A Review of Jason Miller’s Elements of Spellcrafting: 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery

 


Elements was published over three years ago, but I’m only getting around to this review now in 2020.  So I’m definitely a bit late.  Then again, three years is not a long time when occult books are concerned.  And, really, I’m reviewing this mostly for my own magical reasons.  Several people have mentioned the book (and Jason) to me recently, using language that had a kind of “fairy dust” on it, a glimmer of magical resonance that made me take notice.  Once I started paying attention, I realized what I was being asked to do.

This sort of resonance emanates from my UPG.  It’s a highly subjective form of prophecy, of passive divination.  In Eckankar, it’s called “Golden-tongued Wisdom.”  In ancient Greece, it was called “kledon.”  In some areas of modern art, it’s called “found art.”  Crowley ritualized it as part of “The Oath of the Abyss.”  But it all means roughly the same thing: something or someone within your perceptual, subjective world is talking to you, pointing something out, and you should listen.

Sometimes it comes through a kind of conspicuous emphasis in one of the physical senses.  Sometimes, it’s complete pareidolia.  Other times, you’ll hear a snatch of conversation or experience a bit of inadvertent stichomancy when a book falls open to a random passage speaking directly to something on your mind.  Not all divination is deliberate.  Not all prophecy is dramatic.  And not all messages are solicited by the diviner.  Sometimes—in fact, I’d say most of the time if we’re paying attention—the universe speaks in the language of everyday things, of nature, and of selective perception. 

Which is to say, it’s a psychic event.  How you can tell it’s happening is a matter of clairsentience and experience.  That’s the best way I can describe it.  Do magic for a couple decades and your “third eye” becomes relatively dependable, your “sight beyond sight,” to borrow a phrase from the Thundercats.  You notice the pixie dust on, say, the title of a book in a store or in something a friend is saying to you over coffee.  The book might have nothing to do with magic or spirituality.  Your friend might be talking about the fish in her fish tank.  But the words seem to stand out.  They have a certain glow.  You pay attention.  And then you get the message.

In other words, I can’t say in any rational or defensible way why I knew I should review this book.  I just “got the message.”  So I said to the universe, “Yes, okay, sure, I’ll review it on my new blog.”  But I didn’t say when.  And, to be honest, I thought I might just put it off indefinitely.  I’ve found Jason’s recent courses and writings distasteful for the same reasons others have.  But signs and symbols important to me started to crop up in connection to doing the review.  I have an understanding with a certain ibis-headed deity and I think that’s a large part of why I kept getting reminded to write this.  Thoth is always on my mind to some extent. 

Tonight, I sat down to work on something else—and couldn’t.  Total writer’s block, which I don’t often get.  So I said to the universe, which is to say, Thoth, which is to say my daemonic Self:  “Okay, have it your way.” 

I really am grateful for all the books that come to me whenever I want them and for this modest talent of mine in stringing one word after another.  In my cosmology / UPG, those are gifts from Thoth.  I suppose writing things when he sends me kledon is the least I can do to show my gratitude. 

So tonight, this is what I’m writing for the Lord of Time and Master of Letters.  I make this invocation at the beginning of my review, that I will be free of delusion, that my words will be free of error, and that my perceptions will convey truth. 

Nuk per Akhenptah, ami-ab

Per-ab ami- kshat. Anksh-a em t’ett’a-a.

I am pure of heart

Within the purity of my body.

As the sacred lotus opens each morning at the touch of Ra,

I pray that my eyes may be opened.

As I climb the sacred stairs to the sky above,

I ask Ta em Hotep to guide and protect me.

So mote it be.

***

Everyone expects me to tap dance on Jason’s book, principally because on Studio Arcanis, we’ve been openly critical of his Hekate and Cyprian courses.  I’m not going to rehash what we’ve said (and what Jason said when he came back to the forums to defend himself).  Instead, I’ll start by talking about what I like and admire about him and his magical work.

Jason has an eclectic background; he’s definitely a fixture in the magical community; and he’s written some good books.  The Sorcerer’s Secrets and Protection and Reversal Magick are very good.  They emerged from the magical blog trend that seemed to electrify (pun intended) the online international magical community in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

I took Jason’s “Sorcerer’s Secrets” e-course, as did several magician friends of mine, and we all thought it was a solid 101 companion to the book.  Jason can write clearly and he knows how to explain esoteric concepts and techniques in ways that beginners will understand and feel empowered to practice. 

All of this is good.  And, though I can be harsh and would like to see Jason give more substance in his online courses relative to what he charges, I bear him no ill will.  He’s part of the same community, the same family or, if you prefer, the same “invisible college,” as all of us who study and practice occult things.  I suppose you’re always harshest on your own.

Unfortunately, Jason’s reductive, beginner-friendly approach becomes a liability when he tries to write about things beyond frame rituals and basic offering methods.  This is my primary criticism of Elements, which is not a bad book at all.  It could have been titled, The Sorcerer’s Secrets, Part Two.  And though it presents itself as a relatively intermediate troubleshooting guide for those who’ve already started practicing operative magic, it seems more like a book of occult platitudes, giving 21 highly obvious, common sense “keys” to successful practice.

By the time I got to the end, I couldn’t shake the feeling that if someone bought The Sorcerer’s Secrets and really worked those techniques, Elements of Spellcrafting would be mostly unnecessary; if they didn’t work seriously through Jason’s previous book or of they happened to be magically tone-deaf, then none of these tips would do them a bit of good. 

Either way, Elements comes across as superfluous to serious practice—a bit like Jason’s Financial Sorcery seems superfluous to the real mechanics of making and keeping money—but even less useful because at least FS gave some bare-bones money management advice and introduced the (borrowed) concept of the “set point.”

Jason never writes a totally bad book.  He’s too smart and experienced for that.  By “superfluous,” I don’t mean “worthless.”  I simply mean that the book is unnecessary for serious practitioners.  That said, the image of the “serious practitioner” I’m holding in my mind when I say that has a lot to do with my own idiosyncratic perceptions and experiences. 

We call Studio Arcanis a forum for “Advanced Practitioners” and evaluate the information there based on decades of talking about and actually practicing magic.  But no one, not even the most experienced sorcerer or grimoire magician, can see all angles.  So there may be someone who benefits greatly from Elements of Spellcrafting.  I just can’t imagine who that could be.

In the introduction, Jason writes, “I am not claiming to be the smartest, the most powerful, or the wisest Sorcerer on the block—in fact, I know that this is not the case. But I have seen some shit, dear reader, and have learned a lot from it.”  Fair enough.  I’ve practiced magic for about as long as Jason and I’ve seen some shit, too.  It’s unavoidable.  Some shit definitely gets seen on the magical path.  Over on Arcanis, people are always talking about the shit they’ve seen, but they seldom write how-to books based on such shit.  If they do, they buckle down for some serious critique by the community—and rightly so. 

I do wonder about something Jason says two paragraphs later: “If people have ever asked you something like, ‘If spells work, why aren't you more successful?’ this book is for you. The issue is not with the Magic itself, but with the application. If you apply these keys skillfully, no one will ever ask you [that] again.”  

People always ask magicians that question—because great skepticism accompanies great ignorance and fear, all things that motivate questions in the genre of “Prove It!”  Jesus got such questions.  Agrippa got them.  Giordano Bruno, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Aleister Crowley, Jack Parsons, Buckminster Fuller, and Big Daddy Frogleg, the hoodoo man down the street, all got that same question.  I’ve gotten it.  You may have, too.  Already, in the introduction, my bullshit detector is starting to go off.

But, as I said above, my project here is not to ride the book down.  So I’ll ask a better question: in my opinion, what’s good here?  What’s useful?  What can a serious magical student make use of?

The first thing I liked was Key 3: “Make Sure Your Life is Enchantable,” a concept that the chaote, Gordon White, once summed up on Runesoup by saying that there has to be a sufficient amount of “chaos” (i.e. potential for influence and change) in a subject for magic to work on it.  In fact, if I didn’t think this was a patently obvious truth, I’d think Jason cribbed it straight off Gordon’s blog. 

But it is true, at least as far as I have seen in my own workings and in the reports other dependable magicians have given.  Jason puts it like this: “The problem this key seeks to solve is forcing Magic to manifest in lives that are not easily adapted to enchantment. The solution is not always an easy one. It may require you to open a business, do some serious personal identity work, or even move to a new city where there are more opportunities than your current location.” 

Actually, Jason put it better in The Sorcerer’s Secrets (quoting Louis Martini): “First comes the working, then comes the work.”  Right.  Make a pathway for manifestation within the subject matter of the working.  You can’t get solid gold Bentleys from the sky.  You can’t get whipped cream from a stone.  If you don’t “back up the work” with mundane effort, the magic won’t flow.

Anton LaVey also said it: “The aspiring witch who deludes herself into thinking that a powerful enough working will always succeed, despite a magical imbalance, is forgetting one essential rule: magic is like nature itself, and success in magic requires working in harmony with nature, not against it.”  Maybe Jason is paraphrasing The Satanic Bible?  He could do worse.  LaVey’s “Book of Belial” is actually a very deep course in practical magic, deeper, I think, than Elements.

Another good one is Key 21: “Maintain Sovereignty”: “Just remember that you hold the agency here. You hold the sovereignty. Don't yield your life over to spirits to make decisions for you. Work with them, even serve them, but maintain your own sovereignty and decisions.”  This is something everyone needs to hear from time to time.  As spiritually minded people, literally “spiritual workers,” we negotiate a difficult path between employing our spiritual contacts to create change and serving them.  For example, I may burn incense and invoke Thoth before writing a review but I will also do that writing if I feel like he’s asking me to do it.  It’s always a give-and-take.

Jason has a few other useful observations: avoid “perpetuating a bad status quo” with sorcery (i.e. using it to avoid having to grow); make use of your genii loci; enchant in large and small ways; know how to judge magical successes and failures; and make an effort to learn and respect the traditions that draw you. 

All of these are useful things that most of us learned along the way by doing.  We learned them firsthand.  And if we hadn’t learned them eventually, we wouldn’t have gotten very far along in our magical studies.  So, yes, the book is not worthless at all.  But it may be totally unnecessary for most practitioners.

Overall, I look back at Elements of Spellcrafting and wish Jason would have written something a bit deeper when it comes to the practice of advanced magic.  Along with his 21 Keys seeming obvious, comes the unsettling idea that he has compiled them from various other writers and traditions—ironically violating his own advice in Key 13: “Practice Sane Eclecticism”: “Don't downplay influences to justify your involvement.”

In magic, we hold some truths to be self-evident.  So compiling and restating them in a single book is fine and might even be useful.  But this doesn’t amount to the sort of wisdom he seems to claim for himself in the introduction when he says, “I have seen some shit.”  The shit he’s talking about here is shit everybody sees, sooner or later.  It’s like giving someone a photo of his own house and saying, “This is where you live.”

Yeah.