The latest meme to spread it’s viral fecundity in our blogosphere ghetto has been that very popular whipping boy of magicians who “know better”; the notion that belief is an essential element of success in magic. Oddly, I find myself (mostly) in agreement with the very adamant Patrick Dunn on this question. (Truth be told: having studied languages and literature myself, I find I am very often in agreement — or at least in harmony — with the post-modern magician’s views. But one is most often motivated to speak out when one disagrees, right?)
I have to preface this with the acknowledgement that what Patrick and others are often referring to as spells that work without believing anything are things like “Paint this sigil with guacamole on the door of a dyslexic taxi driver, at midnight on the second full moon after the first Dead concert of spring.” These things just work for some reason. What I’m going to address now is magic that involves visualization. I know some people cringe to consider visualization in the category of magic, but it indisputably fits Uncle Al’s definition, doesn’t it?
I do the magic that involves all the bells and whistles (wand, incense, sigils, incantation, etc.), but I also frequently use simple visualization, and have successfully employed it for decades.
I strongly suspect that this misunderstanding about belief comes from the New Age-y twist that the art of visualization has acquired in recent decades. As I’m sure nearly everyone reading this blog knows, visualization is a technique as old as the human race itself. It is a means of affecting forces flowing into manifestation, and it is a vehicle for the mind to transcend to “higher worlds” beyond the material realm. This is Henry Corbin’s Imaginal Realm.
In visualization you create a living, moving scene of the desired outcome, incorporating every psychic sense you can muster. If you are visualizing a vacation in a remote hotel with a beautiful garden, then you should smell the roses, hear the bees buzzing as they fly between the flowers, feel the soft grass under your feet, etc. And then there is one element of visualization that is very essential: adding emotion. You should feel the joy and pleasure of being in this desired circumstance.
This is where I think people get confused. Vividly experiencing your visualization and allowing your entire awareness to be absorbed by it, and electrifying it with your emotions has nothing to do with believing it will work. But there is something one has to avoid at all costs: allowing oneself to entertain doubts. To a great extent, a large part of magical practices are a form of theater. You perform a symbolic “drama” to create a pattern you want replicated in the material world. Visualization is an internal drama.
Theater and cinema require the audience to engage in “willing suspension of disbelief”. That doesn’t mean that you actually have to believe the guy on the stage with the skull in his hand is really the prince of Denmark. What it means is that you shouldn’t distract yourself with thoughts like, “Why am I watching a guy in a chintzy period costume recite lines in verse about something I know never happened or never will?” Hard to get much out of a play that way.
To effectively perform visualization you have to dismiss all other thoughts from your mind other than the visualization itself. So the opposite of disbelief is not belief. The opposite of disbelief is engagement, enthusiasm, abandon. Making yourself believe something is a hopeless endless mind game. “OK, I believe this. I guess. Although, logically I don’t really think it’s possible. But I have to believe it to make it work. So… I believe it. I DO believe it. I DO believe it. I DO believe it. Really. I do. I think.” Distraction City. If you really do it right, if you really work with one-pointed concentration, you don’t have time to consider whether you believe it or not. And if such thoughts creep into your mind, you dismiss them (this is where a bit of meditation practice is very useful), because you just don’t have time for that crap.
So don’t waste your time worrying about whether you believe the magic you are doing. Just throw yourself into it and “enflame yourself with prayer.”
And while you’re at it, enjoy the show.   
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