Respect those who seek the truth.
Be wary of those who claim to have found it.
One of the challenges of occultism and magickal practice is the challenge of achieving goals. One purpose of magick is personal spiritual evolution. At the same time, one of the things I like to say is, “It’s hard to be spiritual when you’re wondering where your next meal will come from.” If Western society were more like that of India, where mystics are often supported by the gifts of those who recognize a person seeking ultimate truth, spiritual development might be the only focus of magick. But since Western society is not like that, using magick to obtain things on the physical plane, including everything from jobs and housing to money and love, are both legitimate and common.
Some people, following the more mystical point of view, claim that doing anything for personal aggrandizement is simply wrong. I would respectfully disagree. The history of magick in the West is filled with people seeking material things. I see nothing wrong with that as long as your magickal goal has the three characteristics I define as being ecological:
- Good for yourself.
- Good for others.
- Good for the community, the environment, and the world.
Spiritual attainments can be hard to see. How can you tell if a person is slightly more spiritually developed than another? Spirituality is internal and doesn’t show itself like the “conspicuous consumption” of buying a new car each year.
Obtaining tangible goals, on the other hand, is quite obvious. If you do magick for health, you get healthy. If you do successful magick for money, you get money. If you do successful magick for love, you find love.
Stepping Stone to Failure?
There is a joke that the number one cause of divorce is marriage. There’s some truth in that because without marriage there would never be a divorce. Sometimes, getting what we want can lead to the opposite of what we want.
With magick, achieving the success of spiritual development and achieving physical plane goals can lead the practitioner into an obvious thought: “I’m good at magick!”
Now this is important: there is nothing wrong with justifiable pride. Crowley, in his essay, “The Dangers of Mysticism,” wrote: “an ounce of honest pride is better than a ton of false humility.”
I like to use the term egoism to mean, “I’m great and you’re great, too.” I use the term egotism to mean “I’m great and you suck.” But neither of these terms mean I’m great at everything and you’re great at everything. There are some things I’m great at, but I fully acknowledge there are other things I suck at. Other people are great at some of the things I’m great at or are great at the things where I suck. Discovering and nurturing what we’re great at (while also improving, perhaps, what we’re not great at) is part of personal development.
In the same essay, Crowley continued, “…although an ounce of true humility is worth an ounce of honest pride.” This can be really challenging when you successfully use magick and begin to achieve your spiritual and practical goals. Things start to line up and, compared to what you see in others, you’re doing well. Very well. So well that to your thinking you’re better than others.
It’s called, “ego inflation.”
This is something Israel Regardie warned against. He believed everyone involved in occultism should get into some form of psychotherapy. Of course, he was a Reichian therapist, so he saw things through that mindset. In my experience, there are other ways to become and stay an egoist rather than and egotist and not suffer with ego inflation. One way, I believe, is through meditation on the symbols of the Tarot, especially the Major Arcana. That’s one of the reasons I include instructions on performing the “Tarot Contemplation Ritual” early in my set of lessons, Modern Magick.
There are, of course, numerous other ways to keep your balance, and you can read about some of the techniques in books such as:
365 Ways to Raise Your Frequency
Becoming Your Best Self
Living in Your Soul’s Light
Meditation as Spiritual Practice
and of course, Regardie’s own
The Middle Pillar (especially with the additions by Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero)
Symptoms of Failure
So it’s up to the student and practitioner to beware of egotism and beware of ego inflation. Unfortunately, not all students and practitioners understand this. They think they have the whole truth and the only truth. Mark Twain urged that we should be wary of such people.
And what happens when someone thinks they have the only truth? Of course, they start or try to take over a coven or magickal order. They need to spread their one and only truth to others. When others don’t quickly follow they’ll often invent a long and illustrious, albeit fictitious history to put potential followers in awe of them and their group. In fact, they become so sure of their truths, they become lost in it, not even capable of seeing their own egotism and ego inflation. They’ll lie to spread what they believe is truth, and may become so lost they may even believe their own lies.
I’m not the only one to recognize this behavior. Aleister Crowley described such people as “Black Brothers” (not to be confused with magicians seeking to do evil to others). Here is an explanation of the Black Brother:
One goal in the study of Thelema within the magical Order of the A∴A∴ is for the magician to obtain the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel: conscious communication with their own personal daimon [AKA Holy Guardian Angel], thus gaining knowledge of their True Will. The chief task for one who has achieved this goes by the name of “crossing the abyss”; completely relinquishing the ego. If the aspirant is unprepared, he will cling to the ego instead, becoming a Black Brother. Rather than becoming one with God, the Black Brother considers his ego to be god. According to Crowley, the Black Brother slowly disintegrates, while preying on others for his own self-aggrandisement.
—Wikipedia entires on Thelema and True Will
Another description of the Black Brother is that they think they have crossed the abyss between the lower seven Sephiroth on the Kabalistic Tree of Life and the upper three known as the “Supernals.” They believe they are now with the Supernals when, in fact, they wander on the lower paths of the Tree. Often, they will try to take others with them on this mistaken journey through the lower paths, describing it as great spiritual accomplishment when it is just ego inflation.
If you haven’t met with such people, congratulations. Chances are, however, you will. Male Black Brothers tend to want to tell everyone they know better than anyone else, they are the link to the God/dess, Hidden Masters, Secret Chiefs, etc. They will marshall their allies and try to take over groups. Often their attacks on others will get wilder and sound crazier and “over the top,” turning people off and causing them to flee (they become “enemies” or “traitors” to the Black Brother’s true path).
I have observed this several times. Once, the Black Brother was a woman who tried to get her followers to vote her into taking over a group. When the coup failed, they all left the original group and founded another group (it eventually failed and vanished when she left the area). On two occasions I’ve seen men reach high levels in an Order and then denounce the group, leave (or get kicked out), and then try to start their own “real” version of that Order.
Women can act as described, but when they are Black Brothers they usually focus on obtaining as much attention to themselves as possible. This is most frequently accomplished through extreme flamboyance. When they walk in a room everyone must focus on them. I remember seeing one woman like this who came into an occult store wearing a very flowing robe, claiming, “The last time I wore this I channeled Mother Mary.” She didn’t, of course, but her followers took every word she said as if they were drops of gold from God.
So what can a person do to evolve spiritually and achieve goals on the physical plane while remaining an egoist and not becoming an ego-inflated, egotistical, Black Brother? Here is the complete quote by Crowley from his essay. I think he has it right:
Let him remember that an ounce of honest pride is better than a ton of false humility, although an ounce of true humility is worth an ounce of honest pride; the man who works has no time to bother with either. And let him remember Christ’s statement of the Law “to love God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself.”
As I have repeatedly stated, do the work.