Following is an excerpt from the book Magick Without Tears by Aleister Crowley.
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Sir Aleister Crowley
What is Magick? Why should anyone study and practice it? Very natural; the obvious preliminary questions of any subject soever. We must certainly get all this crystal clear; fear not that I shall fail to set forth the whole business as concisely as possible yet as fully, as cogently yet as lucidly, as may prove within my power to do.
At least I need not waste any time on telling you what Magick is not; or to go into the story of how the word came to be misapplied to conjuring tricks, and to sham miracles such as are to this day foisted by charlatan swindlers, either within or without the Roman Communion, upon a gaping crew of pious imbeciles. First let me go all Euclidean, and rub your nose in the Definition, Postulate and Theorems given in my comprehensive (but, alas! too advanced and too technical) Treatise on the subject [Liber ABA: Book Four, Parts 1-4]. Here we are!
I. DEFINITION: MAGICK is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.* (Illustration: It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge. I therefore take “magical weapons,” pen, ink, and paper; I write “incantations”—these sentences—in the “magical language” i.e. that which is understood by people I wish to instruct. I call forth “spirits” such as printers, publishers, booksellers, and so forth, and constrain them to convey my message to those people. The composition and distribution is thus an act of MAGICK by which I cause Changes to take place in conformity with my Will.)
II. POSTULATE: ANY required Change may be effected by application of the proper kind and degree of Force in the proper manner through the proper medium to the proper object. (Illustration: I wish to prepare an ounce of Chloride of Gold. I must take the right kind of acid, nitro-hydrochloric and no other, in sufficient quantity and of adequate strength, and place it, in a vessel which will not break, leak or corrode, in such a manner as will not produce undesirable results, with the necessary quantity of Gold, and so forth. Every Change has its own conditions. In the present state of our knowledge and power some changes are not possible in practice; we cannot cause eclipses, for instance, or transform lead into tin, or create men from mushrooms. But it is theoretically possible to cause in any object any change of which that object is capable by nature; and the conditions are covered by the above postulate.)
Frater Perdurabo of the Order of the Golden Dawn
III. THEOREMS: 1. Every intentional act is a Magical Act.† (Illustration: See “Definition” above.) 2. Every successful act has conformed to the postulate. 3. Every failure proves that one or more requirements of the postulate have not been fulfilled. (Illustrations: There may be failure to understand the case; as when a doctor makes a wrong diagnosis, and his treatment injures his patient. There may be failure to apply the right kind of force, as when a rustic tries to blow out an electric light. There may be failure to apply the right degree of force, as when a wrestler has his hold broken. There may be failure to apply the force in the right manner, as when one presents a cheque at the wrong window of the Bank. There may be failure to employ the correct medium, as when Leonardo da Vinci found his masterpiece fade away. The force may be applied to an unsuitable object, as when one tries to crack a stone, thinking it a nut.) 4. The first requisite for causing any change is thorough qualitative and quantitative understanding of the condition. (Illustration: The most common cause of failure in life is ignorance of one's own True Will, or of the means by which to fulfill that Will. A man may fancy himself a painter, and waste his life trying to become one; or he may be really a painter, and yet fail to understand and to measure the difficulties peculiar to that career.) 5. The second requisite of causing any change is the practical ability to set in right motion the necessary forces. (Illustration: A banker may have a perfect grasp of a given situation, yet lack the quality of decision, or the assets, necessary to take advantage of it.) 6.“Every man and every woman is a star.” That is to say, every human being is intrinsically an independent individual with his own proper character and proper motion. 7. Every man and every woman has a course, depending partly on the self, and partly on the environment which is natural and necessary for each. Anyone who is forced from his own course, either through not understanding himself, or through external opposition, comes into conflict with the order of the Universe, and suffers accordingly. (Illustration: A man may think it his duty to act in a certain way, through having made a fancy picture of himself, instead of investigating his actual nature. For example, a woman may make herself miserable for life by thinking that she prefers love to social consideration, or vice versa. One woman may stay with an unsympathetic husband when she would really be happy in an attic with a lover, while another may fool herself into a romantic elopement when her only true pleasures are those of presiding at fashionable functions. Again, a boy's instinct may tell him to go to sea, while his parents insist on his becoming a doctor. In such a case, he will be both unsuccessful and unhappy in medicine. 8. A man whose conscious will is at odds with his True Will is wasting his strength. He cannot hope to influence his environment efficiently. (Illustration: When Civil War rages in a nation, it is in no condition to undertake the invasion of other countries. A man with cancer employs his nourishment alike to his own use and to that of the enemy which is part of himself. He soon fails to resist the pressure of his environment. In practical life, a man who is doing what his conscience tells him to be wrong will do it very clumsily. At first!) 9. A man who is doing his True Will has the inertia of the Universe to assist him. (Illustration: The first principle of success in evolution is that the individual should be true to his own nature, and at the same time adapt himself to his environment.) 10. Nature is a continuous phenomenon, though we do not know in all cases how things are connected. (Illustration: Human consciousness depends on the properties of protoplasm, the existence of which depends on innumerable physical conditions peculiar to this planet; and this planet is determined by the mechanical balance of the whole universe of matter. We may then say that our consciousness is causally connected with the remotest galaxies; yet we do not know even how it arises from—or with—the molecular changes in the brain.) 11. Science enables us to take advantage of the continuity of Nature by the empirical application of certain principles whose interplay involves different orders of idea, connected with each other in a way beyond our present comprehension. (Illustration: We are able to light cities by rule-of-thumb methods. We do not know what consciousness is, or how it is connected with muscular action; what electricity is or how it is connected with the machines that generate it; and our methods depend on calculations involving mathematical ideas which have no correspondence in the Universe as we know it.‡) 12. Man is ignorant of the nature of his own being and powers. Even his idea of his limitations is based on experience of the past, and every step in his progress extends his empire. There is, therefore, no reason to assign theoretical limits§ to what he may be, or to what he may do. (Illustration: Two generations ago it was supposed theoretically impossible that man should ever know the chemical composition of the fixed stars. It is known that our senses are adapted to receive only an infinitesimal fraction of the possible rates of vibration. Modern instruments have enabled us to detect some of these suprasensibles by indirect methods, and even to use their peculiar qualities in the service of man, as in the case of the rays of Hertz and Röntgen. As Tyndall said, man might at any moment learn to perceive and utilize vibrations of all conceivable and inconceivable kinds. The question of Magick is a question of discovering and employing hitherto unknown forces in nature. We know that they exist, and we cannot doubt the possibility of mental or physical instruments capable of bringing us in relation with them.) 13. Every man is more or less aware that his individuality comprises several orders of existence, even when he maintains that his subtler principles are merely symptomatic of the changes in his gross vehicle. A similar order may be assumed to extend throughout nature. (Illustration: One does not confuse the pain of toothache with the decay which causes it. Inanimate objects are sensitive to certain physical forces, such as electrical and thermal conductivity; but neither in us nor in them—so far as we know—is there any direct conscious perception of these forces. Imperceptible influences are therefore associated with all material phenomena; and there is no reason why we should not work upon matter through those subtle energies as we do through their material bases. In fact, we use magnetic force to move iron, and solar radiation to reproduce images.) 14. Man is capable of being, and using, anything which he perceives; for everything that he perceives is in a certain sense a part of his being. He may thus subjugate the whole Universe of which he is conscious to his individual Will. (Illustration: Man has used the idea of God to dictate his personal conduct, to obtain power over his fellows, to excuse his crimes, and for innumerable other purposes, including that of realizing himself as God. He has used the irrational and unreal conceptions of mathematics to help him in the construction of mechanical devices. He has used his moral force to influence the actions even of wild animals. He has employed poetic genius for political purposes.) 15. Every force in the Universe is capable of being transformed into any other kind of force by using suitable means. There is thus an inexhaustible supply of any particular kind of force that we may need. (Illustration: Heat may be transformed into light and power by using it to drive dynamos. The vibrations of the air may be used to kill men by so ordering them in speech as to inflame war-like passions. The hallucinations connected with the mysterious energies of sex result in the perpetuation of the species.) 16. The application of any given force affects all the orders of being which exist in the object to which it is applied, whichever of those orders is directly affected. (Illustration: If I strike a man with a dagger, his consciousness, not his body only, is affected by my act; although the dagger, as such, has no direct relation therewith. Similarly, the power of my thought may so work on the mind of another person as to produce far- reaching physical changes in him, or in others through him.) 17. A man may learn to use any force so as to serve any purpose, by taking advantage of the above theorems. (Illustration: A man may use a razor to make himself vigilant over his speech, by using it to cut himself whenever he unguardedly utters a chosen word. He may serve the same purpose by resolving that every incident of his life shall remind him of a particular thing, Making every impression the starting point of a connected series of thoughts ending in that thing. He might also devote his whole energies to some particular object, by resolving to do nothing at variance therewith, and to make every act turn to the advantage of that object.) 18. He may attract to himself any force of the Universe by making himself a fit receptacle for it, establishing a connection with it, and arranging conditions so that its nature compels it to flow toward him. (Illustration: If I want pure water to drink, I dig a well in a place where there is underground water; I prevent it from leaking away; and I arrange to take advantage of water's accordance with the laws of Hydrostatics to fill it.) 19. Man's sense of himself as separate from, and opposed to, the Universe is a bar to his conducting its currents. It insulates him. (Illustration: A popular leader is most successful when he forgets himself, and remembers only “The Cause.” Self-seeking engenders jealousies and schism. When the organs of the body assert their presence otherwise than by silent satisfaction, it is a sign that they are diseased. The single exception is the organ of reproduction. Yet even in this case self-assertion bears witness to its dissatisfaction with itself, since in cannot fulfill its function until completed by its counterpart in another organism.) 20. Man can only attract and employ the forces for which he is really fitted. (Illustration: You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. A true man of science learns from every phenomenon. But Nature is dumb to the hypocrite; for in her there is nothing false.**) 21. There is no limit to the extent of the relations of any man with the Universe in essence; for as soon as man makes himself one with any idea, the means of measurement cease to exist. But his power to utilize that force is limited by his mental power and capacity, and by the circumstances of his human environment. (Illustration: When a man falls in love, the whole world becomes, to him, nothing but love boundless and immanent; but his mystical state is not contagious; his fellow-men are either amused or annoyed. He can only extend to others the effect which his love has had upon himself by means of his mental and physical qualities. Thus, Catullus, Dante, and Swinburne made their love a mighty mover of mankind by virtue of their power to put their thoughts on the subject in musical and eloquent language. Again, Cleopatra and other people in authority moulded the fortunes of many other people by allowing love to influence their political actions. The Magician, however well he succeeds in making contact with the secret sources of energy in nature, can only use them to the extent permitted by his intellectual and moral qualities. Mohammed's intercourse with Gabriel was only effective because of his statesmanship, soldiership, and the sublimity of his command of Arabic. Hertz's discovery of the rays which we now use for wireless telegraphy was sterile until reflected through the minds and wills of the people who could take his truth, and transmit it to the world of action by means of mechanical and economic instruments.) 22. Every individual is essentially sufficient to himself. But he is unsatisfactory to himself until he has established himself in his right relation with the Universe. (Illustration: A microscope, however perfect, is useless in the hands of savages. A poet, however sublime, must impose himself upon his generation if he is to enjoy (and even to understand) himself, as theoretically should be the case.) 23. Magick is the Science of understanding oneself and one's conditions. It is the Art of applying that understanding in action. (Illustration: A golf club is intended to move a special ball in a special way in special circumstances. A Niblick should rarely be used on the tee, or a Brassie under the bank of a bunker. But, also, the use of any club demands skill and experience.) 24. Every man has an indefeasible right to be what he is. (Illustration: To insist that anyone else shall comply with one's own standards is to outrage, not only him, but oneself, since both parties are equally born of necessity.) 25. Every man must do Magick each time that he acts or even thinks, since a thought is an internal act whose influence ultimately affects action, though it may not do so at the time. (Illustration: The least gesture causes a change in a man's own body and in the air around him: it disturbs the balance of the entire universe and its effects continue eternally throughout all space. Every thought, however swiftly suppressed, has its effect on the mind. It stands as one of the causes of every subsequent thought, and tends to influence every subsequent action. A golfer may lose a few yards on his drive, a few more with his second and third, he may lie on the green six bare inches too far from the hole; but the net result of these trifling mishaps is the difference of a whole stroke, and so probably between having and losing the hole.) 26. Every man has a right, the right of self-preservation, to fulfill himself to the utmost.†† (Illustration: A function imperfectly performed injures, not only itself, but everything associated with it. If the heart is afraid to beat for fear of disturbing the liver, the liver is starved for blood, and avenges itself on the heart by upsetting digestion, which disorders respiration, on which cardiac welfare depends.) 27. Every man should make Magick the keynote of his life. He should learn its laws and live by them. (Illustration: The Banker should discover the real meaning of his existence, the real motive which led him to choose that profession. He should understand banking as a necessary factor in the economic existence of mankind, instead of as merely a business whose objects are independent of the general welfare. He should learn to distinguish false values from real, and to act not on accidental fluctuations but on considerations of essential importance. Such a banker will prove himself superior to others; because he will not be an individual limited by transitory things, but a force of Nature, as impersonal, impartial and eternal as gravitation, as patient and irresistible as the tides. His system will not be subject to panic, any more than the law of Inverse Squares is disturbed by Elections. He will not be anxious about his affairs because they will not be his; and for that reason he will be able to direct them with the calm, clear-headed confidence of an onlooker, with intelligence unclouded by self-interest and power unimpaired by passion.) 28. Every man has a right to fulfill his own will without being afraid that it may interfere with that of others; for if he is in his proper path, it is the fault of others if they interfere with him. (Illustration: If a man like Napoleon were actually appointed by destiny to control Europe, he should not be blamed for exercising his rights. To oppose him would be an error. Anyone so doing would have made a mistake as to his own destiny, except in so far as it might be necessary for him to learn the lessons of defeat. The sun moves in space without interference. The order of Nature provides a orbit for each star. A clash proves that one or the other has strayed from its course. But as to each man that keeps his true course, the more firmly he acts, the less likely are others to get in his way. His example will help them to find their own paths and pursue them. Every man that becomes a Magician helps others to do likewise. The more firmly and surely men move, and the more such action is accepted as the standard of morality, the less will conflict and confusion hamper humanity.)
* In one sense Magick may be said to be the name given to Science by the vulgar. † By “intentional” I mean “willed.” But even unintentional acts so seeming are not truly so. Thus, breathing is an act of the Will-to-live. ‡ For instance, “irrational,” “unreal,” and “infinite” expressions. § i.e. except—possibly—in the case of logically absurd questions, such as the schoolmen discussed in connection with “God.” ** It is no objection that the hypocrite is himself part of Nature. He is an “endothermic” product, divided against himself, with a tendency to break up. He will see his own qualities everywhere, and thus obtain a radical misconception of phenomena. Most religions of the past have failed by expecting Nature to conform with their ideals of proper conduct. †† Men of “criminal nature” are simply at issue with their true Wills. The murderer has the Will-to-live; and his will to murder is a false will at variance with his true Will, since he risks death at the hands of Society by obeying his criminal impulse.
Well, here endeth the First Lesson.
That seems to me to cover the ground fairly well; at least, that is what I have to say when serious analysis is on the agenda. But there is a restricted and conventional sense in which the word may be used without straying too far from the above philosophical position. One might say:--
“Magick is the study and use of those forms of energy which are (a) subtler than the ordinary physical-mechanical types, (b) accessible only to those who are (in one sense or another) 'Initiates'.” I fear that this may sound rather obscurum per obscurius; but this is one of these cases— we are likely to encounter many such in the course of our researches—in which we understand, quite well enough for all practical purposes, what we mean, but which elude us more and more successfully the more accurately we struggle to define their import.
We might fare even worse if we tried to clear things up by making lists of events in history, tradition, or experience and classifying this as being, and that as not being, true Magick. The borderland cases would confuse and mislead us.
But—since I have mentioned history—I think it might help, if I went straight on to the latter part of your question, and gave you a brief sketch of Magick past, present and future as it is seen from the inside.
What are the principles of the “Masters”? What are They trying to do? What have They done in the past? What means do They employ?
As it happens, I have by me a sketch written by M. Gerard Aumont of Tunis some twenty years ago, which covers this subject with reasonable adequacy. I have been at the pains of translating it from his French, I hope not too much reminiscent of the old traduttore, traditore. I will revise it, divide it (like Gaul) into Three Parts and send it along.