You’ve always known you’re a little different. Going to school was always mentally tough, not because of the coursework, but because you never really fit in. You always knew when your best friend was having a rough day, because you could feel it in your gut. You could see things other people couldn’t see, and you couldn’t say anything, because people would laugh and call you crazy. So you kept it all inside, alone and afraid to tell anyone. What people called anxiety, you called survival.
Your parents made you go to church every Sunday, but you felt like you didn’t fit in there, either. Your pastor said that the pentagram is evil and Satanic, but there was always something about it you liked. There were other things your priest said at church that just didn’t jibe with what you read in the Bible. You looked up the word “occult” once in the dictionary, because you were taught in Sunday School that the occult was "a tool of the Anti-Christ", but you found out the word comes from the Latin “occultus”, meaning nothing more than “hidden”. Unlike the masses, you still have your critical thinking skills turned on.
Mythology had always intrigued you, especially the Greek and Egyptian. There was always something about the tales of Apollo that resonated with you. You also couldn’t help but notice some parallels with the religion you were brought up with, too. You’ve wondered what the early church was like. It couldn’t have been as political and screwed up as it is now, or in the Middle Ages, for that matter. Besides, you’ve always thought of yourself as more spiritual than religious. You’ve always felt there was a “Higher Power” out there, whatever he, she or it is. You never felt or found that connection, however, in church.
So one day, the moment hit you. You were tired of feeling alone and seeking by yourself, so you decided to look for a group of people who shared the same curiosity, mindset and beliefs that you had. You weren’t exactly sure what you were looking for, but you were going to look for it anyways. You talked to a couple of friends, the ones that weren’t muggles, and they had heard whisperings about a group or coven nearby, but nothing that really piqued your interest. The only other connection you had was the one in the wall that led to the Internet.
There’s a reason why the Web is called World Wide. You can find anything you want there (and a whole lot more of what you don’t want). You signed up to a few Yahoo groups, joined a few on Facebook, stumbled upon alt.magick and ran away almost screaming. You asked a few newbie questions, got chided a bit from the old guard, but also got a referral to a website that apparently is everything you’re looking for.
So you type in the web address, and the browser pulls up a very well-designed, good-looking site. Obviously, these people know what they’re talking about. They profess a long-standing history, and are offering to share age-old secrets that will transform your life. You could be part of a world-wide society of like-minded people for the first time in your life. They even have training courses through their "online cyber-circle". All you need to do is click on “Sign Me Up”, send your money through PayPal and you’re in!
And maybe that worked out for you! There are plenty of esoteric organizations out there with rock-solid teachings, taught by smart, knowledgeable mentors, run by compassionate and wise leaders. However, there are also plenty of organizations whose members are sycophants, teachers who are charlatans, and leaders who are charismatic poseurs. Some of these groups suck so much time, energy and money out of their members, and demand such tight control of their lives, that they could be easily classified as cults. Others are more insidious; they have bright, nurturing teachers, but unwittingly, they are psychological enablers for a horribly toxic chief. You’ll never see that stuff, though, from the “ooh, shiny” website.
But how does someone, completely new to the scene, who doesn’t know anyone in the esoteric community, know who to trust and who to avoid? It’s not like you can drop a couple hundred dollars and have an online service do an “occult background check” on someone. Querying the community just seems to go around in circles. Ask a dozen people about an Order and you’ll get two dozen opinions, along with a whole lot more confusion than when you started. In exasperation, you go back to your gut, and that “Sign Me Up” button sure would feel good right about now.
Not so fast. The Quest for the Great Work is one that lasts a lifetime, no matter when you start. A lapse in judgment now, regardless of whether it is based in a lack of information or lack of wisdom, can send you on a detour of several years. Then, when you leave that Order with a pretty website and an easy sign-up button, you will find yourself essentially right back where you started, more battered and bruised, psychologically or otherwise, than you originally were. At that point, you might even walk away, feeling jaded and tarring the entire community with the same tainted brush. (And who could blame you, really?)
We, the writers, have taken those detours and suffered those lumps. We write now so that you don’t fall into the same organizational pits that we did. We cannot tell you which Order, coven or mentor is right for you, but with this guide, we hope to clue you in on which types of Orders, covens or mentors are wrong for any seeker of the Light.
Next Chapter: Orders in the Age of the Internet