Real Magicians

A while back Nick Farrell penned this gem announcing that he was the gatekeeper of which magicians were authentic and which weren’t.

The list is pretty superfluous and a bit shallow in a lot of places. And it’s kind of disappointing that any credible magician would outline such criteria, which are pretty narrow.

Everyone who follows this path wants to believe that they are a real occultist or a magician.  It is a bit like those people who tell you at parties that they are “writers” and when you ask them what they have published it turns out that they have been sitting on their autobiography for 40 years.

“Writers” write. That’s what they do. It is implicit that such writing will eventually be published, especially if someone claims to be a writer as an occupation. For most writers, however, writing is not a primary occupation.

I’m a writer. Read my blog and tell me I’m not. But I make no money from this, and I have no books published. Am I not a “real” writer? Tell my readers that.

People who do magic are magicians (or witches, or sorcerers, or whatever). They may not be professional magicians anymore than I write for Rolling Stone, but they are magicians.

1.    You always wear black, have a pentagram, or an esoteric tattoo which can be seen.
A real magician is someone you would think was an ordinary person

Unless that magician is someone who is not an ordinary person. Like most of the great occultists of yore. It astonishes me that in a subculture that teaches its members using texts written by extraordinary and unusual people, and populated by extraordinary and unusual people who learn to do extraordinary and unusual things, anyone would make this claim.

Now I don’t wear black, or pentagrams, or have tattoos. I know plenty of magicians who don’t. But I know several who do.

2.    Each day you do not do at least half an hour’s PRACTICAL magical work.
Practical work means doing a ritual, shutting your eyes and going somewhere, with full concentration.  Sounds obvious but people call themselves magicians when they only have read a few books.

I’ve commented on the problem of armchair magicians before. But I don’t see the dichotomy of “you are an armchair magician” versus “Do a minimum of 30 minutes of practical magic every day!!” with no ground between. If I only do 20 minutes, does it not count? If I take a day off, am I suddenly a fake magician?

3.    Your life is the same.
Practical magic results in dramatic changes to you and your environment.  If you are doing it properly you will be completely different from what you were.

Note the key words “practical” and “dramatic.” I’d wager Farrell doesn’t like enlightenment much.

No one’s life is the same, and anyone who does magic will experience some manner of change. No one changes the same, though, and the changes someone goes through may not be clearly visible to the outside observer. An outside observer might say that my experiences over the last year have demonstrated a lot of loss and failure, but I have developed a lot internally over the past year, and am a much happier, confident, and easygoing person for it.  I have a magician friend who has maintained the same job for ten years: where Farrell may see stagnation, I see success and stability.

4.    You have not lost at least one relationship because of magic.

Are you serious? Aside from Farrell’s overly obnoxious and condescending use of the word “muggle” to describe non-magic users, the implication that dedication to magic necessitates the dissolution of relationships is absurd. Relationships fall apart because of loss of attraction, loss of interest, loss or respect, or loss of communication. The notion that a “muggle” is incapable of relating to a magician’s superior way of thinking is condescending to the verge of insult. The notion that this means relationships with “muggles” have to fail if you’re a “real” magician is absurd.

5.     You own a ton of magical gear which you use in all your rituals.

The “Tools vs No Tools” argument is boring.

I do plenty of ritual with fancy tools. I like the pomp. I guess that magic doesn’t count?

6. You talk about occultism more than you do it


Now, there is an issue of degree here. If you discuss occultism constantly, but only do magic very rarely, then you may be playing at being more of an authority than you are. Or you have performance anxiety. But here’s the real question: How does this apply to any other subject?

You can’t talk about sex more often than you do it.

You can’t talk about food more often than you eat.

You can’t talk about airplanes more often than you fly.

You can’t talk about science fiction shows more often than they run.

7.     You have lots of hobbies.
While some hobbies work with a magical life, such as art, computing, reading, historical research, but others don’t and you probably will not have time to do them.
But there is more to it than that, there is a social life which goes on with hobbies and you will find that you really have nothing in common with these people.   Hobbies are a way of opening a conversation with someone else.  Once the conversation has moved beyond that you find that they are interested in muggle things and you will be shoved in the corner with nothing to say.

Uh, say what?

So because I read, and play guitar, and play Minecraft, and dance, I can’t be a “real” magician?

This “You can’t be a magician and associate with non-magic using lesser people” attitude is becoming more and more disgusting. The implication that if you do magic you can’t do anything else is repugnant.

Magic is about becoming more engaged with life, not withdrawing from it.

8.     You have an active social life
You don’t. Occultism is a very lonely thing.  As I said above you find that you have very few things to say to muggles.  If your social circle is other occultists then that will become problematic over time.  Occult social circles are hotbeds of intrigue and nastiness dressed up with holier than thou smiles.  Your best friend could decide that they want to take over a group you have set up and take your entire circle away from you.  Another might think that you are evil and start launching black magic attacks on you.  One thing that is weird though is that sometimes if you make a magical change in your life, you suddenly lose the ability to communicate to your old set of friends.

Someone is a little bitter at some folks he used to hang out with. Just saying.

There are entire branches of magic geared toward becoming more socially likeable and active. If you are a magician and cannot forge and maintain social relationships, that is not a sign of success or authenticity: it is a sign of dysfunction.

9.     You think that something else is important
Occultism is all consuming.  It provides you with a way of life and method of thinking.  There is no room for making something else more important than it.  Politics is not important; neither are ideals, animal rights, Greenpeace or anything like that.  A magician helps the world but through different methods.  That does not mean that they will not get their hands dirty helping people directly. But the “idea” thing is dealt with a magical level, they do not sell their time to causes.

This is sounding more and more like obsession than magic.

I could argue pretty convincingly that magic is a process that underlies all things, and that anything important is also magical. Love, friendship, success, creativity, are all magical processes. But if my choice is between running off to do my daily 30 minutes of practical magic to appease the Secret Chiefs, or making intense, passionate love with a breathtaking redhead, the Secret Chiefs can go fuck themselves with broken sticks.

There is plenty that is more important than the study of the occult. Life is more important than the occult. the occult should augment life, not rule it.

10.     You do what you are told
There are occult groups which are based less on respecting their teachers and more obeying them.  If a teacher spouts rubbish and people are expected agree with it, even to the point of offering their public support for it without question, then they are not magicians.  Magic is a path of questioning and certainly not obeying without question.

I agree with this one. That’s why I’m disregarding the “authenticity” of this list.

11.    You think that things in magic are literal and physical

So much for the dramatic changes to your environment that practical magic will bring if you’re a “real” magician.

But I get it. Harry Potter style magic isn’t real. Charmed and The Craft aren’t real. And I’m startled that this would even make the list since it’s so obvious. I’ve met people who tried to convince others that they were battling demons and angels on the astral to save the world, but I’ve never met someone who though a person could physically summon a dragon.

12) You think magic is about what you can get.
While it is true that magic gives you some control over creating your universe, you will always find that you have to give up a lot.  This is the path of sacrifice and it is damn hard. People who tell you that magic made their life easy are lying.   In fact I am sure a large number of real magicians would love to give it all up if they could live their lives like normal people again.  It is just they can’t.  Having tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge you can’t return to Eden.

This statement is self-contradictory.

The sacrifice that magic involves is not in question. The loss of innocence is not in question. But in the same breath, Farrell acknowledges the power and knowledge that magic gives you.

We all do this for the power. It draws us back any time we try to quit. Control is power. Knowledge is power. Freedom is power. Enlightenment is power. Manifestation is power. Change is power.

Magic is power, and we pursue it so we can get it. Even if we have to give up other things to get it.

And there are plenty of people who have used magic to make their lives easier. I do not subscribe to the Stephen King delusion that magic only brings pain, despair, and deterioration. That is a Christian conceit.

Also compare this to the first point, which demands that “real” magicians blend in with “ordinary” people. Odd that several following points have asserted the inability of “real” magicians to do just that.

Now I suppose that Farrell may be operating on a much narrower definition of “magician” than I. He could be illustrating his bias toward the Golden Dawn and only mean Ceremonial Magicians in his definition. But even then his requirements are very specific and limiting, and would even exclude such greats as Crowley, Regardie, and DuQuette. Farrell’s insistence that a magician cannot relate to laypeople in any sense goes against what I see as one of the primary social roles of magic: bringing back the information we have access to through magical means and using it to guide people in need. It also smacks quite a bit of an elitism that is dangerously close to hubris.

Frater Archer also took the time to fisk some of this post, with good results.

It surprised me even more, therefore, to see such a naive list of criteria for supposedly true magicians on his blog? My initial reaction was disbelief of what could have driven him to post such a superficial set of filters? Maybe he spent too much time at one of the parties he referenced – surrounded by pentagram-tattooed wanna-be magicians and witches who all boast about their forthcoming occult publishing companies… I could see him sitting silently in a corner, grinding his teeth and slowly charging up with resentments – until he couldn’t resist but stand up and shout out all the seemingly obvious things?

The trouble is, while I completely understand and relate to his feelings – if this was where he was coming from – I still firmly belief the list of criteria he shared is not only deeply flawed but also completely outlived.


The difference, however, between a social rule and a law of physics is that the former is valid only within the boundaries of group that decided to accept it; on the other hand personal opinions don’t matter when dealing with laws of nature. Looking at the history of magic in the West, we come across a strange topos, a common pattern that seems to repeat itself over and over again. This many magicians’ attitude to refuse many social rules of their times. It is the anti-social and often rebellious nature of being a magician. I posted about this recently when reflecting on Empathy and Magic. While I don’t believe it is necessary to show such a behavior to become a magician – whatever that term actually means – it seems to be a surprisingly common denominator of our magical ancestors.

The reason why I am referencing this anti-social aspect of many magicians is the following: In my eyes you set yourself up for failure trying to establish authority on the definition of who is and isn’t a magician – as the people who came to be known in this social category never really accepted anyones authority but their own. Appollonius of Tyana, Agrippa of Nettesheim, Paracelsus, hell, even Gregor A. Gregorius, Dion Fortune or Crowley – these people never followed anyone’s rules but their own. From what I know, they certainly didn’t seem to be looking for approval or name badges other people would hand over to them? I guess my point is: Name badges and true magic can look back at a pretty long love-and-hate relationship. The only way not to get caught up in this war of roses is to simply not care what other people think of you – and to get on with the actual work.

And Inomunandium offers a suggestion for a 13th item on the list:

You might not be a real magician if...
You constantly talk about how you are more powerful/elite/better than everyone else. 

Maybe it is because I have a background in Buddhist magic where humility and denial of power is often a sign of actual siddhi, but when I hear someone talk about how powerful they are it instantly makes me think the opposite.

When someone tells me that they are a Living God, I instantly think that the only thing they are Living is in their moms garage.

When I hear someone talk about how their approach/tradition/teachings are the real deal when everything else is garbage it always leaves me with the impression that they are trying to make bitter water sweet by pissing in other peoples cups.


The worst part is that despite the title of this piece, every now and then someone making statements like this IS IN FACT a magician. Often a damn good one. I know that bluster sells – I do. I could probably sell twice as many courses if I claimed that it was the best and only path to OmniBuddhaChristSatanic Power that is only dreamed and hinted at by other occultists. But the other people that I take seriously would stop taking me seriously. This is why I rarely talk about my own field reports and prefer to share reports and testimonials from students and clients.


6 responses to “Real Magicians

  1. “Magic is about becoming more engaged with life, not withdrawing from it.”
    “The occult should augment life, not rule it.”

    Those were the money quotes for me. There might have been another one, but damned if I can remember it…

    To me, being a “real” magician means that I am a “real” artist who “really” creates on all planes of “real” existence. I “really” see things differently than people who are not interested in spiritual matters, but I imagine people from different cultures experience the same differences in perspective. A magical perspective makes me want to make “real” life even more beautiful, and especially to have compassionate for other “real” people. If a “real” magician doesn’t have compassion for others, or can’t imagine there might be another “real” perspective other than his/her own, I think s/he’s missed the whole point.

    • The authenticity debate is grating on me. It is an inevitable fallout from identity politics.

      Perhaps I’ll stop calling myself a magician. Who knows. “Sorcerer” sounds more mysterious anyway.

      One thing that keeps coming to my mind is a line from Star Trek IV. Kiri-Kin-Tha’s First Law of Metaphysics states that “Nothing unreal exists.” As far as I’m concerned, as long as I do things a magician does and have effects upon people and things as a magician would, I’m a “real” magician. I may not be a professional one, or a very dedicated one, (or a Golden Dawn initiated one) but I’m a real one.

  2. Pingback: Really Real | DON's Ideas

  3. This is my first time responding to one of your posts, but I tend to think Farrell’s post was part satirical and part pretty bad attempt at Cracked style list making. I’m not saying I don’t think the post should be criticized because EVERYTHING deserves to be criticized at some point; but I’m not putting too much credence in a post that’s (to some) obviously hyperbolic and meant to be tongue and cheek while poking fun at certain people and not the population at large.

    • I’ve heard some people suggest this post may be satire. In reading Farrell’s response to Frater Archer, I think it’s possible he may have been attempting it. But honestly — and not meaning insult to Farrell — I think the attempt failed. Humor, I suppose, but not quite satire.

      The problem I see is that while the details may have been hyperbolic, they were too in line with what his central point was. Instead of simply saying “In order to be a magician you should practice magic,” or satirically writing about what books you need to read to be a real magician and how you don’t need any actual magical work under your belt, he listed a bunch of superficial traits and requirements. The point is he is supporting a more limited definition of what a magician is, whether or not he is actually supporting the hyperbolic content of his post.

      If the post is purely satire, then the response to “This makes you a REAL magician” should be the same as if the post is completely serious: “Says who, and who made them Gatekeeper?”

      I think it stirred up an interesting conversation, though. This is one of my favorites:

  4. Pingback: More Thoughts on Authenticity and “Being Real” | Blacklight Metaphysics

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