Books of Magic, Teachers, Systems, and Personal Magic

[Warning: Rant]

For some reason, magicians of all types have been tied to books. When we think of magicians, we usually associate them with images of books of magic, spell books, libraries, ancient tomes, and the like. And a lot of magicians seem to be applying this label to themselves. I’ve seen a magician called a liar because he claimed his book collection had been in storage for the past year (because no real magician could bare to be without his precious books). I’ve seen magicians claim they can’t cast a spell because they don’t have the proper book with them. I’ve seen magicians who have claimed to be powerful because they happen to own or have access to an extensive library of books. In fact, one of the signs of a weak magician is that he or she will brag about the books they own or the books they read as if it means anything magically.

I’m not going to say I’m innocent of this either. I have lots of books. I’ve read lots more. If I had the money, I’d have a very extensive occult library to reference and read at my leisure. This is a trait that many magicians share. But then I also have a very strong background in literature so my obsession with books isn’t surprising or limited to metaphysical topics.

But I don’t need my books (well my magical ones, I need my fiction, poetry, and comic books). They are in no way a representation of my power, and if I lost them all tomorrow, I’d be fine. Likewise I can develop spells from scratch without any reference material and I would be just fine leaving my books in storage for a long period of time if I felt I had to for some reason. To be honest, I’ve gotten very little out of most of the books I read. They’re nice as a reference and sometimes I find an idea or two I really like, but that’s about it.

I’ve said this before, and most people agree, magical power and understanding comes from practical work. No amount of book reading or knowledge of theory can substitute for it. But practical work can be a substitute for book reading and knowledge of theory.

I’ve also known magicians who will act like some literary detective reading older texts (such as the old grimoires or the Book of the Law). They spend countless hours looking for some minute secret that may or may not have been hidden in the text somewhere. It’s a huge waste of time. If they had spent the same amount of time developing their own magic they would have discovered much bigger secrets than anything written in the grimoire.

And if you cannot develop your own magic, you are a weak magician. A strong magician may be weak in a particular area (such as writing spells), but they are able to develop their own magic. In fact, a strong magician’s weak points are typically areas of magic they rarely or never practice, meaning its not really a part of their personal practice. The magic they practice they can make up, on their own, as they need it.

This is one of the reasons why magicians don’t need books. A magician can develop the magic they need as they need it. They can discover any secret they want by looking for it in the universe.

The other reason is that magicians have a wide variety of sources for information. Here is a short list of some of the sources available to magicians:

Divine Communion
Evocation and Spirit Communication
Channeling/Visions/Remote Viewing
Mental Planes Access/HGA Merging/Light Channeling
Spirit Guides and Spirit Animals
Practical Experience
Past Life Regression
Magical Groups

The list isn’t in any kind of order, but books are by far the worst source of information on the list. Magical groups and teachers aren’t much higher. Yet a lot of so called magicians cannot access most of the things on this list, and so books and teachers and magical groups become so important to them because it’s one of the few areas of information they can access.

Teachers are an issue to, and not a subject I want to go too in depth about in this article, but a lot of people, teachers included, don’t understand what a teacher is or what their role is. In the worst cases students may be taken advantage of financially or sexually or somehow abused because of the relationship. Most of the time though I just see a very poor relationship that isn’t very helpful to the student.

A lot of students come into the student-teacher relationship for the wrong reasons. Some are there for no other reason than to gain the lineage of being a teacher’s student. Some believe that a teacher will give them access to power. Some may need the structure of the relationship or be seeking approval of some kind. In any case, it is the teacher’s responsibility to tell the student no.

A teacher’s job, their entire job, is to guide a student through the current obstacles they are facing that they cannot get past on their own so that they can reach the next level of their spiritual attainment.

That is all a teacher does, and done right it usually doesn’t take very long. But I’ve seen students who have been students of a teacher for years. There’s no excuse for this. By that point either the student has achieved a level of competence where they should be set free from the relationship so they can pursue their personal spirituality, or the teacher is not able to help them get to that level.

I’ve also seen lots of students who are completely dependent on their teachers for their magic. In extreme cases the student may not be able to successfully perform even simple magics or rituals without their teacher’s help (typically this is due to a lack of psionic ability or not understanding how to raise energy). Many though simply need to consult their teacher constantly and need their teacher to develop their magic for them. For instance they can’t figure out the qualities of a specific wood or plant on their own and need to ask their teacher what it is, or they can’t write a spell and need to get spells from their teacher as needed. Many also use their teachers as a constant guide to answer questions and to tell them what is right and wrong rather than find the answer to these questions themselves.

And all of this leads right into systems. Their are systems that come with certain groups (such as the Golden Dawn and OTO systems of spiritual attainment). There are systems that come with certain magical religions. Some people get their systems directly from their teachers. Other people get their systems from books. It doesn’t matter where you get it from. If you are using someone elses methods of magic, you are a weak magician that is not reaching their full potential.

Magic is not like science. You cannot recreate an experiment under the same conditions and expect the same results. Magic is like an art, and like an artist a magician needs to infuse their magic with themselves.

Of course we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Many people mistakenly believe infusing themselves into their magic means concentrating on their strengths while compensating for their weaknesses, and this is where the power comes from. Actually its a lot more than just that.

In addition to our strengths and weaknesses, we also have personalities. We have likes and dislikes. We have anxieties and fears and insecurities. We have wants and needs and desires. All of this needs to be incorporated into our magic and our spirituality. When we incorporate all of ourself into our magic, our magic becomes much stronger and much more successful.

And the only way you can do this is if you are able to develop your own magic. You need to be able to come up with your own spells, and techniques, and rituals, and spiritual paths. These things need to be designed with your specific personality in mind, not someone elses, so that they are true to who you are.

It’s unfortunate, but a lot of the magic being done out there is nothing more than mimicry. It’s students doing exactly what their teachers taught them, and in many cases exactly what their teachers do. It’s people copying rituals and spells from books. It’s people following the laid out spiritual paths of systems under the belief that they’ll come to some eventual attainment.

9 Responses to Books of Magic, Teachers, Systems, and Personal Magic

  1. Psyche says:

    You make some good points, but at the same time I do think books are essential to developing one’s magickal practice.

    Books offer new ideas, provide context, suggesting reference points for one’s own individual experiences. Without them, well, allow me to repeat a point I stated in an earlier post on this subject in 2007, from “Beyond the books“:

    In a field where self improvement and self mastery are goals, there is no such thing as being “beyond the books” – there will always be a fresh take which settle experience in perspective or challenges old patterns and inspires action. How can this be “over-rated”?

    The only limits are those you allow and set in your own thinking – consciously or not. Don’t blame the books.

    • Rob says:

      I’m not saying that books are useless tools. In fact I’ve found them useful and enlightening within my own practice. I’m also not about to do a lot of magical work when someone else has already done the work for me and wrote down what I needed in a book. For instance it would take me hours of time and a lot of effort just to channel all the names in the Goetia, not to mention the amount of time it would take me to find the channel in the first place and then verify that they actually gave me good information and not just crap they made up.

      But I wouldn’t say that books are essential. There’s nothing in a book that can’t be gotten from some other source. And even though I’m grateful I don’t have to go through the trouble of channeling those Goetic names because they’re already written down, I could channel them (or something similar) if I needed to.

      I can very easily imagine a magician who cannot or will not read still being a capable magician. I would however be very skeptical of the abilities of a magician who could not channel or had never experienced a divine communion. There’s a lot of information in these places that can’t be found anywhere else.

      I actually agree with everything you’ve said on books, except for the part of them being essential. Useful and valuable I’ll admit to, but I still feel they’re less than essential.

      • Psyche says:

        Books can communicate thought through time and space, at your own pace. I don’t know of another medium that can do this.

        Video and audio recordings run at a certain speed, you can’t place your finger in them to reflect, or stop to take notes as readily.

        Not as a substitute for practice or conversation, but as an enhancement.

        No-one can communicate Crowley’s thoughts the way he did, and without his works I’d be a much poorer and more ignorant magickian.

        • Rob says:

          I never meant to imply that books were not essential due to the invention of audio and visual mediums. In fact I would say that all of these mediums, all information transferred in this manner, is non-essential.

          There were great and strong magicians prior to Crowley and his books. There were great and strong magicians prior to the invention of written language.

          Do you believe that you wouldn’t have progressed as far as you have without Crowley’s instruction? I’ll admit that having Crowley’s works available made the entire process faster and easier for me, and considering what you’ve written about the man I assume you feel the same way. But I also think that I would’ve eventually reached this point without him, although it may have been a bit harder and taken a bit longer.

          Books may make things easier and faster, but most magicians would be able to successfully and independently develop their abilities without the benefit of books if they were not available. And this is why I say they are non-essential. Alternatives exist that can compensate for them.

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  3. Love Spells says:

    I think the idea of equating ones library to ones power comes from the fact that books contain knowledge, and the more knowledge you have so the more powerful you should be.

    There is some truth to that. For example, a novice witch or magician might not know anything about spell casting and therefore would struggle with even the most basic spells.

    But someone who has (or has at least READ) many books will have a better idea of how magic works and so be better equipped to cast successful spells.

    • Rob says:

      The difference in power and ability between a novice magician and a true armchair magician (in other words has read books and thinks about magical theory but has absolutely no practical experience) is so minimal that it is inconsequential. I’d say the novice would be in a much better position here, because at least they have the potential to be something more.

      Books only contain certain kinds of knowledge, and knowledge alone does not directly lead to competence in practical application. An armchair magician is like a virgin who believes she will be an awesome lay because she’s read every issue of Cosmo.

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  5. cinnabar says:

    What is your opinion on Kraig’s Modern Magick? I worked my way well through, but got stuck on getting no feedback on following the instructions. Making things work for an absolute beginner is probably too good to be true, but at the very least I would like to get a hint that I am on the right track.

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