Visualization and Imagination - Tools of Magic

(c) Antonio Mora
"What is visualization?" you ask. Well, when we visualize something, we form a mental image of it. In Paganism and many other spiritual paths and religions, visualizations are used for motivation, reaching goals, healing, reinforcement and many other things. In her book The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy, Rosemary Guiley explains visualization nicely: "In visualization, a mental picture of the desired result is held firmly and vividly in the mind, as if it were already real. Visualization is most effective when practiced in an altered state of consciousness, such as in meditation or in ritual, when the psychic forces of the mind flow more easily. In an altered state, the conscious mind connects with the Higher Self and aligns itself to the flow of cosmic forces in the universe". This may sound confusing to you now, but I promise that it will be crystal clear by the end of this post!

Visualization has been mentioned on this blog possibly too many times, but I assure you that there is a reason for this! I have talked about it in posts such as "Communing with Nature", "Raising Group Energy", "Minimalistic Rituals", "Protection in Magic and the Power of Positive Thinking" and many many more. In most cases, I mentioned visualization as a part of a certain meditation or magical act (magic=directing energy towards a certain aim with a specific intention).  This is because visualization is an integral part of both meditation and magic. 

If you will allow me to digress, I would also like to say that I believe visualization to be an inherent part of ritual as well. Here's why: I have recently come to the conclusion that there is such a thing as intentional and non-intentional magic/intuitive magic. When a person performs magic (i.e. does a specific magical act, or performs a magical ritual) then this magic is intentional because the individual consciously decides to perform magic (send energy to a goal with a strongly defined intention). But in some cases, as in devotional rituals, the practitioner may perform magic intuitively. For example, this devotional ritual may not include an explicitly magical act. Yet, despite this, the practitioner will visualize certain things (e.g. the cleansing of the ritual space, the opening of the circle etc.) and send certain energy (e.g. positive energy for blessing the altar, participants, or simply to cleanse the ritual space). Essentially, even this is magic, albeit "intuitive magic". I say this because even in these processes, the practitioner sends certain energy to a certain goal with certain intentions. The only difference here is that a large portion of this process is performed intuitively or at least without the intention of performing a strictly magical act. We can conclude that magic is inherent in all rituals and that visualization therefore also forms a large part of rituals.

Now that we have established that visualization plays an important role in meditation, magic and rituals, it's time to explain why visualization is so useful and widespread.

The Triangle of Causation

The Triangle of Causation is originally a Kabbalistic concept, but one that can be understood even if you have absolutely no background knowledge of this school of thought. Nevertheless, it is necessary to mention that, from the perspective of Kabbalistic magic, all work is done on the astral plane. If we consider what we see around us to be an ordinary and visible reality, then the astral plane would encompass everything that is invisible and out of the ordinary, mental, spiritual and so on. When a person performs magic, they send energy, images and intentions. Although none of these exist physically, they do exist astrally/mentally. In short, the images that a person visualizes, the energy that a person sends and the intentions that go with it manifest themselves on a mental/spiritual/astral level. I don't want to complicate things further so, for now, I'll just say that these manifestations can then be used to bring about physical, emotional, mental and spiritual changes. 

Now, the Triangle of Causation defines three main factors which are needed for this manifestation: 
  1. Desire
  2. Visualization
  3. Imagination
There are two additional factors which are needed to transform these mental manifestations into physical ones: 
  • will
  • organization
If the world of magic isn't familiar to you, let's take a practical example. Let's say you want to paint something. Well, first you should have the desire to paint something. Even if this desire is artificial (e.g. a teacher gave you the task of painting something as an assignment), it still exists. You still want to do this, even if it is only to get a passing grade for your art class. The way I see it, desire is basically motivation. The next step is slightly less abstract and is more mental. Visualization basically means thinking up ideas, "visualizing" the finished painting, testing out your own theories in your mind before you start putting them on paper. As Rosemary Guiley put it, visualization would mean holding a vivid image of the desired result in one's mind (in this case, the desired result would be the finished painting). Imagination actually works hand in hand with visualization because we can try to visualize something infinitely, but if we have no imagination, our attempts will be fruitless. We need imagination in order to start thinking things up.

Will and organization are there for physical, practical purposes. If we had no will and organization, then all our ideas would remain ideas. So in the painting scenario, our will is that which makes us pick up a paint brush and start painting. Organization helps by categorizing our ideas, goals and actions and making a logical chain of events. Without organization, we would pick up a paintbrush and start painting on air because we forgot to prepare the paper/canvas. We would then be left without a physical realization of our ideas.

A more modern version of this triangle, which is slightly more simplified and also includes the process of physical manifestation of ideas is composed of:
  1. Thought
  2. Imagination
  3. Will
It's clear that imagination and will exist in both triangles. But where have desire, visualization and organization gone? My understanding of this modern triangle is that will also include desire (usually, if we have the desire to do something, then we are automatically willing to do it). I believe that thought could also include organization because most of our organization begins in thought also. We first think of preparing the canvas, brushes and paint and then, thanks to willpower, actually do it. As for visualization, I believe that visualization and imagination are inseparable and condition one another in a way. Since the focus of this post is on visualization and imagination, perhaps it is best if we talk more about them.

Visualization + Imagination

As we have already established, imagination and visualization are closely connected, if not inseparable. Our imagination enables visualization and is the seed from which actual physical results spring from. When we speak of the power of imagination, we talk about experiencing something that we haven't (at least not up to that point) experienced in real life. We can imagine different worlds, different outcomes and all sorts of wonderful things in our imagination. Of course, we can also imagine things that have happened in the past, but in this post, we will stick to the effects imagination can have on our future.

One thing that most people forget about is that imagination isn't only related to the sense of sight, but can also include all the other senses as well. People are mostly visual and are used to understanding that something is real if they can see it. So, even in our imagination, we try to "create" something (make it partially real) by visualizing it. Nevertheless, some people are not visual types and pay more attention to some other sense(s). For instance, auditory types will imagine birds by hearing chirping sounds. Olfactory types will recall a walk in the woods by recalling the wet smell of the earth and so on.

Of course, our senses are mainly used in order to perceive reality. But we are unaware that what we perceive is only part of what can be perceived. Our senses are not all that heightened and sometimes we may not pay attention to all our senses. Therefore, we will usually get only partial input as to what reality is like. A lot of people will completely ignore their sense of smell, touch and taste, but will put more focus on sight and hearing. By not smelling, touching and tasting a lot of the time, we don't get a complete picture of our reality. In his book Visual Magick, Jan Fries wrote a wonderful passage that really makes you think about this (by the way, I sincerely recommend you read this book because it is very helpful when it comes to strengthening imagination and visualization):
"This world-view very easily becomes habit and is rarely questioned as it seems utterly real and convincing. Before long we may forget that what we experience is not all that can be experienced, that we live in a selection, not in the fullness of all possible realities. When we remember that we select our reality we may remember to select a reality worth living in." (p. 55)
I remember that I was at the beach this summer and I saw a little boy, about 4 years old, playing with a stick. He was obviously enjoying himself because he had a huge smile on his face. His parents came along with an inflatable toy boat, picked him up, put him in the boat and gave him a tiny paddle. Now, the boy was so attached to his stick that he threw away the plastic paddle and started using the stick to paddle the boat. The parents were obviously frustrated because of this and threw the stick away and gave him back the paddle. The boy played along but as soon as they came close to the place where they threw the stick, he got out of the boat, took the stick and continued playing with it. So what does this story tell us? Well, children have a HUGE imagination. This stick was so much more interesting to the boy because it wasn't defined by its shape and could therefore become anything his imagination desired - a sword, a paddle, a laser, a spear, a  microphone...and the list goes on. This is the power of imagination. This is exactly what Fries referred to in the above quote. Adults perceive reality out of habit, so, for them, the stick will be nothing more than a stick. Children experience reality differently, more freely and use their imagination to create different realities, even though they do this just for fun.

Just imagine what we could do if we had the power to visualize in the way that children do! :)

Visualization in Magic and Meditation

It's logical enough that we are all born with the power to imagine and visualize if even children can do this. But, with time, these capabilities shrivel if we don't develop them. This can easily be done with practice, of course. As with any skill, it's best to start out with something simple and go on to more complicated things. But why, you may ask, is it even important to develop the skill of visualization and the power of imagination? If you're reading this post, then that means you are interested in magic, rituals and meditation. So, it's better to ask how these skills can be used in these contexts. The answers are numerous. Essentially, you have to use your imagination and visualization in any magical act because, as we have said, magic is the act of sending thoughts and energy to a certain goal with a well-defined intention. These thoughts and the energy itself are defined by what you visualize. For instance, if you are performing healing magic, then you will always try to visualize the person you are trying to heal as being healthy, active, full of vital energy, rosy in the cheeks and so on. Since magic is an integral part of rituals, then the same can be applied here. If you want to cleanse something in ritual, then you will first visualize it (most people visualize a white/blue light passing through the space/object they are cleansing). As for meditation and trance, well the type of visualization you do depends greatly on the aim of the meditation itself.

In any case, visualization enables us to reach deep inside ourselves, get the energy we need to do something and make it happen. I think this is also a great time to elaborate on Guiley's thought that "in an altered state, the conscious mind connects with the Higher Self and aligns itself to the flow of cosmic forces in the universe". It's interesting that, when we reach into ourselves in such a way, we contact what Jung called the Self (the unification of the conscious and unconscious part of our minds, i.e. the psyche as a whole). The way I see it, when we are unified with the Self and then perform magic (send energy, thoughts and intentions into the universe), we are doing this as Self. Somewhere in this universe, we are connected to our higher consciousness, or the Higher Self that Guiley mentioned. The universe is also filled with the thoughts, intentions and energies of many many people and our thoughts have to somehow pass through all of these in order to get to their destination. There's no point in pushing and shoving so our thoughts simply harmonize/align themselves with all these other thoughts and slowly but steadily reach their goal. After all, nothing is realized in an instant. Physical realization of ideas takes time and patience.

Jan Fries incorporated a few wonderful exercises into his book which can be very useful for activating the imagination and including all our senses in this process. When we learn to activate our imagination, ad with it our ability to visualize things vividly, performing magic, doing rituals and meditations becomes so much easier and more effective. You can find the full exercises in his book, but here are the simplified versions.

Exercise 1

  • Ask yourself what you are aware of right now.
  • Say aloud what you are currently perceiving with all your senses. Start with one sense (any one you prefer).
  • Let the sense you are describing fully permeate you.
  • Move on slowly to all the other senses in turn.
This exercise enables two things: (1) the ability to "go into" each sense deeply (this way, you connect to each sense and develop it - if you continue developing it then it will enhance your everyday experiences as well as meditations, rituals and magical experiences); (2) the ability to move your attention from the inner (problems, troubles, wishes) to the outer (this too can enhance the quality of your everyday experiences as you will be more aware of the things that are going on around you).

Exercise 2

Here you will actually repeat exercise 1 but modify it a bit. You will practice changing the tone, tempo and volume of your voice while saying what your senses are sending to you. 
  • Try to speak in a friendly way (i.e. change the modulation of your voice). How does this affect your experience?
  • Try to speak fast, loudly as if you were very excited about something. Let yourself go and you will see that you will automatically start speaking even faster, even louder and that you will become even more excited. How does this affect your experience?
  • Try the "ceremonial magic" voice. This voice is very solemn and vibrates words. Like Fries said: "try to sound important, as if each of your words would have a world-shaking impact". How does this affect your experience?
  • Speak slowly and calmly and gradually slow it down even more. How does this affect your experience?
  • Try switching from your physical voice to you inner voice. What does it sound like and how does it affect your experience?
  • If you are not pleased with the way your inner voice sounds, then try to change it, try "speaking" with it in a more friendly, calm way if need be. Just experiment. This is necessary because you will need your inner voice equally as much (if not more than) your actual voice in rituals.
By now, you will probably know that changing the tempo, volume, dynamics and modulation of you voice will change your mood and greatly affect your experience. Be aware of this and learn to use it in your rituals because this also can affect your visualizations.

Exercise 3

  • Find a tree.
  • Walk around it, see it, listen to the sounds around you, feel the tree, focus on what you can taste, smell the tree.
  • Speak aloud as you do all of this and express your sensory experiences in words.
This will also help you get in touch with all your senses, it may also let you know which senses are less developed and which are slightly more developed. Work on this. :) And allow yourself to speak freely. Even though this isn't really connected to the topic of visualization and imagination, it will be of great help in rituals.


So how will all of this help you? Before I answer this question, I would like to quote Jan Fries once more:
"There are people who find it difficult to become conscious of their inner senses. When they close their eyes they see darkness, and as they continue to use their physical eyes, darkness is all there is. Inner vision is not seen but imagined." (p. 59)
I have heard possibly too many stories in which people start off by saying "I just couldn't visualize anything. I saw nothing". This is because people focus too much on their physical senses and not enough on their inner senses. This may sound ironic after all of these exercises which focus on our physical senses, but here's the trick. Once we learn to fully sense physically, we will enhance all our experiences. These experiences will be easier to recall in our mind's eye later on (i.e. imagine) and will aid us in visualization. Remember, visualization doesn't only include the sense of sight but all the other senses also. In addition to this, by learning to focus on the external via our senses, we will also have more control over them and be able to tune them out when necessary (e.g. when focusing solely on our inner senses). I hope this cleared things up a bit. :)

After all of this babbling, it would be nice to sum things up. Basically, visualization and imagination are cornerstones of magic, ritual, meditation and trance. They enable us to envision the aim of our actions and help us reach a deeper state of consciousness if necessary (or perhaps open up to the world around us in some cases). The exercises mentioned in this post will help you not only improve your ritual and magical work, but also the overall quality of your life because, by developing your senses, you will be open to new experiences which will be all the more intense after you have mastered the senses.

So good luck with all of this! :D Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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