Why you can’t learn Magick from a magazine

In the past couple of decades there has been a surge in the popularity of the occult with a rise in mainstream middle-class acceptance of belief in things like Tarot and magick. In the late 1970s when I first became interested in magick literature on the subject was scant, almost unobtainable and often cryptic or just plain impractical. A recent search on amazon.com turned up over 1500 titles that have the word magick or magic in them. A number of those titles are the classic works of occultism of course, but even accounting for them and double entries or books that are off topic there would still have to be 1,000 books on magick that can be bought over the internet.

Thirty years ago it was nigh on impossible to find guidance in the occult arts, let alone an initiator or an established order of adepts. Now it would seem that anyone can read up a bit, go to a new age festival and attend a workshop or two on the secrets of the arcane arts and viola! You’re a trained Adept ready to conjure Solomon’s spirits from their infernal depths to come to do your bidding. The impact that this has had is very complex. Old school occultists that have stuck to their discipline and know its true value will always insist on a structured approach to occult study and practice. The feature of following the program of a magickal order that is nearly always lacking in the self taught magician is the goal. The lowest Novice in a proper order knows from the beginning what the objective of the exercise will be. The dilettantes that cherry picks only those things that appeal to them wont develop all of the necessary skills and so their mastery of magick will always be incomplete and they will struggle to make any actual spiritual progress.

Among my fellow Thelemites this issue boils down to a question of initiation. Whilst there is widespread acceptance that self initiation is possible it is only the rarest individual who will succeed on that path. The consensus seems to be that at least the first initiation should be overseen by an Adept. As one frater put it; Thelema should court discipline, class, manners… not create temples based on unrestricted debauchery. Self styled magicians will struggle to acquire the correct discipline without initial guidance and the danger is that the practices will degenerate into self indulgence. This seems to be the same challenge that divides the Wiccan-Pagan world at the minute.

Whilst I am not saying that there is any sort of split in the Australian Wiccan-Pagan community there is definitely a division in its members. On the one hand are the traditionalist Witches who have learned their discipline, submitted to its ordeals and trials and, most importantly, passed the initiations that are at the heart of Gardnerian-Alexandrian Witchcraft. On the other hand are the eclectic Witches who may have followed one method or may have scotched together a simile of witchcraft. Rarely are they initiated and, in fact, a recent thread on a Wiccan site that I follow questioned the importance of initiation and of the three degrees of Wiccan attainment. The old school voices in the group all pointed out that Wicca as it was presented by Gardner (in Witchcraft Today) has always been an initiatory religion making the degrees central to the practice. The eclectics responded by asking if Gardner’s works are even relevant anymore or if it is just a form of Wiccan snobbery. How far does Wicca have to depart from the traditional practices before it is mere affectation, façade and indulgence?

As it would seem that the interest in occultism is not going to fade away any time soon, nor are there going to be any less people abandoning their cultural beliefs for new age religions like Wicca and Thelema, then the question of qualification is going to continue to divide opinions as well. As initiation is at the heart of the matter then perhaps that should be the focus of the solution. Personally I believe that self initiation is a viable option for unconnected students who cannot find or cannot join a working group. The importance of initiation should be given more stress in the popular books and magazines that currently form a gateway to magick and witchcraft. It is only through experienced initiates properly explaining then processes of magick that Novices will be able to take themselves onto the path and initiate themselves. It is the unbalanced, unguided approach to magick that leads so many people astray and that gives magick a bad image in the mainstream middle-class perception.

Certainly when many people discover the routine drill of properly learning magick, the hours of meditation, practice and study involved, they are disappointed. Magick is supposed to be flash and exciting. There will always be those who turn to magick under the misapprehension that it is a quick fix or no effort solution to their problems. About 90% of the correspondences that I get asking about ‘lessons in magick’ mention money or personal problems too. Really, those sorts of people should steer clear of magick. But the 10% that are genuine deserve good advice and patience. My Golden Dawn initiation instructed me to treat even the least Neophyte with respect as he may be someone far greater than me. By excluding people altogether, and by not offering any alternative to joining a group, are magickal orders and perhaps covens also, denying themselves the opportunity to find those few really talented individuals from outside of their circles who might just be the next brightest and best?

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About dgmattichakjr

D G Mattichak jr was born in 1963 in Syracuse New York and immigrated to Melbourne Australia with his family in 1972. He was educated in one of Melbourne’s exclusive private schools before studying art at Preston Technical College. D G Mattichak jr has been a student of the occult arts since the early 1980s and has become well known in Australian magickal circles and, in recent years, around the world due to a string of essays on a variety of occult subjects http://www.scribd.com/dmattichak/shelf . He discovered the “key to the order & value of the English alphabet” from Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Law in 1983 and has since used this English Qabalah to unlock the secrets of Thelemite magick. Success in these methods admitted him to the highest levels of attainment in various Hermetic disciplines and until recently he has been passing on his knowledge to private students, many of whom have gone on to become notable occultists in their own right. After almost three decades of study and development D G Mattichak jr has finally been able to distil his knowledge of magick and Thelema into a book- A Comment on the Verses of the Book of the Law, the first in a planned series of books on Hermeticism and Thelemite magick, revealing, for the first time in over a century, the secrets of magick that have been hidden in Crowley’s magnum opus, the Book of the Law. D G Mattichak jr currently lives in Melbourne Australia with his artist wife Michelle and their two cats. He has had a long career as an al a carte chef in Melbourne’s vibrant hospitality scene and now spends his time writing blogs on cooking, writing and, in the guise of Master Ankh af na Khonsu, about magick. He is also one of the founding members of the Mt Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering and regularly contributes to its official website http://mountfranklinannualpagangathering.blogspot.com/ as both an administrator and as an author. D G Mattichak jr’s first book Loot was released in 2009. His books are available through amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias=stripbooks&field-keywords=D G Mattichak&x=13&y=20 .
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8 Responses to Why you can’t learn Magick from a magazine

  1. Steven says:

    I know very little about this subject, but I find your posts on Magick fascinating. Thanks

    • One of the reasons that I am making these posts on magick is for people like yourself to have a glimpse of what can be an imposing and mysterious world. I am glad that you are enjoying my efforts- it’s good to know that someone is actually reading this stuff.

  2. Ed Hurst says:

    You wrote: “Self styled magicians will struggle to acquire the correct discipline without initial guidance and the danger is that the practices will degenerate into self indulgence.” My, my; how familiar that sounds for Christians, too. Basic principles of the Spirit Realm are the same, regardless of approach. If the thing you pursue is not somewhere above your self, it’s not worth much.

    • I could say the same about any pursuit really Ed. In my industry (hospitality) there are lots of untrained or half trained chefs and they struggle with the finer points of cookery. I am sure this is the same in other areas of human endeavor as well. Still, from among those self styled experts in every field there will always be those individuals of real native talent that will come to the fore regardless- life’s like that I suppose.

  3. Mary says:

    As I’m not an adherent of any ceremonial magical order, I’m certainly not qualified to make opinions based on little or zero practical or intellectual experience. However I am most certainly qualified to make an opinion based upon this argument that, from time to time rears its head within the pagan community. Which is of course non-initiates (NI) feeling somehow that initiates (I) of the two main traditions of Wicca ie Gardnerian or Alexandrian and its various streams (equally valid) believe themselves to be ‘superior’ and ‘elitist’. Sadly the real answer lays not so much in any validity of what NI’s believe to be the truth but in the reality that NI’s seem to vocalise more than anyone their own feelings of inferiority complex and the notion that they are somehow considered ‘not valid’ because they are NI. Regardless of how many times traditional folk go on elists or some such and explain in terms as much as they are able-(which is quite considerable oaths notwithstanding) precisely what it is to be an I, it is inevitably shot down with the same old tiresome rhetoric of ‘superiortiy’ ‘elitism’ and ‘snobbery’ labelling. One writer on an elist recently describes the process of initiation as ‘a lot of work for not much except if youre lucky a laminated membership card’. Of course one wonders how he knew about our laminators and our cards-someone has clearly spilled the beans and will inevitably be banished to the nether realms :P
    However, although I tend to take a humoured point of view upon this subject it does get pretty dull after a lot of years now being a practitoner of both eclectic Craft, Alexandrian Craft and 2 streams of Traditional Craft. I have been through the degrees and intiations which seem to cause so much percieved angst within the NI pagan community. All, I might add at my discretion, choice and work. I was not special in applying myself to my hearts desire. Nor was I elitist in my approach to servitude-which is in all honesty pretty much the life of an initiated Priest or Priestess. I was not ‘snobby’ nor ‘superior’ in applying myself to stripping back the parts of myself I did not wish to acknowledge. Yet these things are fundamental as foundation training methods-to us. And, come as part and parcel of the deal. When someone approaches us for training we make many attempts to dissuade them. Because in all seriousness no one would choose the confronting nature of our Craft and path without some serious balls and aptitude to cope with all that life and our Gods throw at us magnified by about %100. There must be more than asthetics, more than superficial rosy eyed views of a glorious shiny hippy pagan existence. If you cannot face the grit, do the work as set before you be a NI witch and enjoy the simpler, less demanding, perfectly valid and fulfilling path that you have been called to. And be happy! Our Mother says ‘be happy and you shall be wise’. I do not subscribe to the sheer hypocrisy shouted by the biggest and loudest NI witches who demand ‘tolerance and acceptance’ from traditional folk yet who think nothing of making snide and derisive ignorant remarks within public platforms.
    It is as you point out, largely consuming and hard work with many practical hours of foundation and ongoing training. But moreso from a Witches point of view this is my life. 24 hours, 7 days per week. I am this when I work, I am this as a mother, wife, daughter, friend etc etc infinitum. It is evident in every aspect of my existence. Not a weekend hobby or exploration. I tend to hold the opinion that it is the belief that the Craft is a pathway to instant enlightenment, contentment, happiness, freedom, expression etc that attracts many to it. However the realisation to many that there is a more shall we say serious commitment focussed aspect to it that clearly excludes these people from its inner machinations due to the requirements of admission-ie initiation obviously irritates indeed ‘offends’ those to truly believe that they are ‘entitled’ to know what it is that we do. These same people mock our oaths, mock our rituals in public arenas and are openly hostile. Interestingly they think nothing if citing the Wiccan Rede or indeed, modelling their own practice upon any one of the myriad of Wiccan books available, and attempting to utilise the same tools which we imploy without the necessary knowledge or indeed requirement to craft our own (in my tradition at least). Is there a solution , I’m not sure. As one initiate pointed out recently it is a topic that is a revolving door. it dies down again only to crop up as the next wave of NI move up and start the inevitable claims of indignation and hostility towards Traditional groups. For many people these people would never come to paganism without reading something about Witchcraft or the far more publically digestable Wiccan books. Their ideas are often marred by the onslaught of popularised TV shows and movies or living within a fantasy world of their own. Many people are introduced via festivals and gatherings-the Australian Wiccan Conference which has been running now for over 2 decades-held in hosting states each year, The Burning Man festival in Victoria, Euphoria (now defunct) and the Southern Hemisphere’s longest running Pagan Gathering Mount Franklin Beltane Gathering.-this year celebrating its 30th Anniversary and begun by traditional folk- more about this can be found on the shameless plugged link here : http://mountfranklinannualpagangathering.blogspot.com/
    So from one Traditional Witch I say, do I want my Tradition to die -no but then there is no threat to that. Do I want people to be initiated – yes if this is their calling-no if its religion shopping or voyeurism. Would I like to see tolerance and acceptance-sure, but I don’t need to continue to put myself in the firing line simply because I am what I am and believe what I do. Do I care what others do? No-‘an it harm none’-as a guiding principle not a law. I am not out for accolades nor to indulge my own sensibilities. In all things I must look inwardly to myself first and decide the course of action with all due care and the training I have been given-as was my choice from the beginning. I believe we all have a choice do we not?

    • It is exactly as you say Mary, I also try to dissuade people that come to me asking for instruction in magick. Initiation is all that there is to ceremonial magick and any other sorts of ceremonies like talismanic work or astral travelling that are the most common forms of magick, are only practiced in support of that one goal- becoming an adept. Of course many will disagree with me but my understanding of the matter is that any magick that departs from this central goal is by definition black and so counter productive to what is in fact a lifetime’s work. I too live, eat, sleep, and breathe my discipline of Thelema and it is not a life that I would recommend to anyone who’s commitment to self realization is not 100%. In fact I was a magician before I turned my hand to anything else in life and I have spent every spare minute and every cent that I have ever had on this one pursuit. The situation regarding initiations for ceremonial magicians is further complicated by the almost complete lack of a recognized tradition and the tendency that magick has for attracting dilettantism in the approach to one’s Great Work. It is very common for a newbie magician to achieve some small result and to misinterpret it as a completed enlightenment making them a master of all magick- and this is rarely if ever truly the case.
      Ceremonial initiation is a dangerous process as unless it is genuinely life threatening it is of dubious worth, and when I have initiated others they have often gone away feeling that they had learned all that I could teach them when in fact they were at the very beginning of their instruction. One student even went so far as to inform me that they had improved on my magick and now had a better way of making the magick circle than the Pentagram rituals! My simple instructions to this Novice to learn the basics of focus and breathing, to practice the simpler pentagram rituals and to quietly study the qabalah and tarot that I had prescribed went out the window- along with any hope of achieving the Great Work in this life, very sad really but it is the price of magick. Not everyone is cut out to succeed and in fact many more will fail in the path than will ever succeed. From your comments it would appear that many more people wish to be witches then will ever succeed in those ambitions.
      I can’t imagine that Wicca will regress from here- it is much too well established for that now, but I do see an undisciplined, directionless element entering into what I had always known to be a very serious practice as Wicca has attracted a large number of lightweight followers. Magick also attracts its fair share of facile adherents but the harsh nature of the discipline soon sorts out the wheat from the chaff and the dabbler in magick often finds himself deep in the hot water. It is not uncommon for failed magicians to suffer from emotional/mental problems, and their experience commonly turns them off anything occult for the rest of their lives. One lass I knew many years ago was so frightened of a small result in magick that she burned her Tarot, her weapons and all of the ceremonial paraphernalia as a prelude to becoming a rabid christian- the very creed that she had been wanting to abandon when she took up magick in the first place. Wicca is a far less extreme discipline so instances like this are less common but I am sure that they occur. In the case of magick it is these kinds of experiences that give ceremonial magick its reputation of being likely to induce some sort of psychosis and in the case of magick it really doesn’t matter what people think. Will this misapprehension of the possible outcome of practicing witchcraft have a negative impact on serious Wicca because untrained, uninitiated people who have no schedule of discipline have bad experiences and label all of Wicca as “evil” and how will that impact on the public face of Wicca which has only just started to make progress towards overcoming much of the prejudice that the middle classes have of witchcraft. I know, from my experience in the magickal world, that when people are trained and disciplined in the practices of either Wicca or magick that it leads to a genuine spiritual enlightenment but if the mainstream perception is that it ruins lives how long will it be before the old discrimination against our personal beliefs returns?
      Wicca has come a long way in the past twenty or so years and it would be uncommon now for anyone but the most ignorant to confuse it with any form of Satanism in this enlightened day, giving witchcraft a new acceptability for the middle classes, but it could still be otherwise. I for one would not like to see a return to the bad old days when witches feared exposure because of the discrimination and ridicule (and at times outright abuse) that would follow. As a ceremonial magician I would prefer that my practices were to remain private as I know that they will certainly be misunderstood by the average person. Who has heard of Thelema anyway? Wasn’t Crowley the son of Satan or something? This marginalizes my beliefs far beyond anything that Wicca ever experienced (I still get asked quite regularly if I can conjure up the devil, or if I can get someone in to my next “Black Mass”) and I can never hope that the mainstream will even understand Thelema for what it is let alone accept it as a valid form of spiritual practice. If Wicca can be put into a poor light by a few fringe lightweights how much more can the image of Thelema be tarnished by the dabblers who are going to damage themselves by not learning the magickal skills required to perform High Magick? In the end I don’t really care what others do or think- I follow the creed Do What Thou Wilt (or was it shoot em all and let god sort em out) and so I will continue on my path regardless. Thelema will continue to attract the good and bad to itself but it would be nice if I could follow my path without having to put up with the discrimination that others are protected from by common law.

  4. Mary says:

    I wonder then if the more common and prevailing underlying belief is that these magical paths are often confused with incorrect parallels drawn between Christianity and Pagan-‘heathen’ practices such as Ceremonial and Wicca. Certainly there is sufficient evidence that supports incorporation of practice to make the new religion of Rome far more acceptable to the pagan folk of times long past. But I feel its not so much these liturgical or dogma aspects that cause such commotion as to a more, lazied approach to one’s own spiritual or personal development.
    To explain, Christianity has its heirarchial structure with the Pope claiming to be the lineaged representation of the disciple Peter. Its religious structure of a separation of clergy and laity is overt. The supposition that laity must ultimately utilise the Priest to ‘commune’ with one’s deity and that the Priest alone has final authority regarding spiritual matters leaves very little responsibility for the follower to attend to-save that of attendence, obedience or adherence to the praxis of the religion. In magical orders there is an immediate and glaring difference noted, there is no laity. Of course is is suggested that pagan orders have existed with noted individuals such as the shaman, witchdoctor, healer, druid etc adding spiritual guidance to local peoples. However the difference remains that this would seem to still suggest that the ultimate responsibility rested within the individual themselves rather than passed over to a third party or mediating body. This is still the current view from what I hear you saying David, and from my own experiences. I accept that I am fully responsible for my own spiritual and personal development. I need no priest to mediate on my behalf. I am able to work entirely at my own discretion, whenever I wish to. But of course the price for this ultimate freedom and autonomy of spirituality is the ability to live with any consequences of my actions. There is no luxury of absolution via a third party on a Sunday with a couple of Hail Mary’s.
    For the record, please do not misunderstand me, in no way am I denigrating the beliefs of others involved in mainstream or other religious practices. But I am attempting, rather poorly I think (!) to illustrate that magical orders have a major emphasis on self responsibility and awareness than that of mainstream religious orders-such as Christianity as one example. This in turn leaves very little room for laziness or lack of diligence over the smallest of details. For those that find this too demanding, we will see a natural attrition occur within the ranks so to speak.
    As far as discrimination is concerned I’m not entirely sure this will ever be an issue that will be resolved. I’m not entirely certain that I fully agree with you in terms of differentiating between which of our paths has been marginalised the more. I don’t think we can firstly compare such matters, because it really is an ‘apples and oranges’ debate. But secondly even if we were to enter such a comparison it would hardly seem quantifiable given Traditional Wicca’s demoralisation at the hands of the neo-pagan movement. I also don’t see that this is with all due respect an issue directly impacting upon Thelema alone. Really, its been some time that Masonry or for that matter the Templars have been granted any real respect (as one example). Recently they have both been described to me “as a bit of a role playing, archaic old boys in suits get togethers”. Now being female obviously I cannot know the inner mechanics of Masonry, but I do find even one opinion (such as that) sad and infinately disappointing. So I guess my question is, are we on a far broader scale, gradually seeing the eroding of all spiritual practices through lack of respect, belief, wonder and laziness? Is this a consequence of a consumer disposable society? Or something else entirely?
    I love your blog Dave, great for getting the cogs ticking over. Thanks for making the medium available!

  5. Thanks! I’m glad that you like it. I will shoot off an e-mail ASAP. You may also like my other blog at http://ankhafnakhonsu.wordpress.com/ . Welcome aboard.

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