Keys in Practical Magic

By W. E. Butler

There are many who will remember with pleasure attending the lecture meetings held by the Esoteric Society at Caxton Hall in the 1970s. It gave people a chance to see and hear many of the outstanding names in the occult field at that time. W.E.B. Ioved going there and lectured in the York Hall sitting in the huge carved chair that stood on the platform. Due to a leg injury sustained in a car accident someyears previous he usually lectured sitting down, but far from detracting one’s interest this gave a cosy, almost intimate atmosphere to a room holding some three hundred people. One felt that this small bright-eyed man was speaking to you alone. This was one of his many talents, that he could turn an audience of hundreds into an informal gathering of friends. This lecture has been transcribed from his actual speech and has not been edited purposely, to give the reader a chance to savour and recognize his very individual style of delivery, his phrasing, and the similes he so often used, but though the language is simple the wisdom is deep and the knowledge profound This lecture remains one of his best and certainly gives old and new students a comprehensive outline of the art of practical magic. – Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki

 Friends, I hope you will forgive me if I sit down, for standing for any long period of time is a bit of a chore these days. And I feel that if I sit down, it is symbolic that no one of us is greater than anybody else in the field of esoteric science, we are all in one category. Just as all three parties in the House of Commons today are all minority parties, so too are all students. None of us are experts. We may be experts on one thing or another, but we’re always students, and we’re always learning. The moment we cease to try to learn, we automatically shut ourselves out from the true brotherhood of esoteric science. So I shall sit – and that combines both material and moral reasons why I should sit.

I think it was Socrates who said that a discourse should be like a dog – it should have a head, a body and a tail; and I’m going to try and shape my discourse along Socratic lines. First of all, some definitions. I want to talk about the esoteric field today. You know, anyone looking at the advertisements in Fate or Prediction, or any of the other periodicals, might be excused from imagining that we’re a queer lot. The early Christians were a queer lot to the pagan Romans around them. Everyone who steps out of the established way into another way is queer according to the people who remain in the old rut. Don’t forget this – whereas parish customs are ruts, mental ruts, they can be very handy – you try riding across a ploughed field in a chariot and you’ll soon find a nice well-made rut of a road is infinitely preferable – you can get somewhere with it. So ruts can be useful, but I think we are all well aware of the remark of the professor at the breakfast table that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. And you can get in a rut and you can wear that rut so deep, that you’ve virtually imprisoned yourself in a grave. You’ve ceased to be active.

Now that particular happening is constantly at work and to jog people out oftheir ruts is a very difficult task. Old man Crowley [Aleister Crowley], of great renown, did it by being very rude in a Victorian atmosphere. In the middle of some beautiful philosophic discourse you would suddenly find a piece of obscenity that brought you up standing. And Crowley delighted in that because he jolted his readers. He made them think; they came out of their ruts with a jerk, and if he jolted them sufficiently badly either they began to think he had a reason for doing it, or they were so revolted and disgusted by the old man that they packed up studying him – both ends of which were just what Crowley wanted. And I think that although his methods were a little extreme, somewhat like the methods of that film The Exorcist which is also apparently jolting some people, I think that there is a certain justification, now and again, for giving people a push out of their rut so that they can have a look at the surrounding scenery, and see if it’s quite so bad as they imagined it was. They might find some quite nice views. They might find a new road. They might find new things. But, and this is absolutely imperafive, at no time and in no way, will the true custodians of the Mysteries ever attempt to force anyone out of their rut against their will. This is one of the cardinal principles of true esoteric science.

Now in the nineteenth century, the most prominent exponent of things esoteric was the Abbé Constant, Eliphas Levi, and possibly half of modern occult terminology has been built, and a great deal of the practice formed, from his work. And then a man called Barrett, who produced a book called The Magus, laid the foundations for umpteen magical orders, societies, fraternities and what have you, and they flourished and multiplied abundantly. I’ve lost count of them. One day I looked through about half a dozen magazines and just took the names of the different orders and fraternities, and retired to weep. However, one of the greatest magicians of the Middle Ages was Albertus Magnus, and he made the remark which most would-be magicians seem to forget – conveniently. He said ‘The true magician is born, not made.’ He said the true magician has to be born as a magician. He has to have the innate power from birth if he’s going to do any work, and this has been quoted again and again, and it’s quite true. There are certain people who cannot take part in magical work to any effect. It’s not that they don’t try, that’s the trouble – too many of them try, but they just can’t do it, because it is not for them at this particular period of their evolution.

Now I can’t play. I have no ear for music. I’m tone deaf, as a matter of fact, which is very sad, because I can only just distinguish between Jerusalem and God Save the Queen. What’s more, when I was a boy at school, when the singing lesson came round, the teacher used to give me a book, usually on mythology, the classics of Greece and Rome – McAuley’s Days of Ancient Rome, I read that by the ream. I read during the music lesson, because not only could I not sing but if I attempted to, no one within fifty yards radius could sing either. And there’s a good many people who, when they come into this magical and esoteric work, are in the same position with regard to magic as I was, and am, with regard to music.

Now, amongst others, Bulwer Lytton, was a pupil of Levi and he was deeply concerned with magical orders which existed in England long before his time. So many people think that the magical revival which occurred in the nineteenth century was the beginning of it all, but it wasn’t. There were magical fraternities running in the Middle Ages in this country, and before then. And as the witch people will tell you very, very, forcibly, the Old Religion has been going on right the way through from pagan days, right from way before Christianity.

Of course, when we talk about pagans we’re on rather touchy ground. All ‘pagan’ means is people who live outside the town – early Christianity spread in the towns, it was an urban religion mainly, and it didn’t touch the rural areas very much, simply because of travel difficulties. So the suburban districts, the country districts, and the rural areas were the last to accept Christianity. They were the people outside a certain boundary. They were pagani – pagans – those who were outside that limit. And the word is not offensive – it simply meant that they were a bit unfortunate – they weren’t in touch, as it were. Then with the – shall I say – the crystallization of Christianity, the pagans became evil because they would not accept; in the same way that heresies in the early Christian Church were different ways of looking at things, and anybody might have a heresy of his own simply by having a different approach to things. But as soon as the Church became powerful, it began to think that its point of view was the only way in which things could be seen – all the others were wrong, evil. And the pagans were put down with the force of the law behind them. And so heresies became the subject of persecution.

It doesn’t just go on in Christianity, it goes on in Buddhism – people think that Buddhism is a beautiful religion of mildness; I’ve seen two Buddhists trying to knock each other’s ears off. They’re just like other human beings, don’t forget. Mohammedanism (or Islam to be correct), Buddhism, or any other ‘ism’ always has this. There will always be those who will try to impose their will upon the others, and that’s why I told you just now that the true esoteric science never imposes its will on anyone, any more than the Divine Source of Light imposes its will upon anyone.

Now I’ll tell you a story about Bulwer Lytton which you may, or may not, have heard. You know of course of the Theosophical Society, which by the way has done magnificent work in popularizing esoteric matters. It is a habit among some esoteric students to sneer at the T.S. as a lot of old women who gather around a gas fire and talk a lot of high-flown theory. But that’s unworthy of the whole thing. The T.S. has done magnificent work all over the world. And Charles Leadbeater, who was one of their foremost clairvoyants and seers has done magnificent work – there are thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who owe to Leadbeater much of their spiritual happiness.

Leadbeater as a boy was taken by his father to Knebworth House. His father was an associate of Lytton’s. And sitting there, watching Lytton look at his correspondence, quite suddenly one of the envelopes slid off the table, and as envelopes will, it slid right across the floor. So little Charles Leadbeater was about to run after it to pick it up and bring it back. Lytton said ‘No, No’, looked hard at the envelope, and the envelope wandered back along the floor, climbed the table leg, and landed back on the table. And that made an impression on Leadbeater which he never forgot.

In Francis King’s Ritual Magic in England you will find a similar case where a man in a pub made a sixpence crawl up the wall, and of course it made most of the habitues of the pub crawl up the wall too! Such psychokinetic phenomena are pretty common – I’ve seen them dozens of times. They are fairly simple, and they produce quite a lot of kudos. I can talk to you about the philosophy of the subject, but a gentleman who can make an envelope walk across the table without touching it will immediately arouse quite a lot of excitement – because it’s unknown, it’s strange, we haven’t seen a gent doing that before. That’s why Uri Geller is getting so much publicity, we haven’t seen anybody capable of doing that before. I had my first occult experience when I was nine, and I’m seventy-six now, so that’s quite a long time ago. I saw my first materialized form, ectoplasmic form, when I was about twelve, and I’ve been mixed up in this particular subject ever since. I’ve seen some funny things.

Now those things are facts, or else we’re all a lot of liars. But as we all lie from different parts of the world, and we all say the same thing when we lie, even though we have no connection with each other, it suggests that there may be an underlying fact behind it. And there is.

Now we must get to definitions. It was Doctor Samuel Johnson, of dictionary fame, who said, ‘Define your terms, Gentlemen, define your terms.’ It saves a lot of argument, and doesn’t it! Half the problem today is lack of communication. Why? Because we have no common terms, and there’s nothing more pitiable than to see someone of my years, or younger than me perhaps, trying to communicate with a youngster and using the idiom, using the particular terms which have just gone out, and he thinks he’s so with it. But he’s not with it, he’s missed the bus by a hundred yards, and he simply seems to the youngsters to be a silly old fool. It’s very difficult – equally difficult when a youngster attempts to talk to me, or to someone of my age, and to tell me just what he feels about something, again there’s a difficulty of communication. And half the difficulty is in definitions. That’s why the scientists went to the dead languages of Greek and Latin to label their particular discoveries, in order that once used, that is a definite thing, it was derived from a certain Latin or Greek word which means something. And so a scientific statement could be made, and it couldn’t be twisted to mean anything else.

Now in occultism and esoteric science, we cannot do that by the nature of the thing. It is rather like Alice in Wonderland where they played croquet with flamingoes as clubs and every time they tried to strike the ball the flamingo lifted his head and looked around. So they didn’t get on very well! And in the same way esoteric science is so fluid that it is very difficult to define things in terms. If you question that, read a passage in Moonchild by Aleister Crowley, where he deals with the astral plane and the reversal of values and other things on the astral levels. If you have a modicum of clairvoyance you will soon find out that it’s quite true what he says. You tend to reverse things – you reverse numbers, 32 is 23, and so on, and you reverse things in the most amazing way, simply because the astral light has a set of laws which are not the same as those of the physical plane.

I am going to define three terms and then we’ll go from there. The first is ‘Keys’. One thinks of keys as the means of enabling us to get in out of the cold. The key to a lock. We get the idea of the key enabling us to open a lock, simply that. It doesn’t enable us to look into a room which has closed doors, it doesn’t enable us to see things which are not opened by that particular key. It only enables us to open that door, and look in as far as we can. And any key which is given to us performs that function only. We must not expect to use that key as a ‘Master Key’ to get into all the rooms in the house, all the rooms in the Temple.

Now the next term is ‘Practical’. Have you ever seen a chimney sweep’s advertisement? ‘So and so – Practical Chimney Sweep’. Ever seen a theoretical chimney sweep? Well, if there’s a practical one, there must be a theoretical one. But it wouldn’t do your chimney much good if you brought a theoretical chimney sweep along. So we have to define practical. What is a practical occultist, a practical magician? Well according to Dion Fortune it is one who causes changes in consciousness by will – changes in states of consciousness. Crowley had a more literal definition – change in things generally. And there are many definitions of what that might be. Now most people think of the word practical in terms of ‘What do I get out of it?’ Just that. We all do, I do. We all do because that’s innate within us, we are born that way. The acquisitive interest is but an instinct to acquire. It’s come up through millions of years of evolution, you don’t throw aside the habit, the rut, of millions of years just by saying, ‘Oh, I’ll be very good, I’m going to be selfless, and I’ll never think of anything for myself ‘. That is pure foolishness. We always relate everything to ourselves. We’ve got to. We can’t help ourselves. We are persons, individuals, and we have a personal way of looking at everything, so we say ‘What does it mean to me?’ Well, the esoteric sciences mean to you whatever you like to make them mean. You can either make them an opportunity to serve God and man, or to serve yourself entirely, or to have what is more usual – a glorious mix-up of all three.

So we serve God, we serve our fellow man, and we serve ourselves, and the proportion in which we do those things determines whether we are on the right-hand path or the left-hand path. You know that is again such a false dichotomy. There are those on the right-hand path who are Lords of Wisdom and Love, and those on the left-hand path who are Lords of Hatred, and of Separation. But in between is a vast body of us all who are simply grey – some a nice pearly irridescent shade of grey, and some are a rather gloomy kind of grey, and some – that the angel of Revelation in Apocalypse spoke about – lukewarm, neither one thing nor the other. And the angel said, ‘Because thou art lukewarm I will spew thee out of my mouth.’ What he means is, I’ve got no room for you. If you’re lukewarm you’ll get nowhere, and if you go into magic in the spirit of the atheist who was dying and who said, ‘O God (if there is a God), save my soul (if I’ve got a soul)’ then you won’t get very far. You have to have dedication in magic, just as you have to have dedication in esoteric science. And you must have some guiding line to start with.

When I went first of all to the door of the lodge in which I was initiated, there was I all dressed up like a dog’s dinner, beautiful robe on, and a hoodwink over my eyes, all in darkness. Just as a mason does when he goes to the door of his lodge, he has a hoodwink over his eyes. He knocks, seeking the Light. And a voice from within the Lodge says, ‘Who stands without?’ and I said, ‘One who desires to enter your mysteries and to learn from your teachers’. And the voice said ‘Why do you wish to learn of our mysteries?’ And I answered, prompted of course, the only answer that gives you the key, the true key, to esoteric science, ‘I desire to know in order to serve’. Then of course you can go a little bit further and say ‘Serve what? Serve whom?’ A reverend gentleman named Duncan chased me over the coals the other day in a book of his because he said, ‘You can serve other things can’t you’, or words to that effect, and so you can, serve God and serve man, who is made in the image of God.

Well, that being so, that solves that one – practical, and then we have to think about the term ‘Magician’, one who practises magic. But magic can be of many kinds, don’t forget that. And many a mother smoothing her child’s head as she helps him through a difficult time is performing true magic. But many a person who would shriek with horror at the word magic will nevertheless do quite a lot of magical work by the power of their thought. And you will find that the word magic and magician simply comes from, in the end, ‘wise men’. You know in the new translation of the New Testament in the New English Bible, they’ve translated ‘Wise men from the East’ in a different way: ‘In the days of Herod the King, there came astrologers from the East.’ Now that’s emasculated as effectively as it could be emasculated. But wise men means also ‘men of power’ – magi – and they were called the Magi, not merely astrologers, although astrologers can be men of power too if they use their astrology correctly. But that’s reduced the thing down. The name just means ‘man of power’, a man who gets things done.

So if anyone has the idea that they can enter any order, fraternity or anything like that, and walk into it without any trouble, without any kind of test or change, and produce themselves as a magus instantly, like instant coffee, they just can’t do it. They may be able to start to open their eyes and become clairvoyant, and their clairvoyance will be untrained and unregulated and unadjustable, and what use is it to anyone, except themselves, they can boast, ‘I can see things, I can raise up spirits from the vasty deep’. Well, as the character in Shakespeare said, ‘I can call spirits from the vasty deep’. And his pal said yes, so can I, so can any man, but will they come? And that which appears to the untrained vision is not necessarily the reality which they think it is. I’ve been caught on this a good many times, so I’m speaking from experience.

I want to explain one more definition, and this is Mysticism. Let’s get out of our heads that hybrid term mysticism, when it’s used in connection with the esoteric sciences. Mysticism has a meaning all its own: the word itself is pinched from the ancient mysteries, the ancient Greek mystae were those who were the thyrsus bearers, those who were initiated in the mysteries, and they were called the mystae, and from that comes mystic. But mysticism, whether it be the theocentric mysticism of Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism, or the Christo-centric mysticism of Christianity, has nothing whatever to do with esoteric science as such. You can be a mystic and see nothing, hear nothing, have no experience of psychic matters whatsoever, and be a true mystic. Or, on the other hand you can be an esoteric scientist and have all the knowledge you like, and it’s nothing in the eyes of the mystic. Because the mystic is seeking the One in a direct approach to reality, spurning everything of manifestation, of diversity, in his search for the unity. The esoteric scientist is searching for the One in the diversity, he’s working with all manifest things in Malkuth, the Kingdom of Diversity, and through them, reaching through to the Angel of the Countenance which is in Kether to the unity behind. They are two different methods of approach.

There are many who are inclined inwards to one or the other who partake of both to some extent. And it’s true enough that esoteric science in itself is amoral. That is to say it’s not a religious system, it is a science like any other science. And it’s capable of being used for spiritual ends. I don’t like the word spiritual, it’s what I call toffee-nosed, it’s one of those feeble words, spiritual means something different from that. Get away from all this kind of orthodox Christianity. Don’t forget I’m a Christian priest so it’s not a matter of hitting at my own particular religion. But get away from the orthodox conception of Christianity. Get away from this kind of planetary conception of the Eternal. Get away from that. Think of the great universe, of the galaxies, of all the millions upon millions of suns and planets. Think of the Creator and Preserver of all those things. The Eternal – that’s the best term. The Eternal. Think of that as your God, and then make yourself a religion which is worthy of the God you worship. It won’t be orthodox Christianity, or orthodox Bud&ism or Islam or Hinduism. We’re all planet-bound . . . and we live in Malkuth, and we work everything under the veil of earthly things.

Well, having said that I come to another point. People in this present day and age – I hate that term, I used it deliberately. Why can’t we say “Now” – it’s much simpler, better anyway, in this day and age. Now. Just Now – that’s all it means. But it sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? It’s very fine to say, ‘In this day and age’. I get a lot of fun from the television, listening to the announcers making these remarks, and I smile. But now there are so many people who are looking towards esoteric science as a means of attaining something which they haven’t found anything able to give them – religion has failed them, or rather they think it has, anyway. The trouble is that religious forms have failed them. The presentation of religion has failed them. I get literally hundreds of people – young, old, middle-aged, who come to me and pour out their sorrows upon my chest and tell me all in connection with what they believe or don’t believe and things like that, and the troubles they’re in. And it invariably comes to this: they don’t know what real Christianity is, they don’t know what real religion is. They don’t know what real Buddhism is, or Hinduism. They may shave their heads and go chanting, ‘Krishna, Krishna’, and all the rest of it, but whether they know something of the inner meaning of Hinduism is another matter.

But there’s a search, this is the third quarter of a century, and it has been said that in the third quarter of a century a wave of influence comes over the world, and a new aspect of spiritual consciousness is opened. It is said that all the sects and all the particular past religions come to the top because the spirit of man has reached out and there’s a force, an influence behind it which is reaching out with him, which is bearing him along its tide. And so every attempt, every new religion is, in a way, the aspect of a spiritual, using that term in the Qabalistic sense. It’s an influence from the Angel of the Countenance in Kether which is working through the Kingdom of Malkuth, and all beings – not only we, but Nature, that living organism – feel it too.

I see just lately that they’ve been trying some experiments with plants… A man thinks nasty thoughts about a plant which is about twenty feet away from him – really nasty things, threatens to have its leaves burnt or something like that. And he doesn’t say anything – he simply thinks, and immediately the plant gets the jitters and sends an impulse through an electronic device which starts a little toy train running along or turns on a light. There’s quite a lot of research going along on those lines, suggesting that there is a connection between the vegetable kingdom and the animal kingdom and the human kingdom. And so far from the kingdoms being separate, and so far from the lower kingdoms of nature being insensitive, they seem to be pretty sensitive in some ways. Reflex action is some of it. And this extends right the way down to the mineral kingdom too, as occultists know. So the whole living planet and ourselves are a unit. And the power of the tides which affect the planet affect us too. The tatvic tides, the…tides of the seasons, and the great tides which sweep through at periodic intervals and which impel, from behind the scenes, all the revolutions and all the disturbances which go on in the world. They are motivated, in the true sense, from within, not from without. We, with our politics and political parties of various kinds, think that we do it all from the outside. But really it is done through us, and through the whole of animate life, from inside, from within.

So our magic, then, will be a co-operation with the whole of life on this planet. We can’t opt out and do a bit of magic on our own account. You try to control the elementals – one of the easiest jobs of the lot, one given to the first of the neophytes to have a shot at. Just control one little elemental and get him to do what you want it to instead of doing its own particular will or rather what its been told to, what is in its program. Try that and you’ll soon find out who you are. There is only one way of doing it, and this is one of the keys. Can you control that type of elemental within yourself? Fire elements – can you control your temper when somebody stamps on your toe? Or drops a brick on it? Or when somebody makes a most offensive and slurring remark about you or yours? Can you control any manifestation of temper, and not only that, can you stop being upset and annoyed? It’s alright, as Crowley says, for those with poker faces; its fairly easy. Dion Fortune on one occasion told us that at Dr Moriarty’s school where she was training, every independent pupil had his own garden to themselves and they all used to look out from the dining room at their own little gardens. Very nice too, and periodically Moriarty used to arrange for a local goat to be let loose in the garden. And the idea was that while you were having your dinner, you looked out and lo and behold, Billy or Nanny was happily devouring your pet flowers. And the idea was not to have any resentment towards Billy or Nanny, because he was just doing his own particular thing in his own way. They had to sit with poker faces and get on with their dinner and not go out with a broomstick and lay about the goat. But as she said, for anybody with a poker face it was perfectly easy. The people who got caught out, and showed their disfavour, their annoyance at their hard work being undone, were the people who didn’t have a poker face – that was all. So anybody who could play poker and not show whether they were winning or losing could carry on with their eating; what they said about Billy or Nanny once they were out of the dining room was another matter altogether.

But that was no real test. You get a test – a real test – when you start to try and control the elemental kingdoms, and the test is this: if you try and control them and you haven’t controlled the power within yourself which is their analogue, then the inner elementals betray you to the outer elementals. So if you don’t like fires popping out all over the place, and things catching light spontaneously, don’t go invoking fire elementals until you know that you have controlled the elemental forces within your own self. At one time I had a very vivid reminder of that when I didn’t do what I was told and I got it well and truly in return.

Now that is one of the keys; that all these things come through ourselves, in fact all the powers work from within ourselves. Now you have a choice when working in occultism. You can work by yourself, and you can work with others. And this is where very many snags come in. If you work by yourself at least you’ve only got yourself to blame. If you make a bloomer, if you drop the laboratory instruments on the floor and all is smashed, then you have to take the can – you can’t blame anybody else, just yourself. If you had another person with you, almost inevitably you would start saying to him or to yourself, ‘I wonder if it was your fault’. Because we do hate taking fault upon ourselves. It was the other chap that did it, like the little kid who was pulling the cat’s tail and the mother said, ‘Willy, stop pulling the cat’s tail’. And he said, ‘I’m not pulling the cat’s tail Mummy, it’s the cat that’s pulling it’. And so it is with our magical work – we will try if we’re working with others to pass the buck on to somebody else. So many times we have a kind of magical inquest after the trouble. Things go wrong, and when they go wrong in a magical circle you very often get the most amazing smell of sewer gas or something of that kind – drains gone bad – and then people are looking around to see who was responsible for that: ‘It wasn’t me’, ‘It wasn’t me’. And we all claim that it wasn’t us. But when we come to boil it down and do an inquest on ourselves we find out who the culprit is – mostly ourselves. Just that – we’ve done it.

So the first thing, if you’re working magic with others, is perfect honesty and perfect commonsense. Commonsense is a very rare commodity – it’s not as common as all that. The first thing you learn in true occultism is that all the airy fairy business, all the wonderful, imaginative terms and ideas have got to go by the board. It’s just as practical, it’s just as real, it’s just as – shall I say – bald and bare as any chemical laboratory’s experiments. You mix sulphur with carbon and saltpetre and something happens when you set light to it. I blew my eyebrows offwith it once or twice when I was a kid, it produced gunpowder! And so with many other things – the chemical laboratory is no time, no place for any sentiment or sentimentality, no place for hysterics… they’ll bust up the experiment and the laboratory too.

And so in Occultism you have to have commonsense, and commonsense means a balanced outlook – it’s the Middle Pillar on the Tree of Life. You’ve got to be balanced in your outlook in whatever you do, and whatever you’re doing you must do in that spirit … and you can work yourself up, as it were, but always in the background there must be that framework of scientific principle, and that is why people work the Tree of Life, because it gives us that scientific principle behind all our work.

Now, you’ll often find this. You’ll form a group – I’ve done it scores of times. You form a group and you’ve got say ten or twelve. And you’re all working together, doing this magical work. And little by little you find that dissension creeps in. First it’s wonderful – everybody makes their robes and sandals and all the rest of it, all according to the book or they buy it from the shop when nobody’s looking – you should make them yourself you know, but it’s a bit difficult nowadays, most people have no idea of how to work with cotton, for instance. You’ve got to buy something and there are plenty of occult haberdashers of various kinds who will produce the goods for you.

Anyway, you all get to work and make a lovely place up, and then bit by bit it deteriorates and the first thing you notice is that curious frictional feeling of indecision, a feeling of something unsafe. It’s a peculiar feeling, and if you get it, it’s a key to what’s happening. It’s a curious feeling of uncertainty, and everybody looks around and says, ‘I wonder who’s throwing the spanner in the works?’ Of course, you wouldn’t be. And you go around on a witch hunt of your own. ‘Ah, it must be Mr So-and-So, or Miss So-and-So’. And then they’ll be doing the same thing. Of course they wouldn’t have done anything like that, of course not. Mr So-and So – yes, I don’t trust him.

And so, in a few weeks the group is splitting into little coteries all proudly damning each others’ eyes. And all the work is gone. And that’s simply because common sense wasn’t used, and varying temperaments were slammed together without any regard for their compatibility. If you were going to send a team of space people, of men to explore outer space, what would you do? You would choose, by psychological tests, a hundred people or more, combing them out gradually, bit by bit, testing them all the way until finally you would get three people who as far as you could see were absolutely compatible one with the other who could be left alone in space for quite a long time, and wouldn’t go offthe handle. And so it is in occultism.

So if you start a magical circle, don’t forget this: it’s very rare that more than two of the original members are there six months later. The rest have gone. But if you keep on getting the type you want, sounding out the note you want by meditating on the principle you’re working with, gradually you’ll get the people you want coming together, because they’re drawn to you by the power of thought which is greater than people realize. And then you can form your circle and go ahead. But always commonsense, always balance.

Now you sometimes find amongst the members of a magical circle one person who seems to get nothing. They don’t produce any power, they don’t produce the slightest glimmer without a match, and they don’t seem to do anything. Yet those people, if they’re missing one night, you’ll find there’s something wrong. Things don’t go so well. They’re enzymes, as it were, ferments. They don’t do anything themselves – catalysts would be a better term. Because they aren’t affected, apparently. But they do have their purpose, and if you have one of these people in a circle it’ll go ahead like a house on fire, things all over the place happen. So if you ever get a person who doesn’t seem to be pulling his weight at all though he’s trying hard, it may be that you’ve got one of these people who can easily prove their worth if they stop away for a week or two. Now that’s an interesting point, and I give it to you as a point well worth consideration – the power of some person who apparently has no power.

Very often in a circle of this kind, when you start your magical work, you come up against tests. Tests of earth, air, fire and water. What are these tests? Let’s get rid of the glamour of them. Earth, air, fire and water. Have you ever dreamt that you were in the middle of a fire and had to go through a fire? And the dream turns to a nightmare, you dread it, yet you hold on to it. Well that is the kind of test you get. For the time being your volition is held up, but your power of Inner Will is still there and you will have to use it. But you’ve got to know it’s there, you’ve got to look within yourself, and pull from within the power that you have. And so you come up against the flaming fire, and it seems to you in that glamoured condition (the glamour is cast upon you by the Hierophant) it’s real fire, it is no illusion, it isn’t a kind of suggestion or anything like this, it is real fire, and I can feel it. And you’ve got to feel ‘Well then, I’ve got to go through it’, ‘But I can’t go through it, I’ll burn myself, I’ll kill myself’. Well you must go through it and to take one step is like walking through clay with big boots on, you get about a quarter of an inch at a time. And you force yourself agonizingly. Nothing there? Fine, you’ve done it. But unless you bring back from within, the inner you will retreat with a cry and say, ‘Oh, I can’t do that’, and you’ve lost.

The same with the test for water. I can’t swim, and one of the greatest troubles came to me when I took that same test of water. Not only can’t I swim in ordinary water, but this water seemed particularly nasty. ‘I can’t swim, I shall drown’. And how I got through that I don’t know, but I did.

The same with the element of air. Think of yourself up in an aeroplane ready to parachute out, you’re dithering on the edge and you suddenly recollect that you haven’t got a parachute on, and you want to draw back but you can’t, and you’re falling. Either you conquer that and you jump, or you don’t and you’ve failed that test.

And then there’s the test of earth – would you like to be buried alive? Never thought of it? It’s very nice and deep underneath, you’re still alive and can’t get out. You carry that out and see where it lands you when you think about it. Try and feel it. Try and feel it and realize that it might be true, because the judgement is out when you’re glamoured in this way. If you pass through that then you’ve passed the test.

And then there’s one more test which isn’t always mentioned in the books. You are in a place where you see nothing, you hear nothing, you smell nothing, you taste nothing, touch nothing. Nothing from the outside world impinges upon you at all. You’re like Greta Garbo – you’re alone. Very much so. There’s nothing under your feet, you can’t feel anything, there’s nothing around you. Nothing coming in at all. You’re in a state called Avichi – the waveless. That, by the way, is the ultimate hell of Buddhists. You’re not responding to any outside vibrations of the personality whatsoever. And then the only thing you can respond to is a vibration from the Inner Self, and you’ve got to turn inwards again to see whether you have enough contact with that inner self to enable you to stand firm when everything else around you goes. And remember this, there is a true saying, a true teaching, that everything in the end returns from whence it came, to the eternal. And those spiritual centres of consciousness who have not yet learnt to stand on their own will inevitably cease to be able to respond – they are in a waveless condition and they can no longer respond, they can no longer respond to spiritual things. If they have not evolved the capacity to experience spiritual things, then when the night comes when no man can work, when the heavens are rolled up as a scroll, on the great day of Brahm, then those souls who are in Avichi, the waveless, so remain until far away in the future they will once again begin their life’s work in a manifest universe. So if you can do it in this life, all to the good. That’s the test of Avichi.

Now we’ve heard a lot of nonsense talked about the Dweller on the Threshold, especially in Theosophical circles. He’s a real bogey man you know. There are two Dwellers on the Threshold, the Lesser and the Greater. What does that mean? Let’s get down to it. Bulwer Lytton in Zanoni brings in the Dweller on the Threshold when the Neophyte does what he shouldn’t do and conjures up the Dweller and it haunts him for the rest of his life.

Can you remember the nasty things you’ve done in the past? All the things you’ve done in the past? Of course you can’t, mercifully our memories are not quite that good. If you have a good eidetic memory you can remember further back, and the first thing you can remember might come right the way back from the ages. But in your own mentality there are a good deal of things which are veiled from your memory. But if you can think of all the nasty things you did, in all your lives, no excusing yourself at all, but simply thinking of those as one unit, you are visualizing the shadow, and this is how the mind works when you get in this particular condition when you experience the Dweller. The mind has been to some extent, glarnoured. And you meet him in this way. Of course I couldn’t have done those things I did. Things which have been repressed in the subconscious, all those repressed complexes, all those dirty little thoughts, all those nasty little thoughts, all those mean little thoughts, all those murderous little thoughts. ‘Of course it wasn’t me, of course.’ But they all come up as one big lump, not as little individual thoughts, not as individual complexes. Although individual complexes can tell you a lot of it, believe you me, this comes up as one big complex. And that’s you as you are in that aspect of your nature. The shadow self as Jung called it. And you meet the shadow on that threshold of consciousness, you will know what the Dweller on the Threshold is. And it’s not very nice. It’s not a nice experience.

There is also a greater Dweller. But so many people are fools, they ask for the Greater Dweller on the Threshold before they’ve faced the Lesser Dweller. They are so eager to learn about their past lives, what they were – Cleopatra, Julius Caesar or whatever. A man I knew once, a vegetarian athlete, he said to me one day, ‘I strongly object to being a sixth part of a man’. I said, ‘What do you mean, a sixth part?’ ‘Well, somebody has just told me for the sixth time that I was Julius Caesar. I’ve met five other Julius Caesars – so I object to being the sixth part of a man.’ All that kind of nonsense is just fantasy, but people are eager to dig out their past lives.

But supposing, just supposing, you had been roasted like St Lawrence on a grid iron and so passed on one night, would you like to remember that particular bit of your life of the past brought up to the present? Because those memories come back, not as dead memories as you might remember what happened yesterday, but emotionally alive – you experience them – for the time being you are them, that you are what you think you are, you are St Lawrence being roasted on the grid iron, and believe me there are pleasanter things to do than that.

So that people who try all kinds of odd experiments like hypnosis and retrogression and all the rest of it to go back to the past, don’t always realize what they’re going at, and they may very often strike something which is much bigger than they expected to strike, especially if another personality which is connected with that radiant centre, which is their own true centre, has in the past been involved in what is commonly called black magic. They may get those old things coming up, and their predecessor in the experiments of the radiant centre in the past will be superimposed upon their experience ofthemselves. And I’ve had people come to me to ask me if I could clear them of those memories which they have evoked, unintentionally. And that’s part of the Greater Dweller on the Threshold. Before the personality gains contact with the radiant self, of which it is one of the expressions, they have to stand and face the full blast of those dark pasts.

I couldn’t do it now. I don’t think I could do it. I should have to be very far advanced before I could stand like that. That is indeed the dark night of the soul, but everyone must pass through it to the extreme if they would become truly fixed with that greater radiant centre of which they are an expression.

So, lead us not to the test, says the Lord’s prayer. Bring us not to the test, before we’re ready. It’s a point that budding occultists and esoteric scientists might well remember when they go fooling about with odd experiments and with old recipes from the past. The self, our personality, is very fond of itself. We are very fond of ourselves, we do like ourselves. And to be able to submerge that self, that personality, in another is very, very difficult. And yet we’ve got to learn to build up what is called a magical personality. We’ve got to build up a personality which is a representation of what we are aiming at, which will convey the forces and the energies which we’re aiming to use. And building that personality is not so easy. In one of my books I described something of it, but believe me that bald description bears very little relation to the hard work involved.

Dion Fortune said somewhere, ‘If you’re called to work in a Lodge or a forge, choose the forge, its easier.’ And it is, in many ways. Manual work is much easier than the hard, intense mental and spiritual work in magic. But if you want to build up that inner personality, which you must do if you’re going to do really effective magical work, you’ve got to remember one thing about it: once you start, you must not leave off. In the same way if you ever start using thought forms and sending them out to various people for various ends, cut them off from yourself, don’t leave them linked with yourself. When they’ve finished their work, disperse them. Don’t leave odds and ends floating about. Kipling in a poem has something to say about that, ‘Cleanse and call back thy spirit, let not a stain remain.’ And there’s so much pith about it. If your thoughts and energies go out in that way, they must be recalled, otherwise you’ll go out from your magical circle, and all around you there are rag-tags and bobtails of magical forms which you willed and haven’t discharged, you haven’t properly finished with, and those inner forces which are not moral, the amoral forces of the astral light, will simply occupy them, and so the Succuba and Incuba come about, and they can be a very real trouble. They are what I call psychic lice, which infect the surface of the aura, and can be seen like little blobs of white cotton wool in the aura. And they represent these odds and ends of thoughts or desires, or emotions, which have not been brought back, which have not been controlled. So self-control is one of the first laws of the inner self.

Incidentally if you’re working with a group, you’ll find that the group will do one of two things. Either it’ll keep you in or it’ll kick you out. And it’s most astonishing the way in which you start a nice group, which runs nicely and then it seems as though somehow or other, pressures are brought to bear against you. You say, ‘There’s something happening, there’s somebody ill-wishing me . . .’ But when you come back, what’s happening? You look at yourself, you find your ideas have changed, you haven’t got quite the same outlook as you had before. And the group consciousness, very conscious of that, is gently and quietly squeezing you out. And if you go peacefully, not hanging on to the staircase and the bannisters and the doorknob, just going out gently, you can depart in peace bearing malice to none. And everything’s alright. But if you attempt to hold on in that group, when its beginning to push you out, you’ll cause a veritable hell and purgatory there. Everybody will go hay-wire until such time as you are safely kicked out. Then of course you are kicked out and you don’t like it, and you go around saying what horrible things they are in that group. People come to me and say, ‘Look, was it a black magic group I was into because . . .’ You’ve outstayed your welcome that’s all. And instead of going out like a courteous guest would, you were waiting until you were kicked out.

So never get that personal peeve because you belong to a group and the group kicks you around or pushes you out. You feel that it doesn’t want you. You can always be proud about it and say, ‘I’m not going to stay if you don’t want me’, or you can say, ‘I depart with malice to none, if it’s for the good of the group I will go willingly.’ And if you do that, your reward comes later. Now this is a matter I’m not talking about theoretically, I’ve been through all this, I’ve had these experiences, and I know just what I’m talking about.

What do we mean by contacts? You’re contacted, linked up with a certain force or a certain beam in the same way that when you push a mains switch on in the power station, you contact that line of power. Now you’ve contacted a good many things. St Paul said, ‘All things are possible, but all things are not expedient.’ In other words you can do what you like, but be prepared for the backwash. You touch a thousand-volt line, you’ll be certain of one thing. If you’re still on this planet you’ll be in hospital for a while. I bear some scars on my hand which remind me of when I did the equivalent. And in occultism when you touch the equivalent of a high-voltage line, then you will get the equivalent of a high voltage shock. And whether your self can stand up to it or not is another matter.

There used to be an experiment in Victorian days with the cardboard model of the side of a house and down it ran a wire from the chimney on top, right the way down the side. And the wire was broken at one point, to allow an inch of it to be twisted round so that it had a break in the wire. And the wire went down and was put on to a metal plate. You then took a Leyden jar, a condenser’in modern terms, it was charged up and you touched it to the top of the wire on the chimney, and forthwith the condenser discharged itself with a mighty flash right the way down the wire to the earth, the metal place underneath. Very good. Now you turn the centrepiece so you broke the line. You took the condenser, charged it up, same thing, a mighty flash and the side of the house disintegrated into little bits. Because the charge had found no conductor down, it was at right angles instead, and had gone through the cardboard of the model and simply burnt and scattered it. Now if you ask the Divine forces, every one of them, you ask the inner forces to come tearing down through your personality, and your personality doesn’t give them free entrance and exit, then up goes your personality, and that’s all about it, and the best thing you can think of then is the Tarot card of the Blasted Tower. And you’re the Blasted Tower – and the lightning has struck you. That lightning flash, which is on the Tree of Life struck you, and you suffer for it. It’s quite true – their personality can be blasted in that way. So, until you’re used to low tension electricity, leave the high tension alone. Or to use Kipling’s very apt bit of verse, I suppose in this permissive age I can use it. ‘Oh, do not despise the advice of the wise, just listen to those who are older. And don’t try for things that are out of your reach, that’s what the girl told the soldier’.

Yes, literally don’t try for things that are out of your reach. Esoteric science is just as much a science with its laws as any exoteric science, and if you break the laws, then you receive the results. It’s not a matter of divine wrath striking you down, the sinner, it’s simply you being a damn fool trying to do things which are out of your reach.

But let’s think of it in another aspect now. You make the contact. What happens then? Then this inner personality of yours begins to reshape you. Your self is reshaped and so many people are afraid of that, because they think it means that ‘I shan’t be able to have a bit of fun, I shan’t be able to think as I do now, I’ll have to go all pious’. You don’t need to. It’s not a matter of mores, of customs. As most sexual habits are a matter of customs. In one part of the world it’s natural to have seven husbands. I’ve been up in that part of India where it’s moral to have seven husbands, and if a woman didn’t have several husbands there’s something wrong with the works, she was regarded as queer. And in the West, under the influence of Christianity, it has become a question of mores, of customs, of one man having one wife. But now in Africa, in the emerging states there is a very great argument going on among the Christian missionaries and people concerned as to whether a man can be admitted into the Christian church with a plurality of his wives. Now fifty years ago that was absolutely wrong. A hundred years ago in the old Victorian morality that wouldn’t be thought of. But it’s now been discussed seriously by genuine Christian priests in a new context in a new way … mores are not universal, they vary. You must remember that. You won’t worry about perhaps having to be all pious, you don’t need to be if you don’t want to be. And to tell you the honest truth, when I meet a pious person, if I see them coming I take a back route quickly. Because that’s the wrong expression. The divine forces of creation manifesting through the sex natures is just as holy unto the Lord as any other divine force. It’s simply its expression.

There are perversions, which are mainly silliness. Simply sheer daftness. And they grow into a rut because the person is psychologically perhaps a little aberrant, and the rut grows and deepens and they cannot get out. But they are not the criminals and villains and all the rest of it. Good Lord, no. They are often simply the victims of their own psychology. And remember it was Christ who rather favoured the woman out of who he’d cast seven devils, Magdalene, the prostitute, against the self-righteous Pharisee who had never broken the law. Don’t forget that.

The true morality stands high above the local moralities. And the true morality is that you shall not do harm to your brother. And your brother in this sense is everyone else. You shall not do harm. Ahissa, harmlessness, as the Hindus put it. But it’s not a negative thing, it’s a positive thing. And the result of your magical work should not be conjuration of spirits, you can play at that if you like, but when you’ve finished playing with these psychic toys, what have you done yourself? What have you produced? Nothing, except you’ve wasted a hell of a lot of energy which could have been used for other purposes, and you’ve made yourself in the eyes of those who are wise, a bit of a mut. Just that. But if you follow the Path of Light, if you endeavour to let that Inner Light shine within you, it begins to sort you out, and little by little you find your true morality, you find your true expression, that radiant behind you that will throw down its best into you. And in the end you begin to realize just what you are really doing, and what this terrific power that you have gained through your magical pursuits can be used for.

Literally, it can move mountains. Literally, it can change the face of the earth. And will, if those who follow the esoteric sciences will only remember to shape circumstances by the will, and the circumstances they could change will be the circumstances which have been brought about by the aberrant wills and foolishness of moral men.

And finally, behind all this, behind the science, stand those who administer the science whose names are degraded and bandied about, whose ideas are treated in a banal way. The White Lodge, The Lodge of Seven – all kinds of names are given to them by people whose only acquaintance with the White Lodge is at a million miles distant. The reality doesn’t advertise. The true Lodge doesn’t advertise. The great spiritual counsel which governs the world doesn’t advertise. It doesn’t tell you where it is. It doesn’t tell you that you should announce its whereabouts or speak about it in great terms or anything like that.

If you should say, ‘I’m an Initiate’, you mean ‘initiate’. It means you’ve started something, and that’s all it means.