What is Magic? Aleister Crowley Explains
Concerning the unexpected similarities between magic and psychology in the work of Aleister Crowley.
During a time when the prevailing concept of magic was starting to be regarded as a mere spectacle; as a series of tricks and illusions meant for children, multifaceted British occultist Aleister Crowley got to be known as the Last Great Magus of the West.
Crowley was a member of many secret societies, including the renowned Golden Dawn, a place that harbored members as brilliant as Irish poet W.B. Yeats, and where he got to learn the Hermetic corpus of Western magic, especially what is known as Salomonic magic (derived from King Solomon’s method, and supposedly used to summon the spirits that helped him build his temple).
Salomonic magic, often referred to as black magic, posits a complex system for the invocation of angels and demons, and for achieving changes in nature by operating through them. This is the sort of magic that is often represented by the use of spells, incantations and rites.
The enochian language, or “language of the angels”, the Kabbalah, the Goetia, the sigils and other oracular systems such as the runes, comprise the theoretical basis for articulating an intention and its operative resonance in nature. Curiously, however, all this arcane science did not figure into what Crowley himself considered true magick —if anything, he encouraged his pupils to learn all the theory they could only to get rid of it later. For him, magick was fundamentally a psychological system meant to conduct human will towards a complete command over his individuality.
Crowley recognized that the invocation of entities through magick was an inherent part of our psyche. In his Introduction to Lemgeton Clavicula Salomonis he explicitly states, “the spirits of Goetia are part of the human brain.”
He named his system “Thelema”, which means will. And will, as in Schopenhauer’s and Nietzsche’s philosophies, is at the center of his model of nature. Intention, just like concentration or directed flight, is one of the most recurring themes in Crowley’s vision of magick.
Magic, as he explains, is the “Science and Art that provokes Change in conformity with the Will”, and that “all intentional acts are acts of magic.” So, like Schopenhauer, Crowley noted that will had the agency to merge with the primordial flow of the universe —So, in order to act upon nature all that was needed was to channel that will together with intention.
The magus maintained that human beings, by nature, have the capacity to produce changes in their environment, and that the only requirement to prompt this was to follow one´s own path; that is, to do as we wish. In his book Magick in Theory and Practice, Crowley explains:
“Anyone who is forced from his own course, either through not understanding himself, or through external opposition, comes into conflict with the order of the Universe.” He goes on to say that “Magick is the Science of understanding one’s self and one’s own situation. It is the art of applying this knowledge in action.” It seems almost as if his definition of magic could have come from a psychology manual on the importance of self-knowledge.
The secret of Crowley’s system, based on individuality and self-knowledge; or better, on the practice of individuality and self-knowledge, lies in the belief that the individual is a microcosmic image of the universe (or of God). Therefore, if someone applies this understanding by using his intention, he will be using the intention of the universe.
This is, perhaps, how magic operates.
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