Following up on my article on how a beginner can break the ice and make his or her first steps in the practice of ritual magick, I was reminded of my own first steps. It was a particularly awkward time for me, since I was just an overly impressionable teenage boy when I started my journey. I thought that I would reminisce about those early times just to show my readers that my own path started out on very shaky ground indeed. Perhaps we can all see this as an object lesson in how not to approach a serious study and practice of ritual magick.
My early history as a practicing magician, although it happened so many years ago that it’s now just memory fragments, was not a study in miracles and amazing accomplishments. If I could be labeled anything in those early days of being a ritual magician, it would be with the words “incompetent” and “delusional.” Now you might find that statement rather shocking and harsh, but it is also unfortunately true. My magick rarely produced any material effects, and yet I persisted in my magickal efforts largely because I believed that I was an especially gifted and great magician. Luckily, I am no longer burdened by such delusions, but back in those days, I believed that I had great powers and a special knowledge which no one else possessed. I can chuckle to myself about it now; but back then I took such notions in deadly earnest, much to the dismay of my friends and acquaintances.
To be fair to myself, though, I was, after all, merely a teenager who possessed very little information in which to build a solid occult foundation. I didn’t have any teachers, and the number of good books in print on magick back then were very few, and I might add, prohibitively expensive for me. Not only was I quite young and a bit immature (we’re talking about a 16 year old boy), I also hadn’t yet bloomed intellectually and was still functioning as a remarkable underachiever - a common occurrence in those days. My notebooks from that time show a writing ability that was sub-par and an intellectual grasp of the occult that was based mostly on urban myth and personal fancy. Reading over them today is almost embarrassing for me, but they represent my unromantic and factual history.
What I did have back then was a very powerful visual imagination fueled by some pretty egotistical delusions about myself and my personal destiny. I worked magick as often as I could get away with it, considering that I was living in the same house as my parents. Yet most of what I was doing (according to my surviving notebooks) was pretty rudimentary and not particularly sound. What I lacked in terms of knowledge and reference materials, I more than made up with personal zeal, imaginary insights and questionable spiritual communications. Through the power of inspiration and creativity, I eventually put together a magickal system which surprisingly managed to work. Yet until that time, I was blindly stumbling around and maybe even a bit insane.
However, I suspect, based on the sparse journal entries in my notebooks, that much of what I did magically failed to produce any results whatsoever. Since I was living in a fantasy world, the fact that my magick failed to produce results didn’t seem to affect me very much. I was in too deep to attempt any amount of critical thinking at that time. It’s no wonder that when I got booted out of the Navy in 1974 that the service psychiatrist had identified me as an acute psychotic, and maybe, for a few years during that time, I was probably about as deranged as he had reported me to be. However, I was quite functional and could be reasoned with to a point by my parents and friends, so I didn’t need to be institutionalized. Besides, I crashed back to earth soon afterwards and was flexible enough to survive it, and in fact, I was able to quickly move on. Life as a teenager back then could be fraught with insane notions - “And all your children, are insane!” (Jim Morrison/Doors - "The End") I also suspect that not too much has changed since then.
Living in that kind of delusional state is not what I would recommend to anyone who is seeking to become a ritual magician. Perhaps the greatest thing lacking in my occult path at the time was someone older and more mature who could have given me direction and helped me curb my more egregious habits and predilections. Yet such a teacher didn’t exist at the time, so physical necessity itself intervened and forced me to adapt to the real world and its limitations. It was these events that functionally ended my childhood and forced me to deal with real issues and practical considerations. Compared to my friends, I started this path into adulthood a bit behind the curve of the bell-shaped graph of normalcy, but I eventually caught up with them, even though it took me several years. You could say that for a few years I was something of a “lost boy,” living in a dream world and oblivious to the real world that was all around me.
What moved and shaped me back then was likely the fact that my childish imagination was still overly febrile, and I could exist in my fantasy world without the rude material world intervening. In that kind of environment, the powers and knowledge of magick thrived regardless of their formulation, or that they were based on any kind of traditional occult knowledge. However, once I fell back to earth, then my magick started to be consistently tested against the hard facts of a remorseless physical reality, which was quite unsympathetic to my more delusional beliefs. Examining my notebooks, I can see that once I returned from my failed stint in the military, my whole perspective about magick changed dramatically. I began to become much more organized, and the few books that I had acquired were much more influential in my work. I relied less on my fantasies and urban myths, and sought to build a solid occult foundation. It took me a few years to complete this process, but the end result was a dramatic change in both style and substance.
By the advent of my 21st birthday, I had acquired some important books and tools that had pushed my knowledge of magick to a point where it was based on real traditional occult knowledge. However, I had gone as far as I could, and I couldn’t progress any further without some kind of outside intervention. I had gotten to the very boundary of developing such ideas as the vortex and the magickal gateway, but they weren’t mature enough yet to be useful, since they had been based on too much creative speculation and not enough solid expertise. I had grown to become a big fish in a tiny pond, and in order to really grow, I needed someone to guide and teach me, and I needed a much bigger pond! Had I failed to receive this outside help then I likely would have stagnated to the point where I would have quit working magick altogether, something that had been nearly unthinkable to me just a couple of years before. However, at that very point in my occult career, I was introduced to Christopher and Alexandria, and then soon afterwards, eagerly joined the Coven from Hell, and everything after that point changed forever.
To work magick with individuals who were experienced and knew what they were doing was such a potent and wonderful shock to me that it literally launched me to the next stage in my magickal studies. The contrast between the time before this event and afterwards was so astonishing that I doubt I could have simulated it in any other way. I had to have a teacher and I had to experience group magickal workings in order to really understand what was possible. The magickal powers that I experienced were so much greater than what I had been able to generate by myself, and it was nothing short of incredible. As an example, I had pushed the envelope so hard during that time that I had gone through all three degrees in my coven in just under two years. I suspect that I had set a kind of record, since the coven curriculum was quite broad and deep.
I am certain that others have had the same kind of experience the moment they made the transition from being a solitaire worker to being a member of a group practicing group magickal workings. Yet when I made that transition, it helped me to finally objectify something that had been too locked up in subjectivity to really amount to much. I had been working magick since I was around 16 years old, and in that five years I hadn’t figured out how to objectify what I was doing, even though I had gotten a few of my friends involved. Objectifying my magickal process was likely the most important thing that I was to accomplish in my long occult career, and it was the triggering event that led me to develop the magickal system that I use today.
So what does all this rambling discourse on my past follies and exploits have to do with the present world? It has to do with the fact that a solitaire practitioner, without peers or teachers, might be able to progress to a certain point of competency in their development using books and other materials, but they will need a socializing environment if they are to continue to evolve. I know that this was true for me, even though I had become something of a virtuoso for a while.
We all need teachers and peers in order to truly progress beyond our own limitations, and unfortunately, they are in short supply. However, part of any occult discipline should include the search for associates and like-minded seekers, and I believe that such a search, even if conducted in the most inhospitable environment, will ultimately be successful. I also believe that an occultist who is on the path to becoming an accomplished ritual magician will be able to acquire associates and a social circle of peers just as he or she will be able to acquire books and magickal tools. Such acquisitions are an important part of any magician’s path and process of spiritual and magickal evolution.
The key to all of this is for the magician student to somehow achieve that profound and special moment when his or her magick is objectified through interacting with others, and nothing else can do that like working group magick or magically engaging with one’s peers.