What it means to be a magician or a witch

A blog post by Nick Farrell on signs you are not a real magician has been circulating through the occult community. Although an excellent and well-written rebuttal has already been posted (and you should check it out), given the topics I’ve been blogging about lately I figured I’d add my $0.02 worth. Edit: another good (but brief) rebuttal can be found here.

First of all, to address the idea of whether or not you are a “real magician” or a witch: if you study and practice any form of magick or have at any given point, you are indeed a real magician/witch/occultist. Nick compares this to whether or not you are a “real writer”. Well, guess what? Same thing! If you write, you are a writer. Period.

There was an excellent article in the September 2013 issue of Runner’s World about this, actually, under the “Newbie Chronicles” section by Marc Parent. The title of the article “You’re a Real Runner If…” with the byline, “How do you know? Never mind the miles and shoes, look at the laundry!” In that article, he states the following: “The problem with authenticating yourself as a ‘real runner’ is that the distinction is a moving target. If a real runner is someone who goes long or fast, then almost any measure pales in comparison to the person who goes longer and faster.”

And it’s true. Being a runner, a writer, a magician/witch isn’t a destination, it’s a process. And if that process is yielding proof that you’ve been sweating/doing the work, you are IT! You are REAL! You have arrived. You don’t need a special title, approval from your favorite occult blogger, or any of that bullshit.

There are a few key points in Nick’s blog post that I want to address however, so I’m going to tackle them in order.

  1. “Your life is the same.” If your life has remained the same, it’s not that you’re not practicing magick and/or not a “real magician”; it’s that you are not growing as a magician and as a person. It means you have not done enough personal development to get your Will to the point where you’re out there, kicking ass. It doesn’t have to come overnight, and anyone in the craft will tell you that not only does “slow and steady win the race”, but also that “small steps add up over time.” If you’re expecting only huge epiphanies and changes as signs of growth, you may be quite disappointed. Cherish every victory and change, big or small. Look for them and EXPECT them. Be a magnet for the change and growth you wish to see in the world and in your life.
  2. “You have not lost at least one relationship because of magic.” It is true that with personal development often comes separating the wheat from the chaff, and that sometimes you will be forced to let go of people in your life who are either toxic and/or holding you back. But if you are isolating yourself to the point where magick is an obsession and you are not giving your partner, family, or friends their just due, it’s time to pull back and remember why you’re here to begin with. Some alone time to reflect, meditate, and process your life changes is normal. Hurting those whom you love is not. Therefore I don’t think making a sweeping statement without reflecting upon both sides of the story can be used here; as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. I also think that the whole “poor, persecuted magician” mindset needs to banished. Are we trying to grow as people, or are we trying to do some weird teenaged rebellion? If you’re finding that the time and attention spent on magick is making your relationships difficult, you need to evaluate: is it that the people in your life are unhealthy for you, or are you becoming unhealthy to both them and yourself?
  3. “You have lots of hobbies.” I laughed long and hard at this one, because it goes along with my previous point. If you are obsessing over magick to the point where you are alienating everyone around you and you have no other interests or pursuits in life, it is unhealthy. You are neither developing as a person or as an occultist. Here’s the thing: to truly bring about your Will into manifestation, you need to realize that every single part of your life is a part of your magickal practice. Every. Single. Part. The moment you absorb that, there is nothing you cannot affect from your practice, and you become more magickally efficacious as a result. From that perspective, you need a balanced life. I myself am a fitness nut, a writer, have numerous geek interests, and take the time to cuddle my cats whenever I can. All of these things contribute to my life as a magician, not detract. Who I am as a magician does not begin and end with my donning a robe and going into my temple room. It is a part of my everyday life. I am a magician when I pay my bills, when I drive to work, when I go out for a run, and when I give one of my kitties scritches under the chin.
  4.  “You have an active social life.” Nick argues that occultism is a “lonely thing”. Please see #2 for my full philosophy on that.Yes, you will find that there are, on occasion, people who are either toxic and/or unhealthy for you. They may be pedaling backward while you’re trying to move forward. Some people will pass out of your life as a result, and you will have to let them go. On rare occasions they will spring back and come to realize what they did to themselves and their relationship with you. On the other hand, isolating yourself is unhealthy. Friends and family are important. In addition, having a sounding board of people who can call you on your shit is immensely invaluable. If you have a friend or a loved one who does not hesitate to praise you and be happy for you when you do good and also let you know when you’ve screwed up (albeit in a caring and constructive way), treasure them like gold. Again, people practicing magick with the idea that it is some weird teenaged rebellion need to rethink their approach, attitude, and reasoning behind why they are here. It is not meant to isolate you from the world but to help you become a better contributing member of it. If you’re not able to do that, it’s time to do some serious personal work and find out why you feel that being around others is holding you back. Is it the wrong choices of people, or is it you? Find out. Dig deep. Leave no stone unturned and remember that your shit stinks just as much as someone else who doesn’t practice magick.
  5. “You think that something else is important.” Yes, your health is important. Your family is important. Your friends are important. Taking care of yourself is important. And all of these things are a part of the practice and work as a magician. Your life is not separated out into little boxes labeled “Personal Development”, “Family”, “Health”, “Work”, and “Magick”. All of these things overlap and affect one another, and something out of whack in your life could be the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The more you get involved in magick, the more you will realize that it’s not the equivalent of drive-through Sunday church. You are not solely a magician whenever you perform a spell or do a meditation. It is a part of your everyday life. It’s who you are to yourself and to others. Any separation is artificial and will hold you back from doing the Work. I cannot stress this enough.
  6. “You think that things in magic are literal and physical.” Nick argues that “nothing in magic is literal, most of it is symbolic and few things relate to physical events”. Speaking as a magician who does indeed do a lot of astral work, I could not disagree more. The idea that magick is symbolic and only exists in your mind also completely contradicts the idea that if you’re really progressing in the craft that your life should not remain the same. Magick is more than mere symbolism, and YES, you can cause physical changes on a very great scale. The idea of magick being merely psychological is a very “in vogue” thing in the modern day occult community, and it’s something I very much wish would die. If you are causing no changes to occur in the physical world and in your life, you are doing very little other than engaging in mental masturbation. In essence, you are saying magick doesn’t really exist. I’ve often found that magicians who claim the “magick as purely psychological” model are those who are disillusioned, cynical, have not genuinely done the amount of personal work and growth needed to practice magick, have strong doubts over their own magickal capacity and of themselves in general, and think that just because they have not succeeded in bringing about any sort of physical change that it cannot happen for them or for anyone else. People who have limiting beliefs on what they can and cannot accomplish will naturally find themselves gravitating towards this paradigm.

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you are right.” -Henry Ford

People hold themselves back all the time and make excuses for it. In this instance, I see a LOT of problems with little to no personal development or work being done and blaming it on the practice of magick–or worse yet, seeing it as being NORMAL for practicing magick. If what you are doing is causing harm to yourself and/or others, is ultimately unhealthy, and isolates you from everyone else, you are not progressing. You are, in fact, moving backwards.

I am very grateful for Nick’s post as it’s a perfect illustration and teaching tool for what I’ve been saying in my Personal Development and Magick blog posts. This is why doing personal growth and development is so essential as as magician. Anything else is just an excuse to not leave your comfort zone. Magick will not necessarily destroy your life, but YOU can destroy it as a result of not doing the very important evolution you need to do as a person. And also, in case it hasn’t been already been inferred from everything I’ve been saying here: if you are a magician/witch/occultist and you are fighting very real obstacles in your life towards happiness and well-being, it’s not that you’re not a “real” magician; it’s that you haven’t done the necessary internal work in order to “purify the vessel”, as it were. You are that channel for your Will, and if the channel is cloudy, your Will will come out cloudy too.

The whole stereotype and mindset of magicians need to be poor, struggling, suffering, and impoverished in every way and that this is a “normal” and “acceptable” part of being involved in esoteric pursuits needs to banished, never to be seen or thought of again or used as an excuse. If you were truly evolving as a person and as a magician/witch, there would be none of that. If you are practicing magick and you are still struggling with the basics (ie., living from paycheck to paycheck, no friends, health is awful, romantic life is miserable, etc.) you need to get your shit together and start getting some personal work going. Read some good self help books. Hire a life and wellness coach, especially one that understands occult practices and can help you from that angle. I’m both a Certified Life Coach and an occultist, am available if you need an ear, and can be contacted for free consultations.


3 thoughts on “What it means to be a magician or a witch

  1. Nick Farrell says:

    Of all the posts I have done this one has managed to create the biggest controversy, usually from people who seem peaked as if I was referring to them and saying they were not real magicians. The post was specific it was “Signs that you may not be a real magician” in other words these are warning signs. If you look at what is listed you have a pretty good picture.
    If I were to sum up what the article says. A magician is someone who practices magic, not someone who talks about it. If you practice magic, it is a hard spiritual path, it takes discipline, humour and sacrifice. It does cost because, like most spiritual practices you have to give up stuff, particularly at the higher levels. It is not popular to say that, because the reality is everyone wants it to be nice. I am not saying it is unrewarding, but it is tough.
    Getting to specifics, yes your life changes. It may not happen overnight (although it can do). If you have been doing this for years and not changed at all then there is something wrong. As magic ritual starts to pour through you it plays through your weaknesses. If you do not deal with these they will bite you. If you are aware of them then you will change yourself so that you become more of who you really are. It is a form of individualisation which means you are less likely to conform to social patterns.
    You have not lost at least one relationship because of magic
    That was more of an observation. I have lost lots of friends (and two marriages) because of magic. It is not because I am a fanatic, it is just because it is very difficult to get where you are coming from at times and what is important to you. In friendships that is less important, but you will notice this issue more in your close relationships. I know a number of magicians whose partners have told them to choose between magic and the partnership.
    You have lots of hobbies. You can be all zen about it and say that magic is something you integrate into your daily life. But you can only take that so far before too many hobbies crowd your attention.
    “You have an active social life. Perhaps I overstated this. I probably meant an over-active social life. I mean those people who fill their lives with endless and shallow social engagements. I am not an introvert. I have little problem with big gatherings and like talking to people. However there are also points where too much shallow talk makes me want to scream. In some big parties I have found myself composing a book or ritual in my head while people talk around me about football. It is not toxic, it is just not who I am. Conforming to that social norm is dull and people who fill their lives with it can’t really spare much brainspace.

    You think something else is important What I had in mind here was that in my tradition we do initiations. These are heavy to organise and big magic for us. Yet the number of times I have had to rearrange dates, even though these are arranged months in advance, because the candidate found that they had something more important to do (I have a friend staying with me etc) is legion. In my experience the lower self will give you tons of things that need to be done before doing something important and magical. The only way you can tame this particular trait is to do it anyway.

    Literalism and symbolism I think you are missing my point here. I agree with you, but that that is not what I was saying.
    One of the biggest problems in magic is that people expect things to be literal. This is why people get hung up looking for things like Secret Chiefs failing to see that they are not meant to be literal, or they are certainly not some human who has lived forever. When they do astral work they get hung up on the problem that a being has told them they need to do something and they interpret it literally. They do not think that the worlds of that being might be being interpreted by them as meaning using those particular words. Inner contacts often say some strange things which cannot be interpreted literally; some skrying sessions take the nature of dreams and need to be treated as such. Sure not all the time, but enough times for you not to automatically say “it really meant this.” I recounted in my book how when I asked a contact how I could overcome a particular hurdle in magic, he said “you need to make chocolate custard squares.” If I had been literal I could have thought there might be some chemical in the recipe and I should make them. However I thought about what a chocolate custard square meant to me. My mum made a batch once and they were so nice. But we could not get her to make them ever again. We nagged her about it, but she was always too busy. The message here was to overcome this particular hurdle I had to stop waiting for something to happen. I had to go and make it happen myself.”

  2. scarletmagdalene says:

    I think it’d be a mistake to assume that many people took this personally and/or were angry about it. In fact, I think it’s generated some very thoughtful commentary on what success on this path really means. I for one am glad you wrote the post!

    I agree that there are a lot of people on the Internet who do more talking than practicing. If anything I think that’s human nature; it goes along with the territory regardless of path or lifestyle. As someone who blogs and is very expressive about a great number of things, I do my best to have a balance between the time I spend online talking with fellow peers on the path versus actually going out and DOING. Sometimes I find that conversing with others gives me ideas, information, and motivation. Other times it’s a distraction. It’s never a black and white situation, and I always have to evaluate and weigh accordingly. The key is mindfulness.

    If you have a partner who gives you an ultimatum like that, you have more to worry about than whether or not you’re a real magician, and without knowing the full scope of that situation (in addition to both sides’ perspectives) it’s hard to say if this is a case of “I love you now CHANGE” versus “you spend all day in your temple room and I feel completely ignored”. I’ve witnessed both scenarios. Some significant others are either threatened by change or completely are against the idea of magick and its practice. On the other hand you may be dealing with a situation where the magician is becoming overly obsessive and is changing in a way that is neither healthy for themselves nor towards others.

    I think what you’re meaning to say here (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that people need to talk less, focus more, work on prioritizing, and question everything, especially in regards to what you receive in your astral/psychic wanderings–not to mention people online who may be well-intentioned but may not necessarily know it all. I definitely agree with these sentiments, but that’s not what came across in your original blog post. But however, once again, it’s caused a lot of really good, thoughtful conversation so I think that’s what’s important.

  3. Darbla says:

    Nick: I appreciated your original post and I didn’t take it too literally. I also appreciated all the posts everywhere else that followed and discussed it.
    I sympathize with you about lost relationships because of personal spiritual beliefs, because I’ve also lost two: a marriage and then a relationship after that that I had hoped would be it (he stated he had “lost his religion” but that turned out not to be the case). In the marriage I had a difficult time articulating what was going through my head and how I was changing, so I can’t blame that all on the ex-husband. Communications broke down and he felt “unequally yoked” with someone who now had metaphysical interests. The guy in the second relationship was intolerant and downright belligerent and again communications broke down. If you’re in a relationship where you can’t talk to someone about something that is important to you without them being condescending and antagonistic toward you, then that’s not the right person for you.
    I might be a bit lonely but still happier by myself than putting up with that crap.

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