This was originally titled, “Doing Magic” (note: with the obnoxious ‘k’ omitted; I am an English graduate after all!). I wanted to change my focus on this because I found that Discernment is really one of the first tools a new seeker or neophyte needs to develop when comes to engaging with the various maxims, aphorisms, ideologies and paradigms in play in modern magic and this is especially true for those of us practicing magic within a particular spiritual framework such as Contemporary Paganism and witchcraft but its stands true of the Western Mystery Tradition as a whole.
As many of you may be aware I first started looking at Wicca as my spiritual path when I was 15 going on 16 and unlike my peers I wasn’t simply enamoured with the spellwork or rituals – I felt drawn to the spirituality and the ability to discern and think for myself. At the time ceremonial magic seemed to dressy and frankly I wasn’t altogether certain was a genuine practice since most of those I’d interacted with online clearly weren’t playing with a full deck! Besides with Wicca I had a cornucopia of books, grimoires and tomes charting it’s various expressions. Alexandrian material was far more accessible with authors such as Janet and Stewart Farrar on top of the plethora of easier authors on hand. Reading the Farrars material I could visualise myself as an Initiate of the Wica more roundly. Downside was as a teen that was all I could do. I learned of covens relatively close by but not accessible (and I didn’t realise it myself then but suppressed psychism was guiding me too). I read Scott Cunningham but found that while geared to practical work I had no access to plants or wildlife and I wasn’t sure what a magical herbalist actually did? How would I help people with herbs outside of the work a coven could do? (I realise now I was looking for the anonymity of working in a coven as much as anything). Truth is without initiation into the Craft of the Wica you can’t know what it’s like, hence why Cunningham focused on magical herbalism in the public sphere.
The issue for myself, like many, is discernment – the ability to judge well. Such judgements of reading material or people encountered along the way can lead to some precarious situations. I was asked once in a heated discussion whether I’d ever been a member of an online coven or working group and honestly I actually have been. It was one of those things I just fell into when I first started getting involved in online forums. I’d already been a posting member of Occult Ireland and attended one eclectic group circle for the Summer Solstice and I was tired of giving myself reasons not to observe the Wheel of the Year and the Esbats. So when my co-admin to Witchesforum.com asked if I’d join in one of the forum’s Global Esbats I figured why not? I mean what’s the worst that could come of it?
The rite called for us all to gather at our working spaces and altars and perform a simple ritual. Thing is what I hadn’t bargained for was the level of familiarity I’d developed with many of those part-taking in the ritual and my own curiosity concerning how real they actually were. I caught some glimpses of them in my mind’s eye. Bare in mind 3-4 of them were in the U.S. and my co-admin was in the U.K. and none of us were formally trained or equipped to deal with forging psychic links like this. I’d formed some with physical friends already so I was a little bit more accustomed to this but one of the members freaked when I’d posted the time and a small description of where she’d been and what she’d done including writing in her Book of Shadows (BOS). Why was I forming such links with strangers especially since there seemed to be no safeguards such as an Inner Temple (even a crap one)? Well remember I said many of us had forged strong bonds? We’d come from another forum and we’d wanted to explore more topics and it had been a challenge since many of the posters and key moderators had turned out to be very dodgy.
The need for discernment isn’t just on the internet or by books. Like many seekers I’ve encountered my fair share of fibbers willing to allow me to believe all sorts if I allow them. I’ve had fellow magicians mislead me and others on their involvement with magical organisations representing those same groups as physical while really they were organised online and worked primarily on the astral. Oh yes, he’d be very good and explain in PM or face-to-face if quizzed further but if you were silly enough to assume his co-operation more fool you! Another, for reasons I can only speculate, lied about his qualifications as a trained counsellor (I rang up the reported authorizing body), yet would actively use techniques of manipulation within the group to bully and eventually oust me. And finally there is that old chestnut (which had been tolerated in the online group example somewhat before) of family lineage. Everyone wants to be descended from Witch-queen royalty or to have grandparents in the Craft and its shocking how many will hide behind statements such as, “But our family tradition changes over time, just like Traditional Wiccan covens will be different because of newer generations!”. This last comment is taken from the expertise of martial artists really because the same thing done the same way by a different person is going to be unique to that person and this is true but its oh so handy get out clause to explain expensive crystal work and grimoire-derived ritual Circles in people’s practices. There’s also the scavenger defense too, and this is basically that they added to the inner secrets of their Family Craft.
Yikes! I’ve even heard rumours of a Queen of Witches here in Ireland, whose Books of Shadows are over 800 years old and clearly totally in Irish. This ignores the fact that 800 years ago most people with writing skills wrote in Latin not Irish and also that 800 years ago the Irish of then was early Middle-Irish so wildly different. Don’t get me started on some of the names associated with such witches!
The reason I’m sharing so much of my own experiences in this post is not to cry “poor me” or even to dissuade you from seeking out more like-minded folks but to offer advice on how discernment as a form of judgement can be useful. Within the Golden Dawn tradition the new Neophyte 0=0 is asked to approach discernment as a virtue to learn and practice before further embarking on their magical journey. I recently reviewed Nick Farrell’s latest book, Magical Imagination: The Keys to Magic, and I took a very terse look over the book in my review because the nature of the book is apt for so many readers of various levels of magical practice. Working on the Inner Kingdoms first helps to prepare the reader for more magical work later on as it will give the practitioner some serious skills which I’m still learning if I’m honest. Inner Kingdoms or inner spaces are also different from Inner Temples which I mentioned before in that they are personal to the witch or magician rather than to the group (Temple or coven). Preparing one’s self for the group mind on both a mental and astral level works wonders, I really wish I’d known more beforehand. I still think I’d have made some of those mistakes anyway but dealing with it would have come more naturally to me.
There are so many Traditions who have guided and nurtured many seekers over the years and who have nurtured new teachers who themselves created new approaches to magical practice. Sometimes these “growth spurts” come swiftly and without issue but other times people clash and fall out and thats normal. Not pleasant but normal. If you are working by yourself and establishing a personal viewpoint be ready to have it shaken a little bit but use discernment in what you decide to let go of and what needs amending. Develop discernment through working on your own Inner Kingdom or personal space within so you can work from firm foundation that you can change at your own will not someone else’s!