An impromptu essay by Elezar, last Wizard of Xandurae.
Why do some people feel the need to use external focii? Why do some people feel the need to use internal ones? The more cynical amoung us would say that they are too weak of Will to support their own workings without the props, implements and other "toys". An understanding of how the human mind works and one's own mind helps to answer this question. Does the use of external focii make someone less of a mage (mage shall be used as a generic term of worker of "magic" throughout this document) than someone who doesn't use focii? My answer would be, unequivocably, no.
You might as well ask why someone would take the path of the ceremonial magician or a theo-maturgist or a sorceror of the impeccable way. Not only is it a personal choice that helps define the manner in which a mage works their art, but also provides a framework from which others can interface their own systems of beliefs with others. To put it shortly, a person uses focii for their own reasons; it is part of what makes them them.
Focii may be used in several manners; I'll mention only a few of them since there are numerous books by people more qualified to answer this question than I. The most commonly seen version of external focii are implements and "toys". Please understand that I do not use the term "toy" in a derogative sense but merely as how some people see their own implements -- the same use, but with the understanding that they are only external props. Many of these implements include the ritual tools of the mage. What these are often depends on the person and their tradition/path. The ceremonial magician may use sword, chalice, wand and other implements for their workings, where someone of the "wiccan" persuasion (please recall there are many "flavors" of the Wiccan faith) or your general druidic neo-pagan faith may use an athame (a knife or dagger used for ritual purposes) or possibly certain herbs. The most common implement used that is seen by the "mundane" public is the crystal, which is best known through the new-age movement. As you can see, there are as many types of implements as there are practitioners of various arts. I personally know two people who use a teddy-bear as an implement.
Now, why people use implements is another matter. Some individuals use the implements for the purposes of putting themselves into a "mystic" state. This is easiest seen through the formalized perspective of the ceremonial magician who (in his/her own belief) understands the danger of having mystical states fully permeate the normal every-day life without a definite transition between various states. For example, an individual whom I came to know through the computer had gotten quite good at meditation. She had gone into her meditative states by sitting on her bed. However, it came to pass that even when she didn't want to go into meditation a meditative state, merely sitting in her bed to cause her to fall into meditation.
As you can see with this individual, the lack of a separation state made it difficult for her remain in a "normal" state when she initiated the actions that normally are used to enter the "mystic" state. Humans are creatures of habit and learned responses are a great part of us. Rituals are often used to make great productions of moving from one state to another in order not only preserve the boundaries between what is normal and what is magical, but for other reasons to be described in coming paragraphs. Without the separation between that which is normal and that which is mystical, reality often blurs to the point where it becomes difficult to operate normally within the every-day reality. Both realities exist, but the methods of interfacing to them are often different. For the mage who's perceptions are not easily separable, the boundaries drift and accidents may happen.
Focii are often used as a bridge between the normal reality and the magical one. In these cases, the implements are often specifically worked for this purpose. Although they have many names and many forms, the common name for such items go by titles such as "amulets" or "talismans". Through various processes particular to those who make them, the talisman is considered an external interface between the two operative realities. You may consider their operation from two perspectives: One being that the talisman has been magically charged to be an external entity separate and complete from the mage that works to a certain purpose, much like a machine. Another view is that the talisman merely represents a subconscious reminder to the practioner that he or she has set something up and it is working. The person who sets up the device is quite aware that he or she can accomplish a specific purpose while engaged in a mystic state (for instance, protection from malevolent entities) but when engaged in the normal state may have difficulty doing this. By centering the operation on an external object, the person is merely leaving things running in the background of their conscious mind allowing the unconscious one to do the work. (Remember all those times you are trying to remember something and then when you stop consciously trying to think about it, something stews in your mind for a bit and then bam there it is.. This is similar.)
Internal focii are also used by practitioners. In one form or another all mages use internal focii of one kind or another. The mental constructions (hereafter called constructs) used by various practitioners are the way mages take the internal realities and help make them external. These constructs may vary from internal representations of various highly structured formulae to creative visualization. Whatever the method, the results are basically the same... A way to go from the internal to the external. However, there are various difficulties with purely internal representations of any kind. The human mind, unless trained not to do so, tends to drift from subject to subject. It also tends to mutate the thoughts it is working with. Now, so long as the rules are agreed upon for an external focus, the external focus is less likely to change, although it may not have as much "vitality" as a purely internal focus. Let us take, for example, the case of a summoning. (I wish to note now that I do not agree with the enslavement of extra-dimensional entities or several of the methods used to do so; I merely present this as an argument whose repurcussions should be immediately obvious to the reader.)
In a summoning, should you leave it to just the internal constructs to both summon and hold an entity you may run into difficulties. The summoning itself may take hideous amounts of energy and enormous concentration to cause the entity to appear within the Attention of the summoner. Unless the summoner is extremely powerful of Will, it is difficult to restrain the summoned entity. Such is often left to magical circles and other external focii. Also, given the fact that the summoned entity is likely not an analog of a physical entity within the physical microcosm and mostly a construct enforced by the mind upon an entity not quite tangible to the normal senses (including those magical), there is the large problem of maintaining a constant mental construction of both the entity and the bounds placed upon it. Should the mage find it beyond his or her ability to maintain such, it may result in from as little as losing the entity (and perhaps not properly dismissed from the Attention of the summoner) to damage to the mind of the summoner. By externalizing certain portions of Attention that are to have a very narrow focus and specific purpose it is possible to take the burden off the mage of the more "mundane" portions of the ceremony and free conscious awareness for dealing with unexpected contingencies.
It should now be obvious to the reader how both external and internal focii may be used. They are tools, nothing more, nothing less. Some implements may have power of their own, depending on the user, the tradition or the Attention placed upon them by other people (not necessarily mages). To give an example of an external focus that is not completely powered by simply the user nor of its own volition: The Christain Cross (crucifix).
Although the object can be said to have no power of its own, the belief of the wielder when faced by something that may be dealt with in a "mystical" state that is placed in the object as well as their own power is not merely the only factors operating upon the external focus. The attention focused upon the object by others must also be taken into consideration... For instance, the power of the object may not only come from the user but also by the belief of others in it. This tapping of the archetypical power which has some of its own existance separate of the mind of the wielder also factors in.
This ends this essay. I hope this has been of some use to those of you out there. This by no means is the belief of every practitioner of magic, merely my own that I share with you. Good luck in your endeavors and I wish upon you Understanding.
-- Elezar, last Wizard of Xandurae
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