The last century or so has seen the unprecedented rise of diverse esoteric orders. Most of these take inspiration from religious and political societies, and so it should not be terribly surprising that these orders lean towards religious devotion and internal disputes. The overwhelmingly popular alternative is to simply ignore participation in these societies and follow a self-guided course of practice; but here I would like to offer some thoughts on organized development in conjunction with the work of others.
There must be a balance between treading the path carefully and lurking in the doorway, and this balance is rarely well-established in magical orders. Either you are expected to have relevant experience prior to association, or you are expected to perform developmental exercises and endure a probationary period. There is no sect, cult, or esoteric order on this planet that can provide you with the keys to becoming the sort of person you truly aspire to be, and no magical order in the present time can claim to teach miraculous powers with any credibility.
I believe that we are all drawn inward upon this particular subject, the commerce of the spirit world, and that in some way which is greater than our individual interests we are partaking of something in the world which spans generations. A part of that work is the development and communication of the Mysteries of Magic in some form or another, and organizations serve ideally as an exchange of ideas and pool of resources. In a better world, we might see more impact in the world at large from all the fantastic work coming out of all these fraternities of powerful sorcerers.
Instead we are responsible for practicing the stuff ourselves and keeping some sort of track of how that goes. We don’t need to have a clear idea of how everything works, or some natural innate power, we must simply find the way that we think is best and practice that as well as we can. Some people will be drawn to aspects of the work that appear trivial to others, but I believe that all of us who practice these and similar arts are connected in some ways by our interactions with the spirits.
I have never met a person with an interest in practical occultism who could not express a desire to grow in his or her ability, and most of the sorts who profess interest in ceremonial magic are accustomed to the idea of gradual progress. In spite of this, when I meet the people who actually practice and develop as magicians, they had all originally been the sort to attempt to open the Portal of Asmodeus or similar ambitious goals, and then fell toward graded progress as an afterthought.
The ideal method of transmission of the knowledge of Magic Art from one generation to the next, barring books and media, is from one individual to a pupil. Since a lot of nonsense is passed off on sincere students, I like to think that it should be an unspoken rule that one should not teach anything he wouldn’t tell his own son. In this ideal situation, the knowledge and practice is passed along over time, and on a circumstantial basis. This allows both the teacher and the student to evaluate results, and to observe examples of ways in which the Art can be applied.
Another rule which could be spoken is that a teacher in occultism should never be paid. I don’t mean that you should not pay dues, and I’m also not saying that you should not be paid for professional counseling, but to be paid to yammer on about occultism for an hourly rate is audacious. There are many wise and powerful men who need money, but if they specifically need your money in order for you to learn the secrets of their super-powerful esoteric arts, you need a different teacher.
A good teacher will have some form of rules, and will adhere to them as well as insisting that the student also does. Some of these rules might be entirely arbitrary and difficult to follow, but if a person insists on learning from a guru, he should at least make a decent effort to practice the teachings. A teacher should not be abusive toward the student, but instead look out for their achievements.
In the context of the Lemegeton, I have many times made clear my belief that it should be worked in reverse order to the written text, possibly due to the manner of writing Hebrew books. Beginning with learning the prayers of the circle and the philosophical underpinnings of the system and the various names involved should help to avoid most of the problems associated with making foolish wishes. This would be followed by work with the Almadel over a period of a full year to allow for all four tablets to be invoked in succession, and that in turn would be followed by the invocation of the angel throughout the year, thereby completing an equivalent of the so-called Outer Court of most western occult lodges.
None of this work should be regarded as a skill or hobby to be taken up or set aside as one might do with a guitar or a set of wood-crafting tools. Whether great or small, the effort to practice invocations of spirits will inevitably push life in a new direction which does not easily waver in its course. The magician becomes a part of something beyond his control, and surviving in such a position demands a kind of negotiated peace. If successful, the work should result in major and permanent changes in the life of the magician, and these are signs of progress more than any subjective faculty which regular practice might appear to produce.