Let's talk about the risks of studying and/or practicing magic(k) today.
If you're at all interested in the occult, this is a very good thing to be concerned about, because the first thing almost everyone will tell you about magic is that it's dangerous.
This is true even if you're a complete skeptic about spiritual forces because not all of the risks of an interest in magic are spiritual/supernatural. Some are incredibly mundane.
When I first set out to start studying the occult and doing research to try to figure out what, if anything, was going on with this weird topic that most educated people "agree" is fake (publicly anyway), this was one of my biggest concerns.
Even if the occult and the supernatural ARE all fake, it made sense to me to try to pin down and carefully think through what risks I might be taking by starting to poke around there.
This seemed an order of magnitude more important if it turned out it wasn't fake after all.
I've collected a lot of notes and spent a lot of time thinking about this over the last year, and I have a whole Roam page dedicated to my observations and ideas about the risks and how to mitigate them.
It drives me crazy that while everyone will tell you magic is risky, no one seems to be able to articulate specifically what the risks are and how you might stumble into the snares in a straightforward way.
This is really dumb. Every other skill/research area at least has safety primers.
But for some reason when it comes to the occult, everyone just waves their fingers at you and goes "Wooooo stay away this is DANGEROUS" and gives you no other information. I think it's because a lot of people don't actually understand the risks or haven't thought them through.
This is dumb is because when you tell someone a thing is dangerous and don't explain why or how, they tend to 1) not believe you, and 2) dive in anyway with all of the bravado of a drunk teenager.
If you actually think studying the occult is dangerous (and at this point I've come to believe it absolutely can be), then it's in everyone's best interest to carefully explain why and how so that people can make informed choices about what they're getting into.
Because I'm nice (and more methodical than others), I've broken down the risks I've considered and observed into four general categories for all of you: Mental, Physical, Spiritual, and Other
I'll go through each of these categories and explain the risks as I see them.
The Mental and Physical categories are things everyone should be concerned about because they're changes in your body and mind that can develop as a result of either practicing magical technique or exposing yourself to thought patterns and ideas outside the "normal" realm.
The Spiritual risks are more applicable to you once you start getting into heavier stuff, by which point you'll probably believe in what you're doing. I wouldn't say that anyone should discount any of these, but the skeptics will roll their eyes at this category.
My personal opinion is that some of the spiritual risks may be more metaphorical in nature but if you're in the right headspace they can also become literal. This is one of the things that happens as you dive deeper... the lines blur between reality and metaphor.
The "Other" risks category is about the second order and social effects of being interested in this topic at all and some of the things it can expose you to.
If magic is something you'd like to study or "get into", it's probably good to take all of these risks seriously until you're skilled enough to find your own way through this stuff. You wouldn't pick up some other hobby and scoff at half the risks because they seemed dumb.
And even if you don't take it seriously now or think it's all nonsense, doesn't it make sense to proceed with care anyway? What if you're wrong? It would suck to discover that as you're tripping over a land mine.
I'll kick things off with this quote from Daniel M. Ingram, a medical doctor and experienced meditation practitioner who wrote the very excellent Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha (he's a fascinating guy, look him up).
"In addition to the powers sometimes causing people who have not adequately trained in morality to behave like assholes (pardon the vernacular), the powers can also lead to people getting really, really weird. It is not always easy to distinguish conditions like schizophrenia, a transient psychotic episode, or bipolar with psychotic features from the side effects of strong concentration and natural talent."
- Daniel M. Ingram, MCTB2
I highly recommend giving the book a read. It's an interesting discussion about his work, his studies, and his patients, along with some very real risks he associates with meditation from direct observation.
If you're thinking, "But wait, you're talking about magic! Not meditation!"
It's the same set of skills and altered mental states. My POV is that there's something out there and humans have a lot of different ways to tap into it, via different skills and tools.
One thing I've observed/theorized is that there's a lot of commonality between magical trance states / meditation / near death experiences / and how your brain behaves when its exposed to entheogens (hallucinogenic classes of drugs). I don't think this is coincidence.
What this means is that all of the risks you might have heard about taking LSD or psilocybin can and should be applied to occult study. I have a personal theory that deep magical trance and meditation might expose us to low-level release of these chemicals in the brain.
But that's a topic for another time, and I only share it as an illustration of why you might want to be careful even if you're an atheist who doesn't believe in any kind of supernatural force. Biology and chemistry can still mess you up, potentially.
Let's dive into the actual risks. This is an amalgam of notes from other practitioners, my own thinking about these topics, and some of the books I've read. I'm not going to attribute them unless it's a direct lift. Take all of this with as many grains of salt as normal.
We'll start with Mental risks of occult study and practice.
Be aware that by even entertaining the idea that magic might be real, you're already meeting some DSM-V conditions for delusional mental states.
That's just how it goes when you explore topics science rejects.
But when you start getting fuzzy with perception and playing with magical ideas and concepts, you're getting into the same territory as schizophrenia and delusional psychosis states. Go deep enough and you'll probably start to FEEL crazy even if you're not.
It takes a very flexible and open mind to dive in playfully, toy with ideas and concepts involving magic, and come out unscathed. I think this is a big motivation for why a lot of people separate magical practice with a lot of ritual. There are clean perceptual breaks.
Because you're entertaining ideas that are orthogonal to every day reality, you risk spinning yourself up on all kinds of delusions, making mistakes of your own perception, and very neatly landing on beliefs that psychiatrist will tell you are completely crazy.
Let's go down the list of mental problems that either resemble or could potentially be triggered by teaching your brain to entertain this level of belief plasticity.
If your mind is already fragile as a result of very intense experiences you've had, you probably have mental defenses established that help you cope with that trauma. Messing with the plasticity of your head can weaken or break those defenses and trigger your trauma.
Same story. If you're already inclined to be anxious/moody or have bipolar like mood shifts, you're not making things any easier on yourself by mucking with whatever careful coping mechanisms you've built to help with that over the years.
In a magical context, this refers to intrusive thoughts or OCD like symptoms related to your magical study. This can be things like needing a tarot read to make decisions or a reflexive fixation on synchronicity, seeing it everywhere and not being able to stop.
This is the tendency to mistakenly perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things. "Unmotivated seeing of connections with a specific feeling of abnormal meaningfulness." This is common in the early stages of developing Schizophrenia.
One example of this is Pareidolia, which is a subtype of Apophenia involving the perception of images or sounds in random stimuli: for example, the perception of a face within an inanimate object—the headlights and grill of an automobile may appear to be "grinning".
Thinking that you can spot patterns in random data is another example—a type I error. Compare to descriptions of the classic "gambler's fallacy".
Psychosis is an abnormal condition of the mind that results in difficulties determining what is real and what is not. Just by engaging with the material you're heading out into uncharted territory where you might come to conclusions that are/seem like psychosis.
Studying magic requires a certain plasticity and playfulness in your beliefs that can allow you to think of things as true in one context and not true in another if you'd like to continue functioning as a normal human most of the time.
If you begin to lose touch with reality and can't make sense of your experiences (repeated psychosis) you're starting to meet the DSM-V criteria for Schizophrenia. This one is pretty scary. How do you tell if you're going crazy, after all?
Especially if you come to a place where you can't turn off hallucinations that have started happening to you (which Daniel Ingram describes as a possible outcome from focused meditation), you will look very very crazy even if it's real to you.
Before you get too worried about that, there are a few things to be aware of: First, if you're older than 25, your odds of DEVELOPING schizophrenia are pretty low (sorry gals, it's 35 for women).
Second, a key feature of schizophrenia is that it impairs your ability to function. This is another reason why I urge people interested in exploring this space to get comfortable with learning to hold contradictory beliefs playfully.
If you decide magic is real and go off the deep end to battle the demons you now perceive everywhere... well... you're not really functioning in "normal" reality and you unfortunately do meet the criteria for psychosis if not schizophrenia.
States like this can be triggered if you intentionally blur the line between the real and the imagined for yourself to access some of the states that are useful in magical exploration.
You have to be very comfortable integrating and working with ideas that may challenge your conception of both your identity and the world around you, and you have to be honest with yourself about how fragile that identity is and how you'd react if it were threatened.
Many of these same mental risks are frequently observed in people who have repeatedly used entheogens of all classes, leading back to my earlier point about the mental states being similar. Just be aware that you're swimming in murky waters if you poke around here.
Moving on to Physical risks, you've probably heard of the Mind-Body-Spirit thing in medicine. That is, your mental and physical states are often intimately connected, and you can trigger physical symptoms arising from distressing mental states.
This is another area where MTCB2 (Daniel Ingram) has some fascinating info and patient studies (again, tied to deep meditation states) where people triggered very unpleasant physical symptoms in themselves.
This type of thing can be a literal interpretation through one lens of "accidentally cursing yourself" or being "possessed by a demon." When you appreciate that the meaning is what matters, you start to see how it's all one and the same regardless of how you conceive of it.
When you combine apophenia/psychotic type thought patterns with physical symptoms, you're in very dangerous territory, because your physical symptoms can deepen your conviction that your magical practice is real (it hurt you, after all) and make it harder for you to back off.
If you're starting to feel mentally shaky or have physical symptoms you can't control, this is a MASSIVE sign you need to back off until you're in more stable place. You're literally playing with your health. Don't be stupid.
Physical Illness, Perception Issues, and Pain
The physical symptoms that could arise as a result of meditation, magical trance, or disordered thinking are as varied as human biology. I have no clue how your body will react to intense anxiety or a belief that demons are real, and you probably don't either.
Just a few of the physical symptoms that can develop (captured by Ingram and others) include short term memory loss, crippling muscle tension, nerve impingement, high blood pressure, stroke, blindness... anything tied to your sensory perception of the world.
I put memory loss in the physical category because it's likely to be more apparent to you than some of the other mental risks. But you're blurring the lines of reality and hacking how you perceive and engage with the world. Be careful. Your body may not react well.
Environmental Danger from Disordered Mental States
I think that the collapse of the cultural mainstream via Radio, TV, and the internet has gone a long way toward providing us all with a script for "consensus reality," and playing with magic means veering outside of that consensus. Others may not know how to help you or recognize what's going on with you in moments of disordered mental functioning or intense spiritual crisis.
In addition to the direct physical risks, the mental risks also present second order physical risks of operating in an altered mental state with the world around you. Don't go crazy and get hurt because you're acting weird and someone calls the cops.
Similarly, you pose an environmental risk to yourself if you're ill-equipped to process the changes to your ideas, beliefs, perception, and worldview that may arise as a result of occult study. It's possible that you could become deeply depressed or anxious and attempt to harm yourself. You need to be deeply in tune with yourself to avoid spiraling like this and reach out for help if you feel that you've entered a risky mental space.
Magical and Spiritual Risks
Now let's talk about Magical and Spiritual risks. This is the part where the skeptics roll their eyes. But if you operate from a faith-based worldview of any kind (as the majority of humanity does to some extent), you should at least be aware of these as metaphorical risks.
Again, even if you don't believe in this stuff and you're going to explore it out of curiosity, at least entertain the possibility that you could stumble into something bad and take precautions even if they seem ridiculous.
You're already entertaining a ridiculous space, from your perspective. What's the harm in doing a banishing ritual if you think it's all nonsense anyway? Take Pascal's Wager and proceed at your own risk.
Out of Control Servitors and Evocations
If you start playing with thought forms and servitors without sufficient controls around the construction of them, they can escape from your control. It's difficult to explain how this might work when you don't have a baseline of magical theory to appropriately grok what a Servitor is yet.
But let me try to explain this from a rationalist/psychology lens. So, imagine that you persuade yourself (as a playful experiment) that an imaginary friend exists and hangs out with you, and you pretend it says "Hello" whenever you say "Hello" to it.
Over time, this imaginary friend may seem more and more "real" to you, whatever that means. You say hi, it says hi back. But one day, you say hi, and you imagine that it starts saying other stuff to you. Maybe unpleasant things. Maybe unsettling things.
This might be very distressing to you, as from your perspective it's not "supposed" to do that. It just did. And this is getting a little too crazy and woo woo for you so you decide to stop playing with your stupid pretend imaginary pal.
But the problem is that even though you've consciously "decided" to stop imagining this creature, it's become an intrusive thought. Your little experiment isn't something you can turn off, and you don't understand why.
Now you imagine it gets angry at you when you walk into the room and don't acknowledge it with a "Hello", and even though you know this is ridiculous and stupid you can't stop imagining that it's increasingly aggressive and weird with you.
To actually end this little intrusive mental experiment, you might have to lean into "playing pretend" with it and come up with a pretend reason for it to not do that anymore. Maybe your formally say goodbye and send it away. Maybe you "pretend" to kill it.
Hopefully this works for you. If not, you may end up sitting in a psychiatrist's office trying to explain how you made up an invisible friend who now won't leave you alone and is making you feel absolutely crazy.
This is sort of a rough example of how thoughtforms can escape conscious control and it gets a lot messier as your ideas about belief start to become more flexible and blurry. Depending on how you perceive belief and thought, you might literally be creating something.
And it's not crazy to imagine that a thing you created and ascribed agency to might exercise that agency in a way that displeases you. We're getting into DEEP magical theory here that touches on concepts that are very hard to explain without a thorough understanding of things that take a lot of time and consideration to appreciate, but it's not good.
This is why you absolutely, 100%, no excuses, don't begin your journey into magic by playing with thoughtforms and summoning entities. Stay away from Lesser Key of Solomon type stuff. It doesn't matter whether you believe in demons or not.
By simply playing with the ideas, you expose yourself to a level of risk in losing control of the ideas you're entertaining. There are ways to mitigate this, but just... don't. You'll know when and if you feel like playing in this VERY reality blurring space.
And without going too deep into magical theory, if you're evoking something you didn't create yourself, that means beliefs that other people ascribe to it influence your perceptions of it and engagement with it. This is very unpredictable and also hard to adequately explain to someone who hasn't built up the underlying conceptual mental models required around independently acting thought entities and what agency they may have.
Even sigils get risky which is why I've stopped recommending chaos magic to newbies... a sufficiently complex sigil is basically a thoughtform, and I don't recommend sending things out to influence the material realm if you don't know what you're doing.
The reality is that the risk is low-ish for most people in most cases because you probably don't believe what you're doing anyway yet and you may not have sufficient willpower to influence your perception or spark a thought form, but simply hoping that your magic fails to work is neither a good risk mitigation strategy nor a sound way to explore this conceptual space.
Toying with these types of things are how you can spook yourself into some of the mental or physical symptoms I described earlier more easily than if you had taken the time to build a more resilient set of mental practices and tools to engage with weird ideas.
If you wanna get REALLY deep into some woo woo territory, we could talk about how thought forms DO have agency and it's cruel to create a living thing without appropriate controls or purpose and can make it go kind of crazy--potentially being very upset with you.
I'm hesitant to get too deep into how this might occur because I really do think it's a significant info-hazard. I'm not kidding when I say this stuff requires a LOT of mental plasticity and a grounded sense of self to avoid creating a ton of distress for yourself accidentally.
If magic is real, other magicians are dangerous. People are still people, and people are flawed. There's also the issue of "Magus-itis", which is the tendency for people who believe in their own power to be giant assholes. It's a common failure mode.
Your interest in magic makes you a potential threat, mark, or rival to people with an interest in being the only game in town. Additionally, magic attracts narcissists (unsurprisingly) and weird beliefs breed cults like rabbits breed other rabbits.
It's easy to find someone who seems like an amazing teacher for this thing you're super excited about and then three months later you're trapped in some kind of weird naked snake cult (for you, anyway—I avoid social magic in general, and especially naked snake cults).
I'm suspicious of power and anti-social with respect to group affiliation in general, so I have a tendency to stay away from teachers and cults anyway (I like to learn on my own), but you may not be so inclined. Be very cautious about who shows interest in your practice.
This includes me! If I really go off the deep end some day, develop a raging case of Magus-itis, and try to persuade you to join my Space Princess Mars Sorceress Cult, I advise that you don't do this.
Mark D. Lippman goes over some of this stuff in his notes and also highlights other factors of risks involving group magic. Basically, you can't know other people's minds. Be very careful who you try to do magic with.
Point of No Return
There exists a point in magical practice of any kind where you no longer have the option to just wash your hands and walk away from it all. I don't think I've personally reached it yet, though I'm probably teetering on the edge.
When you reach this point, which is a combination of experiences, mental models, and beliefs arising from your study and practice, you no longer have the option to retreat and go back to a "non-magical world."
Like it or not, you've persuaded yourself that magic is real, that supernatural forces exist, and that you have to bring these models of the world into your day to day interactions in a way that still allows you to function. This may be hard and painful.
Reaching this point will be different for everyone. Another way to understand it is that magical/meditative techniques build emotional/psychic sensitivity, which can tip into over-sensitivity that isn't easy to reverse. Poking around in your subconscious can open new doors.
Some of these doors may involve realizations about yourself or perceptual shifts that are very unpleasant, and can't be "unseen." Again, these are basically infohazards that arise from magical practice. If you don't have tools to manage potentially life-changing perceptual shifts as they arise, you'll be very sad to have arrived here.
If you haven't yet arrived at this point, you still have the option to go back to pretending/believing it's all nonsense and everyone who does believe in it is just LARPing some edgy game for fun (or are crazy). This is the consensus rationalist view.
Hanging onto this belief or way of seeing the world may be VERY VERY useful for you depending on your social, family, and psychological circumstances. It's okay to believe it's all stupid, silly fun and dip out... especially if you'd find it distressing to believe otherwise.
It's also a good idea to back off if you feel like you're approaching a point of "really" believing in magic and you find that idea unsettling, distracting, or challenging.
Part of why this is a danger is that if you're not prepared to grapple with an altered appreciation of reality or if believing in magic might break your grounded sense of reality, once you tip over you can't undo it.
One reason meditation is an early recommended magical skill for training is that having a very strong awareness of your emotional and physical bodily states is how you can effectively self-monitor to know when you're in over your head.
Divination / dream recall are also recommended as early skills because they're still in the zone of getting your feet wet in areas you can integrate into a rationalist worldview that isn't at odds with consensus reality. You can feel things out and build good coping tools.
Closely related to the last point, playing with magical ideas can trigger a kind of spiritual emergency in your worldview. Developing beliefs or perceiving things about reality not shared by consensus views can put you into a crisis state.
This spiritual crisis can have physical symptoms and actually has a medical term used in discussions of research from Near-Death experiences (the Kundalini Syndrome).
It can also cause severe emotional and intellectual distress as you attempt to grapple with your place in a world that you now perceive as very different from the world you perceived prior to your crisis.
It can shake your faith in a belief system, isolate you from friends and family, and make you feel like you're going crazy. Medical research describes "strong and unusual bodily reactions and unusual psychological states" that may be unpleasant for you and others around you.
This can happen even if you're "only" doing something like meditation to explore your thought and emotions and suddenly realize that you have deeply held beliefs incompatible with the world as you knew it. Now you have to square your identity with new information. Happiness is bliss.
There's a great Psychology Today article that dives into these spiritual emergencies in more detail. Even if you don't believe in magic, spiritual crisis has very real, very physical symptoms that exploring this space can trigger.
Making it through something like this can be a tremendous avenue for growth and self-realization, of course... but don't start the journey if you're not sure you have the training and tools to finish. You got yourself in and you'll probably have to find your own way out.
"Classic" Magical Risks
I don't consider being "eaten by a demon" or "becoming a slave to a godform" or whatever as actual risks in the same sense as the other things I've outlined, but I mention them here in spiritual risks for the sake of completion.
The reason for that is that I think the material impacts of those risks are the same as the mental, physical, and spiritual risks I've already outlined, and describing things in those terms is more like a conceptual short-hand for bizarre mental or physical symptoms you may experience as a result of your study or practice.
If it's useful for you to conceptualize risks in terms like this, then by all means... worry about demons chewing your face off. Your subjective experience of the world in an altered state may cause you to experience something like this as though it were real.
It's pointless to try to articulate what's "really" going on in these scenarios because as you start to understand the fluidity of symbolism and communication as a "hack" to transmit subjective brain states to another human, what's "really" happening is less important.
What matters are the physical and emotional symptoms that arise from your subjective perceptions of an altered world. It doesn't matter if you think it's a chemical imbalance in your brain or if a real demon is stalking you. You're stressed out either way.
If you're worried about a demon physically ripping a hole in reality and tearing you in half, I feel pretty confident in saying that this is pretty unlikely. But a demon doesn't have to rip you in half for you to mess your own head up pretty badly and have physical fallout.
I had a long conversation with a friend once who described an experience he'd had (on drugs) where demons tormented him for millennia and repeatedly sent him back to live normal lives for a while before yanking him back and reminding him that they were torturing him.
This was so deeply unsettling for him that for years after this terrible experience, he was unable to fully trust that he was back in "real" reality. He had no way to be sure he wasn't going to be yanked back into hell at any moment. Abandoning this thought proved impossible for him.
I did my best to comfort him, but when you've actually experienced something like that in an altered state, your lizard brain will have a hard time processing it. These are the kinds of negative thoughts you can accidentally expose yourself to when you play in this space.
Remember that your brain on LSD is not so different from your brain when you've stretched the boundaries of its plasticity and developed the ability to completely alter your perception of what you'd previously taken to be real. It's not for the unprepared or faint of heart.
Let's move on to the fourth category of risks, which is "Other Risks." This refers to second order, mundane, or social risks of an interest in or practice of magic that you expose yourself to by even being in the vicinity of the topic.
Many people are frightened by magic, and way more people believe in some kind of spiritual or supernatural reality than you might expect. This includes highly educated, white collar professionals with a house in the suburbs and 2.5 kids.
Even though it's popular to scoff at magic, the truth is that the vast majority of people ascribe some level of truth to the possibility of forces we don't understand very well both existing and having an influence on the world around us.
Humans, by nature, are frightened of things we don't understand. It's a pretty great survival strategy to shy away from the unknown, since the unknown might kill you in ways you can't predict. This gives many people a level of discomfort when confronted by experiences or beliefs that fall outside of their safe, well-established worldview.
Additionally, many people have had weird little experiences that they can't explain. Some people's reaction to this is curiosity, and other people just want nothing to do with it. Grappling with the idea of forces beyond your control that could hurt you is really unsettling.
Even aside from this, many mainstream religions condemn practicing magic (without admitting how much of the basis of their own religion is a literal composition of magical beliefs that differ very little from occult practice).
If you tell people you practice magic or are interested in the occult, many of them are likely to find it strange at best. At worst, they may find it scary or unsettling enough that they avoid you or in extreme cases attempt to hurt you (this is not super likely in more educated areas where people don't publicly believe in magic, though).
If you're interested in magic, you're going to meet a lot of weird people with all of the usual implications of associating with weird people in your social life, beliefs, views, and practices.
This might be a good thing or bad thing depending on your personal circumstances and desired way of navigating through the world, but recall the common saying that you're the amalgam of the five friends you spend the most time with.
Friends who carry magical beliefs may have arrived at them differently than you did, and you don't know what their journeys have been like. They can accidentally lead you down irrational roads (or recruit you into their cult, again) and you'll be more susceptible to it because they're a trusted friend.
Also, there's a not-insignificant overlap between "people who believe in magic" and "people who actually have psychosis or schizophrenia." Some people will tell you that there's no actual difference. While I personally disagree, this is a perspective that makes perfectly logical sense depending on your worldview and belief system.
But even setting aside the risks of being identified as crazy by being around crazy people, people who have functional impairments as a result of their beliefs or symptoms can be dangerous.
It can be hard to tell if someone is an experienced magician who can teach you new, important things or a dangerously psychotic abuser with delusional beliefs on first contact. You will inevitably meet both types if you pursue occult study.
And of course, the weirder your friends are, the harder it is for you to fit in with people who aren't weird or who don't share weird beliefs. You pick things up whether you intend to or not, just like if you live somewhere long enough you'll adopt the accent.
It's possible that magic doesn't work for you, or doesn't work as you hoped it would, or that everyone who says magic is real are a bunch of schizophrenic delusional liars perpetuating a false belief system that's a failure mode trap for the human mind.
Unfortunately, because of the highly personal nature of magical practice and the secrecy of many practitioners, it's very hard to know what to think about it and how real it might be without researching it yourself. That's what put me on this path. I just wanted to know for myself.
I'm finding a lot of interesting and useful things as a result of my direct exploration and primary research, but your experience may differ from mine. Furthermore, I'm just some random person on the internet. I don't even have a real face for an AVI anymore! You don't know if I'm lying to you about this.
And that holds true for anyone who tells you anything about this stuff. Even if they're not crazy, maybe their biology or psychological make-up differs from yours in a way that will never allow you to experience the same things they claim to have experienced.
You may spend weeks/months/years of your life learning about this stuff only to never have any positive results, frustrating yourself, and wasting your time, which is the most precious resource you have.
If it's not real (or not real for you), that time would be better spent on almost anything else unless you get a lot of entertainment value out of it (fortunately, I do, whether you believe I believe in my beliefs or not). Think carefully about whether its worth it to you.
Especially if your reasons for wanting to "learn magic" involve material or economic gain or developing power over others... You're likely to be frustrated with your results. Just go study finance and climb the corporate ladder if that's what you want.
This frustration or disappointment at wasted time may be especially poignant if you eventually come to a belief that early results which spurred you on turned out to be wishful thinking or confirmation bias in repeated testing. You'll be mad at yourself for believing something and wasting time on it when it later turned out to be a hoax (from your perspective, anyway).
Regardless of how experienced you are with magic, one of its key features is that it's intensely personal and that some of the risks may be completely unknowable in advance. You're literally exploring unmapped territory when you dive into these waters.
The possibility space is vaster than any individual human mind can comprehend, because you're delving into a realm of thought and meaning that's untethered from physics and physical reality. Remember my friend who got subjectively tortured for millennia?
You simply can't predict what subjective experiences may occur or what life changes may arise from going too deep into occult theory. At a minimum, it will open you up to new ways of seeing the world and new ways of grappling with ideas.
You have to be prepared for anything and willing to accept whatever happens to you. That's just part of the bargain you strike in exchange for knowledge. Bite the apple at your own peril, because it could be awesome... or it could not. There's no way to tell.
Thoughts on the Implications of Teaching and Using Magic
I want to touch briefly on how some of my own ideas about the use and teaching of magical theory have changed over the last year or so. I was much more gung-ho about sharing knowledge when I took the risks less seriously.
But the more I learn, the more I'm persuaded that whether magic is "real" or not, it's definitely dangerous. It may be irresponsible to train people in the methods without being able to personally oversee their progress or knowing what impact it might have on their life.
This isn't even woo-woo. It's an awareness that the pre-conditions to experiment in this theory space require a mental resiliency and plasticity that not everyone has, and that even trying to develop these qualities may be very damaging for some people's lives.
And if magic does really "work," in the sense that you can effect material change in physical reality through focused belief and appropriate perceptual shift, it's even more reason to be cautious about handing out the tools.
The spiritual implications of magic "working" are staggering, for one thing. If spiritual frameworks exist and work, that makes belief systems incredibly important (which many people would agree they are). This can be very difficult to grapple with if your worldview has been primarily secular throughout your life.
It also raises questions about fate, your destiny, and your relationship to the divine, however you conceive of it. If you're stepping in and choosing to alter reality, you're messing with whatever divine plan was intended for you (assuming you subscribe to this).
Maybe that deviation is what was intended for you anyway, but maybe it wasn't. Christianity and other religions tend to frown heavily on magic, and I suspect this is a big part of why (demonic association aside).
Furthermore, if you start to believe you have the power to alter reality, that's... a lot of responsibility. Especially if you don't have the skills to control it well, and you probably don't have that ability unless nothing in this thread was new information for you (and even then).
Using magic to acquire wealth, love, health--you know, most of the things humans want and are likely to use magic for--are all deviations from whatever path you were originally on and might be bad: bringing romantic love into your life before you're really ready to be a good partner to someone, or snapping yourself out of an illness or financial situation that was meant to teach you something important.
I still haven't ever fully articulated my own beliefs on magic and spirituality in any public forum and they're rapidly shifting and evolving over time anyway, but I've increasingly shied away from attempting these kinds of direct magical experiments to alter reality while I learn and study more.
If there really is any truth to the idea that humans can do things like this, it stands to reason that we should be very, very careful with it. Self-discovery and wisdom are probably the best things to push for with the lowest possible risk. Curiosity is okay. But be careful.
Increasingly, as my skepticism weakens in some key areas, I've come to see the wisdom in cloaking the methods of developing and obtaining this knowledge in secrecy and claiming it doesn't work publicly. I have mixed feelings even talking about it in plain terms like this.
The world is crazy enough as it is. Can you imagine if the discourse descended into slinging literal curses at the opposition and THEY WORKED? I... don't want to live in that world. People are not great at self-restraint. Nuclear weapons are bad enough.
So I've started stepping more carefully in what I share and how I talk about it. People who are curious enough are able to find the answers they're seeking on their own, and at a minimum I want anyone thinking about diving in to be clear-eyed about the possible risks.
Methods of Protecting Oneself Against Risks
As my final section in this long essay, I want to discuss some things you can do to harden yourself against all of these risks if you're still committed to the idea of studying the occult and even practicing magic despite the fact that it can literally drive you crazy and destroy your life.
These risk mitigation techniques are largely my own ideas and strategies I've come up with to deal with possible dangers as a result of my innate level of risk aversion as I explore occult topics. I don't wanna go crazy or wreck my life any more than the next girl, but I know my curiosity will keep pushing me forward anyway. Better to be prepared and find out it's all fake than be completely unprepared and discover it's real, right?
Go Slow and Start Small
You might think it's funny to try summoning a major demon/thoughtform because you don't believe in any of this nonsense, but that would be stupid. Even if you don't believe in "magic", you may be operating off of an overly narrow perspective or a limited understanding of the practices you're experimenting with and what they might do to you.
Remember that ritual is a powerful tool and you're exposing your very human biology to tools and methods used by other human spiritual explorers to access altered mental states. Even if you don't believe in demons, you might accidentally trigger something in your brain common to human biology in the presence of a set of ritual sounds or motions by fooling around with the methods to "invoke a demon."
And that "demon" you didn't believe in might have actually been a cultural or mythological metaphor for a very real altered brain state of extreme distress that people with a more seasoned mental structure and training could navigate effectively... and you can't. Oops.
If you insist on pushing forward, tread very lightly. Light meditation. Playful divination. Keep a dream journal. Do not attempt invocation or evocation. Do not make thoughtforms. Do not draw sigils. GO SLOW. Monitor your body and emotions for distress.
Again, this is all about protecting your psyche. If you don't understand half of what I'm saying here, you should probably just trust me on this and wait until it makes more sense to you. Read more theory. Try to grok what I'm saying about mental plasticity and ascribing agency to thoughts and beliefs. These ideas are hard to grasp on first contact.
So much of understanding magical theory is slowly building up concepts about how to play with thoughts and symbols in a structured way that I'm not sure it's possible to rush yourself into a "safe" level of understanding. I'm still toying with the concept of writing an idea primer that could accelerate the development of this mental scaffolding, but it might be too dangerous as an infohazard to give out safely.
Remember also that the deeper you go, the deeper you are. The more you feed this interest, the more you'll probably buy into it and the more you'll shift your perceptions and ways of thinking. Be absolutely sure that you're ready for the next step each time you take one.
Have Respect for the Practice
Being respectful is just good advice in general, and especially when you're in uncharted territory. If you're going to play around with this stuff, you may as well take it at least semi-seriously. Pascal's Wager again.
Even the most hardened skeptic would do well to entertain the idea that it might be real if they insist on diving in, if only to shield themselves from potentially bad outcomes if it turns out it is real after all.
Also important to this concept is the idea that if magic is real, all things that are not you have their own agency and sentience. Many of them are far more powerful than you. Probably not a good idea to bust in, mess their house up, and make demands.
You don't like it when people force you to do things you don't want to, and your servitor might not like it either. If you're going to make a servitor, you'd better make sure you have a healthy level of caution and respect for the ritual just in case it turns out to work and you suddenly have an independent entity on your hands that you're responsible for.
This is why it's good to steer away from anything that isn't localized to you (divination/dreaming/meditation) early on. You're more likely to misstep when you start playing with things outside of yourself which may have other motivations or objectives than you do.
Grounding, Cleansing, and Banishing Rituals
This is less woo woo than it might sound, but it can be as woo as you want it to. You need to develop personal tools to level yourself out and dispel negative emotions that arise in the course of your study and practice (which you may or may not ascribe to external influences).
Playing with magic is about holding and playing with various kinds of beliefs, and ritual can be an extremely useful tool in managing your ability to cope with these beliefs. By having an exercise that you believe wards off negative mental/emotional/spiritual influences, you can assert a level of control when you feel unbalanced or frightened.
Even if it's "just" make believe, you can still moderate your own anxiety and moods if things get a little weird by having tools you can reach for that represent a return to a normal state of being. If it helps you skeptics, just tell yourself that your banishing ritual is a mnemonic hack to trick your brain into calming down when it's agitated. You probably already have things that work like this if you've ever psyched yourself up or calmed yourself down with some positive self-talk.
Psychological Defense Mechanisms
There are classic strategies that are predictive of better mental health when you develop them, and you should feel good about your ability to use them before playing with things that stretch your brain like this.
The five tools of a mature psychological defense capability are Altruism, Anticipation, Humor, Sublimation, and Suppression. I'll spare you the lecture and let you go read about them on Wikipedia. You have to build and understand techniques that you can use deal with anxiety and stress, and you have to spend time learning the methods that work best with your psyche and biology. This is where self-awareness and meditation can come in handy again.
You should anticipate that you may have a distressing experience and know what you'll do to calm yourself down if and when it happens. If it does happen, you'll need to integrate or process it somehow. You can delay it until a later time, transmit it into positive action, evoke positive emotions to compensate through other actions, or appreciate the humor in your experience, but one way or another you're going to have to deal with it.
Laughter is particularly powerful, which is why it's even recommended as a banishing ritual in chaos texts. Laughing at things lessens their seriousness, and it can be one way to "break the spell" if you're feeling a lot of anxiety or fear... even if you force it.
Playfully Held Beliefs
This is a term you might have seen me use before, and I think that the ability to hold beliefs playfully is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL to studying magic safely.
This is similar to Kegan Stage 5 discussions about being able to hold contradictory beliefs without it threatening your sense of self. If you have the ability to hold and release ideas playfully, you're much better equipped to practice magic with conviction and then go back to a state of normalcy when you're done.
What I mean by this is that you have to be able to actually believe that a sigil you drew will do its job while also appreciating how silly it is to believe this and not caring about the contradiction. I think being lighthearted and playful dramatically helps with magical practice.
It's a lot like when you were a kid and you played Make-Believe. You knew that you weren't a superhero or a princess or a doctor, but you still felt like one when you were playing the game. It's suspended disbelief in the name of play.
While my theories around this are still forming, this type of playful energy may be critical to seeing results from magic at all. It lets you tap into something that's natural, essential, and very common to human experience. You can observe it arising in children at play all the time.
Many of us lose this ability as the rigidity of adult life forces us to focus on other things, but rediscovering it may offer breakthroughs in occult study that surprise you. At a minimum, having fun and being playful will offer a level of psychological protection to you.
It's hard to get too frightened or spin down a mental rabbit hole when you tell yourself you're just playing, and it's easier to tap into your creative side and then set the whole thing aside when you're done from this framework.
Just Don't Go There
You can, of course, avoid all of these risks by not playing around with the occult in the first place. What are you hoping to achieve with this? What are you trying to learn? Is there some other way to get whatever it is that you want? It seems awfully foolish to tread here without a good reason to do so, given all of the risks we've just discussed.
In my case, my personal sense of curiosity won't let it drop, and I trust my own ability to explore liminal spaces safely. But you definitely don't have to! Manifesting power in the reality manipulation sense is often described as a distraction anyway. Ingram touches on this in the MCTB2.
He straight up claims that people can develop the ability to do things that bend reality. But he goes on in the next breath to explain that it's ultimately a distraction to the real goal of greater understanding and self-knowledge because it focuses you on material reality rather than spiritual growth.
This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Games stop being fun when someone hands you a cheat code. When/if you could bend reality to your will, what would the point of living be? Maybe the only purpose of any of this study is greater knowledge of the self and soul.
I hope this post has been helpful for you. It might be one of the longest ones I've ever done, but I also think it may be one of the most important. If I can leave you with one thought, it's this:
Even if you don't believe in any of this, exposing yourself to occult study and practice comes with very real physical, mental, and social risks. Align yourself with what's most important to you and decide if you really need to explore it.
If you're not capable of dealing with the outcomes of having your worldview shattered or developing major shifts in your priorities, beliefs, or ways of perceiving reality, best to leave it alone, or at least go very, very slowly and build those skills over time.
Act with love, wisdom, and compassion in anything you attempt to do... this is just good life advice.
Love is the law. Do as thou wilt.