(and the Magic Circle)
by Simon Jester
The following is a rather unusual essay consisting of a series of fragments compiled from various letters written over the course of several months. The central theme connecting them is reverence—an attitude of great importance because it holds the key to understanding esoteric magic. I have grouped the following paragraphs together in a way that will hopefully convey a coherent message.
A-1 “The heart and soul of magic is reverence for all things. Such universal reverence is the fundamental magical attitude. Without this, magic is a hollow pretense.”
A-2 “In order to perform magical rituals and achieve their intended effects, one must first learn to cultivate a true sense of reverence for the symbolism involved and for the actions one performs with them. One must start from the right place and travel the right road in order to arrive at the desired destination. For example, if you're doing the steps of a ritual as though they were a kind of inner calisthenics, like push ups or sit ups that must be labored at and simply gotten through, then you will not attain the desired results. If a meditation feels like a strain, then you are not practicing it with the proper reverence it deserves. It is something to be savored, like a symphony or a work of art, not simply something to be endured. So beginning and proceeding through rituals with the proper sense of reverence is of paramount importance to the success of your work.”
A-3 “You must actively look for the sacred in all things. You must train yourself to look beneath the surface of phenomena and into their depths. The artist Wassily Kandinsky once said that all things became transparent for him, they revealed a transparency through which he could discern meanings within meanings, worlds within worlds. When he looked at things that had previously been of little significance to him, an unsuspected depth was revealed. Kandinsky was an artist, but his ability to make things transparent, so that he could gaze into their hidden depths, was a magical ability.
“Kandinsky's ability to make things become transparent, to see beneath their surface, is the ability from which the sense of reverence springs. All magic depends on this ability. It is the ability to become more aware of the reality behind appearance. In Qabalistic terms, such enhanced awareness usually begins through the activities of Hod and manifests in consciousness by way of the Path of Reish. In the traditional Golden Dawn system, this Path is associated with the Sun card of the Tarot and connects the intellectual sephira of Hod to Yesod, the sephira in which ego consciousness arises. The Sun is a good choice for this Path because it symbolizes the brilliant light that shines into things and illuminates their hidden vistas of significance. But the actual feeling of reverence, which such revelations evoke, descends from Netzach down the Path of Tzaddi, the Star. These two Paths (Reish and Tzaddi) carry the energies that merge and manifest consciously in Yesod in the experience of reverence.”
B-1 “People who wish to learn magic should first spend some time meditating on the individual symbols involved in the rituals they have chosen to perform. They should investigate these symbols and learn their story in order to enhance the meditations. Many so-called practitioners of magic never do this. They are shown a set of symbols to visualize, or given a series of symbolic acts to perform and merely mimic them with little understanding or appreciation of their richness. Mechanically flashing images upon the screen of your inner vision, as though you were giving yourself an internal slide show, will never awaken true reverence. Going through the motions of a ritual as though you were merely learning a new dance routine won't work, either. People who do things in this mechanical fashion gain only the most superficial knowledge of magic.”
B-1.1 “And it happens just like this (i.e., mechanically and without true reverence) in most churches, synagogues, and temples, too, where orthodox religious rituals are performed. For most people, this is as far into the world of the esoteric as they will ever get, just into the vestibule where they mimic the motions without true understanding. It has always been this way. Most people are unaware that even the artists who painted the beautiful symbolic tomb paintings in the Valley of the Kings operated in this same mechanical fashion. Even many of the scribes who carved or painted the hieroglyphic inscriptions in the tombs simply copied them from papyrus manuscripts without understanding a single word of what they were transcribing. Only the priests who directed the work understood the full meaning of the texts and paintings being placed on those ancient walls. The workers who labored for so many generations at their creation could never have explained them. And, just like these ancient tomb workers, many so-called magicians today cannot divine the 'depth structure' of the symbols they employ. They can perhaps tell you a few facts about a symbol's history, and give you a sort of denotative dictionary definition of what the symbol means. But the poetic epic of the symbol, and the mythic adventure that trails behind it like the burning tail of a comet, remain like tales that are untold.”
C-1 “I don't think you can ever define reverence. It is something that can only be experienced and described. It's possible, of course, to analyze reverence into certain parts, and say things like 'Reverence is respect,' or 'Reverence is a feeling of awe.' But, in spite of the truth of such statements, actual reverence is such a deep experience that there will always be aspects of it that go beyond our definitions. Reverence is a very profound and personal response. With my words, it may be possible to lead you closer and closer to the experience of reverence, but you must always cross its threshold and enter its domain on your own and in your own way.”
C-2 “Reverence involves an acknowledgment of the sacred, a complete inner acknowledgment based on an awareness that you are in the presence of something infinitely greater and more valuable than you had previously dreamed. It's like opening a door in your house and realizing that you are gazing into a cavern. To give you some idea of this, imagine that you find a ring one day in a second hand store. It's got a strange looking stone setting that happens to catch your eye, so you pay a few dollars and now own it. To you, it's just an attractive piece of cheap jewelry with some kind of unusual stone setting. One day, a mineralogist acquaintance offers to identify the stone in his lab. He borrows it for a few days and then excitedly calls you with the amazing news that your ring's stone is actually a moon rock—one that had been stolen from a NASA facility back in 1969! A researcher smuggled it out and had it polished and set in a ring. Through some complex series of improbable events, the ring ended up in your possession. You've been walking around with a piece of the moon on your finger, never suspecting. Now you look at the ring very differently. Its value has been greatly enhanced, and—when you begin to appreciate all the history it embodies, all the fantasies, dreams, aspirations, and efforts that lay behind it—your attitude toward it approaches reverence.”
C-2.1 “The wonder of magic is that it can lead you to the realization that everything is like the ring in my story. You gain an awareness that all things, regardless of how common and unimportant they seem to your normal day-to-day consciousness, embody vistas of significance that stretch from here to infinity. In Platonic terms, you learn that everyday realities 'participate in the Forms.' Buddhist teachings about the interconnectedness of all things convey the same message, and the doctrine of correspondences in the Western Hermetic tradition provides yet another example of an expression of this awareness. There are also myths and legends intended to create reverence by reminding us that there are hidden realities behind appearances and that things are never exactly what we initially think they are. Remember all the stories in the Bible in which ordinary strangers turned out to be angels? In the Sutras there is a remarkable account of a pilgrim searching for Gautama Buddha who actually spends the night talking with Siddhartha Gautama in a hostel and never realizes who he is talking with! The legend of the Lamed Vovniks also encourages such reverence. According to this legend, there are 36 Hidden Righteous Ones on earth at any given moment of history, and nobody—not even the Righteous Ones themselves--knows who they are! Such tales and legends awaken reverence because they remind us that great value dwells hidden beneath the superficial appearance of things and people. You must treat everyone with respect and reverence because, for all you know, even the most unlikely person could be an angel or a Lamed Vovnik or a bodhisattva. 'Even as you do unto the least of these,' the Christ said, 'so you do unto me.' There are hidden dimensions of great significance and immense value beneath the surface of all things and reverence springs from your awareness of them.”
D-1 “I said that reverence should be cultivated, implying that it is a state of consciousness that can be intentionally attained. In my earlier example, the discovery about the ring with the moon rock is just a happenstance, an accident of fate. However, the actual experience of reverence is something you can learn to have. I used the word 'cultivate' very intentionally to describe what should be done. There is no process which will automatically produce reverence for everyone in a guaranteed fashion every time you use it. Learning how to attain the inner state of awareness which engenders this special response is more like growing a garden. If you do certain things to the soil and cultivate the seeds in various recommended ways, you will probably attain some kind of result. However, many other factors may influence the outcome of your efforts at gardening. The soil itself may not contain the proper nutrients. The weather conditions may be poor during your growing season. Insects or animals may destroy your crop. However, if you keep at it, season after season, and learn from past mistakes to make the proper adjustments, you will eventually enjoy a rich harvest.”
D-2 “I wrote a blog for my Myspace page in which I tried to engender a sense of reverence for one of the most well-known and common of all symbols used by magicians: the magic circle. You've seen such circles so often that you take them for granted. Intellectually, you've probably done little in the way of thinking about these simple geometrical figures, and rest content with the notion that such circles are used as protective devices in magical rituals, that they help to focus energy, etc. You know how to cast one, you know what it's supposed to do, and that is the sum of the circle's tale as far as your present awareness is concerned.
“But now let's expand our awareness of the circle by asking some questions about it. Your Hod intellect tells you there must be a history behind the magic circle because it couldn't have simply appeared before your eyes out of nowhere. It must have had an origin, a place of birth in human experience, an ancestry. The idea of the magic circle must have followed a very long and complex chain of transmission, stretching from the distant past across vast gulfs of time and space. It traveled through myriads of evolving human minds, through the philosophies of distant empires and the legends of forgotten kingdoms, in order to reach your consciousness at just this moment. Where did it come from? How far has it traveled to find you? Through how many strange destinies and dreams has it passed before it arrived on the threshold of your awareness? Allow the energies of Netzach to flow into you down the Path of Tzaddi. Look beneath the surface of the circle, gaze into its depth, see how its story shimmers and expands in the Light of the Star....
“Let the spiraling vortex of imagination take you back across the the years, the millennia, until at last you begin to glimpse a twilight world of swirling ice and snow and a ragged group of frightened, fur-clad people huddled together against the cold in the lengthening shadows. Lost somewhere in the dim abyss of human prehistory, these cold and frightened humans listen intently for the sound of their pursuers on the freezing winter's wind.
“An old, white-bearded shaman crouches on the frozen ground, his hands frantically spinning a wooden stick faster and faster in a tiny hole bored into another length of wood and filled with bits of leaves and dry pine needles. Icy flakes of snow begin to fall, and nearby begins a terrible moaning howl, long and lamenting in the moon's fading light. Once, twice, three more times the terrible sound echoes through the night. And soon, other howls begin to answer. Women and children whimper in terror. Men peer into the darkness, raising their spears, trying to penetrate the blackness with fear-widened eyes. The air becomes filled with wailing all around, and now the sound of rustling underbrush draws horribly close, mingling with the sound of frightened human cries and the scratching of the whirling stick in the frantic shaman's hands. The wolves—gigantic ice-age monsters, ravenous with hunger--have ambushed the tribe in the wooded hollow where exhaustion forced them to encamp for the night, and now a dozen of these beasts can be heard padding closer and closer around the frightened throng. Their howls grow louder and more frequent. Their horrifying black shapes move like shadows in the night, poised to attack…
“A spark of fire suddenly ignites in the wooden cavity at the tip of the spinning stick between the shaman's moving hands. The people mutter in suspense as he puffs out his steaming breath upon it, fanning it into fuller life. His assistant throws dry leaves from his pouch upon the tiny flame and feeds it till it grows stronger. And then the flame is set into the pile of brush and sticks that waited at the old man's feet, and the fire spreads. The men bend down and blow desperately on the newborn flames. The nearest wolves stop their howling. The menacing sound of their running paws stops, and they watch and wait. And then the campfire blazes brightly, casting a circle of firelight about the people, reflecting in the yellow eyes of the wolves, who soon retreat from the thrown spears of hunters, now finally able to see their targets.
“One of the first Magic Circles! The Circle of Light cast by Fire, given to humanity, according to one ancient tale, by Prometheus after he had stolen this closely guarded element from the jealous gods who hoarded it solely for themselves. You have witnessed the earliest use of the Magic Circle of Light, within which our distant ancestors crouched, finding warmth and protection from the nocturnal demons that hunted human prey in darkness long ago, in the ancient days while the Great Ice moved across the plains and glittered beneath the cold Northern aurora.
“Now think of the magic circle with your newly deepened understanding. So old it is, older than the written word! One of our species first weapons against the Night, our remote ancestor's earliest protection against Darkness, the Magic Circle traces its origins to the very dawn of human awareness. It may be humanity's oldest symbol, so ancient that the very memory of its beginnings finally sank as far below the surface of our consciousness as fabled Atlantis sank beneath the waves of the sea.
“Yet glimmers of this distant memory emerged from time to time throughout the ensuing eons, and a great day dawned when the image of the sacred circle broke free of the fire which created it, and migrated outward to cast its image apart from the material flames that first seared it deep into the blood and bones of our racial memory. Drawn with a stick in the dust of nameless places, carved into rock with copper chisels, inscribed on clay tablets and papyrus scrolls by the scribes of Ashurbanipal and Djoser, the Magic Circle found an independent existence beneath the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and along the banks of the Nile. The Persian Magi wrote of its power, the Greeks bisected it in rites of profound Pythagorean mystery, and the Romans erected their rotunda in honor of its perfect geometry. In Medieval Grimoires and Renaissance manuscripts, in Elizabethan folios and leather-bound Victorian volumes, the Magic Circle has passed down the many generations, until it found you today, at just this moment, reading these words and opening your mind to its mysteries.”
D-3 “Now that you have looked within the magic circle and seen into its depths, will it ever be the same for you? When you see something with reverence, both you and the object of your perception become transformed. This is the true power of reverence. It is the gate through which transformative energies enter and empower our consciousness and our world. Magic is the Art of evoking reverence, within oneself and others. To lead someone to a sense of reverence is to initiate them into an awareness of the sacred. This is the Great Work to which all Magic worthy of the name is dedicated.”