Jay Kinney examines the Introduction
to Magic, a powerful and disturbing book by Julius Evola,
one of the foremost authorities on the world's esoteric
Magic (or Magick,
as it is sometimes spelled, in order to distinguish it from
stage magic) is a word fraught with dubious connotations. It
summons up images of robed figures, surrounded by clouds of
incense, standing within magical circles, and conjuring demons
to do their bidding.
Even in the magical system that has
achieved widest renown, that of the Hermetic Order of the
Golden Dawn, magic is associated with complex Qabbalistic
rituals, Egyptian god forms, and arcane tools and talismans.
Such things are sure to send the average good citizen
scurrying in the opposite direction, as quickly as possible.
Even for those who are inclined toward the esoteric and
spiritual, magic remains the preserve of a few self-chosen
magi who have a strong attraction to the arcane.
Still, there are no lack of books
presenting magical systems. Dion Fortune, W.E. Butler,
Aleister Crowley, Israel Regardie, William Grey, Franz Bardon,
David Griffin, and others have authored numerous tomes to
whose teachings one could easily devote a lifetime. Why, then,
should we pay any attention to yet another book called Introduction
to Magic? The answer is that this new work in hand is
unlike any other book on magic previously published, as
difficult as that may be to believe.
Julius Evola, the principal contributor to Introduction
to Magic, is a figure of some controversy within
esoteric circles. Born in 1898, the vital years of his
twenties and thirties coincided with Fascism’s reign in
Italy, and Evola’s stance toward Fascism – although
critical and adversarial at times – was sufficiently
positive to make him persona non grata in liberal
European circles. However, as tempting as it may be to dismiss
past historical figures according to present value judgments,
Evola deserves to be judged on his own terms, in his own time.
With that in mind, let us take a closer look at the magical
system put forth in Introduction
to Magic is the first of three volumes collecting
articles from the Italian esoteric journal UR,
published between 1927 and 1929. Evola was the journal’s
foremost author, but he was joined by prominent figures in the
Italian esoteric scene, such as Arturo Reghini, Giulio Parese
and Ercole Quadrelli. All of UR’s writers published
under pseudonyms, for the stated reason that “their
individual selves count for nothing, because everything valid
they can offer now is not of their own creation or devising,
but instead reflects a collective and objective teaching.”1
This harks back to such seminal works as the Rosicrucian
Manifestoes, or the more recent Meditations on the Tarot,
whose authors chose anonymity so as not to distract from the
message of their texts.
The message of the UR Group was as follows:
there is a capacity inherent in Man to raise consciousness
above the call of the body and the distractions of the mind; a
capacity that can lead to an immortal awareness. The means to
this awareness is through a rigorous discipline wherein the
transitory ego is shed, and the individual consciousness is
wedded to the Eternal. In so doing, one passes beyond the
conventional notions of Good and Evil, to a place where, in
Gustav Meyrink’s words, only “truth” and “falsehood”
exist. To know this is not a matter of intellectual knowledge,
but of spiritual experience, i.e. of gnosis.
to Magic doesn’t merely describe this system, but
offers meditative techniques that can lead to the concrete
acquisition of the consciousness it describes. In so doing,
accounts are offered of what one will encounter – accounts
that have the strong ring of truth. In other words, the UR
Group was sharing knowledge based on their own experience, not
just generalisations or suppositions. And here we approach the
core of the UR Group’s unique approach, which raises
Most other magical systems presuppose an
“other”, be it God or gods and goddesses, to which the
magus pays homage or, at least, subordinates his operations.
The tendency of the ego to usurp the expanding consciousness,
is conventionally kept in check by the reminder of the ego’s
diminutive stature in relation to the Divine.
The UR approach de-emphasises such
“others,” focusing instead on the transcendence of the ego
by a greater impersonal Self which may itself become Divine.
This admittedly dangerous operation requires a resoluteness of
will that cannot be abandoned. As “Abraxas” (Quadrelli)
Once you have begun, you must go all the
way, since an interruption leads to a dreadful reaction,
with the opposite result. You can easily understand why: at
every step you take, an increasingly higher quantity of
swirling energy is arrested and pushed upstream; having been
excited and provoked, it is filled with tension. As soon as
you give up, it will come crashing down upon you and sweep
Obviously, this is an approach that will
appeal to very few. And the UR Group’s philosophy assumed as
much. Quadrelli described the difference between the vast
majority of mankind and the initiated few who followed such a
On this side are ignorant people, lacking
Knowledge, pale, passive, intoxicated, whose lives are still
outside and on this side of the Waters. On the other shore
you will find virile men, heroic souls, awakened to disgust,
to revolt, to the Great Awakening; having left one shore
behind, they dare face the current and the undertow, being
led by their ever more firm, unshakable will. Once there,
they are known as ‘Survivors of the Water,’ ‘Walkers
on the Waters,’ the ‘Holy Race of the Free,’ ‘The
Conquerors,’ ‘The Lords of Life and Salvation,’ ‘The
Radiant Ones.’ They are the ‘Dragon slayers,’ the
‘Dominators of the Bull,’ ‘Consecrated to the Sun,’
those who have been transformed through Ammon’s power and
In defining such a gap between the many and
the few, the UR Group implied a spiritual hierarchy that Evola
was to elsewhere define explicitly. Taking his lead from
Hinduism, Evola affirmed the value of a traditional caste
system, (typically composed of the castes of Priest-ruler,
aristocratic warrior, merchant, and worker). Society should be
ruled by those of the highest spiritual attainment, with all
others finding their proper places in the social hierarchy.
Such sentiments stand in stark contrast to the modern
conception of democracy, which assumes the right of every
individual to an equal voice in the direction of society.
Evola was still working out these ideas at
the time of the UR Group project, and his increasingly
uncompromising defense of “Tradition” was one factor in
the group’s fragmentation after only three or four years of
The best known exponent of ritual magic,
Aleister Crowley, defined magic as “the Science and Art of
causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”4
Dion Fortune revised this definition to that of “causing
changes in consciousness at will.”5 The
object of all magic, according to Crowley, is “the uniting
of the Microcosm with the Macrocosm.” Stated another way,
“the Great Work is the raising of the whole man in perfect
balance to the power of Infinity.”6 While the
UR Group would not disagree with this objective, their means
to achieving it stood apart from that of Crowley, Fortune, and
most other magicians.
Most Western Magic is based on the coupling
of Hermeticism and the Qaballa. Hermeticism, with its
doctrines of the four elements (earth, wind, water, and fire),
and of correspondences between “above” and “below”
(i.e. the Macrocosm and the Microcosm), became systematised in
the art of Alchemy. Qaballa (or Kabbalah) was the mystical
tradition within Judaism, which contributed the concepts of
four Worlds, a series of Divine emanations arranged in the
glyph of the Tree of Life, and a hierarchy of Divine Names,
Angelic intelligences, and so on, with which the Qaballist
The magic of the UR Group, however, is
wholly Hermetic. There would seem to be two reasons for this.
First, the leading UR members, particularly Evola and Reghini,
were proponents of a return to Roman and Greek tradition.
Evola considered “Hermetico-alchemical knowledge” to be
“the most direct and legitimate link to the unique,
primordial Tradition.”7 The preoccupations and
values of Judaism and Christianity run perpendicular to pagan
values of heroism, strength, and honour.
Second, in its stated goal of
self-Deification, the UR teachings had little use for the
concept of Deity, beyond that of a potential within certain
favoured individuals. The UR work gives high value to
Transcendence, but it is the transcendence of the initiate
over the pull of earthly bonds, of the supra-human over the
merely human. Thus the UR teachings have far more in common
with Nietzsche or with Buddhism, than with the Judaeo-Christian
religions with their subordination before an external God.
Nevertheless, the UR Group didn’t narrow
its cosmology to the sort of psychological reductionism that
sees God or the gods as symbolic figures thrown up by the
Collective Unconscious or as mere person-ifications of human
capacities. Various essays in Introduction
to Magic refer to Beings, entities, and forces that
the Magus may encounter along the path. But these are
conceptualised as manifestations of two polarising tendencies
within the Cosmos: non-human forces that lead either to a
degenerative Chaos or to a higher Order. The initiate,
according to the UR Group, must distinguish between the two
and align himself only with energies and intelligences leading
toward the higher Self.
While Evola and the UR Group placed
themselves on the side of Order and high spiritual
aspirations, their goal of human Deification led them to see
conventional mystical notions, such as “merging with the
One” or submission of the Ego to God, as manifestations of a
downward pull leading the individual away from his ascent to
the Divine. In one essay, Evola appropriates René Guénon’s
concept of the “counter-initiation” in characterising
Theosophy, Spiritualism, and other “sentimental” movements
as “Satanic” impulses.
This is highly ironic in that the UR
perspective has more than a passing resemblance to the
so-called Satanism of the contemporary Temple of Set.
According to Stephen E. Flowers, “the ultimate aim of Setian
philosophy is an active, aware and potent state of relative
immortality for the isolate, individual psyche. This is
achieved through a system of magic…”8 This
is not the time or place to enter into a discussion of whether
the Setian definition of the “individual psyche” has more
in common with the accepted notion of the ego or with the UR
Group’s divinised Self. Suffice it to say that both systems
aim at the willed immortality of the initiate, independent of
the body, and in contradistinction to the “right-hand
path” of mainstream religion or mysticism.
The perspective put forth in Introduction
to Magic, and by Evola in his other writings, raises
the question of whether gnosis, (or awakening or liberation,
as it is usually referred to in the book) only occurs within
the familiar framework of morality. Most mystical and esoteric
paths counsel a fidelity to the moral values of the religions
of which they are expressions. The saints or mystics who are
the exemplars of such paths are generally praised for their
piety, compassion, and self-sacrifice; the implication being
that spiritual awareness goes hand in hand with
“goodness.” The Buddhist figure of the Bodhisatva, who
vows to continue to incarnate until all beings have been
liberated, as well as the figure of Jesus Christ, who
Christian dogma tells us “died for our sins,” are the
accepted models for earnest spiritual seekers.
Evola and the UR Group fly in the face of
such norms. Their magical system makes almost no mention of
how a would-be magus should comport himself towards others.
There are no exhortations to live for the sake of others or to
help those who are less advantaged. There are only repeated
statements of the need for courage, steadfastness, clear
vision, and singleness of purpose on the magical path. Time
and again, the reader is reminded of the relativity of “Good
and Evil” from the vantage point of the accomplished
initiate. At best, the UR system might be characterised as
morally neutral, at least by conventional standards.
Yet it is clear from the authority of the
book’s instructions, and the first-person accounts that are
included, that the members of the UR Group achieved heights of
consciousness that bear the mark of gnosis. Here was a group
of Italian esotericists whose loyalties lay with ancient Rome,
who were associated with the extreme Right, and who considered
the majority of the human race to be asleep and worthy only of
being led by an enlightened few. Could it be that they
developed a potent system for the advancement of spiritual
awareness that works? This is the challenge that Introduction
to Magic raises for its readers and which each reader
will have to answer for himself.
1. Preface to Introduction
to Magic, p. xxv.
2. Abraxas (Quadrelli) in Introduction
to Magic, p. 20.
3. Abraxas (Quadrelli) in Introduction
to Magic, p. 19.
4. Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory
and Practice, p. xii.
5. Dion Fortune, quoted by W.E. Butler in Magic,
Its Ritual, Power and Purpose, p. 12.
6. Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory
and Practice, p. 4.
7. Julius Evola, The Hermetic Tradition,
8. Stephen E. Flowers, Lords of the
Left-Hand Path, p. 241.
© Jay Kinney, 2001. Jay Kinney is the co-author,
with Richard Smoley, of Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the
Western Inner Traditions (Penguin/Arkana, 1999). He is
editor of The Inner West (forthcoming from J.P. Tarcher,
2002). More of his writings can be found at