Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release. When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me. This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works. Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context. My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views. If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!
Today’s selection will be on the topics of visualization, meditation, and contemplation.
Visualization is the act of using the imagination to form in-depth images in the mind. While this may sound like mere daydreaming, visualization is far more powerful and capable of creating whole immersive worlds. Using the imagination to create images, then, implies a greater sense of“image” than simply a mental picture, and visualizations should indeed be more than just a fleeting thought in the mind. Visualization makes use of the mind’s full range of senses and perception to create an image, both from the physical senses and the ethereal senses. Visualization is essential in picturing or working with spirits, traveling mentally to other spiritual realms, and understanding and directing the ﬂow of cosmic forces, just as the physical senses are necessary in helping one walk around a city or engaging in conversation with a friend.
Humans interact with the world with ﬁve primary physical senses: sight, sound, touch, taste,and smell. As humans have evolved to have reﬁned and delicate organs of sight, the sense of sight tobe the strongest and ﬁrst developed imaginative faculty of the mind. The relative ease of picturing the face of a friend, guessing how something might look now based on past experiences, or recalling a vivid visual memory can attest to this. However, the most intense and immersive of memories,dreams, and visualizations generally make use of all the senses. It is by all the senses working together that people interact with the world, and when one sense is hindered, the other senses compensate by bringing more information to the mind so as to comprehend physical reality.
The mind can be thought of as a machine that processes data. It can be argued well that humans do not experience the world directly, but only through the ﬁlter of their senses. For instance, though many people might perceive an icy lake as cold, someone with nerve damage in the hands might not perceive any change from that to a blazing bonﬁre. Similarly, though people might perceive one apple as red and another as green, someone with colorblindness might not perceive any difference at all between the two. The senses deliver sensory data from the physical world to the brain, which processes and unites them into a more-or-less coherent perception for the mind to understand and work with. However, the mind is more capable of creating and understanding the world than the brain itself is; while the brain can only process the information that the sensory organs give it, the mind can process all that and more all simultaneously.
A simple visualization exercise begins with physically picking up a small everyday object, say, a pencil. Observe the pencil: looking at it with the eyes is not enough. See every detail of the pencil,every groove and edge, every dent and scratch, the color diﬀerentiation on the eraser, the smooth sheen on the graphite, the angle the graphite has been worn down by writing. Feel the weight of the pencil, the temperature of it when picked up and how slowly its temperature changes when held, the smoothness or roughness of its parts. Smell and taste the pencil, the thick odor of its graphite, the rubbery tang of the eraser, the skin and sweat rubbed onto it with use. Hear the pencil and listen closely as the graphite squeaks and rubs onto paper or wood, the dull quiet brush of the eraser rubbing oﬀ the marks. Completely witness the pencil using every physical sense.
Afterwards, put the pencil down and close the eyes. Recall every memory, every perceived sensation of the pencil that was obtained from witnessing it, hear how it sounded, smell how it tasted, feel how it felt, see how it seemed. Recreate the pencil in the mind from the perception of weight to the perception of smell to the perception of how light reﬂected oﬀ it. Hold the complete image in the mind for a minute without letting it dissipate, then let it go. Half an hour later, try it again without picking up or observing the pencil in the meanwhile. Try it the next day. If details are lost, go back to the pencil and ﬁnd those details and bring them back into memory. Over the course of several days, slowly increase the time spent visualizing the pencil from one minute to five minutes.
Once the pencil can be recalled in its entirety at any moment, repeat the same process with something a little larger or a little more complex, then again with something even larger or more complex. Proceed from the pencil to a fruit, a chair, a bed, a door, an empty room, a sparsely decorated room, a fully furnished room, a house, a building, a forest. Over time, the process of visualizing increasingly complex things, places, and people will become easier and the images more in-depth, more lifelike, and more real to the mind. Experiment with more complex things, such as an instrument playing a song or a meal being eaten. Learn how to recreate or newly create whole things in the mind, and the mind will be strengthened and capable of working with the immaterial realms of spirit.
Meditation is the act of reﬂecting or measuring oneself mentally, permitting one’s own mind to come to terms with itself by itself independent of external stimuli. In a sense, it allows the mind to settle down into stability unperturbed by thoughts that arise. The mind has been described,in one sense, as a mirror: it reﬂects anything put in front of it, though its true nature is clear and reﬂective. By letting the mind be reﬂective instead of reﬂecting something, the true nature of the mind can become known instead of the constantly buzzing, chattering, thinking mind that humanity has grown accustomed to.
The breathing exercises in the previous section lay the groundwork for meditation, and indeed form a style of meditation on their own. By focusing one’s awareness on a single, repetitive, cyclical act, one begins to shake the mind free from the thoughts that cloud it. When such thoughts arise in meditation, let them arise and let them pass without clinging onto them, following them, or becoming angry at their arising. All one needs to do is return to the original act of being aware.
While the breathing exercises focus on being aware of one’s own breath, meditation begins by being aware of one’s own thoughts instead of thinking them. Sit as before, comfortably and relaxed, and begin the fourfold breath exercise for a short while. When ready, having focused the awareness on the breath and permitting thoughts to arise and pass, begin becoming aware of the arising of thoughts themselves. Note where they appear to arise in the brain and in the mind, what other string of thoughts or stimuli caused a thought to arise from simply being aware of thoughts,and let them go. If a particular thought cannot be let go, say “I will think of this and deal with it later, but now it is time to let it go” and do so; if the thought persists as in a repetitive song, permit it to continue and direct the awareness away from it. Whenever the awareness attaches itself to a thought instead of being focused on the arising of thoughts, and whenever this is realized, bring the awareness back to the arising of thoughts without anger or shame. This should be practiced for ﬁve minutes a day after breathing exercises every day, working up to ten, then twenty, then indeﬁnitely.
After this has been established with some level of repeatable skill, turn the awareness onto the act of being aware itself. Though perhaps recursively confusing, this focuses the mind on its own reflective nature without being reﬂective of anything; in this state, the mind is free of thoughts and can enter into deeper levels of trance or spiritual states suitable for magical working. Begin as before with the fourfold breath, then being aware of the arising of thoughts. After being aware of how thoughts arise in the mind, become aware of the mind and the act of awareness, of awareness itself. Hold that awareness, not letting other thoughts intrude as usual. Maintain this for as long as one can, and repeat the process every day. This may sound and seem diﬃcult, but once attained can be repeated with ease.
While meditation allows the mind to focus and explore itself on its own terms, letting other thoughts arise on their own as they will until they arise no more, this same focus and single-mindedness can be applied towards a thought to greatly expand its ability to be understood. As opposed to merely thinking a thought, focusing one’s awareness on a thought, topic, or concept allows the mind to fully enter into and explore it. This style of meditation is called contemplation, and in contemplation one comes to understand and support something from its fundamental axioms to its furthest implications.
Before beginning contemplation of an idea or thought, it helps to be intimately familiar with that idea or thought. Precede the contemplation with extensive reading, note-taking, discussion,and even idle banter involving the concept. Learn about its history, its development, its uses, its origins, its risks, its beneﬁts, its correspondences, its associations, its causes, and its conditions.Whatever can be learned about it ahead of time will help in contemplation.
As before, begin by sitting comfortably, beginning breathing exercises, and enter into a meditative state. Consciously call up the idea or thought to be contemplated, then focus all awareness on that, exploring every thought that arises based on that original thought. If other completely unrelated thoughts arise, let them arise on and out on their own as before; if a thought can be made to ﬁt or be associated with the contemplation, explore why.
As opposed to meditation before, where one wants to abstain from thinking consciously with a part of a distracted mind, contemplation seeks to completely absorb the mind in consciously thinking with its entire force.As opposed to meditation, where the mind is kept from wandering to focus on itself, contemplation allows the mind to wander down paths and avenues of thought related to the topic. Images,smells, sounds, memories, colors, and related thoughts that arise during contemplation, unless the mind is truly wandering oﬀ the path into distraction, help illumine or oﬀer details or nuances or meanings to the topic being contemplated. Thoughts that seem to come from “outside” the mind,especially when contemplating the seal of a spirit, may also be indicative of the topic.Contemplation is not simply thinking about a thing.
Contemplation is completely absorbing the mind into a thing, deconstructing it, inspecting every aspect of it from every angle, discovering new angles and new aspects, using diﬀerent techniques of thought to understand and comprehend it, and relating the meaning of it to one’s own experience: physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and eternally.
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