I was reading the first issue of the Gaian Times, I know the work of the people running it and was also wondering if I could pitch an article to them.

Then I stumbled across this fabulous article on magic and psychology (a pet subject of mine if you know me!)  I have never seen such a good articulation of some of my views and would recommend it to everyone who practices magic!

When my life gets stressful (as it has recently) Magick is the first thing to go.  I beat myself up about not being disciplined or dedicated enough, about relaxing in front of the TV when I could be practising the [insert flavour of the week] Ritual; but in the last week I remembered that this is tendency to feel like one isn't doing enough, only makes things worsr. 

Magic is work, it takes energy and a clear mind.  It can be draining and tiring.  As I was feeling tired and stressed and berating myself for not doing a couple of bits of magical work over the weekend I began to realise something.  That at the moment any attempt to meditate would fail.  My mind was too churned up or alternatively too tired out.  I felt a bit fuzzy-headed and slightly (usually for me) under-confident.  Does this sound like a perfect recipe for successful Magic?  Not really. 

Given that stress is a huge factor in modern life, it is likely it is a huge factor in the life of the modern witch.  Particularly in these times of economic uncertainty where many people are losing their jobs, are short of money or are incredibly overworked in the jobs they have kept. So how can we stop stress from overwhelming our lives (or in particular our magickal lives - this being a magickal blog).

So before I can back to the practice I have to step away from stress. Easier said than done.  In my current state of feeling overwhelmed by everything I know I have to start somewhere, to avoid feeling like I have been trapped.  But equally I can't be taking on big things, big projects and big ideas.  So where do I go from here...

If I know anything about shifting the energy block of stress it is this:

1. Go a bit easier on yourself.  Now is not the time to beat yourself up for failing.  If you need to take things a little bit more easily - arrange thing so that you can.

2. Do small things and don't worry if they don't work.  Meditate for 5 mins instead of 20.  If you can concentrate and the meditation is a wash out then don't worry about it but make sure you show up tomorrow.  Keep showing up and not worrying if it doesn't "work" eventually a small break through will happen.

3. Eat a little better, drink a little less caffeine and exercise a little more.

This is a blog by people who believe that magick is real.  Many excellent people have written about what magick is and one day I may mention them and posit my own little theories but at the moment I am more interested into exploring the *how* of Magick rather than the *what*.

My view is that effective magic has two broad components.  Technique and Trappings.  There are a variety of Techniques which work regardless of tradition, paradigm or genre.  I'll refer to them again and again in this blog and other writings - probably as the basics.  These are the elements that I always put in my rituals where all else is flexible.  The Techniques have an element of the personal as what I find an easy Technique may seem hard to someone else, what I find impossible someone else may find easy.  For example although I often meditate I find I need an active meditation, focussing on a series of steps or an intent or a journey.  If I try a more zen approach of the empty mind it just never works for me.  So meditation is one of a number of Techniques which are practised in many different ways.

Trappings are the traditions, myths, legends, paradigms or genres that are attached to the techniques.  A simple example for me would be the many and manifold lists of correspondences that you find on pagan websites.  I'll never write any such comprehensive list (although my personal correspondences will pop up in rituals I post) because to me they are Trappings and Trappings are personal. Broader Trappings are traditions such as Wicca (Wicca is also a religion but I am using it here in the context only of a magical path), Thelema, Norse mythology.  These are equally as important as the techniques.  For me Trappings are the missing link between me and the magickal undertow of the universe - in the same way computer code is the language that gets from me typing these words (technique) to sending them out into the universe for people to read. No amount of Technique is going to get me magickal results without the Trappings to lift my mind into the ritual headspace where I can actually interact with the universe.  That would be like typing on a keyboard when the computer is not switched on. Likewise no amount of Trappings will get me magickal results without the Techniques behind it - i.e. all the computer code in the world won't make this blog appear if I don't tap these keys.

This view obviously owes much to Chaos Theory but I believe that Chaos Theory often forgets about a very important aspect of the Trappings - and that is joy and delight.  It may be *enough* to convince yourself to believe in your paradigm to make it work - but it won't make my spirit sing and my heart swell in my chest.  I happen to think I do my best work when I am spiritually inspired by the Gods and Goddess I choose to work with, or when I use myths and legends dear to my heart and bound up closely with my own psychology.

Of course the line between Technique and Trappings is gleefully blurred and I suspect there is a lot of bleed over between the two on that line.  But this is only the first of several posts I plan to make in the future exploring this idea - which is still in its infancy.
Of the many books and techniques I have read over the years one of the themes which recurs is Affirmation.  The idea of making a positive statement to change how you feel or think about something.  Bear with me...this does get magickal.

I have found when I have used this technique (in various forms) that the one problem is that it never seems to last.  I am sure that on a sub-conscious level it makes a difference but even if I do 20 mins of yoga and pledge to maintain that sense of calm, serenity throughout the day it doesn't usually stay.  All manner of things can disrupt that moment of grace and drive it away; perhaps I run late for work, get a deadline unexpectedly brought forward, encounter some sexism, realise I have library fines.  Good things can disrupt those intentions as well; I'll get lost in a book, enjoy an amazing dinner with a friend or watch a favourite TV series. Suddenly the intention is gone from my mind.

What I need is a way of calling that Affirmation, or intention or sense of serenity back to my conscious mind once something mundane, or delightful or stressful has ejected it. One of the current goals in my personal practice is develop a better joined up thinking about magic and the rest of my life.  To be able to bring a spirit of magickal mindfulness to work and everywhere else.  Being able to recall and re-invoke magickal affirmations discreetly, consistently and effectively would be great.  Enter triggers (the good sort this time, not the bad).  When I make my Affirmation, set my magickal intent or complete my yoga I can have a symbol, a token or talisman to excite my senses which I can come back to throughout the day to remind me of that moment.  Simple yet effective.

If I am at home, I'll light a particular incense.  Sometimes I'll forget about the incense but when I do remember it again (perhaps after re-entering a room after fetching a drink) then at the moment I notice the incense again, I will deliberately call to mind that earlier practice and reinforce it.  The moment of noticing is the trigger to remind you to replay the Affirmation or magickal moment. So the item or token must be something which I will notice again and again at little moments throughout the day. That way I spend the day re-affirming my intention again and again.  I have found this is very effective for both doing background magickal practices, sending absent healing or re-affirming statements and concepts I am trying to abide by.

Some ideas for such discreet tokens of remembrance:

1. Jewelry, that you do not normally wear daily, so you "notice" it when you see it. I particularly like anything that jingles and jangles as tinkling silvery noises playing on my awareness is a very magical way to remind yourself of anything.
2. Clothing or a particular colour which is unusual to you.  I am using red a lot at the moment for manifesting things. You can't fail to notice bright red, sunshine yellow, lime green or magenta.  These are colours made to stand out!
3. A bunch of flowers, are discreet on a desk at work, yet the smell will remind you as will the sight of them.  They are unusual on your desk, unusual enough to remind you why they are there, but not odd!
4. Perfume/essential oils/incense -we do get used to smells after a while and cannot smell them anymore.  But it takes a while for this to happen and before that occurs it is quite hard to tune out smells.
5. Candles (probably not appropriate for work or if you are on the move) are fantastic as not only is your eye drawn back again and again to the light, but also to the slight movement generated by the flame itself. Equally anything that catches the light will work nicely, as a sudden flash or flicker attracts your attention.
6. Photographs or Pictures placed somewhere obvious.  This is my least favourite way of using this practice as I find it all to easy to tune out background clutter after a while. But you may find your eye being constantly drawn back to an amazing picture.

I would shy away from alarms, since I always find them so jarring to my mind and sense of wellbeing; and the idea above is not to be forced into remembering, but gently led there as if by accident.  I have no wish to blend the sense of annoyance and interruption an alarm generates with the magickal manifestation I am attempting - but someone else may find that very effective.

The key though, is not to over-use the particular trigger you pick. If it is over-used it will become a part of the background and no longer prompt you to notice it. It is the sudden moment of noticing which reminds you to redo the working so that must be maintained and kept fresh.

I am not going to get into the different ethical situations at this point.  Many people have done great work on this and whilst I might add to their thoughts later on, this is not the post for that.  This post is about when I believe the use of magic is at its most successful or has the biggest impact. Magic is just one of the many tools and skills at my disposal and there are things which magic is good at and things which it is not. 

So in my experience magic is a particularly well suited tool for the following things:

1. Magic To Change A Chance Encounter - Any situation where the success of a venture can be influenced by random chance.  Your manuscript makes it to the top of a publisher's slush pile, the right person stumbles across your blog post.  A ha! I hear you say - "so I can use this to win the lottery".  Or if you came here by accidents you might be thinking,  "Pah - superstitious clap trap. If that is true why don't people win the lottery all the time using magic".  Well maybe you could win the lottery like that and maybe some of the lottery winners are using magic, you never know.  But it seems to me that there are so many people out there putting huge amounts of emotional energy, prayers, wishes (all magic albeit not consciously so) into winning the lottery that trying to use magic to make your number come up is hardly the path of least resistance, it is probably harder than almost any other way of getting enough money to live on - which begs the question why bother. The more variables in a situation the better the chance that magic will have to tweak one of them and change the outcome and lotteries really don't have that many variables.

2. Magic To Augment What You Have - Those time where you need a little nudge to accomplish something which is already within your power.  If you are a pretty good artist, you already have skills, some knowledge of the craft - a little nudge from magic and you could be producing really amazing art, or getting rid of your writer's block or even controlling your nerves enough to give a great presentation at work. I definitely use magic to make myself even more awesome at the things I enjoy doing and want to be better at. This type of magic is almost certainly working on a subconscious level more than anything else.

3. Magic To Work With Other Magic - This covers any and all interactions with other magical, psychic or supernatural phenomena.  Want to visit the underworld, commune with the spirits, protect your aura then magic is your only tool at that point. Funnily enough it works incredibly well (like speaking French in France) and the more you do it the better your magical senses will get.

There are obviously other ways of using magic such as influencing other people...but these tend to fall into the unethical category so I'll leave those for another day.

Just a quick note about my throw away comment "path of least resistance" Many people have discussed and written about the idea that magic takes the path of least resistance. This is the concept that magic will make things travel in the right direction if you have already prepared the way -  so if you want to be a great artist, then buy some paint and actually paint things.     It also encapsulates the idea I mention in point 1 above that magic will work best if it is not competing against a lot of other obstacles and energies...including the mess of contradictions and beliefs in your/my own subconsciousness.
So do I use magic...absolutely. Do I pick and choose my situations so my magic has maximum effect...absolutely.
Today I tried a new magical technique for the first time thanks to the Goddess Circle's Creativity Course.  A sort of spirit walk (an idea I don't really know anything about and could well have go.  I centered myself and connected with the divine and asked to be lead to those things I needed to create my artwork and whilst I did find some interesting physical things, something else happened, several somethings actually.

Firstly the process was really interesting and useful and pretty wonderful.  I walk a lot, but always to either get somewhere or to exercise, I always wear my Ipod headphone (shutting out the world a bit) and although I do notice my surroundings on these walks I don't really notice them in a very deliberate and "conscious" way.  So going on a walk without a particular purpose other than a vague plea to the universe to show me what I needed to see was very different.  Very quickly I found myself in a very calm, spiritual headspace which kept up for the whole hour of my walk, despite the fact I was mostly walking in suburbia through some busy roads.  In fact I had to work very hard to ground myself after the walk and ate something as soon as I got back home because it was actually a little difficult to stop being in that headspace. Definitely a powerful technique even in the way I was doing it.  In fact it reminded me an awful lot of a technique a friend once described to me about 10 years ago.  They said that when they came to live in a new city, they would always go for a long walk in the city to attune.  Each city having it own rhythm and until my friend had attuned themselves to the rhythm then they could quite "get" the city - would find themselves getting lost perhaps or not finding the opportunities they were looking for.
A little over halfway through the walk it suddenly became very apparent that amongst the items I was picking up and the photos I was taking  a message was trying to come through.  Some truth or idea that the universe maybe thought I should know.  Since the point of the exercise was to listen to whatever I needed to hear I let the idea just flow, even though it didn't fall in the category of a feather for me to stick on my artwork.  The message built up slowly though, in layers until I felt I had an amazing idea, an idea which I could translate back into art...somehow.

I began by being drawn to little leaves and veins within them. Noticing that sometimes the colours of the veins was in a stark contrast to colour of the leaf, and sometimes less visible.

Then I saw the cracks in the pavement and the cracks in the asphalt. Cracks which I knew were caused by the roots of trees, breaking through the concrete cages we have built for them.
I thought about the roots of other plants around me all stretching out, connecting and growing unseen in the soil all around me, carrying information, drawing in water and nutrients.

I heard the songs of bird piercing into my mind carrying, messages and connections.

Eventually when I was sitting in a park somewhere I noticed

I had this sudden clarity of vision, of interconnectedness with this little seams of gold running from me to the bird, me to the person mowing their lawn and I thought about this planet we live with with all these precious little roots, veins and seams of interconnectedness and how we connected a million or more times a day without even realising it.  Like the person mowing their law and how they didn't know I was there, hearing them mowing but they made the connection nonetheless.

It was all so joyful and lovely...but that wasn't the point of the message.

I left the park and started for home.  No sooner had I shut the gate behind me when a couple of cars went past.  The noise of their engines was a connection with me.  But not a single clear note like a birdsong, or a deep conversation but a sort of scatter-gun of connection - throwing out the noise of their engines out into the universe with no purpose and not a care in the world about who and how many people might hear it.  This started me thinking that really the seams and veins and roots of the unseen connections in our world have become distorted, instead of these rare and precious moments we are actually deluged with connection all the time;  whether we like it or not. Advertising, TV, Radio, car noises and so many other things are like a tidal wave of connection which both drown out the important things and make it all a lot less precious. Seams of gold, become cliffs of gold and suddenly they are not that valuable anymore.
Now partly this is because I was on a spirit walk and had deliberately opened myself up to hear all this.  But the noise is going on and even if we tune it out, it is still there and we are probably using energy to tune it out.  I am not sure what this means I have to do (at this time), other than write a blog post, create some art and sent this message out into the world for people to ponder on.  I don't think becoming a hermit is the answer, those connections are really precious and we shouldn't run away from them. So I would love to hear any other interpretations of this!
In the beginning this circle was purely a place of protection – covered in magical fire to stop anything disrupting or interrupting me (or even attacking me when I lived somewhere particularly scary).  Then it was a place where I totally controlled the energy and could intensify it as I wished without it dissipating.  Then it was a portal to another world as eventually, within the sphere, a door appeared and through that door was my subconscious, my Gods and Goddesses, my spirit guide and a million worlds to explore and find wisdom within.  But establishing the sphere was always the first step.

Sometimes within the circle I work magic purely within my mind, magic of thought alone.  Sometimes I perform physical rituals. It is a flexible and useful thing.

But when I do a personal practice, even a simple meditation casting my blue sphere is always the first thing I do and this is because it has well outgrown its original purpose.  After using this technique for 11 years it is now a powerful psychological trigger.  Beginning the through processes to cast my circle are deeply ingrained in my psyche so that I hardly have to think about them.  The simple act of going through the motions alone signals to my mind that it is time to get focussed and drop into that particular headspace needed for working magic. 

I would recommend any magical practitioner to get a regular magical practice, something that you could do for the next 20 or 30 years, something simple you can keep coming back to because the discipline of the practice alone is invaluable – regardless of the other purposes of the practice.  Attaining the ability to switch into your magical head state as easily as possible is probably the most important thing I have achieved so far.

One of the first and most consistent magical practices I still use is a variant on the casting of a circle.  The reasons why I use this casting have changed a lot over the years; but the beauty of circle casting is that is has so many applications and uses.  This is probably why this practice has never left me and the nuts and bolts of it have changed little in 11 years.

Everyone has their own needs and style, mine is deliciously dramatic (because in my own private practice I have allowed myself to be as over the top as I feel like) but it starts with my sitting or lying somewhere comfortable and then doing a step by step visualisation.  Firstly I envisage two iron bands encircling me, horizontally and vertically so that they create a spherical space around me.  At this stage I always here an audible “ker…chunk” when the bands lock into place.  Then the rest of the sphere bursts into life with licking tongues of blue fire which I hear hissing and spitting.  Finally bolts of blue electricity arc around the iron bands crackling as they go.  Inside I am snug and tucked away from the world.