The benefits of symbolism

Humanity is surrounded by symbols. Some even say the ability to think symbolically is one of the most important things that separate us from animals and make us truly human. We are equipped with the ability to simplify complicated subjects into single words, gestures and images. Many symbols even have a strong emotional value for us, the flag of our country, for example.

Many psychologists have been very interested in symbols. The subject is so wide I feel I’ve barely got started myself, but as a human being I still have experience of symbols in my own life. I write a lot and pay much attention to how different words, although synonyms, raise different feelings in people than the other. According to colour psychology, different colours affect our moods in different ways: yellow is the colour of joy, blue of calmness and so on. Traffic signs quickly convey ideas of danger, order and command. Symbols are small bundles of feelings and ideas.

The makers of Chaos Magic worked out a way to avoid the troublesome work of creating a full symbolic system. Chaos Magic relies on sigils created with very simple graphical rules. When created, the sigil is charged with the intent of the magician and then consciously forgotten. However, historically sigils have been graphic symbols for spirit entities (often demons) used for invocation. While many grimoires contain long lists of magical symbols, the uses of these are generally limited to their original context. Practically these are too outdated to be of much interest to modern practitioners, although their study can well serve as the inspiration for a personal system instead.

As a magician I often work with concepts that are very hard to put into words. This is a very common problem within magick. Many beginners wonder about the large variety of nearly unintelligible symbolic systems like the Tarot or the Kabbalah. Systems like these are so fully packed with ideas it takes a long time for a student to start unravelling the wisdom behind them. However when a symbolic system has became familiar to a person, he or she can benefit from it even outside the context it was originally developed for. Truly versatile systems like the Tarot keep intriguing millions because of their ability to express every aspect of life. A person may pick a card with personal significance to them and meditate on the meaning of that card. The picture will thus stay in their mind for a long time and will help them to focus on those themes in their life.

In hypnosis, symbols can be used to either give emotions a physical form that makes it easier to approach them. The hypnotist may attach suggestions to words, gestures or images in order to anchor them more strongly into the mind of the patient. The same method can be used by magicians to explore their minds – or affect the minds of others. Very often people will notice their mind already contains a symbol language unique to that person. Some of the symbols may scare someone only beginning to explore their own psyche, which is why knowing one or many existing symbol languages may make it easier to approach and understand oneself.

It’s important for a magician to truly understand the symbols he or she is using. If the acceptance of a symbol is superficial outside ideas have a power to change them – if the symbol works at all. Every symbol within the system needs work from the magician to truly became his or her own. Take the much used pentagram, for example. There are many varying ideas on what the pentagram means and how it should be used. Knowing the original historical meaning of the pentagram will make the association stronger in the mind and make it less vulnerable to outside ideas.

Often it takes a long time to become truly familiar with a new symbol. Any doubt or uncertainty may ruin the experience of connection, which makes it hard to actually use the symbol in a magical setting. Personally I need weeks, even months of study before I even attempt to incorporate a symbol in my work. Others on the other hand arise naturally during trance states. Even these still however need a familiarizing period to be used outside its original context.

Starter tip:

For beginners, a very common starting point to understand symbolism within magick is candle magic. Especially Wicca has a long tradition in the use of different candles for signifying different things. There are lots of sources such as web pages introducing their symbolic values to colours, such as cleanness for white and sorrow for black. These are by no means set in stone and I want to encourage anyone trying these to find out meanings with a personal significance for themselves, not someone else.

Also gemstones are popular tools for colour magic. There are some generally accepted ideas of what crystals mean, with some traditions going all the way back to Antiquity. Did you know that the word amethyst comes from the Greek word amethystos, which means “not drunken”?  Think about that next time you walk past a gem shop! Perhaps wearing an amethyst will protect you from having a hangover on Saturday mornings.

Further reading

Carl Jung: Man and His Symbols
One of the classics within psychology discussing symbolism.

Peter Carroll: Liber Null & Psychonaut
Two of the foundation books of Chaos Magic in one bundle, discussing not only sigils but also Chaos Magic in general.

The Lesser Key of Solomon
A 14th to 17th century grimoire explaining how to control demons. For those interested in historical studies. See also: Wikipedia.
An excerpt from the 1999 Book of Shadows discussing candle magic.
A list of the generally accepted interpretations of crystal powers.


Magick and Safety

I’m sure many have heard warnings about how magick is harmful for you. While the claim is usually heard from fundamentalist Christians I’m inclined to agree with them on a certain level. Casting a spell isn’t going to send you to eternal damnation, but dabbling with practices related to the workings of the mind isn’t entirely safe either. There are reasons why psychotherapy and hypnosis are done by trained professionals. Practically all of us carry around negative memories and emotions we usually push aside or forget about entirely. Many exercises discussed in this blog are directed at exploring these hidden parts of the self and should therefore not be attempted without some kind of understanding about simple safety measures to make sure no harm is done to the practitioner. I put out my knowledge and ideas for both beginners and more advanced practitioners. If you are a beginner and have found me: Welcome and thread carefully. I will not teach you how to impress your friends, but wish to teach you how to impress yourself.

For convenience of the reader, I will be dividing my magick related posts into four subgroups:

1. Magical Theory

Magical Theory includes discussion about magical concepts without explaining their use in detail. These posts are directed at magicians and non-magicians alike.

2. Magick for Beginners

Anything posted under Magick for Beginners can be safely tried by anyone, as long as they follow the instructions. These exercises have no age limit, but it’s recommended the reader does some further reading on the subject before adapting the ideas presented in the blog as their own. 

3. Advanced Magick

The posts on Advanced Magic assume the reader has practised magick before and knows the basics on the subject. The exercises described in these posts may be harmful for someone with little or no knowledge about similar practices. Some exercises can also be harmful for people struggling with mental problems. In these cases I will explain what security measures need to be in place.

4. Do Not Try This At Home

The posts in this category should not be attempted without careful preparation. There are practices that are traditionally done only in a strict ritual setting to reduce the harm resulting from failure. Exercises in this category are directed at the deepest levels of our psyche and will, not only may, set free mental forces that should be left alone. I will carefully explain the security measures needed to attempt these. Always discuss the matter with someone close to you before starting and carefully listen to the feedback given by people around you. If you experience feelings of depression, mania, psychosis or hallucinations (I kid you not), stop immediately and contact your closest psychologist. 

Some basic security rules I strongly recommend to follow

1. If you are under 18 years old, do not attempt any practices marked under Advanced Magick

This isn’t to underrate the maturity of many minors. While many could complete these exercises with ease, it’s more beneficial to let the brain achieve adulthood before starting to work to change it. Starting too early might affect your emotional development and prevent you from freely experiencing certain things, since magick strived to control the psyche. If you are a young reader and want to attempt some of my advanced practices nonetheless, please contact me or someone close to you for advice.

2. In case you have any mental problems like depression or anxiety, contact a professional before attempting anything labelled as Advanced Magic

As already mentioned, magick is directed towards the self and the psyche. Opening up locked doors into the subconscious may have unwanted consequences to people with mental health problems. While many of these exercises can be done without harm, every individual is different. In case you notice prolonged periods of depression, anxiety or mania after attempting anything described in the blog, contact a person who can help you.

3. Look for feedback from others

Sometimes it’s hard for a magician to retain a strong grip of reality, no matter how experienced he or she is. Whatever you do, always look for others for feedback to avoid straying too far into your own imagination. Share your ideas with other people and listen to them when they tell you your ideas do not sound safe. Selfcriticism is one of the most important tools for anyone who wants to learn to understand themselves. This is a very important part of magick.

Are spirits real?

As a person who works with spirits despite accepting them as real I get lots of people, especially believers in spirits, challenging my beliefs. Those who have known me for a long time know that I started out as a believer myself, since those around me believed in what they experienced. After being introduced to the idea I felt I was frequented by visiting spirits, some friendly, many less so.

I’m a person who wants to understand and control her surroundings. There had to be a universal pattern between how spirits acted and what they truly were. I started with simply making friends with a few, not pushing them away but letting them come to me for me to learn more about them. I learned not to fear any spirit, however harmful it claimed – or was claimed – itself to be. What I learnt during that time still defines me today.

It appeared to me spirits were stronger than others. A handful had strong personalities and a clear presence when you interacted with them. My curiosity was directed towards the ones that didn’t. Why did many spirits feel like you could simply blow in their direction and they would go away? I figured out that my imagination was so used to seeing spirits everywhere I was projecting them into places there wasn’t anyone to interact with. Therefore I worked out a few basic cognitive tools to work out a difference between real and imagined entities:

1. If you tell yourself the spirit isn’t there, does the presence disappear? If yes, it’s not there.

2. When the spirit talks to you, does it express opinions contrary to your own? If yes, it might be there.

3. Does anyone else notice the spirit without you pointing it out to them? If no, it’s not there.

4. Does the spirit know something no one else does (about a historical event, for example)? If yes, it might be there.

As any sceptical reader will notice, none of these clauses straight out prove any spirits are real. In my long life I’ve had one single experience that passes number 4 and then I was alone and wasn’t able to get an assessment on number 3. Over time I learnt many things about the psychology behind spirit sightings, especially how being in a group affects your perception.

So, the question I’m asked is this: With all the experience I have, especially with some with apparent evidence of real spirits, why do I not accept the idea that they are real? For me the answer lies in intellectual honesty. I do not have any objective proof to show anyone that my or anyone else’s experiences are truly, truly real. I cherish every moment of what I’ve felt and seen, whether good or bad, but it would be dishonest of me to claim I know what’s really out there. Nothing our current scientific research shows supports the idea of spiritual entities. That doesn’t bother me. To the contrary, my research has led me to where I wanted to be. I believe I have a fairly good idea of how and why we experience spirits, from a purely psychological viewpoint. I have, for experimental purposes, created and controlled meetings with “spirits” for others.

Are spirits real? No. Are they a valuable tool in understanding ourselves? Yes, I think so. Spirits are powers and ideas that have taken their own life in the collective mind of humanity. Their true power lies in their connection with the psyche. It’s said that every man has his own demons. I believe that’s true.