Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On the Importance of Organizing Magickal Groups

I have made this point often in past writings, in my books and in articles, but I haven’t addressed it as a separate issue until now. This is my opinion why magicians should practice their magick in small groups instead of being alone, aloof and isolated. I believe that the benefits far outweigh the problems, so this article is well placed for your consideration.

Our typical impression of the ritual or ceremonial magician is a lone individual who practices the art of magick in secret and in complete isolation. There is something heroic, courageous and even daring in practicing magick by oneself. The lone rugged individualist pits his wits and his will against the contagion of evil spirits and malefic powers in order to do good (we hope) in the community, and to fight against the darkness of ignorance and pernicious evil (or perhaps help spread it). This is actually a kind of comic book hero of sorts, a simulacrum of the anti-hero, such as Mandrake the Magician or Dr. Strange. I have always loved these characters and have collected comic books just for privilege of basking in their aura of arcane and secret heroism. I even possess a secret desire to pay someone to sew a costume for me so I could dress up and look like Dr. Strange. Of course, I have never done that and probably wouldn’t even if the opportunity presented itself to me. This is because I know that Dr. Strange, however cool, is just a fantasy - the real business of magick and sorcery is quite different.

Exemplifying this kind of occult hero, the lone magician performs his art in isolation from the distractions of other practitioners and the unknowing public, while never having to either explain or discuss all that is experienced or encountered. A magickal journal is thus a personal and secret diary, never to be shared with anyone. Magickal workings are performed in absolute seclusion and privacy, away from the prying eyes of nosey neighbors, family, friends or even other occultists. Magicians are responsible only to themselves for all their actions and workings - they never have to explain themselves or justify what they are doing to anyone. They can be just as antisocial, cranky and secluded as they desire, potentially turning their back on the entire community in which they live while they pursue their mono-mania.

Perhaps the only person who the magician has to accompany him is the assistant, apprentice or long suffering girlfriend. This is the person who does all of the dirty work for the magician and assists him in his occult workings. The assistant may be the magician’s understudy or apprentice, or just a hired servant who performs all of the menial tasks required to ensure that the magickal operations run smoothly and without interruptions. The assistant generally doesn’t know what the magician is actually doing and isn’t allowed to ask a lot of stupid questions, either. If he is an apprentice, then he also has allotted studies and practices in addition to the tasks that he does for his master. Of course, this is an ideal situation, more often than not, a magician doesn’t have any kind of apprentice or assistant. All of the menial work and the tasks associated with setting up a working are done by the magician alone. The basic premise is that if a person is smart enough to function as an assistant, he or she would probably be learning the ropes to become a ceremonial or ritual magician without any guidance, assistance or interference. After all, who wants to be somebody else’s servant in this day and age?

All of these descriptions of the lone magician may sound really romantic and heroic, but actually it’s a recipe for personal disaster and individual madness. Why do I say that when so many people who practice magick do so alone, and in fact, even appear to like it. As magicians, they are expected to be aloof and isolated from society. Magick would seem to require secrecy and stealth in order to function in an optimal manner. Then again, how many verifiable stories can be found where somebody was actually working magick, then after a while went crazy and had to be committed? How could I stand against what would seem to be normal and expected in regards to ritual or ceremonial magick? Not only that, but there are certain practicalities and logistics that might force an individual to practice alone.

Disaster and madness seem pretty dire and extreme judgments! So does this mean that every practitioner who works alone will succumb to these terrible outcomes? Of course not! What I am talking about is the potential for such things to happen, and of course, that depends on what kind of magick the magician is practicing, how often and intense, and whether one has recourse to any individual or group in which to appeal for assistance or guidance. If we are talking about low or earth-based magick that is performed from time to time, then obviously I am not proposing that such a one would go crazy if he or she lacks a working group. I would therefore exclude the witch, shaman, root conjuror, hoodoo practitioner, medicine man or woman, or anyone else who is working practical magick from this argument.

However, if magicians are performing any kind of magick where they may undergo a powerful transformative experience while performing the working and does this kind of magick on a regular basis, then that magician needs to have a group of peers or belong to an informal clique of magicians. The kind of magick that I work on a regular basis and what I teach and write about is exactly the kind of periodic workings that require a group. So that’s why I am proposing magickal practitioners find and assemble a magickal working group to perform their more intensive workings, or at the very least have a group of peers who can examine and judge their work. In fact, the Order that I am promoting requires having a group of at least five individuals to function as a group, and then to assemble and practice magick together for at least a year before being granted a charter and having free access to the basic lore.

There are some compelling reasons why this is important, so let’s look at the benefits and pitfalls of performing this kind of magick either alone or within a group. As already discussed, I will be using as a model a magician who performs intense and powerful transformative magick on a regular and periodic basis.

Practicing magick alone is easy and simple, so it might be much more attractive to the ritual magician to do so. You don’t have to find other individuals, build up a social network or bother with any of the events going on in your area. You can be aloof, cool, isolated and do whatever the hell you want to do, whenever you want to do it. You don’t even need to keep a diary or a journal, because who is going to read it other than yourself? An insular practice of occultism and magick is a simple regimen to follow, since it requires no commitment from anyone other than yourself. Decisions are easily made and the focus of the work can change quickly and efficiently as needed, without any endless discussions or negotiations. In fact, if one has any social handicaps or psychological issues dealing with other people, like a lack of trust, an inability to communicate one’s thoughts and feelings effectively or a fear of closeness or intimacy, then working alone is by far the easiest path that a practicing magician can take. Involving other people in one’s magickal practices is complicated, difficult and can be frustrating or even quite limiting. You have to have patience and tolerance, and be an effective communicator in order to engage successfully in group work. From the standpoint of the self absorbed magician, working with others is daunting and probably undesirable.

That’s the downside to working with others. It isn’t easy and not everything is translatable into group activities or shared workings. If a person has severe social handicaps, then such a proposition would seem to be asking for the impossible. Of course, such a person probably shouldn’t be working any kind of powerful transformative magick either, since it will obviously hit their issues and amplify their internal psychological weaknesses. Magick, especially transformative magick, has a tendency, when regularly and intensively used, to bring out all of the magician’s psychological issues and complexes whether the magician is seeking to address them or not. It would seem that if a magician has a lot of psychological issues and problems dealing with people and society in general, then he or she would be better served seeking out professional help for however long it takes to work out and resolve those issues, before electing to engage in intense forms of magick and speculative occultism. Magick amplifies peoples’ weaknesses and enlarges their delusions, so if a person is already psychologically impaired, then working magick will guarantee a complete mental breakdown. I have actually seen this phenomenon occur in the past when a couple of my friends quickly lost all touch with reality and had to be institutionalized. Yet it’s now obvious to me that they probably were on the way to having a nervous breakdown anyways.

So what are the benefits to assembling a group and working magick with other magicians? First of all, some occultists believe that the new age that we are living in requires individual magicians to practice in groups and establish a powerful occult community at large. I find myself agreeing with this premise, particularly since I have had the benefit of being in groups in the past, especially the very first temple of the Order of the Gnostic Star, called the Temple of Isis-Sophia #1, located in Kansas City. What was accomplished in that group had a profound effect on my abilities and launched my magickal career into the stratosphere, at least compared to where it had been when I was practicing alone. I had been convinced by some folks that my knowledge of magick wasn’t relevant to others, that mine was a system in which only I could find value. This was partially true, but it was the group and their belief in me that helped me to translate that extensive but personal knowledge into something that was useful to many instead of just me. What had been established during that time is still operating in me today, allowing me to write rituals that are both personal and objective enough to be valuable to others as well as myself.

During my sojourn in the Temple of Isis-Sophia I also discovered that group rituals were more powerful than doing them by myself. Why was this so? What was going on in the group dynamics that made rituals experienced by a group of magicians more powerful than what a single magician could experience alone? It would seem that one factor that made group ritual more powerful was the fact that there were more bodies in the temple performing magick, this had a kind of multiplier affect, but something else was also operating. Each of us individually were having a very subjective magickal experience, as is the case when a magician works alone. However, we were also collectively have a very objective experience as well, since we were all analogously experiencing and translating the same effects from the same rite, performed at the same time and place. This means that whatever magickal phenomena occurred to us was immediately and directly objectified. So the intensity and meaningfulness of what had occurred to all of us was amplified due to the multiplier effect and the impact of instantaneous objectivity. We didn’t have to wait for each of us to perform the rite alone and then confer later over our journals to discover what was objective and common to everyone who performed it. All of that discovery was happening in real time. That is why working magick in a group is so powerful and profound.

Not every ritual and ceremony that is performed by a group will be automatically super powered, since group performance requires cooperation and an integrated effort. This takes time to develop, but when it does, everyone can sense the difference. The intensity and meaningfulness is so much greater when all of the members who are performing a ritual are in synch with each other. The only thing that I can compare it to is either a theater production or a group of musicians playing together. There are times when a group of people seem to come together and formulate a single seamless expression of the play or the music, and the results are like magic! Musicians and actors can tell when everything is working together as it was intended to, and the audience picks up on it almost immediately, relishing in the perfection of the esthetic experience.

A well practiced and rehearsed magickal group has the same kind of effect. Something occurs where all of the various parts of the ritual fuse together into a whole that is profound and wondrous. Such activity also seems to quickly generate a kind of group mind or group soul, which magicians call the “egregore.” The more magick that is worked in this manner, the more powerful and seemingly independent the egregore appears to be, making things happen not only to the members of the group, but to the outlying community as well. I found that a powerful group of magicians was like a potent people magnet, once the core was established, many people wanted to either join or have the privilege of working with the group. Yet the hardest task was getting a core group to work together and function as a single being, this took a couple of years or more to establish.

A magickal group tends to require that its rituals and ceremonies be somewhat loquacious and have enough action to share amongst a small group. What this means is that group rituals can be redundant and less efficient than what would be written and performed by an individual magician, that is, if he or she even bothered to write much of anything down. When I had originally developed my methods for working magick, they contained far too much idiosyncracies and were hardly documented with much in the way of instructions. Verbalizations were kept to a minimum, and the whole working was tight and efficient. Other people could look at these rituals and have no clue as to how they were to be performed or even what they were supposed to do. Being a member of the Order and a teacher of this method of working magick forced me to write rituals that had directions, explanations of what was to be done, expected, and beyond that I had to write documents that explained in detail what the rituals did and how they were supposed to be used. I guess you could say that this was the beginning of my writing career, and it has not ceased in all of that time, but in fact, had to increase and become expanded to create whole books. Yet it all started with rituals and workings that were very condensed and pretty hard to understand by anyone but me.  

A magickal group has some very important qualities that assist the group and the individuals composing it to rapidly grow and advance through their spiritual and magickal studies. These qualities consist of the following group dynamics discussed below, and are critically important to group magickal work. One should also keep in mind that individuals are still required to perform individual workings, meditation sessions and other exercises as needed even though they belong to a magickal group.

Peer review and mutual support: It’s through the judgment of one’s peers that a magician can claim to have accomplished a given ordeal or a personal working. The peer group decides when a magician can be elevated to the next degree or level, so they are important for examining a magician’s claims and scrutinizing the product of his or her labors. Also, if a magician is going through a difficult time of personal transformation and translation, then the group can give its support and council, even assisting and applying the expertise of many hands to guide and help make such difficult changes bearable. Only through the judgment and support of other magicians, who are working on the same analogous tasks and ordeals as the individual magician, can anyone be certain that progress is being made and that delusions and self deception are kept in check. A lone magician doesn’t have either the ability to objectify magickal experiences or judge that a given path or direction is correct and free from illusion.

Collaboration and corroboration: Everyone has virtues and failings, strengths and weaknesses. Yet it is rare if not unlikely that a group will collectively have the same strengths and weaknesses, so the group as a whole will typically be diverse and balanced. One person’s point of weakness will be another person’s strength, and together they will produce a unified effort that will be of a higher quality than what might have been achieved alone. I am not talking about formulating something in a committee so that it offends and also satisfies no one. The expert ritual writer will work together with other members to formulate the best possible ritual or ceremony for the given group working. Those who have a poetic nature may write the dialogue, others may be better performers, have beautiful voices, be accomplished at producing music, know how to stage the ritual, sew robes or build a set, etc. Together they will put together a ritual working that will reflect all of their talents and strengths instead of the imbalanced effect of one person writing and performing the ritual alone. Also, what one person senses and perceives as important in the working, others will realize, and they, too, will share their perceptions. The resultant working will have many different perspectives, but also be a unified presentation.

Group sustainability requires maturity and personal responsibility: Magickal groups are ephemeral, since in order for them to last, all of the members have to engage respectfully with each other. For instance, a star group will be more lasting for a small group of magicians than a hierarchical one, since in a star group each individual is an important facet of the whole group. Because such a group is ruled by consensus, it can’t be ruled by the impulses and desires of just one tyrannical member. All members have their input and say in any decision, and whatever happens, each individual takes full responsibility for their part in it, ensuring that no one person is individually blamed for the faults of others. Disagreements are resolved equitably and honestly, and the group is sustained by trust and mutual affirmations. The requirements for a sustainable group is that each individual acts and is treated like an adult, and it is expected that the behavior of each member is at the highest level of cooperation, integrity and sensitivity to others. This is a lot to ask for from a group of magicians, whose basic impulse is to become sequestered and insulated from all others. However, if a group finds some degree of success in keeping themselves intact and relevant, then they will find it relatively easy to spiritual evolve and master themselves.

 Community Face: An established magickal group should not only determine itself internally, but it should also have a community presence and a public face. This is because a well run and competent magickal group has a value that is far greater to the occult community at large than to just its individual members. New members and affiliates for the group are drawn from the community, since the core group that first forms would consist of only four or five individuals, and there is a need to build on that number. So a magickal group needs to recruit new members and correspondingly, the community needs the expertise that the group is developing, so this provides for an equitable trade.

The maximum size of a group depends on where they meet and what kind of communal space they have to use. However, there is a limit to the size of a small group of magicians, based on the logistics associated with ritual choreography. My experience has taught me that anywhere from eight to twelve fully active members is the maximum number that even a large space can withstand without members tripping over or running into each other. Other individuals in the community can either share in the magick of the group through affiliation, or they can be guided to form a new affiliated group. I have found that most communities are hungry for new magickal lore and experienced guidance, and the established magickal group has a responsibility to the community to provide that guidance and teachings.

A group that seeks to be secretive and isolated from the community isn’t really that much better than a lone individual doing the same thing. A magickal group benefits from residing in a community, it uses the resources of occult stores, networks and public organizations, so it naturally owes that community a debt for providing the social organization that made the group possible in the first place. Therefore, it is just and fitting that a group of magicians who have established themselves as an efficient working group, and therefore, have an egregore, should choose amongst themselves individuals or perhaps the entire group to engage the public through that same occult community. It’s only fair and ethical that the group gives back something of value to the community that fostered their organization. The public face of the group is the media imago of its egregore, which becomes a conduit for the group’s magick and its beneficial effect on those who are outside of the group.

Order of the Gnostic Star: Finally, I would like to mention that an assembly of magicians who form a magickal group can represent an existing order, such as the O.T.O., the Golden Dawn, Aurum Solis, or any of the many available greater organizations. They could also petition such an organization for membership. The members of the group would have to become initiates of that greater organization (if they already weren’t), and this would include all of the features, expectations, philosophies and practices associated with that organization. These beliefs and expectations could take the members of the group far from the purpose that they had for forming a group in the first place. It would also require any members who were not initiates in that greater organization, to join and be initiated. They would have to abide by the rules and guidelines, even if it meant limitations in regards to the kind of magick that would be practiced or be available to individuals as well as the group.

However, there is an organization that would allow the members of a group of magicians to be fully autonomous and to work whatever magick they chose. They could assist each other with initiatory ordeals that would allow them to quickly pull together their own lore as well as use the lore from the greater organization. They would also have the right to change any or all of the rituals in their lore and not have to answer to anyone for any of their individual or collective actions. That organization is called the Egregore Sancta Stella Gnostica, or the Order of the Gnostic Star. It is an organization that is dedicated to the practice and propagation of ritual magick for its own sake, to the ultimate perfection of the individual and the group. There are no obligations, requirements or expectations tied to any greater authority than what has been established in the group or temple. However, there is a peer group of experienced magicians in this overall organization that could be tapped to give aid, guidance and help when or where needed, provided that the group collectively wants such aid or guidance, since nothing that is given is binding or required.

The downside to such an organization is that there is no hierarchy or grand chapter that individuals or groups can appeal to for arbitrating disputes, Each group or temple is completely autonomous, so that means that they must resolve their own conflicts as best they can. The group is given the lore, charter, and then they are on their own. They have the complete liberty to pursue their own paths and objectives, but then, they are also expected to be independent and mature enough to determine their own future. There isn’t any person or body to either question what they do or attempt to change their collective direction. So this type of organization is not for everyone, it is only for those whose independent nature would preclude them from belonging to any other kind of greater organization in the first place. For the independent experimenter and creative self-starter, this Order is the optimal organization in which to build, grow and evolve. For all others, there are plenty of other organizations to join.

To recap what we have covered here about the importance of magickal groups, such small organizations have the following benefits.

1. Group ritual, when effectively performed, is far more powerful than ritual performed by individuals.

2. Groups provide objectivity, peer review and mutual support.

3. Groups provide a level playing field for collaboration and corroboration between individuals, for group and individual work.

4. Groups require a higher degree socialization than what is typical for a lone magician, which would include maturity, personal responsibility, sensitivity to others (compassion), tolerance, patience and good communication skills.

5. Established groups need to have a public face and thereby give a greater return on the investment by the occult community. It is the duty of groups to teach, guide and share their lore with the community in an appropriate manner.

6. A group assists an individual member to translate spiritual and magickal experiences so that they can made intelligible to many, thus being a potential source for more magickal lore.

7. The Order of the Gnostic Star is a vehicle through which an assembly of magicians may form a working group to practice ritual magick for its own sake.

It is my hope that you will now realize how important magickal groups are in the overall practice of ritual and ceremonial magick. Our spiritual evolution as individual practitioners of magick may well hinge on whether we can find a way of establishing sustainable groups to propagate the art of magick within the greater occult spiritual community. In my opinion, the old pattern of being a recluse or a sequestered and isolated practitioner is no longer tenable for the practicing ritual magician.

Frater Barrabbas

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