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Lineage in the Western Magical Tradition

homer-simpsons-stonecutters-initiation-671x377Not 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.

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Andrew B. Watt

I think one of the great challenges is that many lineages are religious in nature — ordination in the Christian tradition, for example; it sounds like many of the Tibetan lineages are similar — rather than being specifically magical. There are of course other lineages that ‘matter’, magically speaking, but like many magical things they’re subtle.

And there’s something valuable in treating lineages as powerful, no matter how weird or off-the-beaten-path you think them to be. I’m an Area Director in Toastmasters, for example. The Toastmasters ‘lineage’ is not particularly old — the organization was founded in 1926, which is hardly past the Victorian orders — and it’s not particularly ‘magical’, either. But it’s a lineage of sorts, and I’ve done certain amounts of work to achieve that rank and responsibility. It’s similar in the two druid orders that I belong to, as well — initiation is conferred not as a result of deserving lineage by birth, but as a result of completing certain amounts of external work that can be verified. The Boy Scouts is similar — an Eagle Scout has achieved a certain something by the age of 18 that most people take their entire lives to learn and understand, but it represents work completed, not some casual experience. And this was also the experience of my girlfriend, who studied with a famous herbalist before she died; even now, people treat her differently, respectfully, because of who her teacher was… and what her reputation was for demanding the completion of certain work before graduating her students.

I think the larger issue is the one you touch on here, which is that person-to-person transmission is important. Literature and Lineage… and maybe the third L, “Labellum” — the banner or symbol-set under which/with which you operate your magical/sorcerous/mystical operations — are like the legs of a stool that you stand on to reach the higher shelves… 🙂

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Gilberto Strapazon

Very good words Jason.
Too often what I see is people who think “lineage” means to be in a family, be a son or daughter of someone.
So they add to this some fantasy movies idea and think they are “ready”. No, they aren’t.
At maximum, some have a gift if birth, and that means they have some capabilities to learn. But they will have to learn and practice more than any other to make use of that.
It is like to be the children in a musician’s family. That do not means he/she will have some interest or capability in music. If they have, they will find very early, what means 12-14 hours of daily practice. This is a gift of birth in use. This is the main difference.
The same for magic practices.
So we can get the idea about learning from someone who already came from a long time of mentors practices for ages.
But not all are so.
ATR? Sorry, here MY own opinion. Mouth to mouth practices does not assure anything. There may be even a lineage at ATRs and easy to get. One learned from someone who learned from any other and etc. BULLSHIT. Sorry, too often that became mechanics as each members choose to do whatever else and teach what they found (as they want) and that does not means to be related to the sources. Not all follow the sources, not all have the same ideas. A lot of them do their mixings accordingly with their mind.
Glad there are some very good and deserve my full respect for sure. But when that goes to more people, things became a cheap fantasy.
Is rare at that areas someone who can say they are doing the same practices as even their grandpas in that religion or magic areas.
This is part of what I wrote at the Ritual Offerings book. Even ATR people do a lot of mixings to a point of corrupting anything very fast. Oh, someone was intiated by Mr X? That means nothing if the “work” is not done.
And this is something I repeat often: A true initiated MUST be recognized by other masters, no matter the area. We can see who is who and that can’t be faked. EVEN when they are in an opposite area. To be clear, even an enemy, but someone who DID the work at that line have to be recognized, as they just are a valuable one to deal. Respect is always a main word to practice.
I like to cite Lara Croft movie as an example. Her enemies are Gentlemen, high skilled magicians. They just are working for different goals. But they recognize each others’s level. Got this?
So please, learn to respect you enemy too.
SO, what is lineage?
What is a real memory of teachings?
The Zen schools or any other asian ones? Zoroastrianism? Sufi, Stregheria or my line Thessalian I can’t even say I learned?
Even so former schools are difficult to find a pure lineage.
So we got the autodidacts and I prefer to be one of that no matter what I did before. Few are only at books.
Most have contacting with others. That will do a lineage someway.
Mouth to mouth teachings can corrupt anything in just three generations.
That’s why there are some groups like the Cubic Stone Order (no, not that UK one even if they are very good). As I know there are only 2 or 3 others groups working on this. They work to keep the knowledge and assure it have a solid ground at each age. They are a closed group of Masters of the other masters who work to watch over all teachings to assure it became in line with the oldest sources for ages. They just state someone is working the old Art is keep right.
“That” is a lineage. To be recognized by the Masters.
So glad to people who do the work, study, practice and do the needed in the way they can.
It’s not the external appearance that matters, but what they got.
And some, as I told before, are the ones who have a gift of birth, and discovered by themselves at early times, how much there is to learn and make to do this world better.
Lineage means to know we are here to humankind evolution, to bring to our life what was know before and so, move again to a higher point than before.
To be clear: to do real humankind evolution.

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