Shamanism and the Three Kinds of Magic

Shamanism and the Three
Kinds of Magic

a talk 
(pub. 1981)



Our existence has three primary
dimensions. There is the body and its whole elemental realm. There is
the mind or psyche and its whole realm. And there is the
Transcendental or Divine Condition of the body-mind and the
unqualified Field in which it exists. These three dimensions
correspond to three kinds of magic. “Earth magic” relates to the
field of the body and to the body itself. “Sky magic” relates to the
field of the psyche or mind. “Transcendental magic” relates to the
whole matter of the realization of Truth, or submission to the
Radiant Transcendental Being and the Field of infinite

What we call shamanism today is
basically, though not exclusively, a form of earth magic or vital
magic. In general, the practice of shamanism is found in the older,
vitalistic types of human culture. If we want to study shamanism
today, we go to these old types of cultures. The specific practices
that we call “shamanism” can be found in aboriginal or tribal groups
in such areas of the world as Africa, South America and Mexico,
central Asia, to some degree in India, among Native Americans here in
this country, and the like.

The vitalistic magic or earth magic
associated with shamanism can be practiced, as a self-contained
discipline, from two points of view: either as white magic or as
black magic. The latter is commonly called sorcery, which is
generally considered to be a dark, evil art. White magic, in
contrast, is associated with healing, having good visions, and
constantly restoring the order and well-being of a tribal

As it appears today, shamanism tends
to be not only associated with vitalistic cultures but also
dissociated from some of the higher aspects of spiritual practice and
realization that could still be called shamanism. Shamanism, you see,
is really the oldest form of higher human culture in the world. In
the most ancient days, shamanic techniques and the culture of magic
that builds up around shamanism could be found all over the Earth.
You could even say that all the most sophisticated religious
philosophies and yogic and mystical systems that have appeared since
ancient times have been developments of shamanic culture. Thus, I
would say, for instance, that mystical practices of a yogic kind are
actually forms of shamanism. But such matters are not studied under
the heading of shamanism today. They are studied as if they were
something else.

Historically, shamanism has also
been associated with sky magic, the process of psychic ascent or
travel into higher realms. Frequently in the traditions of shamanism
you could develop two kinds of practice, the vitalism of earth magic
or the higher psychic and mystical activity of sky magic. Shamanism
in the form of sky magic can still be found in some tribal groups
here and there around the world, but the basic form that sky magic
has taken historically is in the cultures of yoga and mysticism. The
mystical element of religion is actually a kind of shamanism and, for
the most part, is a development of sky magic.

The third dimension to the magic of
existence is transcendental magic. It is expressed historically in
the schools of religion and spirituality that strive toward
realization of the essential Truth or Transcendental Being, which is
the Self of consciousness and the Nature or Condition of all

STUDENT: Could you say that vital
magic is associated with the descending or outward-moving forms of
life-force and that sky magic is associated with the ascending,
inward-moving forms?

ADI DA: Yes, you could say that. The
historical development of mankind since ancient days has created a
fragmentation of human consciousness, so that the practice of being
human is now limited by your territory, by the culture in which you
live. In the most ancient times, at least in certain areas, there
were synthetic or total teachings that integrated all aspects of
magic with one another. Earth magic, sky magic, and transcendental
magic were all present in a unified culture, and they were understood
and practiced from a unified disposition.

We can point to historical examples
that fairly well reflect this kind of dynamic synthesis. Tibetan
culture, for instance, exemplifies a disposition in which all three
forms of magic are present. One dimension of Tibetan culture is
definitely associated with vitalistic magic in both positive and
negative terms. There are examples of black magic as well as white
magic at the earth level, or bodily level, of Tibetan culture. Just
so, there are examples of sky magic in Tibetan culture, including all
of the psycho-physical yogas and tantras present in their spiritual
system. Likewise, there is an orientation to transcendental magic
that is present in their culture through the influence of Buddhism. A
number of streams of culture have been involved in the development of
the Tibetan life-way. Because of its unique position in the old
world, the Tibetan culture was able to synchronize many surrounding
cultural systems. The enlightened Adepts from Tibet, such as Marpa,
journeyed into the regions surrounding Tibet and brought back
teachings and practices which they then synthesized into Tibetan
practice. Thus, Tibetan culture is a thoroughly magical culture in
which earth magic, sky magic, and transcendental magic are all

A similar kind of synthesis has
appeared from time to time in various other sects and groups in other
parts of the world. In India, for instance, there are examples of
synthesis similar to Tibetan culture. But in general the historical
development of human culture since ancient times has been a gesture
toward fragmentation, a disintegrating and spreading out from a more
or less synthetic or whole point of view. In the course of that
fragmentation pieces of this great synthesis were developed in and of
themselves. Each such development created a limit of human
possibility, and that particular limit often became the basis for the
creation of a great social or cultural movement. In this historical
movement away from a total and universal point of view, the various
levels of magic—transcendental magic, sky magic, and earth
magic—tend to develop independently of one another. Thus, we see
great cultural systems that have exclusively developed one or the
other of these three points of view in practice.

Whenever one of the three primary
dimensions of magic is separated from the others and developed
independently, certain characteristic limitations tend to develop.
Earth magic, when developed independently of the other two forms of
magic, has two primary liabilities. The first is that in the
exclusive development of the earth-magical consciousness, a natural
dissociation takes place from sky magic and transcendental magic, or
from the higher purposes of psychic and mystical activity and from
the transcendental spiritual point of view. Another liability of
earth magic, when developed independently, is that it tends to
develop in its negative rather than its positive form. In the magical
cultures of the West, for instance, we see the historical development
of earth magic in both positive and negative formulations.

When sky magic develops
independently, as we see in many of the schools of Hinduism for
instance, there are again two primary liabilities. One is that sky
magic is not sufficient in itself for right understanding or
realization of Truth. It simply is a development of higher psychism
and, therefore, when developed in itself, it dissociates itself from
transcendental wisdom. It begins to presume that psychic phenomena of
a higher kind are themselves the Truth or the Highest form of
realization. The other consequence of the independent development of
sky magic is its dissociation from earth magic. The yogic, mystical,
or sky magic cultures tend to be ascetical, otherworldly, and
negative in their disposition toward the body, the world, and
ordinary relationships and human functions. They often strive to
abandon the vehicle and the condition or circumstance of gross
existence. Such existence is presumed to be maya, “sheer
illusion,” or something altogether negative. This presumption gives
rise to a tendency to develop sky magic, or the ascending processes
of yoga and mysticism, through strategically programmed, ascetical
dissociation from gross physical life. By this same process, psychic
illusions develop and the Transcendental Truth is no longer present.
In its place is a substitute truth that is self-based.

The development of transcendental
magic independently and for its own sake also has consequences and
liabilities. We see this happening in certain schools of Buddhism and
Vedanta, where a choice is made to associate with the Transcendental
Truth independent of association with the psycho-physical processes
related to earth magic and sky magic. As a result the practice
becomes impotent; it has no vital or psychic force. The being tends
to enter into a negative nirvana, the chaos of nothingness, or
of consciousness independent of cognition and perception of forms. As
a result an illusion about the Truth develops. In the lesser schools
of Buddhism nirvana is pursued for its own sake. The realization of
the “one flavor” of all existence, or the equation of nirvana
and samsara, is not developed. That exclusively nirvanic
orientation is associated with a regressive, dissociative disposition
in which psycho-physical conditions are suppressed and turned away in
the pursuit of conscious confinement to the essential

Thus, when the culture of
transcendental magic is pursued in and of itself, independently, it
becomes impotent through dissociation from the magic of the
body-mind. When sky magic is pursued independently, it dissociates
itself from the Transcendental Truth, substitutes psychic states of
one or another kind for that Truth, and becomes ascetical,
dissociated from the realm of earth magic. When earth magic is
pursued in and of itself, it dissociates itself from the
Transcendental Truth as well as from the higher forms of psychic
development and tends, under certain conditions, to become a form of
black art or sorcery.

The point of view of the Teaching
and Way of practice in our Fellowship is that of Transcendental
understanding rightly conceived, and fully associated with the total
spectrum of psycho-physical phenomena. Therefore, our cultural
orientation and practice relate to all the features of magic that
have been present in the world since ancient times. Earth magic, sky
magic, and transcendental magic are all associated with our practice
and our consideration. In this Way, however, all of them achieve a
balanced economy relative to one another, and all of them are
expressed through a dynamic practice in which all three fundamental
dimensions of our existence are associated with the process of
ultimate realization. Thus, in this Way the magical fullness of human
existence is expressed.