This query came in via email, and it’s one I receive quite a bit, in vary forms, so I was glad when the person who sent it said I could share it, and my response, on the site:
I have recently read your article entitled “Why I left OTO” and in the beginning of the post you described yourself as being already a magic practitioner for 15 years. Now, the paragraph made me infer that you have undergone some form of “self-initiation,” learning the topics, theories, rituals, insights on your own and only later attempted to join a community, and this process of self-initiation is something I have been striving for for a few months now.
However, in all the books I’ve been reading, one theme comes up repeatedly: you cannot do this on your own. So I was wondering if this self-initiation is possible or does one need a master to attain higher-levels of consciousness, after all the internet does allow for a vast amount of information to leak and be accessible. Perhaps the secrecy demanded from adepts keeps us from attaining the highest levels of consciousness on our own.
So my questions are: How should one proceed in order to undergo this self-initiation? Are meditation, reading, studying, and the “open” rituals enough for this, at least up to a point where we can actually evolve spiritually?
It’s such a great question, and one to which there are probably a myriad of responses. I hope you guys will help me out in the comments if you have a different opinion, or additional resources to suggest.
I come from the Internet
When I first started practicing magick in the mid-’90s, I didn’t do any formal initiations. I just started doing stuff. Then I found various communities online — magicians scattered across the globe, many of whom I’m still friends with today. We shared our practices, resources, book recommendations, and offered each other encouragement and spite, as needed.
As I got more serious, I acquired books, read them, practiced the rites they recommended, and started forming my own theories and understanding of how things work, and why. I shared and argued these with online peeps, and continually sought new answers — something I’m still engaged in, and likely always will be.
I’ve drifted in and out of various Pagan and loose occult networks over the years, and being a chaote, I wanted to challenge myself with something new, which is why I thought I’d see what the Ordo Templi Orientis had to offer. I respect a lot of what Aleister Crowley has to say about magick, and it seemed like a likely source for connecting with people in the real world who share similar interests, and in that, at least, I wasn’t wrong. However, as you know, ultimately it wasn’t the right place for me, but I don’t regret the months I spent with the order discovering thing.
So I’m back to doing what I do, learning from books, from websites and blogs, from the people I’ve met online, in person, and others who drift across my path who share similar interests. We practice, we talk, we learn from each other.
In general, I would say, no, formal initiations of any kind aren’t necessary. At least, not in the way most people think of them.
You’re never really on your own
The Internet is a wild and wonderful place, and there are websites, blogs, forums, mailing lists, and classes you can take to further your practice. You can meet people who are interested in similar things, whether Druidry or the mysteries of the tarot, and study together, whether formally as a group, or individually, each focusing on your specific interests.
Quick plug: Spiral Nature publishes reviews of some of the best books on magick, spirituality, and occulture out there, with the intent that these reviews give readers an idea of what’s being published, and how well it’s being covered.
Bonus: I’m also looking in to starting up an online course network with Spiral Nature in the next few months to help people learn more about what they’re interested in, with one-on-one help and group lessons available. More on this soon!
That said, a solitary dedication can be a great way to affirm your practice for yourself when you’re starting out, whether magical, spiritual, or some combination of the two, but it’s a personal decision, and one not every practitioner may feel called to do.
To dedicate yourself to a practice, you might set a statement of intent, write it down, and stick to a schedule to ensure you carry out what you’ve committed to do. For example, a morning meditation, a weekly scrying practice, or delving into the Goetia. Once you’ve made that dedication, it’s a commitment to show up, and keep working.The most profound thing we can change with magick is ourselves, and failing to keep that initial commitment or promise could be an indication that this path may not be the right one.
If you’re dedicating yourself to a particular god, goddess, or tradition, you might make a more formal declaration in a sacred space as dictated by the tenets of the tradition you’d like to practice. You might affirm your intent and dedicate yourself in service to that entity or tradition, if it calls for it, and if you feel called to do so.
Just to reaffirm, self-initiations aren’t really necessary for delving into magick, unless it’s something you’d like to undertake on your own. Many gods, goddesses, and traditions have no such expectations or requirements, especially when you’re just starting out.
Requiring a magical initiation really only makes sense in gated communities like certain Pagan traditions (Gardnarian, Alexandrian, for example), or magical orders with a specific curriculum with degrees of advancement, such as the Golden Dawn, Ordo Templi Orientis, and other closed groups. This ensures a connection to both the group, its members, and the tradition and linage, and usually includes some requirement for maintaining the secrets of the group or order.
There are, of course, open source version of these traditions (see the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, and numerous books on Thelemic magick, as practiced outside of the OTO), and you can easily get by in these traditions without being a member of these orders. Of course, you won’t be entitled to the fancy titles and degrees, but since when have those things mattered to a true adept, anyway?
When it comes right down to it, you really only become a magician by practicing magick. The idea that you must be an initiate can create apparent barriers to entry that aren’t really required for general practice.
Read books, find teachers (online or off), find peers — people to talk to who share your interests who can call you out when you’re going off the deep end, or encourage you when you’re getting interesting results, and keep learning.
Best of luck,