Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Occult Teachers, Masters and Instructing Students in Ritual Magick

Since I have written an article about groups and their importance, I guess that I should also put in my two cents about teachers, masters and instructing students in the art of ritual magick. This is a pretty sensitive topic, since some have vested interests in their teachers and spiritual leaders, while others are interested in maintaining and actively pursuing their roles in the community. I must admit that ever since I left the Coven From Hell, I have not put myself in a position to call anyone my teacher. Instead, I have been inspired by some individuals, and I would assume that I have inspired others as well. I also consider myself a student, no matter how many years I have been researching, writing and practicing magick. I might have more experience and knowledge than some, but I am always encountering some new concept or topic in my interactions with other occultists, even if that other occultist is just a beginner.

So because I got really burned by being, for a while, the “chela” of Christopher Syn, also known as Bill Schnoebelen, I guess you could say that I have soured on the whole matter of assuming the role of master, chela, student or teacher. Because of my previous experiences, I have avoided looking for teachers, gurus or individuals to whom I might bond with so as to quicken my mastery of myself and my occult practices. I just don’t believe that anyone has any real answers to the questions I pose to myself in regards to my own internal spiritual truths and my quest for enlightenment. That also doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to what others are saying, read books written by other authors or attend their classes or workshops. I am as open to new ideas from many sources, and I have been highly inspired by the words and ideas of other people. I hope that I remain in such an open and accessible way for the duration of my life, so I won’t ever be closed off to new sources of ideas and information, no matter their source.

However, over the years I have steadfastly avoided the role of teacher, seeking to share what I know with like minded and open individuals. Why is this so? What have I got against being a teacher and the role of teachers, masters, chelas, students and the whole formal operation of occult pedagogy? Why do I resist taking on any kind of occult assistant or allowing individuals to satisfy themselves while basking in my aura? I have to admit that the whole idea of anyone engaging in a kind of hero worship of me is disturbing, mainly because I know all too well that I am unworthy of any adulation. I am just an occult student who is attempting to practice the art of ritual magick while also simultaneously trying to make a living and live my life in some degree of peace and harmony. I do admire some individuals that I have met, and I am certain that I have some admirers as well. As long as it doesn’t go too far, I am OK with all of that. So, the rest of the topic of teachers, masters, chelas and students has to do with what I would consider going too far with roles, expectations and all of the associated baggage.

I have already discussed what I think of the whole subject of ascended masters in a previous article that you can find here. While I realize that some occultists put a great deal of faith and belief in this topic, for myself, I have a much more down to earth sentiment. I respect that others do believe in ascended masters, yet in all of the years that I have practiced ritual magick, I have never once either met any masters or even found evidence that they exist. It might be that I am psychically tone deaf to the occurrence of ascended masters, yet I believe that there have been many human beings who have excelled in their spiritual search and quest for enlightenment throughout the ages. They lived their lives like anyone else, and they died after leading a consummately productive life. Rama Krishna is a good example of this kind of spiritual master, and there are many others. However, Rama Krishna died of throat cancer, and his passage was well documented by his followers. He was, more than anything else, a human being just like you and me, afflicted by frailties and gifted by exceptional virtues. However, my spiritual path has been pretty mundane in regards to meeting remarkable individuals, because there was not one who was a supernatural being as far as I could tell, yet all of them were remarkable in a very human sort of way. I think that I have made my point on this topic, so I can continue with the rest of the story, as it were. 

If we conclude that the world is not populated with ascended masters who are immortal, often invisible and beyond human frailties and flaws, what then of the many declared teachers and leaders who are in the world today. In order for me to make an informed judgment of any of these teachers, I would need to know them and be able to examine the contents of their teachings. However, based on what I have said above, which is that none of these teachers or spiritual leaders are likely to be immortal ascended masters, they are instead human beings, no different in that regard than you or I. They have virtues and failings, great gifts and personal flaws, so there isn’t really anything supernatural or godlike operating in any of them.

Putting a teacher or spiritual leader on a pedestal while they are still alive has inherent risks both for the teacher or leader and the ardent follower. That risk is powerfully defined by one word - “expectations.” If we revere a teacher or a spiritual leader, then we have put them in a place above the rest of humanity. All of their actions and words are judged in this context, giving them far more weight and importance than they would normally acquire. The teacher or leader is required to behave and speak as a conduit of the divine at all times, and when he or she shows any of the vices or weaknesses of mortality, then their fall from grace is just as precipitous as their rise. I have seen this rise and fall happen repeatedly in various groups and organizations that I have personally experienced or read about. To knowingly don the apparel and persona of the great teacher or leader is to engage not only in self deception, but to deceive and impugn the spiritual beliefs and integrity of others - this is an egregious sin in my estimation.

Pretending to be an emissary of the Godhead deliberately empowers the expectations of others, thus creating a false aura of glamor and fascination. Such a pretense will always lead to a terrible fall, since the teacher or leader ends up being seduced into believing their own PR, making the outer deception into one that is potentially pathological. There is such a thing as a Messiah complex, where both the leader and devotees engage in a complete disassociation with reality. It often leads to terrible abuses, personal tragedy and even a kind of social-spiritual collapse. The rest of the world looks upon the fall of a spiritual leader as yet another scandal that proves the folly of discipleship and the gullibility of trust vested in any spiritual leader. Such events makes the world a little bit more cynical and incapable of believing in anyone or anything.

For the reasons that I have stated above, I have carefully avoided developing my role as a spiritual or occult leader and teacher. I have also avoided becoming anyone’s devoted follower, thereby refusing to join any organization that is not democratic or ruled by consensus. I am not afflicted with cynicism, but I am affected greatly by prudence and an awareness of my own personal failings. Life has made me humble, whether or not I wanted it. The great equalizer and the reducer of time and circumstance has ensured that I have never been allowed to get too infatuated with my own supposed brilliance or ingenuity. Yet if I am so loath to adopt any kind of spiritual leader or teacher persona, then how do manage to teach anyone anything? I also appear to be writing books and articles, conducting workshops and discussions groups and communicating with various individuals who want to learn what I seem to know. Is this a kind of disingenuous hyperbole on my part? Well, not really, because I have decided on a much better role that eliminates all of the above pitfalls.

I seek to share my knowledge and experiences with others instead of force feeding them my methodologies and beliefs. Sharing means that I will also gain useful information and insights from those whom I am engaged in sharing. It also immediately establishes a relationship of mutual respect and equality, something that I idealize and is part of the governance of the Order to which I am a member. Another important concept is mentoring. If I become engaged in sharing my ideas and practices with another person, then I have become a mentor to that person. Being a mentor is a very temporary situation, it is also quite personal and intimate. A mentor guides, suggests, shares and demonstrates, but he or she doesn’t dictate, coerce or exploit the one who is being mentored. Also, a mentor relationship has a limited scope associated with it, which means that the student is taking on a specific task or tasks, and when they are completed, then the relationship is dissolved amicably. While a teacher takes on a role that often erects a barrier between themselves and the student, a mentor has no such barriers. A teacher often has a group of individuals to impart a set curriculum, so there is often little time for answering extensive questions by a single student. There is also little time for remedial assistance or one on one tutoring, since a teacher must assume a certain amount of required background knowledge. A mentor instructs at whatever level the student has previously achieved, and helps one master the curriculum at their own pace.

The whole object of training someone in the art of ritual magick is to allow them to perform all of the rituals and magickal workings for themselves. At some point, their own creative genius has to be triggered so that all of the practicing and study comes alive for them. The sole purpose of any spiritual or magickal teacher is to inspire and guide a student so they can become autonomous and self-directing. Any other kind of assistance is either unwanted or unneeded. When a teacher seeks to use a student to build themselves up or to create a permanent and co-dependent relationship, then that teacher is violating the whole spirit and purpose of teaching. The focus should be completely on students and their trials at learning and mastering the discipline and practice of ritual magick. It should not be on the teacher, who doesn’t need any attention and shouldn’t disrupt the student’s learning process. If a student ever finds himself being put into a situation where the teacher’s issues or needs are eclipsing the topics that were supposed to be taught, then my advice is to either respectfully remind the teacher of the objectives or quickly end that teacher student relationship. This can happen to any teacher who is overwhelmed by personal issues, but a teacher who is so afflicted can no longer teach. Often it is up to the student to judge these situations and to take corrective action, since the student is personally responsible for their own learning process.

It is has long been my opinion that the best magickal instruction is acquired by individual and personal instruction through mentorship. Ritual magick often has a very high bar in regards to getting started and learning to become an effective ritual magician. Books and workshops can help, so can video demonstrations and examples. However, mastery of ritual magick requires the student to assume all of the work, and most of that work is the practice of meditation, rituals and the performing of magickal workings. Ideally, a mentor can not only demonstrate how a working should be performed by sharing a magickal working with the student, he or she can also guide and observe the student taking the first step in operating independently. This is my preferred way to teach others how to work magick, through sharing and acting as a temporary mentor. It keeps the focus on the student and removes the glamor from the experienced teacher, which is how magick and occultism should be taught in the first place. I have never had anyone get any romantic notions about me and my magickal abilities when I have adopted this role, so it would seem that it’s a good object lesson used to maintain a balanced and humble outlook on one’s life and spirituality.

When people write emails and ask for me to become their teacher, I have often demurred. I am not being antisocial or dismissive of their interests or needs. I just believe that a true and faithful teaching of the actual practice of ritual magick should be done through a mentor type relationship. That would require a person to live in some proximity to where I live, or for them to be able to afford to personally visit me on a regular basis. Otherwise, there are my books, workshops, and the books, lectures and workshops of other teachers. I believe that there is no shortage of materials for students to acquire and master their pursuit of the art of ritual magick. However, I reserve my personal guidance and technical ritual methodologies to an intimate one on one kind of experience, even if that means that I will personally train and empower very few ritual magicians in my lifetime. That is the limitation and the virtues of such a regimen. So, if you don’t call me master, I won’t call you a chela or treat you like servant. That’s a promise!

Frater Barrabbas

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