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By Aaron Leitch (Khephera)
Greetings, and welcome again to the "Mage's Guide". In case you missed the last installment, I will briefly explain the theme of this series. Every beginner in the field of the occult is faced with certain universal problems. These problems are the direct result of the culture and environment of our time- that being namely the "Information Age". The seeker most often has little experience in navigating the sea of information available to him. The Internet is brand new to the majority of the population, the bookstores are overrun with titles from different authors with different viewpoints, and the metaphysical communities are populated with people of varying degrees of experience and honesty.
This work, then, is meant to be a guide for the seeker in such troubled waters. It will cover various aspects of the Path to Adepthood, and suggest the best ways of going about the process. It will define and explain many of the most confusing terms and situations one might run into along the way- and which might trap one into failure at the Magickal Arts. This is most specifically aimed at those who wish to know magick- as a science, art form, and practice. Your religion, or lack there-of, will be left strictly up to you. It does not matter if you are Wiccan or Christian, or if you are a Qabalist or Thelemite, or even if you are Atheist or Agnostic. What concerns us here today is the practice of magick, and how to go about it.
In the last installment, we discussed the Virtue of Silence in finding one's path in the Occult Traditions. We covered everything from Internet contacts to face to face meetings with potential teachers and peers. Most importantly, some guidelines were offered to help ensure your personal safety- as should always be considered when attempting to contact new people. In the future, we will cover such things as Initiation, magickal study, and the secrets behind ultimate success in the art of practical magick. Today, however, we are going to cover one of the most controversial, and frankly misunderstood, concepts in today's occult communities: Tradition and Focus.
One of the first "pop-trends" the new student will encounter upon the magickal path is that of eclecticism. The handy New Concise Webster's Dictionary gives us the basic definition of the word:
Eclectic (ek lek' tik), adj. Selecting; choosing from different sources, as eclectic teachings.
This is the antithesis of "purism", where one focuses on a single body of teaching or philosophy. It is also often stated to be the antithesis of "fundamentalism", and this term is the very crux of our discussion here.
A great number of people who come to Neo-Paganism or the practices of magick have come from unpleasant Christian backgrounds. One of the highest marks against Christianity from their standpoint is the fact of it's "One True Wayism"- or the idea that only the Christian doctrine is "right", while everyone else is horribly "wrong". However, there is more at stake here than simple elitism. In the past, the Church (especially in it's medieval Roman Catholic form) has been known for strong-arm actions against those who do not agree with their moral or political ideals. Sadly, members of the right-wing or "Fundamentalist" sects are still pushing the philosophies behind these actions today. This problem extends it's roots right down to the basic family unit- where parents are often known for pushing their personal beliefs upon their children regardless of the child's feelings. Asking the wrong questions or "doing the wrong thing" where spirituality is concerned can often lead to punishment or humiliation for the child by his (or her) own friends and family.
The current rise in the popularity of alternative religions and practices is directly linked to an aversion to such fundamentalism. It is not very often that a modern seeker of the occult will tolerate being told that they "must" operate in any way they do not personally choose. Having suffered as children due to this concept, they are no longer willing to allow its presence in their lives. A student is taught very early that he must find his own path, to do only what feels right for himself, and to accept no one beyond himself as a "final authority" on his own spiritual growth.
It is a simple fact that there is no "One True Way" where it comes to spirituality. From ancient tribal shamanism to modern western occultism, each system has it's own validity in it's own time and place. All of them- even Judeo-Christianity- are basically similar at their core. In fact, I have actually come to expect a certain amount of eclecticism from those mages whom I meet that are well known for their knowledge and experience. I believe that no true scholar or mage would be willing to leave a source of information unexamined or unacknowledged. I myself was taught to learn and live magick by one golden rule:
What Works, Only What Works, And Nothing But What Works
This is an aspect of what I call "nuts and bolts magick"; i.e. a focus upon the "how tos" behind practical real-world magick. The most perfect example I could hope to offer of this principal is the Art of Healing. Where the techniques come from, why they came to be, or the philosophies behind them simply do not figure into this art as heavily as observable results. They are, of course, important in their own way. However, they are strictly secondary when compared to practical instruction; the "nuts and bolts" of the matter, as it were.
I have found a love for working in this manner myself. I practice many different systems from Wicca to the Golden Dawn, from healing to spirit work, from vision questing to meditation. All of these come together in my personal practice, to produce the day-to-day results that I enjoy from the art of magick. I simply could not imagine myself being limited to one philosophy or a single system- especially if I somehow managed to believe that my singular system was the only correct one. Such a belief on my part would indicate that I hadn't come very far at all- for I would have failed to recognize the similar core that lay beneath the surfaces of my system and those of all others.
It is more than likely that you will come to work this way yourself. As you gain experience with one set of symbols, you will come to find uses for other sets as well as other techniques. You will want to avoid- at all costs- the trap of personal limitation on any level. Above all, be of a practical mind. After you have delved into the philosophies behind any given system, ask yourself honestly whether or not the system is physically doing as promised.
Even though an open minded approach to magick is a must, there are always the ever-present traps to avoid. While eclecticism can be a virtue, I wish to offer that- in popular usage- it has also become a double-edged sword. This philosophy has shifted from being the natural practice of one with experience, into the ground-zero method of teaching new students. The student is not simply taught to think for himself, but is often taught to actively avoid any kind of purism. If purism is suggested in a public forum, it is immediately discredited as One True Wayism and tossed out of the proverbial window. Usually, the person who dared to suggest such a thing is tossed out along with it.
However, the fact is that purism and One True Wayism are not the same thing at all. This is a common, and costly, mistake made by many seekers in the modern occult and neopagan communities. You may have personally experienced this clincher on your own. You have perhaps been reading, surfing the net, and corresponding with various people on the subject of magick. If so, you have learned that they all have their own personal opinions, and that nearly all of them disagree on more than one point. When one asks for advice on how to wade through all of this source material, one is more often than not instructed to draw from all of it, and to simply do "what feels right". I have yet to meet a single beginner who found this advice truly useful in learning "nuts and bolts magick".
While it is desirable for a mage to draw from all available sources as he perfects his art, it is also necessary for him to first gain a solid foundation upon which to build. It is simply vital to learn the art and science of magick before one attempts to consider techniques and symbolisms from differing (and often contradictory) sources. The only way to accomplish this task is to dedicate to a single path or system and work it from the ground upward, all the way, without mixing in unrelated material. In short:
This differs from fundamentalism in that it accepts the fact that all systems are valid. A purist will recognize that he could have chosen any one of many given systems to reach his end goal. A purist is as unlimited in scope as anyone else, and can even practice many different systems at once. However, he feels no need to force-fit all of these different systems into one mold. Each can be practiced completely on it's own, with no bearing on the other branches of study and practice the purist may enjoy. Purism simply means that he doesn't mix them together.
This is a major faltering point for many people- as they attempt to reconcile every bit of information they learn into one comprehensive system. For instance, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn- in its prayers and invocations- calls regularly upon the "Lord of the Universe". On the other hand, the religion of Wicca calls upon the Lord and Lady together. Normally a student would research these systems and assume them incompatable. They are not. I regularly practice both systems willout the slightest conflict. I do not attempt to encorperate Wiccan concepts into the Golden Dawn, nor Golden Dawn concepts into Wicca. The idea of a "Golden Dawn Wicca" does not interest me in the least. Each is a different philosophy and a different system; both of them work well, and niether one interferes with the other.
This can open a lot of previously closed doors for the student. Why be warned away from dedication to a specific path? Do not believe that you will be trapped there forever! If a given path is not your home, you will grow apart from it over time and can leave it without loss or hard feelings. The further you reach toward your goal, the further you will be drawn toward the path that calls to you the strongest. Put simply: you will land there eventually. In the meantime, however, you will have learned invaluable lessons about the basics of magick and how to make it work. That basic knowledge will never be useless. Most importantly, you will have gotten a start!
On the other hand, being eclectic without knowing those basics first can damage your efforts in the long run. Each system you encounter is part of a Magickal Current upon the astral; a Current which flows in it's own direction, at it's own speed, and from it's own time and culture. The Current that runs from ancient Egypt is not the same as that which runs from Ireland or Scotland. The Current that flows from the medieval grimoires such as the "Key of Solomon" is not the same as that which flows from the Golden Dawn. They certainly have similarities, and in many cases even historical connections. Yet they are each born from the midst of a specific time, place, and people.
The mystery behind symbology is intent. What a symbol means in it's proper context is what is important for it's use. This context is what makes importing foreign symbols and techniques into unrelated systems undesirable for a student. As an example, we will take the infamous inverted pentagram. In the current of Wicca, the inverted pentagram is a holy symbol. It represents one who has attained the Second Degree, and it symbolizes Spirit manifest in matter. In the Golden Dawn, however, it is said to symbolize evil and unbalanced nature- Spirit ruled by matter. Only a One True Wayist would suggest that only one of these two are correct. A purist would suggest that both are correct from their own standpoints. When performing Golden Dawn work, he would not make use of the inverted pentagram. When performing Wiccan ceremonies, the same pentagram would be welcome. There is no need for a mental conflict over the matter on the part of the mage.
The same can be said for every symbol, technique, and correspondence used within any single system. They all come together to make a unified whole, and each one depends on all others for it's context and meaning. Learning this overall context takes a lot of time, study, and practice. Further, it takes a complete working of the system from it's starting point to it's advanced stages before a mage can rightfully claim to understand it. More often, this takes a lifetime of dedication.
At this time I feel it is important to remind you of the previous lesson on Silence- You may wish to avoid any attempt to preach, teach, or otherwise act authoritative about a system that you are not personally advanced within. It takes time and study to learn what the symbology and techniques of a system mean, and how they are to be used properly. One should never attempt to change a magickal system until one understands it in full. Of course, the only way to understand it in full is to work it in full, as a purist. You must study it, practice it, and put it to daily use. In short, you must live it if you are to judge it's effectiveness. And you can not accomplish this unless you refuse to bring in further data (i.e.- aspects of other systems) to confuse the issue. This is basic scientific process.
That bit of knowledge alone should save you many hard to answer questions. It is as simple as looking into all of the available systems, and finding the one which appeals to you the most. This can be done without worry of making a "wrong choice" or being stuck with your decision forever. It can also be done without feeling guilty about leaving out the practice of other systems, or fear that they are "wrong" simply because you are not using them. Simply take your chosen system as a whole and dedicate to putting it to the test. Follow every instruction, leave nothing out, and then you will be in the perfect position to judge the system one way or another. All other Paths will remain open and available, and you have an entire lifetime to gravitate toward the one you will call your own.
The result of this will be a wonderful thing called "focus". Focus will allow you to push past nearly all of the usual barriers to occult knowledge- ultimately giving you a foothold on the subject nearly as firm as one who seeks out a Temple, Order, or Coven. It will allow you to work toward an expertise of at least one Path, from which you can evaluate and test any other from an educated and experienced position. Finally, the best part is that there are no limits to what systems you might explore in the future. Rather than knowing just a little about each of them in a short time, you will spend a slightly longer time getting to know each of them fully. Remember that "wizard" means "wise one", and this is exactly how you can go about gaining that title properly.
You might even be surprised at how little time you might have to spend in a given system. One can join a Golden Dawn Temple and work through it's Grade material in as little as two years. I have one colleague who joined a Catholic Church to experience their methods, and spent about the same period of time there. Yet another spent two years practicing the African system of Palo, and is even now journeying through the Golden Dawn. This same person is also a Gardnerian Wiccan and is further studying the Angelic (Enochian) system of magick. Yet all of the above are purists in they way they treat each Path and Current.
This doesn't mean that one will be a master of a system he is only experimenting with. However, one who works in this way will always find that one Path which appeals to him most. More often than not, he will take a little from each to produce the eclectic personal system so common among the experienced.
If this appeals to you, then you may wish to continue with me into the next installment of this series. Having granted some focus to your path, we will next be discussing the often controversial (and most often misunderstood) concept of Initiation. We will discuss what it is, how it works, and what it means to you personally. So far, these essays have easily been related to the famed Virtues of the Sphinx: To Know, To Will, To Dare, and To Keep Silent. The last essay concerned Silence, while this one might be said to relate to Will. To continue the trend, we will relate the following essay to Daring. It will soon become apparent to you how firmly this virtue is related to the concept of magickal Initiation.
Copyright© 1999 "Aaron Jason" Leitch
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