I know, it’s been a month. We’ve all weighed in. It’s tired. I promised I wouldn’t write about it. Well, I lied.
Back in September Mr. Farrell wrote another top ten list titled, “Ten Reasons Why Public Occultism is Dying“. Again, true to form, Farrell ends up coming across less like a leader and teacher and more like this guy:
While I think that Mr. Farrell does make some valid points, some perspective should be provided before we start worrying about the sky coming down and crashing on all of us. Below Mr. Farrell’s points are in the heading, but for a more comprehensive understanding of what has been said, you can find it at his blog.
1. The contamination of occultism by dumbed down “New Age” systems, fantasy and fraud.
I get it, really I do. Pleiadian dolphin oracle decks aren’t everyone’s thing and we’re all pretty sure that J.Z. Knight is a huckster but we really have to consider the context in which the New Age arose. Hint: It’s not the product of the 1970s but rather the 1870s. That’s right, the foundation of the Theosophical Society in 1875 ushered in a new spiritual impetus in the West synthesizing sometimes poorly understood Eastern religious ideas and Western esoteric thought together in an entirely new and unique way. So influential was it that many of the ideas that we find in contemporary public occultism borrow extensively from these ideas. The Secret Chiefs of the Golden Dawn and the Secret Chiefs of Crowley’s A∴A∴ found their inspiration directly from the ideas of Theosophy and it’s widely known that Aleister Crowley held Blavatsky in relatively high regard. Does that make Theosophy, the Golden Dawn, and Crowley’s various orders wrong? No. They were products of their time, but in time they would end up preserving and perpetuating some interesting – and crazy – ideas that would eventually find their way into what we now call the ‘New Age’. So, before we say that occultism is being ‘dumbed down’ by the New Age, we may want to consider that it is itself the sole inheritor of that selfsame culture, warts and all.
2. Contamination by Intellect.
You know, I agree absolutely. It’s become very much in vogue to dress up occultism in pseudo-academic discourse to make it seem more respectable and in most cases, it ends up distracting us from the Work at hand. Here I think the problem isn’t so much contamination by intellect, but confusing intellectualization for genuine study. Lege relege labora et invenies. At the end of the day magic must ultimately be workable and when systems such as various orders fail to adapt and change, they necessarily end up becoming stagnant museum pieces.
3. Contamination by Psychology.
Maybe. I think what we really need to look at is not the cause of psychology as a discipline, rather the similar sounded process of psychologization. The two are not interchangeable and are often confused. Psychology has very real and measurable benefits and to say that it is a cause of problems in public occultism is a very misleading statement and is dismissive of those of us who either benefit from some form of therapy or are active practitioners in that field. Psychologization of magic is definitely a problem and an example of reductionist thinking. Every experience we have does in fact contain a psychological element to it – that’s just basic neurology – but to say that everything can be reduced to projections of consciousness, well that’s just sloppy thinking. If we’re practicing magic we have to admit that our experiences and the results are real or else we risk entering into a fog of cognitive dissonance with a sign above the door reading “lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate.”
4. Contamination by fundamentalism.
As someone myself devoted to religious studies as part of my esoteric discipline, yes, I find fundamentalism disturbing, conversely I find rigid purism especially in occult disciplines equally disturbing. We have to face it, we don’t know the underlying reason why magic works and there may in fact be many explanations. Correcting things upon finding better evidence is just a good practice all around so I can agree with Nick here, but I also think that in order for a system to stay functional, there does need to be some rigid coherence in order to hold things together. Does that mean that it needs to be engraved in stone or chucked out wholesale when we find something malfunctioning? Absolutely not. But as lodges and orders and such are social institutions first and foremost they, like organisms, thrive on a degree of homeostasis which can sometimes get a little sloppy.
5. Contamination of training systems by “non-occult” leaders.
Congratulations, Nick, you’ve made yourself the sole holder of esoteric orthodoxy. Shall I get you a crozier and mitre? Yes, in the 20th Century we’ve seen leaders in many occult communities using their authority to get laid and make money. Here’s a surprise – it’s been happening throughout all of recorded history. Does that mean we need to tolerate or perpetuate it? Absolutely not, nor should we, but if we’re making it public enemy number five for the death of public occultism we’re being a little disingenuous here. I think we can put this one on the back-burner for a bit and instead focus on putting systems of checks and balances in place to prevent these types of things from happening instead of assigning blame.
6. The failure of modern students to study or give the work priority.
7. Failure to financially support teachers, writers, or orders.
I’m in full agreement with Blogos here, if you’re not magician enough to magic yourself some money then you probably shouldn’t be teaching in the first place. Sure, physical temple space can cost money and I think that people should definitely pay their dues to the lodge if they want it to function in a way that they prefer but there are also various magical orders that get by just fine in members’ living rooms. Now, if you want to charge for various services or teachings, you better be able to provide and have measurable results. Jason Miller makes magic his life and I would gladly put in some cash if there were a class I’d be interested in specifically because I’ve seen great results from him personally and from his former and current students. As always, when seeking a teacher, caveat emptor should always be the byword.
8. The collapse of the Order and Teaching system. Orders and teachers used to be the balance.
Going back to the first point, orders and lodges have preserved much valuable knowledge as well as perpetuated many misunderstandings. We needn’t look much further than the very much preserved orientalism and shoddy Egyptology present in many of these systems as well as the wholesale appropriation of cultural ideas à la the Kabbalah, yoga, Taoist inner alchemy, etc. Do I think that students and initiates have to be held to some standards? Absolutely, in the same way I believe that teachers need to be held accountable. I’ve honestly yet to see any real cases of teachers being bullied by students. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but if you’re unable to be held accountable or questioned, then these adepts and teachers have no business teaching or running their lodges.
9. The Internet has made occultism too accessible.
Yes. The Internet. That platform where Mr. Farrell is posting his tirades is the all cause for the fall of occultism. If you get a message from someone that you don’t know asking for information, you’re not obliged to respond. I know, I’m a millennial so I should probably get off your lawn, but the internet itself is also the reason for the proliferation of so many new and interesting students of various traditions. Again, echoing Blogos, it’s the responsibility of the teacher to filter their students.
10. The quality of occult information has become less and not more.
Here I have to adamantly disagree with Farrell. The quality of occult information and interfacing is at the highest it’s ever been in recorded history. We have access to so many sources for classical esoteric material that it’s mind-boggling, we’re literally standing in an Occult Renaissance the likes of which isn’t even comparable to fin de siècle Paris and London where many of the esoteric orders that exist today were born. Sure, there’s a lot of shoddy material out there, but there always has been and it’s to be expected. Developing good research methods should be something that every teacher and student should be capable of doing. Some people will always fall for hucksters, it’s sad, it sucks, we should prevent that from happening especially if we’re in positions of authority, but some will always fall through the cracks. Magic, like nature, will always find a way.
In conclusion, I can agree with Mr. Farrell that contemporary esoteric orders seem to be going through a difficult time, this is also a reflection of changes in society. I’m not convinced that public occultism is going away any time soon anymore than I think wonderful institutions such as Freemasonry and the Odd Fellows (groups also facing declining membership of younger would be initiates) will be going away anytime soon. Do there need to be changes? Very likely, but I’m definitely not seeing any writing on the wall. I think it’s best we all chill for a bit and work on discussing what will get us through these changes instead of being this guy.