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Have you ever burned your fingers on flaming beeswax candles during the Consecration of the Fire (or in my case, just lighting the fire), and cursed silently under your breath? Does your consciousness wobble with the water in your pre-dawn Solomonic bath, with soft invisible fingers wrapped around your neurons, slowly trying to coax you back to the warm embrace of your bed? Sometimes (but only sometimes), do you spend hours planning a ritual the day before, only to blissfully banish your alarm clock back to silence, while whispering to yourself “I’ll do it next week”? Never, right?
Uh huh. We’ve all been there, hitting the snooze button more than the oratory, choosing to relegate magical inquiry and ritualistic engagement to a mere side hobby instead of a consistent, effective and diligent Arte & Science. Monks had their distractions for sure...most grimoires tell us we need to find time away from the world. But let’s be frank: in today’s world of hashtags and shortcuts and life hacks and videos of kittens riding Roombas (don’t judge my search history), our attention is coveted after and it is sliced finer than a lion skin belt.
So, what kind of magically-imbued snowshoe is strong enough to allow us to trudge above the never ending avalanche of distraction, to buttress ourselves in our occult lairs, both mental and physical, and to re-claim ourselves as active participants in our lives, as magicians? That requires will or determination which is a magical act in and of itself. To illustrate this, I’d like to invoke the hidden devilish drive of will in two of the most famous poems of all time, and why you should always read and re-read them when preparing for magical rituals.
The two excerpts we will be examining are from two of the best poems in English of all time: John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s dramatic monologue “Ulysses”. Both of these poems, to me, touch on the Promethean, or Satanic “will”, and how this attitude, this refusal to yield to either materiality or non-materiality, is vital for the practicing ceremonial magician.
Let me be clear, I’m not a Luciferian, I’m a Solomonic practitioner of ritual magic, period. But I think that this kind of will, to challenge the vicissitudes of fate and conquer sloth, or the lust for results, or the fear of failure, or success, is the most important thing there is for success in magic, without which gathering the proper materia magica and memorizing invocations would be, at best, a half-ripe fruit falling with perfect mediocrity off of the tree of results.
So, let’s begin with the character of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem which follows the biblical story of the Fall of Man: how Satan falls from heaven in a failed rebellion and tempts Adam and Eve, which results in their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Now Milton said the point of his poem was to, quote, "justify the ways of God to men." But if you read the poem, you’ll see that Milton treats the character of Satan much more colorfully and, dare we say, empathetically, than the cool, distant angels in heaven. And part of this treatment is Satan’s will. Reading Milton’s epic is a consciousness-raising experience, I would definitely encourage listeners to read just a few hundred lines of Paradise Lost, or check out excerpts online. But here, we are concerned with Satan’s indomitable will where, even after being hurled in a blinding inferno from heaven to earth, Satan gathers and rallies the defeated, fallen angels, and says that, despite it all, despite being stripped of celestial office and glory, there is an unconquerable determination that burns inside him, where he says, amid total defeat:
“What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge; immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?”
Paradise Lost, Book I, lines 105-109
One can also feel the pillars of fate, of what *should be* and what should be *within the bounds or the rules* just quake and tremble here under the churning, challenging Fury of Satan’s meditations to his infernal, earthward-shattered compatriots. Forget about the aim of Satan’s will: of the drive to sin and continue to rage against the Supreme Almighty. Just looking at the will alone, we can tell that if we, as magicians, applied just a spark of that same drive to perfecting a magical circle, or writing, stroke by stroke with consecrated ink and a goose-feather-quill, an entire grimoire in a Liber Spirituum...what else could we NOT do, or as Satan says, what else could NOT be overcome? It’s empowering.
Practicing magic is active, it is not passive. We are not begging for a chance of a chance of celestial benediction to maybe shine on our pathetic, unworthy husks of flesh for a brief minute. Instead, magic is the direct engagement with spirits to change our fate, to change results in the real world on a variety of levels. It is this active participation that requires true determination.
In fact, one of the challenges that MUST be overcome, as many magicians have shared, is to stare disappointment and failure right in the eye, as Satan was staring his throneless, deprived earthy kingdom in the eye, and saying: NO. All is NOT lost. This is the attitude we need as magicians.
Now, Milton’s Satan is charming, passionate and defiant, embodying the “courage never to submit or yield”. Well, as Yale literary scholar and professor Harold Bloom has argued, Satan’s refusal to submit or yield is absorbed and articulated in the dramatic monologue “Ulysses” written by Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1833. The entire poem demands to be recited aloud, but I’ll restrain myself for now, and instead here we will examine the concluding lines of Ulysses, where we find Ulysses (Odysseus), having finished his famous Odyssey and coming back home to rule as king of Ithaca, he has everything: a family, riches, people who love him. But he is filled with discontent, and yearns for something more. Like a magician staring a big magical project in the eye, or Milton’s Satan starting at the distant heavens from afar, Ulysses stares old age and contentment of just breathing in the eye and says “No.” He defies fate, turns over ruling his kingdom to his son, he gathers his aged crew to the shore, and says:
Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
-Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson
This is what we need to always keep in mind, as magicians: whether we are staring down age, fear of failure, the daunting task of consecrating magical tools, finding a location for an operation, whatever it is! We look at it, and we say we will desire always “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
When we fail at an operation or don’t perceive any results, we adjust, record our results or lack of results, and echo Milton’s Paradise Lost with the “courage never to submit or yield” and like Satan we ask, being filled with this determination, “what is else NOT to be overcome?”
That, to me, has made the difference, and makes the results, perhaps even as a test from spirits, even more beneficial and sustaining. It is always the journey, and being challenged, that most of the magicians I know have prevailed, sailing off their edge of the known world into the baths of the stars, defiant, chanting the holy journey, and I hope you know that you ceaseless have a ship and crew waiting for you, and I hope you continue to smite the furrows and invoke often and forever.