The other day an acquaintance emailed me and asked me what I thought about sigils. What the person wanted to know is if I thought chaos magic style sigils were an effective form of magic. I'll admit to being surprised by the question, because I've generally found the work, but then I read a bit further and I recognized why sigils hadn't worked for the person. The person explained that the sigils didn't look magical. The issue was an aesthetic one. And it's an important issue actually, because if you look at the practice of magic in general there is an Aesthetic aspect to it that shows up across various systems and traditions, and yet isn't overtly acknowledged or recognized for the most part.
I got to talking with my friend Felix Warren about it, because in the past he's shared his own perspective about the aesthetic of magic and how he uses an aesthetic perspective in developing his magical work and he agreed that if there is an aesthetic quality missing in a magical working that can affect the person's process of magic.
Let's define the word Aesthetic. Aesthetic is a set of principles that underline and guide the work of a particular artist or artistic movement. It's also the appreciation of beauty.
So what's that have to do with the practice of magic?
If we look at a given magical working from a design perspective, we see the aesthetic principle of magic show up. The design perspective is concerned with the trappings of magic and what trappings are needed in order for the magical working to happen. For example, what tools you will use, what clothes you will wear, but also how you will get your conscious and unconscious self to align and buy into the magical working.
This is why some people need incense and candles when they do magic. Aesthetically the incense and candles creates the right design that allows the person to fully commit to the magical working, because they've created a space that is magical.
Now what's important to remember is that not everyone's aesthetic is the same. For example, I don't need incense or candles to do magic. My aesthetic of magic is fairly minimalistic in some ways...yet there is an aesthetic that informs the magical work that I'm doing.
I would also say that your aesthetic for a given magical act can actually differ depending on what the magical working is. For instance if I'm doing a chant to evoke an archangel...that chant and the correspondences in it will be the aesthetic that makes the working come together. On the other hand, a painting of a sigil doesn't need a chant, but does need the paints and the experience of paint, and so that becomes the aesthetic.
Now that's just my take on the aesthetic of magic and as you know I'll all about personalizing magic, so to me it makes sense to take an approach to the aesthetics of magic that personalizes them according to the magical working that you'll be doing...but a reasonable question to ask is if a person should develop a universal standard of aesthetics that they apply to their magical practice.
The answer to that question is that it depends on the person. For that matter it also depends on what spiritual system or tradition they are engaged in, because a given system or tradition of magic has its own aesthetic of magic that informs the design of the rituals and how people should show up. You can question that aesthetic and modify it, but you also have to consider whether said modification will be welcomed in general.
If you're developing your own system than you can create a codified aesthetic for that system. That codified aesthetic is essentially your brand and it describes how your magic should be designed and why that design will play a role in the magical work you do, as well as the interactions you have with the spirits that are part of your system. This codified aesthetic should also have some input from your spirits, because of course they'll have their own expectations and correspondences that need to be considering when you're doing a working with them.
How does the Aesthetics of Magic connect to the Process of Magic?
I think the aesthetics of magic offers another angle that you can use to help you understand your process of magic and why something is or isn't working. And recognizing that your magical practice should be experienced a certain way helps you to appreciate how you design your magical works, as well as what is essential and what is optional in those workings. Additionally, there's something to be said for simply appreciating the qualities of a magical working that make it magical.