I don’t remember where I read about the distinction, but one idea that has haunted my work since I learned about it is the concept of “hot” and “cool” work.
Essentially, “cool” work is preparatory, interior, and what we might call theurgic. It consists of things like offerings, meditations, regular visualizations — essentially, all the stuff you do to prepare yourself and stay ready. It’s tuning the piano, practicing scales. Or it’s sharpening the knives, seasoning the pans.
“Hot” work, though, is the practical magic. It consists of work for specific, measurable aims: getting a job, getting laid, getting that copy of that rare book you want. It’s playing a song, or cooking a meal.
There needs to be the appropriate balance between the two, and one thing it took me quite a while to learn is that this balance changes depending on time as well as personality. Some magicians are very “hot.” They do a lot of practical work, for nearly everything. Others are very “cool.” They prepare a lot, spend most of their time and effort praying, making offerings, meditating. That balance is right for them.
Some are too “hot.” They’re the chaos mages I knew in my misspent youth who seemed to have a sigil on every available surface. I’m not sure they ever got anything done, though, because they were trying to do everything. I mean, these kids couldn’t . . . um . . . charge the sigils fast enough. And they heaped scorn on theurgy or illumination magic as “not practical” and “not measurable.” They said things like, and I quote, “I fired off a tight little sigil . . . “, a phrase that contributed a lot to my abandoning chaos magic. To this day that phrase — and the visualization that comes with it — makes me go “urp.”
Some, on the other hand, are too “cool,” the armchair magicians we all love to scorn. The thing is, a real armchair magician isn’t just cool. They’re zero degrees Kelvin. If all you do, ever, is make offerings, meditate, and practice elemental pore breathing, well, guess what? You are a magician. You might be too cool, but you’re not an armchair magician. A real armchair magician does nothing but read. And that poorly, because even active reading is good “cool” work. (Hint, if you had to learn a language to read the text you’re working on, that’s “cool,” not armchair. In my biased opinion.)
Then again, you might not be too cool. That’s the thing it took me a while to figure out, because frankly, I am at best a tepid magician. Partially, that’s a result of success. There isn’t a whole lot I want more than for my life to continue in the same direction. So most of my “practical” work is maintenance these days. I’ve considered doing some limited work for a limited number of hand-selected clients, just to “warm” up a bit. But — maybe that’s a bad idea. Maybe I should be tepid.
The other thing that I’ve learned is that hot and cool move in cycles. I’ve had hot periods (there was about a year of grad school in which I had enough magical stuff going on that I was regularly having odd magical experiences, and another year during my undergrad years when I was still into chaos magic and had enough weird shit in my dorm room to give the housing people at my University fits). But I also have cool periods. Right now is very much a cool period for me. I’m keeping up my offerings, trying to maintain my meditation (I’m bad at that).
The trick is to find a balance that works for you. How do you do that? I don’t know; I just bumble around until I get too damned bored (then I know I’m too cool) or too damned weird (then I’m too hot). What do you do? Let me know in the comments.