Cry of the Novice
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Starting out on the path of the Western Esoteric disciplines is a daunting task. Why? It's like going to Baskin-Robbins and having to choose one or two ice creams from their bazillion choices of flavors. It boggles the mind and most people I've encountered have very little to no idea of what it is they want to study.
The average response I get from a aspirant is "I want to learn it all!" and my usual curmudgeon response is "Tough cookies kiddo you can't learn it all!" Of course this tends to either do one of two things to them: they think I'm an old geezer (which they're right!) who has lost his passion (wrong!) or I'm trying to simply discourage them from seeking (again wrong!)
Rarely, and I do mean rarely, I get the "I've read one of your books or webpage and I think I'd like to learn more about Sorcery". Wow; amazing how such a simple statement can blow you away. Not that I'm some egotistical die hard who wants little kiddies learning at my knee *ugh!* but I like helping to guide those who have a sense of purpose in their life. This rare kind of student is to be cherished. Whether they come asking to learn Asatru or Wicca or Thelema or whatever, they seek to know and learn one path.
Why can't we learn it all? Because we are human and have a limited amount of time to study and practice and perfect. Yes I did say 'perfect' not in the sense of becoming perfect but rather 'perfect our craft'. Hell I'm not even sure I want to ever be 'perfect' in the sense of God. Perfect beings are stodgy, uptight and bored. With perfection there's not much to do with oneself is there? That's why I've always thought of the idea of sitting around on a cloud playing a harp and praising the eternal name of Jehovah to be awfully boring. Frankly I think old' Jehov' feels the same way! *wink*
Besides we only have "X" amount of time we are awake and not working in our adult life. Some have more than others depending upon their professional circumstances but as each passing year rolls by it always seems that we have to work just a little more and play just a little less to get by. If you think I'm joking, take some time and look back at what you made in previous years along with how much free time you allotted yourself versus where you are today. My bet is that today, you have to try harder for less. Maybe that's not true for all but for many it is.
With both time and money limits in mind, let's see what comes next. Naturally our little neophyte (or big neophyte if you will) wants virtually every flippin' quasi-occult book s/he sees. This is a trap that many fall into for several reasons.
First off buying all of these books is expensive! Consider the cost of the average occult text $12.95 versus only $9.95 a few years ago. That's a $3.00 increase! You could have used that money to buy some decent quality candles for a ritual instead of just giving it to the publisher.
Secondly a lot of the new wave of metaphysical texts have beautiful covers painted by talented artists to lure you to buy them when in fact many of them are word filled nonsense that have little in the way of practical techniques.
Thirdly many of these new so-called 'textbooks' have been written by authors who repeat the same material over and over and over.... Unfortunately this is true with traditions like Wicca. Time was there was only a handful of books on Witchcraft out there. Folks like Leo Martello, Ray Buckalnd, Janet & Stewart Farrar, Dorene Valiente and the Crowthers were about the extent of the practical material you could find. Then along came Scott Cunningham who simplified the whole process. He wasn't a great writer in the vein of the others mentioned but he had charm and warmth to his writings. Scott was personal with the reader. I liked that about him. Then, the wave of the late eighties rolled through and the subsequent upheaval of the new generation Wicca books came crashing through! Most of these authors were not and still aren't saying anything new. If you look in their bibliography section (if they have one), you'll find that the reference books are mostly by Cunningham or the authors previously cited.
Okay so what does a newbie do or look for? Well first off you need to know what it is you wish to accomplish. Perhaps you have some desire to achieve or some talent to affect? Maybe you discovered you have a disease you want cured? Or maybe you want some mystical occult power - whatever the case, there are many ways to achieve one's desires but first one must know what one wants. Period.
One simple way to discover what you want out of life I found in Richard Bolle's most awesome book What Color Is Your Parachute?. Bolles suggest to spend some time writing an essay entitled "Before I die, I want to..." He suggests you list everything you want to do before you die. This is really a tremendous and uplifting experience! Here you are uncovering all of your goals in one fell swoop. No 'well I'd like to... nah... that'd take too much money" or "I'd like to... nope not enough time..." which is simply indecisiveness. Indecision has killed more stars, pro athletes and occult practitioners than anything else.
Let's assume you've taken a reasonable amount of time (certainly not five or ten minutes!) and made a list of all of the cool stuff you want to accomplish. What now? Group them by association. Then number the groups "least to most" or "most to least" in importance to you. Next take the most important grouping and examine each desire listed. Do some further grouping and see if any match up in some way. Perhaps you want to take a trip to the Mayan and Egyptian pyramids and then onto Stonehenge. Okay what do these have in common other than being 'sacred' sights? They all involve traveling! Out of these three, which would be the most desired trip and etceteras. Compile a top five listing of all the things you want to do in each group. Now you have this cool Top Five list. David Letterman would be proud!
Now take some time and pick up a good overview of the world of metaphysics. Some people use Margot Adler's Drawing Down The Moon which offers a fair, albeit dated, overview of the modern Witchcraft movement. Then there's Charles Clifton's Witchcraft Today Vols. I & II series. Unfortunately these books only offer the occult from the perspective of Wicca and if that's what you're considering, then I'd highly recommend it. Colin Wilson's extremely dated reference The Occult has some other traditions namely Rosicrucianism, Masonry, Solomonic Magic, and most of the Western Esoteric Magickal systems discussed in one fashion or another. This book is usually found at used bookstores for a dollar or two since it is very dated material. But then why bother buying these books to begin with?
Surf the Web! The Internet has tons of webpages devoted to every conceivable esoteric pursuit known to humankind! If you have access to the Web, I formally urge you to spend some time reading about all of the traditions and disciplines available. Of course some pages which may have really good information may be written in a foreign language but don't let that discourage you. Use your web browser to find English pages with the information you desire.
There is one place that offers quite a lot of Occult webpages and that's AVATAR SEARCH! They can be found at Avatar Search. All you have to do is enter certain keywords like "Sufi" "Witchcraft" "Sorcery" "Magick" "Thelema" "Herbs" "Healing" etc., to have their database of webpages pull the ones that would interest you. As of this writing, when I entered "sorcery" I found thirteen resources (including my own website) to look up.
There is a reason for using a FREE service such as AVATAR and that's because regular Internet Search Engines don't know that you're looking for only metaphysical sites. For instance if you tried to enter "sorcery" using the Yahoo! search engine, you'd get a ton of listings - many of which you aren't interested in. You'll get stuff like role playing games "High Tower of Sorcery" and "Web Page Sorcery" which is a web page design service that has nothing to do with the occult. Sometimes you can enter multiple syntax strings to get exactly what you want but this is a product of trial and error and is considered an advanced skill in Net Surfing. One that I've had great success with is: "occult magick practices" (minus the quotation marks which are used only in certain instances).
Okay enough of the Internet lesson. Now you have the opportunity to search the various web pages out there. Some are good and most are horrible. I've read some that seem to be nothing more than some silly newbie's attempt at authorship which is pathetic to say the least. This is not mean spirited mind you because instead of helping another newbie, usually what happens is that the newcomer reading another newbie's page will take what s/he sees as gospel. If it's in print, it's gotta be true! Right! And I have this bridge I'd like to sell you....
Some webpages, like mine, will include lists of books with comments concerning them. Now I don't pull punches and being an old fart, I tell folks what my opinion is regardless if they're friend, foe or tax collector. And since my website deals with Sorcery, those are the books I've chosen to list -- along with some others. Eventually I'll branch out into other areas but for now the ones I have listed are what I discuss.
Then you have the "elders" who are dubious as well. Most seem to have read nothing but Cunningham and Starhawk and they feel that this gives them the wisdom to lecture the kids on how they should look for a teacher and not ask for "spells" as they might get into trouble. *sigh* This makes me sick to my stomach. I wonder if these "crones" would react the same way if they were Jewish or Christian or Islamic to teenagers? "Don't worry Allah/Jehovah/Jesus will fix it all" We've never encountered that before have we?
Okay so now let's assume that you have your cool "Top Five In Life To Accomplish" list and a good idea of which occult tradition you want to pursue. Try to get at least three of the most recommended texts in the field. These should not all be by the same author as you'll want more than one perspective an opinion. The danger of reading only one author's viewpoint is that your information and views can soon get 'tainted' or jaded. Hell I don't even recommend a newbie to read only my stuff about Sorcery. Get at least three author's perspectives before settling upon one particular one. For instance in Ceremonial Magick I'd probably recommend William G. Gray's works; Dr. Israel Regardie's writings and those of Aleister Crowley's. These are the top three in my opinion anyway that are worth bothering with. They are the three most commonly referenced authorities I've found out there. Just like Milo Rigaud, Alfred Metraux, and Jim Haskins are the three I'd recommend for serious study of Voodoun. In Witchcraft I'd recommend reading Starhawk, Tarostar, and Dorene Valiente. In Sorcery my stuff, Allen Gould and J. Finley Hurley. Of course these "recommendations" are only from my perspective; others, I'm sure, will disagree.
Finally we roll on down the Metaphysical highway with the car in third gear and we've got our foot planted firmly on the floor what's our destination? Look for the exit that says "Enlightenment or Bust." Let's assume you've chosen Witchcraft to be your passion. Okay you should study about forty percent of the time and practice sixty percent of the time that you've allotted to your development. This means if you've allotted three hours a week in free time, a total of one-hundred eighty minutes, you'll spend (roughly) one hour and ten minutes in study (reading, note taking, etc.) and the remaining time of one hour and forty-five minutes in actual practice (meditating, constructing your tools, breathing or energy exercises, trance work, etc.)
Now if you stick to this regimen for at least six weeks, you'll begin to see progress. Measure your progress! It takes only scant moments to fill out a diary or sheet where you have a handy reference point that can be referred back to later. This is an often overlooked point! Measurement insures that you will notice improvement thereby causing excitement thereby inducing you to continue onward. The same thing happens when one begins a physical exercising program. Weight loss occurs, muscles are strengthened and finally stamina increases. The benefits aren't always readily noticeable in the beginning and this is why you create a reference point to start with. In weight training, you have a starting weight and ending weight. In the Occult, you begin with one point of reference (to be determined by you and your goal) and a continuing self-assessment. "That which can be measured can be improved" - John Lawhon (author The Selling Bible)
Stick to the path! Don't stop and say "Gee I wonder if Druidism is better than Witchcraft or perhaps I should study Dion Fortune?" This is a mental trap that your mind uses to get you to stop. Don't fall into it. If you've chosen a path, stick with it. Work it. If you are an armchair occultist, then you can buy all of the books your little heart desires and read and dream about being great. If you want to be the best real estate salesperson out there, you ain't gonna be it until you've made the personal determination to see it through. Now what you need is patience and fortitude. Patience to continue on even though it gets boring and the fortitude to see it through to the end.
There is no one set way to become enlightened. Illumination is a result of ten percent theory and ninety percent work. Just like financial success is described. Sorry to burst your bubble there Leroy but that's how it is out there! The universe has an abundant supply to those who aren't too lazy to go and apply to it for what they want and then map out a plan to achieve it. Nothing is free. I repeat NOTHING IS FREE! Everything has a price to be paid. Do you want to be an accomplished Sorcerer? Witch? Druid? Santero? Bokor? Then get off your duff, study what you have to, and do the work and the results will surely follow. So choose a path, stick with it and then move on to your goals.
Peace! Power! Prosperity!
Brother MOLOCH 9.: 6.: 9.:
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