Imagination; the final frontier that awesome ability we have. Made it possible to travel through space and time experience different worlds all the while right from our bedroom. When we imagine something like an avocado or a sunset most of us will have some kind of mental experience of those things. I bet you’re even fixturing an avocado right now, aren’t you? Even though it may not be there at all. We become conscious of some version of it an image in our head. Mental imagery has played a super important role in discussions of how our brain works for thousands of years, first by philosophers and magicians then by psychologists and today by neuroscientists. For those magicians of old mental imagery wasn’t just a way of understanding the brain but it was a most powerful resource for manipulating reality.
If you ask anyone about, how manifestation or meditation works? You often get a rather half-faked response that involves something along the lines of visualization or breathing and universal energy for the law of attraction. But the thing is these concepts are kind of taken for granted especially considering that some people lack the ability to form mental images at all which is called Aphantasia. But given that most spiritual circles talk about using so-called magical or living imagination What actually is our mind’s eye? How is it that we can see or perceive images or sensations internally at all? Especially when our eyes the things responsible for visual input are closed. It gets even more confusing when you start to look at the brain regions behind mental imagery, this kind of thing is a pretty big deal in neuroscience today.
The brain region correlations have been mapped pretty hardcore. People with photographic memories can visualize images and even experience sounds with near perfect accuracy, but while this sounds like it would just turn you into sheldon from the big bang theory. Strong imagery also plays a role in a lot of anxiety disorders depression and schizophrenia where the visual regions of the brain are over stimulated and out of balance.
On the other hand, Internal imagery might not be necessary for survival. So, what’s actually going on in our head? To take a purely scientific approach for a moment research has shown that visual imagery involves a network of brain areas from the frontal cortex and sensory areas overlapping with the default mode network. In fact the pineal gland endogenous DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is one of the theories behind mental imagery. Many of us can have an internal perceptual experience without any external input at all.
Pet scans have shown that when people seated in a room imagine they are at their front door. The visual cortex the parietal cortex and the prefrontal cortex all wake up all of which are higher cognitive centers the brain associated with consciousness. There’s even some debate that our brain doesn’t know which sensations are real like external inputs and which ones are created by us internally. Whether we imagine something or not our brain perceives and reacts to it as real something that gives weight to that whole we’re in a simulation thing. The mainstream explanation for seeing internal images is that voluntary mental imagery is based on information from our short and long term memory coming together into a kind of weird consciousness soup. But wait, I hear you cry, I can visualize things I’ve never seen or felt.
Mainstream neuroscience tends to argue in favor of something called reverse image hierarchy where our brain combines different content that all our senses have previously been exposed to any kind of switches them around using experiences stored in our memory to make the image. This model also makes intuitive sense since it’s impossible to imagine stuff you have never been exposed to, and therefore have no memories of. Even the DMT aliens have some sense of familiarity in the way they appear, right. Most people describe them as angels or just beings of light. All things we already know about in normal life or think the divine looks like. Whether that is their true form remains to be seen though and potentially something we will have no way of ever knowing.
In a cold practice things are a bit different the usual framework is that when we retreat inwards and focus our attention on the inner worlds. We open ourselves up to the Sophia the divine wisdom this is something we are not only connected with but can flow through us and provide us with impressions images or sounds. There are tons of debates about where this wisdom comes from whether it is an entity or a higher self of some kind something similar to the force from star wars or even something like the Akashic Records. But for this conversation it doesn’t matter. In theory when visualizing or meditating we are connecting to various currents of energy entities or planes of existence that we can then interact with. The golden dawn tended to draw a distinction between active and passive meditation. Where passive was more in line with the Buddhist concept of awareness and observance meditation. Where you simply become aware and act as a passive observer to your body and thoughts. Active meditation, on the other hand, is the use of guided imagery or visualization in line with your magical will. By using visualization like this we are effectively manipulating our energy body in various ways to produce a result whether we know it or not. Whether it’s expanding or contracting your aura performing a ritual on the astral or even inducing voluntary obese. Outer body experiences chances are visualization and the use of active imagination forms a big part. The thing is the more you practice visualization the more you’ll start to notice something kind of weird. There will come a point when you shift from producing the image to receiving them. When you go into meditation probably for like the first five or ten minutes or so you’ll definitely be the one visualizing. But you’ll notice that as you sink deeper into that fatal state and get a little more relaxed. You’ll start to notice that a lot of the images, sensations and emotions you experience. Don’t really seem to be coming from you but rather to you while visual images are the most common.
We should remember that energy doesn’t have a stable form or physical attributes. So, it isn’t going to interact with your physical senses the same way. While one of the most common theories put forward by spiritualists is that the so-called spiritual energy is similar to electromagnetic that’s still a long way off of being proven. Our brain does a pretty good job of converting energy into physical sensations but it isn’t always accurate. Hence, why people have a hard time putting transcendental experiences into words? While this seems a little contradictory to the neuroscience stuff from earlier a 2019 paper showed that “the content and vividness of a mental image can be found in the brain up to 11 seconds before an individual even decides what to imagine”. In other words, if images can form prior to conscious voluntary effort this suggests the existence of unconscious involuntary images also existing in the brain which begs the big question, where do those images come from? Are they just the result of our gray squishy machines sorting itself out and using memories to create internal experience? Or could there be something to the idea that our brain is only a receiver picking up a signal being set by our consciousness somewhere else.
One thing we do know for sure though is that unconscious images in our mind’s eye ones that happen so fast we might not even perceive them activate the same sensory brain regions as the voluntary images. So, let’s bring things back to magic a bit now. A lot of golden dawn material for traversing inner planes revolves around the five Sanskrit tattvas elements or aspects of reality. In the western tradition the tapas are associated with the four elements in the fifth world of spirit. By connecting with each of the five in a pathworking they act as gateways to the elemental realms and fundamental aspects of a reality that we can go to. Many times, through active projection or even scrying as far as visualizing is concerned though a lot of people often get caught up in the trap of knowing whether what they’re seeing is real or entirely created by their imagination.
Generally speaking, you’ll be able to recall an astral experience as a memory rather than a vision after you’ve come back to your body, a key sign here is that something real to your experience is to see what you remember your physical body doing during the time you were gone? Chances are you won’t even remember where and what it was doing at all? And training yourself to think visually is one of those things you can practice though. Even something simple like imagining a bouncy ball changing colors or shape is a good start. There is a saying in the magical world that “you should believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see”. Countless mystics have said over the years that we only see what we can perceive not what is there. In fact, some schools of Buddhism insist our perception is always clouded by some sort of distorting factor referred to as the Maya or illusion. Maybe this was the ancient’s way of saying reality is a hologram, above all else though, you should always trust your intuition before your senses. Of course, the other two skills to develop when wanting to practice magic are meditation and breath work and they kind of go hand in hand. While breathing often comes a second nature to all of us you know because we die otherwise. The act of focusing on it is harder than it sounds. By slowing our exhales we engage the parasympathetic nervous system which triggers the rest and relaxed response rather than fight or flight which helps us move into that theta meditation state where miracles are possible. Even something as simple as taking a second right now to give yourself two deep breaths will go a long way. While a lot of esoteric schools often start you off with the four-fold breath, four in four hold four out four hold and repeat, I found that your body will often know what rhythm is needed to relax you personally. So rather than spending your meditation time counting and getting stressed about sticking to a schedule try to just relax and feel into it let your body’s natural rhythm come and go.
Awareness is the key to tapping into your energy body and using it to practice magic it is just the process of knowing what you are thinking about feeling or even experiencing. And while a lot of people think meditation is usually about emptying your mind and thinking of nothing this isn’t really true. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to think of absolutely nothing. In meditation you don’t need to put effort into creating a peaceful state of mind or block out your thoughts just simply be and learn to observe your whole body of consciousness as long as you are aware of something and maintain that awareness, you’ll be surprised just how much your mind will transform. Sooner or later the more you feel into that deep sense of breathing you’ll notice that everything seems to breathe in its very own way. The trees and plants around us absorb oxygen and expel carbon dioxide just like us and as you become more sensitive to changes in your environment and plug into the energy of a place or room you’ll feel the energy moving through everything, every wall, every ceiling, every object and life form. Everything exists in a perfect balance and harmony that you are also a part of. Understanding and harmonizing your internal energy with the external is the key to manifestation and magic.