Controversy broke out recently in the magical blog-o-sphere, leading to a lot of vitriol and a resurgence on the topic of spiritual abuse within paganism and occultism. It started when Nick Farrell made a post containing 10 tips for young occultists.
In response, Michael Seblux made a counter post arguing that the tips Mr. Farrell posted can easily foster a culture of abuse, which frankly has been seen too much in the occult and pagan communities. Additionally, fellow Gentleman for Jupiter Logan Hillier at BLOGOS posted his own rebuttal.
Aside from that, the controversy has mostly happened on Facebook, including one Mitzy Gaynor showering Mr. Seblux with threats and vitriol on Nick's behalf. Upon notifying Mr. Farrell of this, he shrugged it off and justified her actions, which to me is wrong, but I'm generally “unimportant” enough to not merit the...loving attention of such people.
Honestly, the whole thing is, in my opinion, a cock-up, to use an English turn of phrase. While on one hand, Mr. Farrell has some good points about modern students of the occult (and, indeed, many students in general), on the other hand the danger of fostering abuse culture is very, very real. It is not something I have often encountered, as I have always kept to the fringe and maintained my distance from Pagan and occult groups. But with that said, I have indeed personally felt the sting of it. But the conversation broke down, as it normally does in online occulture, into name-calling (as per Mitzy especially) and a plethora of rudeness and attacks.
So all of this got me thinking about advice to younger or new occultists. I see things of value in Mr. Farrell's tips, as well as Mr. Hillier's and others who were in the conversation. With all of that in mind, I decided to draft my own tips for young/new occultists in response to Mr. Farrell's.
OCEAN DELANO'S TIPS FOR YOUNG OCCULTISTS LEARNING
#1 - Understand that you already have some knowledge and experience, but that there is more to learn, and that you will probably always be learning more. The world of the occult and the magical is vast and has a deep well of history behind it. I would wager that one cannot learn ALL of it in one lifetime. Read avidly, study the material, both old and new. Hell, study things that technically fall outside of occultism because it will only add to your depth of knowledge and help you make new connections to things you never thought you would.
#2 - Process what you learn and be willing to talk about it in open, respectful dialog. Mr. Farrell phrased this as “Stop Talking”, which I disagree with. Yes, know when to stop talking and let those more experienced and knowledgeable take the floor, but also engage with them. Have a discussion with them if you can, and LEARN from them.
#3 - Listen and take in what is being said by others with more knowledge and experience than you. I actually like Mr. Farrell's point here and his reasoning. Take in what you are hearing, even if you don't understand it yet. Because “yet” is the operative word here. You WILL comprehend it eventually, trust that.
#4 - Engage with your teachers. Mr. Farrell cautioned to “not use questions to assert your own ignorance”, and I agree with that, but it should go beyond that. Lately, I have been getting more and more into respectful dialog, and that is what you should practice with your teachers. And a good, worthwhile teacher will welcome that. Ask them questions about their teachings, bring up points and conclusions this leads you to, accept insightful feedback from them. Through this, both you and your teachers gain more in-depth knowledge.
#5 - You are one of many; take advantage of that with humility to help you learn! In his post, Mr. Farrell phrased this as “Realize that you are unimportant”, which myself and others had a massive problem with. Yes, your role in an organization or under a specific teacher may be small initially, but that can be a good thing. This is where you learn and grow. Network with your peers, form student-led study groups (as per Mr. Hillier), and embrace being part of a larger whole. If you ever get called to teach, it will happen probably whether you like it or not. But until you have the knowledge and experience for that, do your work in this setting and see where it leads you.
#6 - Your teacher, no matter how enlightened or ascended, is still human. Your spiritual teacher is a human being with their own struggles, problems, and failings. Some students forget this, or they shrug it off claiming a higher standard. Some of them are crotchety as hell, some act like out-and-out cunts as Mr. Farrell said. There have been times I've taken issue or disagreement with things my own teachers have said or done. I recognize that they are people too, though. With that said, if their behavior is abusive, that must not be tolerated.
#7 - Your teacher will take notice of both what you say and what you do. They generally have an idea of which of their students are doing the work they teach, and doing it well. It comes through in your approach to things and how you express yourself. A lot of people today tend to place more emphasis on actions than words...and rightly so to a degree...but I think it needs to be balanced between the two.
#8 - Be mindful of what you project onto the teacher. Again, they're human, just like you. There are cases where a student projects a kind of parental figure onto the teacher, and they should avoid doing this. It's not fair to the student or the teacher because it takes away from simply being who they are and places things on that relationship that should not be there. If there is a problem you have with your teacher, check to see if it's something that you do as well, or if you have an expectation of them based on something missing in your own life. This can give insight to help you grow.
#9 - Don't hesitate to help out where you can. My teacher, Jason Miller, has somehow formed a really cool group in Strategic Sorcery. All the time, I see other students contribute things that are absolutely great! On Jason's recent Arcane Audio talks, another student took the recorded audio and polished it up for Jason to send out after the call. When a mishap occurred with the latest talk, resulting in the call not being recorded, another student had Jason covered all participants still got the polished-up version. Assisting the course and teachings like this can help boost one's experience and in turn helps everyone, including you.
#10 - If you have concerns, raise them with the teacher one-on-one as a first resort. Mr. Farrell expressed this as “never challenge the leader” and has been a major sticking point of his post. In my opinion, as Mr. Farrell expressed it, this was one of the absolute worst points in his post. For further explanation here is the subtext of his point:
“If a group is bad, having you mouth off about it is not going to help. If you are unable to quietly take your concerns to the leader then you have to leave. Even if you take your concerns to the leader, be aware that you might be announcing your own exit. The problem is that when you are young you are going to get hurt and diced by magical group politics by people who are a hell of a lot more clued up than you. Remember that in games like that, you are just there to make up the numbers or be cannon fodder of more mature and politically clever people – it always ends badly.”
First, if you cannot take your complaint to the leader without getting ripped apart, then that is a group or teacher you should not be involved with. Run, run as fast as you can and divorce yourself from that abusive group. Second, those “people who are a hell of a lot more clued up than you” are scum and you should do the same thing: Cut them out of your life. I find disgust in Mr. Farrell's assertions, and if nothing else, his point #10 is one of the strongest cases Mr. Seblux used in the accusations of fostering spiritual abuse. What Mr. Farrell described in point #10 is a cesspool of terrible people who any sane student should NEVER involve themselves with. That is simply needless politics for its own sake, and as Mr. Farrell said, it never ends well.
That said, if it's not all THAT bad, take your concerns to the teacher first. If they are not willing to listen to you, then it is time to consider whether or not this teacher is one you should be studying under.
ENDING COMMENTARY ON MR. FARRELL'S TIPS
Overall, he has some good points, and it must be kept in mind where he is coming from about it. In modern day, all fields are seeing an influx of students who are impatient, lazy, and who want a magic wand waved to suddenly make them “get there” without doing the subsequent work.
But where I have a problem with Farrell's post is in placing most of the responsibility for dealing with abusive teachers or organizations on the student. That, along with the message his post puts forth of "You're a puny little nothing and you don't matter", is really what I think raised the red flag for folks like Seblux and Hillier.
In all of this, I can distill one really crucial message: The teacher is there to effectively teach, and the student is there to do his or her work and make the effort to learn. There is responsibility on both ends that should not be ignored by either.