A Little Discourse on Occult Method

Every once in a while, I think about what I would say to someone who was looking into occultism, into the mysteries, how I would advise them. I think about what sort of practices I might suggest to them, what books they might find useful. Every once in a while, I have indulged in trying to lay that out a bit more completely.

It is always unsatisfying. Conversations that approach that? Also, unsatisfying. I have kept an eye on that dissatisfaction, because I have been pretty sure that it was trying to tell me something important. Even as my spiritual practice found legs and scope, the sense of dissatisfaction around that topic remained, telling me something I couldn’t make quite make out.

That is starting to change. I’m starting to make out some words. At its most basic, occult work is the purification of an individual in their individuality. An occult understanding of individuality places the basis of that outside of our conscious awareness, but posits that in our conscious actions we can see that individuality attempting to manifest itself. What must be done is to identify how this has been successful and how it has failed, and proceed to realize that destiny more successfully.

(‘Successful’ doesn’t mean ‘making things easier.’ Sometimes the individuality that emerges is precisely aligned with kinds of hardship, but that the undergoing of hardship acquires a degree of purity which is superior to simple pleasure.)

That makes any kind of abstract advice problematic from the start. The abstraction of advice must be directed to the specificity of the person undertaking the work. The more fully the advice can address and illuminate the specific situation, the better it will be able to assist the person in their occult work.

Divination can help with this, but even here there are limits to that, resting in part in the abstractions of the system through which the message is transmitted. In this, I take it to be one of peculiar virtues of oracles like Diloggun and Ifa that they express themselves through consecrated individuals, using the oracle itself as a means of transmitting spiritual force into the situation. That force can often work at the level of our true individuality, bypassing some of the more conceptual levels of communication.

The spiritual teacher can help with this for similar reasons, because they are both a source of advice and force. Still, there are limits, depending upon the qualities of the teacher and their ability to respond to the specific needs of the student. Sympathy is key, and the greater and more numerous the sympathies, the more the teacher will be able to help a student.

We don’t have to romanticize the spiritual teacher overmuch. They don’t have to be the guru on the mountain. They could just as easily be someone who is mostly a peer, but able to provide certain key insights at the right moment. Identifying the nature of the teacher can be helpful, though, because it can be deeply toxic to treat a peer as a mentor or a mentor as a peer.

More basically: occult work is intimately entwined with self-knowledge so long as we keep in mind that the self we are seeking to know is more encompassing than the self with which we identify. To do that work for ourselves, we have to commit ourselves to understanding ourselves and our situation, and to do that work for others entails extending that effort to them and their lives. It means taking a spiritual interest in them and using that interest to motivate our interactions with them.

Doing that well requires a fair amount of respect for them and it requires us to pay attention to them as singular beings, with a specific sort of destiny and fate that they are operating under. That ain’t easy; it opens onto the difficulties inherent in community generally and raises challenges specific to occult communities. That challenge begins with maintaining the necessary focus on individuality at the heart of occult work alongside the demands of common practice that orchestrates communal interaction.

There are many good ways to respond to that challenge, all of which rest in addressing the individuality of the community. There are also a lot of really bad ways to respond to that challenge, many (not all) of which begin by appealing to an abstract conception of what a community ought to be. For example, the size of a community places demands on it. A community of two or three is quite different than that of thirty or a thousand, and the best way to serve occult needs varies accordingly, but those differences in size don’t validate or invalidate a community from the get-go. A large occult community is more prone to losing touch with the individuality of its members, but a small community often has shallow resources of knowledge and practice for addressing diverse individual needs.

I don’t want to get too far down this road, though, because talking too much about community fosters a good deal of abstraction that isn’t that helpful. Part of the point is that communities are sorts of individuals, too, and addressing their needs are much like addressing the needs of individuals. You have to get to know them in their specificity. Which is why good occult work isn’t book work, though it often includes books of all stripes.

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