Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Techniques of Willpower, Self Control, Discipline and Conditioning

After Fr. Inominandum's post on Monday with regard to Willpower, I left a comment wherein I mentioned that several years ago, in the interest of cultivating willpower and conditioning myself, I had made use of Crowley's formula from Liber III. For those who are unfamiliar with this technique, it includes the student prohibiting himself from using a certain phrase or word, such as "I", "Me", "My", "And" or "The" for a specific amount of time. The technique further requires that when you slip up in this and use the prohibited word, and you will, you must cut yourself on the wrist or forearm with a razor, "Even as though shouldst beat a disobedient dog ".* After posting that comment I got a handful of emails from different people who shared a common question, "Are you effing nuts? You really did that shit?" And the answer, as my upper arms attest, is yes, I did.

The theory, and yes it is an effective one, is that by training the body and learning to control the same impulses that cause you to react and withdraw your hand when it is put over the flame of a candle, you can unlock previously unknown aspects of your psyche and better yourself. In this way it is thought that you can train yourself to associate pain with a conscious activity, the activity you've chosen, and hence teach your nervous system to respond consciously rather than automatically. I'm probably not explaining it as clearly as others have, but fuck it, you get the point right? Its negative reinforcement and it worked really, really well for me. Since then I've learned other techniques and modifications of this one that work just as well and even better, and I sincerely regret not having found them BEFORE using Crowley's method, as they can accomplish everything his can and without the scars. I will outline a few, so if behavior modification, conditioning and cultivating your willpower are something you'd like to work with, you'd be a moron to use Crowley's.

When I used the technique, I did so to remove what I deemed weaknesses from my personality and strengthen aspects of my character I valued and found beneficial. I won't go into great detail on all of the specific goals, suffice it to say that two of those qualities I sought to remove were sympathy and hunger. Hunger, because I have always found fasting to be of tremendous value, but after 24 hours with no intake but water, I always succumbed to hunger and gave in. I sought, therefore, to condition myself so that this reflexive and instinctive response to fasting no longer applied. The work with Crowley's technique lasted several weeks, and while I do regret having undertaken it in this way due to the physical scars, it worked out better than I'd hoped. To this day, when fasting in preparation for an extended rite of evocation or other magickal work, I feel no compulsion to eat whatsoever. When NOT in ritual prep mode, however, no modification whatsoever has been made and I hunger normally and my appetite is intact. (Ok, as my belly would attest, maybe a little more than just "intact")

The moral of todays post, good readers and friends, is that working on improving your self control, discipline, and willpower is a very beneficial thing. Not only for Magi, but for everyone. Negative reinforcement is a very powerful tool, as is physical pain and these can be your greatest allies in this process. When combined with positive reinforcement, the power is redoubled.

Here is a framework for you to play with as suits your Will.

  1. First, you'll need to select a behavior you'd like to eliminate from your personality. Alternatively, if your goal is not to remove any one aspect of your character, but rather to begin the process of conditioning your self control and reflexive reactions, you may use the aforementioned, prohibiting yourself from use of a common word such as I, or Me.  
  2. The Magickal Component; IF you are working to remove part of your personality, it is first necessary that you give life to that aspect of of your being. Sigilize it using whatever method you prefer, be it the Rose Cross, Spare's alphabet of desire, or what have you. Once you've created a graphical representation of it, identify an appropriate rite from within your magickal repertoire and curse the sigil. For example, I did such a working to rid myself of an explosive temper for which I was known and which often limited my ability to respond to unfavorable situations logically and productively. When presented with disrespect, opposition to my will or obstacles impeding me from reaching my goals, my reflexive reaction was to immediately and forcefully attack. Once I'd identified this as, or rather admitted to myself that this was a counter productive tendency, I created a sigil as mentioned above and went to work. I evoked three specific spirits, called "demons" in the Grimoire from which I pulled them. I then made a rather elaborate offering and asked that they tie pain and torment to the sigil I'd created. I asked that they associate the sigil with sleeplessness, restlessness, discomfort, anxiety and distress. I further asked that in any case where I allowed myself to be controlled by this sigil, they afflict me with sharp physical and emotional pain for the duration of that day. My thinking was that with such unpleasant and painful sensations tied to the sigil and what it represented, the human survival instinct and the reflexive reaction to withdraw from that which causes us pain (as the hand automatically pulling away from the flame) would go to work on my behalf, and force the source of my pain away from me. 
  3. Adding positive reinforcement to the equation, I selected something from which I derive pleasure but which I do not regularly treat myself to due to the price. I have a bottle of Louis XIII Cognac which I bought quite a while ago, and I traditionally allow myself only one drink on special occasions since Ol Louie 1951 is now fetching $1500 a bottle. During this experiment, on the few days when incidents occurred which would previously have ignited the aforementioned explosive temper and I instead remained calm, I treated myself to a drink and a good cigar. 

As you can see, this method goes further than Crowley's in that it provides not only negative reinforcement in the form of pain and discomfort, but also provides pleasure for performance. Both are controlled and experienced by the Paleomammalian brain, and by using Magick to kick that primal portion of my being into high gear, I used the same resevoir of power that allows a parent to lift a car when their child is under its tire.

I assure you, for myself and those of my students who have used this method, it has proven very, very effective.

For those who are still determined to make use of Crowley's method, there is a very simple, effective way that doesn't yield any scars or affect; Buy yourself a bag of rubber bands, the skinnier the better. Wear one on your inferior wrist as a bracelet, and every time you break your commitment, pull it back as far as it will go without snapping and let it go, snapping on the inside of your bare wrist.

To some of you, this may seem a far cry from Crowley's original method of slicing yourself, but having used both with equal success, I can assure you that this technique actually hurts much, much more. Don't believe me? Give it a try. Give yourself a dozen good snaps, then tell me it doesn't. The affect is equal to that of Crowley's, yet no scar is made and no injury lasting longer than a minute or two. The component of the original that produces the requisite psychological reaction is sudden, sharp pain, not the presence of a permanent scar; and that is something the rubber band does better than the razor.

*(That last quote "Even as though shouldst beat a disobedient dog "  fucking infuriates me, by the way, and were I to happen upon someone doing so I would take great pride in beating them about the head with a crowbar, tire iron or similarly shaped object) Shit, maybe I haven't completely conquered that damned temper.


  1. Thanks for sharing, these are great.

    Have you looked at Bardon's methods for training the will? Those are pretty decent too. I tend to find him more balanced than Crowley.

  2. Have to admit, I have never gone too far into Bardon's works. I have the set, just never got past the first few chapters in IIH. Which book are you referencing? I'll make time to read the pertinent chapter tomorrow, for a once over

  3. Steps 1-3 are all about building what Bardon sees as the basics of magical practice: will, discipline, concentration, and magical building of the "self."

    Through self-examination, spiritual technique, and rigorous training the will, concentration, and visualization skills are developed through mastery of the mind, examination of the spirit, and exercise of the body.

    His work really takes time to get into and a lot of time to go through, but they've produced pretty good results for me.

    On the whole I find him more temperate and stable than Crowley.