During the introduction to some dharma workshops I attended at the weekend, everyone was invited to say something about their practice and their connection with Buddhism. Explaining myself to a Buddhist group was an interesting exercise in making clear the relationship between magick and the dharma.
The aim of the Western Magickal Tradition – I explained – is the same as that of Buddhism: enlightenment. The specific act of magick that fulfils this aim is known as The Great Work. The magician achieves The Great Work through the invocation of an entity known as The Holy Guardian Angel. The angel leads the magician across the Abyss, which is the gap between our ordinary perception and metaphysical experience. This culminates in the magician's first awakening, a temporary experience of enlightenment. By engaging in further work with the angel, eventually the magician achieves union with it – which is equivalent to 'full' or 'final' enlightenment.
In Buddhist terms, the angel is a representation of Emptiness. Angel and Emptiness are the same thing. Magick is the art of experiencing Truth, so the Western magician uses the angel as a dualistic representation of non-dual, unrepresentable Emptiness in order to bring about a direct experience of Emptiness through magical means. Because it employs magick, the Western Tradition often proves the most direct and fastest route to the realisation of enlightenment, but it is not without certain risks to the ignorant and unwary.
Where the Western Tradition has fallen down, however, is in the clarity of its teachings. The Buddhist teachings are more straightforward, whereas western occultism has been subject to vigorous suppression by exoteric religion, and has also been corrupted and misunderstood by its own supposed practitioners.
The most common corruption of the Western Magical Tradition is the practitioner's inability or refusal to use magick in the realisation of The Great Work, but instead to limit its use to sorcery or 'low' magic. The Buddhists texts on meditation accept the development of psychic powers or siddhis as a corollary to awakening, and include similar warnings on the dangers of mistaking these powers as an end in themselves or a substitute for enlightenment.
In the Western Tradition, however, competency in magick is an absolute prerequisite for The Great Work. The reason for this is simple: to summon the angel, one must be familiar with the technique of invocation; to communicate with the angel, one must know how to work with spirits; to make decisions about directions to be taken, divination is essential, etc. In short, The Great Work demands proficiency in all areas of magick.
When properly understood as a genuine tradition, the Western Magical Tradition places magick in the service of enlightenment. As the magician moves surely and swiftly towards the realisation of the aim (which is inevitably successful because it is the expression of a magical act) then his or her magical abilities are developed and perfected at the same time.
It is for this reason that the Holy Guardian Angel is often described as 'the future magical self'. Union with the angel – let us remember – is the realisation of Emptiness, and so magick placed at the service of enlightenment bootstraps the magician into awakening to his or her ultimate nature.