Book Spotlight



Foundations of Magic







Foundations of Magic
by J.F. O'Neill

TWPT:  For those out there who may not be familiar with you as an author could you give us a capsule view of who you are in terms of where you are currently on your magical path and how it was that you began your study of magic in the first place.  

JO:  I am what in many traditions of the magical arts is called a solitary. I practice alone and, except when teaching in a seminar or workshop, I pretty much keep to myself with regards to magic. This works best for me as it has worked best for a handful of practiced neurotics throughout the ages. (I donĎt use neurotic derogatorily by the way. A well-chosen neuroses or two can add seasoning to oneís life. Just choose well.)

My interest in magic has been there since I was young, but I put off pursuing it in any serious way for years. Then a decade or two ago I picked up a particular book on the subject, read it and was hooked. (I donít wish to mention the book -  each important book has to find itĎs own readers ) At the time I was between life philosophies and so I dug in. I really immersed myself as Iím want to do when Iím truly interested in something. Needless to say, all these years later Iíve found it a valuable tool in life as well as a general door-opener. Or to be more precise, a great door locator. Most of us will open a door if itís right there in front of us, but we donít even know to try if we donít know it exists. Magic made a lot more doors visible to me.

Lurking in the subtext of your question, I suspect, is a query about magic and my spiritual journey This is another arena where I tend to remain quite private and so I will duck the question that you didnít actually ask.

TWPT:  You recently released your book Foundations of Magic, what were some of the motivations/objectives that you had in mind when you began work on this book?

JO:  I have noticed for years that whether we recognize it or not most of us use magical thinking to get through our lives. The problem, it seems to me, is that typically the thinking is muddled and the magic bad - bad in the sense of being ineffective. To take an obvious, if somewhat trivial example, just read through the grocery store tabloids. Ads for magical lucky charms and mystical pyramid key chains abound. These, of course, contain no magic (and they arenít even really cool key chains). Thereíre tacky little emotional props at best. And people must be buying them in quantity because the same ads are in there week after week, year after year. On a more global scale, consider the magical thinking that has gone into launching and now sustaining the war in Iraq. The US would wave the magical wand of democracy and Iraqis would fall into line and be grateful. At least key chains are harmless.

Most of us attempt to navigate magically in the more day-today waters that lay between these extremes - the waters of practical magic. You place a curse on the women in the next office who got the promotion you deserved. You wear the same pair of pink boxers every time your team plays. You always play the six numbers of Groucho Marxís birth date on your lottery ticket. You buy another magical potion - shampoo, herbal impotency remedy, gasoline additive, skin crŤme, diet pill - to finally banish that pesky problem once and for all. And of course we donít call it magic. And of course it always works perfectly - right? The marketing folks, by the way, love our oblivious and muddled magical thinking.

Ok so most people practice magic in an haphazard and ineffectual way -  what could I do about it? My first inclination was to act superior and kvetsh. This, it turned out, was great fun, but alas, it seemed to do little to address the issue. So I decided to write The Foundations of Magic: a how-to book on practical magic for those unschooled in the craft. In doing so I received a bonus I wasnít expecting; feedback from adepts - those who regularly practice magic and are proficient at it - that it is a useful and welcome book for them as well.

TWPT:  How did you come up with your theorem that you don't have to believe in magic to effectively work it but you have to 'act' as if you believe in magic?

JO:  Simple observation. For example, nine years ago I was leading a series of week-long workshops in Austria on NLP techniques. One morning I announced to the group that for the next day, instead of using NLP we would use magic to get our outcomes. There were howls of protest. You can imagine. ďWe didnít come here to learn occult nonsense.Ē ďI donít believe in no stinkiní magic.Ē ďIf I learn to pull it from the hat do I get to keep the rabbit?Ē The organizer of the group was particularly upset. He pulled me aside and said something to the effect of  ďListen, these people didnít sign up for this. My reputations is on the line here.Ē I pulled rank and insisted, and I also encouraged anyone who didnít believe in magic to just keep unbelieving. I also prodded my organizer to participate. He refused. So I took an hour or so and led the group members through the basic steps of casting a magic circle and gave them a simple, effective ritual toward affecting some specific change in their lives. We were in a big open room in a seminar-house and all the participants found themselves a space and performed their ritual. My organizer disappeared with a scowl of disapproval. Immediately afterwards we broke for lunch (the lunches at Austrian seminars tend to last a while - that may have something to do with the amount of beer that flows).  When we reconvened, we discussed everyoneís experience. Some people were already getting great results. Others could sense changes in the works. Many questions followed about how it all worked? I said, ďIt works because itís magic.Ē By this time my organizer had re-joined the group but remained silent on the subject. Finally, after most of us had shared our experiences, he spoke up. ďDuring the lunch break, I decided what the hell, what do I have to loose, so I cast a circle in my room and worked the ritual to get rid of the headache Iíve had for the last few days. When I was done, I still had my headache as bad as ever. So much  for this occult shit, I thought.Ē Then he smiled a big old Cheshire-cat smile and said: ďFor some unknown reason I had an almost compulsive desire to take a shower. During the shower another guy noticed the end of a sliver sticking out of the back of my leg. [The showers were communal]. I removed it and my headache disappeared immediatelyĒ  My organizer practiced Thai message and was very familiar with body meridian lines. He said that the sliver had been lodged directly into a line associated with pain.

To a person, no one in that group believed in magic before that day, and my organizer was the most strident non-believer. It didnít matter. It doesnít matter. Iíve seen some version of this repeated over and over again. Learn the craft, practice it, forget about belief. Everyone has beliefs, everyone can practice magic.

TWPT:   For the working purposes of this book what is your definition of magic and how do you see magic integrating into your everyday life?

JO:  The working definition I use in the Foundations of Magic  is:

Magic is the Art and Craft of using Will as the agent for causing desired change to occur.Ē

Will is the key word. We generally tend to think of Will as something inside our own minds - our means of consciously setting things into motion: Getting out of bed in the morning, sticking with a rigorous exercise routine, finding a convenience store at twelve-thirty at night that carries espresso -mocha Hagen Daz. This certainly describes an aspect of Will, but notice that in these examples the agent for accomplishing these things is our own body, or the alarm clock we set, or the personnel trainer we hired or our voice on the phone and the ĎCí page in the yellow pages that lists of all the convenience stores within 25 miles. You get things done, but Will stays tamely inside our mind. Magic sets Will free. When we use magic our Will goes out into the world as the agent itself.

Now, what I just described as magic often garners all kinds of flack about how wrong it is, how incomplete it is, how inaccurate it is and how totally I have missed the point. I wouldnít disagree with any of those criticisms; I could be wrong in a million ways. What I do know is that what I describe is a very good working definition for practical magic, which is why I appreciate how you framed the question.

As to how I integrate it - I use it to get things done when other methods donít work, that is when Will is safely curled up inside the cage of my mind. Itís a life tool, itís that simple. Remember the subject of Foundations of Magic is practical magic.

TWPT:  What was the purpose of not emphasizing any particular school of thought or belief system when you wrote this book and was it very difficult for you to strip away the fact from the system when you were working on the material that would eventually make up this book? What kinds of criteria did you use during this process to judge the difference between the two?

JO:  I very much took a page from the development of NLP. For those who are not familiar with it, NLP is a set of practical psychological-models designed for therapists, councilors and used car salesmen to help other people get changes they want (or the cars they donít). Bandler and Grinder, the two prime co-developers of NLP, noticed that there were certain master therapists that were remarkably effective; people like Virginia Satir, Fritz Pearls and Milton Erickson. Each master, however, had his or her own beliefs and explanations about what they were doing and why it worked. Problem was, none of the explanations or beliefs matched very well. So B. and G. decided to ignore the explanations and just observe these masters very carefully to learn what they actually did when they were practicing their craft. By doing this they began to discern patterns of behavior (voice, gesture, language, etc) common to each. They built their NLP models around these effective behaviors.

Iíve attempted to do the same with practical magic. I think there are a couple of good reasons to do this. First, it distills effective practices down to their fundamentals - their foundation pieces. A solid foundation is the basis for building anything of lasting worth. Second, it avoids a preoccupation with the politics and disagreements of belief and explanation (which often obscure rather than clarify). Itís a shift of emphasis from why to how. Lastly, if you have a clear, crisp set of the essential steps to accomplish anything - including magic - you can usually incorporate the practice into your existing belief system without much difficulty. Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Christians all use exactly the same set of instructions to install Norton Anti Virus (or any other software) on to their computer.

Regarding how I went about doing this; I studied how different practitioners practiced magic. I looked for the common factors. I tried to practice the Zen art of beginnerís-mind. What would a beginner observe that lay obscured by familiarity and belief, preconception or explanation? How could it be described using the simplest language, free of jargon? Could I eliminate a certain step and still have the magic be effective? If not could it be refined, simplified, shortened, made lovelier without diminishing effectiveness? And I tested my ideas and had others test them. I constantly solicited feedback; not about how sacrilegious, out-to-lunch or arrogant I was (for I provided ample material for all these) but about how effective the practices were.

TWPT:   How did your training in the fields of psychology, hypnotherapy and as a counselor shape the way you presented the material in this book? Do you feel that your approach is unique in as far as other reference material is concerned?

JO:  I believe it is unique in a number of ways. I have attempted to short-circuit the tension that so often exists between most practitioners of magic and those, generally outside the craft, who seek psychological explanation for all of magic. I have tried to make clear in The Foundations of Magic that the mechanisms of magic and the mechanisms of psychology are not the same but that the practices of both are integrally joined. You are not the ground (issues of the unity of all things aside) but without it you canít walk. You need a place to stand, a surface to push against, a place for you to land when you fall. You and the ground are integrally joined in this life. Same with magic and psychology. Think about it; what human activity does not involve psychological processes? Magic is a human activity. So I attempt to clarify this.

I also emphasize psychological preparation for most of the spells. Often it is in the form of an exercise you can practice in the privacy of your own mind. Sometimes it is a set of steps that requires accessing specific psychological states - trance states (i.e. self hypnosis) being but one example. Just as I counsel material preparedness when practicing magic (attending to your surroundings, your cleansing tea, your alter, etc) I counsel psychological preparedness. Imagine being in your circle, casting a spell that involves a candle and you realize you didnít think to get a candle -  You werenít prepared to cast the spell. The same applies to psychological preparedness.

Lastly, I believe The Foundations of Magic to be unique in that it provides all of the material required to become quickly proficient in mastering the 33 spells included in the book. It offers a limited kind of  mastery - mastery in a very clearly defined, and, above all useful, set of specific magic practices.  

TWPT:  How much NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) have you incorporated into your Magical practices aside from the 'Well Formed Intention'? 

JO:  It is prevalent throughout the book. Most of the spells incorporate standard NLP techniques along with standard magical practices. Take for instance the spell for Resolving Uncomfortable Situations; it includes NLP anchoring techniques (a method for associating specific mental or emotional states to a stimulus).  

And why NLP? Because it is the most efficient, precise and - most of all - effective set of psychological models I know. And just as an aside, as with magic, you donít have to believe in NLP for the techniques to be effective.

TWPT:  The second half of your book offers the reader 33 spells to use along with your teachings, what are your beliefs on the idea of practitioners creating their own spells/rituals or magical workings? Is it just as effective to take a template and use it for your working or is it better to start from ďscratchĒ?

JO:  For beginners, I emphasize that they need to stick to the spells as written. Every aspect of every spell is in there for a reason. What I aimed for when writing it was for someone with no background in magic to be able to pick it up, and after reading the book and doing the simple exercises, to be able to start casting effective spells that get results. When that happens, it is a real turn-on; it makes magic real and then folks can go on to other sources and learn more if they are interested.

Spell-craft and spell-design are skills learned through instruction, modeling and experience. Until one has begun the process of learning these things in earnest, I advise against altering or creating spells. I am sure that The Wiccan/Pagan Times has reviewed and recommended any number of good books that can help people along that particular path.

Having said that, I feel compelled to make one last comment on this - a plug for the book I guess. As I mentioned before, to my delight I have had feedback from regular practitioners of the ancient craft that The Foundations of Magic has helped them clarify their thinking and improve their practice. This is a bonus I didnít intend  - it happened as if by magic. 

TWPT:  Given the idea of instant gratification that permeates our culture what are your thoughts on how much time and effort someone will need to devote to the concepts you teach in your book to be able to integrate them into their own magical path and become effective with them?

JO:  In writing this book I made a blatant attempt to appeal to those who desire quick, if not instant, gratification. It was written for those who donít have a lot of time on their hands but who want to start using effective, practical magic. Iím not one who thinks a desire for instant gratification is necessarily a bad thing. Itís only a bad thing if you desire it in all aspects of your life. Some things require slow, deliberate, and often difficult pursuit before you become proficient. Take for example mastering computer programming. If you just learn basic computer competency and carefully follow the directions  that come with any good software program, you can install and use the program and you can quickly begin accomplishing all sorts of amazing things with it. This doesnít make you a computer programmer. The same is true with magic. If you read and use The Foundations of Magic as itís designed to be used, you can quickly learn to do all sorts of amazing things. That doesn ít mean you have a mastery of magic.

Most, but perhaps not all, of the major pursuits in our life require lots of time, learning, experience, success and failure and so on: our personal and spiritual growth, our careers, our parenting - in general most of the biggies.  But that
doesnít mean that in all of these pursuits there arenít lots of examples of quick or instant gratification along the way. It is often these feelings of gratification that keep us going or determine the direction we take. The Foundations of Magic approaches things from this perspective. But even as it is geared to rapid results, it does require the reader to follow the instructions - do the exercises, practice & rehearse, and apply the lessons learned. If this is done, I would estimate that in less than a week any conscientious reader can be practicing the magic of this book with results that will amaze them. Thatís not instant but itís darn quick. 

TWPT:   Tell me about the exercises you offer your reader in this book? Will they work for anyone who follows through with your teachings?

JO:  Again, you have to learn the material and correctly apply the instructions. Part of learning the material is doing the exercises. As with all book learning, there is both some reading and some doing required. The exercises are the doing part.  Will the spells work for anyone who conscientiously does the exercises and applies the knowledge? Yes.

TWPT:  Once a person has mastered your techniques and devoted the appropriate levels of study and practice to them what can someone reasonably expect in return for all of these efforts in their lives?

JO:  At a minimum, they can start to use magic in their life to get things done - to accomplish things that seemed otherwise too difficult or unattainable. Just read through the titles of the 33 spells and it becomes clear the scope of what Iím talking about.

Once someone gets it that this is real, it can help to open up his or her perspective on life - on the possibilities, the wonder, the paths not yet traveled. Each person brings this teaching into their life in a different way. 

TWPT:  How would you say your ideas and methods presented in Foundations of Magic stack up to the teachings and beliefs about magic that are currently being taught and written about around the world?

JO:  I think this is a very good question and Iím not sure that Iím all that well equipped to answer it. Like all shy egotists, there is a level at which I think the ideas are great, fresh, unique - name a positive attribute. In my more dour states, I see all of the things I left out and those things seem to be larger than, and somehow more prominent than what I included. During more balanced times I believe it is an very good book that accomplishes the very thing it set out to do; to provide folks with a ready way to incorporate effective, practical magic into their life.

Magic is a realm of vast expanses and varied landscape. I have attempted to focus on one small parish in that realm and to make it accessible to those who wish to go there and learn. I am convinced I have succeeded, but really, only my readers can determine that with any certainty. I always appreciate their feedback. So far it has been very encouraging.

TWPT:  Any final ideas, thoughts or comments that you would like to share about the creation or use of your book Foundations of Magic that you would like to share with our readers?

JO:  Years ago I took an undergraduate thermodynamics class at Stanford University. Everyone in the class had taken a lot of prerequisite physics and math classes before so the subject of thermodynamics was not new to anyone (it is relevant to all sorts of physical processes). On the first day of the class, the professor said this: ďForget everything you have learned about thermodynamics - absolutely everything. Forget it not because it is wrong, but forget it because it will get in the way of you understanding my model of thermodynamics. Mine is not better, but it is useful, consistent and self-contained and it approaches things differently. Once you have learned the material in this class, you can go ahead and forget it too should you choose; the important parts will stick and youíll be in good shape to go on and incorporate this material with other perspectives and other models.Ē If I were to ask anything of my readers who already know a great deal about magic, it would be the  same thing; forget what you know just for now. You wont loose it and understanding what I have to offer will come much more smoothly.

TWPT:  Thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at TWPT and letting our readers get to know just a little about you and about your book Foundations of Magic. I wish you nothing but good things with this book and those books you still have within you that just haven't been put down in a solid form yet.