Though it might be shocking to some, even though I’d like to have my professional title on business cards be “mage”, I’m a software engineer by trade, having gotten a B.S. in computer science from a well-established engineering school, with a focus on metrics in the software engineering process. I run a Linux system (or three) at home, and prefer to stick to working with UNIX systems in the otherwise Windows-dominated environment at work, and *NIX systems have been my primary platform for a number of years now, even dating back to when I was using Mac OS. Basically, I’m a geek in more ways than magically.
Part of the joy about using *NIX systems is the use of the command line interface (CLI) or terminal, which is by no means an old, obsolete, or archaic way of dealing with the computer, though it might be a little arcane or intimidating for a newbie. In some ways, it’s more powerful than using the graphical user interface (GUI), since things are entered in directly as commands with well-specified parameters and arguments. This allows programs to be chained in a way that normal execution through a GUI does not allow; I can output several lines of text from a file, search for a word, make new files with the lines of text that contain those words, and copy them to multiple places around the computer in a line or two of commands, versus spending 20+ minutes doing it by pointing, clicking, typing, dragging, copying, pasting, etc. Though it might take a little practice or thought, the ability to script or link commands together is a powerful tool.
However, this relies on crucial assumptions that most *NIX programs make as a matter of philosophy, which dominate programming and development for *NIX systems and have for decades now. Some of the more important ones relevant to this conversation include:
- Modularity: write simple parts connected by clean interfaces.
- Composition: design programs to be connected to other programs.
- Extensibility: design for the future, becasue it will be here sooner than you think.
Basically, design programs to work as tools for other programs. This is what allows the commands grep, ls, cat, and echo to be so simple yet so powerful, and lets the CLI be so honored and respected even after decades of GUI use. There’s a learning curve, sure, but so does any art, and when one has a thorough understanding of one’s tools coupled with a bit of ingenuity and inspiration, one can wield tremendous power using relatively little effort.
It’s like that with the occult, too. In my practice, I have a multitude of tools from wands to planetary talismans to swords to bottles of oils and blessed water and any number of other things. Some of my tools include ritual arrangements, some include energetic processes, and some include lengthy prayers and orisons to be used, but they all accomplish something or are intended for a purpose. The real force of ritual doesn’t rely on any one tool, but the use of at least one tool in conjunction with others to accomplish something: the use of a wand and a prayer to invoke an angel, setting up crystals and an orgone generator to charge a ritual, or the use of incense, prayers, candles, and talismans to bless an event at an astrologically elected time. In other words, tools are meant to be used together, much like *NIX programs in the CLI. Incense of benzoin and storax on its own is nice, as is an invoation to Hermes, as is a bit of orange cloth that’s easy on the eyes, but it’s using them together to create a ritual and accomplish a goal that any one of them could not that shows the real beauty of modularity and composition.
What’s beautiful about the use of tools in tandem to accomplish a goal is that they permit flexibility and innovation. A tool that does one thing might be able to be used in a way completely unexpected from its original intent: a wand, for instance, was originally a cane to beat people up with, but was viewed by some as a symbol of authority, thence to Will, thence to directing and enforcing things in a ritual. Though some tools may act as if they have a mind of their own, they have a function and are committed to carrying out that function, no more and no less. This means that some tools can be used together in really stupid ways to do things that might end up no better than doing something simply another way, or maybe even worse than not doing it at all. But, by the same token, this allows tools to be used in creative, clever, and potentially groundbreaking ways that were never originally envisioned.
As my HGA once told me, by coming up with, building, or obtaining tools for ourselves, we build new doors, which leads to new and better tools, which leads to new doors, and so on. Tools are an essential part of my (our?) work, because they permit access to new places, new powers, and progress. Even if an idea or function is well-understood on the theoretical level, the implementation of it is just as necessary in order to use that idea with other ideas. This matter of experimentation is crucial in the Art, since it too is a kind of science (literally “knowing”); theorizing and hypothesizing is necessary, but it cannot fully show the implications and materializations of an idea until it and its side effects are fully explored. This is similar to why Frater RO suggests kinetic meditation in making one’s tools by hand, or meditating and drawing out a spirit’s seal multiple times prior to conjuration, or similar practice so that one can really integrate the tool into one’s sphere. It’s this integration that allows for clever creativity, which generally leads to more success and newer avenues of exploration than dumb luck made from blind execution.
In a sense, magic cannot alone be done astrally, lest it stay astral; there has to be some materialization, some grounding, some building involved down here to make the process complete. One may have an etheric nayati or astral temple or whatnot, complete with tools and pentacles aplenty, but without having physical counterparts, it’s much harder to grok the complete use and functionality of something when it’s never been experienced in the flesh. Don’t forget that humans, as material, physical creatures, need to work with things materially and physically in some way in order to make sense of the cosmos, which is also at least in part material and physical. The use of physical tools and an altar is not absolutely necessary, just as a toolbox and spare lumber isn’t needed to build a shelter, but the difference between using tools and not using them can be like that between stringing up a tarp in an alleyway and a decked-out palace. They both accomplish the same goal, sure, but one has a lot more potential and strength when you’ve got something to build with.