Avoid these common pitfalls when studying magick, meditation or mysticism
Magick is a very strange hobby. If you’re like me, you’ve probably been drawn to it for lofty reasons: You want to understand the universe and your place in it. You want answers to the questions of life, the universe and everything—not just second-hand faith in somebody else’s proclamations. You want a heightened sense of personal dignity, integrity and power to achieve the goals that matter to you the most. And—most of all—you want enchantment. You want to live an enchanted life—one in which you can immerse yourself in wonders and mysteries, and experience intensity that people who are checked out in front of their phones or TV screens never will. You want a heightened reality, or even to quest for absolute reality itself.
So, for any of these reasons or more, you step into the Circus of Magick. You might spend some time browsing occult Web sites or visit a New Age bookstore. You might buy a workbook or two, and try the exercises. You might join a society like Freemasonry, a Wiccan coven, or even a Meetup group, and begin to meet others in your community with similar questions.
As you do this, you will slowly be leaving the “consensus trance,” the one created by the daily ritual of Commute-Job/School-Consume-Television. And you will find yourself in a new “trance,” one defined by ideas of magic, personal possibility, awakening, new group dynamics, alternative life paths. You will likely encounter a lot of incredibly inspiring ideas, and also, unfortunately, a lot of disempowering ideas and beliefs.
Here’s a useful way to think about it: Mainstream society is a program designed to work the best it can for the widest number of people possible. Generally speaking, that means good, decent people who are happy to live quiet, decent lives, and content themselves with the victories of career, family, health, happiness and making it through another day. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Outside of mainstream society, however, you will find a very different reality—the “wildlands” of modern civilization. Its denizens, for one reason or another, don’t feel satisfied by consensus reality. That could be because they’re ahead of the curve, or it could be because they’re far behind the curve. That makes the “wildlands” an exciting, and dangerous, place. The “wildlands” are where society puts the ideas that are too disruptive of its daily activities, for better or worse. The strange ideas, the discredited ideas, the untested ideas, the potentially liberating ideas.
Magick is one of those ideas—or, rather, a gigantic cluster of ideas (a memeplex). Many of those ideas are really cool, and many should stay in the trash-heap.
But let’s be clear: To engage with magick is to begin to sort through society’s trash, looking for anything of value. Glamorous, no? Remember, alchemy is the art of turning shit into gold. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…”
If you’re going to go looking for gold out there, allow me to guide you through the territory so that you can find the gold, and avoid the seven biggest mistakes that people make when learning magick. I’ve made them all—and that’s why I created Magick.Me, my online school for magick, so that I could teach people how to truly learn magick without falling for obvious mistakes. So after identifying each mistake that people make when learning magick, I’ll explain how I solved it and turned that into teaching I could pass on through Magick.Me.
1. Poorly Defined Goals
What do you want?
It’s a simple question, but most who enter the world of magick and alternative spirituality never ask it, or never fully define the answer. As a result, they’re caught up in the “dazzling lights” of the New Age Pinball Machine, and bounced around between experiences, groups and teachers, never finding themselves or getting to their core issues and drives.
You need to ask this question up front: What do you want? Do you want greater creative skill and power? Do you want to fix a trauma or personal challenge? Are you willing to give up everything and seek enlightenment? Whatever it is, define it now, and then ask yourself if magical means are really the answer, or if more mundane means would be a lot easier. Be clear on this, or you risk getting caught up in the glamour of magick and forgetting that it’s just a tool, and only one tool of many available to you right now.
2. Staying in the Shallows
Magick is a giant buffet table. Thanks to the shrinking of the world by global communications, you’ll find material from every world faith and esoteric path readily available to you. Hermeticism/Golden Dawn/Thelema; Yoga; Vedanta; Vajrayana Buddhism; Sufism; NLP… the list is limited only by the demand of the New Age marketplace for the next big kick. Just a hundred years ago—in some cases, just a few decades ago—all of these subjects would have been incredibly hard to discover information on. You wouldn’t have been able to just pop down to Barnes & Noble or go on Amazon and have it all handed to you. And in all cases, once you discovered the entry to a path, you would be confronted with a teacher who would explain that the path was the work of a lifetime.
That puts modern seekers in a unique position. We don’t lack access—but what we do often lack is the commitment to a path. Most likely, students will browse here and there, reading on a wide variety of paths, or even joining several groups in sequence. This is an incredible way to learn quickly; however, if the buffet table approach takes the place of deep, committed learning in one path or tradition, what happens is you stop making progress. You just get to the edge of your comfort zone in one path before starting over in another, never taking that crucial jump into the unknown. Ironically, this probably takes more time than sticking to one path, at least until you reach that path’s completion stages.
However, if you go in the complete opposite direction, and become a “Path Zealot,” you will make the third mistake:
3. Thinking There is One True Path
Once you’ve experienced peak states or personal breakthroughs in a system, it’s easy to generalize: “This is absolutely incredible… everybody should experience this!”
If you’re not careful, you soon become a missionary, talking non-stop about what you’ve experienced, trying to get your friends or family into whatever practice caused the peak state or breakthrough, or even, at the high registers of “Kool-Aid Intoxication,” thinking that you have found the One True Path, and that all other paths are lesser or deluded.
People can stay stuck in this state for days, weeks, months, or years—even their whole life. It tends to be a blockage to progress. It’s a classic behavior of an individual with a weak sense of self: Deep down, they feel themselves to be inferior or lesser than others, so they place all their focus on an all-consuming ideology or charismatic leader that they derive strength and self-worth from serving. If this sounds like an obvious trap, and one you would never fall for, think again: The “One True Path” disease has been responsible for many of history’s greatest tragedies, including the Third Reich or the many historical genocides committed by overzealous religious missionaries that worked to “convert by sword.”
If your path is the One True Path, it’s time to leave your cloistered room or insular community and experience what life is like for others of different faiths and life backgrounds. Make some new friends.
4. Us vs. Them Mentality
Because people who are into magick and alternative spirituality are often on the fringes, it’s easy to adopt belief systems that reinforce an oppressed identity or “us vs. them” story. This becomes a particularly acute problem when the magick that people are doing isn’t working, or not producing a good quality of life, and instead of changing the behaviors or beliefs that aren’t working, people create a narrative in which some “other” individual or group is keeping them down. These stories about why failure is OK quickly blossom and cross-pollinate, becoming wide-scale conspiracy theories potent enough to infect whole cultures, leaving disempowerment, misery and even genocide in their wake (again see the Third Reich). Examples of this include:
• “The Illuminati are out to get me because I have secret knowledge.”
• “Shapeshifting reptilians/Archons/evil spirits/Satan/etc. are controlling reality and don’t like me.”
• “I’m way too enlightened/edgy/intense/real for mainstream society to handle.”
• “I am a lightworker charged with battling the dark forces, and the dark forces are in control.”
Do you have any of these beliefs or any similar ones? Let’s take a look at them—what’s the underlying message of all of them? Personal significance. Me me me. All of these scripts allow for personal significance through failure. They all allow you to be a complete fuckup and to simultaneously have the illusion of “winning.”
They are all poison. Jettison them immediately, and instead focus on your personal growth and happiness, and how you can be of service to the people around you.
5. Substance Abuse
Drugs and magick have been linked since the very first prehistoric shaman chewed some strange bark or fungus that let her talk to the spirits of the forest, and the spirits of the forest turned out to have some pretty useful stuff to say.
In recent times, magicians like Aleister Crowley, William S. Burroughs, Terence McKenna, Carlos Castaneda and others have hyped the spiritual potential of psychedelics and even harder substances. Some of them have also fallen prey to addiction, and the destructive behaviors that come with the disease of addiction. This is one of the major reasons why magick has been so discredited—it allows people to say “Yeah, but you were just high,” or to look at the addiction behaviors of people like Crowley and attribute them to magick instead of their true source, the drug addiction itself.
Drugs may be a fast route to altered states, but they are not a sustainable one. In our current moment—world economic crisis, instability and uncertainty—I suggest that magicians don’t have the time or luxury of drug use. We need to be sharp, frosty—Navy SEALs, not Deadheads. Remember: The Baby Boomer generation could burn decades with drug experimentation because it was the richest, most financially secure generation in history. That is not the case for Millenials or those younger. The world reality is a live-fire situation, a war zone, and you don’t dull your edge or disorient yourself in a war zone.
(It’s not an “Us vs. Them” war zone, by the way. It’s a free-for-all, as everybody scrambles to survive the challenges created by the acceleration of technology and growth of the human population.)
6. Trying to Be the “Best Magician” Instead of the “Best You”
When overachiever types get into magick, they try to learn every single aspect of it and become a Total and Formidable Master. There is no mastery; leave this archetype in the Saturday morning cartoons it came from. Remember: Magick is just a tool. Know your goal, and use the tool to achieve your goal.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be so linear: You may simply be seeking the regular, sustainable spiritual growth that comes from a regular practice of meditation, dreamwork, journaling, yoga, ritual and any other tool you have chosen to use. Wonderful.
The key here is: It’s not a competition. There is no prize, other than becoming more yourself.
7. Giving Your Power Away
Particularly as a young and untested magician, you will likely be confronted with situations or people that tempt you to surrender your power. Whether it’s an autocratic or abusive guru, a regimented and controlling magical order, or even a tightly controlling ideology, you might be tempted or even frightened into surrendering control of your life in exchange for some tangible or intangible reward.
If you do this, get ready for a painful learning experience!
Though it can sometimes be easy to forget, you are the true magician, the true master of your reality. To fully illustrate this point, I’d like to include a story from the author John Fowles, who kindled my early teenage interest in testing the nature of reality. It’s from his 1965 novel The Magus:
Once upon a time, there was a young prince who believed in all things but three. He did not believe in princesses, he did not believe in islands, he did not believe in God. His father, the king, told him that such things did not exist. As there were no princesses or islands in his father’s domains and no sign of God, the prince believed his father.
But then, one day, the prince ran away from his palace and came to the next land. There, to his astonishment, from every coast he saw islands, and on these islands, strange and troubling, creatures whom he dared not name. As he was searching for a boat, a man in full evening dress approached him along the shore.
“Are those real islands?” asked the young prince.
“Of course they are real islands,” said the man in evening dress.
“And those strange and troubling creatures?”
“They are all genuine and authentic princesses.”
“Then God must also exist!” cried the prince.
“I am God,” replied the man in evening dress, with a bow.
The young prince returned home as quickly as he could.
“So, you are back,” said his father, the king.
“I have seen islands, I have seen princesses, I have seen God,” said the prince reproachfully.
The king was unmoved.
“Neither real islands, nor real princesses, nor a real God exists.”
“I saw them!”
“Tell me how God was dressed.”
“God was in full evening dress.”
“Were the sleeves of his coat rolled back?”
The prince remembered that they had been. The king smiled.
“That is the uniform of a magician. You have been deceived.”
At this, the prince returned to the next land and went to the same shore, where once again he came upon the man in full evening dress.
“My father, the king, has told me who you are,” said the prince indignantly. “You deceived me last time, but not again. Now I know that those are not real islands and real princesses, because you are a magician.”
The man on the shore smiled.
“It is you who are deceived, my boy. In your father’s kingdom, there are many islands and many princesses. But you are under your father’s spell, so you cannot see them.”
The prince pensively returned home. When he saw his father, he looked him in the eye.
“Father, is it true that you are not a real king, but only a magician?”
The king smiled and rolled back his sleeves.
“Yes, my son, I’m only a magician.”
“Then the man on the other shore was God.”
“The man on the other shore was another magician.”
“I must know the truth, the truth beyond magic.”
“There is no truth beyond magic,” said the king.
The prince was full of sadness. He said, “I will kill myself.”
The king by magic caused death to appear. Death stood in the door and beckoned to the prince. The prince shuddered. He remembered the beautiful but unreal islands and the unreal but beautiful princesses.
“Very well,” he said, “I can bear it.”
“You see, my son,” said the king, “you, too, now begin to be a magician.”
This post was originally published by https://ultraculture.org
Image via Wikiart.org. Mother of the World by Nicholas Roerich.