Graded grains make finer flour
by Abbadon 111
It has become almost axiomatic within the Western Occult Tradition that anyone may declare themselves to have "attained" a particular magical grade, and that one's degree of magical mastery can only be judged by oneself. Whilst this view is true, to a certain extent, it can quickly be reduced to a farcical notion when, as is all too often the case, sociopathic personalities appear, who have accorded themselves the status of Magus, Adept, or Witch-Queen.
While it is the case that anyone can claim any grade for themselves, it is also the case that equally, they must, at some point, be able to make that claim stick, in the eyes of others. Anyone may consider themselves an Adept in the safety their own Temple, but if they trumpet this fact in occult circles, they must expect, at some point, to come under the scrutiny of others who consider themselves Adept.
Of course one might beg the question - why do people need grades at all? The internal problems which beset the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn - the squabbling over who had the hotline to the 'Secret Chiefs,' or who could claim the most exalted initiation for instance, have been related to the grading system used. The main trap that the Golden Dawn fell into was not so much that it used a hierarchical grading system, but that the grades came to reflect a degree of 'spiritual' authority. The problem with 'spiritual' authority is that it is rarely open to close inspection by others, and it is fairly easy for a forceful and dynamic personality to claim moral superiority over others on the basis of a 'higher initiation' - in other words, seizing the magical 'high ground'. The problem with having 'the gods' on your side is that it quickly leads to a position of absolutism. Paranoia is an inevitable consequence, stemming from the suspicion that anyone who dares to criticise is calling into question not only the leader's authority, but also their illumination. This tends to lead to a polarisation of members into followers and enemies. When one group of magicians become convinced that they have Truth, God, or the best interests of "The Great Work" on their side, then any perceived enemies become Black Magicians. The problem of dealing with internal contradictions or one's one shortcomings can be ignored as the group roll their sleeves up for the important task of defending Cosmic Truth against evil.
These kinds of problems have led to a backlash against the whole concept of hierarchy in magical orders. However, the anti-hierarchical camp have descended into as much of a dogmatic stance as the people they claim to be surpassing. The problem with so-called 'leaderless groups' is that there is rarely any critical evaluation of how individuals might acquire organisational and leadership roles. While it is obvious that leadership on the basis of 'spiritual' authority is flawed, it often seems to be the case that 'Consensual' groups are dominated by charismatic individuals by force of personality, or by the virtue, that they are perceived by others (and themselves) as 'experts', - having the unalienable right to lead due to having written x number of books or appearing on television claiming an unquantified number of followers. The glamour of being perceived as a 'star' also tends to lead to an absolutist attitude.
In overcoming both these tendencies, it should be understood that the core problem is a general unwillingness to explicitly examine grades and roles. Occultists are fond of making high-falutin' pronouncements which actually mean very little, when examined closely. A magical grading system can be extremely useful providing the responsibilities, expectations of, and terms of the grades are made explicit to all. Those in positions of leadership become accountable to other members of the organisation, rather than being perceived to be somehow 'above' their fellows.
Whatever the issues, the concept of magical grades has become a part of Western Occult tradition, and functional grades are used by all modern magical orders, from the Order of the Cubic Stone to the IOT. Whilst post-GD orders use the grading system based on the Qabalistic Tree of Life, the most functional grading progression is that of Neophyte - Initiate - Adept - Magus. A large number of strata or 'layers' is generally, a sign of organisational weakness. The Catholic Church for example, uses only five layers of 'management' to control over 800 million people.
It must be recognised that each grade that the magician attains implies not only a recognition of various degrees of ability and accountability, but also that there is a specific task, or 'work' associated with the fulfilment of that grade.
Contemporary definitions of magical development are moving towards what might be termed as a "Functional" approach. Although authors such as Pete Carroll have placed a stress on "technical competence" in magic, this is insufficient to carry over the true demands and sacrifices necessitated when one treads the path of magic wholeheartedly. The ability to create servitors, invoke deities and cast enchantments is of little use if the individual is unable to draw upon the insights gained from magical work and action them in every moment of their life. The oft-quoted argument that magicians are "born" rather than made, is true to the extent that if the individual cannot continue drive himself continually (making good use of crisis periods and illuminations) to know and attain his will, then he will be, at best, a technician rather than a magician.
"A King may choose his garment as he will: there is no certain test: but a beggar cannot hide his poverty."
Liber Al vel Legis, 2/58.
The Functional approach to magic demands that an individual be able to examine all areas of experience and be able to pin-point where his magical work is effective. As Anton LaVey has pointed out, a successful magician has at least attained the position where money isn't a problem. This is somewhat different from the popular view that esotericists should not concern themselves with 'material status.' In fact, personal and perceived status is an effective index for personal power. Another area which is often difficult to approach is that of personal behavioural, cognitive, and emotional issues. There is a common tendency to resist magical exploration of these areas, as such self-examination is often painful, and rarely 'fixed' by short-term solutions. The general task of the magician of any grade is to face one's self unflinchingly, aware of one's ego, warts 'n' all, and to strive to face one's weaknesses and seek, gradually, to change them. This is a never-ending task, the importance of which cannot be stressed too highly. One can fool oneself, and to a certain extent, other people, but not everyone, and certainly not all of the time.
Magical Grades are, in fact, useful in several ways. Firstly, there is the issue of responsibility. A Neophyte, that is to say, someone who is just setting out down the road of serious magical work, might only be expected to be responsible for himself. An Adept, on the other hand, would be expected to be capable of overseeing the training & development of that Neophyte. This is no small thing, as the Adept's ability to teach, guide and mentor the Neophyte could well have a significant effect on that person's subsequent magical career.
Secondly, there is the issue of being able to recognise both one's own abilities, and one's own limitations. Again, the term Neophyte implies someone who is at the beginning of their magical development. While it is part of the course that most magicians tend to be confident (almost, but not quite to the point of arrogance) about their own abilities, the wise Neophyte will recognise that he is not as expert as some of his colleagues. An appropriate attitude for the Neophyte is that of the "Beginner's Mind." Generally, the task of the Neophyte is to explore magical techniques and systems until he finds something which he resonates with. Whilst the Neophyte lacks practical experience (and knowledge of what passes for Occult theory), he does have one powerful ally - a naive viewpoint, which is a source of creative insight, though he may not realise this.
A more experienced magician, acting as a mentor to the Neophyte, values this naiveté as it is often a fount of new ideas and experiments. Out of the fusion of a Neophyte's naiveté and an Adept's accumulated experience, new applications and models are often born.
The 'task' of the Neophyte is to gather enough magical momentum that will propel him into a state of initiation - whereby he attains the grade of Initiate.
The term "initiation" denotes that the individual is moving into a threshold of change. Thus the grade of Initiate is concerned with effecting change in one's circumstances both intrapsychically and outwardly - the fusion of vision, will and magical ability. The grade of Initiate is one marked by struggle - the process of 'going beyond' one's previous limitations and boundaries, of beginning to formulate and weave a magical reality (psychocosm). This is the Apophis phase of the IAO formula of transformation - the 'death' of the pre- magician selves, and the coming into power of the Magician at the centre of his world.
The problem of mania arising from magical practice is highly pertinent to the grade of Initiate, as intrapsychic changes (in belief, self- image, vision) are always fraught with some degree of personal crisis.
False glamours and illuminations of attainment rise and fall throughout this period, and can be understood as barriers to be crashed through time and time again. It is during this phase of work that the magician embraces his 'core paradigms' - the basic structures of magical belief and technique from which he draws his strength, power and insight with which to act upon the world.
The condition of Initiate-hood can be discerned if you know what to look for - the most apparent feature is that the individual is clearly struggling to go beyond his existing persona - developing new skills and behaviours, going inwards and dragging the unsavoury aspects of his personality into the light of self-examination, that they may be identified, bound, and transformed. This is a process which may well continue for several years, with the individual entering many 'initiatory crisis' periods, both willed, and those which arise spontaneously from his magical progress.
To be effective, an initiatory crisis must be authentic - that is to say, the individual must not shrink from casting himself into the abyss opening up before him. The initiate must embrace his own fears - fears of madness being a particular worry - and discover that, after all, madness is not an option. Many magicians do, in fact, fall during these periods, prey to 'false' illuminations of power; having direct contacts to higher planes; receiving world-saving messages or realizing that one is the reincarnation of Aleister Crowley. Such gibbering wrecks are all too common in occult circles, and many seem to survive by accruing disciples who are willing to act as buffers against reality. Gradually, the successful initiate comes to realise that each 'fall' is followed by an opportunity to soar to even greater heights.
The term 'Adept' suggests a degree of mastery over one's chosen sphere of activity. It should be stressed here that is it one thing to be called an Adept, and quite another matter entirely to feel oneself to be so. Adepts strive for excellence in all spheres of activity, at all times. Conferral of the grade of Adept comes through peer recognition, either within an order, or through the international community of adept magicians. While it is, by contemporary standards at least, something of an achievement to be recognised as an Adept magician, the individual who takes on this grade should be viewed as one who is taking on a whole new trial. At this point, the perceptions of other, lesser magicians, should be acknowledged. Those who have made the grade, as it were, will find that they are suddenly under the close scrutiny of other magicians - both their peers, and those who look to them for guidance, support, illumination, or authority.
A rather curious belief concerning the work of Ego Magic - exploring & integrating one's own "conditioning" has arisen in recent years - which states that all a would-be magician has to do is perform a limited retirement in this area, whereupon he can consider himself "deconditioned." Again, this belief echoes the common misperception that magical work, particularly in the difficult area of self-analysis & exploration 'stops' at some point.
It seems to be a general belief within the magical community that once one has judged (or been judged) to have attained a particular grade, then the shift is permanent. This, sadly, is rarely the case. The problem is not so much one of attaining a particular grade (and the attendant state of consciousness, but in maintaining it. Thus an individual, who, having attained the grade of Initiate, who then makes few, if any efforts, to strive for personal change, increased effectiveness, and competence in magical work could, arguably, be said to have failed to carried through the work of the grade.
The task of the Magus is to perturb, either through his works or by force of personality. A magician may be accorded the status of a Magus when it becomes clear that he embodies a particular magical current to the extent that thought, word, and deeds are consistent with the expressions of that current. It should be recognised that the condition of Magus is a supreme trial and a burden from which there is no respite. In an order, this grade is one of continual service, often in ways that are not immediately apparent to the casual observer. Although a Magus may use an order as a magical engine to actualise his will, without that force of will, an order will quickly degenerate. The Magus may act as a force for change, yet also provide a core of stability through his works. Some would say that the tragedy of the Magus is that he must, at some point, enter a period of 'silence' but that he cannot do so without first bringing forth the individual who will, ultimately, become his successor. Of those who aspire to this grade, it does seem to be the case that many burn out along the way.
This latter point reflects the wild aspect of magic that is difficult to explain or rationalise - that a 'powerful' magician may unwittingly damage other individuals merely by the force of their presence. Thus the Magus must exercise extreme care in choosing those to be raised, as, as shown in the myth of Icarus, it is all too easy for those who would fly towards the Sun to get their wings burnt.