Modern magical training at the apprentice level often includes the need for discrimination and discernment – the virtue of the basal Sephira, Malkuth, on the Tree of Life. I’ve discussed this previously a little in this post.
We are told Neophytes must develop the ability to be able to discern all sorts of things: authentic teachers vs nutters, healthy or unhealthy groups, good material or bad etc. This seems all well and good. But consider the following online response to a video I had linked to. The respondent wrote:
…it made good sense to me – but I still need to work out if that’s because it conforms to my beliefs or because it is true.
And here we hit a snag. Since our perception of truth is just that, perception, how can we be sure are not simply viewing something as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because it confirms our own preconceptions? Even if there is an outside, immutable truth, as the esoteric traditions assert, it is always (at the apprentice level) filtered through our own personality consciousness. A conundrum indeed
What I like about the response above is the surrender of the ego, the acceptance by the respondent that she could be wrong – even though it feels right. I am probably losing what few New Age readers I have right now – but let’s press on!
This willingness to dethrone the ego is a mirror, a microcosm of the entire process of spiritual unfoldment. To have such an awareness at the apprentice level then sets up the whole process of spiritual unfolding. Just as the first layer of oranges in a box determines the rest of the layers, how we are as magical apprentices determines the rest of our unfoldment and magic.
This ties in with one of the functions of the traditional magical apprentice vow concerning the hidden knowledge: I desire to know in order to serve. Now the idea of selfless motivation for magic is quite rightly criticised by some wise folk in the magical community – I’ve just read an excellent commentary on this theme and power by one of the senior GD folk around.
If we are serving others, we are consciously moving outside our ego boundary. This changes and effects us, helping us drop and destroy the facade of false identities we run around with – unless we use service as another false identity! And, like so many Neophyte processes, this can be referred back to the symbol of the point in the circle – our locus of interest moving from the centre to the periphery. So the actual function of the oath to serve is a potent magical tool, and in effect mirrors the apprentice stage, in GD terms Neophyte to Philosophus.
This apprentice stage task, to let go of who we think we are and to balance ourselves ready for the adept awareness of who we may be, is a precious and fragile thing. Since we do not, cannot know who we are, we cannot in actuality rely on our own inner discernment. This is bloody obvious if we think about it. Yet, so many groups, circles, teacher and even magical Orders promote the idea that we can, through our feelings or intuition know what is right, and true for us at any stage of our unfoldment. This is not quite the case. Let’s look at it Qabalistically.
By definition the magical apprentice stage is focused on the personality Sephrioth – Malkuth through Netzach. The Sephira of the self, Tiphareth, is not yet fully functioning or able to be brought into conscious and consistent action. If it could, we would not be apprentices
The personality triangle is centred on Yesod, which in this case is the sphere of reaction, as opposed to consciousness in Tiphareth. Our modes of knowing the world, via intellectual evaluation (Hod), emotional apprehension (Netzach) and sensation (Malkuth) are all filtered through our Yesod. This is the hallmark of the ‘natural man’ in GD terms (borrowing from St Paul). The task of the apprentice is to realise this, become aware of the false ‘I’ in Yesod and balance the personality ready for some rude awakenings as an adept.
So if we were to use only inner discernment as an apprentice we’d be well and truly snookered. We’d be judging from a false self, without all the awareness and knowledge of Tiphareth. This is where another outer form of discernment is required. This involves, like the oath to serve, looking outside and beyond ourselves. Specifically in the case of magic, it involves being held by a teacher and/or a tradition.
Now, the word ‘hold’ here does not just mean a cosy, warm, snuggy cuddle. The teacher also draws us back from danger and pins us down in a sometimes violent struggle. By being guided, admitting we do not know it all, we look elsewhere – to the wisdom of our teacher and our tradition. The teacher functions at the adept level and together with the tradition they give us a ‘bridge’ to these levels, which allows our Hod and Netzach to be influenced by Geburah and Chesed respectively (through Mem and Kaph).
With the guidance of our teacher our intellectual evaluation is informed by the power and limiting blessings of Geburah – allowing us to cut through the sludge and create boundaries, to be able to see what is true or not. Our emotional apprehension is informed by the brightness of compassion in Chesed (compassion does NOT mean soft or weak, but can be tough as nails), so we may recognise where there is love, harmony and beauty. Again, this method of discerning – by the grace of our teacher – moves us beyond ourselves and slowly breaks down the notions of who we are.
So in a nutshell, we cannot do it on our own.
These days however the cult and valorisation of the individual and the ready availability of magical material means lots of folk have different ideas. Not that’s there anything wrong with that. I guess. Thinking you can do things on your own is fine; but it is NOT how the magical tradition is structured. The need for tradition and/or teacher is really clear. As shown, the acceptance of this is a crucial part of dethroning the ego.
Back when I was lad, we had bugger all books and internet thingies. So whatever we could find we valued. Including our teachers. And really it did not, should not, matter if we like them or not. Personal tastes are just that – personal, filtered through our Yesod, the very sphere we are trying to break free from (but never transcend). To walk away from a teacher because of personal taste simply increases the ego’s power. To find, accept and learn from a teacher by means that upsets the ego, such as travelling distances, being uncomfortable, having to argue with them over politics etc, means we are moving our consciousness away from our comfort zones and thus our false self. This is why some of the worst teachers are sometimes the best.
We are however lovely beasts and will often come up with ALL sorts of reasons to chuck in a tradition or give a teacher the boot. My advice, for what it’s worth, is to stick with a tradition or teacher until the adept level at least. Unless of course they reveal themselves as loonies – and sadly, there’s plenty around. But in general, one should stay the apprentice course the whole way through. Consume the complete enchilada, despite misgivings and inner urges – our inner here, by definition, is Yesod.
There are many positive ‘social’ reasons for staying the course as well as magical ones – adept teachers are real people who have invested time, money and energy in their students. To throw that all away because of ‘inner’ promptings is often simply silly and downright rude. Some words of wisdom from Gareth Knight on this matter, lest we judge our teachers too harshly:
I recall a heartfelt remark by Arthur Chichester when Warden of the Society of the Inner Light saying – “if you see an adept who seems to be in a mess – it could well be somebody else’s mess.” … One thing is for sure, being in charge of an esoteric group with any clout, let alone starting one up, is fraught with problems such as you would not believe. I speak from personal experience over many years. Never mind how many angels could balance on the point of a needle, try doing it yourself, being the fulcrum of a swinging balance between inner and outer planes, and you will never readily criticise a leader of any group again.
Finally, another crucial point is that magical training is not supposed to be fun, happy or even comfortable. I am reminded of that great green guru, Master Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back teaching Luke the way of the Force. Luke is determined to do his best, confidently declaring, “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” To which Master Yoda replies:
You will be. You will be.