Models of magic


Brick wall, photo by PeterIn the course of exploring the possibilities of new, more efficient techniques of magic, I was struck by the fact that a structuralist view of the history of magic to date might prove helpful. After all, magicians have always aspired to restate the theory and practice of magic in the language of their times, i.e. in different models pertaining to current world views.

There is, however, some risk involved in such an approach: models do not really explain anything, they are only illustrations of processes, albeit rather useful ones. What’s more, over-systematization tends to obfuscate more than it clarifies and one should not mistake the map for the landscape anyway, a fallacy a great many kabbalists seem to be prone to.

Thus, the following five (or rather: four plus one) models of magic should be seen as a means of understanding the practical possibilities of various magical systems rather than as definitive theories or explanations of the way magic works.

It has proved effective in practice to view magic under the following categories:

  • The Spirit Model
  • The Energy Model
  • The Psychological Model
  • The Information Model
  • The Meta-Model

The spirit model

This is purportedly the oldest model of magic though it may very well have come into existence after or simultaneously with the energy model. We can find it worldwide in shamanic cultures as well as in many religions. Its basic premise is the existence of an otherworld inhabited by more or less autonomous entities such as spirits, angels, demons, gods etc. The shaman or magician is someone who can enter this otherworld at will, who has travelled widely in it, knows its language and customs and has made friends, smitten enemies and/or acquired allies and servitors there. This is important as all magic is of these entities’ making. The modern German word for witch, “Hexe” (f.) illustrates this rather neatly if we take a closer look at its etymology. It derives from Old High German “hagazussa” which translates as “fence rider”. The hagazussa is riding the “fence between the worlds” i.e. she is at home in the world of everyday life as well as in the magical otherworld of spirits.

In the spirit model magic is seen as being effected by these entities who are usually invisible, at least to the average punter, and it is the shaman’s or magician’s task to make them put his will into effect. This may be done by prayer, by barter, by cajoling or even — vide medieval demon magic – by the application of magical force, threats and pressure.

The otherworld may have its own geography but it is usually considered to coexist with the world of everyday life. The key to entering it is an altered state of consciousness, controlled trance or ecstasy of which the shaman is an expert.

The spirit model has prevailed in traditionalist or dogmatic magic until today, some of its most noted exponents being Franz Bardon and, at least to a great extent, Aleister Crowley.

The energy model

The rise of the energy model in the West is marked primarily by the appearance of mesmerism towards the end of the 18th century. Anton Mesmer, who was not an occultist but who was, on the other hand, regarded by his contemporaries to be a miracle worker of sorts, rediscovered amongst other things the ancient healing disciplines of hypnosis and magnetism. He popularized his theory of “animal magnetism” which he saw as a subtle force inherent in organisms, but he also made heavy use of metal magnets for healing purposes.

While the French Revolution put a temporary end to Mesmer’s movement, his ideas were not lost. They were taken up by a number of others, primarily occultists, who drew on them while developing their own theories of magic. One of the first to do so was Bulwer Lytton of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA), who postulated the existence of a subtle energy which he termed vril, possibly deriving from Latin virilitas or “force, power, strength.” (This was actually the model for the naming of Bovril, from Latin “bovis” or “ox,” and vril or “life force.”) We can observe interesting parallels to this concept in the vitalist theories of biology which emerged around the same time. Other exponents of the energy model of magic (not then so termed) were Karl Ludwig Freiherr von Reichenbach with his concept of od, Eliphas Levi and his Astral Light and Mme. Blavatsky, who adopted the theories of prana from yoga physiology.

This was also the time when anthropology and ethnology discovered the Polynesian concept of mana and Asiatic scholars began to concern themselves with the Chinese principle of Ki or Ch’i (Chi). The latter two go to show, of course, that the idea of subtle energies utilized by magic is far older than the 18th century. In fact, we can observe it already in early shamanic cultures. Shamanic magic is very frequently a mixture between spirit and energy model, e.g. the shaman may call upon his spirits or gods to give him or her  “power” or he or she may, vice versa, use his or her power to extort favours from them.

In its pure form, however, the shaman or magician is not in need of spirits and other entities. The world is viewed as being “vitalized” by subtle forces or energies and his primary task consists in mastering the art of perceiving and manipulating them. As all phenomena are basically energetic in nature, the existence of an otherworld is not strictly required. Thus, the magician is more of an “energy dancer” than a “fence rider” or go-between. But even here the key to the perception, charging and general utilization of these forces is again the magical trance or, as chaos magic terms it, gnosis.

Theories and practices pertaining to the energy model can be found with many magical authors but it has seen its real, large scale popularity only since the seventies of our century when the general influx of Eastern thinking (pace the Hippie movement) made concepts such as chakra and kundalini work a mainstay of most occult disciplines. Strong energy model elements can also be found in Franz Bardon’s system of “electromagnetic fluids,” “condensators,” etc.

The psychological model

Sigmund Freud’s theory of the subconscious revolutionized Western thinking in general and psychology (which he did not, as some people are wont to believe, invent all by himself) in particular. Suddenly, man was seen as a being which was only partially conscious and in control of itself. While psychology is still fighting for its academical recognition as a science, it has stamped its mark on therapeutic disciplines – and on magic.

The psychological model of magic does not purport to explain how magic works, its only premise is that the subconscious (or, as Carl Jung later retagged it, the unconscious) will do the job if it is properly addressed and/or conditioned. This again is achieved by magical trance, suggestion and the use of symbols (i.e. selective sensory input) as tools of association and as a means of communication between the magician’s conscious will and his subconscious faculty responsible for putting it into effect.

Aleister Crowley dabbled a great deal in the psychological model which comes as no surprise as he not only tried to keep up with all major academic disciplines of his time but thought himself to be the world’s greatest psychologist into the bargain. But all considered he remained a traditionalist exponent of the spirit model: after all Aiwass was, in his belief, a praeternatural entity. Nevertheless he did have a knack of explaining magic in psychological terms to make it sound sensible to the sceptics of his time.

A more radical approach was taken by Austin Osman Spare whose sigil magic rests on the basic tenets of the psychological model. Spare’s brilliant system is in principle an inversion of Freud’s theory of complexes: by actively suppressing his will in the form of a graphical sigil and forgetting it, the magician creates an artificial “complex” which then starts to work on similar lines just as suppressed, subconscious traumas will cause neurotic behaviour etc.

The psychological magician is a programmer of symbols and different states of consciousness. He is not necessarily in need of a transcendent otherworld or even subtle energies, though in practice he will usually work on the assumption that one or the other (or both) do in fact exist and can be utilized by his subconscious.

Authors such as Israel Regardie, Dion Fortune, William Butler, Francis King, William Gray and to some extent Pete Carroll subscribe to the psychological model which seems to be the primary domain of the English-speaking world of magic and which has become the prevailing paradigm ever since the seventies of this century.

The information model

The information model of magic is being developed since about 1987 and there is still considerable debate about the direction it shall ultimately take. Its basic premises to date are as follows:

  1. Energy as such is “dumb”: it needs information on what to do; this can be so called laws of nature or direct commands.
  2. Information does not have mass or energy. Thus, it is faster than light and not bound by the restrictions of the Einsteinian space-time continuum. It can therefore be transmitted or tapped at all times and at all places. In analogy (but of course only as such!) it may be likened to quantum phenomena rather than relativistic mass-energy. It can, however, attach itself to a medium e.g. an organism or any other memory storage device.

At the start of the theoretical debate it was still believed that the postulation of morphic (or, more precisely, morphogenetic) fields as hypothesized by Rupert Sheldrake had to be an essential factor by way of explaining the mode of actual information transmittance. This, however, while still being discussed, does not appear to be strictly prerogative though it cannot be not ruled out that an act of information magic may create such fields. It does seem more probable, though, that the concept of information matrices will prove to be the most promising theory in the long run.

The application of the as yet evolving information model has led to the discipline I have termed cybermagic (from “cybernetics” or the “science of control systems”). Contrary to the other models described above, cybermagic does not rely on magical trance to achieve its effects. Rather, the cybermagician activates either his own main memory banks, namely brain and spine (the Golf-club chakra, so-called because of its shape reminiscent of a golf-club) or those of the target person. The desired information is then called up and transmitted quite similarly to a copy command on an MS-DOS computer. The copy command analogy holds good insofar as the information (not having mass) is not actually “lost” in the process (as energy would be) but rather is duplicated. This is an important point as it allows for the magician to perform his magic even in a state of very low physical power, possibly even when almost completely intoxicated, as long as his basic “life support systems” are still functional and the command syntax is employed correctly.

It is, however, obvious that this technique demands a fair control of what used to be termed kundalini effects and practice has shown ever and again that a good amount of Yoga and meditation experience is a great help in achieving to cybermagic.

Unfortunately, the full theory and practice of cybermagic cannot be described here due to lack of space and will thus have to be the subject of a separate article to be published later. To date the main experimental research work is being done within the Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT) and some quite astounding results have already been achieved, especially in the field of language and knowledge transfer as well as magical healing.

In spite of its very modern, untraditionalist outlook the basic principles of cybermagic may in truth well be the oldest form of magic extant. For we can, for example, find a number of reports in the East to the effect of a guru transferring all his knowledge to his successor before his death, which is usually achieved by an act of long, mutual meditation.

This goes to show that magic as a whole has always existed in many, coexisting models. What has changed, however, is the stress laid on one model or the other in the course of time.

The meta-model

The meta-model of magic is not a model as such but rather an instruction on the use of the others. For its only advice to the magician is: “Always use the model most adequate to your aims.” This may sound a bit trite but we will see that it is not quite as selfevident amongst magicians as one might expect. It is rooted in chaos magic’s assertion “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted,” which ultimately boils down to pragmatic utilitarianism. Before this aspect is enlarged upon, though, let us look at an example of the models presented here as applied in practice.

We shall take the situation of magical healing to demonstrate how these models differ from each other.

In the spirit model healing is regarded as an exorcism: illness is caused by “evil” or, at least, undesired entities which have to be neutralized and removed by the shaman or magician. In the case of a patient with a heart condition the shaman may, for example, “see” a green lizard in the vicinity of the heart which must be removed. To achieve this the shaman will usually call upon the help of his own spirits who will then handle the matter. Properly exorcised, the patient has been freed from the cause of his ailment and can recuperate.

In the energy model ailments are seen to be caused by energetic imbalance. Thus, our heart patient may have too much (or too little) “fire energy” in his heart chakra, and the magician’s task consists of restoring that balance of energies commonly defined as “health”. This he may do by laying on hands, by using crystals and precious stones, by magnetism or chakra massage etc. The balance having been restored, the patient is regarded as having been healed.

In the psychological model illness is considered to be basically psychosomatic in nature. The magician will, therefore, either do a ritual work with the patient which enhances his stamina and resolves his troubles (e.g. a Saturn ritual to cope with “Saturnian challenges” the patient is seen to have avoided by becoming ill) or he will charge a sigil for the patient’s health. Preferably he will instruct the patient to construct and charge his own sigil.

In the information model the cybermagician will transmit an informational “healing matrix” into the patient’s system (or somehow create a “morphic field” of health and self-healing) and let the patient’s energies take it from there to do the job of their own accord i.e. automatically. This rests on the assumption that the energies are still powerful enough to get the work done, otherwise he will either jump back into the energy model to provide the patient with the additional energies required or install another information matrix to create an influx of the power desired.

Following the meta-model the magician will decide beforehand in which paradigm he will begin his operation. This must not necessarily exclude the possibility of shifting the paradigms in midwork or of blending them, of course. Usually, the decision is taken on the lines of expediency, efficiency and personal preference. Thus, I personally find healing work with patients easier within the spirit or energy model, while I do seem to get better results with self-healing employing either the psychological or the information model. Then again, cybermagical work tends to take up to two days to show noticeable effects so that it may be more expedient to go for laying on hands when pain is very acute.

Another important point is the time factor. While traditionalist rituals in the spirit model may take from half a day to weeks and even months, operations in the energy model seldom take much longer than a few hours at the most. If we take Spare’s sigil magic as an example for a very fast technique within the psychological model, the operation can be over and done with within five to ten minutes. Information magical operations on the other hand only take up about three quarters of a second, a time span which can be cut even shorter by an experienced cybermagician.

Self evident as the meta-model may seem, in practice many people seem to feel somewhat uncomfortable with its inherent relativism. This is very much the case with beginners in magic. A typical dialogue on the subject might run on the following lines:

“Are there spirits?”
“In the spirit model, yes.”
“And in the energy model?”
“In the energy model there are subtle energy forms.”
“And what about the psychological model?”
“Well, in the psychological model we are dealing with projections of the subconscious.”
“What happens in the information model, then?”
“In the information model there are information clusters.”
“Yes, but are there spirits now or not?”
“In the spirit model, yes.”

This logical loop is, of course, usually experienced as a pretty frustrating exercise; but while the asker claims that the magician is trying to avoid the issue he is at the same time overlooking the fact that he himself is basically only restating the old yen for absolute, “objective” truths – not really a quantum magical approach, to say the least. However, the aspiring cyberpunk magician of today cannot expect to be spared the pains of coming to terms with the notion that freedom and dogma are mutually exclusive.


(c) copyright 1991 by Frater U.’.D.’. All rights reserved.
Frater U.’.D.’., one of Germany’s leading exponents of contemporary
magic, is the author of “PRACTICAL SIGIL MAGIC” and
“SECRETS OF THE GERMAN SEX MAGICIANS” (forthcoming). The essay
above will be part of his next book, “DANCE OF THE PARADIGMS.
(All books: LLEWELLYN’s PUBLICATIONS, St. Paul, Minn.)

* Origin: ChaosBox: Nichts ist wahr, Alles ist erlaubt. (2:243/2)

Image credit: Peter

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

8 Responses to “Models of magic”

  1. […] which has been reprinted on the Internet freely (you can find it on Spiral Nature here: “Models of Magic“). Though this version is more expansive, and drops the bit about […]

  2. Magick, myth and change | says:

    […] us on Twitter. Thanks for visiting!Continuing on from yesterday’s post, Deo challenges the models of magick, and the very value of magick itself: […] I believe there is a single kind of argument that can […]

  3. What do we mean by “magick”? | says:

    […] depending on which point he wants to disprove. The examples given all fall under the four basic models of magick outlined by Frater U.:.D.:. favouring the psychological model as a tool for challenging […]

  4. So yeah, that whole magick thing. | Onyx V St. Syr says:

    […] learns to access through his/her work. For more info on these and other models please see this excellent summary by modern magical author Frater […]

  5. People are too busy for ghosts | says:

    […] otherworld has closed, and the beyond keeps our elders for eternity.”4 Whether one takes a spiritual or psychological view on this, I’m inclined to […]

  6. Model this | says:

    […] U.:D.:’s “Models of Magic” essay has been floating around online for a long time,2 and was further expanded in his 2005 […]

  7. Magick Models, Not really Wicca but still good « Wiccan News says:

    […] it out, Models of Magic by Frater U.:D.: Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  8. […] your Model. If you’re unfamiliar with the Models of Magick proposed by Frater U∴D∴ you can read this article on Spiral Nature (A more complete explaination is in his book High Magic which I recommend, but isn’t necessary […]