Initiation, Magical Teachers, and Personal Accountability

I’ve written before about the revised Rosicrucian Code of Life and how appealing those ideals can be, especially this passage: “Never cause anyone to believe that members of the Order are sages who are in full possession of the Truth. To those who may ask, present yourself as a philosophical person who is seeking Wisdom. Never pretend you are a Rose-Croix, but say you are a perfecting Rosicrucian.” 

I’ve also noted Paul Foster Case’s idea that to be a “Rosicrucian” is to accept a way of relating ethically to the world; it is not primarily an outer affiliation with a mystical order.  It is an inner state of being and consciousness.  This makes it tantamount to a philosophical, initiatory decision on a personal level, which is where all magic begins and ultimately ends.  There are many esoteric groups in the world, several of which currently bear the label, “rosicrucian,” but there is only one Self.  There is only one workshop in which the individual can dedicate and rededicate him- or herself to the Great Work.

With this in mind, I believe that if we are seeking magical initiation (i.e. “a way to begin”), our first and most reliable teacher is our “holy daimon” or “holy guardian angel”—the part of us that exists beyond the vagaries of form and time.  Attaining the “knowledge and conversation” of this teacher can become a spiritual quest in itself or it can amount to a surprisingly quiet revelation: that we are not “in full possession of the Truth,” but that we are always “perfecting” towards a more complete realization of it.  And part of us, the part that is god, is already there, unfolding its mystery for us as we progress.

In The Secrets of High Magick, Francis Melville notes that “One of the most significant experiences on this path is known as the ‘Attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.’  This is a transformational encounter with your inner master, higher self, or guardian angel—the Inner Divinity within all things.”  As far as concise definitions for the K & C of the HGA are concerned, this one is good because it ends on the idea that divinity cannot be partitioned or objectified.  It is “within all things,” including you and me. 

Perhaps this is the what Trithemius refers to when he asks, “Is it not true that all things flow from one thing, from the goodness of the One, and that whatever is joined to Unity cannot be diverse, but rather fructifies by means of the simplicity and adaptability of the One?”  According to this, magic, both low and high, would be just as much an articulation of the one thing as anything else under the sun.  As most translations of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes put it, “What is above is like what is below, and what is below is like that which is above. To make the miracle of the one thing.”  Realizing this “miracle” on the deepest level is why were are here.

It is also the reason we cannot offer our initiation for another.  In other words, if we are magical teachers (as we most surely are), all we can do is open a space for the student to experience initiation.  In the neophyte ritual of the Golden Dawn, the Hierophant accepts the individual into the Order by saying, “Child of Earth, long hast thou dwelt in darkness. Quit the night and seek the day.”  Note the emphasis on personal volition in this language.  This is not a Marvel Comics Dr. Strange initiation where the master knocks you upside the head and grants you cosmic perception (as fun as that would be).  It’s an act of accepting accountability for one’s own development.

In this sense, teachers are wonderful but they are primarily facilitators.  We don’t have to wait for someone’s permission to accept this magical burden or this personal quest.  We can do it right where we are, right now.  It is completely up to us.  The thing we’re all looking for waits at the top of the mountain.  Many paths go up and they all terminate at the same point, the same existential realization, the same knowledge and conversation of and with the Self.  This is true no matter whether we are saying a simple child’s prayer, working a bit of hoodoo, performing a lodge ritual to attain a deeper level of gnosis, or rising on the planes.  The mountain remains.  And if we keep at it, we ascend.


Do Your Best

I have a neighbor who looks like the separated-at-birth twin of Slavoj Žižek.  Rain or shine, Monday morning or Friday evening, he looks utterly dismayed at the stupidity of existence.  Perhaps there is some value in that perspective.  But, to me, he just seems consistently miserable.  I passed him this morning on my way to the market and would have said hello if he’d looked up.  He didn’t.  There were dark and gloomy things to entertain on this bright Saturday morning in Southern England.

Ah, I thought, maybe next time.  Maybe, at some vague juncture in the future when things are somehow better than they are right now (and it is possible for him to accurately determine this), he will smile. 

He’s a pretty good neighbor because I never see him.  But, when I do, I’m reminded of that (overused) line from Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”  He’s a university professor, lives in a very nice house, has a vivacious young French wife and two bright and healthy daughters.  And still: mordred in the black pit of despair every time I see him.  Well, maybe that’s just his style.

Sometimes, I wonder if his face is merely fixed that way, not unlike Grumpy, everyone’s favorite obsolete meme-cat.

This is actually Grumpy Cat smiling.  And I think we all know people like this.  They’re never happy unless they’re miserable, at least on the outside.  Many such people have a melancholy disposition even in the best of times.  These are the most difficult people to help.  They turn to magic as a solution when everything else has failed because they don’t really believe, deep down, that anything can make them satisfied or happy.   So why not something totally unreal and fake like magic?  It makes no sense when you think about it.  Of course, extremely depressed people are not expected to make sense.

As I walked to the market, my encounter with Clone Žižek got me thinking about conjure and about how aggrieved certain clients are when they contact me, how convinced they are that nothing will be able to fix their complex and insurmountable problems.  They want to believe in a spiritual solution.  But, really, they think they’re doomed.

Therefore, the first step when they contact me is to explore the possibility that other outcomes exist.  I do a short tarot reading, write up my insights and recommendations, then we talk about it.  Usually, that gets to the heart of the problem (which may be entirely different than what the client thinks he or she needs at first).  And if the cards show that work is indicated, I’ll lay out a range of possible solutions, send the client an invoice, set up a timeline and, as soon as payment is received, we’ll get moving in the right direction.

Meanwhile, I usually give out a lot of free folk magic advice on things the client can do to help him- or herself in little ways.  Folk magic can be immensely useful psychologically (decreasing lust of result, attaining necessary inner calm) and practically (putting yourself, your magical intentions, and the natural world in dynamic harmony). 

But there’s an even deeper piece of advice that I can give you right here.  It comes from one of my 7 Practices, common sense ideas I like on how to lead a tranquil satisfied life: “Acceptance.  I take everything life offers and use it to become smarter, stronger, and more joyful.  This may at times be difficult but, when it is possible, it is the best course of action.”

Ah-so,  you may be thinking, wisdom of the ancients!  A Hare Krishna gave me a free pamphlet on the street corner last week that said the same thing.  And I will agree with you that this principle is neither surprising nor original.  But it’s perhaps more immediately useful than 100 spell books on how to get paid and laid.  If used properly, it is a more powerful formula than any work of operative magic because it constitutes life-changing initiatory magic—as in, you are initiating (beginning) yourself in a new way.  You’re experiencing a new beginning.  And there is no separation between that magical intention and the target (you).  All it takes is desire and mindfulness.  

People think acceptance means making the best of things as they are.  Wrong.  How do you feel when someone says, “Just make the best of it.”  Do you feel good?  I’m willing to bet that you feel worse and probably a bit angry.  Being put in a position where you have to make the best of a bad situation or a problem feels like being trapped, admitting there is nothing to be done, and the problem is never going to change.  It is inherently defeatist and puts you back in Clone Žižek Land where the sky is always falling and everything is always horrible.

Instead, you initiate a new course of action-experience-being by “doing your best.”  Do you see the subtle difference?  “Making the best of what is” is not the same thing as “doing your best”—which has less to do with “what is” and more to do with “what you want it to be.”  “Doing your best” says that maybe you won’t be able to fix the whole thing.  Then again, maybe you will.  You have agency in the situation.  You are not being controlled by all-powerful forces taking away your options.

It goes without saying that you want to do your best in every problematic situation because every situation is problematic, at least in some small way.  Nothing is perfect and if we look hard enough through our grumpy glasses, we’ll see the inevitable defects.  Conversely, even in the worst situations, there are positive transformative elements.  I’m reminded of Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, where he describes his school of psychotherapy (logotherapy) as a method that “focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning.  According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.”

With this in mind, the “acceptance” I’m talking about here is dynamic rather than static.  It’s doing rather than making the best of it.  It’s an active search for something that means more.  And if practiced sincerely and mindfully in daily life, it is a profound form of Greater Initiatory Magic—magic that leads to powerful self-realization and happiness.

The best way I know to practice “doing your best” comes from the modern Stoic philosopher, Dr. William B. Irvine, in his book, A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joywhere he talks about setting internal rather than external goals:

I think that when a Stoic concerns himself with things over which he has some but not complete control, such as winning a tennis match, he will be very careful about the goals he sets for himself.  In particular, he will be careful to set internal rather than external goals.  Thus, his goal in playing tennis will not be to win a match (something external, over which he has only partial control) but to play to the best of his ability in the match (something internal, over which he has complete control).  By choosing this goal, he will spare himself frustration or disappointment should he lose the match: Since it was not his goal to win the match, he will not have failed to attain his goal, as long as he played his best.  His tranquility will not be disrupted

. . . . . 

Although they value tranquility, [Stoics] feel duty-bound to be active participants in the society in which they live.  But such participation clearly puts their tranquility in jeopardy.  One suspects, for example, that Cato would have enjoyed a far more tranquil life if he did not feel compelled to fight the rise to power of Julius Caesar— if he instead had spent his days, say, in a library, reading the Stoics.  I would like to suggest, though, that Cato and the other Stoics found a way to retain their tranquility despite their involvement with the world around them: They internalized their goals.  Their goal was not to change the world, but to do their best to bring about certain changes.  Even if their efforts proved to be ineffectual, they could nevertheless rest easy knowing that they had accomplished their goal: They had done what they could do.

In other words, by looking inwards and focusing on internal goals, which is to say, personally meaningful things, one does one’s best.  This is the way to initiate a new way of life.  It’s a reset button for bad situations.  And it works.  It’s not simply trying to use a New Age affirmation to convince oneself of something that isn’t the case in reality.  It’s not just “the power of positive thinking.”  It’s more like creating a new reality for yourself, in yourself, through an active search for meaning.

Just remember: don’t make the best of it.  Do your best.  And you will avoid the fate of Grumpy Cat.

Defeating the Inner Critic Through Ritual Psychodrama

Pop-psychology defines the “inner critic” as the harsh inner voice of judgment that most people feel to some degree, the inner accuser attacking them with feelings of unworthiness, guilt, shame, and incapacity. For some, it can become an inner abuser, growing so toxic that it casts a shadow over an entire life.

In Freedom from Your Inner Critic, Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss write that

When you feel ashamed, hopeless, inadequate, or just plain awful about yourself, it’s because your Inner Critic is attacking you. The Inner Critic does this in a variety of ways, but most commonly, it works by hammering you with negative messages about your self-worth. It may criticize your looks, your work habits, your intelligence, the way you care for others, or any number of other things.

This can ruin otherwise positive experiences and may even lead to self-destructive behaviors and the ultimate self-negating act, suicide. When an inner critic becomes insufferable, one tries desperately to be rid of its influence. But that doesn’t generally work because it has emerged from the netherworld of the unconscious. It is theoretically a sub-personality trying to protect us in some warped and counterproductive way, usually as a result of overwhelming stress during our formative years. Earley and Weiss note that “[w]e can’t get rid of a part of our psyche any more than we can get rid of a part of our body. We won’t be able to cast out or banish our Inner Critic forever. It might go underground for a while, but it will pop up later and cause us even more grief.”

I have found this to be true for most clients who come to me with this problem. They can psychologize their struggle but, at best, they achieve only temporary relief. Because the inner critic is part of them, it learns to circumvent their defenses, strategically appearing and disappearing, emerging when the body and / or mind is vulnerable and staying away when a person feels strong. Nevertheless, ceremonial magic gives a workable solution.

In magic, if the psychological model isn’t useful, we shift into a different set of metaphors and symbols to solve a problem. If one of our sub-personalities is tormenting us, we may not be able to get rid of it (or befriend it and work with it, as Earley and Weiss suggest) using medication and / or therapy. But we can treat an offending sub-personality like a spirit and use the techniques of spirit work to subdue, banish, or imprison it. This works. And it creates lasting change.

We have to be careful, though, not to equate ritual magic with a kind of second-rate psychology. Ever since Aleister Crowley wrote in 1902 that the spirits of the Goetia are actually “portions of the human brain” (The Lesser Key of Solomon: Goetia, trans. Mathers), insecure magicians have tried to use psychologistic language (appropriating terms from psychology to talk about non-psychological matters) to feel better about working with spirits. It has created an enduring debate that irritates most practically minded magicians. As Skinner and Rankine aver in The Keys to the Gateway of Magic,

This is a fallacy introduced by Aleister Crowley’s comments in “his” edition of the grimoire the Goetia. Demons are not, repeat not, psychological and definitely not anatomical ‘portions of the human brain’ as Crowley categorically stated in his introduction. In this introduction Crowley writes a tongue in cheek exposition of magic that has confused many generations of students ever since. It was not till the publication of the excellent edition of the Lemegeton by Joseph Peterson in 2001 that Crowley’s partial and defective edition has been finally eclipsed. Hopefully his introduction will now also cease to influence current thinking about evocation. Although we have the greatest respect for Crowley’s intellectual rigour and pioneering spirit, the introduction penned by Crowley in that book has effectively put back research into evocation by more than 75 years, by introducing the beguiling but deceptive notion that demons are purely subjective.

What Skinner and Rankine don’t discuss, however, is the usefulness of ceremony in providing tangible psychological release. Magic might not be psychology, but it can have a positive psychological effect! This is something Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan grasped early in its existence. In The Satanic Rituals, LaVey calls his formal black mass “the original psychodrama” and notes that “This ritual is a psychodrama in the truest sense. Its prime purpose is to reduce or negate stigma acquired through past indoctrination,” which might be the best nutshell definition of magical psychodrama ever formulated. That is exactly what a good ritual can provide, whether or not further magical outcomes are necessary or intended.

Sometimes, the personal subjective benefits from a ritual are the most valuable. I believe this, even though I tend to side with Skinner and Rankine in most arguments, since I have personally experienced the power of spiritual beings beyond the subjectivity of my own mind. Still, magic to feel better, magic to provide emotional release, is legitimate and reaches back to early shamanic practices designed to heal and protect. Even the Golden Dawn had a ritual designed to rid one of personal obsessing demons. It was called the “I.O.B. Ritual” (for “Identify, Objectify, Banish”). And many people have used it since Don Kraig included it in his book Modern Magick.

Grimoire magicians will automatically know how to imprison a spirit in a triangle of art or a circle, curse it, and exile it forever from the sphere of sensation. If you are suffering from a harsh inner critic, I recommend you try the following:

  1. Try to have a dialogue with the inner critic, if possible. Ask its name. If it won’t tell you or won’t even speak to you beyond trying to abuse you, that’s fine. It never hurts to ask.
  2. Develop a sigil for this creature. Remember, it is important to perceive it as separate from you. We know it’s an aspect of your mind, but you are now relating to it (objectifying it) as something “other.” I prefer the simplest sigil method: write out its name in capital letters. If it won’t tell you, write out INNER CRITIC. Then write out your full name, e.g. ROBERTA SOFIA SMITH. Cross out all repeated letters, leaving you in our example with something like: B F M H. Combine those letters into a single symbol that appeals to you. That is the sigil (the seal) of your inner critic. Then say the letters aloud. To me, it sounds like Befamah. That is the first pronunciation that came into my head. So it is the one I’ll use.
  3. Take Befamah’s seal and put it in a Triangle of Art. Summon using the conjurations given in any grimoire (you will have to learn the basics on your own). But know that the spirit doesn’t have to appear. Given the behavior of most inner critics, it will likely be in hiding. It doesn’t matter. You have its seal and a name. Now you are going to destroy it. I am partial to “The Greater Curse” from the Goetia, designed to imprison a spirit in the Abyss. As follows (modified for the occasion): Now O thou Spirit N., since thou art pernicious and disobedient, and wilt not appear unto me to answer unto such things as I would have desired of thee, or would have been satisfied in; I do in the name, and by the power and dignity of the Omnipresent and Immortal Lord God of Hosts IEHOVAH TETRAGRAMMATON, the only creator of Heaven, and Earth, and Hell, and all that is therein, who is the marvellous Disposer of all things both visible and invisible, curse thee, and deprive thee of all thine office, joy, and place; and I do bind thee in the depths of the Bottomless Abyss there to remain until the Day of Judgment, I say into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone which is prepared for all rebellious, disobedient, obstinate, and pernicious spirits. Let all the company of Heaven curse thee! Let the sun, moon, and all the stars curse thee! Let the L IGHT and all the hosts of Heaven curse thee into the fire unquenchable, and into the torments unspeakable. And as thy name and seal contained in this box chained and bound up, shall be choken in sulphurous stinking substances, and burned in this material fire; so in the name IEHOVAH and by the power and dignity of these three names, TETRAGRAMMATON, ANAPHAXETON, and PRIMEUMATON, I do cast thee, O thou wicked and disobedient Spirit N., into the Lake of Fire which is prepared for the damned and accursed spirits, and there to remain unto the day of doom, and never more to be remembered before the face of GOD, who shall come to judge the quick, and the dead, and the world, by fire.

Say it forcefully. It’s a wonderful weapon against all spirits and is, in the truest sense of the term, “going medieval” on them. If you have a problem with all the apocalyptic religious language, you may write your own curse, but this one carries the weight of tradition and its language is satisfyingly potent.

If you have never summoned a spirit before and don’t want to study how, you can always use the IOB Ritual (, which is actually a simplified version of a grimoire summoning and curse. The point is that when we objectify and dismiss the inner critic ritualistically, it creates that reality for us in the world of the unconscious, which is where the sub-personality lives. If we only try to battle it with our conscious rational mind (as with talk therapy, reason, or cognitive behavioral techniques), it pops back up like a weed we can’t eradicate.