Practical magicians deal with a lot of unknowns when it comes to getting results in the “real world”. Sometimes a magickal operation will be met with stunning and hard-to-doubt success, sometimes with an ambiguous success (the old “would that have happened anyway?” or “just a coincidence” conundrum), sometimes with a totally unknown degree of success (for example, if it is possible that the operation succeeded in an unobservable way), sometimes with an apparent failure. Navigating through the jungle of mixed results can be a real headache, especially where a magickal operation has apparently failed when it (of course) should have succeeded.

When testing out or trying to perfect a new technique, these kinds of issues can cost a lot of time and effort. If you have some new technique that at first succeeds, say, 50% of the time, then (depending on what you’re trying to affect) you may have to do some trouble-shooting to get the success rate up. Even finding the 50% success rate in the first place can be tough, not necessarily in a magickal sense, but just in terms of performing the technique enough times to determine how often you’ve got it working. And then you may not be able to properly assess the relative chances of each operation succeeding (that is, what kind of odds you’re up against when you start), so trying to evaluate success rates and improvement rates involves quite a lot of guesswork. I’ll call the results of such operations “feedback”. The most easily usable feedback is definite success.

I recently was up against this issue when trying to watch an internet video stream of a series of live events which had an infuriating amount of lag. At the time, I was trying out a simple form of Alan Chapman’s suggested model of (experience in) -> (experience out) as expressed in Advanced Magick for Beginners, and to start with I really couldn’t tell if it was working or not. The damn video rarely streamed for more than a few minutes at a time, and on one day only gave me a few seconds at a time.

I tried my magickal technique and watched. Was it better than before? Looked good in patches, but not strikingly so. To me, this looked like a “totally unknown degree of success”. For days, I struggled with this issue. Was my technique working or not? The feedback I got was not enough for me to meaningfully evaluate how successful I was.

Finally, towards the end, the streaming service got so bad that there was no point in trying to watch it. Did I turn it off? Hell no! Instead, I went back to the magick while keeping the stream open. To my surprise, the stream improved immediately. So I started to watch. It stopped. Not gonna work for me? Alright, back to the magick. The stream started up again. Well by this point, what do I care? I stayed with the magick for a while and it kept working. Ok, can I watch now? Eyes to the screen. Stream cuts out. Fine, back to the magick.

Over the course of the evening, it became clear that I could make the stream work only if I didn’t watch it (or really listen, for that matter). More importantly, however, I had learned, in a very short time, how to make the technique work. I knew what it felt like when the connection was made, and I knew how I had to orient my perceptual and cognitive apparatuses in order to get there. If I had not had a constant stream of information as my magickal feedback mechanism, coming to the exact same realization through experience would have taken weeks, months… who knows?

So this is my proposal: Want to perfect a magickal technique in a jiffy? Get yourself situated near a chaotic stream of information and get crackin’! Even in the information age, this might not be easy, but if you’re inventive and/or lucky, it can be done. Inconsistent water drips, funny wind patterns… Whatever floats your boat. The idea is to get real-time feedback on your technique.

What about the rest of you? What kind of encounters with real-time magickal feedback have you had, and how did it affect your learning curve?

Originally published on 03 February 2011.