Received a number of questions over the past week that I will be sharing here in the days to come, as I feel they, along with my replies, would be beneficial for others to read. The first of these questions is as follows:
Hey M! Do you read the Golden Dawn blog? I wanted to ask what you think of his post from a while back about people "playing at magic", and about how it is impossible to succeed without a formal teacher, how there are no successful or significant self taught magicians and all of that. Do you think that applies to all of magicks or just Golden Dawn type? And is it true in your eyes that no matter what we can't succeed or become talented magicians without a teacher?
I hadn't read the blog post in question, so I took a moment to do so and responded as follows:
"I think if the field of Magick the student wants to learn is that of the Golden Dawn, it is indeed correct and a teacher is indeed necessary, however if your calling is to the Grimoires, Neo-Platonic or Hermetic Magick such as RO's field of expertise, or other fields outside the confines of an established initiatory structure, it is absolutely not true.
The very nature of the GD tradition and its system of Magick, whichever of the many branches and offshoots we're talking about, makes it possible for a solitary practitioner to develop their skills and knowledge to a certain degree using the available, published materials, and what they can glean from the various resources on the internet, but that development is limited to what has been made available and excludes all of the higher level teachings that come only with progression through the grades and receiving effective mentoring. It also excludes the student from the benefits of formal initiation within the order, which is in itself very valuable if that order's system of magick and tradition are your chosen path. While David Griffin has recently begun expanding the teachings and knowledge available to solitary practitioners as well as offering an outreach program whereby they can receive more direct instruction, and he is to be commended for this in my opinion, there is still a line drawn in the sand beyond which the self taught magician cannot pass without the benefit of a teacher, and in order to advance to the highest levels of attainment in the GD, or for that matter the O.T.O., Aurum Solis, or any such order's tradition, you have to be taught by someone who has been there and done that.
ON the other hand, however, those who, like myself, have chosen, or rather been chosen by, another path, such as that of the Grimoires or more ancient systems of Magick like those of the Greco-Egyptians, Coptic Christians, etc... A teacher, if one who is competent, geographically local, and has the requisite talent and knowledge, would be great, however such is very rarely the case. Our teachers then are the forefathers of our tradition, through their writing, through what we can learn of them and their practices based on what remains of it, preserved in history, and most importantly of all, by learning by DOING. For those who would work with the Grimoires, the system espoused in the Book of Abrasax, the PGM, and other such works, there is no substitute for DOING. Experimenting. Innovating. Reconstructing and Restoring. Our Magick cannot be taught by the author of the aforementioned blog post, nor by any of the extant orders, because unlike the comparatively modern forms of magick they teach (albeit with roots in older traditions) history has preserved very little of ours, and we are therefore required to learn by exploration. The magick of the Golden Dawn is the ingenious brainchild of the GD's founders, Mathers, Westcott, etc... who took what was available to them at the time, limited as it was, from many different areas of occultism, Eastern, Western, Enochian and other, and brought the sum of its best parts together in a cohesive, workable whole. When they started, they had no teachers or instruction, and yet the system they built is foundation and basis for that upon which the aforementioned blog's author, and every other GD order, relies to this day.
The solitary practitioner of Grimoiric magick today has at his fingertips more and better teachers than at any time in history, and with it the potential to succeed to a greater extent - IF he has the wisdom to weed through the bullshit, con artists, and those whose only magickal act is to make money disappear from their "students'" pockets. The same goes for any field of occultism, as ours is indeed a field ripe for deceitful and dishonest individuals and their shenanigans. We have more "occult" publishers than ever before, and yet the better part of what is released is absolute fiction, marketed well and hyped as the next big thing, the darkest of the dark, and the sure fire 12 step program to godhood. Pure, unadulterated, bullshit.
And you know what? That's a good thing. It weeds out those unsuited for veritable magick, those whose motives are impure, or who in all honesty have no business learning true magick anyway. If someone doesn't have the common sense and discernment to know that a book being wrapped in high end, hand bound gnome skin written in blood drawn of an elf's scrotum at midnight at the crossroads doesn't necessarily guarantee a quality work from which they can actually learn, do we REALLY want them succeeding in evocation of Asmodeus anyway?
What my long winded response was intended to get across, in summation, is this.
- If your path is that of the Golden Dawn, the OTO or another initiatory order, sure, you can learn a bit on your own. More now that teachers like David Griffin are beginning to offer more help to those on a solitary path. But there will always be a point beyond which you just can't go without a teacher, and you're also losing out on the benefits of initiation.
- If you are on another path, such as my own, sure a capable teacher would be great. If one is available to you, and I stress that availability doesn't equate to capability, as you will have a great deal more who are full of shit than genuinely valuable as instructors, by all means, seize the opportunity and work with a teacher.
- If, as will be the case most frequently, no teacher is available to you, close enough geographically, or otherwise attainable, DO NOT let it deter you. Having a mentor can smooth the ride but it is absofuckinglutely not a prerequisite. If your will is strong and you are earnest in your study, and more importantly your PRACTICE, you can attain all the success you would with a teacher. The vast majority of my own development was done quite alone and without any means of instruction, and however "insignificant" self taught magicians may be in the eyes of some, I would stack my successes and results up against those of any man, any day, and should anyone wish to debate that in person or tell me that the successes I've achieved don't quite count, I am more than willing to meet and have the conversation face to face.