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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Seeking Advanced Practice

  I see a lot of people who are looking for more advanced material - and fair enough the market is glutted with beginner books that often enough repeat the same things over and over. People read one or two beginner books and then want to move on, to read that next step that will take them into deeper practice. So why don't we see a fair number of more advanced books? Why don't we see more people writing about truly advanced witchcraft practices?

There's reasons why advanced books are hard to find and it isn't because there's no one to write them. Most obviously there's the difficulty that some advanced material is oathbound or not allowed to be shared publicly. But there actually are advanced books on the market aimed at pagans so it's not that they aren't out there; the problem is they generally don't sell well or they are very niche - because advanced tends in many cases to mean specialized. Don't sell well means that they go out of print quickly and publishers hesitate to print them. Niche means if they do see print they may be quite expensive. Many people end up going through academic texts and books that aren't necessarily on witchcraft but tangentially related material - ceremonial magic perhaps - and teasing out anything useful in order to move slowly forward into the unguided darkness.

Another problem is that while basic material is fairly easy to write about as we get further and further into esoteric subjects it gets more difficult as things become less straightforward. We pass from the almost cookie-cutter 101 material, the 'chop wood, carry water' basics, into the experiential and numinous. I can teach a person the basics of fairy etiquette but how to put into words the complexities - moral, safety, and magical - of compelling and binding a fairy in ritual? Of course I can teach it but can the layered complexities be relayed properly and can I, as the person putting the material out there, be confident that it won't be misused? what responsibility do I bear if it is misused and should I care? How do I use words to describe a scenario that may go wrong in a dozen ways, and teach every way to recover and succeed if it does go wrong? Advanced often enough is the deep water beyond theory and thought where we are plunged into actually doing, and no book can guide a person through those currents and riptides as well as an actual in-person teacher.
Beyond all that though we run into the not insignificant wall of what qualifies as advanced material anyway. Particularly in witchcraft this question can be almost like a zen koan; if a witch is advanced enough do they even know they are advanced? What does advanced mean in a spiritual context? In the context of magical practices? What, really, is an advanced witch? For many people it seems to be an ideal of someone who has moved beyond the basics and into the real occult secrets. Here are some of my thoughts on what exactly it means to be advanced.

  1. Advanced practice usually involves things that are more dangerous or complex than basic practices. For example dealing with higher level spirits, casting magic that is harder to do in various ways, such as time involved or methods used, magic that has more intense possible consequences to the caster, or perhaps using methods in your magic that require an understanding of complex magical theories or spiritual commitments.
  2. Advanced practice means building on the basics - advanced practice is advanced for a reason; it is the culmination of what has come before. You don't just get to a point where all the earlier stuff gets tossed out the window and you're on to the real mysteries. The form and methods may change but ultimately the basic lessons are still key, and they are where we start for a reason. Directing energy, cleansing, grounding - these never stop being important.  
  3. Advanced practice is predicated on having mastered the basic concepts - just like in everything else you can't do the complex if you don't know how to do the simple steps that make up the complex. You can't do calculus if you don't know how to add and subtract. You can't ride a bicycle if you haven't mastered a sense of balance and coordination. 
  4. Advanced takes effort - getting beyond the basics isn't something that just happens anymore than hanging out in a swimming pool every day will make you an olympic class swimmer. It takes regular practice of the basic skills and work towards more complex skills to get to that advanced point. To use another analogy its like learning dance or martial arts, you have to just keep at it, practicing regularly to gain the skills to move forward. 
  5. Advanced should take time - there are no shortcuts to reaching the level of advanced material. People hate hearing this but its true. I'll point to the analogies I used above for effort because those hold true here as well. You don't take two dance lessons and become a prima ballerina and you don't go to a week of martial art classes and earn a black belt. Even someone who is extremely skilled and intelligent doesn't start and graduate college in a month with a PhD. 
Ultimately my point here is that advanced practice is often a matter of carrying forward the basic practices, and mastering them. You don't stop grounding and shielding and you don't stop cleansing your energy, no you do it until you can ground and shield in your sleep and cleanse reflexively. It is not just knowing how to do these things but knowing a dozen ways to do them under any circumstance. That is mastery, and that is what advanced practice is when we are talking about witchcraft. Advanced witchcraft is being able to use every basic lesson and amplify it, to take magic to a deeper place, to know what can and can't be done and then do the impossible anyway. It is definitely not basic practice, yet it is built on it so intrinsically that I don't think you can separate out the basic from the advanced. 

People love the idea of an advanced witch as someone who knows secrets and who commands great power - and perhaps that is true for secrets are merely hidden knowledge and power resides in all of us if we know how to find it - but everyone wants that for themselves and they want it now. When we contemplate advanced though we may find that it is not something that lends itself to instant gratification or to quick mastery. It is slow, and it is boring, and it takes its own time. And ultimately it is not or does not need to be showy or flashy to be effective. It is the repetition of the simple and basic until they are reflexive and the person can take that reflex and do amazing things with it. 

If you are seeking advanced, then keep doing the basic. Every day. Practice, practice, practice, and keep seeking out knowledge wherever you can find it. Take risks, experiment, play with your magic. Learn from your mistakes, and learn from your successes. But never stop doing.
Ipsa scientia potestas est.



  1. Agree with all of this. Another issue is that advanced concepts aren't necessarily appropriate to share with everyone (not talking about oath-bound stuff here, just meaning that it can be harmful for a beginner to try to "level up" too quickly) and so I think many authors shy away from publishing such material since one can't control where it ends up. One trend I've seen is that some advanced practitioners will transition from publicly writing about the work to only taking direct students and teaching in a more personalized way - that way advanced material can be given to those ready for it.

    Your last paragraph is absolutely true. I see a lot of people kind of get to a certain level of practice and just stop there. That's fine if they are satisfied (not everyone needs to go further), but sometimes I think it's because they don't even realize there can be more, or because they're scared to move out of their established comfort zone. The way you get there is just by constantly doing the work, pushing a little further, seeing what's next, challenging yourself. And yes, always keeping up the foundational practices as well.

  2. Advanced levels of anything are never do-it-yourself. At this point the Gods and other Holy Powers are ready to have more of a say in things than we are. The Petitioner must understand this thoroughly. Too many Beginner books do not give boundaries, which is a matter of malpractice in my opinion. This is usually expanded by many in the generic neo-pagan community for ego expanding reasons. I have seen it as I am sure you have.