By Hand, Head & Heart: The Practice, Philosophies and Love of Magick
Come explore the evolution of magickal spirituality. Here modern practitioners with a reverence to the past can seek the future of magick through philosophical understanding, application and personal development.
The Power and Problems of Intangible Guidance
Last week, as the Full Moon in Virgo was making a transiting conjunction with my Natal Moon (that's an intense time of discernment and analysis for our non-astrology speaking readers), I experience two very strange occurrences. What was really strange was they were really both about the same hot button topic for me, but from opposite ends of the spectrum. One involved me as a student, the other as a teacher. It produced a lot of internal dialogue, conflict, communication, and ultimately a few snarky Facebook posts. It was the Facebook status updates that inspired our esteemed host, Anne Niven, to ask me to write about it in more detail. I didn't think I was going to, but with some time and distance, I got greater clarity on the whole thing and thought, if she thinks I should share it, then why not? Anne's certainly encouraged me to write quite a few things and, if it should prove helpful to anyone else beyond me, then mission accomplished.
The first episode was an email I received from a spiritual teacher whom I have had no real contact with for many years, and haven't studied with since the late '90s. She is not in my Pagan-Witchcraft world, but more from my early New Age-Holistic world. Let's call her Tara, for simplicity's sake. While I'd like to think the intentions of Tara's email were good, to warn about a potential legal issue with the system she taught me, the letter came across as scolding and sanctimonious. I thought perhaps I was being oversensitive and shared it with a family member and a mentor. Both agreed it was not just my imagination. The part that really got me was not that Tara was sanctimonious, but it was the spirit in which she expressed it. The teachings Tara taught me were a healing system based in the New Age concept of the Ascended Masters and part of her critique ultimately boiled down to “the Ascended Master does not agree with what you are doing.” The email contained no questions, no invitation for a dialogue. It was a proclamation: The Ascended Master has made it quite clear he wants it done this new way, not the old way you learned.
I suppose to put it all into context that these teachings started as an expansion to another popular system of healing. Once teachers were established in this expanded system, there was a directive to stop teaching any of the older material predating this system, a rebranding of sorts. The system involved two different sets of teachings, by two different teachers of Tara's, and a schism there resulted in one set of teachings, the ones I found far more interesting, being removed from the new system. Soon it was followed by “updates” where the more esoteric information was removed from the system and, of course, more payments, to receive these updates of energy, but from what I could tell, no real update of new or additional information. I bowed out of the continual updates and just taught the things I felt were useful. Honestly, my dissatisfaction with the answers I received on the metaphysical principles of the system resulted in a lot of research and ultimately my writing the book Ascension Magick, the book I wished I had to put everything into context when I began my journey on this particularly branch of teachings. The original teachings transformed my healing practice and were quite wonderful. I had made my own adaptations to it, based upon my own inner guidance from the “masters” as I saw them, and balanced by good, old fashioned research. Somewhere in there a legal organization was created for the system. I didn't join. In fact, I left the overall Lightworker/New Age/Holistic communities I found at that time due to the abuses of power, paranoia and poor communication skills I saw demonstrated time and again. My experience helped me dodge a similar situation later on in the yoga communities. I know some might think that the Pagan world is just as bad, but in my experience, Paganism has been pretty clear and direct in comparison.
When I did teach the original version that I was certified to teach, not conferring membership in any terrestrial organization, the host of the class would get calls from people in the updated system, to let the host know that this was not “official” and not “endorsed” by the organization. A few would even go so far to say colorful things like “Just so you know, Christopher might not be of the light...” Thankfully most of my hosts had known me for years and were often Witches themselves. That just made them more interested in it! Many established teachers of the new system sought me out to repeat the class to simply see my updated revised manuals.
By this point, if someone asked, I wasn't particularly shy about telling them I think the new updates to the system were a clever pyramid scheme for separating people from their money for no apparent reason. Once you were fully connected to the original “complete” system, as there was specifically a symbol teaching on “automatic adjustments” to the new energies of the Earth, could not the “masters” just “update” you automatically? That was my experience of it, even though I would often cite that Hatha Yoga did not have a “2.1 update” to it. It still worked. Other forms of Yoga did not diminish its effectiveness, and simply complimented the body of yogic lore. It all seemed rather silly to me, like modern computer terminology, and not rooted in metaphysical wisdom.
The kicker of Tara's email was the utter lack of awareness, of irony, that she was teaching a system that clearly states do not give up your own power to anyone else, direct communication with inner guidance, self-healing, and that love is the answer to fear, yet she sent her very fear- and control-based email, ultimately stating the authority of an intangible master, rather than creating a dialogue or urging a true introspective process. The cognitive dissonance was deafening. After a short exchange with a response similar to the first letter, I really wanted to send a message proposing the possibility that their current legal challenges could be the karmic result of the continual updates being unethical, and perhaps the original spirit of the teachings had run dry. The messages from the masters they are receiving could be the result of ego, not wisdom, as they have seem more inconsistent with the original ethos that attracted me. And just to ponder that as a possibility. But it was pretty clear that her intention was warning, not dialogue, and both my partners and my mentor suggested just letting it go. There was really no hope for getting my point across, and I shouldn't be that attached to trying with someone who obviously didn't want to explore it. My motives at the moment were not pure. I really wanted to “win,” as my partner put it, but it was a situation where there is no winning, and winning is not even what you think it is. Embody the freedom you loved about it by not engaging in a pointless, unwelcome conflict. So I did, until the next thing happened.
The second episode occurred when someone alerted me to a former student—one I sadly had to sever ties with and reject from our Temple's teaching/ministry program—using my name to further her own business. It was another in a series of efforts to perpetuate the illusion that I support her own group, teachings, and work. Nothing was an outright fabrication, but there were certainly purposeful omissions of important facts to create the empowering narrative she wants. Quotes and instances are taken out of context to give the appearance that she is still associated with me and the work of the Temple of Witchcraft, even though my last conversation was ultimately a discouragement from her doing public work. I believe that she is a danger to herself and others in the role of a public teacher and ritualist. I fully expected her to continue anyway, and let go of any perceived responsibility, as no one is the “Witch police,” but found myself perplexed that she would continue to cite me and the Temple in rather large ways, in an effort for legitimacy or authority, which was originally one of the issues that lead to her dismissal. I was warned this would happen, but didn't quite believe it.
In that last uncomfortable conversation with her, I attempted to create a teaching moment by asking if it was possible that she was really motivated from ego, rather than her True Will, in her desire to do public work. She seemed to be gunning for a leadership position or role of authority early on in our relationship, and she caused a great deal of strife in the process. Without a moment's pause, she answered no, that “Spirit” had guided her to do this work. I asked if she could be mistaken, that she could be hearing what she wanted to hear, and again got a clear spirit-directed no. She had no doubts. I was a bit stunned, as I think if the teacher I had been working with for four years suggested this to me, I would take a moment to pause and at least think about it. Most of the professional teachers I know, would most likely pause and reflect on their motivations. We all have our moments of doubt. Should we really be doing this? Is there another way we can serve? Let me tell you that being a public teacher is not all that it is cracked up to be. But it was clear to her “Spirit” was directing her to do these things. I made it clear that I completely disagreed. I'm not sure if this is a specific spirit or deity, or a general “Great Spirit,” but I've found that sometimes the phrase “Spirit guided me” or something similar is just as disempowering and dangerous as “the Ascended Masters/Angel/Deity told me to do it.” In some ways, more so, as the source is more nebulous and takes even less responsibility for the relationship. Both types of statements are warning flags that perhaps someone does not possess their full agency. It's most alarming when used by leaders and teachers justifying their actions.
The strange axis of issues and the authority of guidance struck me strongly. I wondered if Tara would have thought of me in a similar light, even though I never used her name or had any outstanding history with her. I wondered if my former student reacted to me in a similar manner as to how I reacted to Tara. Could there be truth in either or both of those views? There could be. I've given it a lot of thought, talk, and journaling. The whole process, and how it manifested, one right after the other around the Full Moon fascinated me. I think my personal failings are in other areas. Yet a striking difference was pointed out to me. In either situation, I was not abdicating my personal responsibility to another entity. While I did feel I had spiritual support in my decisions, there were most often “I” statements that did not invoke outside spiritual authority. Are there times that I have, in other situations? Yes, particularly earlier on in my career, and while I did feel them to be true, they were also easier outs, and gentler way to deal with difficult people who wouldn't take other forms of “no” for an answer, but generally these days I strive for “I” statements whenever possible.
I do whole heartedly believe in the reality, and the guidance, of intangible entities, from the ascended masters to various ancestors, faeries, angels, spirits, and gods. I've developed relationships as real to me as any of those with flesh and blood people in my life, and they have been remarkably helpful, healing, and loving. I often receive advice from intangible entities, but ultimately, it is my advice, and I take responsibility for what I choose to do with it. Advice from anyone, tangible or intangible, must be evaluated, understood, and chosen to be acted upon. It is not a directive. It's not a blank check to act with no responsibility or consequences. We have to be vigilant against the possibility that we are only listening to spirits that flatter us by telling us the things we want to hear, or that we are simply talking to ourselves, telling ourselves either what we want, or what we fear most. Otherwise, we are lead into a dogmatic madness. Everything becomes an omen and a sign. Everything is a message of guidance. Everything is amazing and life-changing. When everything has the seeming power of a peak experience, when everything matters so much, soon nothing matters. Then there are no true pivotal, transformative experiences, and we wander off into illusion, mistaking constant internal dialogue for divine guidance. Soon the illusions and delusions become apparent to those around us, but often the person experiencing them is blissfully unaware. The true, soft, still voice within can be drowned out by the grand voices of what we think are gods and spirits. And that's not to say that your voices are not the gods and spirits, but they are not automatically wiser just because they do not have a body. They are simply one perspective, with their own agendas, desires and opinions.
To do spiritual work, from personal development to guidance and leadership in a community, requires a lot of true introspection, and support from others in the community when we might be going off the rails. To disregard that is folly. That is one of the main reasons for mystical community. If you find yourself in the spiritual “echo chamber” where everyone always agrees with you, find ways to step outside it and gain peer and mentor perspectives. It's a necessity to have people around you who can tell you when they think you are making a mistake, and that you listen to them and reflect upon their insights without automatically dismissing them.
Spiritual guidance is one of a number of avenues of motivation and problem solving, but it should not be your only one. It must be balanced by feedback from others, logic, common sense, and tradition. You have to reach a level of clarity for a message to come through, and you have to continually clear the filters while polishing the mirror to see things as they are, not as you believe them to be. You can partner with the gods, spirits, and allies, but they should not be your sole reason for your actions. Our magick is a mix of the soul's will and our partnership with our allies. Do not lose yourself and your own responsibility and agency in the search for higher, deeper, wiser guidance. Sometimes you have the wisdom you need, if you'll only truly listen to the soft, still, voice within.
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