Public occultism: is it dying or merely an oxymoron?

Herein I will respond to a post on a public occultism blog which claims that public occultism is bad, and succeeds in demonstrating this but for entirely different reasons than the intention of the blogger and his post — and not just due to extreme irony.

Other rebuttals to this post are fantastic and I don’t feel the need to repeat and rehash their points. I will instead make a couple of points not fully covered which badly need to be addressed:

Firstly, let’s cover the definition of public:

adjective
1. of, relating to, or affecting a population or a community as a whole: public funds; a public nuisance.
2. done, made, acting, etc., for the community as a whole: public prosecution.
3. open to all persons: a public meeting.

Next, the definition of occultism:
noun
supernatural forces, being, and events collectively
adjective
hidden from view
The inherent problem of “public occultism” is exposing something to public view which typically isn’t meant to be exposed, and the challenge becomes how much of occultism do you choose to make public and why. It’s a double edged sword. On one hand, you bring about a much-needed body of information and people who have it accessible to those who either want or have need of it, but on the other what is being exposed to the masses isn’t meant to be exposed to the masses, and under the weight of that contradiction there will be problems and friction.

And then you just have the Internet in general, which is inherently a hot fucking mess no matter how you slice it.

Secondly, let’s address this part, shall we?

If you publish anything, whether it’s a public blog, books, etc., on a specific selection of topics and discuss them at great length for everyone to read you are setting yourself up as an authority on those particular topics. And as an authority of these topics, by putting yourself out there online you are inviting people to comment and ask questions. If you don’t want this, then stop writing books, quit writing blog posts, remove yourself from social media, and don’t present topics to the masses like you have any sense of understanding or knowledge about them. The ability to present knowledge to the public is power, and with power comes responsibility. If you don’t want this responsibility, don’t be accessible online or otherwise. Period. You can’t have it both ways; you’re either an authority on subjects people care about or you’re not. If the notion of being a leader and an authority is burning you out and giving you more trouble than you can handle, it’s time to cool your jets and take a much needed hiatus from the whole thing, and I’m going to beg Nick to do just that. Nick, with all due respect as a fellow magician, it’s clear that you’re stressed, frustrated, and burnt out and judging from your numerous “get off my damned lawn” type of posts as of late, it’s high time you logged off and focused on your own personal work and development. No harm, no foul–and no shame in doing so. Please take my advice; you’ll thank me for it later. I learned the hard way about this myself after I got burnt out in the Hellenic pagan community after years of leadership. And don’t trick yourself into believing you have to be here “for others”. Martyrdom sucks, my friend. Don’t fall prey to it (like I did). Rest and recharge, or regret it later. Being a leader, whether self or community appointed or both, is a thankless and stressful task.

Let’s talk some more about this idea of public occultism and positions of authority, actually. It’s rather relevant to the next point. Nick has argued in his blog that occultism has been “dumbed down”, is too accessible online, is too contaminated by a number of issues including over-analyzing, making magic purely psychological, and people on the whole are too lazy, don’t want to do the work, don’t want to properly pay respect to a teacher’s time and energy by valuing their time, etc. A number of these points I agree with, especially the part on armchair magicians and treatment of magic as being purely psychological. I frequently liken these types to the “theoretical magicians” of the Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell novel. I personally would much rather be a practical magician, thankyouverymuch. I think a degree of this “magic is only in your head” nonsense is laziness, some of it is cynicism, and the rest is people not able to do the more fantastical aspects of occultism and declaring it impossible simply because they themselves haven’t succeeded in bringing those aspects out in their own practice and experiences as of yet. And then you have so-called “experts” in the community writing entire books dumbing-down magic and presenting it as being “all in your head”, and it’s not helping.

Sadly many of these issues outlined have little to do with the Internet being to blame and much to do with human nature. But here’s the thing: the problem with the Internet is that absolutely anyone with any degree of clue who sounds intelligent and is able to present themselves well on social media and blogs can set themselves up as an authority on the occult, WMT, or any given topic without much fact or background checking–and pretty soon you have a cult of personality. This problem is absolutely universal online and goes well beyond the occult community. The fitness and nutrition related communities online, for instance, are riddled with bad armchair advice from people completely not qualified to give any sane or sound information and people wind up getting sick, hurt, and almost dying from bad advice from loud people who gain an audience from people who swallow their shit and think they know what they’re talking about. The blogosphere and social media both have the ability to hand anyone a sound box where they can stand and voice off on absolutely anything under the sun, and as a result you have a lot of noise to wade through before you can hear some decent information. The noise amplified is in both directions and the dumbing-down and lack of quality goes both ways, not just in terms of the students but in the available teachings online and the teachers/people in positions of authority whether assumed, earned, or otherwise.

Unfortunately many of these teachers come in, have some good points to make but rather like the blog post I’m replying to make those points along with a bunch of other suspect bits or hastily made conclusions–but due to actually making sense in parts it’s assumed everything’s golden. And with just a spoonful of that sugar, you’ve just swallowed a ton of horseshit. People brand new, unassuming, and perhaps a bit too trusting in their desperate quest to Learn Stuff can fall in with the wrong people as a result. Been there, done that. And then you have the other side of the coin, which is good leaders/teachers/people in positions of authority who have their good nature and patience tried and tested with the scores of people who want the Great Work handed to them on a silver platter on the backs of rainbow-farting unicorns and sides of fries with that. As much as I disagree with some of Nick’s points–especially the ageist ones that pin this on it being a generational issue versus a human one–I can totally understand and sympathize with his frustrations. Some of the questions I myself receive from others as a result of my blog and social media presence range from creepy to WTF. And that’s what I get for putting myself out there online.

So what to do with “public occultism”? Well, make it less public, that’s for sure! Some of the best places online right now are all closed or secret groups on FB, message boards with huge sections only available to approved and registered members, and emailing lists that also weed out the noise, spammers, etc. I run a forum online called The Great Work which has about 95% of its boards invisible except to registered and approved members and is low in noise and high in content. I stick to the quieter corners online and avoid the exceedingly large groups where noise to quality ratio is not to my liking. It keeps my blood pressure low and prevents me from wasting my time online on shit that doesn’t matter.

And for all else? Just log off and focus on yourself, that’s what matters.

Comments

  1. Nick Farrell says:

    For the record I didn’t say public occultism was bad it was just a failed experiment.
    As far as definitions are concerned: The term occultism was invented by the Theosophical Society to define its own teachings. The term was picked up by the various magical and masonic groups and is now part of the language. The only problem is the Theosophic Society was not exactly secret, neither were the groups that also used the word to describe what they do. Golden Dawn, OTO etc. There were clearly two strands of occultism public in which you actually can see it in operation and secret where you could not. Secret groups do exist to varying degrees. There are those which might have a web page but you dont know anything about them or their members to those who are so secret that even their own members don’t know much about the leaders or operations. It is the public version of occultism which I think is doomed and I think we are in for a cycle where sensible groups withdraw and let the numpties fight it out with their Secrets, Kybalions and crystal unicorns

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