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Direct Energy

Let’s consider again Ross Nichols’s definition of magical ritual as “poetry in the realm of acts”. It immediately raises the question: what is poetry? What distinguishes it from prose?

Many poems – but not all – employ a set structure. A sonnet, a villanelle, a haiku. We choose a form before we begin, or we find the work falling into a form as we write and decide to stick with it. The form gives us conventions, and if used well can actually increase our creative freedom by suggesting unusual connections.

But some poems are written in ad-hoc form developed on the spot. And some are held together not by form but by theme; the words don’t rhyme but the ideas do.

Poetry shades off intro prose without a hard boundary.

Just so with magic. There are many traditions of structure: Hermetic magic, Traditional Wicca, Celtic Reconstructionism, Vodou traditions, Christian folk magic, and so on. There are also less formal, more personal traditions, like family holiday traditions, that take on some aspects of magic; there is not a hard boundary.

Our goal as Punk Magickians is to strip away all that is unnecessary and get to the raw bones. What are the bones of a magical working? Intention, Energy, and Change. To do magic, you set your intention and raise energy in order to create some change in the external or internal world. Anything involving that process can be considered magic.

We’re already discussed setting intention and raising energy. The trick now is to direct that energy along the necessary lines to bring about your intention.

We summarized raising energy as “do something weird”. But lots of people will do weird stuff in their lives, just for the thrill, or out of a sense of rebellion, or whatever. That’s raising energy. But they don’t do magic with it.

In fact, if there’s any danger in magic (besides the obvious of spraining your ankle while dancing in a ritual, or setting your house on fire with all those candles), it’s raising energy that you do not then properly direct. That’s what all those stories about magicians raising spirits (energy that can be personified) that then turn on them, are about.

To make the magic happen, we need to direct that energy.

To do anything with electrical energy you have to build a circuit, a structure of wires and switches and transducers. To do anything with mechanical energy you have to build a machine, a structure of levers and pulleys and gears.

To do anything with magical energy you also need a structure, a structure of symbols and correspondences. We call this a ritual or a spell or a working.

Generally a ritual is a more complicated thing that might involve several people over an extended time, while a spell is smaller and simpler and more verbal, but there’s not a hard line. We can argue over the labels, but what’s important is that there has to be a structure to direct the energy.

And this structure we are creating is something in an artistic mode. Poetry in the realm of acts, or as Starhawk has said, “Ritual is partly a matter of performance, of theater.”

In fact all the different arts may be used as parts of rituals and spells, and all of the material arts may create ritual objects. In that respect, maybe we can say magic is a sort of meta-art!

The ritual or spell links our intention to the energy we have raised.

In an initiation ritual, we use the energy to alter our definition of ourselves. In a prosperity ritual, we use the energy to alter our relationship with money and wealth. In a healing ritual we mobilize physical, mental, spiritual, and social resources for healing.

The structure of a ritual can be elaborate or simple, fixed by tradition or improvised on the spot. It may be a solo performances or created by groups; performed in front of hundreds of people or done alone; an original work or a “cover”.

On each of these choices, neither option is better than the other. We all have our own preferences on them.

But let’s point out a few things to consider in designing a ritual or a spell.

Setting the stage

An effective ritual is marked as being outside of ordinary reality. It’s similar to the way a play is separated from ordinary space and time: it takes place on a clearly demarcated stage, with rising and falling curtains and lighting to mark the start and the end.

Many rituals start by constructing a sort of “magic circle”. Margot Adler gave a good explanation:

The circle….is a place set apart, although its material location may be a living room or a backyard. But in the mind the circle, reinforced by the actions of casting it and purifying it, becomes sacred space, a place “between the worlds” where contact with archetypal reality, with the deep places of the mind – with “gods,” if you will – becomes possible. It is a place where time disappears, where history is obliterated. It is the contact point between two realities.

So you want to have some way of marking your working as being out of ordinary time and space.


Just like the actors on a stage have their costumes that help them get into character, magicians have vestments.

Some prefer to don elaborate regalia to get into character for their rituals, while some use the most unusual outfit of all, the “birthday suit,” to break ordinary thinking. Certainly one can do a ritual in ordinary clothing; but dressing up (or undressing up) gives the thing a sense of occasion.

It’s why sports teams, armies, and doctors and nurses all have their uniforms. The Catholic priest has his stole, the Buddhist has their kesa. You put on your uniform and you take on a role.

Even just a piece of jewelry can help get you in the “this is special” headspace.


And just like actors have props, magicians have ritual implements.

Tools for manipulating the energy of ritual are found in every magical or religious tradition: the wand of ceremonial magicians, the holy water used by Catholic priests, the Wiccan athame, the pipe of the Plains Indian tribes, the harae gushi whisk used in Shintō purification rites.

Some prefer ritual tools which are never used for mundane actions, in order to preserve a sense of occasion when the special tools come out – like bringing out the good china for the holidays. Others, such as “kitchen witches,” prefer to use everyday objects and not build a division between the sacred and the mundane. (My favorite Punk Magick tool is probably my multitool.)

Rising and Falling Action

In most any play or story we have a narrative structure of rising action, climax, and resolution. If the story is long enough you have a few cycles of this rising and falling action.

Paralleling this, in a ritual we have the steps of raising power, directing that power, and resolving back to ordinary reality. And in a big working you might have a few cycles of this.

Spirits, Angels, And Gods

In some forms of magic, the symbolic manipulation of the spell is supposed to directly bring about the desired end. But in others, manipulating symbols is supposed to give the magician the power to control or influence supernatural beings – nature spirits, ancestral spirits, angels, or even gods – who will then act on the magician’s behalf.

For examples of both types, let’s look at folk magic of the Pennsylvania Dutch as documented in John George Hoffman’s 1820 book Pow-Wows; or Long Lost Friend. A simple spell for attaching a dog to a person as a loyal companion involves mixing a few drops of the person’s blood into the dog’s food; the symbolic ingestion of blood directly creates a sympathetic bond.

In contrast, a spell for dowsing for water (or iron) has the person call on the Archangel Gabriel: “Archangel Gabriel, I conjure thee in the name of God, the Almighty, to tell me, is there any water here or not? Do tell me!” The ritual (here, just invoking the name of God) allows the magician to command a powerful spirit (an archangel!) to provide information.

The spirits addressed by spells may be labeled angels, demons, faeries, spirits of the dead, elementals, or even (in theurgy) gods.

What is the nature of these beings? We’ve already said that magic doesn’t care about your metaphysics, and if you believe these spirits to be metaphors for human experience, or personifications of deep brain structures, that’s fine.

But it’s important that within the context of the ritual, these beings are real – just as within a performance of Hamlet, the protagonist can’t be just a metaphor for indecisiveness and melancholy but a living, breathing, feeling person, even if that “person” disappears when the curtain falls. (Or do they? More metaphysics.)

Invite rather than command

The idea of commanding spirits, binding them, forcing them to do your will, is at the root of a lot of the Western occult tradition.

But maybe in these more gentle, enlightened, and consent-aware times, we can instead try asking or inviting.

Now, if you want to ask someone powerful a favor, or invite them over to your party, it would behoove you to get to know them, their likes and dislikes, set out something they like. Get on their good side.


If anything sets humans apart from other animals, it is the advanced use of language. Without words, we are “dumb beasts”.

And once we have words, stories inevitably result. The human brain is a storytelling machine. Joseph Campell wrote that myth – the body of sacred stories – is the womb out of which we are born as full human beings rather than animals

We cannot avoid this storytelling, this manipulation of symbols for characters and settings and actions. So, we might as well use it!

Non-verbal symbols can be just as powerful – the flag of a nation or a movement, a symbol like a cross or a swastika. There have been many cases of controversy over someone drawing an X or a slashed circle – or crosshairs – over a photo or symbol of something.

Some electronic messages are sent entirely in non-verbal “emoji” symbols now, and consider how we can obsess about whether our crush included or left out a heart emoji in a note.

In a real sense, we are made out of words and symbols. And so we can be changed by them. They go right into us like pigments into paint base, and color us, sometimes permanently. Look at what a few words of sincere praise or harsh criticism can do to a child.

A magic ritual is a symbolic construction. Words, objects, actions, movements, everything in a ritual is a reference to some phenomenon, influence, or attribute of our human experience outside the ritual space.

Just as there are a multitude of languages, so there are a multitude of symbolic vocabularies: the pantheons of ancient cultures or of modern pop culture, angels or faeries, the archetypes of astrology or tarot.

More: just as new languages can be invented, from the private languages of twins to things like Klingon and Esperanto, so we are free to create our own symbolic languages. After all, all of those classic systems? Someone originally made them up! Every system started somewhere.

What makes an effective magical vocabulary? One important attribute is that it has a correspondence ready for any significant phenomenon that we might want to work magic about.

This is why Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, has been of interest to Western occultists: its name has been literally translated as “correspondence”. It claims that every Hebrew letter, word, and number, corresponds to mystical meanings. Phenomena that seem completely separate can be revealed to be connected through the practice of gematria, a code which assigns a numerical value to any word or phrase according to its letters.

Numerology and astrology similarly connect seemingly disparate phenomena in the same “bin”. (Computer programmers may recognize the similarity to finding the “hash” of a string.”) The Taoist “Five Elements” is another system of correspondence, once which can be learned in a few minutes (only having five elements, after all) but investigated for a lifetime.

Perhaps the simplest school of correspondences is the Discordian Law of Fives, which states that “All things happen in fives, or are divisible by or are multiples of five, or are somehow directly or indirectly appropriate to 5.” With the Law of Fives, the question becomes not which correspondence group something belongs to, but how it connects to the number five.*

But you can also create your own set of symbols for magical use. You might not have the artistic skill – or the resources to hire an artist – to create your own Tarot deck. But you can select words and write them down on index cards.

This idea is based on the “Universe Deck”, a tool developed by Linnea Johnson and Anita Skeen to generate seed ideas for poems – and after all, we’ll say it one more time, “Ritual is poetry in the realm of acts”.

As proposed by Johnson and Skeen, one creates a certain number of cards with “motion words”, a certain number with “sensory words”, and so on. A simple way to use one would be to pick five random words from the deck and then write a ten line poem that incorporated those words. Or you can make up arbitrarily complex sets of rules. I sometimes draw words and lay them out in one of the patterns used for Tarot reading, where each card/word has a relation to the others based on the order in which they’re drawn, and use that to jump-start a poem.

If you’d like to make your own “Universe Deck” and give it a whirl, either as a writing tool or a divination tool, get a pack of 100 index cards and write a single word on each one. Johnson’s prescription is: 16 words related to or suggesting to you each of the five senses, 80 words total; 10 words meaning motion or suggesting it to you; three abstractions; and seven miscellaneous words that are significant to you.

Each of these 100 words should be specific (“grasshopper” rather than “insect”), should be significant to you in some way (it’s your Universe), and should sound good to you. She recommends no plurals and no adverbs. See Johnson’s chapter in Robin Behn and Chase Twichell’s book The Practice of Poetry for more details.)

Of course you can modify this idea as you see fit, use fewer (or more) cards, select them according to different criteria, use phrases instead of individual words, and so on.

What is important about a ritual or spell is what is means to you.

So these are just some things you can consider when thinking about how to direct the energy.

You’re just about ready to work your magic: you’ve set your intent, decided how to raise energy, planned how to use symbols and/or spirits and/or elements of creative and performing arts to direct that energy.

But before you start, you should plan what to do at the end. You’re going to need to resolve back to ordinary reality at the end. Or “cool down”.