Medicine is messy. Sorcery is messy. Lot of times you see folks posting images of pristine altars where they have their work's going, and that's cool. However, I can't help but notice that these altars are regularly almost purely about symbol, with little in the way of materia.
*Warning: There will be ranting. Feel free to disagree....just don't share your opinion if you cannot handle debate.*
This can work, and often does. Nothing wrong with it. It is, in my opinion, lacking depth.
Working spirit without Materia, in my experience, just plain doesn't get the same result as working with the virtue of natural, fully-manifested substances.
Now, there is plenty (-endless reams-) of textual evidence for materia's ascendancy in practical work in near every text written about actual practical sorcerous work. See *all* of your grimoires nearly, see Picatrix, Alexander's Treasure, Agrippa, etc etc etc. This isn't a Black-African sorcery vs European sorcery perspective issue....traditionally European sorcery is chock full of ingredients of varying virtue. So, why have we seen such poor understanding of working materia in the West? I contend it's because the education of the modern sorceror is severely lacking, and that mastering the Hermetic triumvirate has become rare....due to intellectual laziness.
I think that the over-complication of Alchemy is a problem, and the failure of modern sorcerors to practice the Hermetic Triumvirate is a problem. People have shoddy-ass philosophical underpinnings for their works, a slap-shod understanding of Nature, and generally shit scholarship these days.
Internal coherency is important. In Palo, we have a concept called malongo, related to working nature. You have to have a Bantu worldview to understand Palo correctly and work malongo effectively. In my opinion, an alchemical worldview is necessary to properly work Western sorcery, and many folks are just plain ignorant of what alchemy is or how it works.
Goetic understanding alone is not enough . Alchemy alone is not enough. Astrology alone is not enough.
How are you to manipulate nature if you don't properly understand it? Many people use computers every day, and their workings are pure sorcery, a mystery to them. The proper priest, the true Wizard, is akin to a programmer. It's not enough to know that pressing a button gives you a certain result. If you know *why* that result manifests, you can craft powerful processes to manipulate the computing environment. Nature.
But then, is Sorcery simply a hammer for you? Or is it a discipline? A way, an Art?
When you have mastery of Alchemy, which is truly an understanding of the natural process, the Engine of nature, all processes become alchemy. I can teach the secrets of alchemy by describing the workings of the combustion engine. Or rainfall. Making a pot roast. Brewing beer. Literally watching mold grow. Alchemy teaches more then the how, it teaches you how to see. How to speak. The much-vaunted language of the birds is not difficult, it is simple to acquire. You don't need to join an order, or buy expensive glassware. A mason jar, sunlight, a strong alchohol (your mercury) and time are all you need. That and observation.
This is why, in my opinion, an experienced and skillful priest can get consistent results that your unlearned magician often does not. I find the approach to sorcery espoused by folks who treat it like a recipe list leads to magicians who are like script kiddies, instead of the proper hackers they could be if they applied themselves. I think this is a problem I had with early Chaos magic, where the philosophy of discarding that which was superfluous and using whatever worked led to lazy-ass dudes discarding what was difficult for them to grasp, and then poorly appropriating shit they thought was cool. Even Chaos magic needs proper cultivation of wisdom and understanding of Nature! Without it, you're just swinging a hammer. More cultivation then other approaches, even. You can't determine what is good and what is bullshit without developing discernment, and this comes from wisdom, from study and application. From experimentation, observation, and documentation. Find the roots of the scientific method in the old Wizard's grimoire. Tradition is the inheritance of natural manipulations that Worked. Much of the strength of Tradition lies in not having to reinvent the wheel...doesn't free us from learning to understand how the thing works and why.
A kid working a chemistry set to manipulate elements in high school is twice the Sorceror many of these dudes running their mouths on the net are. He knows how to work the things of nature to create change. He has his assistants for creating change, his acids, his heat, and his materia. He can create a weapon or a medicine, he can create things that cause change in his world and environment. If you are separating your sorcery from physical creation and natural practice, from movement in the Actual World, your work will be mostly bullshit.
I have a measure of students both in Alchemy and in Palo Mayombe. The world-view taught by both is one rooted in nature. There is no Mayembero who isn't also an alchemist. Plain and simple. I have far more success teaching alchemy to Mayemberos then the other way around, as the wisdom of the hidden Virtue and Heat are intrinsic to the Mayembero's practice. Nearly every operation is alchemical, necromantic, and astrological. Every one. The fragmentation in alchemy and near lack of cohesiveness in Western traditions is leading to bizarre ideas being internalized and poor education.
People calling themselves "materialists" and also "sorcerors". What foolishness! A proper sorceror knows that the difference between "matter" and "spirit" is illusory, a matter not of Virtue but of coagulation. There is no separation of the two, they are the same. The mystery of the One thing. Grasping that should be a prerequisite. The argument between Theism and Atheism another stupidity; it requires a supposition that a "God" is something definable. That it could be something separate from Existence. That we can even grasp the *idea*! Both sides decide for themselves what the other defines as a "God", and then happily argues with their fantasy. A sorceror, through his own operations, should see through this kind of idiocy. I will happily debate any person who declares otherwise.
How many call themselves sorcerors and know fuck-all about the stars? Fuck you, go buy a book, a simple telescope, and get your shit together. Can you tell me why a sidereal approach to astrology is bullshit when it comes to practical magic? (Or foolishly argue the opposite, haha, but at least have an educated opinion?) How many have never completed the simplest of alchemical operations? How many have never conducted a necromantic operation, and have no contacts among the dead?
If you are lacking these things, truly basic understanding, you will miss the heart of sorcerous practice. You certainly shouldn't go around calling yourself a sorceror, a wizard, a magician, a priest... that's for sure. You may be on your way, but you ain't there yet. A near illiterate cunning-man with clothes made of sackcloth from a century ago had a better education in the Art then you do. Great-grandmas sitting in their kitchen with mastery under Jim Crow, dirt-poor and without, contrasted with a sea of men and women with access to an untold amount of wisdom via the internet who *don't know shit*. I don't care what tradition you are in, these are near universal. We need to start challenging folks who practice the Western way to complete the Triumvirate and have proper understanding. It doesn't take much. The aforementioned grandma could come by her understanding through cooking in her kitchen, setting lights for her dead, and praying for wisdom while working underneath a night sky. You just have to Do.
We all have specialties. My boy RO is a wizard of the neo-Platonist way, JSK clearly a wizard of the goetic way, Jason a wizard unquestionably, Nicholaj a wizard of damn near every way, hahaha. None of these folks are singular in their understanding. Wisdom requires depth. Find me a goetic sorceror with no understanding of Astrology, I'll show you a dude who gets shit results on the regular. Find me a sorceror with no understanding of alchemy, and I'll show you the same thing. The Western arts of necromancy. alchemy, and astrology are meant to be parts of a whole, not entirely separate disciplines. The entire triumvirate is necessary to work Nature, to work malongo.
Interested in learning Astrology? Work your way through Lilly's "Christian Astrology" here. Just do that, work through this one little free book, and you'll be learned.
Simple alchemy? Without a shitload of expensive glassware and Order-based bullshit? Here. Homer's Golden Chain. Work through the processes he teaches, and be learned.
Necromancy? Without lion skins or carefully inscribed blades, etc. (Note: those things are awesome. But necessary for particular works, not for necromancy itself). Read this and work through the dirt-simple methods for a solid quarter. Be learned.
There you go. Have the triumvirate for free. There are of course a thousand other books and processes. Many roads to wisdom. You don't get to be wise standing around, though, and wisdom is at the root of wizard.