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Don’t Take My Word For It

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on January 7, 2013 | Comments (1)

Preston Sturgis was one of the top screenwriters and directors in Hollywood’s history. His Sullivan’s Travels manages to be wildly humorous, inventive, and touching while dealing with serious social issues. His mother, Mary Estelle Dempsey, married a traveling salesman, but moved to Paris to be a singer when Preston was just 3. She moved back to the U.S. and married a wealthy stockbroker named Solomon Sturgis (her previous marriage had been annulled). Sturgis adopted her son in 1902.

Mary Stugis’ father was Dominick d’Este Dempsey. She took that middle name and to occultists became known as Mary d’Este, Mary Desti, or Mary d’Este Sturgis. She also became a lover of Aleister Crowley (whom, I am told, young Preston detested). She worked magick with Crowley, assuming the magical name Soror Virakam, and helped in the writing of Book 4 (now usually published as part of Magick).

In the beginning of the book, Soror Virakam (or possibly Crowley using her name), writes this:

Frater Perdurabo [Crowley] is the most honest of all the great religious teachers. Others have said: “Believe me!” He says:”Don’t believe me!” He does not ask for followers; would despise and refuse them. He wants an independent and self-reliant body of students to follow out their own methods of research. If he can save them time and trouble by giving a few useful “tips,” his work will have been done to his own satisfaction.

Those who have wished men to believe in them were absurd. A persuasive tongue or pen, or an efficient sword, with rack and stake, produced this “belief,” which is contrary to, and destructive of, all real religious experience.

The whole life of Frater Perdurabo is now devoted to seeing that you obtain this living experience of Truth for, by, and in yourselves!

I completely agree with this concept.

Far too often I see authors whose goal is not to present information that informs readers, but rather, to obtain followers. Their approach is usually has two basic rules:

Rule One: I’m right. Don’t bother checking on my facts.
Rule Two: Anyone who disagrees with me is wrong and an enemy.

Unfortunately, this is not limited to authors. I’ve also seen leaders of magickal groups behave in the same way. When I was living in Northern California fifteen years ago, a leader like that make a big splash in the local occult scene. A friend of mine told me she was going to do “anything” he said. She said that with a great deal of happiness and joy, showing a bit of disappointment over not having done everything he had said in the past. Looking back now, I suppose that following strong leaders was part of her personality. She had been a member of a religious cult several years earlier. To the best of my knowledge, the man who led the Northern California cult is no longer in the cult business.

More recently, a Wiccan who ran an occult shop, had published several books, and ran a Pagan festival tried to have an event where the main feature seemed to be cursing two occultists. When people objected, he viciously attacked them with posts on his website accusing them of being supporters of child abuse as well as other supposed crimes and offenses. He ended up splitting his local community over this, with his supporters and his enemies. For a variety of reasons he has left the scene.

Today, however, you do not need a local group. You can have the internet. I know of one person who frequently makes false statements and factual errors, breaks a variety of copyright laws, and threatens to sue anyone who dares to disagree with him. [This is technically known as a SLAPP (Strategic  Lawsuit Against Public Participation) Suit with the intent of costing people money so they won’t dare contradict him.] He has multiple websites giving him a larger “web presence” than he might otherwise have, and has a handful of dedicated followers and people he thinks of as enemies.

Another person I know of leads a group he claims is a Golden Dawn group. In actuality, it is Crowley’s Thelemic concepts with a veneer of Golden Dawn, but he chooses to call it Golden Dawn. He has changed many of the basic Golden Dawn concepts, actually making it GD in name only. At least Crowley was honest about it, and when he changed so much of his Order that it was no longer GD, he gave it another name (the AA).

Don’t Take My Word For It

One of the things I frequently say during workshops is, “Don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.” Unlike some of these current “don’t doubt me, just follow me” so-called “authorities,” I don’t want followers. I have no desire to walk in front of anyone. I’d much rather walk next to you. Every time I give a workshop I learn from the students. I just have some different information and I like to think I can present it well. That doesn’t make me a leader. It certainly doesn’t make me infallible!

Information, in and of itself, is worthless. It’s what we do with information that can make it valuable. So presenting information in history, philosophy, background, and practices is more like basic school. What you learn is of little value until you go outside of school and put the information and training into use. So I like to think that my writings have two goals:

Goal One: To provide you with information you don’t have or present it in a way that helps you develop new understandings.
Goal Two: To encourage you to be an independent thinker and researcher, as well as a spiritual scientist, a practitioner of all things described as “occultic.”

The key to your achieving either of these goals is simple: Don’t take my word for anything I present. Check it out for yourself.

When it comes to information I present, do some research.
Think for yourself. Question authority.

When it comes to ritual practices I present, try it out for yourself.
If something works, use it. If it doesn’t work, alter it. Find out what works for you.

Beware of “Common Knowledge”

Several years ago I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Timothy Leary. We had a great discussion about how the paranoia over LSD had prevented legitimate research. At one time, I said, “Well, they say…” and Dr. Leary jumped on me. Who are “the?” What is their background and training. Why did “they” say it? When did “they” say it? What were their motivations? This really started me thinking about assumptions we all tend to make.

When I was a kid, it was common and accepted knowledge that the way to treat a burn was to slather it with butter. Years later, “they” said that butter was no good. Instead, you should soak the burn in lukewarm water. Years later, the common knowledge was that you should soak a burn in cold water. The moral: don’t blindly accept “common knowledge.”

Recently, on another forum, I saw a video of someone denouncing Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He presented himself as a defender of science. What he did was describe a paper that misrepresented one small aspect of NLP (eye accessing cues) and disproved that false idea about NLP. This is known as a straw man argument: producing a false idea, labeling it what you disagree with, disproving the false idea, and claiming you have thus disproved the original and actual idea. This same defender of science went on to say that NLP was wrong and presented his own model of good communication. His model, however, was an exact match for real NLP’s model of communication.

Just because someone gets a book published or claims to be an authority or is the leader of a cult group does not automatically make that person right. When someone makes a claim you need to check it out for yourself.

And yes, that means you shouldn’t blindly accept what I write. I invite you and encourage you to check out everything I write or say.

Even this post.

Reader Comments

Written By Luis A. Valadez (Oracle)
on January 7th, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you! This article is very helpful. In actual practice, encouraging others to research and learn on their own is a very difficult concept. It’s exhausting because, in my own personal experience, people want to listen and take in every word that an “expert” says. Sadly, questioning authors at times can make one unpopular in certain settings with certain people.

Dion Fortune wrote a lot about the abuses that can occur in Occultism in some of her books. It’s always healthy to question and research subjects from anyone who claims to be experienced in any given subject. Otherwise, we open up ourselves to be taken advantage of and we fall prey to cognitive bias. I have made a number of mistakes when I was a member of an extreme religious cult in my youth. I have been failed and disappointed by those who set themselves up as “teachers.”

Now that I teach, I always tell my students the famous TFYQA that I learned from you. It works, and it’s very important. It’s good because, like you, I learn so much from my students. A teacher, in my opinion, is more of a guide. Thank you again for your contributions to the Occult Community.

Luis A. Valadez

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