Some of the Biggest Mistakes when Learning Magick

For any of these reasons or more, you step into the magickal circus, visiting new age stores, browsing online occult web sites, joining online chat groups, and maybe even purchasing a workbook or two to try the exercises. If you are lucky enough, you may even join a society (ie, Freemasonry) or a local coven, or attend a local gathering or meeting where you can begin to meet others in your community with similar questions.

As you do this, you will slowly be leaving the “consensus trance,” the one created by the daily ritual of commute-work/school-consume-television, for another one that is defined by ideas of magic, personal possibility, awakening, new group dynamics, alternative life paths. You will likely encounter a lot of incredibly inspiring ideas, and also, unfortunately, a lot of disempowering ideas and beliefs.

Here’s a useful way to think about it: Mainstream society is a program designed to work the best it can for the widest number of people possible. Generally speaking, that means good, decent people who are happy to live quiet, decent lives, and content themselves with the victories of career, family, health, happiness and making it through another day. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Outside of mainstream society, however, you will find a very different reality — the “wildlands” of modern civilization. Its denizens, for one reason or another, don’t feel satisfied by consensus reality. That could be because they’re ahead of the curve, or it could be because they are far behind the curve. That makes the “wildlands” an exciting, and dangerous, place. The “wildlands” are where society puts the ideas that are too disruptive of its daily activities, for better or worse. The strange ideas, the discredited ideas, the untested ideas, the potentially liberating ideas.

Magick is one of those ideas — or, rather, a gigantic cluster of ideas (a memeplex). Because those ideas have not been well tended by society, they are kind of a wild mess! It can be difficult to find material and teachings that is clear and succinct, and where you can actually see past the glamour and the propaganda, the “spooky” image that people have put on magick.

Seven of the seven biggest mistakes that people make when learning magick are as follows:

1. Poorly Defined Goals

What do you want? It is a simple question, but most who enter the world of magick and alternative spirituality never ask it, or never fully define the answer. As a result, they are caught up in the “dazzling lights” of the new age pinball machine, and bounced around between experiences, groups and teachers, never finding themselves or getting to their core issues and drives.

You need to ask yourself: What do you want?
:: Do you want greater creative skill and power?
:: Do you want to fix a trauma or personal challenge?
:: Are you willing to give up everything and seek enlightenment?

Whatever it is, define it now, and then ask yourself if magical means are really the answer, or if more mundane means would be a lot easier. Be clear on this, or you risk getting caught up in the glamour of magick, and forgetting that it’s just a tool, and only one tool of many available to you right now.

2. Staying in the Shallows

Magick is a giant buffet table. Thanks to the shrinking of the world by global communications, you will find material from every world faith and esoteric path readily available to you. Hermeticism/Golden Dawn/Thelema; Yoga; Vedanta; Vajrayana Buddhism; Sufism; Neuro-Lingustic Programming … the list is limited only by the demand of the new age marketplace for the next big kick. It can be hard to believe that no so long ago, all of these subjects would have been incredibly hard to discover information on. You wouldn’t have been able to just pop down to your local bookshop or google and have it all handed to you. And in all cases, once you discovered the entry to a path, you would be confronted with a teacher who would explain that the path was the work of a lifetime.

That puts modern seekers in a unique position. We do not lack access—but what we do often lack is commitment to a path.

Students will often browse here and there, reading on a wide variety of paths, or even joining several groups in sequence. This is an incredible way to learn quickly; however, if the buffet table approach takes the place of deep, committed learning in one path or tradition, what happens is you stop making progress. You just get to the edge of your comfort zone in one path before starting over in another, never taking that crucial jump into the unknown. Ironically, this probably takes more time than sticking to one path, at least until you reach that path’s completion stages.

However, if you go in the complete opposite direction, and become a “Path Zealot,” you will make the third mistake:

3. Thinking There is One True Path

Once you have experienced peak states or personal breakthroughs in a system, it is easy to generalize: “This is absolutely incredible… everybody should experience this!”

If you are not careful, you soon become a missionary, talking non-stop about what you’ve experienced, trying to get your friends or family into whatever practice caused the peak state or breakthrough, thinking that you have found the One True Path, and that all other paths are lesser or deluded.

People can stay stuck in this state for days, weeks, months, or years—even their whole life. It tends to be a blockage to progress. It’s a classic behavior of an individual with a weak sense of self: Deep down, they feel themselves to be inferior or lesser than others, so they place all their focus on an all-consuming ideology or charismatic leader that they derive strength and self-worth from serving. If this sounds like an obvious trap, and one you would never fall for, think again: The “One True Path” disease has been responsible for many of history’s greatest tragedies, including the Third Reich or the many historical genocides committed by overzealous religious missionaries that worked to “convert by sword”.

If your path is the One True Path, it’s time to leave your cloistered room or insular community and experience what life is like for others of different faiths and life backgrounds. Make some new friends.

4. Us verses Them Mentality

Because people who are into magick and alternative spirituality are often on the fringes, it’s easy to adopt belief systems that reinforce an oppressed identity or “us verses them” story. This becomes a particularly acute problem when the magick that people are doing isn’t working, or not producing a good quality of life, and instead of changing the behaviors or beliefs that are not working, people create a narrative in which some “other” individual or group is keeping them down. These stories about why failure is okay quickly blossom and cross-pollinate, becoming wide-scale conspiracy theories potent enough to infect whole cultures, leaving disempowerment, misery and even genocide in their wake (ie, the Third Reich). Examples of this include:
:: “The Illuminati are out to get me because I have secret knowledge.”
:: “Shapeshifting reptilians/Archons/evil spirits/Satan/etc. are controlling reality and don’t like me.”
::”I’m way too enlightened/edgy/intense/real for mainstream society to handle.”
:: “I am a lightworker charged with battling the dark forces, and the dark forces are in control.”

If you have any of these beliefs, or similar ones, then have a look at the underlying message which is personal significance – it is all about “me”. All of these scripts allow for personal significance through failure. They all allow you to be a complete fuckup and to simultaneously have the illusion of “winning”. Therefore they are ALL poison. You need to remove them immediately, and focus instead focus on your personal growth and happiness, and how you can be of service to the people around you.

5. Substance Abuse

Drugs and magick have been linked since the very first prehistoric shaman chewed some strange bark or fungus that let her talk to the spirits of the forest, and the spirits of the forest turned out to have some pretty useful stuff to say. In recent times, magicians like Aleister Crowley, William S. Burroughs, Terence McKenna, Carlos Castaneda and others have hyped the spiritual potential of psychedelics and even harder substances. Some of them have also fallen prey to addiction, and the destructive behaviors that come with the disease of addiction. This is one of the major reasons why magick has been so discredited.

Within magick there numerous alternative techniques offered for you to master, all of which have a longer lasting and more positive effect on all areas of your life.

6. Trying to Be the “Best Magician” Instead of the “Best You”

When overachiever types get into magick, they try to learn every single aspect of it and become a total and formidable master. There is no mastery; leave this archetype in the Saturday morning cartoons it came from. Remember: Magick is just a tool. Know your goal, and use the tool to achieve your goal.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be so linear: You may simply be seeking the regular, sustainable spiritual growth that comes from a regular practice of meditation, dreamwork, journalling, yoga, ritual and any other tool you have chosen to use.

It’s not a competition. There is no prize, other than becoming more yourself.

7. Giving Your Power Away

Particularly as a young and untested magician, you will likely be confronted with situations or people that tempt you to surrender your power. Whether it is an autocratic or abusive guru, a regimented and controlling magical order, or even a tightly controlling ideology, you might be tempted or even frightened into surrendering control of your life in exchange for some tangible or intangible reward.

If you do this, get ready for a painful learning experience!

Though it can sometimes be easy to forget, you are the true magician, the true master of your reality.

An illustration this point can be found in the The Magus by John Fowles:

Once upon a time there was a young prince who believed in all things but three. He did not believe in princesses, he did not believe in islands, he did not believe in God. His father, the king, told him that such things did not exist. As there were no princesses or islands in his father’s domains, and no sign of God, the prince believed his father.

But then, one day, the prince ran away from his palace and came to the next land. There, to his astonishment, from every coast he saw islands, and on these islands, strange and troubling, creatures whom he dared not name. As he was searching for a boat, a man in full evening dress approached him along the shore.

“Are those real islands?” asked the young prince.

“Of course they are real islands,” said the man in evening dress.

“And those strange and troubling creatures?”

“They are all genuine and authentic princesses.”

“Then God must also exist!” cried the prince.

“I am God,” replied the man in evening dress, with a bow.

The young prince returned home as quickly as he could.

“So, you are back,” said his father, the king.

“I have seen islands, I have seen princesses, I have seen God,” said the prince reproachfully.

The king was unmoved.

“Neither real islands, nor real princesses, nor a real God exist.”

“I saw them!”

“Tell me how God was dressed.”

“God was in full evening dress.”

“Were the sleeves of his coat rolled back?”

The prince remembered that they had been. The king smiled.

“That is the uniform of a magician. You have been deceived.”

At this, the prince returned to the next land and went to the same shore, where once again he came upon the man in full evening dress.

“My father, the king, has told me who you are,” said the prince indignantly. “You deceived me last time, but not again. Now I know that those are not real islands and real princesses, because you are a magician.”

The man on the shore smiled.

“It is you who are deceived, my boy. In your father’s kingdom, there are many islands and many princesses. But you are under your father’s spell, so you cannot see them.”

The prince pensively returned home. When he saw his father, he looked him in the eye.

“Father, is it true that you are not a real king, but only a magician?”

The king smiled and rolled back his sleeves.

“Yes, my son, I’m only a magician.”

“Then the man on the other shore was God.”

“The man on the other shore was another magician.”

“I must know the truth, the truth beyond magic.”

“There is no truth beyond magic,” said the king.

The prince was full of sadness. He said, “I will kill myself.”

The king by magic caused death to appear. Death stood in the door and beckoned to the prince. The prince shuddered. He remembered the beautiful but unreal islands and the unreal but beautiful princesses.

“Very well,” he said, “I can bear it.”

“You see, my son,” said the king, “you, too, now begin to be a magician.”

, I’d like to include a story from the author John Fowles, who kindled my early teenage interest in testing the nature of reality. It’s from his 1965 novel The Magus:

Once upon a time there was a young prince who believed in all things but three. He did not believe in princesses, he did not believe in islands, he did not believe in God. His father, the king, told him that such things did not exist. As there were no princesses or islands in his father’s domains, and no sign of God, the prince believed his father.

But then, one day, the prince ran away from his palace and came to the next land. There, to his astonishment, from every coast he saw islands, and on these islands, strange and troubling, creatures whom he dared not name. As he was searching for a boat, a man in full evening dress approached him along the shore.

“Are those real islands?” asked the young prince.

“Of course they are real islands,” said the man in evening dress.

“And those strange and troubling creatures?”

“They are all genuine and authentic princesses.”

“Then God must also exist!” cried the prince.

“I am God,” replied the man in evening dress, with a bow.

The young prince returned home as quickly as he could.

“So, you are back,” said his father, the king.

“I have seen islands, I have seen princesses, I have seen God,” said the prince reproachfully.

The king was unmoved.

“Neither real islands, nor real princesses, nor a real God exist.”

“I saw them!”

“Tell me how God was dressed.”

“God was in full evening dress.”

“Were the sleeves of his coat rolled back?”

The prince remembered that they had been. The king smiled.

“That is the uniform of a magician. You have been deceived.”

At this, the prince returned to the next land and went to the same shore, where once again he came upon the man in full evening dress.

“My father, the king, has told me who you are,” said the prince indignantly. “You deceived me last time, but not again. Now I know that those are not real islands and real princesses, because you are a magician.”

The man on the shore smiled.

“It is you who are deceived, my boy. In your father’s kingdom, there are many islands and many princesses. But you are under your father’s spell, so you cannot see them.”

The prince pensively returned home. When he saw his father, he looked him in the eye.

“Father, is it true that you are not a real king, but only a magician?”

The king smiled and rolled back his sleeves.

“Yes, my son, I’m only a magician.”

“Then the man on the other shore was God.”

“The man on the other shore was another magician.”

“I must know the truth, the truth beyond magic.”

“There is no truth beyond magic,” said the king.

The prince was full of sadness. He said, “I will kill myself.”

The king by magic caused death to appear. Death stood in the door and beckoned to the prince. The prince shuddered. He remembered the beautiful but unreal islands and the unreal but beautiful princesses.

“Very well,” he said, “I can bear it.”

“You see, my son,” said the king, “you, too, now begin to be a magician.”

The above article is based on one by Jason Louv

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