There is a famous song by George and Ira Gershwin called “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” which they wrote for the 1937 movie, Shall We Dance? It was originally sung by Fred Astaire. In the song, they lyrics discuss two people who argue over the pronunciation of common words: “You like potato and I like potahto…” I remember seeing a comic who did a routine about this song, wondering what it would be like if a singer who was hired to sing it had never heard it before. Instead of the differing pronunciation, he sings: “You like potato and I like…potato.” I still remember the uncomfortable look on the comic’s face as he pretended to be the singer trying to figure out what this all meant. I still crack up when I think about it.
Yeah, I guess you had to be there…
So what does this have to do with magick? Well, recently I’ve been contacted by a man who wants to study the Tarot a specific and very advanced way. He is interested in exclusively using the Golden Dawn astrological associations with the cards. When you get to the Minor Arcana, relating the given meanings of the cards to their astrological associations isn’t as simple as A+B=C. It’s more like A+Âµ=âˆ‘. For some people this may be obvious. For others, it’s not. You have to understand the Tarot, some astrology, and then meditate on their relationships for it to make sense. And then, after it becomes clear to you, it may not be clear to other people. That doesn’t mean your way of relating the astrology to the Tarot is wrong, it just means it’s uniquely yours.
Anyway, this gentleman liked the way my thoughts led to equating the given meaning with the astrology of the cards. He doesn’t like the way some other people present it. What I want to stress, however, is that merely because this gentleman agrees with my presentation doesn’t make me right and all the other people wrong. It merely means that my personal approach matches his needs. The other people aren’t covering up their lack of knowledge or “yanking his chain.” They’re presenting things the best way they can. The real difference is that they say, “potato” and I say “potahto,” nothing more.
I think it is very important for students of occultism to understand this. If you come to believe that one teacher or book is right and the others are wrong, you run the risk of moving from student to hero worshiper. I think Dion Fortune recognized this when she wrote that there is no room for authority in occultism. No single teacher or book should be free from question, debate, or challenge. When I give workshops I usually begin by saying, “Think for yourself. Question authority.”
Because there is (or should be) no single authority for magick and occultism, I think it’s absolutely great when there are several books that cover the same material. I happen to be very proud of the books I’ve written. I wouldn’t want them out there if I didn’t think they were the best in their field. But I’m also glad that there are other books that deal with the same topics. First, because if they’re good it makes me want to do even better. For example, I think that Modern Magick is the best introduction to magick, especially ceremonial magick, available. But there are other good books out there. When the new third edition comes out later this year, I think it will extend my leadership.
But even though I think my writing is the best, that’s still subjective. Other people may find different books they prefer. Perhaps the approach of the other authors meets their needs more than my writing. And that’s okay with me. In fact, I encourage people to read books by other authors. Perhaps, because of your needs, something will make more sense to you.
Although the competition for me to do better is valuable, I don’t worry about other people’s writings competing in the marketplace with my writings for a simple reason: Nobody buys just one occult book. If they prefer something by another author to start, I hope they’ll end up reading my works. And if people start with my books, I hope they’ll find other people to read, too.
So I don’t mind seeing lots of books for beginners. If one book doesn’t appeal, perhaps another will. And I don’t mind seeing books on the same topics I cover. Read one of those and maybe you’ll eventually read one of mine.