Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

The Gospel of Matthew 7:15–20
King James Version

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Two nights ago I replaced a flood light in the cathedral ceiling of my home (I installed an energy-saving, LED light that is actually brighter than the previous bulb). While I had the ladder out I also replaced two smoke detectors. (Did you know you should replace the batteries every year and replace the devices every ten years?) I’m a big fan of doing it yourself.

However, there are definitely advantages to having a qualified expert do work for you. An expert handyman recently built two beautiful raised flowerbeds out of bricks under the huge bougainvillea in my back yard. I have no doubt that I could have done this, but he did it far better, faster, and more professionally than me. A few years ago I had a toilet replaced in my home. As I watched the plumber do his work I said that what he was doing looked pretty easy. He replied, “Yes, it’s very easy…until it isn’t. Then what do you do?” Magick, too, can be very easy…until it isn’t. Then what will you do?

Advantages and Challenges of Groups

Learning what to do from others who have had similar experiences is just one of the enormous advantages to joining an occult group. Whether you’re practicing chaos magick, the traditional system taught in my Modern Magick, the Golden Dawn tradition, the Thelemic path, some form of Paganism, Wicca, Witchcraft, or some other magickal system, learning from books can take you just so far. Attending festivals and conventions can help, but by their nature they’re very short term. Beside the benefit of joining a group I just described, other advantages include instruction, mentoring, advice, group work, friendship, the realization that you’re not crazy or alone in your beliefs, and help from others who specialize in skills you haven’t developed.

This leads to the question of where to find a good local group. One of the most frequent requests I receive in letters, email, and in personal conversation is my recommendation for a good occult group. As a general rule I do not make such recommendations. I don’t constantly keep in touch with every group in the occult-o-verse, and if I recommend one good group over another it would be unfair.

More importantly, however, is that I don’t want to give people bad information. On more than one occasion I’ve seen groups that start off positively end up becoming means to satisfy a leader or leaders personal urges in terms of money, power, sex, etc. If a group was positive when I knew them, and then became negative, and I recommended them to someone, it could be a very negative experience for that person. I don’t want to be the person responsible for directing someone into such a situation.

Of course, if it’s true that “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” then it must also be true that “When the student is ready to get cheated and deceived, the person (or group) who will cheat and deceive them will appear.” There are many instances of students learning a great deal from bad experiences. However, I won’t predict that a negative experience will help someone, so I don’t make recommendations.

“The Demon Crowley”

When Aleister Crowley originally wrote the book, Magick in Theory and Practice (Part III of Book 4), he used the pen-name “The Master Therion.” The massive tomb resulted in people wanting to come to see him for everything from training to advice. Crowley wrote that they came seeking The Master Therion, but met The Demon Crowley.

By that he meant that they came to him with certain expectations. Rather than acting as The Master Therion who was expected to tell them what they wanted to hear, he presented them with The Demon Crowley who would share what they needed to hear. If people aren’t ready to hear the truth it can be quite disturbing. Crowley didn’t want to take time with the dilettantes and those not really interested in learning and practicing magick, so his actions worked well for him. Not being Crowley, I’m not going to predict what someone may or may not need! Therefore, I do not give recommendations.

Potential Sources of Group Information

Although I won’t give specific recommendations, I do give direction for people looking for groups. I tell them they can ask at local occult or metaphysical shops for recommendations. I also point out that The Witches’ Voice (AKA “Witchvox”) has lists of groups and Circle Sanctuary does offer the Circle  Guide to Pagan Resources. You can also meet members of groups at various festivals, conventions, and at local occult-oriented lectures.

But just reading a description or meeting a few members can’t tell you everything about a group. So I suggest three approaches.

First, when considering joining a group, take “baby steps.” Enter slowly and be ready to back out if need be. Think of joining a new occult group as if you were entering a pitch-black room. If you stick your neck across the threshold, and there’s a guillotine blade behind the door, you’re going to lose your head! If you just put your head in slightly, though, when the blade comes down all you’ll lose is a bit of hair, and that grows back.

Second, when considering joining a group, as described in The Gospel of Matthew almost 2,000 years ago, it is by their fruits that you shall know them. Living in the Southern California area, I knew of two groups—One claiming to be a Golden Dawn and another claiming to be following the teachings of Aleister Crowley—which ended up getting either money or power or both for the leaders. I was briefly a member of the Crowley group, and when I decided to quit they attempted to use spiritual intimidation to get me to keep paying my dues, saying if I were really spiritual I’d come up with the money or go without meals or medical care to pay. (Interestingly, groups using spiritual intimidation of this sort never say that if the group were really spiritual they’d let you stay a member even if you couldn’t pay.)

“Adept Disease”

Unfortunately, right now some of the groups claiming to be the Golden Dawn are often very oriented toward obtaining power for the leaders. I know of two such groups that suffer from what I call “Adept Disease.” It is a sad truth that some groups try to get people to move through the grades rather than giving out advancement when a person really earns it. As a result, the person being pushed through the degrees may not have balanced their own ego and become engorged with their undeserved advancement: Adept Disease.

For example, I currently know of two Golden Dawn-like groups where the leaders were members of another group, became initiated into the 5=6 degree, almost immediately quit or were kicked out of the group, and then started their own versions of the Golden Dawn! One actually tried more than once before coming up with a scheme to call his group the Golden Dawn even though his new rituals actually reverse Golden Dawn concepts. (Why call it the “Golden Dawn” if you don’t want to follow the teachings of that group?) The other frequently declares that he is trying to structure peace between Golden Dawn groups while he regularly leads the battles by writing attacks on other groups and individuals. The leader of one group claiming to be the O.T.O. busily condemned anyone who disagreed with him or his interpretation of Crowley. He couldn’t see that there are multiple paths up the mountain and people can be different without being wrong.

In 2007, a few well-known speakers, including myself, were invited to a festival to give workshops. It sounded great…initially. It turned out that one of the goals of the festival was to work negative magick against a couple of occultists by burning them in effigy! At first we asked that this not be done. When the person sponsoring the festival refused, the other speakers and I decided this was not something we wanted to be associated with and cancelled. The person who ran the events began digging through the history and published writings of the various speakers in order to publicly denounce and attack them. It started out sounding good, but it didn’t turn out that way.

I have to agree with the author of Matthew’s Gospel: a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. Still, if it’s your time to be corrupted…

There is a great key you can use to determine if a group you’re considering joining—or have joined—could be negative. It was designed by my late friend, Isaac Bonewitz, and is known as “The Advanced Bonewitz Cult Danger Evaluation Frame.” You can find its most recent version HERE. It allows you to answer questions and rate the amount of control and negative cult-like behavior exhibited by the group.

Use the Force Your Intuition, Luke!

Third, and perhaps most importantly, use your intuition. Listen to your heart. If a group doesn’t feel right to you, don’t join it! It may be a wonderful group or a negative one. It may be perfect for others. But if it doesn’t feel right for you at this time, don’t become involved.

How do you know if you should join or not join a group? Please share it with our readers.

Have you been taken in by a group that you now wish you hadn’t joined? What happened?

Written by Donald Michael Kraig
Donald Michael Kraig graduated from UCLA with a degree in philosophy. He has also studied public speaking and music (traditional and experimental) on the university level. After a decade of personal study and practice, he began ten years of teaching courses in the Southern California area on such ...