Last week I wrote a guide on meditation but didn’t yet discuss the uses of  it in magick. I might step on quite a few toes for saying this, but practically anything a magician ever does is either self-hypnosis or an attempt of it. The uses of hypnosis and suggestion are so wide it’s hard to cover it all in one post.

Here’s a list of practices that can be achieved with hypnosis:

  • astral travel
  • self-directed spells
  • shapeshifting
  • trance states
  • magical healing
  • energy workings
  • manipulation techniques

I will describe how to accomplish these later and what good they can be. What all these have in common is symbolism, either in the form of words, images or gestures. The symbols come attached with suggestions, or assumptions of that’s going to happen. None of the above are perceived to happen without someone paying attention to them and with two or more people the descriptions of the events will also contain variation.

How does hypnosis work?

In order for suggestions to have effect the subject must have either believe they have power over him or her or have a trust in the person giving the suggestion. It’s said that hypnosis only works to the extent the person is ready to let it, but there are also extreme cases where this is questionable. It’s a good general rule however and is very important in constructing any ritual. For example some people feel uncomfortable creating their own rituals, thinking someone else’s ritual is more potent than theirs. So, in order to do powerful magick you need to truly believe in your inner hypnotist.

Pre-existing knowledge
At the beginning of a session a the hypnotist usually tells what the subject is going to experience. This is a good start of suggestive work, since “you will feel calm” is a direct suggestion and will affect how the subject reacts. In magical traditions these suggestions usually come less directly from descriptions of rituals and even more pre-assumed knowledge. For example for a person to experience the presence of a spirit he or she has to be ready on some, albeit deep, level to believe that is possible in the first place. There are also less clear examples of installing pre-existing knowledge in the form of anecdotes or even fairytales. Even if you aren’t interested in hypnosis, being aware of how these influence you and consciously filtering some of them will prevent you from being unwillingly controlled by people.

There has to be some kind of cues that trigger the wanted result during the hypnosis. These can be loaded keywords (which is an art I’m not going to dwell on now), predetermined gestures, visual keys or a narrative of what’s supposed to happen when entering the trance. These all are different types of suggestions and should be picked very carefully. Badly formed suggestions can trigger unwanted or uncontrollable results or trigger no result at all. For example do not say or think “I will see a spirit”. First of all you may not be the type who naturally “sees” things where there’s nothing to see. Even more importantly if you do, not having defined that kind of spirit you are looking for might bring forth whatever inner demons you’re carrying around. I’ll come back to safe contacts with spirits in a few weeks.

Form clear, easily understood suggestions that are backed up by pre-existing information. And if you ever notice any of your suggestions taking a life of their own, break the process immediately if you aren’t perfectly sure you’re in a safe setting. If you’re in a group with someone, this is very, very important.

Safety: Group hypnosis

I have lots of personal experience of group hypnosis and illusion and can’t stress the importance of being aware of this enough. Group hypnosis can happen in a perfectly safe setting where all participants understand the event is mainly symbolic and rituals are closed by making sure everything has returned back to normal. However often this is not the case and when it isn’t you, knowing the effects of hypnosis, should steer the group clear of danger if you just can – and avoid getting too involved yourself.

Group hypnosis is based on pre-existing knowledge and shared belief. The information generally moves in the form of anecdotes and writings.  All groups generally has one or many leaders who influence the opinion more than others in the group. However there isn’t one person in perfect control of the suggestive content of the discussion. So, for example a person in the group can suddenly say, “I think I saw something there, in the corner.”

Now, while it may well be that the group ignores the comment, but if the person sounds scared, they will instinctively look in the same direction. Now, if pre-existing information contains the belief that something really can be there it’s possible someone will say something in the direction “I think I saw it too”. The belief has been accepted and picked up by another person, who now shares the suggestion. This will naturally make the rest of the group curious and every member will likely start coming up with explanations why they did or did not see the same thing.

We are wired to react to feelings faster than we think of them. This easily leads to a distortion of time in our mind, where we react a start or a scream before we have any framework for the event. We automatically pick up the same feeling and will very easily accept whatever explanation we’ve given for it. Train yourself to keep your mind straight during occasions like these and you might well start noticing how distortion of information works in groups.

Finally an exercise on how you can try group hypnosis safely with your friends.

The invisible thread:

Installing the pre-existing knowledge: Tell a story of  a person (feel free to borrow me) who claims he or she is capable of making someone to feel a thread go through their hand even though there’s no thread to be seen. Tell the effect isn’t as strong for everyone, but that there are people who can swear they have physically felt the thread go through their flesh. Make your friend imagine how the thread affect him or her both visually and physically. If your friend beliefs or is like to believe in invisible energies, include that as an explanation. If your friend is a persistent non-believer in anything supernatural, simply tell it’s a mind trick but that it really works.

Performing the trick: You will need to have some belief in yourself for this to work. Ask your friend to hold their hand in the air with the fingers straight out and palm upwards. (This will stretch the muscles just enough to cause some tension and improve your chances of success.) Hold your hands over each other (about 20 cm or 7.5 inches apart) with fingers pinched as if you were holding a thread (you may want to train this earlier to make the gesture look natural).  Move your hands like this over (“through”) the palm of your friend. “Saw” a circle in the palm and then remove your hands, “letting go” of the imaginary thread.  Make sure your subject is really paying attention to your movement, since their mirror neurons need to be triggered for the trick to work.

Now ask what your friend felt. Do not push anything on him or her, but encourage any signs of them actually feeling something. If your friend looks even slightly entertained, repeat the experiment until they either tell they can’t feel a thing or the effect gets stronger.  If you get this to work on a a friend, make sure they describe their experience to “unbelievers”. You can also let someone else do the trick to you – it should be just as effective, especially if the person doing it to you already felt the effect.

Advanced Magick

A note on safety: These are very classic hypnotic exercises that can be done both alone and with someone else. Hypnotherapists often warn against attempting to hypnotise someone with no formal training and while I think it’s harmless to attempt these with a friend I discourage experimenting with emotionally volatile themes. Individuals respond to a varying degree to hypnotic suggestion, which means you may well end up with nothing happening at all. However others are very sensitive to suggestion. If you find yourself in a situation where your subject genuinely seems to respond to your cues, take special care in reversing the hypnosis properly and making sure your friend is okay and feeling normal again. Having a basic understanding of meditation will greatly help you with this.

Exercise 1: The staircase
Preparations: Find a calm place where no one is going to disturb you while you do the exercise. Shut down any music, television or other sounds that could affect your trance. Sit or lay down comfortably and relax on. A soft chair or sofa works very well. If you sit down on the floor, prepare for the possibility that you might spontaneously lay down during the trance. Remove any objects in your pockets or clothes that can disturb you. Turn off the sounds of your phone.

Imagine a beautiful place you feel relaxed in. It can be a garden or a house or any other setting that comes vivid to your mind. Breathe calmly in and out, take in the smells and sensations of your place. Leave your daily life and thoughts outside walls or a fence. You’re free to go where ever you want. When you feel calm and reassured, imagine a staircase. Feel yourself laying your hand on the handrail. You’re standing on the first step looking at the steps spiralling downwards before you.

Begin the countdown: ten is where you stand. Take a step downwards: nine; relax some more. Eight… seven… let yourself feel your body turn heavy and relax even more. Six… five… four… breathe slowly as in sleep, let the world melt into comfortable darkness. Three… two…. one. Let go and allow yourself to plunge into the void.

Enjoy the calm as long as you feel comfortable with it. Then imagine stepping back on the staircase. One… two… Feel yourself emerge back towards the waking world. Three… four… five… Focus on your breathing. Imagine yourself waking up from sleep. Six… seven… your body revives itself. You feel rested and ready to go on with your day. Eight… nine. Ten: open your eyes. Stand (or sit) up  and shake yourself some to free yourself from any remains of your trance.

Expected results:

You’ll find yourself relaxing and entering a calm, thoughtless state. You don’t necessarily feel any different than usual, which is perfectly normal for most people. Don’t worry about the deepness of your trance, simply learn to embrace it as it comes to you. Repeat the exercise a couple of times a week for 3-4 weeks before moving over to something else. You may well find that your meditation changes when done side by side with this.

Exercise 2: The floating hand
Enter trance with the help of the staircase visualisation. Instead of plunging into thoughtlessness, imagine yourself sitting in a place you like. It may be the place you’re sitting in physically, or a beautiful place somewhere else. Now imagine a balloon being tied to your wrist. Let yourself feel the string pressing your hand. The balloon is lighter than you. It pulls your hand upwards. Remain perfectly relaxed, simply imagine the balloon pulling your hand. Upwards and more up.

Expected results:

You should find your arm muscles wanting to lift your hand up. Let it happen trying not to wilfully affect the result. You may find your arm lifting up from the surface. How high it goes does not matter if it moves at all. When you are done, imagine someone gently freeing the balloon and lowering your arm back into a relaxed state.

Long term consequences: Your body will start responding to your mental commands. How well this works and how much training you need varies from individual to individual. After you have mastered this exercise you can start looking for variations, like ignoring pain or creating sensations of warm or cold in your body at will.

Further reading

Derren Brown: Tricks of the Mind
Derren Brown is a very experienced show magician with impressive skills in suggestion and showmanship. Derren’s book takes a look into how the mind works including discussion on hypnosis and suggestibility. I also recommend warmly any and all TV-shows done by him.

Two examples of the classic Staircase with added notes on what the significance of the visualisation is. These are designed to be read out loud by someone else and will require some changing to work for self-hypnosis.

A site explaining what cults are. I wanted to include this, since cults also contain mind control techniques closely tied to hypnosis. This is valuable information for anyone working in a magical group, since there’s a realistic risk that group hypnosis and human nature will turn your coven into a dangerous direction. If you recognize these traits in a group you currently are in or know someone else who does, start looking for options on how to get out.

General note on literature

Many of my sources are in my native language. I’d love to recommend more books on the subject, but I’m not familiar with books in English. Next time you visit your local library ask a librarian to show you where to find books on hypnosis written for laypeople. Hypnosis is, in my experience, one of the hardest subjects to find good literature on.


Keeping a dream diary

I’ve already earlier discussed the benefits of symbolism as mentioned keeping a dream diary as one of the keystones to getting started with magick. This week I’m finally going to discuss matters from more than a theoretical standpoint. I’m however still going to start with some basic theory for you, dear reader, to understand the underlying mechanics of dreams and their interpretations.

Dreams could be described as “noise” made by our mind. We know today that dreaming is very important for the brain to recover from the work of the day. This noise takes many forms ranging from supernatural nightmares to mundane rewindings of the events of the day. Often our hopes and fears reflect themselves into our dream world. In short: it’s a gateway to the psyche unlike any other, except perhaps the one of psychedelic drugs.

The exercise I’m going to describe can help a beginner to gain a better understanding of his or her inner symbolic language. I’m also going to describe some practices related to controlling your dreams that rely on recording ones dreams. The purpose is to learn how to remember dreams well enough to be able to return the dreams vivid into one’s mind to be used for meditative work.

Exercise 1: Start keeping a diary
Buy a book that fits well in your bedroom close to your bed. For the next month upon your waking let the diary direct your mind back to the dreams you just might have had. You might not remember any at all or just small fragments from here and there. Write immediately down all you can remember. You can return to fill in the gaps during the day if you suddenly remember something more.

Do not try to interpret or explain your dreams. Simply write them down just as you experienced them. Remember to include any feelings or sensations you have. When you’re done, close the book and do not reread it over the next days.

Expected results:
You will start remembering more of what you dream every night. Writing them down in the morning will make them stick to the waking memory and you might find yourself remembering some dreams for a long time after seeing them. In my own case the content of my dreams also changed over time, as if my mind tried to get through messages I would usually have missed. If you keep a diary regularly for 6-12 months you should also learn to pay attention to the differences within dreams. With some training you may even naturally start to filter significant details from redundant ones while still sleeping.

Exercise 2: Recognize mental symbols
This exercise doesn’t fit any set time scale, but is a continuous study. When writing down your dreams, pay attention to recurring themes and people. Refrain from the temptation to look into dream interpretation guidebooks. If you don’t understand the meaning of a symbol right away, don’t get stressed about it. You can attempt to influence your dreaming by recalling symbols during the day until right before going to sleep. Write down your findings and thoughts to avoid forgetting them. Go back and revise your ideas as many times as needed. The importance of the exercise is in learning to pay attention to your inner language and accustom your mind to become consistent in its symbolic language.

Expected results:
You will learn the basics of mental symbolism and their use. As with exercise 1, you’ll get used to paying attention to and memorizing details in your dreams. With time your dreams will start seeming less confusing. Working with dream logic will make it easier to work with other mental constructs used within magick and will give you a basis for developing your own magical symbolism.

Exercise 3: Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreams are dreams where the sleeper is aware that he or she is dreaming. In this context lucid dreaming refers to the practice of changing the content of one’s dreams by will. The control can vary from being able to remove or add small details into the narrative or feeing oneself from it entirely. The skill generally requires a lot of work and may not be interesting for everyone. However for those who do, there are a plenty of good guides on how to learn the trick. Lucid dreaming can be of special interest to magicians who want to explore mental (and so-called astral) worlds in depth.

Expected results:
Dreams are often thought of as something out of our control. Simply being aware of the possibility of lucid dreaming can take a person far, since he or she learns not to simply give in to unpleasant dreams. When your power over your mind increases you might find yourself instinctively controlling your dreams with magical means, such as banishing. It’s nice to understand where the skill comes from and how to develop it further if the subject interests you.

Further reading

A very extensive article on what dreams are and how our understanding of them have developed over time.

General information on lucid dreaming, including scientific studies and history.

An excellent step-by-step guide to lucid dreaming.

“Isn’t there a faster way?”

This must be one of the most frequent questions heard from the mouth of people trying to learn magick. For someone wanting to go the easy way I’m the worst mentor around, since I emphasize research and rarely take the shortest road around a subject. Is there an easy way to magick? It depends on what kind of results you are looking for. If you want to have any real power to understand and control your surroundings you need to be ready to sacrifice years of training with no significant results. There isn’t a magical wand you can flick to fix all problems in your life, or to gain you love or wealth for yourself and others. For a person who wants an easy life I give this advice: get into a good school and study hard. Getting an actual degree is going to get you much further in life than being a magician.

If knowing this didn’t discourage you I still have a few words of warning. Perhaps you are one of the people who want to use their knowledge to gain influence and status in occult circles. It’s clear Aleister Crowley himself was one of these people, which best shows in his relationships with women. It might seem easy for someone to simply pick a dogma and start gathering followers. However it requires just as much showmanship, luck and knowledge. I must also point out that many mystical leaders have fallen victim to their own wit, either by starting to believe their own lies or being overthrown by their fanatical followers.

There are lots of guides out there that will give you advice on how to improve your magical skills. I would approach these with caution and more a sense of fun than serious study. I might crush some hopes here, but in order for someone to truly become good at magick, they have to study psychology even more rigorously than magic. Not many magicians are keen on telling this, since it ruins the illusion of mysticism. However, everything the mind does can and have been reproduced by someone else over time. It can be baffling for a reader to read so many descriptions of the same phenomenon from different sources and explained by different words. There is a key to this however: if many independent sources describe the same event we should give it our attention and figure out how the practice works. Having a basic understanding of neuroscience, for example, will save one lots of time and work, when the study starts on a factual basis, not an empirical one. That said a magician also needs to know when to suspend his disbelief and go with the flow. There are experiences that are nearly impossible to transfer with scientific words.

There are some basic tools that will be of tremendous help for anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of themselves. The first one is meditation. I can’t stress the importance of this enough for one post, which is why we’ll come back to meditation many times. The two next ones go hand in hand: write down your dreams and daily experiences. With daily experiences I don’t mean brushing your teeth and going to work, but experiences that have a personal and/or psychological meaning to you. We are, by nature, blind to the changes in our self. Having a record to go back to will in time give a fresh perspective on the choices we do in our life.

Further reading

An overview of modern psychology and it’s uses.

The story of a mystic and his followers and how it ended.

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.

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.