Inominandum's Advice For Studying And Applying Magick From Multiple Systems Without Being A Dilettante Or Disrespectful Twit.
I respect fully, those people who stick with the system that they were born into, or that culture and geography throws them in with. However, since the advent of jet travel the world is a bit smaller than it used to be, so while it is perfectly natural for someone who is for example raised a strong Roman Catholic in a heavily Catholic community to remain so for life, it was equally natural for someone like me who was not raised with any strong religious convictions, and who encountered a Rosicrucian, a Rootrworker, a Santera, several Witches of various stripes, and a Ngakpa all within 10 miles of where he grew up in New Jersey, to draw from all of these traditions. Indeed I consider the interface of the various paths to be one of the greatest spiritual developments of the 20th century.
That said, modern eclecticism can get a bit crazy. Primarily you have people substituting superficial knowledge of a lot of things for deep knowledge of a few, which leads to what I call “cram the quarters” paganism. It usually goes something like this “in the north I call Selene, Artemis, Kali, Kwan Yin, Astarte, Diana, Demeter, Oya, Erzuli, etc, etc…”
Also, you have those with poor motivation. Rather than actually wanting to learn the methods of another tradition, these folks really just want to hang an exotic symbol set on what they already do. Use the same GD/Wicca rule book, but switch out the gods for Tibetan Yidams or Orishas or whatever strikes your fancy that week. This is what Chogyam Trungpa refered to as decorating the cage. Rather than using your magick to free yourself from ignorance, you simply dress it up in exotic terms.
In some cases the temptation to engage in exotic symbol sets turns into an almost crazed zeal to make everything the same. This manifests by either homogenizing it in a bland stew so that you can spout hippie crap like “it all leads to the same place, man”, or by branding everything with your special brand. Thelema is a big offender here and can act almost like the borg in its zeal to make everything “new aeon”. There are systems of Thelemic Buddhism, Thelemic Shintoism, Thelemic Taoism, Thelemic Palo, Thelemic Christianity, and so on.
So, here than are my simple rules for interfacing with unfamiliar systems of magick and applying them to your own practice in a way that is smart, respectful, and safe.
- Ask yourself: Is the tradition/religion/system I am studying a living cultural tradition or a dead one? This is an important distinction to make at the outset. By using the terms living and dead I do not mean to imply a value judgment, only a description of its current state. Living systems are systems that are practiced or at least acknowledged widely by the culture and area that it originates from. Dead systems are not practiced widely by the culture and area they originate from.
For instance: Vodou, Tibetan Buddhism, Catholicism, Sufism, Santeria are examples of living systems. Celtic Magick, Hellenic Paganism, Gnosticism, Aztec religion are examples of dead ones. You might have trouble classifying these. Hoodoo for instance is not quite practiced as widely in a particular culture as the examples of living systems that I give above, yet it also maintains direct links of practice since its inception, and therefore is not in need of reconstruction in the way that say a cult of Hecate or Gnosticism are. It could be argued either way, but I would classify it as living.
Again, please do not read ideas like “better” or “more potent” into the distinction between living and dead. Decide on the answer to the question and proceed to the next appropriate step.
DEAD TRADITIONS: If the tradition is dead and in need of revival or reconstruction than your work is a bit simpler than if it is living.
- First ask yourself if there are any living representatives of genuine traditions dating back to when the tradition was living? If so than find them and learn from them. Proceed as you would with a living tradition. NOTE: I am not talking about other reconstructions. For instance, as good as they are, modern Gnostic groups would not qualify as living representatives of the tradition from when it was alive.
- In all likely hood the answer to question above is NO. That’s ok. The next step however is NOT to contact other groups doing reconstruction. The next step is to read. To start out you should read at least five good books, but no more than seven on the subject. No more than two of these books should come from the New Age or Occult section of the bookstore. Look at history, folklore, religion, etc. Most importantly, look at the bibliographies of these books and hunt down the articles and academic books which have a density of information in them that you just don’t find in popular books. For example, I paid 50 bucks for my copy of “The Goddess Hekate: by Stephen Ronan, which is only 166 pages, yet I would trade every other book I own on the subject for just that one because it is so good.
- After you have read at least five books, but no more than seven books on the subject, you are ready to branch out from scholarly exploration into psychic exploration. Why at least five but no more than seven? You need at least fuve good books to balance your understanding and prevent you from being an IRABE (I Read A Book Expert). The limit of seven to start is so that you avoid the “analysis paralysis” which occurs when you become obsessed the idea of knowing absolutely everything before taking any magickal action. When you do take your first magickal steps, I recommend undertaking a traditional ritual or spell as close to its original form as you can, than branching out from there as research and spiritual guidance allow. To the best of your ability, try not to interpret what you have read in the light of modern systems until you are further along. For instance, I began my Hekate work by using a traditional orphic hymn and a Papyri Spell. Eventually I started receiving and writing a whole arcana, of new work, but which is rooted in the older tradition, at least psychically.
- Only after you have a firm grasp of your scholarly material, and a psychic connection to the fountainhead of the current/tradition should you contact and work with other reconstructionist groups working along similar lines. Without both of these firmly in place, you will not be equipped to evaluate their work, much of which might be mis-represented or just plain shoddy. However, when it is good stuff, you will have something to offer in return through your own work.
- Establish a regular interchange of scholarly, psychic, and social exploration. Never allow one to completely overshadow the other.
- Always be clear about what you are representing when you present your work to others. Claiming that your order/coven/group represents a several thousand year unbroken secret tradition seemed to fly 100 years ago, (I’m looking at you Reuss…) but it doesn’t anymore. Never confuse psychic information with scholarly information. Keeping with examples from my own Hekate work: Hekate revealed to me a vision of what the Strophalos is and how its used, but I would never claim that this is for sure the same as the historical item and usage.
- Lastly, take it somewhere new. Don’t dwell on getting it exactly as it was in the past. This is modern vital magick, not an SCA project.
LIVING TRADITIONS: Unless you just plan on converting completely to whatever it is you are studying these waters can be a bit trickier to navigate. Here are my recommendations:
- Forget what you already know from other systems! This is crucial at the beginning. You may be a master of one system, but that does not necessarily mean that your knowledge is applicable in all systems. Until you have attained a good degree of understanding of a system from its own base and path you should avoid the temptation to compare and contrast at all costs. This is particularly true of Cabbalistic correspondences. The zeal and speed at which I have seen folks dump the gods, symbols, and ideas of other cultures into a “777 chart” is disturbing and causes more misunderstanding than it does insight. Papa Legba might fit in Tiphareth, but he also fits in Hod and Daath, and Yesod in many ways so it’s better to just not dump him into a little box at all.
- Similar to the above, do not use your magickal and psychic senses to determine the use or secret behind a practice. This is ok, even necessary with dead traditions, where the secrets have been lost, but is NOT OK with living one. Like the guy I roasted a few posts ago who suggested that breathing heavy, dropping acid, and staring at a picture of a Mandala was accomplishing the same thing as working it in the real sense, you will just make an ass out of yourself. A friend of mine once bought a phurba from
Garlandof letters in and asked me how to use it. I told him that he first needed to get the empowerment, and than I would help him go over the sadhana. Instead he decided he would “psychically figure it out”. What he came up with was indeed magick, but not in any way related to the traditional use of a Phurba. I don’t care if you shove vajra’s up your ass to activate your muladhara charka; if you get something out of it, than great, but don’t confuse that with the tradition. Philadelphia
- Go the genuine representatives of the tradition for study. This should be obvious but isn’t to many. There are actually Theosophists living in
, surrounded by Tibetans that hold Blavatski as the ultimate authority on what Tibetans actually do. There are Thelemites who still reference Nepal for Taoism or Yoga. In today’s world, almost anything is accessible. Go to the source! Crowley
- Take a certain amount of time and become a zealot. Jump into it with full faith that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. This will provide you with the energy and motivation to learn as much as possible in as short a time as possible.
- Join a group, but do not get sucked into the politics of it. Most importantly do not allow the group to regulate your access to the teachers. This was one of the most valuable things that Reynolds taught me when I first got into Tibetan Buddhism. Most traditions have teachers that are surrounded by a cabal of close students, most of whom spend much more time acting like guards for that teacher than they do actually studying what is taught. Set things up directly with the teacher, so that you can ask exactly what you are interested in. For example, Lobsang Samten in
is surrounded by a group of well meaning people who have absolutely no interest in Tantric practice, and even less in the Sorcery aspects of it. However, by talking to Lobsang directly I was able to get a series of one on one classes in Kilaya that were extremely detailed in the razor mantra and the use of the physical phurba. Not something you normally get. Philadelphia
- When you can get a teacher to chat one on one, be sure to take full advantage of the situation. A few techniques that I rely on are:
- When asking questions directly I make sure to ask for detailed information on a specific point, and to use technical terms in the question to establish that I probably know enough to receive the answer. A bad question would be “Can you tell me everything you know about Tantric Sex practices”. A good question would be “In the Ghuyasamaja system, the Thap-Lam instructions seem to indicate that a release of fluid is ok, whereas in other systems like Chakrasamvara it is considered a breakage of vow, why is this?” (Answer BTW is that the latter focuses on inner heat yogas and the former on illusory body yogas…)
- Whenever possible, introduce alcohol. Hey, it really does get people talking loosely about the good stuff. Just be sure to remain lucid enough to steer the conversation towards something that you are interested in. Because of booze Tenzin Wangyal spilled beans on Ma-gyud inner yogas, Frater Lee revealed some secrets of the
, Bill Farrel taught me absolutely perverse things to do with crystals and ley lines, and a Babalo who shall remain nameless taught me about 50 spells using Cascarilla that I have never seen in print. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Templeof Set
- Use information from other traditions to trade. I know I said forget other traditions for the time being, but this is different. There is a good chance that your informant is just as interested in other traditions of magick as you are. When I was a teenager I used to talk about western ceremonial stuff to the guy at the Globe, which in turn would get him talking about Rootwork. If I mentioned that I wanted Dittany for making spirits manifest, he would tell me that he uses it for love and uses Mullein for manifesting spirits. The conversation would go on from there. This can extend to documents as well. I once traded a photocopy of the Grimoire of the Golden Toad for a photocopy of my friends hand written instructions on making a Nganga.
- After you have spent a while as a zealot and have learned the ropes, find the most disenfranchised and cynical fuck you can who is still in the tradition, and talk to them. This will give you a realistic view of the downside. Note that I said “are still in the tradition”. People that have left entirely are often overly jaded. Peter Koenig, for instance is someone that I wouldn’t recommend to people studying the OTO until they really had an expert grasp of what it’s all about and could sift through the hate and vitriol for themselves.
- The amount of time you spend learning the tradition in a vacuum, without viewing through the lens of other traditions, will be directly related to the foreignness and complexity of the tradition. Its foreignness is determined not only by geography and culture, but time. Modern Congolese magick is quite foreign culturally and geographically from me being a person of European descent in the burbs of
Jersey, but may not be as alien as Greek magick from 1800 years ago. I spent about 5 years learning Buddhism in a vacuum, but only 2 looking at Hoodoo in a vacuum. Other systems like GD and Wicca that are heavily synchretic by nature need even less time viewed solely on their own terms.
- As you delve deeper into the tradition, begin to think about things in terms of symbol set and tech. As you begin to widen your focus again and
- After a certain amount of time you will again widen your view and start integrating what you have learned into your other practices. This is fine and normal as long as you keep a few things in mind:
- Respect what a title in a tradition implies. For instance, I have studied Vodou to a certain extent that I use some of its tech in my work. I would not however call myself a Houngan, as this has a certain definite meaning. I also incorporate some Tibetan tech in my work, and have even been given permission to teach certain things by Lamas, I do not however call myself a Lama. Think of it this way: you may learn lots of medical techniques. You may even learn as much or more than your local doctor. If however you call yourself an MD but haven’t receieved that certification you would be committing fraud, regardless of your knowledge level.
- Respect the integrity of the tradition, and do not claim to represent it with your own synchretism. In my spirit feast rite I took a lot of Tibetan style offering tech from various Sang Cho’s and Bumipati pujas and applied it to my own ritual. I would not however present that rite as a “western Bumipati puja”. I grab a lot of stuff that I learned from Namkhai Norbu and Lopon Tenzin Namdak about Dzogchen and teach it when I talk about meditation. Tech is tech after all. I do not however present it as Dzogchen. Dzogchen has specific meanings beyond that. You can take sex practices from Tantra and Taoist inner alchemy and use them in your Thelemic practice, but that does not make them Tantra or Taoist alchemy. Respect the tradition that you are drawing from and do not try to represent it with your own idiosyncratic teachings.
That’s basically it. Be smart, be respectful, and be sane,