So you want to learn how to be a successful wizard, like me? Or a witch— we’re all equal these days. Even if hanging out with your wang wand out isn’t for you, I assure you that you can make magic in your own way.
The art of casting spells faster, flying your brooms more efficiently, and experiencing more transcendental moments of clarity is called productivity. However, we will get to that in subsequent posts. Before you can start fine-tuning your productivity, you must find a magic to practice.
[Image: a sketch of a wizard sweeping up, source Author]
Do not get hung up on the terminology. Whether you believe in science or Cyclops, similar phenomena can be described in different words. Just because I heat my potions in cauldrons instead of glass beakers doesn’t make them any less effective.
If you perfect a craft to the point of creating sublime beauty out of crude materials, you should rightfully be called an alchemist.
Eliphas Levi, author of several seminal texts on practical magic, defines it as:
“The science of the secrets of nature…by means of this science, the adept becomes invested with a species of relative omnipotence, and can…transcend the normal possibility of men [and women].”
The word adept, by the way, derives from the Latin term adeptus: one who has attained (the secrets of magic).
What’s so crazy about being better than the normal person? Don’t we all strive to surpass mediocrity? Is there anything incredible about the idea that you, yes you, can surpass your rivals and be a master of a field of knowledge?
Like someone who aced Transfiguration Class, you can transfigure the base inputs of time, practice, and focus into incredible achievements. The process by which this is achieved is the magical practice.
[Image: Eliphas Levi—Master of Thaumaturgy, source: Wikipedia]
What are the First Steps?
“You are a beggar, and you desire to make gold
Set to work and never leave off.
What is the first thing to do?
Believe in your power, then act.
But how act?
“Rise daily at the same hour, and that early.
Accustom yourself to voluntary privations
Silence every desire which is foreign to the fulfillment of the Great Work
Wow. That’s all it takes to become a wizard? These simple lines from Levi’s Transcendental Magic caused me to set off on the path of becoming a true sorcerer. But you need more, don’t you? You want to know if it really works.
Set to work and never leave off: This wizard used to be employed in a bank, in one of those giant towers full of enslaved souls. When I used a simple happiness charm [Sign up for my Useful Spells: Advanced Course] to enliven some of my colleagues, I received a strict warning from the (in)Human Resources Department informing me that magic was strictly forbidden during work hours.
This was surprising since I had been commended several times for “magically” fixing a jammed photocopier.
An institution dedicated to suppressing all traits of humanity was no place for me. I chose a new path and have stuck to it since.
Believe in your power, then act: You have power. Every day you are surrounded by messages (on average people see anywhere from 500-5000 ads a day). All of these messages have one thing in common: they are just the formulaic curses of unimaginative wizards.
This curse is designed to make you feel abnormal and unwell…until you buy (insert thing). I have really heard these black spells repeated in shady boardrooms of the worst occult practices. Over the course of months and years, this dark magic may cause one’s self-image to become warped.
Cast a simple protective charm against this magic by reminding yourself that you do not need anyone’s permission to be great. [Protective charms against adSorcery are extensively covered in my Intro To Useful Spells Class].
In Transcendental Magic, Levi describes a peasant who wakes up every morning, walks several miles to collect an herb, and carries it with him throughout the day. The herb is not magical, but it represents the power of will that was required to collect it, and acts as a constant reminder of how strong the individual is. The herb becomes a magical object. Find a similar thing or idea to serve as a reminder that you are capable of anything; use this memory to act on your belief.
Rise at the same hour, and that early: Every shaman of productivity and high priest of maximizing output recognizes the need for getting up early and having a sensible sleep cycle. As you go from initiate to novice to adept, you will gain a better understanding of your own particular sleep cycle, and will even be ready to work at night and sleep in the day. Until then: early to bed, early to rise.
Accustom yourself to voluntary privations: So that you will be able to handle the unexpected ones. Just because you have money, time, and energy now does not mean this will always be the case. Practice getting things done in less time, practice saving money, practice using less than what is available to you. This will help you maximize resources. Additionally, I interpret this to mean that one should challenge oneself now to be ready when the real difficulties arise.
Silence every desire which is foreign to the fulfillment of the Great Work: Is going out to get drunk making you a better wizard? Will binge-watching an entire season of Wizards of Waverly place? Unless you want to be the world’s greatest tippler or the number one authority on Disney Shows, the answer— to both— is no. Obviously, even sorcerers need to hit the sauce sometimes, but in your early days of spellological training, rest should recharge you to continue the Great Work. If you need to spend all day recovering from your night out, you’re stirring the wrong cauldron.
According to Albert Camus, the absurd is, “the whole being  exerted toward accomplishing nothing.” Our lives are only as meaningful as we make them. The absurd is devoting your life and efforts to what someone else deems meaningful.
Sisyphus, a man punished by the gods to carry a stone up a mountain only to have it roll down at the end, embodies this.
“The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.”
Camus imagines that because Sisyphus understands his fate is inescapable, he can choose to enjoy it to spite the gods who wanted him to suffer. However, we are allowed to write our own myth; we can be Sisyphus holding up a long, crooked, mud-splattered middle finger to the gods, throwing the stone over the mountain.
Every single day we work on tasks we dislike, we are faced with the fact that we can change our fate, but choose not to.
“The sage is the man [or woman] who knows how, at a given moment, to effect his [or her] own arrest,” councils Victor Hugo in Les Misérables. No matter how far down the path of absurdity you have strayed, apprehend yourself and imprison yourself in the work you want to do.
This is part of the Great Work.
Today’s sages offer magic which promises marginal improvement. Chris Bailey, one of the high priests of working productively, can pinpoint the exact best color of the room you should work in—blue. Gregory Ciotti, a veritable necromancer at resurrecting lost time, knows just when your brain is functioning most efficiently—in the morning.
That is for the adepts in the field, and this is an initiate’s guide.
The first step to maximum productivity is choosing a pursuit you are passionate about. You cannot be productive at something you do not care about.
Which magic should you master to change the world?
This will be your Great Work.
Anything else is absurd— living and dying having expended your full effort towards achieving nothing of meaning.
You must personally make the choice of what your Great Work will be. Solemnly swear to yourself that you want to master the magical arts. The process you go through will be difficult, but it will be like the peasant’s herb—a reminder of your power and will, a magical talisman just for you.
My talisman is a wand, obviously. It is magical not only because I spent two paychecks on it (wand makers don’t work for free), but also because it is a symbol of the efforts that led me to my current lifestyle.
In modern parlance there is a phenomenon known as “Flow”. It is the ability to lose yourself in a task. Being in this state will help you focus and do more without getting tired.
A group of witches recently wrote, in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, that a state of flow could be achieved by remembering why the task you are doing is important. Remember the Great Work, and even the hardest tasks become enjoyable if they serve it. Remember your promise, your personal talisman, and you will be able to concentrate on all that the Great Work requires, as if by magic.
The First of All Magical Sciences
How do we find the Great Work? Let’s look to Levi for enlightenment:
“The [wizard] is truly what the Hebrew Kabbalists call the Microprosopus, that is, the creator of the little world. The first of all magical sciences being the knowledge of one’s self, so is one’s own creation first of all works of science…and is the principle of the Great Work.”
Isn’t magic boring? No wands, no potions, just patient introspection is the sum of your first class in the sorcery of summoning productivity.
You are the creator of your own little world, which is why you must strive understand every inch of it, as the Little Prince understands and knows every bit of his small planet.
Everyone is, in a way, a Little Prince living on his or her own planet. Some people know theirs well, and others less so. The more you know about the attributes of your unique domain, the more you can create with it.
The Magical Self
Neither Nicholas Flamel nor Cornelius Agrippa nor Merlin himself has been able to halt the flow of time. Luckily, this creates limits. And limits are necessary to all creative enterprises.
How do I study myself, you ask? It is the simplest and most complex subject of all. The mind is awash in thoughts of frightening complexity, which dilute immediately when transcribed into human language, but sometimes, it is possible to understand the self without words.
You, dear wizard-or-witch-in-training, have had a very finite number of thoughts, and a very finite number of experiences. Fortunately, or unfortunately, you are the sum of your thoughts and experiences.
Study your experiences, allow yourself to grapple with the thoughts that have plagued you. Many sources, including the Wild Warlock Malcolm Gladwell, suggest that 10,000 hours of practice bring mastery. If you have been awake for more than 10,000 hours, you have thought for that time. You are at least theoretically a master of the recurring subjects and themes of your thoughts; whatever they are, embrace them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, a famous conjurer, reminded us to treasure our thoughts. There are times when our experiences combine with our thoughts to offer a brief and total glimpse of the universe, but we are quick to reject it because it seems to serve no immediate or practical need:
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within… Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”
Write down thoughts that feel profound, the ones that excite you just because you had them. Memory is the least reliable magical skill of all. Even the profoundest thought, which you swear never to forget, can evaporate into the ether. Unless you have a pensieve, write them down.
Study your thoughts; see where they have travelled against your will. See what you are inexplicably drawn to. Study the thoughts you have written down. Do not fight them. This is who you are.
It is so important to master the self, and find out who you really are because there are so many tragic cases in the world. A Gallup Poll for 2011-2012 found that 29% of employees in the United States are engaged in the work they do. Which means that 71% are essentially checked out, going through the motions like Sisyphus. These people live absurd lives and will not achieve their Great Work.
Productivity hacks are dragon dung to a person who has no Great Work.
The passionate person is productive because he or she thinks about the Great Work at all times. The passionate person is able to tie in every life experience to their work, like a chef who sees new recipes in every meal he eats or a writer who sees stories everywhere, even in the urine puddles of unneutered poodles.
Every moment of your life is a glimpse into the mirror of the universe, which reflects your work and helps you approach it from a novel angle. That is beyond productivity. This means a trip to the store, taking out the trash, and waiting in line are opportunities to return to your passion in a new light.
Robert Greene, a magus and author of Mastery writes that as we become capable of interpreting the complex world in a useful manner—useful to the Great Work— without being overwhelmed, we become “Homo magister, man or woman The Master.”
Do not worry about maximizing productivity just yet. You will soon learn all sorts of spells and potions to make you work faster and harder. You need nothing to get started, just your very own mind, which is an open book to only you.
“But I can’t be effective unless I have a lovely cork-lined room, like that French wizard, Marcel Proust…” I hear you start to say.
Well, Marcel Proust wrote for decades before he got his cork-lined room—a quiet, productive environment.
Before you get your cork-lined room, you must learn to practice your magic in the all sorts of conditions, like Stephen King writing Carrie in a trailer on a portable typewriter. Can you imagine if he began to study the teachings of productivity? He would still be making a list of the proper sleeping schedule for a high-energy vegan diet instead of snorting fat lines of that substance—cocaine— and typing away like a rabid beast. (***This wizard does not endorse the use of cocaine***).
So my darling hopeful sorcerer, you know what the first step is. Study yourself; find your own Great Work; repeat the first steps to yourself. Then, we can begin the next lesson about how to start achieving the Great Work.
As always, magic carries with it the following disclaimer from Levi. Spells are not guaranteed or insured by any entity; however, even if they don’t work as planned you’ll still be learning something:
“These promises may appear hyperbolic, but only to vulgar understanding, for, if the sage does not materially and actually perform these things, he [or she] accomplishes others, which are much greater and more admirable.”