Avoid these common pitfalls when studying magick, meditation or mysticism.
Poorly defined goals
What do you want?
It’s a simple question, but most who enter the world of magick and alternative spirituality never ask it, or never fully define the answer. As a result, they’re caught up in the “dazzling lights” of the New Age Pinball Machine, and bounced around between experiences, groups and teachers, never finding themselves or getting to their core issues and drives.
You need to ask this question up front: What do you want? Do you want greater creative skill and power? Do you want to fix a trauma or personal challenge? Are you willing to give up everything and seek enlightenment? Whatever it is, define it now, and then ask yourself if magical means are really the answer, or if more mundane means would be a lot easier. Be clear on this, or you risk getting caught up in the glamour of magick, and forgetting that it’s just a tool, and only one tool of many available to you right now.
Staying in the shallows
Magick is a giant buffet table. Thanks to the shrinking of the world by global communications, you’ll find material from every world faith and esoteric path readily available to you. Hermeticism/Golden Dawn/Thelema; Yoga; Vedanta; Vajrayana Buddhism; Sufism; NLP… the list is limited only by the demand of the New Age marketplace for the next big kick. Just a hundred years ago—in some cases, just a few decades ago—all of these subjects would have been incredibly hard to discover information on. You wouldn’t have been able to just pop down to Barnes & Noble or go on Amazon and have it all handed to you. And in all cases, once you discovered the entry to a path, you would be confronted with a teacher who would explain that the path was the work of a lifetime.
That puts modern seekers in a unique position. We don’t lack access—but what we do often lack is commitment to a path. Most likely, students will browse here and there, reading on a wide variety of paths, or even joining several groups in sequence. This is an incredible way to learn quickly; however, if the buffet table approach takes the place of deep, committed learning in one path or tradition, what happens is you stop making progress. You just get to the edge of your comfort zone in one path before starting over in another, never taking that crucial jump into the unknown. Ironically, this probably takes more time than sticking to one path, at least until you reach that path’s completion stages.
Thinking there is one true path
Once you’ve experienced peak states or personal breakthroughs in a system, it’s easy to generalize: “This is absolutely incredible… everybody should experience this!”
If you’re not careful, you soon become a missionary, talking non-stop about what you’ve experienced, trying to get your friends or family into whatever practice caused the peak state or breakthrough, or even, at the high registers of “Kool-Aid Intoxication,” thinking that you have found the One True Path, and that all other paths are lesser or deluded.
People can stay stuck in this state for days, weeks, months, or years—even their whole life. It tends to be a blockage to progress. It’s a classic behavior of an individual with a weak sense of self: Deep down, they feel themselves to be inferior or lesser than others, so they place all their focus on an all-consuming ideology or charismatic leader that they derive strength and self-worth from serving. If this sounds like an obvious trap, and one you would never fall for, think again: The “One True Path” disease has been responsible for many of history’s greatest tragedies, or the many historical genocides committed by overzealous religious missionaries that worked to “convert by sword.”
If your path is the One True Path, it’s time to leave your cloistered room or insular community and experience what life is like for others of different faiths and life backgrounds.
Us vs. them mentality
Because people who are into magick and alternative spirituality are often on the fringes, it’s easy to adopt belief systems that reinforce an oppressed identity or “us vs. them” story. This becomes a particularly acute problem when the magick that people are doing isn’t working, or not producing a good quality of life, and instead of changing the behaviors or beliefs that aren’t working, people create a narrative in which some “other” individual or group is keeping them down. These stories about why failure is OK quickly blossom and cross-pollinate, becoming wide-scale conspiracy theories potent enough to infect whole cultures, leaving disempowerment, misery and even genocide in their wake. Examples of this include:
• “The Illuminati are out to get me because I have secret knowledge.”
• “Shapeshifting reptilians/Archons/evil spirits/Satan/etc. are controlling reality and don’t like me.”
• “I’m way too enlightened/edgy/intense/real for mainstream society to handle.”
• “I am a lightworker charged with battling the dark forces, and the dark forces are in control.”
Do you have any of these beliefs, or any similar ones? Let’s take a look at them—what’s the underlying message of all of them? Personal significance. Me me me. All of these scripts allow for personal significance through failure. They all allow you to be a complete fuckup and to simultaneously have the illusion of “winning.”
They are all poison. Jettison them immediately, and instead focus on your personal growth and happiness, and how you can be of service to the people around you.
Trying to be the “best magician” instead of the “best you”
When overachiever types get into magick, they try to learn every single aspect of it and become a Total and Formidable Master. There is no mastery; leave this archetype in the Saturday morning cartoons it came from. Remember: Magick is just a tool. Know your goal, and use the tool to achieve your goal.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be so linear: You may simply be seeking the regular, sustainable spiritual growth that comes from a regular practice of meditation, dreamwork, journalling, yoga, ritual and any other tool you have chosen to use. Wonderful.
The key here is: It’s not a competition. There is no prize, other than becoming more yourself.
Giving your power away
Particularly as a young and untested magician, you will likely be confronted with situations or people that tempt you to surrender your power. Whether it’s an autocratic or abusive guru, a regimented and controlling magical order, or even a tightly controlling ideology, you might be tempted or even frightened into surrendering control of your life in exchange for some tangible or intangible reward.
If you do this, get ready for a painful learning experience!
[Credit: ULTRACULTURE by Jason Louv]