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Occasionally, I'm asked to teach someone the basics of magic.

"Edinburgh" is generally the book that I refer them to.

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Why "Edinburgh"?

As far as I'm concerned, there are three foundations to learning magic: a proper mindset; knowing how to observe; and getting a little practice in under more experienced eyes.

Naturally, a book won't do much for the third. The second isn't something that can really be taught; it can be shown to you, but you have to make the changes in yourself. But a mindset can be picked up from anywhere.

And Thomas Troward's "The Edinburgh Lectures in Mental Science" is about as solid a foundation as you could want for a mindset.

Overview of the Book

  We are, as the first chapter suggests, more than just the sum of our atoms. (That's one of the few principles which you have to take on faith when reading this work, but even so, Troward spends several paragraphs assembling a decent argument for the rationality of this position.)

  This complexity comes in three parts. Troward calls them the body, the mind (or objective mind), and the spirit (or subjective mind). The body is pretty much just there to move us around. The mind controls our rational thoughts, our individuality. It's with the spirit that things get interesting.

  The "subjective mind," or spirit, is an infinite (and shared) whole, which has no willpower but ultimate power -- another way of saying this is that it has infinite capacity for creation, but no imagination. We can tap into the subjective mind's power, and we already do, all the time. What we have to supply to create something is a set of favorable conditions for its existence. To produce results in the real world, this means that we have to firmly and fully believe something is inevitable, and -- because we have passed the subjective mind a supposition that X is inevitable, it will dutifully act on it, and produce X.

"Edinburgh"s advantages, disadvantages, and quirks

  One thing I would caution people about when reading this book is the terminology; Troward's use of "spirit" (subjective mind) is in the sense of "everyone's connection to a single, universal power," which is not a common use of the term. I'm into reincarnation, like a fair number of other pagan types, and tend to equate the term "spirit" with "soul" (and hence something far closer to Troward's objective mind, as something which has individual essence).
  Just keep in mind the definitions behind the words and you should be OK. Better yet, don't use the term "spirit" for "subjective mind"; the latter works just fine.

  When reading, one of the first things that you may notice is that Troward is speaking from a heavily Christian perspective. References to God and Scriptures are sprinkled liberally throughout; he goes so far as to say at one point that the Bible "is the most deeply occult of all books."
  At the same time, I didn't find the work to be particularly reliant on Christianity. The "subjective mind" that taps into our universal reality is just that; one can call it our personal connection with God, but that doesn't change the way it works. If you're turned off by his terminology, just ignore it, or mentally substitute "Gaia," or whatever patch seems to work best.

  "Edinburgh"s language, as you might also expect from the fact that it was (A) a college class (B) taught at the turn of the century, is a bit excessively flowery. It isn't the most readable guide out there.

  Perhaps due to this, though, "Edinburgh" is extremely thorough. The assumption of an educated audience means that Troward doesn't have to worry about talking down to his readers; he goes into a great deal of detail about the processes behind willworking.

  The time in which "Edinburgh" was published also has a great effect on the information it presents -- which is, all things considered, a great benefit.
  The turn of the century (which is to say, the turn of last century) was a time of great friction between science and religion. Science was changing the world in very visible ways -- the automobile was gaining popularity, Kitty Hawk was still fresh in peoples' minds, and motion pictures were making their debut. Meanwhile, Christianity was fighting back. Troward's book predated the "Scopes Monkey Trial" by about a decade.
  "Pure" science was all about reason, and reason alone; "real" religion was about faith above all. Troward was one of a small group of people who realized the potential of combining science and faith. "Edinburgh" is about how faith changes reality, and how to harness that power in productive ways.
  Faith cannot be ignored, as many "scientists" of the time tried to argue. Moden medicine has a name for one manifestation of it, and even has to take care to safeguard against its effects when testing drugs: the "Placebo Effect." Troward started with reason, and worked rationally, but his entire thesis is that we have control over what the day's "scientists" dismissed as supernatural effects. I've long maintained that skepticism is in itself a faith -- the faith that nothing outside of the visually observable is real -- and that I find little reason to believe in its precepts. Troward makes a substantial argument against skepticism, and if you accept his quite reasonable first principles (that matter alone does not explain us -- an argument advanced before the days of DNA, but still carrying merit), it's hard to disagree with his conclusions.
  Faith also can't be allowed to trump rational thought, as many religious fundamentalists tried to push when long-held theories started coming under attack. Beliefs must be tested. You must rigorously examine a particular action (or belief) to discover its true effects. This is something which I apply to magic all the time, especially ritual magic: If dancing around a fire and chanting brings you good luck in a hunt, then is it the dancing, the fire, or the chanting that actually has the effect? ... Or the belief? By testing, one can find out what really works -- and then focus on it. (Why waste firewood, for example, if the fire in the above ritual is irrelevant?)

  That's one of "Edinburgh"s most appealing features, actually, that it is so strictly scientific a book. (Again, it's called mental science; what more do you need? ;-)) The past century has seen the discovery of DNA, quantum theory, and artificial intelligence; the advancement of psychiatry and neurological drugs; and a surge of (generally worthless) "new age" theory ... but Troward's work is based on principles which haven't noticeably been shaken in the last 100 years. (If anything, quantum theory is making the world a little more magical place.) Except for the language, it could have been written five years ago, and would remain just as compelling.
  The fact that "Edinburgh"s ideas haven't faded with new advancements in scientific thought is a pretty good clue that it's got something to it.
  At the same time, it requires little investment of belief. Nearly anyone can accept his premise without having to alter their own worldview significantly -- discovering that "belief changes reality" is not incompatible with (say) believing that one is a dragon, that we live multiple lifetimes, or that beings of spirit but no body also float around us. Neither (for that matter) is it incompatible with believing that humans are the only beings to have achieved sapience, that our spirits dissipate when we die, and that Earth is the only reality worth our time.
  It's foundational material. And that is what makes it so worthwhile. No matter how you prefer to think of magic, what you think your potentials are, where you want to go -- it can be useful to you.

  One personal complaint I have about the book: It never really explores the traditional "So why can't we throw fireballs down Main Street?" argument. Troward's answer is that we can only influence things in accord with "natural law." He leaves this somewhat nebulous, which is a disappointment; it never really makes clear what he believes the practical limits of "natural law" to be, and so each individual is left to discover their own boundaries.
  Since, as Troward says, any failure of an act of will could either equally be (A) one's own counterprogramming (disbelief in the process) or (B) one's overzealousness (pushing the Law of Nature too hard, and getting the LoN to call it quits), this means there's really no fully explained way to tell the difference.
  (Let me disclaim here that I'm a big proponent of the idea of "consensus reality" (a la Mage: the Ascension) working against modern mages. There are quite a few people out there who find the idea bunk, and say that we are the only ones stopping ourselves from getting things done, period. You are under no obligation to believe in consensus reality, but I feel it makes sense, and so I will discuss the idea in relation to Troward's work here.)
  The book also strongly focuses on individual processes, not really getting into interactions with other individuals also trying to (consciously or no) manipulate reality. This is an advantage, on one hand, because it lets one builds a strong foundation without getting bogged down in details; but it's a disadvantage too, because Troward isn't able to deal with the difficulties that "consensus reality" presents. He does make some concessions to it, mostly in the "Healing" chapter when he talks about how to mentally heal someone who thinks the process is B.S.; but there is, on the whole, fully inadequate coverage of the interactions of competing uses of the "subjective mind."
  It's a shame, too, because it seems to me to be a natural extension of his argument. If we are trying to impress upon a (shared) universal motive force the idea of "throwing a fireball down Main Street," what's stopping us? Either ourselves, or "Natural Law." But what if we *really* *truly* believe in that fireball? What if *everyone* believed in that fireball, bar none, no exceptions? Since (by Troward's definitions!) this universal "subjective mind" has NO willpower or volition of its own, it cannot actively work against a particular belief. (If "Natural Law" forced it to overrule *all* thinking people, then "Natural Law" would be a mark of self-consciousness, which by definition is illegal!) Therefore the "subjective mind" CANNOT oppose something, no matter how ludicrous, as long as EVERYONE believes it. So then why can't we toss fireballs down Main Street? Because people believe we can't! Therefore, what is "Natural Law" but the impression of other peoples' (and our own) minds upon the "subjective mind"? In other words, "natural law" is reality by consensus -- we all say this is impossible, ergo it is.

  But I'm starting to get into details, and you probably haven't read the book yet. Go back to the navigation page, dive in, and enjoy.

Tad Ramspott
July 7, 2K

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Page last updated July 7, 2000. Design (c) 2000 Tad "Baxil" Ramspott.
"The Edinburgh Lectures in Mental Science" (c) 1909 Thomas Troward (now public-domain).
The material on this page is not part of "Edinburgh," and is (c) 2000 Tad Ramspott.