number of ways.
One aspect of magical obsession is “The Sorceror’s Apprentice Syndrome,” as Webb has called it (though I likened myself to The Sorceror’s Apprentice in a previous post, this vice is not what I was referring to—if anything, I should be doing more magic than I do, not less). Basically, this describes the person who turns to magic to solve just about everything, and whose magical “solutions” end up causing more problems that they then address with still more magic. This is one area where being a competent magician can be a liability. If you can throw effective spellwork at all your problems, you’ve got talent—but you won’t grow, because you’re playing life with cheat codes. Fortunately, nobody can keep up a perpetual winning streak even with the best magical ability. The world is imperfect, and sooner or later such a person will find themselves in a bind they can’t magic their way out of. When they do, they will be at a considerable disadvantage if they have been relying on raw magical talent while allowing their personal development to stagnate. The challenges life provides us are gifts, just as much as the blessings.
I think Don’s main point in writing about this vice, however, was the seductive power of magic that moves some people to simply lose themselves in its depths. These are elsewhere called “occultniks,” people who find little success in more secular quarters and who steep themselves in magic as an escape from the real world. There is overlap between magic and fantasy—imagination and fantasy are magical techniques—and so it stands to reason that the rich imagery and fantasy motifs of much magic can make a person feel right at home. It’s like a comforter you can wrap yourself up in. To bring back the gaming metaphor, aside from giving you access to cheat codes, magic gives you a role and cast of characters not unlike the RPGs that swallow so many people’s lives.
As with other vices, one reason this one needs to be watched is because it can simply gobble up so much of one’s time and energy, taking them away from other, more important aspects of life. Anything done in excess is liable to cause this problem, but some activities are more prone to this tendency than others. Remember that on the LHP, we believe strongly in being a part of the world around us, taking an active role in the affairs of the world, so as to shape it according to our vision. Magic can be an important part of this, but legwork is more important. To err on the side of caution, magic for self-change is far more desirable than sorcery to effect changes in the external world, because magic aimed at changing the self will invariably bring challenges that will help you grow. As you grow, so does your ability to shape the world. This is a less direct, but more permanent and reliable path to results.
This vice is also a danger because someone so deeply-entrenched in magic can easily draw others into their fold, especially others who don’t have a lot of experience with magic. To them, an occultnik can appear almost like the Pope—decked out in regalia, speaking to and for the gods, and chock full of esoteric knowledge needing explication (note: Not everyone who matches the above description is an occultnik—there are priests and priestesses who use magic and also work within their communities to help others). Certain types of people are drawn to such occultniks like moths to a flame, and can themselves get sucked into their fantasy (to mirror the previous parenthetical statement, not everyone who draws a following with magic is lost in fantasy, either—in this matter, discernment is necessary).
This is how cults form–even if most cult leaders aren’t occultists, the basic dynamic I described above applies.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a magic enthusiast, with pursuing it the way people avidly pursue hobbies—as long as you’ve got one foot in the real world, are managing your life adequately, and are leveraging magic to grow and engage with the world rather than to stagnate and hide from it. The right “fulcrum” for this balancing act is different for everyone, so it’s not always helpful to look to others and observe what they’re doing as a potential model for your own approach. Some people can study and practice magic for years, walking around like veritable encyclopedias, ready to speak at length on any magical subject, and still remain conscious of and engaged with the world around them in enriching ways. People have built careers on magic, greatly influencing the world in the process. Other people can buy a couple Llewellyn books and disappear into their rooms for weeks, neither helping nor hurting anybody save themselves, and accomplish little except in their imaginations.
Magic should serve you—not the other way around. If it has taken over your life, seek help. Like other obsessions and addictions, only you can decide how much is too much for you.