Strengthening the Imagination
by Simon Jester

We have spoken in earlier entries about the importance of imagination in magical operations. Although most of us have grown up in a culture that views imagination as a somewhat trivial and merely decorative adjunct to rational thinking and calculation, the magician dwells in a universe in which imagination functions as a method of perception and a medium of communication. For the magician, to imagine is to perceive things as they exist at different levels of reality. Using imagination is like looking through a window or into the lens of a microscope or telescope. In magical rituals, forming vivid images in the imagination is also like sending out signals that will be heard or picked up by other beings that inhabit different dimensions, and the images that spontaneously form in the imagination when one learns the trick of "dreaming while staying awake" are the responses which these higher beings send back to us.

Imagination works most effectively for magical purposes when it has a large "vocabulary" of images at its disposal. Most people, however, begin the study and practice of magic with a somewhat limited stock of imaginary material. The following suggestions and exercises are designed to help you increase your all-important imagination vocabulary.

Building an Image Bank—A good way to begin increasing the number of images available to your imagination is to study books, magazines, and websites that provide a lot of photographs and artwork. Variety is the key to success in this endeavor. Photos of diverse landscapes, plant life, architecture, and animals are wonderful image builders. Going through back issues of the National Geographic provides a lot of varied material from other environments and cultures. Books and websites that specialize in historical material are also very helpful because they are often illustrated with artwork depicting other times. And remember: don't just look. Try to imagine how all your other senses would be affected if you were actually in the scenes you're studying. How would the steaming, insect-plagued humidity of the Amazon jungles feel on your skin? What foul odors would assail your nostrils onboard a festering Roman slave galley? What sounds whispered on the winds during moonlit Druidic rituals at Stonehenge? How did the wine at Cleopatra's banquet taste? Use all your senses. Close your eyes and really put yourself in the scenes you contemplate.

Focus on details! James Cameron succeeded in recreating the ambience of the doomed ocean liner Titanic because he focused on seemingly minor details of the ship's appearance in his film, down to the engraving on the silverware and the weave of the fabric on drapery and tablecloths as revealed in old photographs. When you find yourself receiving impressions during magical work, any detail is potentially loaded with symbolic significance, so you have to train yourself to examine things closely. How did the buttons on Chairman Mao's jacket reflect the sunlight? What was that subtle stench in the air around the embalmer's tent in the Valley of the Kings? What color were the eyes of the man who beheaded Ann Boleyn?

Exercise: Noticing Details---Get a piece of paper, a pen or pencil, and a magazine. Open the magazine at random and look at a photograph. Study it for one minute, then put it aside and generate a list of all the details you can remember. When you're done, go back to the photograph and see if there are any features you failed to note. Now pick a different image, and start over. Do this a few times every day and you'll notice that your ability to perceive and remember details in a brief amount of time improves.

Switch perspectives! When you imagine something, try to see it from many different perspectives. How would a bird flying overhead view the executions during the Reign of Terror? How did the sinking of the Spanish Armada appear to the fish in the North Sea? What might a flower look like when seen through the multi-faceted eye of an insect?

Exercise: Changing Perspectives—Sit down quietly, close your eyes, and think about one of your pets. (If you don't have any, try to imagine that you do.) Now, try to assume your pet's point of view. Don't just try to become a human being in an animal's body. Attempt to think and interpret things the way an animal really would. This can be a lot of fun, because many of the things humans do probably appear confusing and completely ridiculous to animals.

William James once asked himself what a dog must think whenever it sees its owner sit down to read a book. The dog eagerly wants to play, and watches in utter bafflement as the owner picks up a rectangular object and sits perfectly still for hours on end, staring blankly at the thing in his hands!  He doesn't sniff it. He doesn't gnaw at it or attempt to eat it. He just sits quietly staring at it, looking for all the world as if he's had a sun stroke.

I once saw a comedian who expressed his dog's frustration with the process of house training. The dog makes a mess on the carpet, and the owner, after making angry noises, rubs the animal's nose in it and whacks him on the butt with a rolled up newspaper. After a few repeat performances, the dog finally gets the idea that the owner doesn't like dog shit in the house. The owner then puts a leash on the dog and takes him outside for a walk. Thinking that he finally understands what his owner wants, the dog happily takes a dump in the grass. But then he watches, utterly baffled, as his owner scoops the shit up and takes it right back into the house, where it gets deposited in the weird container that holds all the good food scraps humans mysteriously refuse to eat! None of this makes much sense to the dog, who might finally get the notion that he's supposed to shit in the trash can.

These examples work as humor because they involve creative imagination. They provide good examples of what it might really be like to be an animal surrounded by events and activities that seem senseless from the animal's point of view. Most importantly, seeing the world through an animal's eyes will enhance communications between species. If you can't adopt your pet's perspective, you won't be successful at training him. The people who yell at their dogs for barking probably won't succeed at getting their pets to shut up. The dogs think their owners are simply barking back at them, and therefore get the impression that barking is OK. The communications break down because the humans fail to adopt an animal's point of view.

When you do magical work, you'll encounter other kinds of beings who also, like the dogs in the above examples, don't operate according to the everyday rules, values, goals, and schemes of human society. You'll have to be able to adopt their point of view in order to communicate effectively with them. Using your imagination to "see" things from the varied viewpoints of other living creatures provides valuable practice for communicating with magical contacts.

Stretch your imagination to its limits! Try to conceive of situations and sensations that are normally impossible for humans to physically experience. What would it be like to be at the center of the sun? To be sucked up hundreds of feet into the air by a tornado? To be swallowed by a T-rex or trapped in a giant spider's web? What would it feel like to walk through a wall? To be a liquid rather than a relative solid? To be a sentient cloud of incandescent gas? Reading science fiction can be a wonderful aid to cultivating a sophisticated imagination because many science fiction tales adopt the points of view of utterly alien beings. The protagonists of Isaac Asimov's novel The Gods Themselves are intelligent energy clusters for whom Asimov created very imaginative life styles and complex social structures. Frederik Pohl once wrote a story about a man transformed into a multi-dimensional tetrahedron, and H. P. Lovecraft became famous for his descriptions of distorted, bizarre alien environments that did not obey the rules of normal geometry. Such exotic imaginary visions require skill and effort to create, and this ability demands practice.

Exercise: Impossible Worlds—Here are a few challenges for your imagination. They increase in difficulty as you go down the list:


1.      Imagine that you're a member of a different culture with values, morals and tastes quite different from those you have today. Keep in mind that many of the things that you believe in and take for granted were not viewed in a similar fashion in certain societies: the ancient Egyptians accepted and even encouraged incest among royalty; the Jivaro think it a proper religious obligation to decapitate fallen enemies and shrink their heads; Hindus find the idea of eating beef to be nauseating while some New Guinea tribesman relish human flesh on the menu as a delicacy; your great-great grandparents thought it was completely permissible for 1'st cousins to marry and joyfully wedded their  13 year old daughters to middle aged men; Alaskan Inuits not so long ago didn't mind being called Eskimos and followed recommended social etiquette by offering the sexual favors of their wives to visiting neighbors; and many, many of our recent ancestors believed that human slavery was a "peculiar institution" of great benefit to the nation's economy. Remember—if you feel repelled by any of these customs, that's just your social conditioning talking. (Note: my social decorum tells me to avoid unnecessary criticism by pointing out that I personally don't endorse any of these customs…except maybe head shrinking!) Try "temporarily becoming" a member of one of these cultures and really imagine believing in something to which you are normally totally opposed.


2.      Imagine that you are a being able to live in an environment incapable of supporting human life. Take up residence in the center of a Black Hole. Live inside the intestinal tract of a tree sloth. Float through empty space as a cloud of stellar vapor. Have fun!


3.      Vary your size from enormous (you're as big as a galactic nebula) to microscopic (you enlist with an army of antibodies to fight off invading viruses.)


4.      Defy the law of excluded middle, and imagine that you are in more than one place at the same time. Really get into this! You must be here and now completely and yet simultaneously somewhere else. See it. Feel it. Good luck!


All these enjoyable little exercises will help you build up your imagination's "vocabulary." By doing this, you will make yourself much more able to communicate with and understand the beings you will encounter while performing magical rituals, beings who dwell beyond the constraints of Space and Time, and communicate in ways that normal imaginations can't begin to fathom.