Continuing education for the Lodge Master and occult writer (Ten tips for teachers of the occult)

Welcome to the latest edition of the Tarot Blog Hop. Today's topic is "continuing education for Tarot and Oracle readers."

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Let's talk about continuing education, shall we?

Our wrangler for this Tarot Blog Hop, Denver resident Joy Vernon, awhile back had an idea for a Tarot Blog Hop--what us Tarot readers and teachers were doing to further our education. When time came for her turn as wrangler, I reminded her of the topic. . .

. . .because I knew that I could get a decent blog post out of the idea. Selfish bastard me, right?

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about my past experience as a lodge chief (or is that Order chief?) and occult teacher. Mostly because I am working on expanding my previously published Three Officer Version of the Golden Dawn Neophyte Initiation Ritual by writing fifty thousand words of commentary.

"Fifty thousand words? Are you sure that you can write that much on one topic?"

"Totally--it is only like writing fifty to a hundred newsletter columns (or blog posts). If I can focus and keep the writing flowing, I could be done writing it in ninety days."

Basically, I am writing down some of my hard-learned lessons using the rather chatty voice I have developed as a blogger and newsletter columnist. And yes, some of it is creative non-fiction, and the rest is what critics will call falsehoods.


"Yeah, I believe that actually working the rituals of an esoteric tradition, including the initiations, will teach you more about the tradition than a perfect lineage and reading a thousand books on the subject." 

So in my head,  I am picture the book writing process as me teaching a lesson on the subject of group initiation rituals to people who are going to be responsible for bringing new members into the esoteric traditions and getting them though the basics. Gather ye all around me, future lodge and coven members of the world! Basically, I am a teacher teaching teachers.

Hence you can understand why occult education and teaching has been on my mind recently.

The three events that had the most effect on my own need to continue my occult education.

"What do you mean--I have a student?!?"

I never set out to become an occult teacher. Much like being a professional Tarot reader, it just kinda happened. My first occult student came about by accident. During my twenties, besides being a practicing ceremonial witch, I was also a RPGer (role-playing games and table-top war games) and an event attending science fiction fan. And you meet people--exchange information--make friends--learn horrible things about people.

"You seem to be a witch."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, you have an altar to Isis-Urania, have about a hundred books of witchcraft on your book shelf, and your co-workers are positive that you cursed an assistant manager. Then there are the dozen or so Tarot decks. Don't worry--I am a witch also."

And so begin an odd friendship. Knowing that each other was interested in the occult, it was natural that the subject would occasionally come up. Having been a hands-on practicing witch longer, I naturally had opinions on the subject. And not being bound by those pesky oaths of secrecy I was willing to share helpful tips. I had suffered an hands-on apprenticeship, and thought it was fair that others suffered like I had.

At some point, my friend realized that I was teaching them more than their actual official teacher was. They declared themselves my student.

"No, you are not."

"Yes, I am."

"No, you are not."

After months of that conversation, I grudgingly accepted the fact that I might be guilty of teaching.

What is interesting is that my approach to my own studies changed. Up to this point, I hadn't been paying much attention to the subjects that I wasn't interested in. Whole areas of the occult had been of no interest to me before--now I actually started paying attention. From this point on, during every class I took at the local occult shop (Herbs and Arts--the 80s and 90s), there was that part of me that paid extra attention to every detail--because someday, I might have to teach someone else what I was learning. I also worked hard at filling the holes in my education--holes that I had discovered by teaching.

The increased attention did not make me want to be a teacher--I would still cross the street to avoid the duty. The responsibility simply was too heavy for my liking.

"What do you mean--I am the Golden Dawn expert?!?"

Still it didn't stop things from happening. One of the holes I discovered in my occult education was a relative ignorance of the lodge system--in particular, the esoteric tradition of the Hermetic Golden Dawn/RR et AC/AA, an ancestor of 1950s Wicca. I even sought out membership in a Golden Dawn lodge--surprisingly (or not--I resorted to magic to find one) I was allowed in and put though the Grades and Degrees of the system as practiced by a bunch of Odd Fellows using a script that was not straight of Regardie's opus (today, I have reason to suspect that the rituals, and the related teachings, were influenced by the AO though the lens of Thelema and BOTA).

Many people wonder why I was accepted for membership. After all, I was a walking, talking, writing security breach just waiting to happen. It becomes even more puzzling when you realize that my sponsor was the Greatly Honored Praemonstrator (who for that branch of the tradition was the Chief). To this day, I am not quite sure what was said around my application, but I know that initially some of the membership had their doubts about me. At some point, I proved myself and was invited into the Inner Order. Later when Hathor Temple disbanded, I was one of the members selected and authorized to carry on the tradition if I ever encountered seekers of the right caliber.

My interest in Golden Dawn was noted by my lady witches. It was also noted by Morning Glory, the owner of Herbs and Arts at the time. Whenever a question about Golden Dawn or Thelema came up, if I was in the store (at one point, I was attending classes five nights a week), Morning Glory would send the person in my direction. I spent a lot of time researching the holes in my GD knowledge.

But I was still crossing the street to avoid being a teacher.

"What do you mean--I am the Hierophant?!?"

Now over time, I kinda became a public representative. At the time, there was a small press explosion in the Denver occult community. Several of my friends and teachers were publishing occult magazines from their kitchens. I was known to be a writer--though no one knew what type of writing I was doing, outside of the fact that I would occasionally sell the odd short story a few times a year.* My friends would corner me for articles--they would not take No for an answer.

[*The technical term for what I was writing was Dubious Erotica. Given that and my dating of a stripper, there were more than enough reason for anyone concerned with keeping the Golden Dawn pure and pristine to insist that I not to be allowed anywhere near the Hierophant's Throne, not alone the Chief Adept's office. It is not like I had a "real" lineage, or any actual talents. . .]

Besides the articles on Wicca and witchcraft dusted with a fine GD sugar that I was writing, I also become a steady attendee of several discussion groups. I made no effort to conceal my past experiences. Then I found myself "volunteered" to take over a discussion group. I thought about saying No; but it was Morning Glory asking, so I did it.

Now bear in mind that this particular discussion group had been purposely destroyed by a member who did not like who had picked officially to moderate the group. The offending member did their best to insure no one ever returned for a second meeting. The only reason I was still attending was that it was before a class in practical herb lore I was taking from Cassandra (she who is the inspiration for my Occult Garden Parties). I did my best to try to save the group from extinction; but after a year, even I had to admit that the damage was too great.

As an afterthought, I started a new discussion group, which morphed into a working group, which turned into a "Golden Dawn" lodge--though to be fair, the initial members wanted to play with the GD toys and godforms; there was no real desire to be Golden Dawners.* Somehow, I discovered that I was in charge--the vote having taken less than thirty seconds--no one was going to let me cross the street to avoid being a teacher and public representative.

[Later, this lack of desire to be serious about their Golden Dawn studies would split Bast Temple which had somehow attracted members who actually wanted to be traditional and strict Golden Dawn. I did a happy dance when I thought I was free of the burden of teaching once and for all. The remaining members who remained under my leadership informed me that I was wrong.]

One of the things with starting a new GD lodge was that I was forced to work the system with less officers than the "official" Regardie material required. And then there was all the new holes I discovered in my occult education.

Today. . .

Today, besides being sort of a Lodge Master/ Coven Head, I am also a board member of Hearthstone Community Church. I still think about crossing the street to avoid being an expert and a teacher of the occult. Some of my research is aimed at answering the odd question that I occasionally get asked that I have no answer for. Occasionally when the moon is right, I consider teaching a Wicca 101. . .

Ten tips for Lodge Masters and Coven Heads

Tip one: The occult and the esoteric traditions are not a zero sum game.

For instance, here in Denver, we have three organizations that perform open public Wiccan rituals. And speaking for Hearthstone, I think that we are hard-pressed to keep up with the demand. At every event, I meet someone who is attending for the very first time. There are also people who attend events from all three organizations. At one time, there were six Wicca 101s going on--and all of the classes were attended by as many people as could comfortably sit together in the room. If anything, the esoteric traditions don't have enough teachers on the ground--there is no need for trademarks, lawsuits and flame wars to maintain a monopoly and a headlock on the world of the occult.

Tip two: It is better to do an extended study inside a single tradition than to dabble in a dozen traditions.

There is a saying among Inner Order members of Golden Dawn that undergoing a dozen Neophyte rituals does not make you an Adept. You can't become an expert in something if you insist on remaining a tourist.

Tip three: Basic skills of mediation, concentration, raising and controlling magical energies transfer to other traditions--symbols not so much.

Confession time--most of my skill in mediation, concentration, and the use of magical energies comes from work I did with a Norse Heathenry group. But I would never dream of reading the symbols of Golden Dawn though that lens. 

Tip four: Initiatory systems act like Operating Systems with initiations being upgrades to one's circuits and being plugged into the energy bank of working groups properly (learn about egregors and their effects!). Rituals, spells, and meditations are like Computer Programs--without the proper operating system (aka initiations into the tradition of their origin), you are going to get some strange results, and they are not going to work as well as if you were an initiate.

No, you can't be an expert in an initiatory system if you have never undergone the initiation rituals of that system. Nor can you (ethically) be a powerful user of the system. If your students end up with more ritual experience than you have, they will discover things that you can't even see.

Tip five: After another tradition "borrows" your tradition's toys, it does not function in the exact same way as your original version does. Just because you know everything to know about your version, it does not mean that you know everything about how another tradition views and uses their mutated version.

For instance, there are actually three forms of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram: the Golden Dawn version, the Thelemic version, and the traditional ceremonial Wiccan version. On the outside, they look the same--energetically and symbolically, they are different--and each is correct for how it is used in their own tradition.

Tip six: Research the ancestors and siblings of your tradition--sometimes they will have an answer that you are looking for.

 For instance, Golden Dawn is an ancestor of Wicca--occasionally, you have to go back to the source to fully understand what you have borrowed. 

Tip seven: Layers! Layers! Layers! Learn to think in layers--every ritual has both an Inner and Outer form. The best known example of layers in the rituals of a tradition are the Z-documents of Golden Dawn.

For instance, consider the various layers of a Tarot card.

The writer's influence
The artist's influence
The image of the card (different images=different meanings)
Astrological (3-7-12-4-16-36)
Tree of Life and Four Worlds
Number and suit
Magical image/godform
Temple position/initiation instruction and description
Associated Divine Names
Mystic title (Lord/Lady of xyz)
Position in reading spread

And these are the layers that I can think of off the top of my head. Each and every layer impacts and colors the card's meaning. The rituals and exercises of an esoteric tradition are just as complicated.

Tip eight: Occult customers act like regular customers--they are not expectations that ignore the best business, management, and marketing practices. 

Customers are price sensitive, location sensitive, and public relations sensitive.  Sure you can print your calling card books though a POD (print-on-demand service) that no one has ever heard of, or shops at on a regular basis, on tablets of stone, priced at a cost that requires several hours (or even days) worth of work to pay while also insisting that all initiations are performed out of a hut in the middle of Tim-Buck-Two by someone who seems  more dodgy than a person who used to write dubious erotica and dated a stripper, but some customers (probably a lot of them) are just going to search for another way to fulfill their occult interests. Why make it harder to attract readers and members than you have to?

Tip nine: Remember you are going to become more and more like the five people you hang out the most with.

Select your friends wisely--their habits are catchy. If you surround yourself with egoistical assholes, odds are that you will become a raging ego-holic yourself. The traditional esoteric traditions used filtering processes for a good reason--they help a group survive and thrive.

Tip ten: Share the workload--everyone should have a specialty and contribute to the lore of system once they know what the heck they are talking about. Burnout and monopolies are not fraternal goals.

And that brings us back to tip one--quit treating the traditions as a zero sum game.

For instance, Hearthstone Community Church survives because we have spread the workload around.

Bonus tip: Study things outside of the occult.

For instance, modern brain research has opened up our understanding of how people think and act. Do you realize that you make decisions, and then rationalize them? You may think that you are a deep thinker, using logic and reason to make your decisions--but looking inside your active brain, scientists know better.*

[*True story--I quit being a Tarot reader for awhile out of frustration over the fact that I could tell a person what the Tarot cards said, and then they would do whatever they had already decided to do--I felt like I was just there to give them "permission." Understanding how the human brain works made me re-evaluate my approach to handling the situation--now, I understand that my job as a reader is not to help them make the best decision, but rather to better implement the decision they already made. Of course, sometimes that does involve understanding other things--like what good management practices are, and how marketing actually works.

The real reason that I am a teacher

The real reason that I am a teacher and leader in the occult arts is the simple fact that I can't help myself. For example, while I was working on the first outline for this blog post, an outline that ended up being more suited to the book I am working on, my wife Khari came into the studio and did a reading with her deck of Dream Cards.

Dream Cards--art by Luigi Di Giammarino.

While I am watching her, there is a steady dialogue in my head about how it really should be done. For instance, I like spreads that require a tablecloth to learn. When she couldn't understand what the cards were saying, I explained a little about how positions in reading spreads work and how I would have approached the reading. Then I pointed out that I suspected that the cards were about 1--our future neighbors (our current ones just put their house up for sale); 2--our side-hustles and Occult Garden Parties (all the joys of owning an art gallery and occult shop without the daily paperwork);  3--my work; and 4--her job hunt (she is seeking a full ESL position next school year). I couldn't help, but teach. And if you are inclined to teaching, because you get a small thrill whenever someone understands the occult better thanks to one of your explanations, no amount of crossing the street can save you from the hot seat.

Thanks for reading.  

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  1. I would love to see a series of articles on the LRP in the three traditions and all the attendant layers of each.


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