Based on talks with friends and our individual experiences, actually doing magical work takes energy. For that matter, doing any kind of work takes an input of effort and energy; generally speaking, the bigger the work, the bigger the energy needed. In more pessimistic terms, it’s garbage in, garbage out. However, doing magical operations takes effort of a different kind than physical or mental labor, and requires energy of a different kind than a hearty meal and a full night’s rest.
First, what is energy? I use the terms “energy”, “power”, and “force” fairly interchangably, but it can be considered from a magical point of view as the ability to make something go or do something else. Light and darkness, the four elements, the seven planets, the ten heavenly spheres, the 12 zodiac signs, the 28 lunar mansions, and so on are different sources or flavors of energy that are commonly encountered in my line of work, but they’re by no means the only kinds. Species of plants or animals, different kinds of stones, memories, and the impressions of emotions and life that things leave on a place or thing are also sources of energy. In all cases, the energy provided from these sources can be channeled, directed, contained, isolated, or manipulated in such a way to accomplish some goal.
In many senses, an average human is another kind of powerhouse or generator that creates, channels, and uses energy. Depending on the goal, different parts of the human are made use of: for physical tasks, the physical body with its energetic needs are required; for mental tasks, the mental spirit; for holy tasks, the divine intellect; and so on. The fourfold body of humanity (body, soul, spirit, mind) is thoroughly wrapped up in itself and among its individual parts, but different modes of working are needed for different kinds of tasks. That said, the human as a whole produces a kind of single energy, which we might call “human life essence”. This alone has many names, like orgone, prana, qi/ki/chi, mana, ruach, or so on, but is the primary energy that humans run on. Although there are other kinds of energies out there, it’s this kind of human life essence (I’ll just call it Life from now on) that allows humans to live. Trying to use another kind of energy to live is like trying to eat paper or pencils for nutrition; it doesn’t really work that way, without some kind of prior processing outside the human system.
Since Life is an energy, it can be used in magical operations in order to accomplish some desired goal. However, this is kinda dangerous, since Life is best and primarily used for living. Plus, although humans generate Life, it’s mostly meant for the purpose of living, and using up Life for other tasks often has the result of having less Life for living. In other words, using one’s own Life cuts off years from one’s life. It’s kind of a nasty conclusion to come to, but it makes sense, and seems to be a constant in my experience, those of my friends, and those of their friends. People who rely on their own Life too much tend to be unnaturally fatigued, seem to age earlier, and likely kick off sooner than those who don’t.
As a magician, this is worrisome, but also easily preventable. Given all the works I do, it’s vital that I don’t use my own Life just to put up a shield or charge a talisman or something. Instead, it’s better to make use of the other forces and energies out in the cosmos that are better suited and, for all practical purposes, infinite. When making a Mercury talisman, for instance, I don’t want to supply my own Life, process it into a Mercurial form, and then stick that into a disc of wood or metal when tapping into a Mercurial flow of energy works just as good, if not better and with less effort (though with more ritual flair). These flows of energy are everywhere, and in so many flavors and styles that it’s almost hard to choose from to figure out which might be best for a particular purpose (hence Agrippa’s helpful tables and complete systems of magic generally). All that I need to do is figure out how best to access these flows of energy, including the spirits to talk to get access to them and the proper times to do it, and I’m generally set. The important thing is that I’m not using my own Life in these rituals or magical operations, but instead I act as a channel to direct these forces according to my Will.
Does this mean that I never use my own Life to accomplish something? Nope. I like to think of Life as the energy I need to do something for myself by myself, and can be extended or manipulated as another “limb” or something. Often enough, interacting with another force requires a channel to be made through the human, made easier by using Life to make a “road” or “tube” to direct the energy flow. When isolating something, I tend to make a “net” or web of Life to catch something, move it around, then release it into another place that can better or more appropriately handle it (localized pain, for instance). When I’m done using the Life like this, I release it back into myself and make as much use of it as I can according to its original purpose, instead of releasing it into the world.
At least, this is how I tend to think about energy sources and the like in terms of magic. There are a lot of different ways one can think about this, and there are even whole models of occult thought that can show how magic generally works. The above is largely classified under the energy model of magic, but I also like incorporating it with the spirit model (whereby it isn’t channeling energy that performs magic but asking and working with spirits to do the same). How do you think about the use of energy in magic, if at all, and specifically the use of human life essence or the place of the human in magic?