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A.M. Murphy
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Not Always So


From One Apprentice To Another

There are some people who think I've gone off the deep end. Excluding (for the sake of this essay) the possibility that they are right, I will try to explain why I have made the Western hermetic tradition my life's work.

The Western hermetic tradition is fundamentally about magic. The concept of magic is at once ridiculous and deeply irresistible. There are many excellent definitions of magic, but I would offer this: Magic is the transcendent manipulation of powerful but usually subtle energies. And the ultimate goal of magic is transformation -- most importantly, transformation of the self. The real work of the magician is the old Great Work, the process of enlightenment.

For this reason, the Western hermetic tradition could more properly be called the Western enlightenment tradition. Enlightenment is the goal of the alchemist, the Tarotist, the astrologer, and it was the true aim of all the great magicians of the past, from Giordano Bruno to Dion Fortune to Israel Regardie.

In the West (and perhaps it is no different in the East) the first step towards enlightenment requires mastery of a tool. A golfer would understand that if she can make a line drive perfectly, time and time again, she has transcended something crucial, displaying mastery over her own body and mind, as well as the physical world. She is on the way to perfecting herself, to union with the Absolute.

An apprentice magician must master a tool as well. Ceremonial magicians attempt to perfect the process of ritual. Alchemists focus on the creation of the Philosopher's Stone. A diviner might use a pendulum. I work, again and again, with the Tarot. The tool might be almost anything, but it must require not just physical and mental perfection, but spiritual and energetic perfection as well. Then comes transcendence. (Keep in mind that tool-mastery is just the first step in the Great Work.)

By its nature, this is difficult and lonely work. For more than two thousand years, the Western enlightenment tradition has been scorned and persecuted and driven underground by science, religion, and conventional wisdom. There's a reason why they call it "hermetic." On a personal level, too, this work must be pursued privately. Progress is particularly difficult to translate to the uninitiated and the uninterested, and ill-timed interference can be as deadly to magical work as it is to a photograph developing in a darkroom.

If you are going to be a magician, there are many books and courses available, but ultimately you're going to have to figure out how to do it on your own. You have to find your own magical voice. Those who have gone before you on the path (the alchemists are particularly irascible about this) take care to cover their tracks. There are good reasons for this -- solving the riddles for yourself is an essential part of magical development.

You must unknot your own brain.