Magic, Mysticism, and Occultism: The Paths of the Western Way

Magic, Mysticism, and Occultism: The Paths of the Western Way by Mark Stavish. M.A., F.R.C., S.I.

Originated: 1993; Completed: 2021

Preface: The following essay was first written in 1993 in Providence, Rhode Island, on the “East Side” once the home of H.P. Lovecraft. Within a few blocks of the apartment window out which I looked while writing were spiritual groups of all kinds. Many had been there for decades, like the Vedanta Society of Providence, first established in the 1920s, Roger Williams Chapter of the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC) and its sister organization, Roger Williams Heptad of the Traditional Martinist Order (TMO) both dating back to the 1920s and 1930s as well, or more recent neo-pagan, wiccan, magical, as well as Buddhist groups across the nearby landscape. Nearly a half-dozen New Age shops, as well as numerous new and used bookstores existed. Holistic programs were appearing, including one of the first Master’s programs in Holistic Counseling at Salve Regina University in nearby Newport, RI, like mushrooms. Psychosynthesis was still a well known school of holistic therapy, and Jung was increasingly in the common parlance. There was a tremendous amount of optimism in the air.

This essay was written as an elementary introduction to the ideas presented (and was later used as a presentation for the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC) and is based on the general theories and methods of Professor Peter Roche de Coppens in his numerous works on psycho-spiritual development, in particular, The Invisible Temple – The Nature and Use of the Group Mind for Spiritual Attainment and The Nature and Use of Ritual for Spiritual Attainment.

Among students of esoteric lore and technique, there appears to have developed a preponderance, albeit an obsession, with the number three. For ages, since times unknown, we have constantly sought to see the universe through the number three: a trinity of gods, goddesses, or Divine powers; three parts to man – soul, spirit, and body; Thesis, antithesis, and synthesis form the three parts of every well formed philosophy. To students of Rosicrucian philosophy and techniques, this is often spoken of as the Law of the Triangle; or the Law of Synthesis as other schools of thought have referred to it. It then seems only natural that we should see that while humanity has many Paths from which to choose its way back home, these many Paths are but a preference for or a combination of three basic methods, or techniques. These techniques are the Way of the Heart, or Mysticism; the Way of the Head, or Magic; and the Way of Knowledge, or Occultism, by their Western names. In the East they find their equivalents in the Bhakti, Raja, and Gnana/Tantra yogas.

At different times and in different cultures, each has risen to its place of prominence and power, and then as cycles and temperaments change, has yielded to another, or combinations of the other two. Even exoteric religions can be seen to have all three of these elements to them. In Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, you have the devotional aspects of faith (heart), the mental and ritualistic (mental), and the knowledge-oriented parts of law, history, and scriptural interpretation. While it is possible to be Master of one of these aspects of the Path, it is only those who have synthesized and Mastered, or shown some degree of Mastering all three that is seen as having achieved a high degree of Self Mastery – and with it, self-actualization.

A perfect example of this is gymnastics or any other intense physical sport. To become proficient, one must first learn the basic movements, often which appear to have nothing at all to do with being a gymnast. It is taken on faith that they will be of use later on and it is often only one’s determination and desire, aspects of faith, that keep one going. Later on the intellectual aspects of what one is learning is incorporated into the teaching process. Here, physiology and body mechanics are explained but not always completely understood. Then as more experience is gained, intuitive insights take place regarding what has been earlier experienced and what has been explained. The previous non-sense exercises begin to make sense, and the mental intellectual aspects of theory begin to have a place. Through experience, intuition, intellectual power, and the emotional content of action are fused. Spiritual development is the same process in many respects. Because then they have recognized that they have many needs that can only be filled from different means.

One of the most common and least understood similarities between mysticism, magic, and religion is the use of ritual. Because it is such an integral part of so much of what is done and said about these topics, it is almost a prerequisite that we take a look at ritualism and the nature of rituals before we look at our main topics

The major rejection of Rites and rituals comes from those who reject them as an outdated perpetuation of irrational nonscientific actions and activities meant to satisfy humanity’s need for an explanation through myth and emotion. They claim that all things can be explained rationally, or objectively, and as such, the emotional and subjective nature of our psyche are seen to be at worst without value, or of secondary importance. These individuals fail to see that our lives are filled with rituals such as shaking a person’s hand upon meeting, or holding a door for a woman, a child, or the elderly. While such actions rarely are of any actual physical importance, they are symbolic of care, love, and respect – in essence they are ritualistic functions of society.

What is often really being rejected is not the idea of rituals themselves, but specific rituals associated with religious functions that becomes generalized to rituals, ceremonies, and symbolism as a whole. They can offer a rational explanation for their blanket rejection of ritual in Poland we can find that such rationalization is simply that, an attempt to rationalize an emotional reaction to an emotional experience. I say this because ritual rules are emotional situations designed to convey an emotional, spiritual, or psychic message or lesson to those participating in them. If we look closer, we find that what these individuals are often rejecting, is not the ritual itself, but the message that the ritual is trying to convey, whether that message is of a mystical, magical, religious, or even a secular nature.

With this in mind, we must remember that for the most part, rituals in religion are considered intertwined. From the earliest beginnings of our life, our first conscious and unconscious memories of ritual are usually of a religious nature, whether it be baptism or circumcision, or the name right. The ritual symbolized the inner emotions forming a contract or covenant between ourselves and our understanding of our creator.

The development of rituals is found in the origins of religion itself. As Rosicrucian students we state that religion is the outer expression of the individual or group’s mystical experience. This attempt to put into words and form an inner experience often results in dogmatizing of the experience. This doctrine or dogma is then presented, reenacted, or created for their religion’s members through ritual. Rituals then represent symbolically some overriding prompt primary thought or emotion. While the interpretation of the causes and effects of the ritual may vary, such as divine contact, manipulation of celestial beings, or an outpouring of cosmic power; the primary impetus is the same.

While many rituals arose spontaneously and were then reenacted again and again, others were planned expressions of the emotions they sought to embody and revealed to those participating in witnessing. Such rituals came about in the direct desire to express religious doctrines that are difficult to convey to the mind of the member through rational means, such as a book, scroll, or a verbal explanation. When rituals have been inherited from one generation to another, or from one culture to another, they in turn have sometimes affected these doctrines and dogmas of religions. That is certain actions have required an explanation in terms of its meaning in its new theater cold environment. Baptism and Holy Communion are perfect examples of this need to pre interpretative ancient rituals within the framework of a relatively newer legislating

Religion however has been stated is the outgrowth of mystical experiences, usually their religious founder such as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity. These are what are called revealed religious because they are brought to humanity by a single agency or person. Often these mid mystical experiences, when not spontaneous, were the direct result of previous training in spiritual doctrines in practices. Thus, we can see that the historical and theoretical precursor to religion are the combined subjects of mysticism and magic.

While their roots date back to the pre-history of humanity, it becomes evident that it is difficult, if not impossible to put a beginning date on when mankind first began to practice magic or mysticism. We could almost with some certainty say that there never was a time when humanity did not practice or have some form of magic. Early cave paintings illustrate primitive rituals, as well as show the beginnings of distinct concepts of temples, holy places, and initiations.

Yet despite their many similarities, and common origins, magic and mysticism have at times distinct and separate methods, techniques and goals. As early as the origins of Zoroastrianism we can see conflict between those who sought to have contact and intimate knowledge with the Divine, and those who sought to manipulate and control natural forces for their own purposes. One of the major differences between these two groups in Zoroaster’s day Was over the contacting of spirits, or djinn, as well as the use of hallucinogenic plants and their derivatives in a beverage known as soma. This form of magic came to be known as thaumaturgy, or Low Magic, Low because it was concerned with personal power, superstition, and manipulation of others, either Incarnate or dis-incarnate. Its opposite, and more akin to the mystical aspiration was theurgy, or High Magic. Considered High because it recognized as the sovereign power of a supreme force in the universe, and while it sought to direct cosmic forces and control them, the real theurgist knew that ultimately what came about was through the will of the creator and not the will of man.

In this respect magic also shares a great deal in common with science in that science, like magic seeks to control, or more accurately direct, the natural forces inherent in creation. Unlike low magic which depending on time and culture believes in forces beyond nature, or supernatural agencies, High Magic along with Mysticism and Science seeks to understand and direct the ever present and all-powerful forces in the universe with the intent of having these forces serve humanity. The major tools of the mystic and magician are invocation, and imagination.

Despite these common roots, and even common methods of operation, the major difference between pure high magic and pure mysticism can be said in the intent and attitudes of the operators. Generally speaking, magic places greater emphasis on the personal will of the operator to contact divine force and bring it down to earth to affect change. Mysticism conversely places greater emphasis on love and human emotion to rise above the material world and contact the divine for the sake of the Cosmic Attunement or knowledge of the Divine on a personal level. The magician, and the Mystic share with the scientist the belief, and hopefully direct experience, that they are dealing with wholly impersonal forces. While the individual may have an intense and personal experience of these energy patterns, they are as impersonal as the laws of gravity, combustion, or magnetic repulsion and attraction. Just as impersonal as we would hope that our material laws of justice would be in an ideal material world. Causes and effects what they are concerned with and nothing more.

Where magic and mysticism at times can differ is in the area of mortality and ethics. While the magician should, like the scientist, be working for the highest good of themselves and humanity. That is to be a living vibrant agent of Cosmic forces, often this is not the case, and the impersonal nature of the knowledge turns into an attempt by some to use it immorally, or simply amorally. Samples are abundant when we look at the many attempts to sway the masses of humanity to do things which are not in its best interest through suggestion, hypnosis, or the emotionally charged use of symbols, either national or religious.

Mysticism conversely has an implied even stated moral and ethical standard to which those who follow it and wish to participate in its mysteries must follow and by which they only advance according to their degree of moral purity. The constant testing and temptations of those who become Saints or avatars is repeated throughout mystical literature. Only by overcoming the lesser and more based aspects of their personalities did these great individuals prized heights of mystical glory and Peace Profound. Those who fail to overcome them or break their promises of faith and trust as given to them by the cosmic such as religious or mystical leaders who abused their newfound positions of power, also learn the importance of moral and ethical strength, though in a more painful fashion. This is not to say that all magic is immoral or more accurately, amoral. A great many schools and methods of operation place emphasis on moral and ethical development as part of their training. However, a close examination of the literature will show an emphasis on phenomena as opposed to simply achieving Cosmic Attunement.

This leads us to another area of difference between mysticism and magic is that of psychic or occult powers. Often called occult because they are not only hidden or dormant in the average person, but it is also believed that to produce them requires a special or hidden knowledge. Whereas the magician is often very concerned with the acquiring of specific powers in and of themselves, the Mystic will often either ignore them altogether or seek to use them as vehicles to achieve higher and deeper states of awareness. It is to this end that Saint Paul warns of the early Christian community in Corinth against the desire to acquire charisma or spiritual gifts. The mystic views their development as a natural byproduct, or gift as well as a test, as a result of spiritual practices and not an end in themselves. There are also ample warnings about abusing, or attempting to abuse such gifts, or to sell them for money for money’s sake. What is important to note is while the mystic does not often ignore the development latent abilities, for to do so would be to ignore an aspect of our divine nature, the desire to have powers for powers sake, and not to dedicate it to the service of God is both dangerous, and at times a sin in the true mystical meaning of the word. We say the true mystical meaning because to a mystic while humanity makes many mistakes, the only true sin is to do what is wrong or destructive with knowledge that it is wrong. Power for the sake of personal power is to run the course of Luciferian pride. Magic on the other hand is said to have two schools of practice, that of White Magic or positive and helpful practices, and that of Black Magic or negative and destructive practices.

These two schools of practice arise because of the metaphysical views and natures inherent within most magical systems, particularly as we stated around the use and abuse of power. In mysticism no such distinctions are made since mysticism can only in its true sense be positive since it seeks to unite the individual with his or her creator primarily viewing everything else as a side effect or blessing of this increased attunement. Impersonality is what is desired and hopefully expressed by the true mystic. While there are many that practice magic with similar attitudes, that is not the primary goal of magic, unless stated by the individual school or teacher.

The third and final aspect of approaching knowledge is that of the head, or wisdom. While mysticism tends to emphasize love; magic will power; it is occultism that generally speaking takes the role of the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom as a path to the Divine. Generally speaking occultism is said to be the field of those areas metaphysical, spiritual, or esoteric that one may study. The word itself simply means that which is, cut-off, hidden, concealed. The Rosicrucian Manual (of AMORC) defines it as the field of study, of methods and techniques whereby one can awaken the dormant powers of the mind, not unlike magic or mysticism. However, other less well-known definitions view occultism as an approach to the unknown. For the sake of argument and lack of a better term, we will use the word occultism in the following form for the purposes of discussion. We will say that occultism is often a wisdom seeking approach to the unknown, an almost intuitive approach. Seeking neither powers or attunement, but instead seeking to know something about the universe, the cosmos, or self.

An example of this would be the study of astrology. While astrology is an area of study all its own, it is often defined as an occult science, or branch of the occult. It shares little with magic or mysticism except that it seeks to explain the nature of the universe. It has no predetermined method of meditation, no rituals, or any emphasis on the development of personal magnetism or willpower. Yet it has aided many people in having a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the universe. Through the accumulation of this specialized knowledge, the constant rumination of it, and its application, an individual can come to acquire a particular wisdom or sapentina of the Divine.

Many monastic orders also have similar methods. That is no formal method of meditation, visualization, or step-by-step process is outlined yet through constant discussion, analysis, and attempt to apply the moral and ethical lessons contained within the Holy scriptures, many have come to a deeper understanding of life. I think however that the key here is in the word apply. To keep such studies from merely becoming a form of mental stimulation, or ego aggrandizing intellectualization, the individual, like the Mystic, and the magician, must attempt to the best of his or her ability to apply that which they are studying in their daily life for the betterment of themselves and humanity. I often think of this as a kind of common sense, homespun mysticism. The man or woman who has not read great arcane Mystic tones, or invoked the sacred names of ancient divinities, but through simple prayer, reading of holy scripture and constant attempts to apply these things in their lives and to understand the nature of life, or the cosmic, has arrived at an understanding of the supreme. I must say however, that there is a flip side as previously stated, that is the individual who has red grape tones, and studied the ancient philosophies. They are not like the Mystic in that for some reason known or unknown to them their heart does not burn with the overflowing load for humanity. They are not cold, simply not moved to tears. They are not like the magician in that they do not seek to direct or control the cosmic forces either for personal or impersonal gain. They instead seek to know first divinity through knowledge of divinities expressions. It is from this realm that we often get the great catalog of associations that say, “God is like…” Whereas the pure Mystic feels God, and the pure magician attempts to become God, the Occultist sees God in an abstract fashion in the workings of the universe. Just as the astrologer sees the reflections of the human personality and the movements of the stars.

Alchemy, with which we deal with more in depth later is another example of this path. Often called the pinnacle of occult science itself, it has no specific rituals or initiations like magic or mysticism, it is entirely dependent on the continued efforts and applications of the student for any progress or success to be made. While there are many ways to teach alchemy, if one were to simply pick up several of the better texts and begin their practice, they would quickly find that they have more in common with the contemplative and practical methods of the astrologer then they do with obvious moral requirements of the Mystic path, or the stern and focused will of the magical path. However, a true student of alchemy will quickly inform you that at some point they must also assimilate these qualities as well.

Dream analysis is also another very good example of the occultist’s technique if we may dare call it that. While the dream is the experience, often many people find themselves not so much meditating about a dream in the formal sense of picking a specific aspect of the dream, visualizing it to the exclusion of all else, and entering into the state of illumination, samandi, or extended awareness to understand it. Often the dream is simply reviewed in the mind of the dreamer in a waking state. Symbols are pulled out and examined, sometimes even looked up in a reference book so as to get a hint at possible meanings, and a strong analytical approach is taken. Most often asked question being, “What does this mean to me?” And the subsequent answer being used as a key to unlock the rest of the mysterium. Such a contemplative and knowledge oriented approach is devoid of any formal meditation methods, does not involve complex or even simple rituals As a mystical sense, although an unconscious ritual may develop around it such as a preferred chair or mug for your key or coffee. It is the reflection of the mind inward as well as outward to attempt to understand the universe both in its inner sense and its outer sense a little bit better. The study of occult history, or the attempt to find hidden meanings in forces and historical events, or ancient civilizations for keys to unlocking wisdom are other examples of this method.

Now as you may have noticed, and reflected as I was speaking, that while we have defined these methods fairly tightly, the reality is that few of us practice any one of them exclusively. More likely, we all practice a combination of two, or all three of these Ways to the Divine. While emphasis may change with our mood, the time of year, or even the period of life that we may happened to be in, many people swing back and forth going around and around the triangle in an attempt to consciously or unconsciously balance and harmonize the diverse aspects of their inner and outer natures and their manifestations in life.



What does love mean to you? Visualize a symbol for it. (Support, nurturing, life supporting)

What does will mean to you? Visualize a symbol for it. (Power of direction)

What does knowledge or wisdom mean to you? Visualize a symbol for it. (Mind)


Visualize them on the three points of a triangle.

Visualize them individually inside of a triangle.

Is there a difference when the triangle has one point up or one point down?

Does the symbol change if you visualize human love, will, knowledge, or visualize Divine Love, Will, or Knowledge?

Visualize a single symbol that represents a synthesis of these three attributes.


Using those methods most familiar to you, meditation on the graphic image, interior visualization, visualization combined with mirror or candle work, the open sky at sunrise, sunset, or when cloud free during the day, or with the full moon on a cloudless night, be “meditated” by the symbol you have created.

Pay attention to your dreams as a result of this work, so that your Path is made more clear and effective for you.


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One comment

  1. Gregory Lehmer · · Reply

    Hi Mark. Thank you for the work that you’ve been doing. It’s staggers my mind to think of how many folks don’t know of these ancient modalities. I’m reaching out because I feel that the time has come to give esotericism its due.

    I’m interested in bringing some vigor to the movement.. “Find the others.” – if you will.

    I’m sorry that I’ve never attended your conferences – I discovered you after the c19 nonsense kicked off.

    Are there any gatherings in the near future?

    All the best 🕉 Gregory


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