A week has passed since the flare up over the initial ‘Ten Tips for Young Occultists’ debacle with many prominent and up and coming occultists putting their own lists up. I think by and large this has been a valuable exercise and in some ways shows where many contemporary occultists are coming from.
About mid-way through the week, Ultraculture posted another interesting list titled, ‘3 Ways to Become a Magician by a 16th Century Alchemist‘ based on suggestions by Giambattista della Porta. This article struck me in particular as it could have just as well have been my own list as well. Brother B.J. recently put up his own commentary on the same which I highly recommend. In keeping, however, with the ‘Ten Tip’ trend, I present now my own list in that form.
While this may come off as a particularly classist statement, I do believe that having a foundational education in the liberal arts is essential to being able to understand from where our historical predecessors were coming. I’m not saying that an individual necessarily needs a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, but merely be acquainted with them. Historically this would have included the verbal arts: grammar, logic, and rhetoric; and in the quadrivium—the numerical arts: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (I would also add here biology as well as chemistry). While I would never persuade someone from going to college, the reality is, is that that’s not always possible. Good news! However expensive going to college may be, the aspiring candidate has a world of resources at their fingertips whether it be simply going to the local public library or enrolling in online classes such as those found at Wikiversity.
2. Secondly, know thyself:
The famous magician Israel Regardie, himself a therapist, insisted on the necessity of psychotherapy for candidates as well as students of the occult. While this would be great for everyone to have access to, sadly it is not always the case. The candidate should be able to know their limits, be able to set boundaries, as well as know their own personal integrity. Many people come to the occult as a form of escapism and end up getting overwhelmed. Having a strong, but flexible idea of who the candidate is him or herself will set a very powerful stage for being a great student.
3. Thirdly, should familiarize themselves with warning signs:
There are a lot of unscrupulous charlatans out there hoping to make a quick buck or engage in a power play – there are also a lot of very knowledgeable people out there who can really take you to the next level even if it’s your first step. In my previous post I pointed out the Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Form as one possible tool to use in identifying potential dangers. Other possibilities when the candidate is ready would be to find magical forums on the intranet or other social media. There they can get to know who’s recommended and who to avoid. As always, caveat emptor! A good teacher should be able to provide a statement of principles and expectations.
4. Fourthly, the candidate should not be afraid to speak and communicate:
While this should go without commentary, the reality is, is that many students feel overwhelmed either by the personality of their teacher or by the unfamiliarity of the world into which they have just been cast. This is entirely understandable, but that should not preclude them from being able to ask questions as well as occasionally contradicting their teacher in a respectful manner that generates dialogue. In this, questioning is also a form of communication. Never accept “it’s just always been this way” as an answer until your teacher provides you a comprehensive bibliography where they’re coming from and what they know.
5. Fifthly, the candidate should strive for excellence and expect the same from their teacher and peers:
While everyone has their own unique learning and teaching styles, the candidate shouldn’t be content sitting on their or their teachers’ laurels. Arete, in its basic sense, means “excellence of any kind”. The term may also refer to “moral virtue” as well and is ultimately bound up with the notion of the the act of living up to one’s full potential. Here, studying virtue ethicists, aesthetic and moral philosophy as well as the classics as a continuation of the first suggestion may be of help. While we may study what is “hidden” it is equally important that we realize that we don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants, but should bravely go forth with their knowledge and take this knowledge to the next level.
6. Sixthly, the candidate should be mindful of what they project on their teacher and peers:
As eloquently stated by Mr. Hillier in his work, “All beings project their minds on to the world, your teacher included, its a rule of consciousness and part of what we are exploring.” It’s very easy to fail to notice this and, in relation to part two, it’s the student and teacher’s obligation to be able to see when this is happening. A number of years ago, a wonderful essay titled ‘Magusitis: A Hydra in Sheep’s Clothing‘ was written giving the warning signs and symptoms of this particularly strange phenomena – this article may well be of use for both personal reflection as well as striving for the excellence of both teacher and peers and be engaged in contributing the process in an equal and dynamic way.
7. Seventh, the candidate should not be afraid of making mistakes:
Magic can very quickly become competitive – that’s the nature of the beast. A good teacher will provide foundational exercises that will ground and balance the candidate in their tutelage – this may be in the form of a number of types of meditation, purification, prayer, et cetera. As often quoted in Buddhist Lojong manuals: “practice the preliminaries”. This will give you a little bit of extra padding should something go wrong and the knowledgable teacher will recognize when it has and be able to assist in some way. Nobody comes out of this unscathed or slightly burnt.
8. Eighth, the candidate should exercise their imagination:
The 20th Century occultist, Aleister Crowley, defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”. Whereas above I have suggested highly technical suggestions of study, the candidate will be working with a very broad set of symbols eventually which will require creativity. Whether one is predisposed toward poetry, dance, music or the visual arts; the candidate should strive to seek beauty and the truth that lies within it. Maybe they like cooking: they can examine the magical applications of ingredients and apply it; maybe they like art: they can try a new mode of painting or drawing; maybe they’re not artistic at all: perhaps taking a trip to the museum or an art gallery or reading about cross cultural art theories may help them.
9. Ninth, the candidate should cultivate awareness that the map is not the territory:
This concept occurs in the discussion of exoteric and esoteric religions. Exoteric concepts are concepts which can be fully conveyed using descriptors and language constructs, such as mathematics. Esoteric concepts are concepts which cannot be fully conveyed except by direct experience. For example, a person who has never tasted an apple or made love will never fully understand through language what the taste of an apple is or the feeling of skin against skin in intimate embrace. Only through direct experience (eating an apple or making love) can that experience be fully understood. It’s all too easy to confuse abstracts such as numbers in resulting from gematria for concrete realities.
10. Tenth, the candidate shall not neglect their own physical needs:
Many disciplines in the esoteric and occult community tend to generate a lot of mental and spiritual energy. A good teacher will prepare the student by admonishing them to pay attention to their physical needs; eat well according to their means, get adequate sleep, exercise if possible, perhaps learn some form of budgeting so they’ll be able in the future afford a more comfortable life, and lastly ground their work in the physical reality in which they live.
In closing, I understand that much of this may seem like a handful to apply all at once. I’m personally of the school of thought now that I’m a little older and have definitely done made my fair share of mistakes as well as my fair share of successes that practicing magic isn’t something that comes out of a box, but rather is cultivated carefully as one might cultivate a topiary or bonsai. The better our foundations are in the real world, the better our successes will become as we advance along the path. All teachers started out as students and all teachers are still students learning now in their own way and this itself is part of the mystery of engaging in the Mysteries themselves.