So much has changed since I encountered Magic of the North Gate by Josephine McCarthy. This book came to me at a difficult time in my magical life, a time when I was questioning everything about the path. It didn’t answer all of the questions I had inside of me but it did act as a catalyst and reignited a long held desire to be of service to the Land, and gave me a bunch of tools to do so. There are so many books, classes and courses out there in the world of occultism and magic whose main aim seems to be personal development and the acquisition of material things. This is totally different. There is no narcissistic navel gazing in these pages or polishing of the magical mirror to glamorize your self image. You won’t find sorcerous techniques or any drawings of sigils optimized to add a net gain to your stock market account. Rather, it is a detailed investigation on the Land, the Living, and the Living Dead.
There is no beating around the bush here, rather Josephine gets straight to work and discusses the practical and visionary means of working the magic of the North Gate. The language she uses is straight forward, and filled with humor and wit, traits altogether lacking in most magical texts. It does not attempt to wrap itself up in displays of verbal prowess. For the new initiate or seeker this means they are able to spend less time trying to work out just what the heck the author means and spend more time testing and applying these techniques to their own practice. Don’t get me wrong, I love cunning word play, but all too often it is used to mask a lack of substance, or to add filler to what should have been a long essay instead of a book. Furthermore, Josephine is a wonderful writer anyways. Her voice is authentic, rooted in experience, and unafraid to lance the many tumors growing on the sacred cows of occult tradition.
Now… on to the content of the book! I look at it through the subjective lens of my own relationship with this material and the experiences resulting from that interaction.
WORKING WITH THE MAGICAL ELEMENTS
I had begun 2013 with the idea and intention of working with the Four Elements during each of the Four Seasons that they correspond to; Earth in Winter, Air in Spring, Fire in Summer, and now Water this Autumn. And I had steadily been posting some of my experiences on my blog. Up until I started working with the material in the book. Within was laid out a powerful method of initiation into the mysteries of the four directions and elements for those who wish to take it. Yet when I first started applying those visionary methods I wasn’t thinking of it as a path of initiation -and Josephine doesn’t lay it out as such. It has just been what is now unfolding in a natural rhythm from the work of going in vision into the Four Elemental/Directional Temples. These inner events started to change me in ways I’m still grappling with. One of those ways is how much or little to share in public.
Josephine quotes a teacher she had in her introduction: “You can only really master the skills of one direction in a lifetime.” Yet for the person who dares to walk into the gate of the East, South, West and North (not necessarily in that order) a literal initiation will occur. That shouldn’t be surprising to the working occultist. In the course of our years we go through many initiations; some may happen in a lodge, coven, or druid grove but most of them happen from experience in the inner worlds. And having had these visionary encounters with various contacts in the four elemental directions I find my body is changing from these “initiations” and the way I need to live in my home is changing. Adjusting to these changes can be a bumpy process. Luckily the Body and the Home are dealt with in Chapter 1 and 2 of the book, so after skipping ahead and getting fried a bit by the elemental journeys presented in chapter 6, I was able to go back to the beginning to learn how to cope with the inevitable results.
AT HOME, IN YOUR BODY
Visionary magic stretches the practitoner out, literally into other worlds and other times. The impact this has on the body should not be underestimated. If mediation comes naturally to you, as it does to me, loads of energy might be pushed through you because of this work and that can leave you feeling zapped. So it is important, right up front, to have some tools for coping with those effects. The deeper down the rabbit hole you go, the more important it becomes to be able to balance the dynamics of power that the body becomes a mediator of. Josephine equates the shift of a magician from working with smaller amounts of power to larger as that of an amateur athlete who has just made the cut to go pro. As you get rolling, expect changes in diet, sleep patterns, and a myriad other issues. This chapter sets you up so you know what to expect and can take some preventive measures to keep yourself out of the hospital.
The second chapter goes into extensive detail about living magically in your home. The practicality of having a dedicated working space isn’t within in everyone’s reach, and depending on what it is you are trying to achieve, isn’t always necessary. It’s the difference between commuting to work or working from home. When you are properly “plugged in” you shouldn’t need a shop full of fancy accoutrements to display to guests. Still, objects and tools will have a way of flowing to you. There will probably be shrines to various deities or powers at some point in your magical career. And if you don’t want them all at war with each other, much like human people and families sharing a space, you’re going to have to find ways to accommodate each other.
If you’re doing regular work, you might also from time to time, draw the attention of things you really don’t want hanging around. Parasites, little nasties, and other buggers of the astral plane. But hopefully you’ve gotten to the point where you don’t need to go banishment crazy. The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram can be an effective tool, but it has gotten to be the be-all-end-all in many of the 101 books out there. I wonder now how much my indiscriminate use of the LBRP as a daily ritual banished many good things from my life? Household protection that doesn’t blast out all the friendly non-physical beings around is the way to go, and that is covered here, alongside general balancing of the home, and having your ancestors, fairies, dead relatives, and other folks around to sip on a pot of coffee with me.
With the basics covered I’m now more aware of what I might expect -and what to do- when a sudden power surge runs through my body after a working, or if things start going bump in the night around the house. Now I can really get to work.
MAGIC OF THE LAND
The next three chapters go into extensive detail about working magically with the Land, which makes this a book that will be just as much at home on the shelf of a Witch, or Druid, as it would with the Ceremonial Magician (who really does need to get out of the Lodge more often and go do some work in the woods or at the river, besides all that time indoors can make you look pasty).
So much wisdom is condensed into these three chapters that even the most enterprising and tireless magician could unpack the material here and continue to work with it, all the while discovering more, for well over a decade. From the simplest of beginnings on researching your Land, the people and legends and stories connected to it, to checking in with the beings who dwell in the trees, fields, hills and creeks. To turning on the inner guidance system that will draw you to that park or patch of land you hadn’t known about before, but turns out to be a hotspot, places of ingress or egress patiently waiting for a human to stumble upon and get to work. Here are insights about working with the weather, with the tides of life and death. Ways to nurture the Land are included from the simple but endlessly profound act of gardening -and how the small acts of a contacted magician working in her garden can ripple out to the surrounding country. Both short and long term construction of magical working spaces -on the inner plane of the Land- are covered in detail. Working with Faeries, Deities, and Ancestors and the various shrines and structures corresponding to them are also what you will find, sitting comfortably alongside stories from Josephine’s own experience, all entertaining and instructive.
Look at the Land around you. It’s crying out for a worker to help in the many ways it needs. These three chapters, and the instructions you get from your the Land you live on, will have you breaking a wonderful sweat.
CONTAINERS OF POWER
Beyond these chapters there is so much more that I’ve got the chops to feel comfortable working with. Yet there may come a time when it is needful that I do, and here is a reliable guide to the Qliphoth. In some circles of magic it has become very fashionable to work with the Qliphoth. There are many reasons one might do so. Unfortunately, proving how dark and edgy you are isn’t one of them. Josephine cuts away the chaff on a subject that is often needlessly confused. This is a clear exposition on how to do this work. Now there is no need to try and make your way through the maze Kenneth Grant has left so many people in.
MAKING FRIENDS WITH DEATH
The ways a person can be called to work in death, with death, and for the dead are many and various. On the one hand it can be the service of ushering those who have lingered on to the other side of the river, helping them board the ferry and get along with their journey. Or some bones may find their way to you and they may have a reason to be with you and for you to work with them. Sometimes a family member may return for a visit, pop in to a dream to give you some information you and your family may need, or just to let you know what they are up to on the other side. And for the mage, there is the long work of preparing for your own death. In doing so, you’ll probably be in a position at some point to help others when they are dying by assisting them in vision as they cross over. In the West our relationship with death is very unbalanced and perverted. I see this manifesting in the collective as a current obsession with zombies and vampires. These obsessions say a lot about our lack of a healthy relationship to death. This chapter packs a big punch and goes a long way towards healing that rift in the Western psyche.
THREADS OF LIFE, DEATH, AND FATE
I’ve long had a relationship to Spiders and their connection to the various Weaver Goddesses. This is a domain of such powerful magic, that though I haven’t worked with in the depth represented here, caused me to say “whoa” and take a step back. Fate is not something to take lightly in your hands. Your own or another beings. In some cases it may be appropriate. The final chapter is all about weaving power into form, learning to work with the Fates, to be able to patch places where the fabric has become frayed, to mend, stitch and alter the material in ways that are of service to the larger patterns being played out in life and in the Land.
The Foreword to the work is by Frater Acher, a wise German magician who has also now posted a number of free e-books on his website. In the foreword he writes about the need to move beyond the idea that attaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Gurdian Angel is the be all and end all of magic. As someone with a Thelemic background I agree with my whole heart. This ideas has become so prevalent in Western occultism since Crowley made a mountain out of it, that it can be a huge stumbling block for younger magicians. It is such a daunting task, you might give up on all the other useful things in need of doing. There are so many areas of magic that are in need of repair, in need of dedicated work and experimentation, that perhaps if we set aside for a time our own ideas about personal attainment, we may attain something else for all the beings around us.
Here is a book to keep you busy and put you to work for years ahead. It has layers and layers of meaning and learning to be extracted from it as you begin the process of working with the material. Have you heard the call of the Land? Mother Earth is in need of some folks who are willing to get their hands into the dirt and start working.