Of Maps and Territories

Of Maps and Territories

Talk about putting carts before horses: I gather many people pursue the study of things like occultism, mysticism, transpersonal psychology and the like because, however they might have been exposed to such literature initially, they’re intrigued by the potential realities under discussion and, in the case of occultism particularly, happen to have found an area of study that can (and should) become an area of practice as well–with ostensible tools for engaging in real work.

Others enter into the study to make sense of experiences they’ve already had or begun to have regularly, and have altogether different motivations and (this is often overlooked) different needs. I fall into this separate camp.

I personally believe that a great deal of confusion arises in various forums of esoteric discourse from the possibility that this difference and its consequences are overlooked.

Nonetheless, the first approach described above will often lead some students to make a primary objective of re-creating some of the experiences or inner processes about which they have read so many times. They have maps with which to work and thus do they set off on the journey. This is another aspect of how occult practice involves elements of the scientific: We are repeating the experiments of others as a means of determining the extent of their applicability on a larger human scale as opposed to being purely unique, individual experiences. Occultists operate on the theory that there are common structures to the human psyche or soul and that many Initiatory experiences are common enough to be considered nigh universal. This, in turn, helps to validate the very practices themselves, or perhaps more accurately, their aims.

But alas, it’s never that simple, because these inner experiences appear to be of a somewhat fickle nature; if I read about an operation and put on all the right robes, burn the right incense, make all the right gestures, etc., I might be establishing some key elements that will help to ensure the desired experience or result–but it doesn’t quite work that way. Many of us will simply never reach a given spiritual, mystical or Initiatory experience through certain specific means because, say, the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage just doesn’t speak to our souls; nevermind that it’s a particularly demanding operation and it might be hard to actually replicate the right conditions even from the most practical standpoint. One might get that right, and further, repeat the operation more than once, and never reach that desired goal.

One might need to find alternative means.

Comparing our paths to the paths of others is helpful only to a certain limited extent. We can gain insights and valuable benchmarks thereby, but we must always remember how different we might be from anyone else we look to as examples.

In this sense, I find that I’m glad I haven’t been a fierce and dedicated student of Crowley any more than of Blavatsky, of Éliphas Lévi or C.G. Jung any more than Anton LaVey. I see common threads among them all and I see connections to my own apparent path, but I feel that if I had slavishly yoked myself to any one movement, such as Theosophy, Satanism, or Thelema, I would have put myself at a severe disadvantage and likely would have gotten stuck in repeated attempts to make the techniques of others work for me.

Mind your maps–especially your maps of the mind. Maps will help you chart your horizons, but in order to traverse them, what you really need is a compass.

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