Mysticism and Magic are two sides of the same coin. However, many people wrongly assume that Magic is less spiritually elevated than Mysticism. As many adepts have pointed out in the past, the two paths of Mysticism and Magic tend to meet in the end. In other words, ritual techniques can be put to use not only for practical ends but also for the attainment of higher states of awareness (spiritual enlightenment). Certainly this was the goal of such systems as Hermeticism and Neo-Platonism among many others. Most of the world’s religions tend to have an esoteric or mystical component, for example Islam has Sufism and Judaism has the Kaballah. When you examine and compare these esoteric systems with one another, both the practices and the descriptions of the resulting mystical states that are evoked through these practices will be similar as well. These mystical systems will have as their core the same set of techniques that underlies Ritual Magic.
Ritual is a set of practices (a spiritual technology) that are universal and are designed to alter consciousness as well as manipulate events in some manner. I especially enjoy researching and experimenting with these techniques as well as comparing and contrasting them with the various practices found in other systems of magic throughout the world. Nearly all of the different magical systems found in various cultures draw upon and indeed are based upon contemplative techniques very similar to Raja Yoga, a form of Yoga that focuses exclusively on the manipulation of mental states.
The first real springboard for me into Magical practice was the result years ago of stumbling across a working syllabus from a Ritual Magic Lodge. At that point in time books that delved into the specifics of Ritual Magic was just becoming readily available. Like a syllabus from a college course, this manuscript provided an outline of what was to be studied. The student was expected to actively and daily practice the material. This working syllabus point by point spelled out the training techniques necessary to get any consistent results from the practice of ritual. The group who issued the material was a working group, in that each potential member was expected to test out and record the result of their work with the syllabus. The student had to actively and daily practice the material for a full year and demonstrate mastery and proficiency before being admitted to the group. Years later I was able to discover that some of the practices listed in this manual can also be found in some of the old Hermetic papyri produced over two millennia ago. Ultimately all of these techniques are the same spiritual technologies that the shamans thousands of years ago developed as the foundations of their own systems. But that is yet another story…
I did not go on to join this particular group but I did start working the methods outlined in the manuscript. After a time everything kind of clicked, and I started to experience the results that the books of magic spoke about. Perhaps the skill I found hardest to develop was the ability to fix the attention to one thing to the exclusion of all else. This fixity of attention along with the ability to quickly slip into a trance are two of the essential secrets to performing successful Ritual Magic.
I was able to confirm through my experiments that the ability to enter into visionary states is crucial to the practice of magic. Indeed, one of the first results from my daily work was being able to enter into trance and begin to have dream like visions while still awake. I realized then that this was the hidden key by which the magicans, witches and shamans of old were able to enter into dialogue with various spiritual Beings. While in the vision state, whole landscapes would unfold before me. This I concluded is what the various occultists and mediums had in mind when speaking of the Astral Plane and is also what Carl Jung was referring to when he wrote about the technique of Active Imagination. Going into and sustaining these states are difficult, which is why only those who tend to be inclined towards these abilities (or who are willing to patiently work on them for years) are able to demonstrate any abilities. Failure to reach deep enough trance levels is oftentimes the reason that much ritual fails to bring about the results sought.