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Magical Arts II: Deportment and Physical Culture

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January 2013
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Propriety of deportment is the valuable result of a knowledge of one’s self and of respect for the rights of others; it is a feeling of the sacrifices which are imposed on self-esteem by our social relations; it is, in short, a sacred requirement of harmony and affection.

Mme. Celnart, The Gentleman and Ladies Book of Politeness and
Propriety of Deportment, Dedicated to the Youth of Both Sexes (1833)

This is the second in my series of articles on where to start with the magical arts.  First, let me reiterate that magery is both an art and a science, or it might be even better to say, a collection of arts and sciences.  Arts are ways of creating something new.  Sciences, by contrast, are bodies of knowledge and theory.  Art and science are not opposites, nor are they in conflict.  The academic turf battles in our culture (here in the USA ) have pitted art and music departments against science and mathematics departments in the perennial fight for money.  In the magical arts, there is no such distinction, and it may be so because there are no Academies of Magery with budgets and departmental turf battles.  As various wizards and witches of today have started schools (e.g., and, it will be interesting to see if such divisions arise.  I hope not, for magery is the most holistic art and science imaginable.

Indeed, it was in the late 20th century along with the holistic health movement and the shift in consciousness attendant on that holistic view of nature and human beings that the magical arts have blossomed.  Long before Harry Potter popularized wizardry, a culture of wizards had grown up in the USA and the UK (and elsewhere too), consisting of many practitioners, many schools of thought, and many writers.  My own publisher, Llewellyn Worldwide Publications, was one of the leaders in the publication of books on astrology, tarot, and the various magical traditions that emerged increasingly into the open air of a culture of liberality.  Which is not to say that wizards and witches are not still persecuted by some people.  The word “witch” which modern Wiccans have sought to reclaim in a positive sense, has historically been ambiguous.  To call the local midwife-herbalist a “cunning woman” was polite.  To call her a “witch” was to mark her with a suspicion of wrongdoing.  And that fear runs very deep in the collective unconscious.  We instinctively fear anyone who might do evil by invisible means. It was that fear, rather than theological objections, that made witches ambigious figures in  the polytheistic cultures pre-dating Christianity.  Among Romans and Greeks and Egyptians, and indeed all the peoples of the ancient world, the arts of magery were simply accepted as a part of reality.  It was not seen as something strange and “occult” nearly as much as Christian cultures have characterized it.

Occult” from the Latin “occultare” simply meant “covered” or “hidden” for the Romans. In the Latin-speaking world of the Roman Empire before Christianity was adopted as its official religion, the word “occultare” was probably as benign as when we say that some branch of science is “obscure.”  It was only under the influence of Christian spiritual leaders that “occult” took on the scary overtones it has born over the last few centuries.  As our modern era progressed, Western intellectual culture moved from accepting magic as science to completely separating the one from the other.  The result is that by the 21st century, most people in the West consider magery the stuff of fairy tales and children’s literature.  Indeed, the creation of “children’s literature” as a separate genre of fiction, was in part responsible for the complete rejection of magery from the world Western adults consider “real” (at least officially).

The boon hidden in this cultural “progress” towards material rationalism was that it remove the power of religious authorities to prosecute and suppress those who openly engaged in, or wrote about, magery.  Instead of criminal charges, someone practicing magery today is likely to be seen as mentally unstable or deluded, and referred to counseling.  In the Eastern hemisphere — in Asia that is, the matter of magery played out quite differently because yoga and qigong, and other Taoist arts, became part of the religious culture (e.g., see Taiji), a religious milieu for more diverse than that of the Roman Empire and its barbarian descendants.  Yoga and related mind-body disciplines are essential to the safe practice of magery.  While some wizards do maintain that it is all a matter of getting the words and the physical parts of a spell right, the balance of opinion has shifted from that recipe book view of magery.  Instead, most of the current schools of thought about magery as a practical art see it as requiring a particular state of consciousness.

Consciousness moves on many levels of being.  That is one of the fundamental theories of magery.  It is a theory, in the scientific sense of the word.  That is, an observed structure of the cosmos that has been corroborated by a sufficient number of experts to be universally accepted.  Theories in magery, as in chemistry or physics, do get tweaked and evolve over time.  Sometimes they are completely overthrown by other theories with more explanatory power.  On the whole, however, to the degree that one can talk about agreement among mages, the idea of planes of existence or dimensions of reality in which the human consciousness can move, may be taken as a starting point.

The term “consciousness” needs to be defined carefully.  In magical philosophy, it refers to the part of the human mind or spirit that observes the world and strives to make sense out of it.  It is the “me” I refer to when I am awake.  When one is asleep, something else happens and dreaming is the most common “altered state of consciousness” virtually everyone experiences.  The psychoanalytic term “Ego” (which is the Latin word for “I” — the first person pronoun) is the “I” that is awake — what we normally call “conscious.”  C.G. Jung, the eminent psychologist distinguished the Ego from other parts of the psyche.  The Ego is the complex of self-images around which our senses and our sense of self in society is organized.  It also is the part of the psyche that accesses memories and indulges in daydreams and fantasies.

The unconscious mind is a much larger matter.  It stores all of our memories, whether we can remember them consciously or not, and it stores memories of our fantasies and fears, hopes and aspirations.  Jung also asserted that one’s personal unconscious opens into a larger realm of collective unconscious that includes all sorts of cultural archetypes.  This theory of the psyche has been very influential in magical circles and has provided a model to explain the experiences of other worlds and hidden peoples such as those reported in folk lore.  Which is not to say that when a mage speaks with elves or undines, she is talking to herself or with figments of the imagination.  From the standpoint of magical philosophy, our “imaginary friends” as children are not simply make-belief.  The imagination, that faculty of the mind so little understood, is not simply a part of the mind that likes to fantasize and make things up.  It is a doorway into the many worlds of possibilities that exist on the several planes of being.

The upshot of this theory of reality is that the human mind and body must be thought of as a whole.  The body is not our whole existence, nor is the mind.  Rather they are two parts of one’s whole being that are inextricably interconnected.  Almost anyone today will agree that the mind influences the health of the body and vice versa.  The holistic model has caught on in medicine and healing fields.  However, there are different schools of thought regarding what exactly the “mind” is.  The dominant academic model of our intellectual culture today is materialism, a model which insists that everything can be reduced to material phenomena.  Now, material phenomena does include energy and the mysterious forces of nature.  Invisible forces are today accepted without question among physicists, but the dominant materialist paradigm does not admit calling invisible forces “spiritual.”

The spirit (from Latin spiritus “breath”) was a word so monopolized by the Christian churches in the West that when Europeans developed material sciences they just got rid of the term altogether.  Spirits and souls were relegated to the fictional world of religious belief systems and could no longer be discussed seriously by academics.  Empirical knowledge that could be gathered through physical experiments using known atomic elements, and which could be reproduced by other scientists became the basis of truth in the West.  The result was that all experimentation with the spirit was put on a shelf.  Or, rather, it continued to be carried on by people outside of the halls of Academe.

As famous an icon of modern empirical science as Isaac Newton had to keep his alchemical work a secret.  Had it come out, he would have been ostracized from the Royal Society and probably lost his professorial chair, as Cambridge University was still, in that time, strict about the religious beliefs of its professors.  A century after Newton, if a philosopher wished to study magic he had to keep it secret and hidden from not only the church authorities but from the proponents of the new material empiricism. This is the historical background to the split between spirit and body in Western culture.  In fact, it goes back even farther, because the early Church Fathers developed the idea that body was bad and spirit was good.  They considered that the survival of the spirit or soul after the death of the body was the higher and more important plane of being and gross material bodies just got in the way of spiritual attainment.

That idea was, to my way of thinking, a mistake.  It is true, certainly, that the body and its appetites and senses distract one from developing the higher faculties of the mind and spirit.  However, the solution is not to become an ascetic and denigrate the body.  The solution is to do as the yogis have for centuries — practice bodily disciplines that yoke together body and spirit.  The word “yoga” comes from the same root as our word “yoke.”  The body and its urges and appetites are a part of our existence and we do not have to escape from the body to enter into the higher planes of existence.  This is the nub of this lesson, that practicing physical disciplines that cultivate the connection between one’s material being and one’s mental and spiritual being is the foundation of magery.

So, if you start any course of magical study, you will likely encounter exercises in breathing and meditation.  The Ego, that center of waking consciousness, is constantly inundated by chatter coming from the unconscious mind.  That part of our soul beneath the threshold of intentional control by the Ego must be brought under control.  The chattering “monkey mind” must be silenced and taught to serve one’s higher Self.  Jung used the term “Self” to refer to the center of the whole psyche.  The Ego complex is the center of the conscious part of the psyche.  The Self complex lies at the center of both the conscious and unconscious parts of the psyche.  This Self is thought of among mages as being in fact a transcendent “I” that exists through many “lives” and bodies.  This is another idea we get from India — the theory of the reincarnation of the Self into different bodies.  Some writers have found evidence for a similar belief in the writings of the ancient Bards of the Celtic-speaking peoples.

Many mages today embrace the idea of reincarnation, so-called “past lives,” and karma, the spiritual law that what we do unto others will come back to us for good or ill in our next incarnation.  From a philosophical standpoint, this means that the purpose of life is to learn to be a good person — to follow the Golden Rule and be a blessing to others.  The selflessness that is often spoken of in relation to Eastern philosophy is not a loss of self-identity, but it is a transcending of the Ego’s tendency to defend its own existence by acting selfishly, even cruelly toward others.  The mind-body disciplines of Hindu yogis and of druids both aim to raise awareness of the layers of being within one’s psyche.  And learning to breathe deeply and quiet the chatter of your mind is first and foremost.  Without that first step, you can never become truly aware that you have a higher Self and that it is connected to all things, and through that connection to all other beings. It is this realization — the true internalization of knowing this to be so — that permits one to act selflessly and see that every other person is just as holy as oneself.  That realization is sometimes rather dramatically called the annihilation of the Ego.  You can never entirely get rid of your Ego.  It is an important part of the mind — important for survival in material existence.  But you can put your Ego in its place by self-realization, seeing yourself as a multi-dimensional being connected to all things, including the Divine.

Deportment is an old-fashioned term for learning how to hold one’s body and move gracefully.  Young people were taught how to deport themselves in polite society and behave well.  From the magical point of view, deportment is more than this.  It is a matter of controling one’s body, cultivating grace, calm, and deliberate action.  Practicing this physical art does not aim to strengthen the muscles or burn fat.  It aims to link the conscious mind to the unconscious mind, and so to the body.  For a great deal of what is contained in one’s unconscious mind comes from the body.  Some thinkers have suggested that every cell, even our DNA contains messages that can percolate to the brain and so become conscious thoughts.  That our organs and cells communicate in some way with each other and determine our health seems unquestionable.  Whether one can tap into that cellular memory and those lines of communication remains to be seen, but it is entirely consistent with the theories of magical philosophy.

So, if you want to be a wizard, start by learning yoga or ta’i chi.  Not “martial arts” but the spiritual side of those disciplines.  Not for physical fitness, but for the understanding of how to move your spiritual energies in your body and then in your surroundings.  Moving chi, is what the Taoist sages call it — chi gong.  The yogis call this substance prana.  Mages in the West have had to adopt those terms into English to express the idea.  The druids sometimes use an old Welsh word, nwyfre (which is pronounced something like NOO-vrah).  In the Latin cultural and linguistic tradition (to which English is an heir) the word “spirit” used to carry this same meaning.  Spirit was a substance flowing through all things.  Like Chi with its complementary yin and yang aspects, spirit informed everything.

Today, if we can overcome the religious connotations of “spirit” it is a suitable word.  But because of the ascendency of material sciences over our culture as the arbiter of truth, mages today in the West tend to adapt terms from physics to service.  Franz Bardon, the 20th century Czech mage, described the spiritual fluid as Aether, and as comprised of an electrical and a magnetic fluid.  The idea is exactly the same as yin and yang (yin being the magnetic fluid and yang being the electrical), only employing terms from Western science.  I do not personally think that the practice is wise because it is too easy for the uninitiated to think that one is talking about electro-magnetism as the material sciences define those forces.

In a sense, electricity and magnetism are aspects of the occult forces described by alchemists, but they are only part of the picture — only the material effects are studied by Western science.  The spiritual effects of these two fluids, which transmute one into the other, runs much more deeply in the psyche.  In any case, one cannot begin to understand and really know that things of the spirit are true and real, until one experiences one’s own prana and one’s own ability to manipulate, move, and use prana for healing and for physical grace.  Only when this lesson in deportment is learned can one begin to move prana consciously outside of one’s material body and into the higher planes of existence.

It is within those higher planes, those other dimensions of being, that magic is done.  The art of magery creates something new, like all arts, but it does so on a level of deep causality.  Circumstances and phenomena are driven by spiritual forces and intelligences.  You, as an aspiring mage are a spiritual intelligence and can create new circumstances and phenomena because you are.  It is no coincidence that with the rise of Spiritualism and modern magical groups another movement stepped onto the cultural stage.  That was the physical culture movement.  We are children of that movement, for it was the beginning of the health craze, vegetarianism, health foods, and exercise regimens.  The physical culture advocates of the early 20th century understood the link between a sound mind and a sound body.  So, by all means engage in physical games and activities, but do not do so simply to be stronger or more attractive to the opposite sex. Do so mindfully, cultivating awareness of your body as you cultivate awareness of your thoughts and feelings.  Remember it this way:  In the magical alphabet the first five letters form a group:

A is for Awareness

B is for Body

C is for Consciousness

D is for Deportment

E is for Exercises (mind-body exercises)

Recommended Reading on Deportment: 

Mme. Celnart, The Gentleman and Ladies Book of Politeness and Propriety of Deportment, Dedicated to the Youth of Both Sexes (1833)

John Young.  A Guide to Manners, Etiquette and Deportment of the Most Refined Society.

Jess Stearn. Yoga, Youth, and Reincarnation.

Franz Bardon. Initiation into Hermetics.


NEXT TIME:  The letter F is for Feelings: Getting a Grip on Your Unconscious.


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