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Magical Training Programmes

Some magical groups have training programmes which new or prospective members are expected to work through. Sometimes this is done within the context of a group setting - some magical groups have what are sometimes known as ‘Outer Court Working Groups’ which are specifically orientated to magical training; or, as is often the case when prospective members do not live within commuting distance of the group they are joining, the training is mediated through postal (or email) correspondence. In either case, the person undergoing the training programme will have a mediator - sometimes known as a mentor - who provides support, advice, and assesses their progress with the training material and overall suitability for becoming a full member of the group in question. The individual’s work with the training programme, be it in a training group or through correspondence, will usually be supplemented by occasional one-to-one meetings with their mediator.

Why do Groups Use Programmes?

Formal training programmes are usually (but not exclusively) a feature of the larger magical organisations such as orders or guilds. Having a requirement that all new or prospective members work through a formal training programme ensures that, prior to becoming full members of the group, candidates acquire a thorough grounding in the magical techniques and theory - what constitutes for that group the baseline body of knowledge and its application - relevant to the group. For example, in the late 1970’s, after meeting two people who were members of a magical order which was oriented towards Qabalah and Enochian magic, I applied for membership with the order and as a preliminary, was asked to complete their ‘outer court probationary’ training programme - a year’s correspondence course in basic Qabalistic magic. My responses to the course material could not have been particularly stunning as I was not invited to join the order as a neophyte - although by the time I had done the course, I had more-or-less decided that my interests lay in other directions. Some groups disseminate their basic training programme through books - Peter J. Carroll’s Liber Null & Psychonaut (Samuel Weiser) for example, details the Liber MMM training programme which is a prerequisite for gaining admission to the Illuminates of Thanateros magical order, whilst Edred Thorsson’s The Nine Doors of Midgard does the same for the Runegild organisation which he founded. Hence a magical training programme prepares the candidate for further exploration of a particular magical system or approach (such as Qabalah or the Runes) and ensures that they have both a theoretical and practical grasp of the basic magical skills, themes and symbol systems used by the group. In undertaking to complete the programme, the candidate is demonstrating not only a commitment to the group, but also a commitment to their own magical development.

The Pros & Cons of Programmes

Training Programmes have both advantages and disadvantages. A general advantage of training programmes is that they provide, both for the group and the prospective member, a period of mutual checking-out. The person undergoing the training programme will form impressions about the group through their contact with their mediators, and vice versa. Of course, this can quickly become a disadvantage if the candidate forms a poor impression of their mediator, or the mediator doesn’t get on with the candidate. If the candidate’s only contact with the group is through a single person, then they are more likely to judge the overall group on the basis of that person’s behaviour. Equally, if the mediator takes a dislike to the person they are training, the mediator can block their admission to the group.

A related issue is that of inflexibility on the part of mediators over the application of the training programme to individual candidates. Training programmes work best when they are tailored to meet the needs of the people who are working through them. This is fine if the candidate lacks any prior magical experience - the group’s formal training programme might be just what they need. However, when a candidate does have a magical ‘track record’, it seems to me to be pointless to foist upon them a training programme of magical exercises that they are demonstrably familiar with. I once mentored a candidate for a group where the training programme included basic yoga-type exercises (breath control, basic asanas, etc.). This particular candidate was teaching yoga at the time, so instead of insisting that he redo stuff he was already teaching other people, I asked him to run some yoga sessions for the training group and replaced that section of the programme with something else which he could get his teeth into.

Some negotiation, therefore, is useful. If nothing else, this shows that the mediator cares about the candidate and values their magical experience prior to their membership of the present group. It’s important however, that if the candidate tells the mediator they can do something or are familiar with a particular technique (and therefore don’t want to spend some months going over the basics again) that they be able to demonstrate such proficiency to the mediator - perhaps by allowing the mediator access to their magical diaries, or, as in the above instance, agreeing to lead a group training session in that area.

 

The Mediator as Ambassador

For the group, mediators are often the ‘first contact’ a candidate has with them. Prior to this, the candidate will only have had the impressions - gained from books or articles in magazines, other people who are in the group, or whatever ‘myths’ are circulating about the group in the general occult milieu - so it becomes important that mediators present an accurate ‘picture’ of what the group is about. Mediators who don’t answer letters, return phone calls or email, or who invite prospective candidates to meetings and then fail to turn up for them are unlikely to impress candidates, particularly if their expectations of the group are high in the first place. It’s not uncommon for mediators to have the job thrust upon them purely because they are the closest group member to where a candidate lives. Mediators need to be aware that they are, in some ways, ‘ambassadors’ for the group and that as they are the candidate’s main reference point, the candidate is likely to judge the group’s effectiveness in terms of their behaviour and effectiveness towards them. To be effective, mediators need to know what is expected of them when they assume that role. Mediators also need to know that they are supported by the group and that they can turn to other members for assistance in dealing with any problems that arise in respect to the candidates they are dealing with. This may require some training for prospective mediators. Knowing how to do something oneself is not a guarantee of being able to teach someone else how to do it too. A useful approach for mediators is that, just as one of the common requirements for training programmes is that the candidate keep a magical diary of their progress (which the mediator can look over), the mediator too can keep a record (or at least notes) on their contacts with each candidate - such as problems arising and problems solved, how their feelings towards the candidate change, and what is generally learnt from the mediating experience. It’s important to bear in mind that no matter how much experience one has with guiding candidates through a programme, each new candidate the mediator deals with is as much an opportunity for learning new approaches as it is for the candidate. Keeping some form of record in this way can help a lot in clarifying issues for the mediator - particularly when it comes to assessing the candidates’ overall performance and assessing one’s own performance as a mediator. It is also very useful to keep a record if one is running training group sessions as a diary of work done in sessions can help the mediator assess which exercises and experiments work, and which don’t. Thus evaluation becomes a two-way process.

Assessment

Good assessment procedures are, in my view, essential to running training groups or moderating training courses. Good assessment however, need not be complicated or involve horribly complicated forms to fill out. The three basic forms of assessment are:

  • Asking for feedback (both verbal and written)

  • Reviewing Magical Diaries

  • Asking trainees to produce something for the group to perform (i.e. a Ritual, pathworking, or a ‘how-to’ session), thereby demonstrating their knowledge of, and practical application of a technique.

All of these are very simple, yet all of them can give the mediator a great deal of information about the candidate, and how they are dealing with the groups’ work.

 

Staying the Course

It’s not unusual for formal magical training programmes to have a relatively high drop-out rate. Candidates may find that during a programme, their interests change, their interest in the group wanes, their personal circumstances change so they cannot complete the course, they decide to go off and start their own group (sometimes as a consequence of some personal magical revelation), or suddenly decide that magic is ‘evil’ and become a born-again Christian! If, as is so often said, magic is about producing a change in circumstances, we should perhaps expect this sort of thing, and perhaps to applaud it. If someone drops out of a training programme doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on the programme or their mediator, but it’s a good idea, nonetheless, to try and find out why they’ve done so. It’s not always possible to do so, but dropouts can leave mediators wondering if it’s something they’ve said or done. Equally, when someone (for whatever reason) drops out from a magical training programme, it should not be taken as an indication that they are an abject failure both as a person and a magician.

"dear …, I’m sorry to have to inform you…"

It does of course occur that not everyone who begins a magical training programme is found to be suitable for full inclusion in the group concerned. There are myriad reasons why this is so, but what it comes down to is that the individual has to be informed as to why he or she isn’t going to be admitted into the group. Or not, as is so often the case. Writing ‘rejection letters’ is difficult, particularly if you can’t quite put into words why you don’t think the candidate is suitable or perhaps that you think the person is clearly bonkers but don’t quite want to state this quite so boldly. Difficult as this is, I do feel that some kind of ‘closure’ contact is more useful than simply ‘dropping’ the person concerned and hoping they’ll pick up the hint. Whilst some people do ‘get the hint’, others may well persist in their application to the group through other channels. In large groups - particularly those consisting of local sub-groups, it may be necessary to inform others about the decision not to admit someone to the group, if only to prevent them from getting in via another sub-group in the organisation. In these circumstances, mediators may need support from more experienced group members and clear lines of communication to ensure that the mediator’s decision is made known, and supported by the rest of the group.

 

What happens after Completing the Programme?

On completion of the programme, (assuming the candidate hasn’t dropped out halfway through it), the candidate will expect to be formally invited (or initiated) into the group as a full member. Some groups, as a precursor to this momentous event, invite candidates to a meeting so that other members can have a look at them. This can be useful when a candidate’s only contact with a group has been through one person or a local sub-group. Ideally, the candidates’ mediator should be present at such a meeting, to present an overall assessment of the candidate - perhaps countering other member’s initial impressions, which will tend to be based on how that person conducts themselves at the meeting.

Magical training programmes are useful for candidates when:

  • They provide the impetus and drive to work through exercises and techniques which the candidate might otherwise have lacked.

  • The candidate feels that the programme is relevant to their needs for magical experience and formal training.

  • The programme is reinforced by support from a mediator who gives useful suggestions, advice, and is open to negotiation over the formal content of the programme, time taken to complete it, etc.

  • The candidate has recourse to a support system so that, if for example, they find they do not get on with their mediator, they can turn to someone else for support.

  • The candidate’s interest in the long-term goal of the programme (i.e. being admitted to the group) is maintained.

Magical training programmes are more effective (in terms of the group’s needs) when:

  • The programme acts as a test of commitment on the part of the candidate - in terms of both commitment to the group and to his or her own magical development. The group needs the candidate to demonstrate that they are serious (as serious as existing group members feel themselves to be) about magic.

  • The programme demonstrates the commitment of the group to the individual - through the support given by mediators, paying attention to the candidates’ needs etc.

  • Mediators are supported by the group. This requires some kind of support system whereby mediators can discuss problems which arise from their interaction with candidates - which can range from interpersonal differences to exchanging information about areas of technique and theory. This might include periodic reviews where mediators meet to discuss issues, or training sessions for mediators.

  • The programme is periodically reviewed and fine-tuned.

  • The programme provides an opportunity for the group to assess not only the candidate’s magical competency but also how they will ‘fit in’ with the rest of the group in terms of personality - over time.

  • The programme provides an opportunity for those moderating it to acquire new skills & abilities.

  • The training programme reflects the values and skills which the group is looking for in members.