21 November 2014

Book Review: Advanced Magick for Begginers

As I wandered Tumblr the other day (a truly dangerous pastime), I came across an interesting quote that a friend of mine had posted.  It was from a book called Advanced Magick for Beginners by Alan Chapman.  I'd never heard of it before, but it looked interesting and I decided to check it out and I'm glad I did.  I don't think I've had as much fun reading an occult book since Lon Milo DuQuette's Chicken Kabbalah.

This is a book less about how to do magick, and more about how to think about magick in order to actually be successful in its practice.  There are dozens upon dozens of books out there that give you recipes, formulas, charts, tables, etc. on what methods you can use to achieve your desired magickal result.  There are very, very few books out there that actually explain how to think about magick and, more importantly, how not to think about magick in order to get those myriad methods to be more than magickal theater.  Chapman does so beautifully.  This book is easy to read and easy to understand.  It's no-nonsense, no-frills, get the job done kind of writing.  Complex ideas are well broken down into bite-sized pieces with tangible explanations and none of the elitist obfuscation so often found in occult texts (not that there isn't a time and place for elitist obfuscation).

The book begins with the idea that you need to ask for exactly what you want in order to get it.  "The gospel is: 'you get what you ask for.'"  This is just a restatement of the idea that you need to clearly understand your intent before performing an act of magick.  As simple as it sounds, this is something that a lot of practitioners fail to do.  It's easy to think that you know what you want, but unless you take the time to really think about it chances are good that you'll miss your mark.

Another deceptively simple idea Chapman presents is: "Ensure there is a means of manifestation for the [magick].  For a [magick] to manifest in the material world, it must be within the game rules of the material world.  Humans do not fly." Magick is all about making whatever outcome you're trying for manifest in reality.  If there's no way for that to happen without breaking all laws of physics and probability, it's just not going to happen - or at least not in the way you want it to.  Once again, it sounds like simple common sense, but it's easy to overlook in the heat of the moment.

I've long been a proponent of the "do whatever works for you" method of magickal practices.  In Chapman's approach there are no "rights" or "wrongs" in magickal practice, just what works for you (in your head and out of it) at the time.  
"Magick is an art because it has no laws, only arbitrary aesthetics that dictate method (as long as you decide what an experience means, you can do anything, and it works). Magick is a science because it has methodology (however arbitrary), with results that can be corroborated by peers through independent enquiry... Magick is a culture because it has implicit social and ethical considerations... Magicians (in their various guises) have always strived to understand 'how' magick works so that they might be able to do it 'correctly.'  But whenever a magician wonders 'what is the correct method of getting a result?' they are falling victim to the fog of simplicity--because what you do, and the result you get, is your decision... So if magick is limited only by your imagination, just how beautiful will you make your magick? How ecstatic?  Will magick be the most fun you've ever had in [your] life, or just the reason your wrist aches?"

This book is pretty much perfect for folks who have been studying magick for a little while (maybe 3-6 months) and want to start really practicing well.  It's also great for folks who have been doing magick longer and want to start getting better results.  (I've been doing this for over a decade and I got something out of this book.) 

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book for an absolute beginner because it references a lot of different practices and methods that an absolute beginner just wouldn't be familiar with.  Although, this might be a good companion book to read along with some of the more common "101" texts out there, particularly if the beginner's got someone more experienced they can ask questions of.

05 November 2014

Book Review: Have You Been Hexed? Recognizing and Breaking Curses

I've just begun writing my Magickal Defense II class over at Shadowkrafting.com.  One of the books I read as part of my research was Have You Been Hexed? Recognizing and Breaking Curses by Alexandra Chauran.  Like most books on metaphysics, it has its strengths and weaknesses but overall is worth reading if you're new to the subject.  If you already have pretty decent knowledge of common psychic attacks and how to deal with them you won't get a lot of new information.


One of the things I like most about this book is that it distinguishes between deliberate, purposeful psychic attack (think if evil practitioners slinging hexes over black candles) and the "common curse."  The common curse, as Chauran refers to it, is the unconscious or unskillful sending of negative energy from one person to another.  Real, deliberate, skillful hexing is incredibly rare.  To cast a truly harmful hex requires skill, practice, determination, energy, and a willingness to accept the consequences.  Very few practitioners with the knowledge and skill to cast such a spell will do so unless you've seriously wronged them or someone the love, making real hexes quite rare.  Common curses are much, much more plentiful.  Anytime someone cuts you off in traffic and you swear and shake your fist at them you are sending a common curse - a batch of negative energy sent their way.  A skillful hex can ruin someone's life; a common curse might make someone miss a traffic light - maybe - if the person is unlucky and has terrible natural shielding.  This distinction is important and rarely made so explicitly; kudos to Chauran for this.

I also like that Chauran takes the time to warn readers about the potential of fraud from psychics and other practitioners that a person might go to for help.  Sadly, in every group there will always be those looking to make a quick buck from the frightened and naive. We've all heard stories of someone going to a psychic to ask if they're under psychic attack and the psychic saying "Yes, you're under attack and for just $500 I can remove it."  While this type of fraud is quite rare (and highly illegal), it does happen occasionally and it's important for folks to be aware.  Chauran gives good information on how to avoid this type of fraud and instead find genuine help.  

Chauran also does a pretty good job explaining what type of symptoms are potential evidence of a real psychic attack and how to go about determining their validity.  I'd say about 1 in 25 people who think they're under psychic attack are actually suffering from the negative energy of others.  It's very easy to think you're under attack when, in fact, you're just having shitty luck or are getting ill.  Chauran looks at all the different warning signs of a potential psychic attack, shows how to look for mundane causes, how to eliminate erroneous "proof," and how to look at things objectively to figure out what's really going on.  I really like this pragmatic approach.  Too many "resources" on psychic attack are alarmist or are just trying to sell you something.  

I also like her thorough explanation on how thinking you're under attack can actually place a self-hex.  I've been trying to get clients to understand this for years.  If you believe you're under attack you will be - from yourself if not from the outside, or in the worst cases from both within and without.  Chauran gives good solid info on how self-hexes work and gives some reasonable info on fixing the situation.


There are, of course, things in the book that I don't agree with - quite a few really.  

The first thing that bothered me was Chauran's insistence that any practitioner skilled enough to sling a harmful hex must have their lives put together.  I call Bullshit.  You can be smart and skilled and still suck at life.  All it takes to sling a really powerful hex is skill, energy, and an acceptance of the consequences.  There are plenty of hateful, miserable people who generally fail at life that have developed the skill of hating on others to a potent and powerful degree.  In fact, the more miserable a person is the more likely they blame others for their misfortunes and the more likely they are to take retribution for their perceived slights into their own hands.  Further, the more miserable someone is the more negative energy they'll have on hand to throw at others.        

Another thing Chauran lists are being necessary evidence for a hex is a distinct start date for the symptoms.  In theory this sounds reasonable - if someone places a hex on Wednesday night, symptoms should start turning up by Thursday morning right?  Well, not necessarily.  If you're looking at a common curse then yes, symptoms are going to start right after the negative energy is sent your way.  If you're dealing with a deliberate hex then maybe not.  It's perfectly possible to place a delayed or gradual hex.  For example, a skilled practitioner would probably make their hex more gradual and insidious to avoid immediate detection and make it more difficult to pinpoint and thus undo the hex.  While a distinct start date is strong evidence for the presence of a hex, its absence is not dispositive proof of a lack of hex.  Nitpicky? Perhaps.  But hey, I'm a lawyer and nitpicky is what I do.

My biggest issue with this book is its hex removal and prevention strategies.  I'm a down and dirty results driven practitioner.  I will beg borrow and steal from any tradition whose techniques actually work and will gleefully chuck the dross to the wind.  This book places a huge emphasis on prayer as a hex removal and prevention technique.  Yes, if you have a good relationship with a higher power then prayer can absolutely help with common curses.  If you don't have an established relationship with a higher power then it's a little less helpful.  Further, in my experience prayer alone will do basically nothing against a skillfully placed hex unless your relationship with deity is essentially being their personal saint. 

Chauran does give some good magickal advice on dealing with hexes.  I particularly like her suggestion of creating a sigil to represent the curse (particularly if it's on a place or group of people) and then ritually destroying it to dismantle the curse.  With the right magickal precautions, and a few extra bits thrown in, it's a great technique.  I don't know how well it would work from someone without a magickal background, but it's a solid technique.


Overall, I would recommend this book for a layman looking to find out "Am I cursed?"  It gives very decent information on how to determine whether you're the victim of a psychic attack.  It also gives decent information on the first steps someone should take in dealing with a common curse.  However, if you determine that you're probably the victim of a deliberate hex, then the info in this book is unlikely to be sufficient and you should seek the aid of a skilled defensive practitioner.  

If you're a defensive practitioner looking for more information to add to your arsenal then you can probably skip this one.  If you don't already have a checklist for determining if you're looking at psychic attack, then the identification sections of this book could be quite useful.  If you already have some decent cleansing and banishing techniques in your skill set then you can skip the hex breaking and prevention sections.