Magickal practitioners of all denominations through the ages have made grand claims about the wondrous effects that can be achieved by the use of the occult arts. A quick flip through books on the dark arts from the Picatrix through to the latest bit of fluffily regurgitated spells, charms and incantations taking the guise of some sort of Book of Shadows make claims for everything from attracting love or money through to being able to fly or to take the form of an animal at will. Obviously many of these sorts of objectives are anachronistic and wildly exaggerated, but it does raise the question of what is acceptable as a tangible result in magick?
The Limitations of Magick
In order to achieve tangible results with magick it is necessary to first set achievable objectives. Magick, like everything else is governed by the same laws of physics that govern the rest of the universe and the expected result of a magickal operation has to be in harmony with the energy that can be put into it. This energy is dictated by the limitations of the magician’s ability and the limitations of what is achievable with magick generally.
In very general terms, magickal operations have two types of objective. The most explicit objectives are for outcomes that fill the pages of classical occult literature like wealth, power and other outward and material goals. Popular books of spells are stuffed with these sorts of magickal operations designed to attract love, success, luck and every other material influence that seems too elusive to achieve with ordinary, everyday means.
The second type of magickal objective is for outcomes that are subjective and inward, that result in some sort of experience, epiphany or shift in awareness that invokes greater clarity of the Self. These sorts of results would appear to be much harder to class as tangible but, in fact, it may be harder to make a demonstrable connection between a magickal operation and a perceived material result than between a magickal practice and an inner transformative effect.
Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.- Carl Jung
Precise Goal Setting
A large part of the potential success of a magickal operation is determined by the precision with which the objectives have been set out. If an operation is planned that has the goal of something very general, like ‘prosperity’ or ‘abundance’ (very popular in books of witches’ spells) then any bit of random luck may seem like a tangible result. On the other hand, using magick to attract a precisely defined item, like a specific book (very popular in old grimiors of magick), has a directly identifiable measure of success built into the objective. Failure to procure the volume equates to the ineffectiveness of the operation, and vice versa.
Even so, success isn’t necessarily attributable to the magickal operation even if the material conditions for success have been met. In most cases the result will have been achieved by involving other people, or using some other sort of material influence, and it is impossible to determine if the result would have been any different if the magickal operation had not been performed.
Taking the view that the magick ’caused the person’ to take the actions that led to the desired result introduces an entity to the analysis that cannot be proven to exist and so Occam’s Razor says that it is more likely to be a fortuitous coincidence than a tangible result of a magick operation. Unless the result comes about directly in response to the operation then the link between the magick and the outcome is too weak to be definitively called tangible.
On the other hand, magick that has for its goal some inner effect or change, that sets the objective of expanding the magician’s knowledge of magick, of initiating in the awareness a greater understanding of the Self, has a much greater chance of achieving a successful outcome. The most basic reason is about the magickal links that are involved in these sorts of operations.
Let us take a very simple example of a Magical Act: that of a man blowing his nose. What are the conditions of the success of the Operation? Firstly, that the man’s Will should be to blow his nose; secondly, that he should have a nose capable of being blown; thirdly, that he should have at command an apparatus capable of expressing his spiritual Will in terms of material force, and applying that force to the object which he desires to affect. His Will may be as strong and concentrated as that of Jupiter, and his nose may be totally incapable of resistance; but unless the link is made by the use of his nerves and muscles in accordance with psychological, physiological, and physical law, the nose will remain unblown through all eternity.- Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice
Viewed in this light, it will be much easier, and more likely, that a link can be made between the objective and the magician’s inner self than between the magickal ceremony that is performed and an outer, material entity. That is to say; a magickal operation that is performed to change the self only needs to operate on a single plane, that of the individual operator, and so it is more likely to succeed. To be successful at something as simple as influencing the mind of another person requires the formation of a link on a second plane that incorporates that other person. To achieve a classical effect like causing it to rain involves creating a link between two vastly separated planes and so the likelihood of success is actually very low. For this reason, magickal operations with an inner, subjective goal are most likely to produce genuinely tangible results. (Whether they are demonstrably provable as true or valid is another question).
Layers of Success
Ultimately, as is the case with everything else, nothing in magick is black and white; there are innumerable shades of grey. The success of an operation may have many layers. There may be a visible effect that is observed during the performance of a ceremony that isn’t directly connected to the desired outcome. If a magician calls Bartzabel and sees the beginnings of his manifestation in the incense smoke of the temple it may be compelling, although subjective proof of the veracity of the method even if the Spirit of Mars doesn’t perform the task that is being set for him. In this case the operation might be considered a partial success.
Often the success of an operation is not perceived until it can be viewed from an alternative perspective well after the fact. Most practitioners would have had the experience of looking at the notes for a divination that was done at some time in the past and seeing how the correct interpretation of events, that were still in the future at the time that it was cast, can easily be interpreted from the result. As the objective of the divination was to be informed ahead of time, a retrospective result like this could hardly be deemed to be a success, but it may be called a tangible result.
As most material results are difficult to ascribe directly to a magickal operation, often coincidental occurrences that seem to be in synch with the magician’s efforts may be misinterpreted as a tangible result. The fact that the operation links the magician’s will directly to an outside plane of existence infers that the true test of veracity for the issue of even the most materially oriented magickal operation is the meaning that the result has for the magician, and perhaps even for other people.
Producing Legible Results
A successful magickal operation that has an inner, or transformative effect as its stated goal will, by its nature, produce a meaningful result. Operations of initiation fall into this class and a successful result may be very subtle and invisible from the outside. In these sorts of operation the measure of success is largely subjective as only the initiate is able to determine if any noticeable change has taken place within themselves, and whether it represents the outcome of the magickal ceremony that was performed. In many instances it is impossible to convey the nature of the change that this sort of magick has caused, there is just a vague, but certain sense that the magician has been changed in some way. In this case it becomes important to understand what the change means and the clarity with which that meaning is apparent to the magician.
When I performed the magickal operations that resulted in the Visions of Sepher Yetzirah as I recorded them in The Sword & The Serpent, each of the operations had an explicit level of meaning that was apparent to me in the entities that I encountered as well as the environments that I encountered through the numbers, shapes, colors and other correspondences that they displayed. Often, significant words or names were communicated to me by the entities that inhabit these astral planes that had another layer of meaning concealed in their Gematria and the Yetzirac attributions of their letters. This in itself is a tangible result that is in line with the stated objective of the operations which was to explore the astral planes that correspond to the Tarot Trumps and return with unique information about them.
Another instance of a legible result that was also materially tangible occurred while performing a magick ceremony that employed the classical opening of the temple from Ritual 671, the Pyramidos Ceremony. The object of the opening is to conjure and empower the astral form of the magician so that it is this, and not the physical being that performs the operation. With the advancing years I have acquired an astigmatism that necessitates reading glasses and so while performing the operation I was wearing them to keep my place in the ceremony as I went along. At the end of the opening portion of the ceremony I suddenly found that my eyesight was blurred and I angrily tossed my spectacles on the altar and continued, not noticing until later that, after removing my eyeglasses I could see to read perfectly well again. This result was certainly explicitly tangible and, to some extent it also indicated the success of the opening which is a smaller ceremony in its own right. In the end it was little more than an affirmation that I had successfully fulfilled the requirements of a proper opening by the pyramid but it is a tangible result.
Subjective Tangibility with Objective Truth
In the final analysis, except in rare instances (like the reception of Liber Al vel Legis by Crowley) the tangibility of the results of magick will be subjective. This means that the real measure of the value of even the most tangible results will be the truths that they reveal to the magician. These results may be highly individual and interpretive outcomes that holds little or no meaning to anyone else but the operator but the truths that they reveal should have a wider, objective meaning.