Everyone needs to find their own balance between darkness and light; between air, earth, fire, and water (or water, fire, earth, wood, and metal if, like me, you’ve been reading Benebell Wen’s excellent Tao of Craft); and between individuation and collaboration.
Finding balance, the magician gradually rises on the planes according to Path of the Serpent from Malkuth (the Material Plane in Assiah, also called Alayi) to Kether (the highest realization of divine consciousnes in Aziluth, also called Anami Lok). The mystic and the philosopher may instead follow the more direct Path of the Arrow. Still, no matter which path one takes up the mountain, the initiatory termination point is the same for all: self-realization on all planes and in all worlds.
In the parlance of the great magical societies of the West, this is referred to as the “Great Work.” And it is understood to take place simultaneously in every living microcosm and in the greatest macrocosm: “As below, so above; and as above so below. With this knowledge alone you may work miracles” (The Emerald Tablet of Hermes). But balancing and realizing oneself “above and below” is neither easy nor simple. Hence, the idea of it being work.
The Kybalion addresses the deceptive complexity of the Great Work in terms of a “divine paradox”:
This is the Paradox of the Universe, resulting from the Principle of Polarity which manifests when THE ALL begins to Create–hearken to it for it points the difference between half-wisdom and wisdom. While to THE INFINITE ALL, the Universe, its Laws, its Powers, its Life, its Phenomena, are as things witnessed in the state of Meditation or Dream; yet to all that is Finite, the Universe must be treated as Real, and life, and action, and thought, must be based thereupon, accordingly, although with an ever [increasing] understanding of the Higher Truth. Each according to its own Plane and Laws. (22)
This is to say that, although parity exists between heaven and earth, each has its own laws, it’s own geography and meanings. And if we intend to rise on the planes, it is not enough to simply acknowledge that the microcosm in us is tantamount to the macrocosm beyond us—that all distinctions must ultimately collapse when we get to the top of the mountain and experience the divine I AM. We must be actively involved in our own spiritual initiation.
It makes no difference whether, like a monk, we choose to meditate on the nature of existence or, like a sorcerer, we choose to adjust that existence to reflect our conception of what is best (cf. Wen’s distinction between exoteric and esoteric Taoism). We must survey the mountainside and undertake a climb. Most of us intuitively understand this at some point—the world is not going to beat a path to our door unless we put out a significant amount of effort. And, even then, there are no guarantees that we will ever reach the desired destination. The world is just as spiritually dangerous as it is physically dangerous. Still, we have to try.
And so it is that we will encounter various way stations, signposts, and teachers. Some of these teachers will be fellow travelers. Some will be wiser and more powerful than we are. Others will offer us an opportunity to advance by putting obstacles in our path or by requesting our help. All of these individuals and the experiences they bring can be beneficial to us. However, there is one particular sort of teacher who requires an elevated degree of caution. I call this person “the spiritual professional,” and I’d like to say a few words about this person to the many spiritual seekers who read my website regularly.
“The Spiritual Professional” is someone who makes all or even part of his income by offering spiritual services like the ones I offer here. Usually this person is experienced in a number of metaphysical approaches and systems. Sometimes he will hold formal initiations in magical societies and will have a fairly articulate communication style.
This person could be a con man posing as a legitimate spiritual worker. And we all know that we should be more or less wary of that when looking for a reader or a ritualist. But I am not interested in writing about fraudulent mediums and conjurers here. Rather, the person I’m talking about in this post is the legitimate worker who is so good, so knowledgeable, and has such a slick, tightly defined area of practice that it can seem overwhelming and cause you to question your own path.
You might encounter an impressive Buffalo Shaman with a cool website, an original Buffalo Oracle Deck, a list of very solid testimonials, a number of highly powerful Buffalo meditations, and a very thoughtful, original book on the subject. Such people are not con men or liars; they’re exactly what they say they are, the real deal. And we should (rightly) feel grateful that they are out there, bringing their unique perspectives and abilities to bear in a world that has lost much of its inspiration.
Nevertheless, I think it is important to keep in mind that each person has a unique spiritual journey, a unique initiatory trajectory, up the mountain of the Great Work. And though we may be deeply impressed by someone who is truly and sincerely walking the path to self-realization, our job is to learn but not to slavishly imitate.
This seems especially true in cases where The Spiritual Professional understands marketing and has cast such a powerful personal glamour (enhanced, no doubt, by certain spiritual operations) that he seems magnetic and illustrious in our eyes. Certainly, we should pay the Buffalo Shaman for his services and consult with him about his ideas, but if we forget our own sovereignty, our own divine pattern, we betray and contradict ourselves.
The motivation to undertake the spiritual journey begins in a desire for truth, which is to say, for self-knowledge. If we allow ourselves to become subject to someone else’s glamour, if we fall under their spell, we find ourselves on a detour from the most direct and healthy path. No doubt, this can also be of use to us in our lives, but it may be that we could have learned those lessons more quickly and easily if we’d believed a little more in ourselves.
In The Hermaneutics of the Subject, the philosopher Michel Foucault talks about gnothi seauton (know thyself) as being closely related to epimeleia heautou (care for thyself):
In some texts … there is, … a kind of subordination of the expression of the rule to “know yourself” to the precept of care of the self. The gothi seauton (“know yourself”) appears, quite clearly and again in a number of significant texts, within the more general framework of the epimeleia heautou (care of oneself) as one of the forms, one of the consequences, as a sort of concrete, precise, and particular application of the general rule: You must attend to yourself, you must not forget yourself, you must take care of yourself. (4-5)
The possible relation between knowing and caring, as it may pertain to our discussion here, is very interesting. To know ourselves, we must interact with others because it is only through contrast that meaning can obtain. On the other hand, such knowledge is only useful if it advances our understanding of how to care for ourselves.
This resonates with the central idea of this post: take care of yourself; do not become lost in the radiance cast by another, even if—in the language of the I-Ching—you can recognize him or her as a “superior man.” Rather, show respect and courtesy, exercise good will, and absorb what may be useful on your spiritual journey.