Pagan Blog Project: Counting Coup

For my first (late) offering to the Pagan Blog Project, I talk about Phil Hine’s application of counting coup to magical training.

Magical Self Improvement

I’ve been spending a lot of time realigning my life and refocusing my efforts into what will help me be more effective in getting what I want out of life. And a lot of this entails looking at habits I’ve developed and ways that I frame my experiences.

 

Yup, this is a post about ego magic.

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Usually when I talk about ego magic, it is as a corrective to excesses in the positive range. In short, ego magic is effective at deflating over-inflated egos and delusions of grandeur.  I’ve told stories of old friends caught up in this trap, and been inspired to other commentary based upon observations of others.

Most of the work I have done in ego magic is inspired by Phil Hine, if not taken directly from his book Condensed Chaos. Hine discusses bad habits, obsessions, and personal demons, as well as how to recognize these things and deal with them.
One of the most useful processes I have undergone in the past is the Charting of the Self, which helps to increase self-awareness so that you can change what behaviors you need to. Continue reading

Learning from Magical Mistakes

Phil Hine’s old website features an archival transcript of a wonderful speech he once gave on magical failures. Entitled “Rites that Go Wrong,” it has always been my one of my favorites, as it highlighted the fact that magical success is always extolled,showing the mage’s supreme magical skillz, but failures are always explained away somehow as not being the mage’s fault.

Hine goes on to offer some possible explanations for why magic might not work, covering the gamut from improper attitude to faulty group dynamics. If you get the chance, look the speech over — it’s well worth it.

But I’m interested in something else.

A recent essay on the Witches’ Voice addresses the issue of magical mistakes and failure as well. The author takes a bit of a different approach to Hine, but comes to a very interesting point. After talking about Israel Regardie’s admonition for magicians to undergo psychotherapy, the essay dips into the psychological and subconscious desires that can emerge through magical action:

[T]here is value in rituals and spells that seem to go awry. Finding the value in these magical flops, however, is often a chore in and of itself. Being honest with ourselves about our personal flaws is an alien and seemingly self-destructive course to take. Yet the value in recognizing how we repeat mistakes out of habit is a key to our personal evolution. Unsatisfying results are a sign that we are unsatisfied with some deeper aspect of ourselves.

Now Hine spoke about sometimes thinking a ritual is a failure, but then having it turn out to be a success, albeit in an unexpected way. Hine also devotes much of his work to ego-magic and analyzing habits, patterns,faults,  and modes of thought. But for some reason examining a reason for a magical failure to discern these faults never really occurred to me. What can my magical failures tell me about not just what I’m doing wrong, but why?

Since I first began my magical practice, I’ve been impressed with the importance of keeping a ritual journal. I had always assumed it was to keep track of things that might affect magical performance, such as astrological alignments, moods, physical condition, time, weather, etc. And thanks in part to Hine’s writings, I had been accustomed to looking through these journals to examine patterns and habits that may rise up and create limitations for myself.

I just find it amazing that I never considered to factor in what my reasons for doing magic were.

Mindset and technique are very significant to magical work and personal growth, but desires and goals are just as significant. Perhaps my old journals need a good looking-over.

Transmission

Today I was re-reading an essay by Phil Hine on Mentors.  It made me think back to my old mentor, whom I have had a deep friendship with for years, with several rocky spots along the way.  We’ve reached that place where our views and practices are so far apart that we hardly talk shop anymore, and we mostly just hang out.  I’ve been thinking about this, and seriously re-evaluating how much of an impact he has had on my magical path.

I wonder what I would have done differently if I were in his position.  How would I handle a student, or even worse, an apprentice?  At what point do you decide you are ready to take the responsibility of teaching another how to work the magical arts, to the point that you take full personal culpability for his mistakes?

Of course, I obviously have no problems inflicting my opinions upon others, or with answering questions and giving advice to those who ask.  I have already had a few situations where I have given someone a tool or method that provided much-needed help, and in some cases have pointed people in the right direction.  So far, though, it has been just that — pointing.  I’m not sure if I’m ready to handle the deep, intimate relationship that mentoring a student or taking an apprentice requires.

A while back, I had an old friend come to me and ask for help.  I wasn’t sure what I could do, but since he had made a request, I decided to render aid.  I developed a list of requirements and the beginnings of a magical training program that I felt would help him.  He eventually reneged on his request, fading back into obscurity, but I was left with this odd feeling, that on one hand I wasn’t sure I wanted that responsibility, but on the other handing feeling confident I could have helped him, and looking forward to the new experience.  How does one deal with that kind of dichotomy?  I certainly am not the type to advertise for students, especially as I feel that is kind of poor form unless I’m offering instruction in a class setting, and even then I’d prefer to operate word-of-mouth.  The opportunity for an apprentice is a rare one, and again, I’m not sure if I’m far enough along to handle one.

Of course, I’m working on that one.  I’ve stepped up my own practice with an emphasis on development and “advancement,” and we’ll see where it takes me.  More importantly, thought, I’ve been considering what a magical training program should consist of.  Part of this is due to the simpe fact that my own experience lacked a set of expectations of what I was to learn and what my mentor was to teach, and what the nature of our relationship should be.  I feel that such expectations should be made explicit.  In addition, I feel that a grading system is important, and I wish that some sort of standardized or at least correlated system existed, so that a student could have a sense of how far he has come and how far he wants to go, and others could have some measure of confidence in his attainment of such grades.  Could an international Magician’s Guild or something similar prove effective?  Would it enable people to more ably find those capable of teaching the things they want to learn?