[Part 3 of 3-part series based on the relationship between Dr. Dean Radin’s Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe and the theory and practice of Visionary Fiction.]
The Practice of Real Magic
By this point, it should be evident that using real magic in its various paranormal forms requires nonmaterial skills that can only be obtained through practice. That said, you may be relieved to learn that the basic attitudes and habits needed to infuse “real magic” into your VF characters (and your life if you wish) are the same attitudes and practices that will elevate consciousness regardless. If you are already writing genuine visionary fiction, you are likely incorporating real magic into your work. Now you might just do so more consciously.
All the great spiritual magicians, Radin says, “assert the same basic idea: if you have very clear goals, concentrate on them, and unquestionably believe that the goals will manifest, then they will. This concept, simplified into the New Age shibboleth ‘You create your own reality,’ comes directly out of the esoteric traditions and is at the very core of magical practice.”
The essence of magic boils down to the application of two ordinary mental skills: attention and intention. The strength of the magical outcome is modulated by four factors: belief, imagination, emotion, and clarity….
The single most important aide to developing magical skills is to learn how to enter the state of consciousness known as gnosis. The time-honored and safest way to do this is through meditation….
The bottom line: If you want to perform magic effectively, maintain a disciplined meditation practice. Learn to quiet your mind. See the world as it is, not as it appears to be when viewed through multiple layers of cultural conditioning.
Among other magical tools and concepts Radin suggests—and the VF writer must be real magician enough to create characters who are real magicians enough to stimulate a sense of real magic in the reader—are the following:
Another [attitude] was the paradoxical concept of “effortless striving.” This means you must absolutely want the desired outcome more than anything you’ve ever desired—a passionate, obsessive, overwhelming desire—but at exactly the same time you must also maintain zero anxiety about it. This contradictory state is by no means easy to achieve, but it does bear similarity to states that can be achieved in meditation, visualization exercises, and focused concentration….
According to magical lore, one way to manifest a goal through force of will is to affirm that the goal has already been accomplished. This means placing the goal in the future with your imagination, and then letting present-time events catch up to the future goal.
Dr. Radin presents a pertinent example that brings many of these ingredients together, serendipitously taken from one of the first and finest VF novels I ever read:
From the perspective of magical practice, gnosis may be thought of as an “intense consciousness of something.” The term grok, from Robert Heinlein’s 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land, also gets at this idea. At one point in that novel the character Mahmoud describes grok as to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us [ordinary humans] as color does to a blind man.
Technique and Repetition
In writing about real magic, any given technique must seem authentic. This will require research, but Google is your friend, and there is a plethora of information, good and bad, on the Internet. Trust your gut when sorting through sources but cross-check before using anything specific.
In the magical realm as in the spiritual world, tales are told about those who acquire phenomenal abilities or experience life changes that come out of thin air (the deus ex machina technique); par for fantasy but won’t work to actually raise consciousness. Radin says, “For most fledgling magicians, most of the time, magic will be fragile and subtle. That’s because three factors are working against you: reality inertia, lack of talent, and the unconscious.” He goes on to explain each factor and its antidote but concludes on a bittersweet note: “Don’t feel disappointed that magic isn’t as strong as it is portrayed in fiction. It’s actually fortunate that magic is fairly weak. It prevents us from accidentally blowing up the universe with our momentary whims.” We can recall the moral of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Those who practice the various personal disciplines mentioned above know that reaching depth in any of them is like digging a hole: one shovelful at a time. Who hasn’t met someone who complains, after squirming in a chair for a few minutes, that meditation doesn’t work for him? Proficiency takes practice, which includes persistence. The good old days of magic wrought by chanting abracadabra and waving a wand are gone—because that magic is merely fantasy.
The Real Magic Hall of Fame
Radin’s Real Magic also supplies a mini-guide through the movements and figures involved in weaving and refurbishing the Perennial Tradition, which underlies his thesis of real magic. Such history is essential, in my opinion, for the visionary author who wants a solid grounding in the genesis and development of the genre. Some samplings here:
By reintroducing Plato to Europe around the start of the Italian Renaissance, the Florentine Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) popularized the idea that there was an ancient secret wisdom at the core of all the world’s religions. His student, Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), added elements of the Jewish Kabbalah, an ancient cosmology, to this resurgent perennial library mix. Since such ideas jeopardized the Church’s 1500-year monopoly on theology and philosophy, these pioneers took great personal risk in opening the gates of western learning to such influence. As Radin explains:
Ficino and Pico della Mirandola’s work sparked a flood of new combinations and syntheses of the esoteric traditions, many of which were instrumental in the development of the early sciences. A few of the key magician-scientists during this period were German scholar Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, English mathematician John Dee, Italian friar Giordano Bruno, and Swiss physician Paracelsus. These and many other individuals made the study of magic part of the scientific mainstream during the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The science-magic tandem developed further in the early 17th century when the Rosicrucian movement demonstrated that such knowledge could be contained and forwarded by an collective that individuals could join without having to depend on the appearance of the chance hierophant. Further research and development continued through 19th and 20th centuries when the still-active professional Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1882, and Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy provided a blueprint for the modern esoteric revival and much of New Age thought.
Radin then profiles six modern individuals who he contributed significantly to the melding of esoteric thought with science. I will simply name and link his choices here as a checklist for those who want further homework:
- Aleister Crowley (1875-1947): His definition of magic…stripped away any religious or esoteric connotations: “Magick [sic] is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.”
- Dion Fortune (1890-1946) authored many popular books on magic.
- Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), moving on from Theosophy, developed Anthroposophy. [A personal favorite, whose life and work I drew upon in my novel, The Anathemas]
- George Gurdjieff (1866-1949) developed an esoteric school that included a neo-gnostic cosmology and spiritual self-development training program.
- Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961), whose process of depth psychology has been compared to the processes of transformation and initiation of the ancient mystery schools.
- Peter J. Carroll (1953—) British magician who advanced magical theory in the twentieth century with his development of “chaos magic,” named after the new field of chaos mathematics.
Some of my Real Magic Favorites
Colin Wilson The Occult: The Ultimate Guide for Those Who Would Walk with the Gods and many other of his titles
Gary Lachman Lost Knowledge of the Imagination and just about anything he writes
Ingo Swan Psychic Literacy and the Coming Psychic Renaissance an accomplished psychic with several titles including some fiction
Joscelyn Godwin The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions the best short book on the subject
Jostein Gaarder Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy
Plenty there for starters with bibliographies leading to deeper waters.
Whence from Here
Given the virulence of the current negative vectors in our environment (climate change, overpopulation, technological overload, etc.), it seems imperative for humanity to venture past the current normal just to survive much less expand. Real magic, as in heightened consciousness that increases ability, seems quite mandatory. I will close this somewhat discursive series with Dean Radin’s concise statement of the present dilemma and its possible solution by way of the goal of visionary fiction: growth in consciousness.
To sidestep expected prejudices, magic can be reframed as the academic study of the full capacities of consciousness in light of the rising interest in informational descriptions of reality. This would be a careful, deliberate, non-hysterical, rational process, and it would be wonderful if we can avoid feeling compelled to build the magical equivalent of an atomic bomb because we’re afraid that someone else is going to win the magical arms race. If humanity has any chance of maturing beyond its barely controlled adolescence, we’re going to need a much better understanding of what consciousness is, and what it—and by association all of us—are really capable of.