I have always found it useful to draw a line between occult and medicinal/chemical/biological/etc. properties of a material. I want to chew that over a bit here in a loosely practical fashion and highlight the importance of the person to the occult operations. I don’t think this will be saying anything groundbreaking, but I want to walk through the idea a little methodically.
Caveats: Yes, you should learn about those things as they will influence how you handle (or if you handle) those materials in occult operations. Yes, those details also provide us with one point of ingress into a material’s occult properties. Yes, you can also engage in occult work that winds between the empirical and occult operations. Yes, too, an occult operation can point us toward the lineaments of an empirical-material operation which we could study and develop in scientific/craftspersonly fashion.
That said, occult operations occur with materials that have little to do with their visible, material interactions with each other. Two leaves (or a leaf and a stone, or a leaf and bone, or two bones and water, etc.) might have no significant material interactions, but form the basis for an occult operation. This is basic stuff, right?
However, if we stay with that account, all we have is an occult empiricism, an empiricism whose properties aren’t sensible to us. While there are likely cases of this, what distinguishes occult work from material-empirical work is the centrality of the operator. The occult work functions because there is a person that catalyzes the elements.
The interaction between the material’s objective spiritual existence and our own is where the deeper occult work takes place. One of the dangers of taking an overly empirical approach to all this is that you can lose touch with the role played by personal disposition in the occult process. While most operations will work for most people who work at them, the nature of those operations will be shaped by the disposition of the operator.
The disposition of the operator shapes the realization of the operation and the efficacy of the materials. For some people, the arrangement of lines on a page are exceptionally potent materials, while for others their work will favor packets infused with specific herbs and feathers with which they have an affinity. What aids one person might also hinder another.
The same goes for operations themselves. Those of a Saturnian bent may have a facility for bindings and curses, but discover that they often entangle themselves in those workings, creating problems for themselves that are difficult to resolve, building up reservoirs of ill-wishing which hinder their own progress.
This strikes me as one of the dangers of an overly curricular approach to the occult. Without a solid grounding in concrete self-understanding, occult exploration can leave an individual in a morass of techniques both ill-suited and well-suited, effectively neutralizing their progress.
So, what are some of the techniques for assessing disposition? These days we have a battery of psychological methods of getting at some of this, which can be helpful. That said, the old classics come in handy. Astrological charts and geomantic life readings, for example, all serve to illuminate the darker recesses of occult disposition, especially if we look to the charts as maps of affinity and antipathy around which we can build up specific elements.
Spiritual alliances of all sorts help here, especially in connection to those spirits attached to the realization of our destiny. Holy guardian angels, personal daemons, and other ancillary spirits ‘see’ our disposition in ways we do not and can provide direct and clear feedback about how actions we are taking benefit or hinder it.
There is also plain old discernment, the cultivation of reflective self-awareness through which we can attend to the small and large shifts in psyche and physis that indicate we are in sympathy or antipathy with this or that thing. Discernment isn’t something you have or don’t have, but is something you work to develop and expand by consideration of your situation and what brought you to it. The consideration of our mistakes and our successes, as well as context from a habit of such considerations, goes a long way to maximizing our efforts.
It isn’t always about supporting our sympathies and avoiding our antipathies, either. Sometimes a little of what goes against our disposition provides us with the disruption we need to break free of sympathies with which we have become too attached.