What a magical neighborhood I grew up in! There was magic everywhere – but don’t all children create magic out of their surroundings? The fireflies at dusk were secretly fairies; the nuns in white were secretly ghosts; and the woods behind us were definitely enchanted. And all the while the large Star of David from the temple down the street shined on our houses as if to say, “There is power here – there is something bigger than who you are – and you can reach it if you come to me.”
My best friend Hank and I ruled the world – or at least our block. I created – and enforced – all of our games. We wore signs on our chests proclaiming who we were: Hank was “Nature”. . . and I was “God.” (The Goddess and God of my future years.) Together we reigned over Clarendon Court, or at least I did, always under the glorified presence of the Star of David, what I now call the Six-Rayed Star.
“Mix-up” was my favorite game. One of us would blindfold the other, spin him around and lead him to familiar parts of our yards. We’d be quizzed on where we actually were. And it was the most astounding feeling to remove the blindfold and to realize that we were standing on our own front steps. Such alternative perceptions of reality, like Steppenwolf’s Magic Theatre! Not until my adult initiations did I experience such a thrill, where the mystery of one world merges into the mystery of the next.
Hank and his brother were eventually forbidden to play with me. Their father wanted his boys to play “normal” games like “Cowboys and Indians” and “Cops and Robbers.” Guns were required, not imaginations. And they grew up to be normal, healthy Americans – a lawyer and doctor, respectively. (And respectably.) I was Peter Pan and would never grow up. So I retreated into my fantasy world and gradually became. . . religious!
My father promised my sister and me that if we didn’t like Sunday School we wouldn’t have to go back after the first day. What a fib, Dad! We were chained to Sunday School – and later Hebrew School, which I hated then, but am so grateful for now.
The first time they told us the story of Moses, I was awe inspired. I could think of nothing else all day. What they didn’t tell us was that Moses was a master magician, trained in Egypt. All the miracles in the Bible were performed by magicians – true magicians as opposed to illusionists. And it was so much easier to wield magic in the days before technology, the days when everyone believed in it, as children do now.
That night I prayed at my bedroom window. I remember the stars in the western sky as I asked God to please not send any burning bushes until I was ready. For I knew that one day I would be ready, ready for something as high as those stars, as great as our shining Six-Rayed Star, as golden as that day of the Sun, that Sunday, when I first learned about Moses and knew that I too was destined to hear from God.
Thirty years later I’m in my Magic Temple. It’s the night and hour of Venus: Friday night, 9:22 PM. (I’ve calculated this precisely according to the sunset and sunrise from The New York Times.) I have cast the Magic Circle and I am one with The Eternal. With my staff, I call forth one of the Great and Powerful names of God – the same name that Charlton Heston uses in The Ten Commandments, only in Hebrew. I’m invoking this special name seven times (the Kabbalistic number of Venus) and suddenly my caldron of incense bursts into flames!
At first I am terrified: this has never happened before. What if my apartment burns down at the hands of a crazy magician? But as the flames continue to flare, I realize I am in the presence of that which I have invoked – and I begin to trust it, knowing I have achieved a new height.
That was a significant night on my Magical Path. The flaming caldron has reoccurred only once since, while invoking the Goddess of the Full Moon, also at the exact moments of invocation. These were important guideposts for me in our skeptical world of technology that wants us all to be mechanized, that insists magic cannot exist, that venerates organized religion, yet denigrates as “crazy” any private contact with what these religions call “God.”
In this article it is my pleasure to unveil some of the mysteries of magic for you, so that you too can become aware of its power and, if you so desire, incorporate it into your life. Like the Rainbow Bridge from Wagner’s Ring, let this be the bridge that links you to Valhalla, the castle of the Gods. For I have ventured there myself and have witnessed its euphoria. Now: to some of the nitty-gritties of magic. Let’s get real. Does magic really work?
Does it really exist? I assure you it does – but it takes more than snapping your fingers; it’s no panacea for pain or misery. It takes a lot of hard work and discipline, discipline: study, practice and intelligence.
Magic is the greatest thing I know. I’m so lucky to be able to tell you about it. I can’t think of a subject that’s more misconstrued, more confused with superstition, more divinely idiotic and insane and wonderful. Because it has to do with the power of the Human Mind. It’s all the mind. As Hesse said, “We create gods and struggle with them, and they bless us.” The power of magic – or of the gods – is in each one of us to utilize fully.
Aleister Crowley, the magical genius of the twentieth century, has given the best definition of magic (he spelled it “magick” to differentiate the real thing from magic tricks): “The Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” Simple, right? It’s your will to change your hair color, so you dye it bright red – that’s magic, or a form of magic.
It was first explained to me this way: magic is like a hammer – you can use it to build a house or to clobber someone over the head – it’s still the same hammer; the principles are the same. Strictly speaking, therefore, there are no subdivisions. But for the purpose of our exploration, let us first divide so that later we can be fruitful and multiply.
WHITE MAGIC. This is magic in its simplest essence. It’s nearly the equivalent of prayer and meditation. Candles, incense, chanting and trance, rituals in their most heartfelt enactment, the exaltation of one’s purest ideals, this form of magic is the most accessible, the easiest to do and the least dangerous. Gods and Goddesses are contacted and glorified. The “change” that occurs “in conformity with Will” is the self-transformation that comes from the joy and beauty of the rituals.
BLACK MAGIC. Doesn’t the phrase have an alluring ring to it? Watch out. Maleficent was always my favorite Disney witch, but this was one hell of an unhappy lady! “For the first time in sixteen years I shall sleep well tonight,” she intones. Really…doesn’t she have anything better to do with her time? Very simply, Black Magic has the intention of harming, avenging, or manipulating someone against their will, including love spells directed at a specific person. Stay away from it or you’ll regret it.
GREY MAGIC. Now we get to an area that’s a little more complex. Depending on how you define it, Grey Magic is actually doing “good” for yourself or others: healings, success spells, love spells, as long as they’re for general love; but the tricky part is that Grey Magic can turn into either White or Black. It’s a very good idea to do a divination first, like Tarot or I Ching, to determine which way the magic will go. For instance, a money spell for yourself is fine if it naturally increases your abundance through your own work; but if your aunt dies the next day and leaves you $10,000, you have probably harmed your aunt and will have to pay a big price for that. So proceed, but proceed with caution – and make sure you know what you’re doing.
MUNDANE MAGIC. This is the kind of magic that we all do, simply the doing of work or tasks on the earth-plane. But let’s not underestimate its importance. For me, the magic of writing this essay was first to take a train out-of-town, then to find an article about writing by Joyce Carol Oates on my train seat; then in the throes of inspiration, to begin writing furiously and nearly miss my stop; then confined to my hotel room during a thunderstorm, to finish the first section; and finally to type it, correct it and computerize it. Now that’s magic.
LOW MAGIC. There is no value judgement here; “low” refers to the lowlands, the countryside, where the pagans, witches and country folk did magic. Mostly uneducated, these people used the herbs and ingredients that were available; and incorporating aspects of White and Grey Magic, performed the rites that were natural and spontaneous to their feelings. The eight great festivals of the year, or Witch’s Sabbats, were celebrated with magnificent beauty and merriment. Today, those of us who are magically inclined still honor the sacred “Wheel of the Year,” and praise its particular gods, who are really parts of ourselves.
HIGH MAGIC. You’ll notice I saved this one for last. That’s because High Magic is my central focus here. It’s called “high,” not because it gives you such a palpable high, but because it was practiced by the educated magicians, wizards, Kabbalists and alchemists in the high, walled cities. Also called the Great Work, the basic goal of High Magic is to exalt oneself to one’s highest height, whether you call that God, Goddess, Higher Self, Higher Genius or Holy Guardian Angel. To put it simply, it’s the way of striving for – and possibly attaining – genius. There’s certainly value in knowing success with the lower forms of magic; but it’s the uplift of the spirit, the higher magic, that’s the launching of the soul to its star.
I hope that the ideas of magic, especially High Magic, will encourage you to find your True Will, your purpose in life, your greatest self-vision.
Let’s talk a little about how I began all this kooky stuff. You might like to know – for a lot of people ask me – and then you can see for yourself if you want to pursue the Magical Path. When I first visited the magical shops in New York City, the intoxicating bouquet of the incense and oils drove me wild. I had smelled these smells somewhere before. I was so attracted to them that I thought I’d better get away fast, otherwise I might get involved in something really ridiculous. (I had gone through a dangerous cult experience some years earlier.) So I stayed away for at least a year.
But then a friend gave me a copy of Marion Weinstein’s Positive Magic, which was so sensible it changed my life forever. I gradually began going to the free “Pagan Way” classes held at Enchantments in the East Village. There, the basics of casting the Magic Circle were taught. But I chose to proceed very slowly and carefully; I never again wanted to be trapped in a situation from which I couldn’t escape. I took my time but came to realize that magic and Wicca (White Witchcraft, the Craft of the Wise) were really geared to the individual, with no group pressure at all. This was good.
I began experimenting with magic. Oh, the fun of it in those early days! Anything was possible. And the enthusiasm of my “beginner’s luck” gave me quite a few magical successes right at the start.
My sister was having a difficult time. Her business was slow and she needed to rent her offices; she’d had an ad in The New York Times since May and it was now November, with no response. I asked permission to “spiritually help her out” and she agreed. So I planned a ritual with the proper incense, oil and candle color – all the essential ingredients – and set to work to help my sister. Trying to wait patiently for a few days, I finally called her. You will not believe what she told me: after six months of no response to her ad, the very day after my ritual she rented all her offices and took on three new clients. Wow! I could do magic!
I was so excited that I ran over to Enchantments to tell them about my first major success. I hadn’t yet learned – and it’s still difficult for me – the importance of Remaining Silent. I bragged about my impressive triumph, only to discover soon after that the new tenant cancelled her check and the new clients cancelled their appointments. My babbling broke the spell. “So much for your spiritual practice,” my sister jeered.
Yes, that was quite a lesson. It took me years to learn how to keep my mouth shut, because I’d get so enthusiastic about the amazement of magic that I wanted to tell everybody. (Which is exactly what I’m doing here!) But seriously, I’ve learned to cool it a little.
After three years of studying magic and the Craft, as it’s called, I decided it was time for initiation. Having investigated the world’s religions, I had finally found mine and truly loved it. Not knowing a High Priestess I trusted at the time, I decided that self-initiation on the Fall Equinox was the way to go. So with the perfect balance of day and night, light and dark, I took vows to myself and the Gods – and became “Kyler, Priest of Pan, Witch of the Goddess and Magical Man.”
The next five years were spent with considerable ups and downs, the misadventures of magical life in New York. On Monday nights I met with a coven for a while and studied privately with an older wisewoman who taught me it’s really the mind that does magic, all incense, candles and oils merely being aids to inspire the mind. But eventually I realized I had to do things my own way and create my own system. Having pretty much absorbed the knowledge of the Craft, I turned to the Kabbalah, the magical core of Judaism, an infinite study. Tired of people’s reactions to the word “witch,” I began calling myself a magician, which was becoming more and more true. Being a stickler for perfection, as magicians often are, I chose to work alone, combining elements of Kabbalah and Craft, High and Low Magic. When asked what my magical tradition was, I’d say, “The Kyler Tradition.”
By now the substantial results of my magic could no longer be attributed to coincidence. After a healing, a friend with AIDS was able to ride his bike for the first time in a year; after a money spell, $1800 mysteriously appeared in my bank account; after a love ritual, I enjoyed my first relationship in quite a while. But these effects were temporary: my friend got sick again, the $1800 disappeared, and of course the relationship ended. What was lasting, though, was the daily work on myself, the higher magic that was making me strong.
I began meeting other magicians at the Gnostic Masses given by the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), Crowley’s magical fraternity. Crowley has always been for me the most brilliant writer on magic; and his Gnostic Mass the most sublime worship service I’ve ever known. After my cult experience, I’d been very wary of groups, but I really liked the people at OTO, and they seemed to be true to their one law: “Do what thou wilt.” Unlike the dogmatic cult, this was a philosophy for the individual, called Thelema, which means “Will” in Greek. Some of my heroes were considered saints in the Gnostic Mass: Nietzsche, Wagner – even Moses. So I decided to take the preliminary initiation of Minerval (Zero Degree), which was pretty exciting. Meanwhile, my psychic counseling practice was growing; and as a new Minerval, I acquired a column in a popular magazine, which catapulted my career.
When I’d been a Minerval for three years, a total of eleven on the Magical Path, I felt ready for further initiation. After a painstaking decision process, I decided against advancing in the OTO, not because I didn’t love it, but because of my leftover hesitancy to join any group. Instead, my dear friend and High Priestess, Rozelisa, agreed to initiate me privately into the Gardnerian Tradition of Wicca.
So I finally got my First Degree after eleven years. First Degree in any system is considered a rebirth and you can cast an astrological chart for the special occasion. Although I’m pledged to secrecy, I’m able to say that it was like five years of therapy in one night. I was amazed at how healthy it was; therapists would recommend it, I’m sure, if they knew what it entailed. But they’d have to become witches to find out!
I now have several initiations and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. They’ve given me my life, my work, and most importantly, my love for myself. When I told the head of the London OTO that I was only a Minerval, he surprisingly replied that degrees are for those who need them, that some people have them naturally. Yes, I think I’ve been blessed with that; I’ve always been a natural for magic. Every fairy tale symbolizes what it’s really about: the hero’s journey and struggle through life to awaken his Sleeping Beauty, the beauty that lies asleep in his consciousness; and to conquer the obstacles to it with the Mighty Sword of Truth, his mind.