Apprenticed to Magic

At the end of the 20th century the system of magical training started to break down.  There once was a time that you would be taught by one person who would show you their magical system, which was often worked out over years by experience.  To some measure that changed with the adoption of the Order system.  You would join a group like the Order of the Golden Dawn and that would train you.  What really happened was nothing of the sort.   An order, like the Golden Dawn, would perform some of the magical work on the students sphere of sensation, but actual training was carried out by adepts who knew what they were doing.
But sir, you might know the secrets of the universe,
but you failed to point your Hebrew correctly
 In Whare Ra for example a candidate would be initiated and after a period of assessment they were taken under the wing of an adept who would train them.  Often this was using the Golden Dawn system, but sometimes it was not.  Some of these adepts saw the Golden Dawn as the starting point and would take their students through the same disciplines they had learnt.  In other words the training of a student was an apprenticeship under an adept, the Order provided a backdrop for them to meet and trained them in a common symbolic language.  The thing that was being watched for was not how clever the person was, but what sort of questions they asked.
Now not only ignorance of the Golden Dawn system is common, there more students out there and too few adepts providing them with that specialist type of training. To fill the gap are books, and those who set up groups and orders.  I have moaned before how it is too easy to get into an esoteric group these days and how the competition between the different orders is silly.
But it has created a situation where people think that, for argument’s sake, the Golden Dawn provides the person with training.  All a candidate has to do is complete a system of exams, go through a certain number of rituals and they will be finished.  
The Invisible College needs to go mobile
But the same thing applies to correspondence courses.  The Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea has a correspondence course and one of the strangest questions I get is “how long does it last for?”  In other words when does it finish and you get the certificate that you have been trained.  Many are surprised when I say that I have written 17 lessons and so far can’t see how it is going to end.  My point is that the training does not stop; there is an infinite things to learn and only one short lifetime.
In my generation, magical training changed.  Orders became less formal and the central training method became that of the workshop.    It has to be said that these were a special sort of workshop.  The trainer was an experienced magician, who never read from a script and would include a large amount of practical work.  This work was pioneered by Marian Green whose workshops gave students their first crack at what would pass for experience. 
Workshops also provided a small income for the teachers too, although some kept workshop costs down by selling their books at them.   
In many ways this approach was killed off by those who would charge a fortune for sub-par workshops.  Also the cost of getting some teachers into some parts of the globe meant that prices either became too high, or workshop organisers (or the teachers themselves) were exploited.
But Sir, I have read that it is OK to
have a ritual between Set and the Flower Fairies
The increasing prices also made students wary.  There was a feeling that spirituality should be given as a service, ignoring the fact that the high costs in terms of time of providing teaching was prohibitive.  No doubt there were some, with very little to say, who were milking the system.
Now we have a situation which is developing where people are not getting properly trained.  Many teachers out there are presenting “one size fits all” training packages for students that cover the usual rubbish – make a few elemental tools, ask the student to do the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram (sic) and the middle pillar until they are blue in the face.     At the other end of the scale you get kids playing with Solomonic or Goetic magic, often mixed with systems that do not go together.   They also get incredibly childish when you point out things like “this system does not go with that one.” 
The assumption is now that any idiot can be a magician if they apply to the right Order and the right workshop.  There is little respect for any teachers and students feel free to play out their parental projections upon them without consequence.   You have untrained people telling trained people that they are “wrong” and argue about how many angels are on the head of a pin while not actually doing any practical work.
I used to think that the relaxing of systems at the end of the 20th century and the access to more information thanks to the Internet was a good thing.    I liked the ideas of the autocratic orders which were the bane of my existence had faded.  Now I am not so certain.   In trying to be all things to all people, which is the role of a modern esoteric teacher, I have let students get away with murder.  By not putting my foot down and insisting that something needed to be done in a particular way, there are very few students who have developed in a way that is useful.   I am not saying that it is necessary to be an autocratic arsehole (although it is fair to say that I learnt more under such types) but neither is it possible for a student to learn magic if they are too closed, and trying to run things according to their own egos. 
One think I have noticed is that the Golden Dawn ritual, if performed correctly, does a Stirling job of kicking modern students out of its system.   As the Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea came closer to its “contacts” the energy has become less patent with those who are not going to make it.  As a result the period after a 0=0 has been a rough time for MOAA members as the 42 assessors grab students by their pentagram necklaces and give them a good kicking until they sort their lives out.  If they survive, then other experiences are delivered.
But as far as training is concerned, I am thinking that it is better to go back to the old ways, of master and student.  I am beginning to think that new technology can be used for teachers to contact students and create the sort of master apprentice structure which has been lost.  This is the first century were a teacher can be in contact with a student every day or so and, if done correctly, could result in better trained students worldwide.
Time will tell if the Apprenticeship system ends up
being yet another Mickey Mouse training system
This would involve the teacher being connected to the student every one or two days.  Techniques would be given and the teacher and student would interact on the results.  Books would be suggested (after all there is no need to re-invent the wheel) but mostly training would be tailored for each student as much as possible. However the student would not be god.  They would really have to work.  In two days, the teacher will be asking how they are getting on and reviewing work and suggesting new patterns from it.  The teacher could throw out the student who does not work (some would go quite quickly).  Technology could be used to arrange online workshops on specialist subject etc.
The other side of this is that money will have to change hands.  This sort of training would not be for occult tourists and one thing that discourages that sort of behaviour from the student is the fact that they have invested money in it.  It means that the student has to think hard about signing up for it.  It also means that practically the teacher has a good reason for showing up.  Because of the time it takes to train people, there would be a limited number of people who could be trained at a time.  Some training could be skipped by those who know the basics.
I am keen to look at this because it solves some of the frustrations that I have had with training people over the years.  If I go ahead with it, then I will be vetting the students who take part in it very carefully as I would not want to waste their time or mine.  It would not be connected to MOAA, but no doubt would be linked to it.


  1. Apprenticeship isn’t too common as a trade for many people these days. During the time periods you mention in your post the student-apprentice was common to many in the trade crafts. So it would have been easier for young apprentices to sign up to a master tradesman and know that this was their career for life. As such it wouldn’t be so alien for an apprentice in magical practice to assume that their service to their master or teacher was for equally as long.

    The Golden Dawn, or magical systems by-in-large, are just as influenced by the cultural and societal influences around it. If our understanding of “teacher” has changed to something everyone feels entitled to this seems like it could well be a marker of our mundane educational systems (or at the very least our ideas of them).

    I certainly hope the new technology aids to develop the necessary connect between the teacher and student – both for convenience and for the sake of all that gets lost in less frequent or direct communications. Tradesmen would often have had apprentices live in with them too (depending on era one is looking at of course).

  2. Hi Nick,

    Your post expresses a syndrome I’ve spoken about myself. In fact I was speaking to my boys just yesterday regarding a similar frustration but in a different circle.
    I have my 3rd attunement in Reiki and we were discussing Reiki and the possibility of my giving them their first attunement. They had a lot of questions and we spoke about the three degrees and what they mean.
    Traditionally a person who has their third degree attunement is called a “Master.” I am far from being one, as I explained to them. Unfortunately in the States there are people who hold a weekend seminar where people will actually attend and receive all three attunements and come out calling themselves a Reiki Master.
    I have my 3rd attunement and can pass attunements, I’ve passes a few already, and it works but I am in no way a master. I have been doing Reiki for ten years.
    The mindset that one can attend a class and receive a certificate means nothing. It’s amazing how willing people can be to settle for that and not do any real work.
    It’s all good and dandy if my ego wants to call itself a master but as long as I buy into it I will never evolve.
    I’ve been interested in the Golden Dawn system for sometime and have studied it, been practicing the LBRP and Middle Pillar but I’m not an initiate. I can’t speak from the point of view of an initiate in the system but I can say I’ve had some really amazing experiences with the system. Those few glimpses have shown me that there is really no certification or degree that makes you anything. You evolve. You gradually become. The experiences become a part of you and your being changes. It’s a process not a destination and you can’t experience the process by just wishing it.
    Thank you for the post. If you do decide to start something then definitely send me some information because I am very interested.

  3. ian

    Hi Nick. I think this is the bee’s knees because it comes full circle from the last twenty years or so, where you could pick up any old bits and pieces and fling them out as a “New” master, to now where we have to be Wary, and I do like the comment above about how the Apprentices were “Live-In”. My daughter is an Apprentice right now, for Orange, and I can see it happening. Cheers.

  4. Anonymous

    Hi Nick

    I served the traditional the time it took to do the training under an Adept in an apprenticeship sort of way, and agree whole-heartedly with your views on it. Having worked solo/tried to learn from books; belonged to groups and experienced training by an Adept, I would say that the latter path is the ideal every time.

  5. would be great to have an apprenticeship program!
    I’m kinaesthetic, visual and relational; so I struggle with how ‘dry’ just doing the reading from the different streams/traditions can feel. And it get’s confusing.
    Thank you for the post.

  6. I think you are being a little hard on those who ask how long a course is – it is not necessarily the case that they are not serious about magick and just wanting a certificate, etc. – it is human nature to be forward-looking and goal oriented. We may enjoy the journey but we still like to know where we are going. In my Temple group I recently broke the knowledge lectures up into 3 parts and taught them in 3 separate classes with the clear defined goal of getting everyone through the exam and into the next Grade, but, whereas, in the past, I gave no time constraints, this time I said we will finish this part in X weeks, and the the whole knowledge lecture in Y time and the practical tests 2 weeks after that and so on. I gave them clearly defined time periods and goals. They responded very well to this. worked hard, seemed happier and were definitely more focussed.

    The existententialist philosopher Heidegger said human beings are future-oriented beings, yet they experience the enigma of needing to find their sense of Presence and Being which can only be found in the “Here and Now”. I have to agree with this. We have to focus on what is in our present reality, while simultaneously looking to what is unfolding in the future. In business coaching the usual method is to have the client set a definite goal with a definite time frame and then, after doing so, focus the attention on the present task, but the goal is always kept to hand because the goal is often what drives the present action.

    That said, I think the idea of doing a payed course with committed students is a great idea. I am thinking of doing the same at the moment.

  7. Hello Nick
    And all very well said – I have now withdrawn from teaching for exactly the reasons you have outlined. Workshops with a real magical content are quite inappropriate for general consumption. But serious and genuine students of the Mysteries are thin on the ground. Part of the problem lies in the general trend to democratise everything, which is in most cases well and good. However Magic is not suited to democracy any more than brain surgery. Everyone and Anyone thinks that they can Do magic in the Hogwarts tradition – not so; magic is NOT for everyone and anyone.
    You are quite right students show little respect to teachers, believing that their opinion/idea is equally valid – as for mental discipline ha ha!! Who is willing to keep a meditation diary for submission?
    My answer has been to place a Mystery School Curriculum in a single book, The Aquarian Qabalah and just take a back seat until there is a cultural reinvestment in Western Magic- I might have a long wait !!

  8. of course you have just described the Golden Dawn reformat of the A.’.A.’. 1 to 1 teaching, teaching from teacher to student, teaching what the teacher knows (teacher must be at least a grade above and must be able to display the practical acquisition of the grade before progressing so there is a mechanism that the teacher knows the territory) – all of this if the system is working properly that is.
    Have you ever looked at the A.’.A.’.?

  9. Bia

    Thank you for this article, Nick, it has cleared some doubts (and generated even more questions) on the current situation of my apprenticeship. Always nice to hear from magicians who live far away from myself but share similar views on what it takes to be under a serious magickal training. It IS a lifetime decision for students, who should change their everyday activities and honestly and continually question themselves about their purposes and commitment. Because there is no going back… taking the “return” path of the road just leaves you at the same spot, denying inner potential for growth. It is not easy to shed some light into one’s heart… and accept all the ethical duties of carrying it.

    Everyday I come to realize that taking apprenticeship lightly, hoping that accomplishing the common Order tasks and getting a certificate – congrats, you’ve just made it to Temple – will assure your victory… couldn’t be more self-deceiting. It takes a LOT of humbleness to actually listen to the subtle signs of the teacher and be willing to take responsibility for one’s own actions (and results). That’s the core of the training, as I see it, and it applies to martial arts and other uncountable aspects of life. The teacher should reward the committed student, letting him know his efforts are taken into account and on the right track, as well as be harsh on those whose egos refuse to be changed by understanding… the latter usually thinks he “knows-it-all”, his non-functional behaviors are just “style”, and, of course, will call Set along with the Flower Fairies just to “see if he was able to” lololol

    Anyways, put in short, despite being very young in age I agree with your point from the little I’ve seen on esoteric communities – apprenticeship should be taken the traditional, teacher-student way, in which the teacher chooses his closest students among his classes. Of course the ones he picks should at least be clever enough to figure it out without him saying it directly… and how long does it last for? Does “a lifetime” sound enough to ya? Maybe a little more…

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