The other day I was browsing some occult blogs and came across an article by Nick Farrell which suggested that one must have a teacher from an existing occult school in order to do more than “play at magic”.  This is a fairly common belief among the members of magical lodges and similar occult orders.

Is it actually true, though?  I really haven’t found it to be the case.  I’ve never taken any form of formal instruction in magic or occult subjects.  The closest I’ve come is attending a few workshops, of not more than a few hours each, over the years.  Yet I have had no trouble producing results with my magic.  Results sufficiently clear and convincing to persuade a long-time skeptic.

On one level the discussion itself amuses me.  Eclecticism, as opposed to following a formal system of magic as compiled by a magical order, is supposed to be a major sign of playing at magic.  Yet occult groups which employ a modified Jewish Kaballa, the imagery of Egyptian deities, and Sanscrit tattvas among other culturally disparate elements to formulate their tradition are seen as completely legitimate?

But on another, I see it as an attempt to de-legitimize those who don’t follow a set list of traditions that the author approves of.  This is particularly obvious when reading the author’s opinion of those who employ the “spirit pot” technique employed by several Afro-Caribbean traditions for working with Goetic demons.  In Farrell’s words “Think about it, how can you stuff the concept of lust into a peanut butter jar?”  Yet, removing the arrogant hyperbole regarding the technique, that is exactly what Solomon was supposed to have done with the 72 demons of the Ars Goetia and their legions – imprisoned them in a vessel of brass and bound them to do his bidding.

But can you learn on your own?

Three weeks ago my car broke down on a trip to visit friends in another state.  I made it back home, but the only vehicle available to me was a manual transmission.  While I had been driving for 13 years, I had never driven a stick shift.  And there wasn’t anyone available to teach me.  In order to meet professional obligations in my life, I had to drive that vehicle.  I had no choice.  So I got online and found some websites giving an explanation of how to drive stick.  Then I got in the car, and I drove.

It was rough at first.  I stalled at traffic lights and stop signs several times.  Once, I ground the gears a little by not quite fully depressing the clutch before trying to shift.  But with a little practice, I got the hang of shifting gears and working the gas and the clutch at the same time.  By the end of the week, when I finally drove with someone who could give me practical advice on driving stick, the only things he suggested were that I might want to stay in a lower gear a little longer than I had been, and that I should give it a bit more gas when moving forward from a stop.

If one can learn to drive stick effectively from spending ten minutes reading a couple of web pages, I think it’s quite possible to learn magic from the plethora of books and web pages available on that subject.  All it really takes is the will to do so.  And the proof is simply doing it.

Because, when it comes right down to it, there’s one thing and one thing only that marks the difference between someone “playing at magic” and someone working magic:  results.  If your techniques are producing real results in the world around you, you’re working magic.  If not, you’re playing at it.  That’s as true of those with teachers and involved in established magical traditions as it is of those working outside of them and teaching themselves.

So… which one are you?


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Nick Farrell

So either your rituals work 100 per cent or your playing at magic? Sheesh and I thought I was being an arsehole for suggesting that people needed to train under someone rather than reading a few books. If you had said "doing magic" I might have agreed with you… It does not matter if you are a shit magician to start with, a ritual every day for a few years will iron out a lot of kinks. But sometimes rituals do not work for many different reasons no matter how competent you might be. The secret is in the doing and most people who do not study, read books or work within a group structure don't. Next time you need an operation… would you chose a surgeon who had trained at a university and then learnt under another expert… or someone who picked it up from a book? No matter what results they claimed to have you would always trust the person who had some degree of training. Why is occultism any different? A good Golden Dawn group takes five years to create someone who is trained to "adept level" they should know more than someone who has worked with Don Kraigs book for the same length of time and have much more magical experience. Sure it is not always possible and some groups are just crap, but that does not mean that system is worse than however you trained yourself. BTW part of the problem with the spirit pot is EXACTLY my point. One of the things that gets knocked out of you in training is this literal thing. Solomon putting 72 spirits into one jar was a token of his power over them… not locking them up. If you locked up satan (for example) would that mean there was no evil in the world? Putting a spirit in a pot is symbolic of your control over them not a literal pot with a spirit in them.


Sigh….Training in a university requires book learning. However Learning on the job is not safe either so what about both? Still keeping in the context You can learn ritual from a book since I do not think any one is born with the knowledge. Training is not always optimal either. The truth of the matter is that no matter how you learn you accomplish very little without application. Um…practice is a good place but good practice is even better. If you learn from good books the knowledge is good on the other hand? Training gives you a set. So do you stay within that set or expand you knowledge base? Nothing is written in stone where magic or ritual or anything occult elated. What it comes down to is a matter of opinion and everyone is entitled. Surgeons are doctors first the specialty of surgeon is a skill set. Fact is everyone has to start somewhere or there would be no one to carry on at all. I know a fellow whom without training explored all that he could fine and he applied it in trial and error and studied some more. he eventually got the training in more than one skill set and still working on yet another. He has a thirst and he has the drive to find where he needs to be. I have a library I have had a little training as in one or two traditions but I still refer to my library when I need reference. Not everyone can afford training gods it can be pricey. So do you simply quit?


I love this 🙂 This is the perfect type of conversation everyone should have. I personally have run across a few pretenders it is sometimes really obvious but to a person who is new it can be a mind field. That does not mean everyone is. I was asked if I was a practicing witch…(arched eyebrow) A friend whom was with me stated that I had no need to practice. That is not altogether truth in that we all need to practice and often. He was schooling a newbie on the differences in the pentagrams and he decided that if he was not this he must be that. I told him that he should do a bit more research before that kind of decision. He left what he was reaching for and walked away. I do not make a habit of doing such things but I was pulled to do so in that instance. Is the question what you know or what you do with it?