I gave up on this one for a while. Not because it wasn’t working, but because it wasn’t working when other people were involved, and the topic upset a lot of people. There was no sense, I decided, in writing about things I couldn’t truly share with others.

But then, this happened.

TL;DR: HAIL SET!

The short version: a guy who found my blog on the internet used this tech as a space-setting for an execration ritual, burned some shit, confirmed that it had been burned, and the shit magically re-appeared, mostly unscathed.

And the question he put to me: why did this happen and what does it mean?

What it means is pretty straightforward: It’s a message from the spirits and deities associated with the rite. “You’re going to have to do a lot more than an execration ritual to purge the world of these pigfuckers. The problem goes so much deeper than just a few people. You cut the most prominent down, and they’ll spring up again. Similar looking people, same ideas, same problems.”

But why doesn’t every spell and every ritual have this level of manifestation? I am inclined to think that it’s not so much what we do, as priests, mystics, and magicians to facilitate as it as it is what we don’t do to get in the way. In the words of the magician in question:

I’m just a guy with a blog. I’m not even in the running for most powerful, or most experienced or most faithful, or most pious, or most talented, or anything. Two months ago I was about to ragequit my fucking religion and ignore the astral altogether, for fuck’s sake!

And I think that is exactly why he got the level of manifestation he did.

The Beginner’s Mind and Manifestation

We have this image of the wizard, a person who wield the forces of magic as a person who has studied their whole lives and slowly gotten better at this ancient and lost art over the course of their life.

Yet let me tell you what I observe about physical manifestation.

It happens more often for children than for adults, and every child who has experienced it knows that if they want it to happen, it’s better not to have adults around. When they tell adults about it, usually it gets written off as “imagination.”

It happens for neophytes more often than adepts. Every magician has their story about the first time they did a ritual and the immediate decrease in power that occurred with subsequent trials. Some of the most successful experiments only ever work once.

It happens more for those who are just exploring religion with an open mind than the super devout. It happens more for those who are just playing around and dabbling with the gods than it does for people who are well established in their spirituality and taking it very seriously.

We all know that magic comes from “long ago.” We look to ancient times and the distant past for it. Maybe we haven’t been looking back far enough. Maybe we need to look back to before a time when humanity consciously knew what religion was or how to follow it.

We must reclaim the beginner’s mind.

Is it really piety, or are we just piling our expectations in front of the door?

There have been times full physical manifestation has happened frequently for me, and times when my gods told me that they couldn’t cross over for me. Manifestation happened most with Hellenic deities when I was sneaking out of my very Jewish household to do stuff with Hellenic deities on the side. It happened least when I began to think of myself as clergy, and when I started to take a Polytheist path seriously. And when the manifestations of Hellenic deities started to wane, the Jewish deity, whom I was no longer devout toward, began speaking to me and sending me omens, including a message to the effect of, “Now that you’re not religioning all over me anymore, we can be friends again” (YHVH was my imaginary friend as a child. Ok, yes, I’m a freak).

When people say, “I want the gods to walk among us,” too often, the unspoken caveat is “but only if they confirm what I already believe.”

Belief is key here. We call religions “faiths” for a reason.

As long as the only thing we know about our deities is through holy texts and imperfect psychic senses, there is such a thing as theology. We can discuss what the myths mean, who our deities are, and what holy texts tell us about what they want for our lives. As long as those deities aren’t in the human world, people of faith are free to have all kinds of opinions. And those opinions, or as we call them, beliefs, are a huge part of an individual practitioner’s identity.

If deities physically manifest in an unambiguous way, there are suddenly winners and losers. No constructed theology is correct, and so everyone who even remotely cares about deities in a religious sense stands to lose something.

If the Greek pantheon ever physically manifested as themselves in person, it would challenge literally everyone’s beliefs and identities.

Non-believers would suddenly have to acknowledge that deities they don’t believe in are real.

Believers might discover that, no really, Dionysos is trans, Hephaistos really does need a wheelchair, Hermes actually has anxiety, Demeter still suffers from SAD, Apollon has difficulty making eye contact with people, Zeus isn’t as butch as you think he is, Aphrodite is like a size 18 with annoyingly perfect curves, that Artemis is way less asexual and way more into women than you want her to be, or that Hekate is neither the old crone nor the sexy maiden you were hoping for, but a lean, angular, intense-looking figure whose intelligence beams from her eyes and cuts straight into your soul rendering any discussion of her age or attractiveness moot.

Or conversely, maybe you thought Ares was something other than a buff, physically dominant blond hunk who looks exactly like the person everyone would stereotypically expect Aphrodite to go for. Or maybe you just need to accept that Hera is as conventionally attractive as they come and that Eris looks like Hera made a slightly evil clone of herself.

Maybe Homer was wrong and Athens was all wet. Maybe only Empedocles ever got it right.

Maybe none of them are as perfect as you want them to be, or beautiful in exactly the way you hoped. Maybe who they are doesn’t actually help whatever political agenda you have. Maybe, just maybe, you’d rather live your life wishing that the gods of your imagination were real than ever encounter them as they truly are.

Not everyone is willing to clear out the false gods of their imagination in order to accept the reality of who the gods actually are, and the gods know that. The gods also know that if they manifest, there will be winners and losers. 

The less religious you are, the less you have invested in who the gods turn out to be, and the less seriously religious people will take what you say about their deities. Therefore, if you are an irreligious bastard, counter-intuitively, you are much more likely to see the gods.

Fear of Psi or Attachment To Social Reality?

One theory I have heard Ceremonial Magicians express is the idea that, when we see a manifestation, we freak out. The fear, they posit, is the obstacle to manifestation.

Yet children who fear the monsters under their beds will often manifest them accidentally. The fear is no obstacle. You don’t even know. I worked in early childhood for years before moving on to teaching grade school. I saw preschoolers manifest some terrifying shit. The worst of these was an invisible spider creature that actually hit a kid in the chest so hard that it lifted him off his feet a few inches as it knocked him back. Normally, the presence of an adult will interrupt such manifestations, but I’m apparently not an adult for those purposes.

Just as religious people have an attachment to the gods of their imagination, we all have an attachment to the physical reality of our imagination, and we find it extremely distressing when those notions are challenged.

Whether religious, social, or natural, our ideas about the world are socially constructed. A very relevant quote from this article

People are embraced or condemned according to their beliefs, so one function of the mind may be to hold beliefs that bring the belief-holder the greatest number of allies, protectors, or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true

If embracing observation rather than expectation is what is required for manifestation, we must overcome our fear of ostracism, then, to succeed. Moreover, we must approach all of reality itself with a beginner mind, and have the courage to accept that reality doesn’t work the way we thought it did if we wish to continue experiencing the manifestations as at first.

Very young children have not yet learned what the socially accepted reality is and so it cannot pose an obstacle or provide protection for them yet.

The Take Home Message

If you want magic to be real, there are a lot of sacrifices you must make. The first of these is your faith. The second is your piety. The deeper your investment in a deity being a certain way, the less likely they are to ever be able to reach you.

You must also sacrifice your sense of competence with respect to physical reality. You can’t think you know how everything works and also learn new things.

In the words of Leo Tolstoy: “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

Spiritually, it is important to cultivate and defend the beginner mindset. This requires courage and an incredible amount of chutzpah.

It is only from this vantage that what tech we use matters.