Lineage in the Western Magical Tradition
Not that long ago, in a conversation on Facebook, someone commented that, as opposed to initiatory traditions of the African based or Asian traditions, “the Western Magical Tradition has Literature, not Lineages.” The idea I think being that rather than old lines of transmission person to person, we have a textual tradition going from the PGM, Exorcism Manuals, Grimoires, and so on.
I get where this person is coming from, and to a degree they are correct, but if you take this concept to be a rejection of lineage, or person to person transmission, in favor of solely learning from books, I think we rob ourselves of important sources of information and power. I get that a lot of people consider the Victorian Era magical ordered to have failed and generally not be considered a place to learn magic. I am one of those people in fact and do not recommend orders for teaching magic. They can however be a good place to form a network where you can meet both peers and mentors who can teach you magic, often in spite of rather than because of the Order that you belong to. It is this person to person teaching, as well as small groups of students that real transmission happens – and thus real lineage is born.
I am a big believer in books and experimentation and many of the best magicians I have known are autodidacts, thus I hate to see grades in orders, or lineage be used as a litmus test for whether a person is competent or not in magic. There are however certain things that are difficult to teach through text. Some require verbal transmission (why I do some classed via audio recordings), some require visual, and some really do require mind to mind transmission where people are in the room together. In the first run of the Take Back Your Mind course there is a method that has consistently blown peoples minds when taught in person, as it did mine when I was taught it, but was an utter and complete failure when I attempted it over conference call. Such is the nature of subtle things.
Now some of you might be thinking “well this isn’t really lineage, it not a long line of people going back hundreds of years”. That’s true, but long lineages are not necessarily the best. What is better: to be ordained a Priest in 2106 in a proper apostolic line, or to have been one of the apostles or students of the apostles? I know I would choose to get the revelation from the horses mouth. That’s lineage. The same is true in Tantra as well. While some schools consider only Tantras originating in India to be authentic, the Nyingma consider Termas to be stronger lineage because there are less steps between the founder and you. The samaya has not deteriorated in a centuries long game of telephone.
Similarly I think people outside of the ATR’s have the idea that lineages go back many hundreds of years, but from what friends have shared many of them are no older than the Victorian Orders. And that is fine. Same is true of some Trad Craft lineages. They have deep roots for sure, and were started by people who learned something worth teaching and passing down, and the learned how to do that – that is all that is necessary.
Most people know that when working with spirits from a grimoire you usually do the very elaborate, protocol heavy, ritual to make contact and then set up clearer and faster lines of communication that do not require all the effort expended to make first contact. Some lineages simply carry this a step further – extending that channel of communication, line of power, or backdoor access beyond the original magician to their students. Sometimes this can be done widely, and sometimes very selectively.
The point of the post is this: do not discount or neglect the role of lineage in the west, even if it is a short lineage or just a tranmission between one mentor to another student – that is after all how the oldest lineages started out.