Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Competence, Mastery, and Perfecting

I have been introduced to a whole slew of blogs that I have been oblivious too for a while now. Really smart voices with great things to say. I will be linking to them shortly.

One of these voices is Devi, the Danforth Villiage Witch. In a comment to Frater R.O.'s recent post here she makes a point about competence and mastery that is really important. In this context she is referring to a list of core competencies she recommends people develop before doing conjure work. I agree with her on all these. Some people may be put off because they want to start doing goetia right out of the gate, and feel that they would need to spend years on all these skills first. This of course is not the case. Honestly with a strong work ethic, a complete newbie could develop competency in all of these within a month or so. Mastery would take much much longer, and as Frater R.O. correctly points out, conjuration could actually help in this.

This concept of competence and mastery is important for all magicians. I would add perfection as a third stage. You can take almost any discipline and make it your life's work. A lot of people who follow one magical system only are very critical of those that interface with more than one. They claim that unless they devote their lives to the one system they will never understand it. This is false.

There is a rule that comes out of economics, which has been noted to hold true for almost everything. Its called the Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule. The idea as far as economics goes is important because when you examine a business, you often find that 80% of the problems are caused by 20% of the customers. 80% of the sales, also tend to be generated by a different 20% of the clients. When you start looking for it you see this everywhere. 80% of the flowers in a garden tend to be generated by 20% of the seeds that you put down etc.

When you are learning skills this is an important rule to keep in mind. Tim Ferris has pointed out that 20% of a languages vocabulary will enable you to understand 80% of what is said in that language, and 20% of the moves in a given sport will account for 80% of what is actually played.

In almost any discipline, there is a point that you reach where you experience diminishing returns for time spent working on it. Ferris notes that there is about a 5% difference between someone who has spent 2 years learning Japanese diligently and someone who has studied for ten years at a the slower pace that lifelong devotees take.

In my own study of Tibetan Buddhism I spent five years doing that and only that. By exploiting an already existing personal connection with a Lama, and using interpersonal skills to interview teachers directly and get them to talk about things that they normally do not, I was able to learn more in those five years than most people learn in 20. There are certain aspects of it that I have mastered, others that I am competent in. I have chosen one particular discipline that I want to perfect in this life*. Others, I am not willing to devote the time to perfecting because of those diminishing returns.

I think the world is far too specialized. To quote RAW, "specialization is for insects". Specialization gives a kind of tunnel vision that makes you an occasionally useful resource to those of us with a more general knowledge base, but often cuts you off from a bigger vision. You will note that most CEO's are not specialists, but generalists who have access to specialists when they need them. It takes the generalist with competency in a wide variety of disciplines, and mastery of a few of those to see the interconnectedness necessary to make a company run.

Growing up in Jackson NJ, I encountered a Rosicrucian, a Rootworker, a Witch, and a Ngakpa who were all willing to mentor me to one degree or another. All within 10 miles of my home and all before I turned 21. Because of this general exposure I am able to see certain patterns that a specialist in any one of these disciplines probably cannot. I am not saying that being a jack of all trades is better than being perfect in one. I am saying that the world needs both, and that people should understand the role of each.

*Gyalwa Chaktri


Ananael Qaa said...

A lot of people who follow one magical system only are very critical of those that interface with more than one. They claim that unless they devote their lives to the one system they will never understand it. This is false.

While I completely agree with you here, I think I know at least in part where the attitude comes from. Back in the 1990's when chaos magick was more a trend than a school of magick I ran into quite a few people who took the "jack of all trades" thing to an extreme.

What they would do is spend a short period of time learning the simplest and most introductory practices from one system and then drop the system as soon as they ran into anything challenging or difficult. They would then move on to another system, and another, always doing the same thing.

The result of this sort of study is somebody who thinks they're very knowledgeable about magick because they know a whole lot of ways to do the same simple thing, even though they don't know much about any advanced practices in any system and don't really know how to work much effective magick.

As with everything, I think it's a matter of degree. Like you I've found that my study of Tibetan Buddhism has given me a greater understanding of ceremonial magick and I was especially intrigued by the rootwork-inspired practices you outline in your two books because I'm not very familiar with that school and want to learn more.

Jow said...

Mentats are also generalists. Just sayin'.

faoladh said...

I'd second what Ananael said. There is a goodly amount of understanding that I have developed in my primary magical system that I would not have if I had not spent years learning it. On the other hand, I do spend some time working with other magical systems (Enochian for instance), and have found that studying other systems helps provide a broader understanding. This is rather like martial arts, actually, in which one should study a system for years to gain deep insight into it, but should also study other systems in order to gain a breadth of understanding that is not possible within a single system's framework.

Also, it would be RAH, not RAW, who said that.

Jason Miller, said...

I also agree about the need for a root or home system. For me that is Tibetan, mainly Nyingma and Bon.

I view most things through that matrix, which is why sometimes the Strategic Sorcery stuff looks odd to some. I have no real affinity for neo-platonic and hermetic philosophy.

faoladh said...

That does explain a lot.

Imagine what Enochian, Bertiaux's Voudon Gnosis, Alchemy, Bruno's Neoplatonic magic, Icelandic Rune magic, or Hine's Discordian/Lovecraftian Chaos (which are most of the other magical systems that I spend much time with, though there are some others I am trying to learn more about) look like through a primary filter of Irish Gaelic polytheism. And that's not even to mention systems like Stewart's Faerie/Earth Light system that are related to, but not the same as, my primary system. To a certain extent, I have it easy, because the syncretism to Catholic concepts has already been done, and most western magical systems draw on Catholic imagery to one degree or another. St. Michael can be seen as a face of Lugh, St. Brighid pretty much just crossed the aisle, as it were, the concept of one god with three faces is present in both systems, and so on (a lot like Santeria in that way). On the other hand, that easy familiarity can be a problem when one runs into the places where the worldviews diverge considerably. Those cracks, however, can provide quite a lot of insight.