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By Aaron Leitch (Khephera)
If Knowledge is an ocean, than the search for it must be an abyss. Perhaps that's the key to the use of the Hebrew word "knowledge" to refer to the gate of the Abyss and the underworld. This is not exactly heartening news for the aspiring novice; especially when facing the overabundance of information presented to him (or her) in bookstores, libraries, and (worst of all) upon the internet. Far from the times of the Dark Ages and the world before the printing press, this is the Information Age and the time of the Information Superhighway. One does not tend to get far in any subject matter without a vehicle of some kind, and this especially refers to the art which we still insist on referring to as "occult" (ie- hidden).
All of the nifty catch-phrases aside, the occult is still very much hidden. This time it's not guarded within dusty old books by dusty old men, but is instead submerged within the millions of megabytes of data available to the seeker. Over and over we see students become lost within- or purposely diverted from- their paths by bad information from less than honest "teachers". Books and other texts aimed at beginners have flooded today's market, all of which will make claims of one kind or another that the beginner has no way of judging as true or false. The internet, in it's turn, is filled with people who will support or warn against any single text or author. None of them will agree, which perhaps isn't surprising since the various beginner's books themselves contradict each other. It is simply astounding that anyone makes it through such a maze.
Perhaps this is as it should be. With such astronomical blockages in place, only those under the direct supervision of their Spiritual Guardians could hope to make it through. It's a weeding-out process that makes sure only the best of the best have a shot. It is the only thing left which allows certain people to feel "elite" within their traditions even after all of their material has long since been published for the world to see and use. The majority will never make it past "Sabrina the Teenaged Witch" or "The Craft". Those who are left will find themselves stuck in endless patterns of what we call "armchair magery"- that is when one studies an abundance of written material, but never succeeds in making a practice of the mass of contradicting information. The very few who pass this barrier will then go on to enjoy varying levels of success- not all of them will become Adepts.
You might feel that I have written the above for the sole purpose of frightening you, and you would be quite right. Don't ever let another tell you that the path you are considering is "easy". If driving on this highway is difficult, then catching a ride on it is nearly impossible. As I mentioned above, today's student of the occult is in desperate need of a vehicle which will aim him (or her) in the correct direction, and thrust him over the obstacles and wrong turns that will constantly present themselves. This series of essays is designed to be just such a vehicle. It is not another beginner's course in magick, nor is it another "Q n A" or an explanation of the "history of magick". This has all been done, and more is being produced as I write these words. Some of these sources will be bogus, and some will be well worth the time, study, and practice (practice, and more practice).
What I am offering here is a guide-book of sorts. A novice's "do and don't" in the realm of the occult. Like all other texts on this subject, it will be agreed with by some, and disagreed with by many. It is, after all, simply the opinions of one simple aspirant who would share his secrets of success with others. It is an attempt to provide you with a way past "Sabrina.", and perhaps even to suggest a bridge or two over the pit of the armchair mage. It will be up to you and your Guardians (as silent as They may be to you at this time) to reject or make use of this text. The very fact that you have stumbled upon it might even be significant.
There are five installments planned for this essay at this time. The first will focus on finding a teacher. The second will discuss the virtues of focus upon your path. The third will discuss the subject of initiation (both by group and that of self-initiation). The fourth will outline a full study-course for the solitary seeker. It will feature- in my opinion of course- the best books on the market, and (most importantly!) how to use them. The fifth will be a kind of "pep-talk" entitled How to Avoid Failure Regardless of Circumstance. Your religion or philosophy does not matter. All you need for this ride is a wish to become a practitioner of the art of magick.
The most common advice one will receive when it comes to learning the art of magick is to search for a face-to-face teacher. There is no better way to learn than by apprenticeship, or by joining a magickal Order with a set course of study. The problem with this advice presents itself when the student attempts to seek out a teacher or magickal group. In ancient times, one might have to search for many years to find one even willing to admit a knowledge of magick, while today the student is bombarded with those who would "teach" him (or her). You can go into any magick-oriented area on the internet and find postings which invite you- the seeker- to contact them for information. If you fail to run across these, you can simply post a request, and be sure of receiving multiple applications from would-be mentors. No less is this the case when dealing with magickal groups face to face.
This, in fact, is where most students are lost forever. They simply do not know what to look for in a teacher, and are thus captured by the predators. Some of these predators are literally so- those who would see you brought to physical, mental, or financial ruin for their own amusement and profit. Others will not take anything tangible from you, but will certainly be happy to accept the praise and loving adoration that most students will cast at their feet. Meanwhile, the students learn nothing of use. You can avoid these people, if only you knew how. Thus, this first installment will focus upon teachers, and how you can tell the mages from the evangelists. It will also deal with how you should approach others- both in life and on the internet- in order to gain the most from your experiences.
First, I will begin with the internet, and how you should properly and safely approach this beast. Even before you begin to seek for the right person(s) to learn from, you need to make extra sure that your first impression is not also your last. It is no difficult task to be humiliated and ostracized from a group on the internet from your very first posting. Many claim this is due to elitism on the part of the on-line mages. In some cases it is, but more often than that they are simply normal people who grow tired of their Faith and practices being made foolish by children who are "playing witch". Even if you are dead serious about what you have to say, or feel, keep in mind that certain words and phrases will get you ousted every time.
Let us say that you stumble upon a message base geared toward "Magick" on a web server or a web page. Finally!- you think- you have found a place where there might be others of your mindset. People who will understand your feelings, and help you toward your ultimate goals as a witch or mage. You load the page- and then what?
First of all- you can do nothing worse than posting right away. Keep well in mind that the realm of magick is more vast than you have yet imagined. Also keep in mind that just because someone uses magick does not automatically make them an open minded and kind person. You are entering a community here, and you need to make sure to check out the neighborhood. Before all else, make sure to read the area description. If it does not say "Wicca", then don't assume that you can post questions about Wicca. There are plenty of people out there who practice magick well outside of the Faith of Wicca, and some of them are even hostile to it. The same goes for any other branch of magick or religion you might be interested in studying. Try and see if the area description tells you what the message base is for. Often they are too vague for you (as a novice) to be certain about, but at least you can see what is specifically not in the description.
Next, scroll back on the page as far as it will allow you, and read the very first (oldest) message that is available. Continue to read the messages from there up to the last (newest) message. You don't have to read every last one of them, but definitely scan through most of them. There are more advantages to this than you have probably considered:
1) It will allow you to get a general overview of the subject matter of the area- to help you determine what was left out by the area description. People may be happily conversing on the subject of Wicca, or they may be speaking such strange words as "Golden Dawn" or "Thelema". They might be talking about herbs and candles, or they might be discussing "Qabalah". Some of them might even mention some of the very things in which you are most interested.
2) If you do have specific questions, they might already have been answered and discussed at length in the area at an earlier date. This will postpone even longer your inevitable (and vital) first post, which can only work to your advantage. Plus, asking a question which has already been answered a dozen times in the past will only upset the members of the area, and give them a bad impression of yourself. Magick takes long hours of study and research, and those who refuse to read even what is available for free on a message board are generally disrespected. At the same time, those who have obviously been reading the older messages are automatically granted a higher esteem. Don't hesitate to mention that you have been doing so when you do make your first post.
3) You will also be able to get a good feel for "who" is posting to the area. If you see nasty attacks, slander, and petty name-calling (that is, if these posts are not made by only one or two individuals), then you know you have found an area to avoid. If you have done right, and read the previous posts in the area, then you will begin to recognize a "core group" of members (ie- those who seem to be doing the most posting, have been there the longest, and are obviously familiar with each other). If these are the ones doing the attacking, then run away as fast as your cyber-legs can carry you. Take extra note of how they react to newcomers in the area; not necessarily just beginners (who have a habit of upsetting the membership), but also from those who come in to share their own knowledge and experiences. The better groups will welcome these, and those groups that do not are not for you.
I must also add an important note here. Do not, under any circumstances, mistake a good-hearted debate as a "flame war" or internet battle. Any good group will often engage in debates on touchy issues, and most of the time they will get somewhat heated. This should not frighten you in the least. Such debates are where you will learn the most, as each member presents and attempts to prove their side of the discussion. You will get practical tips, books, book reviews, and not a few "secrets" about how magick works that you never would have guessed otherwise. Simply scan these debates for name calling and insults, as these are the flame wars. If the participants are not getting personal, then stick with it to see what is being said.
4) You might also take this time to look at the postings from other novices like yourself. Watch how they post, and what they post, and pay attention to the reactions they get from the core members. You will quickly see which novices are welcomed, and which are shown the door. You can make an effort to mimic the styles of those who are welcomed.
There are perhaps other advantages that will present themselves as you read through the past messages. The one thing you should not concern yourself with is whether or not you can understand what is being discussed. You, by definition as a student, will not be able to understand most of the material. Very often this frightens away seekers who feel "overwhelmed", and thus run off to find groups who are speaking more on their "level". However, what they fail to realize is that you can't learn the secrets of magick from people who are on the same level as yourself- even if they claim to be masters. What is being said should not concern you at this time, but only how it is being said.
Finally, I must warn you of another extreme that tricks many students into failure. You may often run across groups that make you feel absolutely wonderful! They seem to embody everything you are hoping for, with kind words, and wisdom about the Love to be found in the Universe. They do not debate or fight, and they welcome one and all into their loving embrace. Run from these as fast as you would run from the flame-throwers. Those who would attack you are at least doing you the favour of driving you away. These people who seem to love you- no matter who you are- are the predators I spoke of above. This does not mean that every group that suggests kindness toward others is to be avoided! However, keep in mind that predators are masters of camouflage. They know what will make you feel good and draw you into their ranks. If you are fortunate, they might only want your adoration. But it's not likely that you will learn anything from them.
The only test I can suggest for this circumstance is to scan the area for any message that deals with subjects that are "dark" or unpleasant. Look for any posting that speaks of a subject that is not considered "sweetness and light", and take a look at how the core members react to it. If they attack it (though they'll do it nicely) and speak against anything unpleasant, then they are probably predators. Such uncomfortable posts are a threat to the environment they are attempting to present to lure you in, and they want them removed quickly.
In reality, there is much that is unpleasant in the study of magick. It is, in fact, the most difficult (and often frightening) path a human being could attempt to follow. Just as weight lifters have to deal with sore muscles, the aspiring mage will also have to encounter shadows upon his (or her) path. Your first lesson in magick is that of balance. If you ever find yourself in one extreme or the other (be it verbal attacks or smiling sweetness), then you are in the wrong place. Magick is only to be learned on the balanced pathway. As I said above, the good groups will not call names, but they will roll up their sleeves and scrap over an interesting topic. This is the realm of magick.
Now that you've read all of the old posts available (and you might have done this a few times before you've found an area that doesn't set your teeth on edge), it is time to consider your first letter to the public. You should perhaps be warned, however, that most of the true students (those who will someday be great) are not posting at all. They are merely silently watching; an internet art that we call "lurking". Just as you silently read all of the back-logged posts, you can continue to read each new one that comes in without anyone even knowing you are there. This, however, shouldn't stop you from asking honest questions (and then sitting back and watching the fireworks that these questions always produce). The experienced lurker knows just how to push the buttons of the membership- not in a bad way, but in a way that will bring the entire area to life with discussion and debate. You can learn this art as well, if only you take the time to read, read, and read some more.
Let us assume, then, that you do wish to post a question. If you are going to be a lurker (which is your best bet), then you do not need to introduce yourself, or give any personal information at all. Simply ask your question and it will get responses.
What you most certainly do not want to do is make any claims. Of any kind! Even when you feel that your claims are true, you are not in a good position to make them just yet. If you are going to be a student, then you have to play that role. Whether or not you are a natural witch, or even the antichrist himself (we do get that one!), there is no need to inform the others. Practice silence even when posting. Do not claim to know even what you have already learned elsewhere. Play dumb- as if you know absolutely nothing on the subject. Very often, even masters will use this ruse to gain new insight and information from others. In time you will be surprised at how little you really do know (which is, in fact, something that every aspiring master learns in time). Ask your questions, be to the point about them, and you will find yourself in good standing with the core membership.
Along these same lines, it is very important for you to approach the subject of magick itself with proper respect. Magick is not "The Craft" or "Sabrina The Teenaged Witch". It is not what you've seen on TV, and it is not what you've heard your friends talking about. It is an art and a skill that takes serious study and practice to master. Imagine that you are wishing to become a doctor, and entering a message area geared toward medicine. Think of how you would act around people with medical diplomas and surgical experience. You ask for guidance (books, schools, etc), you ask for answers to specific questions, you treat them with the respect due to those who practice an art that you don't fully understand. You would not demand that they teach you medicine, nor would you ask them to send you pills and scalpels. Magick is no different than medicine in this regard. I can not stress simple respect enough.
There are further important pointers in this game: Do not request others to e-mail their responses to you. If you post a question on a message board, go back to see if it's answered. You are the seeker asking for their time, and expecting them to contact you is a show of great disrespect. Would you ask a potential employer to call you rather than you going in for the interview? Also, do not use "stylish" spellings. Nothing will get you less respect quicker than asking for "spellz" or posting things such as "i would like 2 learn majique b4 2 long". Along these same lines, practice up on your grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Remember that on-line, your words and style of typing is much like how you dress on the street. On the computer, the others can not see your face, but they can see what you present with your words.
As a side note, I also wish to give you a small hint about magick overall. Magick is a cumulative process of learning and experience. Spells are not what magick is about. Spells are to a witch or mage what the pills and scalpels are to the doctors. They are the tools of the trade, but they are not the trade itself. Do not ask for people to share their spells with you- and take no interest in those spells that might be sent to you whether you ask for them or not. No master would send you a single spell. Even if they did, you wouldn't have a clue how to make use of it. Ask specific questions, and most importantly ask for guidance. Ask "how should I go about learning?", rather than "can you send me spells to practice?".
Even in face to face situations, there is not much more that can be added to the above. You can check your phone book for local "pagan book stores", and make a point of being present in these places as often as possible. Usually they offer classes, or open group meetings and other events in the local community. You will also meet predators in these stores- both of the dangerous, and of the "love and light" kind; and do not be surprised if they might even be the owners of the store. Here you must be that much more careful about your personal safety, and the integrity of the path you are attempting to traverse. You can look for all of the same signs in others by simply watching them in silence, or by asking them questions and seeing how they react. How another person chooses to approach you will tell you much both on-line and in real life.
We have already covered some of this material. Standing back as a third party to watch others interact is vital. However, there will come a time when you personally interact with others, and there are a few things that you can look out for when this happens. Remember that anyone can claim anything, whether it is true or not. In the realm of the occult, this is so much more the case, since even the true masters can hardly "prove" the things they say. All it takes is one who has read two or three books, and who has a winning personality, to snare you into whatever games they may be attempting to play. Do not make the mistake of listening to their words. Instead, concentrate on what is hidden between their words, and buried deeply within their actions.
First of all, take note of how you are first approached. Very often you will meet people who can not speak for five minutes without listing for you all of the great things they have done, or the famous people they know. If someone is telling you these things when you have not asked about them, it represents a problem. This person has something to prove to you; Why? Their words might sound wonderful, but their actions are not those of a master. At the same time, keep an ear open for the kinds of claims they are making. If there truly were underground organizations of wizards who are working to save the universe from threats of invasion from the stars, do you believe these people would share their information with an outsider such as yourself?
The example above is extreme (but not as uncommon as you might believe). The same can be said of those who claim membership in real-life magickal orders like the Golden Dawn or OTO. They may be telling the truth- but if they are, they will not be offended if you respectfully admit you have no way of verifying their claims. This in itself can be a perfect warning sign; if someone sees that you do not believe their claims right away, they may well react with anger or insult. They will stand tall and proclaim their accomplishments, and tell you how long they have been in the occult communities. Again, this is a predator who needs to be avoided. Remember that the master is the man or lady in the corner who nobody else realizes is there. They simply have nothing to prove.
Beware, also, of those who wish to teach you. It is somewhat common among teachers to refuse a student up to three times or more before finally accepting them. Most of the true masters might not ever agree to teach you one-on-one. The study of magick is a fortress, and if you wish to gain entrance you are going to have to knock long, hard, and loud. If you meet someone attempting to sell themselves to you, then you want to be elsewhere. In fact, it is most common for zealous students to rush out to find other students to "teach" what they have learned themselves. You will have to wrestle with this urge yourself in due time. This means that the person asking to teach you might not be a "bad" person or even a predator. But, even if they are not, they are in no position to be teaching the arts.
Another interesting circumstance I've run across are those who are "impressed" with you. They may see you post, or hear you say, certain things, and then approach you with how taken they were with your obvious knowledge, experience, or dedication. This on it's own would be great, however what you have to watch for is the next move: they invite you to join their group. Just as it is impossible for a worthy teacher to accept you as a student without knowing you very well first, so too is it impossible for a worthy group to attempt to "recruit" you. Remember that a connection between a student and teacher, or between members of a functioning group or Order, is a very intimate thing. If you would not go to bed with a person (this, of course, being simply to make a point), then do not trust your soul with them. Groups that advertise (you will see many of these on the Net, as well as other places), or people who attempt to invite you into their "bedroom" without knowing you as a close friend, are not to be trusted. Watch out for correspondence courses as well, and those who would attempt to promise you "astral initiations".
Instead, keep your eyes out for the quiet people. Predators can be in the corners, too- but it is highly unlikely. The most likely chance is that this is a student who has mastered the Art of Silence as you should yourself, or it might be an experience mage or witch whom you should keep your eyes on for future information. Turn your back towards the noise-makers of the crowds, and insert yourself (quietly) into the silent minority. By simply doing this you will be increasing your chances for success- and safety- incredibly. This one bit of information, above all else, is the single most important piece of advice I could give you. It is the Key of Entrance into the realm of the occult. If only you can avoid those who spend all of their time talking, and trying to "prove" themselves the best, then you can ferret your way into the elite groups of masters and fellow aspirants.
As the classical texts of magick tell us: "Let those with eyes see, and those with ears hear!". The thread which has run through this entire essay is the simple idea of Silence. It is one of the Virtues of the Sphinx: "To Know, to Will, to Dare, to Keep Silent". And it is the first Virtue which the student must learn. The vocal majority is where you will find the predators. Not all of those who speak are bad people, and some very experienced and knowledgeable people tend to enjoy the spotlight more than they should. However, until you have learned enough to tell who is who, it is best for you to keep to yourself and learn all you can on your own.
If this essay has been about the Virtue of Silence, then the next installment will concern the Virtue of Will. It will attempt to guide you through the next maze you will face: which system should you follow? There are more "traditions" of magick available to you than you can shake a wand at, and you will surely find yourself at a loss on which path to follow. Is there one out there that is "true" over the others? Should you simply deny all traditions and do what comes natural? What is it that "comes natural" anyway? With these things in mind, I will leave you to your seeking. Practice your Silence as often as possible, as the Sphinx assures us that no human can be a master without each of the four Virtues. Blessed Be.
Copyright© 1999 "Aaron Jason" Leitch
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