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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.