When Jason Miller of Strategic Sorcery shared a link to my angry response to Nick Farrell's Top Ten Tips for Young Occultists I don't believe he was expecting the blowout that happened. What started out as a heated discussion about expectations in teaching and learning in the occult turned into a flame war with various parties threatening libel suits. This is mainly due to Michael Strojan's intense post about the way in which it was possible to see a potentially abusive environment arising out of Farrell's tips.
Various individuals seized the moment to leap into the melee and eventually a ceasefire was declared but behind the name-calling, etc important themes in the modern western mystery scene and where we go from here were emerging. One side seem to want to build an authoritarian and disciplinarian teacher-centred approach to education of the students (damn kids!), whereas another side (my own) want to build an inclusive and dynamic pupil-centred approach where both teacher and student are understood to be learners.
Here are the top ten tips again from Mr Farrell:
1. Realise you know nothing,
2. Stop talking.
4. Do not use questions to assert your own importance.
5. Realise that you are unimportant.
6. You can learn a lot from real cunts.
7. A good teacher does not really care what you say, they are more interested in what you do.
8. You will project your weaknesses on to your teacher.
9. Don't just sit there, help.
10. Never challenge the leader.
Whilst there were some caveats after these bold statements one can be forgiven for taking this list as a little more dangerous than a teacher angry at the young generation of students. In truth, as emerged from the discussion, Mr Farrell was simply annoyed at some Crowley fan-boy punking him in class, but again what happened in the aftermath was very revealing about the way in which key people see the next generation.
During the discussion I suggested an elaborated inversion of Mr Farrell's principles which I think provides real contrast between the two approaches:
1. Every student comes armed with their own knowledge and personal destiny.
2. Communicate with your teacher.
3. Speak. Its the only way to find your voice.
4. Question. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. You will learn.
5. Explore meaning and the essence of meaning.
6. You can learn excellence from good people.
7. A good teacher cares about what you say as much as what you do for words are the nuclei of actions.
8. All beings project their minds on to the world, your teacher included, its a rule of consciousness and part of what we are exploring.
9. Assist when asked.
10. Challenge your leaders.
Ocean Delano at Turning the Magic Around posted his own list which seemed to be a fairly good analysis of the situation and leaning far more to the ''inversion'' above but appreciating the role of some discipline. But ugly things emerged in this discussion, there are clearly individuals in the WMT who advocate extremely harsh measures for students - even as far as beating them - citing the old method of whipping students with a cane when they break meditation.
Some members of the more authoritarian, disciplinarian group made statements about people who were against Farrell were clearly into the ''self-first'' social trend - ignoring the state of the modern WMT blogosphere where we see senior/respected figures in the community constantly hawking products, pushing extreme me-first individualism, alongside 101 ''get what you want'' magic. Hmmm. Food for thought there methinks. It is rare to see, at least within my own line of sight, people promoting service and healing as reasons to want to get into the mysteries and explaining how to serve and heal more effectively.
When I describe the teacher as the servant as opposed to the master I do not mean that the teacher should be servile, constantly at the whim of their petulant students, desperately reacting to their spoiled demands. I mean that it is a great honour to be of service as a teacher to the mystery community, and that a student who enters this environment is especially precious to us in these times. To often have those students been seen as a resource or market to be exploited.
I believe that students and all individuals should be treated respectfully regardless of their age and individual gifts and I recognise that brilliant young minds, when respected and guided can often surge ahead and outstrip their mentors and this should be encouraged. To oppress an individual's spirit as can clearly be read in Farrell's tips, whether he intended that as his meaning or not, should *not* be within the confines of our philosophy.
- I am anti ''dumbing-down'' but seek to stretch my student's and my own intellect in dynamic partnership
- I believe in personalized learning whereby the teacher adapts their style to an individual's personal learning needs
- I believe in the creation of learning environments where through mutual exploration the student teaches themselves with the support and assistance of the teacher, who is the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage
- I establish learning contracts to determine clear boundaries of what is and isn't acceptable
The me-first, chatty, demanding student full of entitlement, has been created by the society we live in -- the ''capitalist realism'' of the internet -- and to deny that is full blown idiocy. In that sense as the modern WMT currently stands we have debased and partially deranged magickal orders that have outlived their usefulness on this planet exploiting students as potential cash cows alongside no holds barred ''magickal capitalism'' married to a ''desire fulfilment philosophy'' - these factors contribute to the impression in the student's mind that that is what occulture it is all about. Before you blame something ''inherent'' in the students think about how you yourself may have contributed to the social forces that are shaping them.
Certainly these social forces, at work in the WMT, have been factors in the creation of Quareia by Josephine McCarthy and Frater Acher which as I understand it is a free, self taught course which stands against these trends. Simon Tomasi at Golem Builder suggests a shift in attitudes (building on M-Agile) in the WMT as follows:
Manifesto for Development of Magical Practitioners
We are uncovering better ways of developing
magical practitioners by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:\
Individuals and interactions over magical societies and organizations
Working/Practical magic over comprehensive scholarship
Practitioner collaboration over teacher/student hierarchy
Responding to change over following a prescribed path
That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.
The truth is that the top ten tips for a young student shouldn't be about their relationship with teachers and orders as I would suspect that the vast majority of young students are self-taught because of the current disintegrated/discredited community. My own actual list of tips that I would encourage others to follow and which as far as I can tell were endorsed by Jason Miller, I repost here.
Blogos Top Ten Tips for the Young Student:
1. Practise meditation.
2. Work on your magickal memory, explore the astral plane and master the use of your astral body but never neglect the physical paths.
3. Wherever possible study source texts first and commentaries second.
4. Pay attention to your dreams and maintain your records.
5. Form *student-led* study groups online and in real life - if possible have them monitored rather than directed by ''teachers''. Avoid un-rectified psychopaths and narcissists for the role of teacher.
6. Know the risks! The grimoires are laced with warnings for good reasons, ignore those who say otherwise. Stay grounded or you'll lose your mind.
7. Acquire strong spiritual allies through prayer and other devotional practices.
8. Relate to people as individuals regardless of their age, fame or seniority as you will find teachers in strange places. Ignore the bombast from certain ''teachers'', there is a lot of it, its just a trend.
9. Experiment and listen to the Anima Mundi. Read the responses to your magick in the world.
10. You'll always be a student. Remember that when you become a teacher.
I think that these are probably core ideas and boil down to ''do the work''. In previous sections of the WMT - What Went Wrong series I point out the rise of 101 occultism as a major factor in hobbling our community. There is precious little *discussion* of such topics as the astral plane, techniques for exploring the grimoires, acquiring spiritual allies, magickal memory, healing, service etc because the tubes are dominated by merchandising and often empty rhetoric. Sure they can go read books but the reality is that the students want to interact and discuss with people they consider their potential mentors. I believe whole-heartedly in tip 5 as this is the way I learned and I was lucky to have teachers, if rough around the edges, that were kindly at heart and did not interfere or cynically attempt to sell us anything. I don't think being paid for service is fundamentally bad but I do think some of the money-mad-occulture is over the top and vulgar and needs moderating/softening, but that might be because I am British. So my less well-travelled American brethren can understand a realtor in America has giant billboards on the roads with their gleaming smiley face on it, in Britain an estate agent is kind of something you are secretly ashamed of being. ;-)
I think it would be a useful exercise for us all to suggest our Top Ten Tips for Students and deviate in them from advice about the teacher-student relationship as I think it is a dying form and as Simon Tomasi says ''practitioner collaboration'' over ''teacher/student hierarchy'' is what we now see as a positive step in moving forward. Whilst I obviously respect many of the magicians and mystics that I am associated with, the WMT remains in decline and I do not think that small publications of books are the solution when we have the vast power of the internet at our disposal.