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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