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.

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.