On Evolution and Learning

2008. Yes, I had to get my hair layered and feathered regularly. While I have less hair now, I like to think it is arranged better.

2008. Yes, I had to get my hair layered and feathered regularly. While I have less hair now, I like to think it is arranged better.

Fashionably late as ever, I thought I'd join in with the responses to Nick Farrell's top ten misunderstood commandments for easy to teach students. My take is a little different however.

I firmly believe that learning is entirely up to the student, and people can be learned from certainly, but they act as facilitators and mentors rather than lecturing teachers. The only person you can truly teach is yourself, and as we are all constant students, I think this top ten learner rules would be best made for myself. My first attempt to write this up was almost entirely self-reflective, so I'll precis my recommendations with the story of this post.

The Glastonbury Vortex in action

On Friday evening I headed down to see Gordon over at Rune Soup as he was in town for an event and a short break, so alcohol and catch-upsies needed to happen. I'd been invited to a book launch for Nic Phillips's new book and talked Gordon into coming with me. What ensued was the most perfect example of "the Glastonbury Vortex", a perfect synchronicity which amplifies exponentially the propensity to meet up with other wizards and sorcerers while just pottering about town.

While we headed to Labyrinth Books, everyone else of note seemed to be heading in the opposite direction - due to my inability to read a Facebook invitation, I was unaware that the venue was in fact Glastonbury Abbey, after hours. Now, I admit I had never been into the Abbey before (certainly this lifetime); like living in the area for two years before finally climbing the Tor, I had felt that I needed to be summonsed to the Abbey, and this was certainly the time for that. It was truly breathtaking exploring the ruins with Gordon, and I felt that frisson of timeslip and reality shifting when you know you're in a place of power which resonates with your core being.

Unrestored interior of the Lady Chapel of Glastonbury Abbey. Photochrom from c.1900, Library of Congress. Using Instagram filters before it was even invented.

At the event itself, in the wonderful, alchemical kitchens, I ran into magical friends, associates, and colleagues, arranged some OTO business, learnt about some British saints, and possibly commenced a collaboration on the book version of the Path of the Rose. Afterwards we repaired for dinner and drinks and the intensely magical conversation which can only happen when people who really know their shit get together. I freely admit that I was just there to make up numbers and absorb the incredible amount of data being thrown around regarding ancient civilisations, human migration patterns, and similar things you'll know from reading Rune Soup or listening to Gordon lecture.

The next day, magically avoiding a hangover and back in town, I found myself discussing the recent unexpected flame war in a teacup across the Blogosphere, and I realised I had something to add to the conversation. In fact, I usually have something to add to the conversation, and it is almost always lost on Facebook. In an attempt to write this where it will be read and archived properly, I remembered that the blog function of this website has a handy Android app, and I whipped it out there and then to jot some thoughts down. These ten points are aimed at myself primarily, but I hope that you can see the value of attempting some for yourself.

Sef's Top Ten Tips for Being a Better Sef:

Go on, read them together. It'll be fine.

Go on, read them together. It'll be fine.

1. Learn how to read again.

For a long time now I have had a block on reading books from start to finish. I'm pretty sure I have read more words on Rune Soup and the Blog of Baphomet than on paper or e books in the last five years.

Books are important. Books are magical talismans, even the ones not made by Scarlet Imprint. There is nothing like holding a book, taking it with you on a journey, and absorbing the knowledge in it. Unfortunately, a lot of reading is now primarily done on mobile devices and computer screens. 

To learn, we need to rediscover these tomes and make conscious effort to be entirely devoted to this process. The limiting factor is making time to sit down and read. Why do we have to make time? Because it is too easy to sit down, open our phones, and plug back into the echo chamber of Social Media. Cut that shit out.

2. Get off Facebook.

I am aware of the irony of many people following the link to this entry from Facebook, and the possible hypocrisy of running The Visible College FB page. Still, there is a difference between using FB to share links to articles and discoveries, and allowing it to be an echo chamber where you gradually divorce yourself from reality. Case in point: The election this week in the UK went strongly against the opinion polls which I should not have put so much faith in, but all of the discussions on FB suggested we could end up with a centre-left coalition, largely because I surround myself with centre to left people. Sharing with everyone on my friend list ten reasons to vote Green or a list of terrible things the previous Government did to disabled people will have no more impact than telling penguins to keep warm. The resulting shock when the results came in, that Britain had voted in the ever more right wing Conservative party as a majority this time, was immense and sharply drew attention to the way in which Facebook can cause depression, even for those who are conscious of the possibility and take measures to only take on content from friends.

All the scars are on the inside...

I am not the first magician to leave, nor to recommend leaving, the great Choronzon of our time. Anything which experiments on your mental health without your consent is fighting a dirty psy-ops war, and even those with effective countermeasures understand that the energy necessary to combat this endless stream of bullshit is not worth it for the meagre benefits. Give people your email and move away, as quickly as you can.

What can we do when we've got all this free time not desperately waiting for someone to 'like' our posts? We can fill it with learning.

3. Acquire better sources of information.

If we're going to spend time on the Internet via phones or at keyboards, and we want to learn something, we need to be discerning in where our information comes from. Recently I've been plugging more time into browsing film geek websites than reading blogs and researching articles. There is fantastic discourse going on across the blogosphere, and the above kerfuffle shows how much passion and effort people put into disseminating information (and why we all need to get off Facebook). We can't always guarantee we're going to have the right book to hand to keep up on our reading, but we can make sure we filter the content we actively seek on the Web, and be stricter with ourselves on how much time is wasted on trivial pursuits.

To aid this, I found the RSS Mix tool and collated a bunch of feeds together, which is at this link: The Visible College Round-up, and I'm hopeful that will let me share good content regularly to FB and Twitter. Do I expect that you will find every single post by these guys as inspiring, thought-provoking, and engaging as I do? Nah. In fact, I'm certain I will disagree with plenty that will crop up. But isn't the thought of having something to say at a collegial level exciting? Let's find stuff that stimulates us to discourse - and in turn, write that up!

4. Write regularly

By reading, processing, and replying, we contribute to the magical Zeitgeist. Social media is all about the passive consumption of material, the instant-gratification of likes, retweets, and even flame-wars. Real content-production comes in the form of articles, lectures, workshops, podcasts, and discussions. Knuckling down and doing the work to have something to offer to the occult community is hard, and the above points make it easier.

As with anything to do with the Will, what is at first a chore eventually becomes a joy. Over the course of three days of drafting, writing, testing, and editing this post, I've come to really find my voice again, as the Blogos would put it. My previous forays into the field of magical discourse were very kindly hosted 2013-14 by the Blog of Baphomet crew, but oddly since having my own site to properly blog on, I haven't written as much. I'm going to challenge myself to write regularly on interesting material, and that interesting material had better be about lived experience, preferably magick-focused. The easiest way to write regularly, is to make sure we're doing something magical regularly!

5. Get back into daily practice

I had a great time in Ireland at the start of April, helping with O.T.O. initiations and giving my Thelemic Boot Camp lecture. The main thrust of the presentation was to engage people with the mechanics and reasons behind regular practice of Liber Resh, pranayama/mantrayoga, and Liber V vel Reguli - guess what I've found really hard to get done lately? Between night shifts, arranging the next Occult Conference, looking after the kids, travel for events, and drinking with other magicians, 'spare' time for practice has gone out of the window. This is related to #2 in so far as making space for practice will be easier without the abyss of Facebook eating my downtime, but also a matter of prioritisation. You've gotta recognise that regular practice is important!

What to practice though? Part of the problem is being spoilt for choice. If you've worked with enough paths and traditions, and learned so many rituals that effectively duplicate the same effect, you can probably whip up at least three paradigms for a solid daily routine and call all of them 'My core praxis'. In my case, my current programme of pathworkings based on Liber Armadel, the Path of the Rose, is heavily Christian-flavoured, so Reguli doesn't necessarily gel.

Conflict in praxis doesn't have to be a bad thing. After all, Uncle Al said 'My adepts stand upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells.' Where we are finding discrepancies, we can look inwards, aligning ourselves towards the Will, and really seek the common themes of our magical belief structure.

6. Develop your own identity and theme.

I just posted up the recent Ultraculture Psychonaut Field Manual Pt2 which is groovy, despite its approach to spirits (i.e., they don't exist, which is very clearly a false premise from my experience). However, one interesting point is the term "narrative language", which discusses the manner in which we frame our experiences to allow processing by different parts of the psyche/soul. Consciousness is king, and talking to your consciousness is really all about context.

This context needs to be very clear, with defined roles that we, as the central self, step in to when prosecuting our magical results. Where our practice becomes diverse, we can find ourselves lacking a core narrative structure to keep the sense of self coherent. I have a very strong idea of who I am, and how that idea inhabits the things I do, and it can be as much a magical weapon as an ebony wand or hand-forged sword. How do you wield the weapon of the ego? You use it to obliterate the versions of you which are unhelpful, and power the optimal self in the reality you wish to inhabit.

At about this stage of writing I began listening to medieval plainsong and chants like this. YMMV as to whether it will improve the rest of the article for you.

You'll only know when you've managed this when you can successfully translate the idea of your self into social situations. As a friend and brother would say, "ideas are best tested in the field."

7. Make those real-world connections.

There comes a point where we need to meet people in the real world in- and out-side the occult sub-culture. This is about lived experience, the real magick is in the living of our practice, and it needs to stand up to scrutiny just like every other thought-experiment. That Friday night incidental collaboration only came about because of taking a chance on a book launch which I had missed was going to be in Glastonbury Abbey, but once I was there it really turned into the perfect milieu so common in Glastonbury, and the reason I moved here. In the small group of people gathered, there were publishers, authors, members of the local OTO Body I needed to catch up with, friends and conspirators in other magical projects, and we all mixed into a potent magical experience waiting to happen.

Peter Grey discussed this subject for TVC Spring, the need to meet in the flesh, to operate outside of the panopticon of technology, and make connections where our souls can interface through physicality. I've been a member of -and run- groups which interact exclusively on the astral plane, so I'm not knocking it; but we do need to exist where we can plan and make good whilst looking eye-to-eye. How much of the GD kerfuffle could have been avoided by all parties being in the same physical room? Loads. How quickly was it ended when a moderated, direct dialogue was created? Very.

With an established physical relationship, and a venue for the magick to take place, a narrative context, and the information to back it all up, we can get to the really exciting part: Spreadsheets!

8. Plan goals for life and magick.

Here's an easy one: Is weight-loss a short- or long-term goal?

Trick question! (Well done at the back.) Losing weight and being healthy isn't the goal, it is the by-product of the real goal. The goal is an integrated life where doing the things which keep you healthy are a constant part of the lifestyle. This is why the gym model doesn't work: we aren't designed to go and lift weights or whatever to look awesome, we are designed to run and hunt and evade and fuck. The contextual gap in the narrative is why many people fall into the gym and straight back out again.

Thus the goals which need to be set are about nudging both life and practice towards a sustainable new model of existence. Do we want to write those books? Start by reading more, then writing a little, then gathering material. Look, already happening for me, hurrah. Do we want to be fighting fit, physically and psychically? Start with getting up, making yourself do that daily practice and those bloody press-ups, and incrementally adjusting 'normal' until having a lie-in is weird. Slowly move things from the 'stalled' column to the 'moving' column, and keep the plates spinning until some sort of equilibrium is maintained. Then, the urge will be to do MOAR THINGS!

This of course is not always helpful.

'Do not be drawn into the hurricane of others; draw them into your calm.' -Completely unattributable Aikido saying my Sensei taught me.

'Do not be drawn into the hurricane of others; draw them into your calm.' -Completely unattributable Aikido saying my Sensei taught me.

9. Value equilibrium, develop focus.

Magical capability is not measured by the ability to constantly find more and new ways of doing something and having a bash at it all to see what sticks. The Olympic judoka knows hundreds of throws, but will only look to use one or two. In the same way, the witchdoctor never deliberates over the specific type and format of magick, it's a simple "who do you want doing over?" and it's time for us to rediscover that inner balls-out confidence. This is the only way to truly have a lived experience of magick. 

When we develop powers of concentration and turn the high-powered laser-beam of our focus on to something, we can achieve anything. The above restrictions from zig-zagging from lows to highs and crashing back again works in our favour, and that peace and stability within the whirling motion lets us work on that which truly deserves our attention. This is when the real breakthroughs come, whether that is in writing, practice, ritual technique, research, or cold hard results.

10. Be ready to teach others.

Looking back at the top of the post -specifically the hilarious photo from 7 years ago- and the things I have learned along the way, I have innovated and rediscovered in some areas, and understood and synthesised in others. I've had leadership positions crop up by accident, and worked hard to create opportunities for organisation where a need arose. Ultimately, I have to believe that I have something to say and pass on, and if there are people who wish to learn, it is unhelpful and even selfish to refuse to give that training and assistance.

Learning and teaching should be organic, and it should focus on the self first. We are all students, and some have simply learned more to pass on to those coming up behind them. Knowledge is not a finite resource, information is abundant in the universe, and we can take our refreshment in the great stream of data at leisure. I was first trained in my Gnostic studies in the Rabbinical method, i.e. asking questions to challenge and provoke responses, often channelled or through bibliomancy, and I'm sure my mentor and guide at the time learned plenty as I devoured knowledge.

Similarly, in my time as an initiator with OTO, the act of performing the initiations is as much work on the initiator as the candidate, and when tempered with an honest care and love for the candidate it is truly spectacular to witness or participate in. The Western Mystery Tradition is just that, a series of mysteries, which are incommunicable; we all need to approach these mysteries honestly, and that begins with being honest to -and with- ourselves. 'Be true towards thy Self!'

Bringing it all together

If we can combine all of these points into a single paragraph, I think it will be:

Restructure your life in such a way that distractions are minimal, good data is easily found, and a focus on magical practice is standard. Take part in and contribute to the occult subculture, especially face-to-face, and be prepared to pass on knowledge where needed - but always with a view to learning at the same time.
This is one of my favourite photos of myself, and it perfectly captures Glastonbury. OBOD celebration on the Tor, June 2014.

This is one of my favourite photos of myself, and it perfectly captures Glastonbury. OBOD celebration on the Tor, June 2014.

Have I evolved in between these two photos? I hope so. Each of these points I have managed to follow at one time or another, so I'm confident I can put the programme together. And if I don't? Well, I'm the only person who can truly say when the deadline is. Nobody lives forever, but our next opportunity to change and grow and learn is always just ahead.

I look forward to meeting you on the path.