Thursday, May 7, 2015

What Went Wrong? Them pesky kids!!!

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.
3. Listen.
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.


  1. Thankyou for this very interesting conversation that is going on... here is my two dinars

    1- be curious and yet also conscientious of everything around you
    2- talk to everything, teachers, students, kids, the rocks, the trees, and similarly ask questions of everything
    3- don't try to be 'good' or 'bad', just try to be useful
    4 - remember, the shit of a student smells exactly the same as the shit of a teacher
    5- don't repeat the mistakes of others if you can avoid it, make new ones instead.
    6 - Learn how to put yourself back together before you attempt to blow yourself up
    7- don't expect it all from the teacher, you are responsible for 90% of your practical learning, the 10% comes from the teacher/books, not the other way around.
    8- be truthful with yourself, with the inner beings and everything around you.
    9- don't make vows, either to groups, teachers, deities or beings.... bad.... very bad..
    10 - Magic is everywhere, in every culture, and no one has it 'right', learn to discern, and learn to look really carefully at the world and everything in it. You will be surprised what is tucked away in corners.

  2. While I hate to let facts get in the way of a good story...there never was any threat of libel suits. I actually said that I was told it was pure libel and i should sue, but I wouldn’t do that. In fact we buried the hatchet on this and pulled all the posts. It was a "spirited debate" where once the personalities were removed from the equation (both sides realised that the other was not their shadow) it was easy to resolve.
    There has been a lot of shadow projected onto my words, probably because it was killing the one sacred cow that people seem to have about magic -- ie “it is all about me.” Rationality and reasoned debate is never going to happen on any subject when one person is arguing with their parents or a hated teacher who they did not stand up to.
    Placing me in that position is ironic given that I am the one who has publically said that the first duty is for a student to individualise and they are not going to do that if they have autocratic (or manipulative) teachers. I have also said that if a teacher is *really* like that they should leave with the minimum fuss.
    However having been in cases where I have been projected upon by students undergoing their various initiatic experiences on their way to becoming themselves I also know it is not black and white.
    It is also amusing that people cite Crowley as a god but if you see how he trained Victor Nuremberg he was a sadomasochistic nazi who went beyond the worst accesses of any of the spiritual abusers of this age.
    Saying that I am interested in creating a teacher centred system is leaping to a conclusion well beyond what I wanted. My method of training is by explaining how something works then have the student try it and see what they get. If they get something different then we look at why and both review our methodology. I want to encourage experimentation which requires a lot of self-motivation on the part of the student.

    Like any learning experience there is always going to be some boring stuff at the beginning which must be endured by the student. I have tried to work out ways to make a lot of it more interesting but at the end of the day you still need to do it. Then there is the outer order personality work which can also be a nightmare and no one knows how that will turn out. It is the role of the teacher to act as a shoulder to cry on, or to tell someone to stop being such a drama queen. For example you have to do at least a meditation every day to build the momentum, you have to read, you have to do I

    What I was reacting against was a mentality in which the student believes that the mysteries should be served up to them in a manner and flavour that they wish and if it doesn't turn out that way then it is the teacher's fault. There is also a tendency to attempt to bully a group’s leadership. It does appear to be something which manifests strongly in those under 30 and may be a generational thing – as is a tendency to scream and chuck their toys out of the pram when called out on stuff.

  3. Hi Nick there seem to be issues with your coherence in this comment and in your main entry ''top tips'' which you are falsely attributing to people projecting on you. There are several blog posts out about this now and they appreciate how your words can easily be misinterpreted and found patronizing/condescending. I think the lesson you can learn from this is to pick your words more carefully if you don't want to be misunderstood - the onus is on you as a writer to seek the most clarity. From research, I don't think this is an isolated case with you either.

    I also want to point out that this wasn't entirely about ''you''. I addressed the post to various forces/sides which came out in the debate which I believe are ugly and not progressive and which, whether or not you want to be, you are championing. I think, like my post suggests, it is worth reflecting on larger forces in society that are shaping the modern student you seem to despise and how the blogo-sphere and various petty, materialistic and ego-maniacal displays from public figures contribute to those forces. Monkey see monkey do.

    On a personal note, in my research, you seem to state that there is, was and always has been a problem with the Golden Dawn egregore. Let me tell you this problem *is* the Kircher Tree and the process of ''building it into the aura''.

    We can argue til the cows come home about what makes a valid Tree but if the purpose of building the Tree into the aura is to reflect the cosmos then this Tree is seriously imbalanced and its practitioners must by necessity be so.

    Thankfully most people do not complete the work of memorising the associations and then building the Tree up in this way - most practitioners I actually respect may have flirted with it but put it behind them and focused on disciplines other than QBL. Their own spiritual safety mechanisms have protected them. I hope as you carry your own order forward you discard the ''virus'' that originally caused all this chaos, that has brought a shadow upon the whole WMT, the ''virus'' that is the Kircher Tree.