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Article ID: 10636

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Section: words

Age Group: Adult

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Self-Teaching: The Hardest Path To Take

Author: Taylor Ellwood [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: March 26th. 2006
Times Viewed: 6,746

Iíve never pursued formal training in magic, or how to put together a ritual, or for that matter how to be a priest or priestess. I donít even consider magic practice limited to a category such as priest or priestess, preferring to refer to myself as an experimental magician. My path of study, as it were, has been based on some reading of theory, but even more so on practical applications of magic and experiential training.

Where I really learned about magic was through my own experiences. I could read books, but reading alone wasnít enough. Only through experience and making mistakes and learning did I really experience what magic was about while teaching myself how to put a ritual together or shield myself or learn any of the other myriad skills that I associate with my practice of magic. To really get that experience, I needed to motivate and discipline myself. I needed to have a desire to learn magic, but also a willingness to keep myself on track instead of letting something else distract me. In essence, I had to find my own way in magical practice and that has motivated my pursuit of magic and what it offers to me.

Iíve never found formal organizations or structures to be essential to learning magic. What is essential is self-motivation and discipline. Lacking either, a person will never advance in magic. The problem that formal structures bring, besides elitism, is a dogmatism that doesnít encourage innovative thinking or solutions. Iíve seen this often enough in reactions to the idea of using pop culture in magic. The argument is that the traditional ways donít incorporate contemporary culture into magic and itís blasphemy to do so.

The few times I had a mentor or teacher, I inevitably found that the person would attempt to discourage creativity, telling me or someone else that what we were doing wasnít authentic magic. By deviating from what other people had done so long ago we were no longing working with magic. Of course this attitude is fostered by the many esoteric orders that insist that the writings and rituals of long-dead magicians should be followed to the letter. Needless to say such an attitude only discourages the growth and evolution of magic.

As such I always found that teaching myself was a much better path than going through some organized school of magic or even finding a mentor. It involved determining my studies and practices on my own, and I certainly made a lot of mistakes, but I also learned a lot more than just creating a ritual space. I learned how to integrate contemporary culture into magic, utilize science as another tool for my practice and learn other skills that, while not traditional, have certainly influenced my practice of magic.

The two most valuable skills I learned were to question everything, and be willing to think and practice magic outside of any official, recognized way of doing it. Questioning everything involves skepticism and critical thinking skills. Just because someone claims to be an authority on magic or ritual or a clergy member doesnít mean their words shouldnít be questioned. If anything their words and actions should be questioned closely. The same applies to any books that are read, but it can also apply to your own experiences and experiments. Nothing is sacred or true and any and everything is permitted.

The second skill is being willing to practice magic outside the paradigm of the traditional box. Itís not that traditions donít work for people, but there is also value in trying something new and seeing what it does for you. Also trying something new gives you insights on the skills you have and ways you can apply them to situations beyond traditional settings. This is important because it shows you how to become flexible, so you can flow with situations that occur and find answers that address those situations. More importantly learning to be creative and stay creative will keep you from becoming too set in your ways or worse, taking yourself too seriously. Flexibility, in magic, is of key importance. Despite what some people say about reinventing the wheel when it comes to being creative, remember that personalizing how you do magic is much more important than sticking with what other people say is right. Itís your journey and you are responsible for it.

All the same it is important to ground yourself in the traditions of the past. Those traditions offer training and present you with an understanding of the various cultural heritages you may be drawing on. My own practice of magic has had me explore ceremonial magic, Quabala, chaos magic, and a score of other traditions and beliefs. All of that exploration has trained me to know how magic works and how to get the most out of both the old traditions and new approaches I might come up with. Self-teaching, however, has gotten me to expose myself to more than just one or two traditions. In fact, it pretty much insured a need I felt to become as well rounded as possible in my pursuit of magic. So my self-teaching had and has me continuing to learn about as many different traditions as possible and to continue training myself in the practices involved so I can hone my skills. Learning and training never stops with self-teaching because itís not about receiving a degree so much as it is about training yourself in fully exploring your potential.

In the end what is most important is what you learn from your journey. The true training that occurs is the training you take from your experiences. It involves learning from your mistakes, as well as learning to interact with other people effectively. It involves learning about past traditions, but staying open-minded and trying something new, no matter how far fetched it may sound. It involves being skeptical, but also being open to believing. Finally it involves creating a relationship with the magic and with yourself, one which is dedicated to manifesting practical results to needs, but also continuing your spiritual journey. How you choose your path, whether you learn from a formal school or just teach yourself, is entirely up to you and your responsibility to follow through.


Taylor Ellwood

Location: Portland, Oregon


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