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.

On Adeptship

The discussion has been brought up on The Great Work list: “what level of adeptship do we feel ourselves to be”? I wound up writing an email long enough that I figured it belonged as a blog post.

Before you can delve into determining level of adeptship, you first must answer the question of what an adept is.

If we’re talking about the general term, the literal dictionary term means “Someone who is skilled or proficient at something”. If we get into certain occult traditions, the term becomes far, far more loaded. I’m going to approach it from the literal dictionary definition and not press forward on any one tradition.
We become adept at something or an adept through years of study, practice, and experience. We are not likely to get there overnight, and the idea that this can be brought to us in an instant through an initiation is actually absurd. It’s akin to saying that merely giving me a college diploma gives me all of the knowledge I need when in fact it’s just an acknowledgement of the work I’ve already done. All an initiation can do for you is just that, simply acknowledge what you have already done, and bring you to the next level that you may realize just how much of a neophyte you still are on the path. Life doesn’t end after graduation.
I am adept at Usui Reiki and various other Reiki traditions because I have studied, practiced, and experienced them for years. I am adept at divination, particularly tarot, for the same reason. I am adept in the Golden Dawn tradition for also the same reason. I can claim the same for computer programming, particularly C# and .NET development.
The idea of mastering something, whether it be a craft, tradition, or any one skill, comes through focus and perseverance. It does not imply perfection, nor does it mean you have nothing left to learn. I’ve spent a decade or more in any of the above that I listed, and never once have I felt that there was a stopping point; perhaps a desire to focus on another tradition or move on, but in any of them I have the capacity to teach and transfer information.
It’s interesting; right now I’m in the process of transferring out of the IT industry into a completely different career, and after my time in the Golden Dawn I went onto other things. I don’t think it’s unusual once you’ve gained a particular skill that what you’ve learned from it is something which guides you into another direction. I still engage in Golden Dawn related discussions and talk with people in the tradition all the time, and much of my knowledge and experiences I’ve gained from it continue to benefit me in day to day life.
At present, I am eyeballs deep in the Abramelin rite. Various traditions stress the importance of doing this once you’ve reached the level of adeptness, and yet it’s something you can do even as a neophyte. I do think however like all forms of personal development that doing any one thing is easier once you’ve already done a good deal of personal work.
A huge part of mastery is self-mastery, and even in business people stress the idea of doing personal development and growth. The most invaluable thing about the Golden Dawn, IMHO, is its elemental alchemy which provides a basis for doing just that. People who race through the grades like people collecting Girl/Boy Scout badges miss the boat entirely, and are depriving themselves of the most powerful aspect that particular tradition has to offer. I cannot stress its importance enough. It is far, far more important than all of the memorization and ritual that the grades have to offer, and will make you into a much more magically efficacious magician.

Alchemy and your comfort zone

Here’s a great question I’ve seen raised: how does one know whether or not one is ready for the next stage of alchemical development or advancement within their chosen path?

I’ve seen people race through the grades of the HOGD and similar esoteric bodies like it’s a sprint and not a marathon with the reasoning of “alchemy is just an excuse for being lazy” and other similar bullshit. Honestly, the more I look back on my time spent in the HOGD the more I realize how incredibly valuable the Outer Order was for personal development and how much of it was taken for granted, overlooked, and just plain ignored in terms of importance.

So, here’s the deal: when you’re comfortable, it’s time to move on. If you’re itching to get to the next level, it means that wherever you’re at is still stretching your comfort zone, so it’s time to stay put. Magick begins at the end of your comfort zone, and this goes in all areas of life. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Like with physical fitness, those muscles need growing, stretching, and strengthening time. There are times when it’s good to take a rest day and there are times when you gotta suck it up, buttercup, because you won’t evolve unless you do.

This is why when I first was getting back into yoga I kept requesting core work when the teacher would ask what we wanted to focus on that day. It wasn’t because I loved core workouts; I fucking HATED them. I found them challenging, hard, and I was struggling to get any of it done. Now I have an emerging six pack, and core workouts are now a strength as opposed to a weakness. But that meant sucking it up and practicing, practicing, practicing so I could get better at them.

Alchemy is a very similar deal. Much like muscles, you may find that some aspects of your life are more out of shape than others–and will wail and scream when exercising. Out of all of the grades in the HOGD I had the most amount of growing pains in Practicus. The Water element  was NOT my friend. I was itching to get out of there so badly it hurt because the entire GRADE hurt. There were a lot of lessons I had to revisit later because I don’t think I spent enough time there. I think I should’ve been held back another year, quite frankly, but all in all I have no regrets.

I knew that I had found the ideal magickal system for me recently when I found myself thinking, “Holy hell, I feel like a fucking Neophyte. I know NOTHING. This is all over my head. HELP. WTF.” Nothing good will ever come easy,and pearls are formed in oysters through constant irritation.

What TO look for in an esoteric order

Recently I posted a list of red flags to look for in esoteric orders, as in, what NOT to look for.
Today I will post a things to actually look for. Peachy, huh? Emphasis on the positive!Here we go!

  1. Leaders who willingly admit that they don’t know something. Hey, that’s awesome! No one knows everything, and I like those who are in a position to teach and/or lead and are willing to admit shortcomings.
  2. Friendly group egregore. In short, people who get along, act like family, and not just a bunch of whiny kids all trying to get grade badges.
  3. Groups that demonstrate fruits of their labors. Are their members and/or leaders writing books? Blogging?
  4. Leaders who have patience with newbies. Hey, we were all Neophytes once, right? If you get beaten up with responses like “That information is above your GRADE, Frater/Soror!!!” (depending on the tone, obviously) and make you feel like an idiot for asking questions, that’s not a good teacher. Go for the ones who have patience. Go for ones who will say things to you like “The reason why we don’t teach that above your grade/degree level is due both to relevance to the initiation and a desire not to overwhelm you with too much information” but won’t be afraid to answer your questions the best they can.
  5. Which leads me to…
  6. Leaders who have a sense of humor about themselves, their path, and the group. Yes, maintaining the group is important. The path is important. Everyone’s important. Just don’t take yourself or anything too seriously. Laughter is good!
  7. Leaders who aren’t afraid of differences of opinion, and encourage questioning of authority. Debates are NOT the same thing as arguing.
Feel free to add anything I’ve missed. I’ve tried to stay away from any one type of group, path, tradition, or teaching in this list.

What everyone must do and know before and after joining an esoteric Order

What I’m about to post is everything I wish I knew before I had joined my first Order. I hope that it helps others.
  1. Do research on the group. Look over not just their website but talk to current and ex-members of the group. Find out why people left and what the Internet says about them. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
  2.  Be wary of claims made. If they claim to be hundreds and thousands of years old with direct lineage to Jesus Christ, Apollonius of Tyana, Superman, whatever–RUN.
  3. Be wary of costs to join and remain a member. Places that charge an arm and a leg are typically more in it for making money off of the credulous than they are providing genuine spiritual teachings.

Also…if you’re already a member:

  1. If you join and discover that people talk strangely about the leaders, claim that they can “know everything about you”, are above reproach, and ask you not question to their beliefs/ideas/opinions/philosophy, that’s a red flag.
  2. If you join and they tell you who to and not to befriend, RUN.
  3. If they encourage people to not talk to people who have left their group, RUN.
  4. If they tell you certain books and traditions can’t be read or learned because the knowledge will do awful, evil things to your soul, RUN.
  5. Do they put others down for being “fluffy” or not measuring up to their standards? Do they maybe spend TOO much time talking bad about other groups?
  6. Do they spend too much time being serious and taking each other perhaps a bit too seriously?
  7. Do they frown upon mistakes and come down on you if you make any? Are you made to feel uncomfortable for having made them?
  8. Do they look older than their ages? Are they generally stressed and unhappy with their lives?
  9. Do they enter into heated debates and competition with people that appears to be less than friendly?
  10. Do they seem to be “angry” all of the time and encourage doing a lot of Mars and Saturn style workings? Ie., “battling our enemies” and engaging in “magickal/spiritual warfare”, that sort of thing?
  11. Do they scoff at people who want to try certain magicks or spiritual traditions and claim that it’s not possible or it’s too “stupid” or “a waste of time” to try?
  12. Do they encourage “not reading ahead” of your “level” and keep strict hierarchy in both social and business related settings?
  13. Do they instill fear in those who have done so, either accidentally or on purpose?
  14. Do they seem to be filled with fear and/or anger at certain sorts of traditions, knowledge, and teachings that they disagree with or is different from their own?
  15. Do they tout certain “healing rituals/prayers” for major issues like world peace or hunger, but balk at doing the same amount of healing on themselves or their fellow members?
  16. Do they list a ton of titles in their emails and in their conversations with you? Do they brag about their certificates and accomplishments a great deal? Do they seem very self-absorbed as a whole?

 

Hermetic seals, oaths, and vows of silence: sowing the seeds for dishonesty?

To dare, to know, to will…and to keep silent (or alternatively, “shut the fuck up”). We’ve all heard it, from those of us in the Western Mystery Trads, traditional witchcraft groups, British Traditional Wicca–you name it. Undoubtedly this idea of keeping seals upon hidden knowledge dates back to the concept of initiation back in ancient times with the Rites of Eleusis and the Osirian Mysteries. In short, it’s not new.

During my time in various initiatory bodies, I have seen all levels of secrecy and based on my experiences with such, and it has caused me to wonder the following: at one point are you veiling too much? To what end can the secrecy reach the stage where it has become so commonplace that you are either refusing to talk about things which are either available to the public, or…worse yet…being silent about things which never, ever should be kept hidden?After my time spent in in a particular Golden Dawn group I noticed a great effort on many splinter groups formed afterwards to “maintain transparency.” That is, transparency of funds, governmental workings and other such topics which, if candid about, could help to foster and nurture trust on both ends. In fact, groups I belonged to later which have refused such a transparency and were discovered to be harboring secrets about misuse of funds and what-have-you were ones I was all too happy to leave. Having some measure of transparency is crucial for ensuring lack of abuse of power.

Organizations that lack transparency frequently abuse the power of silence and secrecy. The problem is two-fold: a) people are human and prone to being tempted by ego and greed and b) lacking a sanity and reality check from those on the “outside”, those on the “inside” wind up living very insular lives where they can lose focus, grounding, and a sense of what is right.

Knowing right from wrong doesn’t mean all initiatory secrets must be brandied about like so many strands of pearls before the Intarwebs, but I do think that secrecy is something which must be handled in moderation, treated with enough checks and balances to prevent its abuse, and also to make sure people don’t become so used to keeping things hidden that they veil matters they shouldn’t. Otherwise, people pile secrets one on top of the other, and it’s the slippery slope I’ve watched people fall down on, and hurt themselves as well others.

When you find yourself in a group so shrouded in secrecy to the point where you can no longer communicate with the outside world: your family, friends, significant others, that’s my measuring stick for When Things Have Gone Too Far. I uphold that same measuring stick for when people get into relationships also. If they cease communicating with you and/or start deliberately withholding information, something is terribly, terribly wrong. Sometimes people return from behind that curtain and at other times, they do not. All you really can do in such circumstances is pray that they realize what they’re engaged is is unhealthy.

In the end, you should go with your gut: if any organization body asks something of you which you find to be against any of your moral, civic, or spiritual obligations, you have the right to refuse, speak up, and look elsewhere for assistance with your spiritual growth and development.