Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 0, Vernal Equinox 2001
Getting Started In The Western Mystery Tradition
Getting started in the Western Mystery Tradition is a very exciting affair. It is full of intrigue, novelty, real magic and adventure. It is a rich and complex Tradition, very meaningful and deeply personal.
It is not surprising then, that the aspirant often jumps in impulsively! It is commendable that they are excited. However, with such a vast field of study, it is wise to begin with a definite plan of action. This is true of any venture one wants to succeed in, especially that of practical occultism.
The author of this text has at this point 11 years of experience within the Builders Of The Adytum (also known as B.O.T.A. ), and three years solitary practice of the Golden Dawn material. This fourteen years immersed in the Western Mysteries really is just a beginning, but it has given the author enough time and effort at examining his own experiences to have accumulated some observations about the Mysteries, and getting the most from them.
1) Reasons for Getting Started; Driving Factors and Motives
What follows is a general guideline for those who are still somewhat new to the Mysteries. It may, however, be of use to the experienced practitioner as well. It is based on the experiences of one Initiate, the present writer, as well as the successes and ordeals that he has observed, read, and heard about in others over the years. It should be used only as a guide, and taken with a grain of salt. It is important to always follow the whispering of the "still, small voice" within.
There are many important questions that the beginning student should ask himself in earnest. These are important not only in the beginning, but as ongoing self-assessment. Asking and answering these very personal questions gives the Magician a specific direction and goal to reach toward. Without a clear mental conception of what you are about to enter into, your work may not bring about the birth of the Adept that is within you.
With honesty as your key implement, ask yourself what your reasons for "Getting Started" are. "Why am I doing this Work? What am I hoping to achieve through all this time and effort and devotion?" These are very important questions, which are central to success in the Great Work. With your magical Diary in front of you, ask yourself these questions, and answer every one of them thoroughly. Get a clear idea of your deepest motivations and driving factors in regards to your Training. Trim away the outward show and see what's really beneath it all. It is better to know from the beginning if you have been fooling yourself as to your motives, than to find out way down the Road that it's not what you wanted.
There may be as many reasons for pursuing the Mysteries as there are people in the world, but there are some that are more common than the rest. Quite often it begins with curiosity, like a child with a new toy who wants to figure out what makes it work. For many, it never evolves far beyond that point. They soon discover that it is real work and take off to another "hobby". Conversely, curiosity can be a good start because no one gets far without an inquisitive mind that is thirsty for more insight, more Light.
Others come to the Path seeking secrets to gaining special leverage over their colleagues. This may work for awhile, but they will rapidly find themselves alienated by the world they were seeking to dominate. Black magic is terribly destructive to the practitioner and all in his sphere of regular contact. If you discover that you are seeking the Path for strengthening the drives of your ego, I suggest you find other means than Occultism.
There are others still, who come seeking to learn to weave a better life for themselves and others. Some are introduced to Occultism by "coincidence", and find they are perfect "born for it".
Whatever drives have brought you to this wonderful system, it will grow within you a deeper understanding of yourself, others and Life. Persevere and you will eventually experience yourself as a cosmic being, as opposed to the old and familiar mortal, earthly man or woman.
2) Where Do I Begin?
Having dug up your motivations for pursuing Western Occultism, and finding that, "yes, I still feel this it what I need to do with my life", there comes the next imminent question, "Where do I start?"
The answer to this question is pretty obvious and straightforward. "Start where you ARE!"
It is true that the outset of the Path is often frustrating and overwhelming .One is confronted with literature by all manner of sources, on every conceivable topic of the Western Tradition. Much of this information seems to contradict other information on the same subject. The same problem plagues the internet. As with everything in this journey, think it through. Use your best judgments and trust your instincts.
From the start, we are expected to learn new habits of thought and action. We are given foreign words to learn. We have to practice new skills, which include among other things, the art of visualization, rituals, and breathing practices which involve counting in time with the heartbeat. There are robes and ritual implements to create or purchase, not to mention literally hundreds of symbols to learn and associate to specific meanings.
Worst of all there is the infamous "S-word"...study, study, study! (Oh-oh!). Again, many people drop out as a result of this. They perhaps were thinking that magic was supposed to make the problems of life disappear in a cloud of mist, and suddenly the world is easy .The reality is that occultism causes our problems to intensify, making us come to grips with the world at large so that we really begin to learn to handle the universal forces both within and without.
This is where ones original enthusiasm pays off. If you have made up a clear mental picture of what you are seeking from your Work, as a result of dissecting your motives at the outset, then this part of your seeking becomes more focused and less confusing. Always review what your goal is, wherever you are in your Work. One central part of the Western Tradition is the cultivation of Will and Imagination. Make it a habit and it is much more natural that you will succeed.
We absolutely have to start where we are. Trying to do otherwise, we will be fooling ourselves in our assessment of what we want to accomplish by our involvement in Occultism. Learning the new alphabets, rituals, meditations, gematria, visualization, astral work of all kinds; these seem to be ends in themselves. They appear to be the goal of this Tradition. Actually it is the work of acquiring these skills, as opposed to the skills themselves, which grows us in Illumination and true power. So read the books available to you. The ones that spark your deepest interest are a good place to focus as your beginning .Use your brain, compare what you read to your life experiences, to other knowledge you already have as your foundation. Then keep reading. When you feel the time is right for you and you know the theory behind it, you can safely begin the rituals and meditations which these books school us in. Keep a meticulous Journal on your own experiences, ideas that come to you, any phenomena that occurs that strikes you as out of the ordinary.
Keep this up. I suggest at least a year of solo practice like this. This is because it is all too easy to take on others' perspectives of what you should expect from your daily practice in terms of results. This is a very impressionable period for the Student and as is so often reiterated in this field, the true Teacher is Within YOU.
If it hasn't appeared for you yet, the time will come when you begin to experience a burning drive for company of like mind; for affiliation with a true Temple or Mystery School. It is a longing that is really a promise of what is to come. This is a good thing! It is living proof that you are ripening for Initiation. What you are feeling at this point is the attractive power of Venus, drawing you to the object of your Desire. It is felt as a longing in the heart and soul, but it is really yours already, on an interior level, sprouting up toward the Sun of Life and Light.
In time this call from within becomes so irresistible that it is the only thing one could conceive of aiming for. So the Quest takes on another layer! And thus there appears another layer to one's seeking. We go from seeking for Truth within, to finding a Center of Truth in the world outside.
3) How do I know which Mystery School is the One for me?
The Esoteric Tradition of the West is a vast, lush system of spiritual training, evolving for thousands of years. Its roots are lost in the sands of time, but its present vehicles of expression have preserved and cultivated a Living Wisdom that is timeless. The various Mystery Schools in existence today generally focus on a specialized portion of the Tradition as their major focus, although all the branches of the system will be taught too.
For example, many, if not most of the Schools, are primarily focused on the use of Ritual, with Divination, Astral Projection, Meditation, etc, being secondary, though essentially part of their focus of Ritual. Others may focus especially on Meditation, with the rest of the system being secondary.
In other words, although each School uses every facet of the Tradition (all the Branches of the Tree of Life), each will tend to put primary focus on one or two of them above the rest. This is a good thing! Scientists do exactly the same thing in their various branches, and wonderful discoveries that can be used to better the whole world are made as a result of this specialization. The same is true of the Mystery Schools.
Now, in one's search for just the right Order for their fulfillment, these differences are a real boon. In your first year or more of solo study and practice and research, what have you discovered about your own temperament? What subjects of occultism have intrigued you above all the rest? Where have you noticed the most nurturing and growth in your practices? The answers to these questions should form the basis of your search; they become the guidelines for what you are seeking in a Mystery School.
With this basic guideline to assist you, you are ready to look at actual Orders and Groups that are available and just right for your own personal needs.
Another consideration is physical locale .The problem I hear more than any other is that "there isn't a Lodge or Group anywhere near me." As there is no replacement for actual, physical Initiation within a Purified and Consecrated Temple, be prepared to save some travel money! Your sacrifice adds to its effectiveness. The writer travels three hours there and back for each Ritual, but I honestly think it means much more to me than many of my Fraters and Sorors who live right next door to that Temple. Another of my Fraters in Arizona has a seven hour travel each way, and stays overnight with other members for the trip home. I can testify that he is reaping the benefits of his labors. If you happen to have a Temple in your area, I hope you understand what a blessing that is.
Of course, there are Groups who offer Correspondence as their chief means of instruction, mainly because of the whole "locale" issue mentioned above. This is a very practical method for instruction. The whole School has the same practices, which strengthens their bond and builds a certain inner contact that is unmistakable .For those who happen to live close enough, or can get themselves there, they also have Group-work that balances out with the solo-correspondence practices.
Other Groups hand out your Course-work at each group Ritual, and give the exams and what not each time the Group meets. The course work becomes your homework, which supplements and extends the influence of the Group Rituals.
4) How do I know if a School is "legit"?
First of all, you need to know if the Order you are considering is reputable or not. One should make a point of associating ONLY with those who are of like mind and heart. To associate and share in spiritual work with those who are "crooked" or unbalanced is to foster these same qualities in yourself and kill any Light you have gained up 'til now. When we engage in spiritual practices with others we are permeated with the impressions of the people we are together with, and this includes any warped motives or ideals. This is true in any kind of relationship, but especially true in Ritual and other Esoteric practice.
So it is vital that you are sure about those you choose to work with. Do your homework, and never rush this kind of decision.
So, again, how do we find out how genuine a Mystery School is?
A good start is to find out how long they have been established.
Who founded it? Get as much background on the founders as you can, because it was a Current working through them that is now animating that Order.
Try to find out how large its membership is. Do they offer any introductory literature? What are their goals as an Order?
Do they charge obscene "fees" for Ritual Initiations? Where does this money go? Are they non-profit? Do they answer your attempts to get answers to these legitimate and important questions, or do they "blow you off" and give you the "silent treatment"?
These basic questions should be a good measuring stick for how responsible are the people you will be putting your spiritual evolution in care of. It will eliminate a good deal of fat from the real meat.
Finally, what do your "guts " tell you? Be sure to shut up and Listen to your Inner Teacher.
The final test is to choose one and go with it. Keeping an open mind, while also keeping your wits about you in your new Group, should steer you aright.
5) Now that I'm in, what do I expect from my School?
All right! You're in! Now what?
You're given new knowledge about your Tradition, new or deeper rituals to practice, homework to study and memorize exams to pass. Besides all this, which is very exciting and productive, what are you expecting from your School that you can't obtain on your own time and effort; solo?
People gather together out of common interest, similar goals and ideals, and in order to grow together in ways that simply cannot be had "all alone at home". Working together with a Group of Fraters and Sorors hastens the growth, which ordinarily is much slower in the solo practitioner. There is the bond of Love between members, which is a purity and power in its own right, and which hastens growth and spiritual unfolding. The fact that many are working together for the same end ensures a tremendous focus of power in a given direction. There develops a group "egregore", or group soul/mind, which unites the members in very subtle and potent ways.
All of this is a real support for those times when a certain member is down, having personal problems, having trouble keeping up with his/her daily regime of study and practice. At these "low ebb " periods (which we all have at certain intervals), the influence of our bond with the Group will serve to bring us out of our problem with fresh insight, renewed strength and purpose, and awareness of the real guidance that comes from within.
Again, this group-mind/connection is a very important factor in choosing wisely who you want to be affiliated with. You can imagine the consequences of joining up with the wrong people.
Besides Group Ritual Work and Initiations, what else do you expect go get out of your Membership that you can't obtain off on your own somewhere?
Well, if what you are getting only a re-hash of the publicly available works of the Adepts of old, you are being cheated, and it is likely that the Order in question isn't all too "legit" after all.
You should be receiving Teachings that are only transmitted from mouth to ear; Teachings that will never be in the public domain. These will be teachings that you can put to use right away, which will prepare you for deeper contact with your core SELF, which guides your every step of the Way. You should be getting Lesson material of some sort - exercises, meditations, rituals - all to practice on your own, which you won't get out of any book or the internet. These practices ideally will act as Seeds, which will cause you to grow, one day, into a full-fledged Adept.
A comical rule of thumb about the knowledge passed on to you: If it's re-has, its just hash.
6) Once You're In, What Do You Expect From Yourself?
Any kind of membership, fellowship, or friendship, is in essence a relationship, which means that it is entirely a two-way street. What you put into it is exactly what you get out of it (provided you have chosen your company with foresight). If you are following out the "Knowledge Lectures", "Lessons" or whatever your group may title them, and practicing all the visualizations, meditations, breathing, rituals, and all of the other practical exercises presented to you, and basically "doing everything you're told to do", then what?
While all these things are still new to you they will be exciting and a real stretch. After a time of repeating them every day, they become a real test of one's resolve. Results do not, as a rule, present themselves right away. Instead it begins to look like it's not doing anything.
This is where your original soul-searching and self-analysis comes to be so invaluable.
"Why did I think I wanted to do all this stuff?" Dig up your real motivations, and look them over again. They have probably already evolved since the last time you looked them over, as a result of your contact with a true Body of the Inner School. With your real impetus for doing this work on the altar before you, so to speak, and you keeping up your part of the daily Work, as well as the Group Work, the rest is truly in your hands. From here on out the results of the Magic you weave into your life is your own responsibility. All potential is yours now!!! But nothing specific will grow until you define what you will get from your Training. To define is to place specific limits on something (in this case it is yourself as an eternal, Magical Being).
What do you expect your quest and work to produce in your life? This is a vital question that needs to be addressed early on (in any venture in which one wants to succeed). If you are expecting some kind of vague blurry "enlightenment", then that is what the outcome of your work will be. If that is fulfilling to your own Higher Soul then that will be ok. But the Inner Life needs more than a vague warm fuzzy feeling to be fulfilled.
Look at your life. Look at what you feel your strengths and weaknesses are, spiritually, and decide on where you want to be with them. If you can conceive of it, clearly, it is yours to unfold. Look at specifics. What is the difference between what you perceive of yourself now, and what you see of yourself as an Adept? What exactly will be different in your life, both inner and outer, when you become "Illuminated"?
These specifics are where you should now focus your attention on, and you have limitless ground on which to develop these new skills in your daily Work, with your new Self-Image; your seed of what you will be.
7) What About the Solo Practitioner?
What about the solo Practitioner, out there on the outskirts, working at home, or on the road? Is it absolutely necessary to belong to a Lodge to make the trek up the Sacred Mountain? Absolutely not! Remember this --- you are never alone! No matter how it appears outwardly, you have surely been guided to where you are now. What brought you to read these words right now? There is an unseen Presence deep within each one of us, Whose unfailing guidance has brought you safely through every peak and valley of your Journey thus far, and will never leave you alone.
The solo journey, however, is definitely much slower than that intensive transmuting power which is only obtained in the special Group Work. There is no substitute. If you have no desire to join a Temple right now then that just isn't what your Soul requires at this time. That's all right! There is definitely much to be gained from diligent study of public works on the Mysteries. There is much that is kept out of this though. There is also the danger of an author's own personal views being read to be cosmic fact, and the reader may easily be mislead without the direct supervision of true Adepts. Questions may also go unanswered for years, when you are on your own.
If your sole reason for not getting involved in a Temple is simple locality problems, there are alternatives. If there is no Order anywhere near you, there are Mystery Schools, very reputable ones, that offer their instruction via correspondence.
A few of these are:
These do offer Group Work to those who can get there, but this is not a mandatory thing. Members are united by the unique work shared via the Lessons. This IS group work, done personally, in the Grand Temple.
If you can manage to save up for the occasional trip to a group function, you will surely be glad you made the sacrifice. It is certainly an age where the demands of making a living and raising a family, among other things, can really restrict a long distance relationship with your Temple activities. For this reason, the Correspondence method is very practical, and also relatively inexpensive. My internet connection costs more than my monthly dues do!
For myself, the inner burning fire driving me toward my Temple was a super concentrated thirst for Initiation. The real deal. To initiate is to begin, a conception if you will, of the Christ-Child deep within. From the moment of that conception, there comes the growth and development of that immortal you. The developing child needs proper nutrients, exercise, rest, and Love, if it is to grow into its adulthood (the liberated Adept that you will be).
Ultimately, whether one is initiated formally within a purified and consecrated Temple, or Initiated through long, aspiring, arduous solo work to facilitate this Awakening, what they get out of it is what they themselves make. The true Adept we aspire to become is a real spiritual adult; administrating over his or her Life as a King ruling his Kingdom - with Love, sovereignty and foresight. We have to practice being what we hope to one day fully become. This is watering the Seed planted by True Initiation.
A tradition is a road map. It is not a taxi-service, which drives you there while you gaze out the window. The Traveler must make the trip; must do his own walking. With gratitude we have received a map of the Way home, from those who have made the journey and came back to prove it to us. The pitfalls are clearly presented to us so we may make the Journey in safety, and the Pathway has been marked by the footfall of many Aspirants like you and I. They now hold aloft the Light for us, ahead of us up the road, just over yonder hill.
We have undeniable guidance from within and without, but it is in vain if we do not act upon it. No one can take this trip for you. As long as one keeps putting one foot in front of the other, he will be all right. However many pit stops or vacations or semi-retirements there may be along The Way, the real fuel comes from a Source deep within you. The funny thing is, the real destination is in that very same place.