There has been a debate on the internet concerning the future of magick. I saw a discussion about it on Aaron Leitch’s Blog. There, Aaron discusses comments by Jake Stratton-Kent concerning the future of magick.
One of the problems in this discussion is the use of jargon. Aaron reveals, “Jake is a goetic magician, but that doesn’t mean what you probably think it does. When Jake uses the term “goetia” he’s not talking about the Renaissance grimoire of that name (which we will refer to as the Goetia of Solomon) – nor about something so simplistic as “working with demons”. Instead he is referring to one of the most primordial foundations of Western occultism: the ancient Greek Goen.” He later writes that Goen “was the word for shaman in Greece before the Olympian cults existed.” As a result of these different meanings of “goetic,” some of the posts I’ve seen on the internet seem to misrepresent Mr. Kent’s ideas.
The basic thrust of Stratton-Kent’s argument is two-fold. First, it’s that “The whole Secret Society model is not only unhelpful, but actively counter-productive.” He claims that they don’t have any secret information and the fights between groups over false histories are harmful.
The model of the secret society he focuses on is that of Freemasonry. And it’s very true that groups like the Golden Dawn have rituals that are similar to, if not based upon, those of the Freemasons. This leads to the second part of his argument. Stratton-Kent contends that the dependence upon this structure has removed us from the sources of magick: direct links to the spiritual realms and spiritual entities, which he believes corresponds with aspects of Shamanism.
I think it’s absolutely great that Mr. Stratton-Kent has brought this up for discussion. I think he’s absolutely right and, at the same time, completely wrong.
Why Magickal Orders?
As I’ve frequently seen in discussions on a wide variety of topics, it’s common that writers on all sides make certain assumption and accept them as truisms that are simply accepted as valid. Sometimes, even the people holding opposite opinions accept the assumptions as truisms. Until those accepted presuppositions are questioned, it’s like arguing over who makes a better burger, McDonald’s or Burger King, without discussing the health risks of diets heavy with meats and saturated fats.
The secret society, as Stratton-Kent stated, can be “unhelpful” and “counter-productive.” But unhelpful in what ways? Counter-productive to what? Stratton-Kent writes that he hasn’t really learned anything from these groups. To me this is a common approach of many students. It’s the attitude of “Here I am; teach me.” This is a presupposition of how a school, or secret society, is supposed to work.
This is not meant to be a denunciation of Mr. Stratton-Kent so much as a denunciation of those running schools and the media who have made this attitude a part of our notion of educational systems. Just throw people in there, keep them locked up, and somehow, they’re supposed to be taught something. No wonder so many schools are failing. No wonder so many magickal orders remain small and have quickly changing memberships. “I’m here, teach me. If you don’t, I’m leaving.” Students with that attitude, often reinforced by parents who have the same attitude, are too often the worst students. If you don’t teach them exactly the material they want and they way they want to learn it, they reject everything.
The best students tend to be those with an attitude of: “How can I make use of this potential learning situation?” I don’t know the groups Mr. Stratton-Kent was a member of nor the quality of their leaders. If they were poor quality, I’m very sorry for Mr. Stratton-Kent’s experiences. However, if they had a great deal of knowledge and Mr. Stratton-Kent failed to take advantage of it because of preconceptions as to how such orders should work, then I’m sorry that the influences on Mr. Stratton-Kent resulted in his not taking advantage of available resources.
Many years ago I was a member of AMORC. At the time, they said they were not a secret society. Rather, they were a society with secrets. I attended ritual after ritual and observed little in the way of magick. I tell people that their teachings are a good way to get a very basic liberal arts education. However, I kept seeking, not for what they would give me, but what I could find.
At the lodge I was with, they played a horribly scratchy recording of some music during the meditation period that occurred in each weekly ritual. As a musician, the poor quality was driving me up the wall. I talked about this to a member whom I respected. He didn’t agree or disagree with me, he just started telling me a story:
Many years ago there was a man who learned meditation. One day, he started meditating and went deeper and deeper. Soon, he was deeper in meditation than he had ever been before. He kept going deeper. And deeper. He knew that in a few seconds he would be at one with the universe and have untold secrets of wisdom unfold before him.
And then a fly landed on his nose and he instantly came out of the meditative state, never to achieve it again.
The member finished the story, then turned and walked away. I was humbled. It wasn’t the bad quality of the music that was keeping me from meditating, it was me.
A few years later I was in a group that was associated with a Golden Dawn branch. Some of the members had been there for years. Officers carried around huge books to read their parts of rituals, stumbled through movements, and could barely read their speeches, even though they had been through them dozens of times. I kept hoping for more, but it was thoroughly disheartening.
Eventually, I achieved the position of Dadouchos, representing the carrier of elemental Fire. At the beginning of our regular ritual, the opening of the “Hall of the Neophytes,” the carrier of fire and another person, the Stolistes, who carried Water, go around the temple purifying and consecrating the space. In the past, they had just wandered around at their own speeds, sometimes almost bumping into each other. I intuited that, being opposites, they should always stay opposite each other as they went around the temple. I simply did this, and for me, and for others whom I talked with, the result was electric. The entire feelings of the temple changed as rituals became more powerful and effective.
There is absolutely no way I could have learned this or experienced it by reading or practicing on my own. The opportunity for learning was there and I took advantage of it. I did not wait for someone to teach me.
It’s a Different Thing
I would contend, then, that Mr. Stratton-Kent is quite right. It’s quite unlikely that secret societies/magickal orders are going to teach you magick. Those that claim they do often quickly vanish or turn into personality cults. However, what they can do is give you the opportunity to learn through observation and participation, through asking questions and by going through a formulaic set of instructions. Mr. Stratton-Kent is 100% right in that secret societies are not providing what he’s looking for. But the problem is not with him or with the secret societies. Rather, it is simply that he has made an assumption of what should happen in secret societies and is disappointed when he doesn’t get it.
So I would say it’s incorrect to look for a chiropractic treatment at a chiropodist’s office. If you try, you’re most likely to be disappointed. That’s what has happened here. In the East, this concept has long been known: reality is unlikely to meet one’s expectations, and that loss leads to disappointment and unhappiness. No wonder Mr. Stratton-Kent wrote what Mr. Leitch refers to as being close to an online manifesto.
So What Good Are
Magickal Orders and Secret Societies?
Instead of looking at what such groups can’t do, let’s look at what they can do:
- They give you a place where, if you are wise, you can choose to learn. You do this not only by learning written teachings, but by observation, experience, and through asking questions.
- They give you a place to meet and commune with others who have similar interests. Humans are social animals, and without such contact and feedback you can lose interest and direction.
- They give you a place to learn by experience and example. This isn’t just about learning what to do, but also learning what not to do.
- They link you with a current of energy not available outside of the group. Other such currents are certainly available, but they’re not these particular energies.
- They give you the chance to meet people with knowledge or access to knowledge you don’t have.
- They give you the chance to work with people who are better in certain magickal and spiritual skills than you.
- They give you a chance to hear discussions among people who don’t want to spend their time debating on social media.
- They can trigger new interests by an overheard word or thought.
- They allow you to participate in rituals, giving you the chance to experience what does and does not work.
These are just a few of the benefits that may be found in a secret societies/magickal orders. It’s possible the ones you meet won’t give you some or all of these. It’s possible they may give you different ones.
Sorry, But This Isn’t Exactly New…
I am very lucky and grateful for the massive acceptance of my book, Modern Magick. Several years ago, a person asked me how it would feel knowing that decades from now, people would still be using it. I replied that I hope by then there would be new writers who would share updated versions of what I had written in a new voice, a voice that would appeal to new generations.
This is a common occurrence. People like Mr. Stratton-Kent study magick, become disenchanted (no pun intended) with what’s available, and reinterpret it. I’ve seen this happen many dozens of time, as people discover or reveal the “true” secrets of magick. Most of them have been forgotten.
Some, however, not only last, but become important and influential. In 1976, two men had a meeting that would forever change the face of magick. They wanted to get rid of everything that was not needed (like Masonic-style rituals) and get to the core of magick. Originally named “Results Magick,” with the idea being that they wanted to get to the very minimum that would produce maximum results, it eventually become known as Chaos Magick. It has helped to spark an interest in magick by tens of thousands of people. You can read about the basic concepts and some of the basic techniques in Lesson 12 of Modern Magick.
I would guess that the energies behind the rising phoenix of magick that inspired Carroll and Sherwin, the founders of Chaos Magick, are the same energies behind Mr. Stratton-Kent’s comments. This, in my opinion, is a good thing for magick.
Yesterday I presented a webinar that allowed me to speak, live, to people all over the world. Thanks to all of the people who attended! The topic was Tarot & Magic. One person asked if the Cicero’s were the best at presenting the ideas of the magickal order, the Golden Dawn.
Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero
What I responded was that the books that had been written by the Ciceros had done more to advance the concepts and training of the Golden Dawn system than any other author since Israel Regardie. The moderator of the webinar stated that he had used pathworkings given by the Ciceros on a daily basis. And the truth is, that although people had occasionally written about the Golden Dawn, the Ciceros have done more and gone beyond the basics found in Regardie’s books, than anyone else. Until the Ciceros, the Golden Dawn had become stultified. Many leaders had an attitude of, “That’s what’s in Regardie’s book. Don’t do anything else.” With the Cicero’s books, the biggest advances in sharing information on the Golden Dawn in decades, the traditions of the Golden Dawn ceased being “that old stuff” and became enlivened once again. They helped bring life and vitality to the old Order. There are now many groups that claim to be “the” Golden Dawn. I don’t think anyone would care about them if the works of the Ciceros hadn’t brought the magickal current of the Golden Dawn back from the abyss.
The proof of this is not just in the popping up of Golden Dawn groups everywhere. Rather, it is in that very discord Mr. Kent discounts as being “unhelpful” and “actively counter-productive.” True, some people have formed groups for money or personal power or ego. But others argue/discuss minor points of practice and theory. New books on the Golden Dawn are beginning to appear from a variety of authors.
The spark that triggered the Golden Dawn in the late 19th century seems to be starting another fire at the beginning of the 21st century.