On Finding a True Teacher

I’ve recently been undergoing a significant disillusionment with the whole occult and esoteric community. I would not say that I’ve been suffering it, as all told it has lifted great weight from my shoulders and revealed a lot of what is and is not worth my time and energy. I hasten to add that it is not with esoteric spirituality—nor with magic, etc.—that I have made a break, but with the people and organizations who have decided that they speak for it. Sadhana, practice, is the thing, and all the metaphysical philosophizing, lodge ritual, seminars, guided visualizations, and shared-around ordinations and consecrations in the world cannot help you if you aren’t willing to put in the work on your own.

It may seem odd, therefore, that I’m spilling more ink here on teachers. In Western ceremonial magic, conjure, and other forms of sorcery, teachers may be helpful but are not necessary if you’ve got access to books and other materials. Mysticism, however, irreducibly requires a mentor who has gone before you. A lot of people today really hate hearing this, but it’s no less true for that. Moreover, some modalities do require an initiation of some sort, a sharing of lineage and force, to really enter into the stream. For example, you can get something out of Tantric ritual and mantra practice just by following directions from a good book, but certain depths will be out of your reach without Guru’s grace. You don’t have to like it, and you may choose to push against the point, but that’s the way things are. It’s an experience I’ve shared with many others that as soon as one realizes this fact, a sort of despair takes hold. One may then start to chase down every inviting avenue trying to find a teacher, or else one may give up entirely thinking that the chances are just too slim to find a reliable teacher or proper lineage in this age. Or, like me, you may ping-pong between these two extremes on what seems a daily basis; the once-inviting avenues of the search reveal themselves to be blind alleys, so despair descends, only to give way to a flurry of web searching, correspondence courses, and temple visits. Wash, rinse, repeat.

And, boy, are there a lot of blind alleys masquerading as yellow brick roads. Herein lies the root of my increasing lack of interest in the many teachers, organizations, discussion groups, and such: most of them are more or less harmless enthusiastic amateurs who, like amateurs in any field, desperately want to share the world which has opened up to them with others of like mind, but enough of them are some combination of tigers waiting to pounce or, maybe worse, the sincerely deluded. This latter category is the hardest to deal with because they so often look like the real deal, but an observer can watch as their peccadillos expand to engulf them and their followers as their pain-bringing obstructions grow. I have recently watched this occur with an occult writer and teacher of some note, and not without some degree of sadness on my part as I watch his following build. This, indeed, went a long way toward precipitating my present distance from the occult world; conversation about it brought a friend of mine to suggest this very blog entry.

There’s no bullet-pointed list of specific traits to look for in a real Guru, initiator, guide, or mentor because there’s no one way of “being enlightened”, no one-size-fits-all way of teaching, and no perfect human being. A good rule, however, goes back to the last paragraph. Everyone who is still embodied will carry with them some conditioning; that’s what having a brain is all about. A genuine Guru, one who has walked far along the Way, will know this and acknowledge it. They will therefore also know their own quirks well enough to mostly keep them out of the way. They will not permit mere conditioned preferences and prejudices to negatively impact the sadhana of their students. This is one of several big reasons, but among the biggest, why the majority of even the most sincere spiritual practitioners just aren’t teacher material. (This, by the way, includes me.)

It is entirely possible for a spiritual teacher to, for example, have political opinions, and it is possible for his or her students to agree or disagree with those opinions without the Guru-sishya relationship being in the slightest way disrupted. It all depends on the good faith of both sides. There is no avoiding problems, however, when said teacher tries to enforce their politics as part of their spiritual teaching or make their spiritual teaching a mere appendage of their politics—a topic about which I’ve written before, though I would have been a bit more forceful about it had I known then what I know now. This is just one example of how a teacher’s lack of self-knowledge and self-control can disqualify them. Greed, power-hungriness, egotism, and a host of other issues can arise with the unqualified. Again, it isn’t as if a true Guru will entirely lack these altogether human traits, but he or she will know about themunderstand them, and, most important of all, be able to control them through this self-knowledge and perspective. As a fellow-Nath once put it, we don’t seek perfection but excellence; perfection implies a flattening-out, while excellence enjoys the best of texture. As long as the Guru has a body and brain, just like the rest of us, the knots and pain-bringing obstructions are there; what distinguishes the Guru in this vein is that he knows them inside and out.

When one does not have this depth of self-knowledge but tries to take up the mantle of teacher and/or initiator, the pain-bearing obstructions (ignorance, egotism, attachment, repulsion, and fear of death) will tend to grow in whichever directions present the least resistance. If allowed to continue unchecked, those barriers which exist in other directions will be absorbed and used by the kleshas to continue to grow like tumors siphoning the body’s nutrients for their own use. I don’t mean to speak, here, like a Yogic physician who is expert in this process, but I have watched it happen more than once from several angles.

Be on the lookout, therefore, for hypocrisy. Even minor examples of “do as I say, not as I do” implies an underlying problem which will likely burst forth sooner or later, especially when surrounded by sycophants. Use some subtlety here. It is possible for a teacher to assign a practice to one student that he or she does not assign to all students equally, even a practice which the teacher him- or herself does not generally use. This is simply because a good teacher will dynamically respond to the different needs of people who are in different places, with different karmas and conditioning. This is fundamentally, and recognizably, different from passive-aggression and petty double standards which conflate authority with authoritativeness.

All of this certainly plays into the old standard “by their fruits you shall know them” and this is certainly a good rule. Again, some subtlety of observation is necessary, but if a person claims powers which are not supported by the reality of their life, do you really want to learn their magic? If they speak about refinement and transcendence which is nowhere evident in their behavior, what do they have to teach you of mysticism?

Ultimately, a good teacher is found by a good student, and vice versa. Tantric sources suggest a karmic necessity to the arrangement, and I think that this is true. But even if you find that hard to accept, there does seem to be a sort of magnetism which brings a ripe student and their teacher together. Much Yoga literature therefore focuses on the qualifications of the student rather than those of the teacher. Some have observed that this seems like an imbalanced arrangement, putting the vulnerable seeker at the disposal of any number of people of bad faith. In truth, it puts the seeker very much in the driver’s seat. If a teacher is actively recruiting students, that’s a strike against already. Making oneself available is very far from putting up a billboard. Some fanfares are earned, and some merely purchased. To tell the difference often takes discrimination. Let the seeker, therefore, develop a practice which builds and encourages intelligence. Concentration and meditation, the conscious direction of one’s own mind, are a good place to start, as is a devotional practice to one’s chosen deity which tends to bring to the mind and perceptions a new level of clarity.

Some books which have been helpful for me in these reflections:

  • Bhagavad Gita, because Krishna is a good model of a Guru; he does not hide or deny his quirks but uses them to bring dynamism and personality to his teaching;
  • In Days of Great Peace by Mouni Sadhu, as a sympathetic telling of the author’s journey through the “occult rat-race” to his own Guru;
  • Concentration by Mouni Sadhu, for presenting a series of exercises leading to lucidity of the mind;
  • Initiation Into Hermetics by Franz Bardon, for giving a self-paced and well-rounded practical education in both magic and mysticism which puts one in good stead to find a spiritual home;
  • Guru Gita, as devotion to the Divine Guru within and without is a proven method of ripening to meet the human Guru;
  • Yoga Sutras by Sage Patanjali, for lucidly expressing the aims and core methods of practice leading to an awakened intellect;
  • The Phantastikos by Shri Gurudev Mahendranath (Dadaji), a lucid and non-dogmatic account of the searches and results of a Tantric Guru’s own journey, prefaced by my own Guru Sri Gurudev Kapilnath telling of how he came to Dadaji’s tutelage (two for one special!).

I wish every reader here the absolute best, whether you are looking to enter the stream of mysticism or searching for the sorcery to enhance your life here and now. Either way, choose your associations carefully, practice with sincerity, watch for results, and keep your wits about you.


The Gods Are A Hammer

What good is it for me
to tell you of Shiva or Krishna,
Durga or Jesus or Thoth?
If their Names are not sledgehammers upon you.

Let the Names knock you about,
bruise your flesh and make bone ash
of your mind. Only then
can the pictures and words
fall off, fortresses pierced.

And the Pulse which birthed Them
Dancing and still.
Our sign of office:
Movement and rest.

Laboratories In Dust

The secret alchemy is without transformation. We search through laboratories and books and incense for the spell or machine that can at last give us peace. The potion or pill that will make us happy. The martyr or ruler who will make us free.

Alchemy adds nothing. It takes nothing away. When once we step into the forest and sink in to the dappled loam, let ourselves be covered in the breathing ferns and the hidden fire be exactly as it’s always been—then, without having done a thing we will have accomplished what there is to accomplish.

Take to the forests and graveyards, therefore, wherever you are. If there is in you any love or desire, let the soil and ash have you while you live.

The Road to Hell

The Road to Hell

I was recently given a rather pointed reminder of the bitter fact that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. This proverb has become such a cliche that we don’t often think about what it means; it gets thrown out to try and shut up those with whom we disagree in social, political, economic, or religious matters and as quickly dismissed by our interlocutors for the silly gambit it was, but it is never used as intended: introspection. Turn the phrase on yourself and see where it leads you. Sincerely ask yourself—and, by God, don’t answer immediately!—”What motivates me here?” Often, we quietly, so quietly we do not hear it ourselves, bury our ignorance, egotism, attachment, repulsion, and fear under a pile of philanthropic projects, community outreach programs, educational pursuits, or simple free-floating sentiments of humanitarianism and good-will.

For a time, there, I was multiplying my public obligations: working on writing some books, advertising my work as an astrologer and Tarot reader, teaching a meditation class, giving “talks” on various topics, and so forth. But this is precisely why we have need of the Guru. My preceptor, in a gentle but clear way, brought my attention sharply around to what I was doing. So now, I’m pulling back.

This doesn’t mean that I’m cutting all of my public involvements, nor would I presume to tell anyone else to do so. Rather, I was given the opportunity to look my own motives and needs in the face and that’s my only recommendation. Do not “vote in haste and repent at leisure” but consider why it is you want to do something, support something, say something.

This is not a repudiation of compassion. I’m sure that some will want to take it that way, but that, too, is a defense mechanism for the ego: “If you aren’t coming out in vocal support of my priorities, it’s because you must be The Enemy.” Remember, whether you are tempted to say this to someone else, or someone says it to you, it is close enough to 100% that it’s just an ego trying to protect its own borders. Real compassion doesn’t often look like either an Internet meme or a Facebook rant. It’s often much more like the Karma Yogi’s quiet willingness to do what he knows he ought, apart from any expectation of enjoying the fruits thereof. To put it sharply, “Compassion sometimes looks like indifference,” if only because the observer’s field of view is limited.

Neither is this a repudiation of taking care of one’s self. To the contrary: the understanding of one’s own motives is an irreducible necessity for real peace, freedom, and happiness. When we know why we want something (or want to avoid something) we can make more intelligent decisions as to whether or not it is worth our while. Does this actually help anyone’s attainment of peace, freedom, or happiness, or is it just another entanglement?

This is all something we have to gradually awaken to. It is the Yogic capacity for discernment—Insight, buddhipratibhā—so it does not serve us to too harshly flagellate ourselves when we fail to exercise it. It does, however, serve us to take notice when we’ve dropped the ball. For this, a spiritual friend who has walked before us along the way is invaluable. But even if you do not yet have such a person, you can always try to remind yourself: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Prayer: Approaches & Validity

Every time I read a story about a terrorist attack, a mass shooting, or some other tragedy enacted by a damaged or just plain awful person, it’s a veritable guarantee that before I even see calls for “thoughts and prayers”, I see vociferous condemnations of thoughts and prayers. It would be one thing if they were only from the mouths and keyboards of my atheist friends—for them, prayer is an incoherent anathema anyway, so it doesn’t much matter what they’ve got to say about the matter—but the majority of such exhortations against the “laziness” of prayer come from my friends in the magical, occult, and Neopagan communities. Part of this arises from the syndrome of magicians who don’t believe in magic, but a lot of it, too, is a simple misunderstanding of terminology.

The word “prayer” applies to such a variety of human religious and spiritual activity that it’s pretty hard to generalize about it. When celebrity scientists (the closest thing to public intellectuals we have left) come out against everything from philosophy to the very human sense of hope, derisively including prayer as almost an afterthought along the way, it only bolsters the opinions of those who wish to reduce away any spiritual practice which goes against their own demands for “seriousness”—especially when it in any way reminds them of the traumas of their childhood religious upbringings. But many of these people are quite intelligent, and such reductionism ill becomes them.

It’s true that a lot of modern, largely Protestant, prayer is little more than a milquetoast type of intercessory prayer, and that done without anything in the way of discipline or method beyond “tell God what I want or don’t want,” but that does not represent what prayer is and has been to a great deal of humanity. The prayer exercises of the Jesuits, love or hate their intended goal, are the actual, historical basis of what modern occultists call “guided meditation”, complete with projecting oneself in one’s imagination into a complex scene intended to put one in participation with a spiritual reality. The Jesus Prayer of Eastern Orthodox traditions resembles Hindu Kriya Yoga, with visualizations, prānayāma, and japa-like repetition, all with the aim of diving as deeply into oneself as possible and meeting the Deity there in one’s own psychic core. Among Christian theosophists (not to be confused with Blavatsky’s Theosophy), like Jacob Boehme (Protestant) and Meister Eckhart (Catholic), and some Anabaptists (Quakers, Moravians), prayer is something like meditation, wherein one strives directly to swim in the depths of Divinity, bringing something back from the experience. The theurgy of Martinism resembles Tantric puja—not in its externals, necessarily, but in its general goals and modality, such as ritualizing prayer formulas with a variety of symbolic devices with the express purpose of achieving definite results thereby, whether those be internal or external or both. Lakota prayer contains an elegant and serene tradition of offering tobacco smoke to the four directions in thanks for the blessings of life. In fact, numerous spiritual traditions around the world consider prayer to be a very natural response to existence; even non-theistic forms of Buddhism, such as Vietnamese and Japanese Zen, engage in prayer as a show of thankfulness.

Of course, this may all be pedantry in the face of the fact that many people think of intercessory prayer when they use the word prayer at all. Is there any validity to “prayer for stuff”? That’s not a different question from that of the validity of “magic for stuff”.

At the very least, prayer and magic give us a way to be active under circumstances in which there is not a lot else we can do. But in cases when we can be doing more, it gives us an edge. I will accept the argument that looking to the sky and saying, “God, you’re really big and great, and I sure could use a cure for my cancer,” probably won’t accomplish a hell of a lot on its own—though medical studies of prayer’s impact on dealing with illness and recovery seem to show that even a bit of “humble beseechment” can improve outcomes, so it isn’t all worthless. But the innumerable intercessory practices around the world can boast of sometimes impressive results on a level with that of magical rituals and spells—to the point that no less a magical personality than the infamous Joseph Lisiewski (author of such as Ceremonial Magic & the Power of Evocation) admitted that mysticism (his term for prayer and so-called mental magic) is more powerful than magic in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, and influential Advaitin and Catholic Hermeticist Mouni Sadhu wrote an entire book on effective intercessory prayer under the title of Theurgy. Similarly, Draja Mickaharic, the master witchdoctor and author of numerous excellent collections of the world’s genuine spells, explains in his most famous spell compilation, A Century of Spells, that prayer is the most powerful magic there is, properly applied.

Intercessory prayer is, ultimately, a vehicle for gaining access to Divinity. Whether or not “stuff” accrues from it, for many people it is an important step along the way of discovering exactly who they are in relation to God or Gods and the world. It is a way for the microcosm to relate to the mesocosm and macrocosm. It is possible to argue over how evolved a method any given approach to intercession may be, but the experience of millions has it that there is at least some value in it. While popularity rarely indicates depth, it’s hard to discount the weight of such testimony entirely.

But does prayer make one lazy? I’ve never seen evidence of it. It’s true that many with a political axe to grind will use “thoughts and prayers” as a tactic to avoid having to do anything in the face of preventable tragedies, but that’s no more the fault of “thoughts and prayers” than is a blog writer at fault for the procrastination of his readers. People will make excuses for not dealing with what they need to deal with, and will try to make those excuses sound reasonable or even noble. I would bet that not many of them are even praying concerning the situation in the first place, but “prayers” sounds a heck of a lot better than “sitting here feeling shitty and powerless”, so “thoughts and prayers” it is. Again, that says quite little about what prayer can or cannot do and a lot more about the intentions of the person saying it. Even the phrase “thoughts and prayers” is an indication that the one doing the talking equates those things: for them, a thought and a prayer are equivalent, neither one being more than a sentiment. Those I know with disciplined prayer practices, however, would never draw this parallel; a prayer is a real cause from which we may expect real effects, and if those results are not forthcoming, a reason may be sought and, often, learned from and rectified.

We often get so caught up in our own assumptions that we fail to even try to see into the actual motives, actions, perceptions, and priorities of others. This is bad enough from most, but magicians, occultists, and mystics ought to know a lot better—and be far better acquainted with the incredible possibilities of a magical universe. The laziness of some does not remark upon the sincerity of others, the limiting ideologies of demagogues do not reflect adequately the limitlessness of experience, and the harmful definitions of childhood do not represent the creativity and power of those who know how to do better.

In Praise of Wicca

It’s rare to see a serious esoteric practitioner of any sort saying anything positive about Wicca, so I will forgive any raised eyebrows. There is a common sort of elitism among occultists and magicians which has them separating out “real Witchcraft” from “Wicca” (or, as I occasionally see it, “Wiccanism”, which gives me a chuckle). I get where it comes from, and see some valid reasoning behind it, but those reasons are often overblown by an all too human desire to reduce everything outside one’s own expertise down to its simplest form to make it more easily digestible or a simple tendency to get caught up in appearances. But let’s all be honest with ourselves:

Like a lot of people who got involved with the occult in their school days, I got my real start with Wicca. Specifically, in response to a bunch of questions I had been asking them for years, and interests I had otherwise expressed by being a tree-hugging sort of kid, my parents got me a copy of Scott Cunningham’s Living Wicca for Christmas. I doubt if they realized that it was a sequel to his prior Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, but it didn’t really matter to me. I dove in with gusto, did the suggested exercises, and had my young imagination fired by the poetic imagery of the Horned God and lunar Goddess. As a small child, I had instinctively lived in a magical world and always felt a thirst for more, and Living Wicca gave it to me in a structured way.

It didn’t take me more than a few years to “graduate” to Hermetic magic—specifically the Greco-Egyptian magical papyri (PGM)—but I have to say this: the Wicca stuff worked. Don’t get me wrong, the PGM material worked better, being more efficient in almost every way, but I got my desired results through Wiccan ritual and spellwork, and in a package which suited my poetic sensibilities quite a bit better. Wicca has one really significant advantage over a lot of other published forms of ritual magic, and that is its immediate practicability. I have yet to encounter a book on, say, the Golden Dawn or Aurum Solis systems, let alone the grimoires, which have much to offer to someone who doesn’t have the resources to put together a pretty intense set of ritual tools, access to a room dedicated to ritual, and some mastery of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew pronunciation (if not translation). Sure, you may argue that a clever magician can do many of those rituals without most of the tools, but it usually isn’t presented that way, so the grand armory of magical weapons comes off as an obstacle to a lot of beginners, especially young ones. I’ve known more than a few budding magicians, especially during my teenage years, who despaired of ever being able to fulfill all of the material “requirements”, and the stuff they had to study was no encouragement at all, so they never got around to actually doing any of the magic until someone came along to clarify. Wicca, on the other hand, offers relative simplicity; many of the spells and rituals of even the more strictly initiatory British Traditional Witchcraft can be done with stuff most people have in their kitchen. This puts it on a level of accessibility with the many forms of folk magic out there (PA Dutch brauch, African American Hoodoo, or what have you), but with some of the aesthetic, energetic, and spiritual depth of ritual and ceremonial magic (Western high magic, Vodou, Tantra, etc).

Just as I mentioned in my previous discussion on Neopaganism in general, Wicca is notable for its broad influence. Neopaganism as a wider community wouldn’t exist without Wicca, and much of ritual magic would have remained obscure if not for American do-it-yourself Wiccan groups like the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn and “witch shops” like Herman Slater’s Magickal Childe. The world of the occult, the world over, has never been a closed loop. Ideas spread; practices mix; traditions interbreed. Thus, no system is “pure”. Wicca is an excellent example of a syncretic tradition which not only wears its building blocks on its sleeve, but also succeeds in making a coherent whole out of them.

Compare to, say, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn—which looks like nothing so much as a hodge-podge of disparate elements chosen seemingly at random from around the world. While the ingenuity of the Golden Dawn founders cannot be denied, the product of their work does not, even today after over a century of innovation, have the feel of a whole to the point where most serious practitioners very much have to pick and choose and dynamically reconstruct it to their own preferences. Wicca is very much a similar pick-and-mix of magical technique, ritual structure, and metaphysical gamesmanship, but a typical Wiccan ritual coheres without a symbolic element out of place. Granted, a practitioner who overly prioritizes ecclecticism can ruin a perfectly good ritual (the classic “Let’s invoke Ereshkigal and Thor tonight… in Latin!”), that’s an issue which can crop up anywhere.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the curious coincidence of numerous “family traditions” and schools of “traditional witchcraft” which suddenly appeared after the popularization of Wicca. Isn’t it interesting how every form of “hardcore”, “traditional” witchcraft looks a hell of a lot like Wicca while its representatives insist that they’re somehow The Original—citing the fact that they don’t particularly care for Gerald Gardner and don’t call themselves a “religion” as examples of how traditional, underground, and spooky they are? And let’s not start on the ridiculous claims of “hereditary witchcraft”—that Wicca is somehow invalid because one has to be “born a witch”.

None of this is to say that there’s anything wrong with non-Wiccan Witchcraft, either. It’s just that for every exorbitant  historical claim made in the past by Wicca—which most Wiccans these days neither believe nor continue to spread as anything more than a curiosity—non-Wiccan Witches have made up a half dozen equally silly claims to gain the admiration of the credulous. One prominent teacher and writer of his own system of “Traditional Witchcraft” is rather infamous for long-winded screeds slamming Wicca, and damn near every other magical tradition, in the midst of laughable claims to the effect that the torture-induced confessions of accused “witches” during the inquisitions and witch-hunts of Europe are proof of the ancient provenance of his idiosyncratic brand of Witchcraft. Seriously, he’s got whole books full of the stuff, aside from what he posts on Facebook. The upshot is that the practice he recommends is a fairly effective one, but it’s obvious that it mostly derives from the PGM with a veneer of Germano-Celtic mythological imagery; you could, quite frankly, get all of it from a single decent book on Wicca, but without the ugly rants and poor understanding of history.

Similar to the influence issue, Wicca, like general Neopaganism, is often accused of being shallow. My experience shows, however, that 98% of everyone in the spiritual world are quite content to stay close to the surface. Again, that’s not a bad thing. It may be at times annoying when people are presenting themselves as experts when they’re barely treading water, but quite a lot of those involved are sincere and simply haven’t felt the need or found the opportunity to delve any deeper. And Wicca presents numerous opportunities to go deeper when people are ready for it. Some of the best magicians I’ve met identify as Wiccans of one sort or another, many Gardnerian or Alexandrian, and the spiritual potential of Wicca is nothing short of a Western Tantra for those who know how to engage with the symbolism. (The stang and cauldron, after all, rather closely resemble the Natha trishul and dhuni.) There is, ultimately, no reason why a Wiccan shouldn’t be able to accomplish any magical or mystical task within the context of Wicca if they are willing to put in the same amount of effort with the same degree of creativity as anyone else. Moreover, the incredible amount of material available to the Wiccan Witch means that there are a lot of solid examples to draw from.

None of them above should give the reader the impression that I find no flaws in Wicca. I just find that it is no weaker or more flawed than anything else out there. Our practices are stronger for trying to find the strengths in other ways of doing things, though the human tendency is to dismiss or vilify whatever does not fit the observer’s own way. There’s nothing but egotism in this, egotism which a solid magical practice ought to be dissolving. I’m certainly guilty of it, myself. But I hope that a revisit to topics which are often dismissed by self-styled “serious occultists” will improve my own practice. If I see someone else being successful, it shouldn’t matter to me if I like what they call what they’re doing. Sri Dattatreya acknowledged birds and prostitutes as his preceptors; the least the rest of us can do is be open to learning from our fellow practitioners, even if terms, symbols, and forms differ considerably. That, after all, is one of the great strengths Paganism has over the more restrictive Abrahamic faiths. We’d be fools not to use it.

In Defense of Neopaganism

It’s been said, I forget who by, that “a popular occult movement is a stupid occult movement”. I may substantially agree to this, but you could remove the word “occult” from the statement and it would hold just as strongly. Popular movements are almost always impelled by our lowest natures—natures which cannot, and should not, be denied, but also shouldn’t be given free reign either. This is as true in spirituality as it is in the hard sciences, politics, or anywhere else. But none of this is to say that the mainstream is inherently stupid.

As odd as it sounds, there is not just one “mainstream”; each culture, subculture, and even counterculture will have its own mainstream which defines the mean opinions, assumptions, ideals, fashions, and other trends within the grouping. Even the smallest of populations—say, your neighborhood coven of Witches—will have a mainstream, even if it has a rather weak current by which to pull dissenters along. A mainstream can be dangerous on a large scale, as it then has the torrent of a spring melt-flooded river which can crush the spirits and the bones of those who try to resist in unsubtle ways. The good of such a current, however, is that those who are unable to devote all of their personal time, energy, and resources to constant research and refinement will still have access to a sort of progress, so long as they are content with much of the research, refinement, and, most pointedly, interpretation and implementation being done for them. We all must do this to some degree in most areas of life; there is simply not enough time in the day to be constantly questioning every facet of culture, so we very often just have to give a lot of things a pass so that we can focus on whichever particular happens to be a priority. Harm can come of being too passive, of course, but there is also wisdom in focusing on what is within one’s own sphere of influence and trying to make that useful to others rather than trying to horn in on an area in which one has no expertise or power and trying to steer an unfamiliar ship in a storm.

Neopaganism serves as just such a mainstream for the occult world and, to a large extent, the world of alternative spirituality in general. Despite (sometimes alarmist, sometimes smug) reports to the contrary, Neopaganism appears to be fairly healthy as a movement, though you will see very different states of health (as with anything) depending on where you are and how you choose to look for it. Even the New Age, which still holds a central place in the marketplace of popular alternative spirituality, takes most of its cues from what it sees Neopaganism doing. Generally, there is a process of whitewashing over the aspects which are unsavory to a mindset still largely tinged with a liberalized form of Abrahamic moralism—just look at what they did to Yoga!—but the ideas and practices are generally still very recognizable for their roots in Witchcraft and Hermeticism. Moreover, had it not been for the popularization of Neopaganism, many of what are today considered to be classics of Western occult spirituality and magical practice would not be so readily available: the works of Eliphas Levi, Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, Israel Regardie, William G. Gray, and numerous others would likely have fallen into the dustbin of the history of ideas, and those who wanted their books would be scrambling to afford out-of-print editions. Moreover, almost none of the greats of more recent years through to the present would be there! Scott Cunningham, Raymond Buckland, Paul Huson, Joseph H. Peterson, Lady Sheba, Doreen Valiente, John Michael Greer, Mark Stavish, and numerous others, would not have seen print, or at least not mass print, if not for the relative popularity of Neopaganism. Yes, even your favorite boutique Luciferian LHP Traditional Qlippothic Witchcraft publisher of 666 copy limited editions (Only For Serious Occultists, of course) would have no market to sell to if not for the Neopaganism which brought Llewellyn and Weiser to prominence by selling Cunningham, Buckland, Regardie, et al. So, dark-hooded Satanists, thank your local Wiccan coven and Druid grove for your ability to find Lord Beelzebub Cindersoul’s Grimoire of Dusk on Amazon for $12.49. (Don’t take any of this too personally; I own some great books from Theion Publishing and Scarlet Imprint and listen to more than my share of black metal.)

The same can be said of community: without Neopaganism, there would be no occult community. While it’s true that lodge organizations such as the Freemasons did traditionally serve such a function, and that magical groups like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn did predate the majority of Neopaganism’s history, it’s also true that HOGD imploded quickly and spectacularly while Freemasonry is in decline (and is not welcoming to women). These, and groups like them, certainly influenced the rise and dissemination of Neopaganism, but Neopaganism has largely absorbed a number of valuable lessons from them while rejecting what was not useful to its own communal life. While there are any number of private working groups of magicians, Witches, and Druids, solitary practitioners who mostly keep to themselves, and invitation-only salons, Neopaganism largely operates in the open. Covens advertise themselves on social media to let people know what’s going on in their area; shops and event spaces operate on the open market to draw in even the most casually curious of patrons; Pagan Pride Day celebrations happen in most major cities of the US; Druid groves offer public or semi-public rituals for major solar feast days in the same way that Hindu temples have public pujas celebrating a variety of holidays throughout the year. Such events are very often the first taste of ritual many people get, or at least their first taste of group ritual outside of the churches in which many grew up. They also present opportunities for meeting people who do things differently and learning from them, making contacts with other practitioners for later exchanges, and making friends who share similar interests and values. As with any forum, it is true that many people involved won’t be worth the trouble, but some will, and those few can make quite a difference for someone trying to learn, grow, and connect.

A final point to make concerns the common complaint that Neopaganism is for only “shallow” practitioners. This goes back somewhat to the idea of the mainstream, but is worth visiting in its own right. I’m far from the first to make the observation that not everyone in a given spiritual or religious movement is immediately interested in leadership or clergy roles, nor even the highest initiations and deepest practices. And, as hard as it for a lot of magicians and mystics to understand, that’s okay. There’s good reason why magicians and mystics have always been in a hard minority in almost every human society: they require specialized skill sets demanding a lot of time and effort. It just cannot be everyone’s priority. Just as with scientists and engineers, what magicians and mystics “bring back with them” can benefit anyone who wants it even if they would not have found it on their own. Consider the Nathas, Aghoris, and other sadhus in India as an ancient example: large groups of people may gather around them, attend their dhuni rituals, seek their blessings, request their magical aid, and go to them for spiritual guidance, and bring back what they can to their workaday lives without ever even considering becoming initiates themselves. Everyone contributes as they can, bringing offerings to the dhuni, giving food and other necessities to the sadhus, and shelter to pilgrims coming from afar to make the visit, and nobody is left feeling like they do not have a place in the spiritual life of the community. It can be the same among Witches, Druids, and Heathens.

Those of us who do spend most of our time going deeper into magical and mystical practice often have a tendency toward hermitage. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and it definitely aids in our practice. But it also behooves us to occasionally come out to public events, or get to know our local metaphysical shopkeepers, teach classes and workshops, and otherwise make connections and spread what we’ve learned. Not only are we benefiting others, we are also making connections which can benefit ourselves. Community is a necessity, not a luxury; we are social beings, like it or not. “Society” may even constitute an ontological plane unto itself, just as worthy of the occultist’s attention as the realm of spirits and gods. And Neopaganism is not only the most accessible but also the broadest umbrella among alternative spiritual communities. Skepticism of community involvements is smart, but we shouldn’t let egotism and elitism get in the way of potential valuable experiences.