Imagination--An Introductory Examination
by Simon Jester

    Anyone embarking on a course of magical study must learn to cultivate a powerful imagination. Imagination, defined very simply, is the ability to form and experience images in your mind. It isn't limited to just visual imagery, as the word "image" has come to suggest. Your imagination is the faculty that forms complete experiential creations within yourself employing the data of all five senses. An imaginary image not only looks a certain way, it also embodies sound, smell, touch, and taste.
     Why is imagination so important for the study of Magic? One of the most important reasons for the significance of imagination in magical operations is the observed fact that images held in the mind have the ability to produce changes in consciousness and in body states. This fact is quite easily demonstrated. Just imagine for a few minutes that a very attractive person is sitting next to you. Pick someone you've had erotic fantasies about before, and now imagine they are beside you and beginning to express sexual interest in you. If you do this with sufficient concentration and begin to elaborate on this scenario, you'll probably start to get turned on. But the amazing fact is this: there really is no one with you to arouse you. You're doing all this yourself with the power of imagination!
     British philosopher Colin Wilson once wrote that the ability to masturbate is an example of one of humanity's highest faculties in action! Although this initially sounds comical, Wilson's point is that whenever we engage in vivid sexual fantasies, we engage an intensely powerful form of inner focus on a mental image that is able to produce measurable physical changes in our bodies.
     There are other situations in which we can see this ability in action. If you overhear a conversation about fleas, ticks, or body lice and then begin to scratch at imaginary crawling sensations on your body, then you're experiencing the power of imagination. We let our imaginations fill the dark alleyways behind us at night with the menacing sound of following footsteps, and then feel our hearts begin to race or our palms start to sweat. I remember an experiment conducted during a psychology class that vividly demonstrated the power of imagination. A six-foot wooden plank was placed on bricks several inches off the floor in the middle of an empty room. After being told they were going to have to walk blindfolded across a plank suspended over a ten-foot drop, several freshman volunteers were led into the room. As they struggled to perform this task, each volunteer showed signs of extreme stress. Some broke into a sweat, and one began to shake so badly that he stumbled off the plank with a shriek of terror. None of the volunteers had actually seen or experienced anything dangerous, but the specter of an imaginary ten-foot chasm had been implanted in their minds, and this mental image was sufficient to affect them dramatically.
     Therapists who use relaxation techniques to help patients suffering from anxiety disorders know that mental images have a direct impact on states of consciousness. Part of the relaxation therapy process consists of helping an anxious person develop an image bank filled with images that exert a calming effect. When told to form and focus on one of these images, extremely anxious individuals report a gradual diminution of their feelings of distress accompanied by a decrease in heart rate and slower, more relaxed respiration.
     Eastern yogis and Western Hermetic magicians have taught for centuries that meditating on special kinds of images has the ability to alter consciousness in extraordinary ways. These special images are usually highly symbolic, such as the oriental tattva symbols or the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. As you progress in the study of Magic, you will learn to work with such symbols and will eventually come to experience the changes they can produce for you. But for now, let's focus a little more on general theory.
     The magician aspires to do more with imagination than merely alter emotional states by generating pleasant and relaxing "headscapes." One of his major aims is to attain a higher state of consciousness in which images spontaneously generate in the mind.This goal can best be described as "learning how to dream while you're awake."  When we go to sleep and dream, the sights, sounds and strange encounters we experience just seem to happen to us. Psychoanalysis contends that this is all an illusion, and that dreams and nightmares, in spite of their quality of spontaneity and objectivity, are still our own subjective creations, generated by a part of ourselves of which we remain unconscious. The magician, however, believes that this is only part of the picture. He acknowledges that we can indeed fashion a strange brood of demons in the night and then forget their ultimate source of origin in our own repressed psyches. But he additionally contends that dream-consciousness is also able to receive impressions from higher dimensions of existence. Most magicians subscribe to an ancient tradition, first recorded by the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, that views dreaming as an alternative form of perception, one that enables us to see higher orders of reality and receive messages and instruction from spiritual beings. They also believe that this altered type of perception is attainable through means other than sleep.
     Hermetic Magic teaches that we can learn to switch mental gears and begin to experience this kind of perception by embarking on a disciplined course of study that sharpens and intensifies the imagination. A magician will concentrate on mental images gleaned from various esoteric sources (Tarot cards, the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, the Hebrew alphabet, mythology, etc.) until they become vividly real in his mind. He explores these inner landscapes meticulously, examining their features in minute detail, learning their textures and scents, their colors, sizes, shapes and sounds. And, after learning to do this for longer and longer periods of time, something amazing happens: significant features of the imagery begin to change spontaneously. New elements suddenly show up, elements not consciously constructed by the magician, and Beings appear who speak in strange utterances to the traveler. All sense of observing a self-created world disappears and the magician finds himself wandering through higher dimensions.
     Essentially, the Magician has trained himself to dream without sleeping. The meditative exercises that he undertakes and the rituals that he performs are largely designed to put him into a state of mind in which this shift in perception will occur. Magic therefore provides a method of producing altered states of consciousness at will without the use of drugs or sleep. It offers a kind of mystical technology that employs imagination, concentration, and symbolism to tune the mind to higher frequencies.
     Examples of exercises that help intensify imagination will be given in future entries.