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The Price of Magic

By Barry Walker

(Published at Lughnasa 1995)

For as long as I can remember I've been a sorcerer, living in the separate reality of the magical universe. Looking back I can't place a single incident where I woke up one morning and said: "I'm going to become a magickian." I didn't choose this, it's just something I always seem to have had inside me. Ok, there was a day when the idea of using magick came to me, but this did not strike me as a strange option, as it would have most normal people. The question that has been creeping into my mind in the quiet dark hours of the night is is it worth the cost?

These rather disturbing thoughts seem to have been triggered by some conversations I have been having with a person who wants to become a 'magical person'. He seems to think this is a rather exciting and interesting thing to be, he is at the point of choosing to give up being a normal person and live in the sorcerer's reality. With child-like enthusiasm he is standing on the edge of the abyss, about to jump, without weighing the pros and cons taking that leap (he is the Fool of the Tarot). Being a magickian gives you a lot, but costs you a deal too.

What are these costs? I can't remember where I read this, but the following conveys some of them: "The Sorcerer is already dead and walks each day in a hell of his own making".

This at first may sound a bit over the top, but as I meditate upon it I can see the truth in it. On a bad day it feels like that. For me the most obvious problem of being a magickian is that it tends to give you an aura of strangeness that non magical people find disturbing. Most of the time this is not much of a problem. Many of our transactions in the social world are so superficial and brief that this strange aura is not apparent. When dealing with the woman in the corner shop, paying the milkman etc. my disguise of being a normal person holds up alright. But at other times our social world transactions are at a deeper level, or rather we hope they will end up that way. Yes folks, I'm talking about your actual nookie situation.

Whatever your sexual orientation, if you're a magical person of any sort I would bet that the following situation, or one very similar, is familiar to you. You are out somewhere, across the room your eyes meet those of the boy/girl of your dreams, you smile, they smile, you close in on them, buy them a drink, you talk and get on Ok. For a non magical person this could be the start of a beautiful thing, but as you are not like them you have a problem looming. You take them home, to your place. At this point the dissonance between the sorcerers reality and that of others becomes manifest. Your would-be lover scans your book collection and asks if: "you're into this stuff", or worse: "you don't believe in this do you??". Then their eyes fall upon your magical altar, and most of us have these, you can see their concern as they try not to look at your collection of knives, wands, pentacles, candles and other occult bits and bobs. From this point on they become nervous, drink their coffee and leave, never to 'phone you back.

As far as you are concerned you didn't do anything weird, you were well behaved, not pushy, you did not try to get more than they were willing to give, you didn't grab at them, so what's the problem? Simple, they thought you were a nutter because you are into magick and the occult.

It can be difficult to form lasting relationships with people who are not magickians; if you don't know many nice women/men, depending on preference, who are also into magick, life can be frustrating and rather lonely at times.

If you live the life of the sorcerer, you sooner or later find yourself working acts of low magick designed to effect change the consensus reality of our everyday world. It's this skill in fact that a number of wannabe magickians find an enticing prospect. How sexy it sounds, being able to evoke spirits and use them to perform acts for you, the ability to heal, or harm others, wow! To travel to the Underworld of the dead, it all sounds great. And, to be honest, it can be. But even though I don't personally subscribe to the Wiccan notion of the three fold return, there is karma to think about.

My definition of Karma is NOT that of "be good this time around and when you snuff it you will get a easy next incarnation". Rather it's the principle of each action causes a reaction. The Web of Wyrd trembles at our every thought, magick causes it to bend and twist like a tree in a November gale. These convulsions move out from our centre point, and few can be sure what strange realities may be born from this. Doing a divination before acts of low magick helps, but there is always a little risk attached even when you divining indicates a good result.

Another painful life-lesson that being a magickian can teach is the plastic nature of 'reality'. Working acts of low magick, sometimes called results workings, soon demonstrates how flexible the Universe can be. In a way far more complex than simple solipsism, the sorcerer forms his own reality out of the many we come into contact with in our daily life. You become a true energy artist, shaping form from the void. Then one day a friend or family member becomes ill, possibly with a life threatening condition. You work some magick to try to help them overcome this, and maybe they die. The pain following such an experience is terrible, not only do you have to deal with the loss of a friend, but also the feelings of failure because your magick did not work. This IS a hell of your own creation. And if others expected you to be able to 'save' the dying person you have to try and deal with their anger with you on top of your personal feelings of loss.

There is also madness to worry about. The life of the magickian is lived close to the edge. Sometimes our magick may force us over that edge, mostly only for a short time, the duration of the working. But there is a risk of not being able to return to sanity. And from my personal experience the mere fact of having a magical mind-set can predispose you to bouts of, if not insanity, some rather spectacular breakdowns and neurosis. To show how high the incidents of mental instability in the magical community can be, in a group of four magickians I sometimes work with three of them openly admit to having psychiatric problems now or in the past. And this is not uncommon.

So there you have it. Being a sorcerer does cost. It affects your social life, it can cause real strangeness and problems due to the psychic splash from results magick, failure to perform can be painful, and there is a strong risk of going barmy. But this way of life is not described as: "The Way of The Warrior" for nothing. Knowing that you live near the edge, that each day you walk with madness or maybe even death, you are forced to face your fears, limits, ideas about self. You are pushed into transcending these, you die, for a while, to be reborn capable of things that before your never dreamed of. You cause, while others wait for it to happen. You fly like an arrow, not knowing how long the flight will be and when death will take you. But before then, you soar.