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Philosophical and Practical Objections to Hierarchical Structures in Magick

   [from ]
Subject: Philosophical and Practical Objections to Hierarchical Structures in Magick
  by Ray Sherwin
   My experience for writing these (necessarily generalised) notes
   comes from two quite different areas. First, from the point of
   view of a teacher who has taught two quite distinct types of
   adult - in one case adults whose formal education was almost nil
   - in the other case adults studying for their second university
   degree or a professional qualification over and above their first
   degree. Second, from the point of view of a magician who has had
   the privilege of working with an unnamed group of extremely
   committed magicians over the past several years. (The reason for
   this introductory note will become clear as the line of thought
   The recent history of magick is dominated by three principles:
    1. an emphasis on technique
    2. an avoidance of dogma
    3. an avoidance of over-structuralisation.
   The most evident effects of these principles being put into
   practice were that a) individuals began to experiment on the
   basis of their own ideas and enthusiasms rather than pursuing
   training structures set up for them by "experts". Unconfined by
   structure, people were at liberty to choose their own methods,
   aims and objectives and many new ideas came to light through the
   occult press which might not otherwise have received any
   attention at all. b) The emphasis on technique brought magical
   power to the level of the ordinary magician, thereby shifting
   "political" power away from the crusty old magi who'd not even
   attempted to change anything throughout the previous fifty years.
   c) The avoidance of dogma meant that people examined many ideas
   which they had previously held to be true and found that much of
   the body of existing magical doctrine could be discarded with
   benefit. Some people were ruthless in their analyses of their own
   world-views and enthusiastically creative in the synthesis of new
   ones. A world view tailored to one's own proclivities and
   intentions is obviously more supportive of the possibility of the
   performance of successful magick than a world view into which one
   is obliged to make oneself fit.
   Hierarchical structures lead from the top unless they are very
   carefully constructed, and even if they are set up with all the
   best intentions they are eminently corruptible and inevitably
   corrupted for reasons of personal power or gain. The downfall of
   the Roman republic is an example of this on a large scale -
   imperialism, introduced for the best possible reasons very
   quickly allowed a situation to develop where madmen like Caligula
   and Nero could rule almost all the known world at their whim
   simply through accident of birth.
   Hierarchies are open to abuse, and anyone who doubts this should
   study the history of hierarchical orders from the Rosicrucians
   onwards. Even in the event of a hierarchy being successful, once
   the succession of leadership has been interrupted the structure
   shatters, as exemplified by the OTO after the death of Karl
   One of the problems which confronts twentieth century magick is
   that of isolation. Magicians, especially newcomers, find it
   difficult to make contact with other people in their own area and
   as a consequence of this they are attracted to magical orders
   often as a last resort. This situation is preferred by
   hierarchical orders. The last thing they want is for people to
   talk to each other. Communication between individual magicians
   would not only mean fewer candidates - it would also mean that
   their methods might be discussed and their glamours penetrated.
   A genuine network of magicians the structure and organisation of
   which had no axes to grind would be very unpopular with some of
   the organised magical institutions. It would threaten their very
   existence if they had nothing to offer over and above what is now
   common information.
   A distinction must be made here between magical orders and
   magical groups. Members of magical orders tread, for the most
   part, a lonely path (and provided they are satisfied with the
   progress they are making it is a path I would not discourage them
   from pursuing). Members of magical groups, however, are in a much
   more immediate magical environment. Groups can be more easily run
   on the basis of consensus than can orders, and there is a benefit
   of consensus rule which far outweighs the avoidance of
   leadership. In a working group where all members are considered
   equal, in depth discussion of any proposals, especially planning
   for rites which can be philosophically as well as practically
   complex, is valuable for learning, reinforcing that which has
   already been learned and for permitting members of the group to
   understand each other in a way that few people ever manage to do.
   This mutual understanding creates a bond which is invaluable when
   the group performs ritual.
   Working on a consensus basis means that individuals do not
   compete with one another as they are more likely to do within a
   hierarchical structure, often scrambling over one another for
   titles or privileges, rank taking precedence over magick and over
   the other people concerned. The issuing of charters, in the worst
   of cases, is simply an extension of this - power seekers in
   pursuit of groups rather than individuals.
   At the beginning of these notes I referred to the two types of
   adults I have taught.
   The first type, largely uneducated, needed to be led and needed a
   formal teaching structure in order to develop. This involved me,
   as a teacher, deciding for a number of other adults what their
   best course of action was likely to be and then "enforcing" that
   programme. For newcomers to magick who have not yet put
   themselves through the rigours of training this is probably the
   most efficient route to magical proficiency. The second type of
   student to which I referred, already well educated and
   self-motivated, did not need such a programme. They were
   sufficiently aware of what they needed to learn and how they
   wanted to learn it to use me, their teacher, simply to provide
   factual information or and exemplary structures to help them
   understand the newly acquired information. This is a much more
   lively and fertile way of learning provided that basic skills
   have been well learned beforehand, and is the method most Chaos
   magicians should naturally choose. At risk if digressing it is
   worth making the point yet again that Chaos magick is not for the
   inexpert or an easy way for the slovenly. Its disciplines are as
   difficult and exacting as those practised in any other form of
   magick, and those disciplines are proemial to the performance of
   Chaos magick in its widest, eclectic sense. (End of digression)
   Personally I would find it impossible to work with someone I did
   not consider to be my equal. In a magical rite all the elements
   need to be perfect - the invokations, the weapons and runes etc.
   - but this applies more than anything else to the other
   participants. If you cannot rely on them to work at least to your
   standard they- are more an interference (a hindrance) than a
   help, and they might as well not be there at all.
   Of its nature a magical group is much more able to choose new
   members positively, rather than by weeding out, which is the way
   most orders must do it, being restricted, for the most part, to
   correspondence rather than acquaintance.
   On the face of it, my approach is an elitist one. Although I
   cannot deny this, it is not elitist for any hierarchical reason,
   and it is not elitist in favour of any particular magical policy.
   It is pragmatic because such a group does not advertise for
   members and turn down the applicants it doesn't like. In not
   accepting applications at all the group can bide its time and
   approach the people it thinks might be useful to the group and to
   whom the group might offer benefits, thereby reaping the benefits
   of positive discrimination. Only in this way can a group be set
   up in which all magical work is performed on the basis of
   equality and in which all the members enjoy each other's company.
   These points are, in practice, pre-requisites to successful group
   There is a number of other areas where hierarchies suffer
   disadvantages not suffered by consensus groups. Of these the most
   notable is that overall policy. In choosing its members as it
   does, a consensus group can ensure that only people who share the
   group's political/social ideas become members of it. To
   illustrate this: I would find it impossible to work within a
   group which had right-wing thinkers as members - I would also
   find it very difficult to work with a group whose members did not
   think, as I do, that the future of the planet is the most
   important problem to be addressed. This attitude does not
   preclude the formation of right wing groups so long as all the
   members are right wing; nor does it preclude the formation of
   groups who couldn't give a damn if the planet is strangled by
   human greed. What is important is that overall policy (whether
   that be stated or implicit) should be unanimously shared by the
   people who are working together. Hierarchies, for a number of
   reasons including profit, overemphasis on numbers, and the
   inability to do otherwise, tend to neglect overall strategies
   and, as a consequence, when people came together they find
   themselves incompatible.
   Most women are not attracted by hierarchies, perhaps for some of
   the reasons I have given. Women think and act quite differently
   to soil, which is why it is so important that they play an equal
   rule in magical planning and activities. Too long has magick
   plodded the Apollonian, patriarchal path but that path cannot be
   avoided by men simply by pretending allegiance to some goddess or
   by trying, with gritted teeth, not to be patriarchal. I am what I
   am and, in this respect, it is very difficult for me to change
   without pressure from outside the sphere I know best, namely from
   women, whose approach tends to emphasise intuition, imagination
   and feeling. I am not saying this to be fair and egalitarian.
   Rather I am making a point which is at the same time pragmatic
   and selfish. I want to learn and experience the feminine
   principle as it is, not merely as I think it is or as I would
   like it to be. Hierarchies fail in this. They provide little for
   women and little of the feminine principle for their male
   members. Without women magick loses 50% of its potential, yet the
   hierarchies stumble on despite the pathetic disparity of numbers,
   unconcerned, (or unaware) about what they are missing.
   The above notes are necessarily generalisations since much more
   space would have to be given to this subject to treat it
   definitively. Obviously some hierarchies work for some people,
   and in such cases a reasoned argument could be put forward in
   their favour.

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