Now that you’ve chosen a small group of community members to interact with, and a few who have chosen to interact with you, you can start asking questions of them. At last! Maybe now you can get the answers you’re looking for! Maybe so, but what you really want is more than answers. You also want to know how those questions are answered. There is plenty of information about the person with whom you’re interacting, if you take enough time to read between the informational lines.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people”. For your benefit, you are going to want to talk about all of those things with your prospective mentors. This is not to say that you want, say, a small-minded person for a mentor. What you are looking for is a person who has been around long enough to have tackled all these things and, hopefully, has done it with a certain level of grace and dignity.
Although spiritual Orders are supposed to exist to be a channel to reach for the Higher, they are still comprised of human beings, who by their very nature are imperfect. Squabbles between different circles are commonplace, but even within groups of spiritual brothers and sisters, wherever two or more are gathered, politics is there in their midst. This is not a sad commentary on the state of esoteric Orders; it is simply a factor of the human condition. Do not blame the spiritual Path for the followers who are treading upon it.
The question then arises as to how much time and attention is given to such activities such as inter-Order politics. The more they quagmire themselves in such mundane trifles, the less focus they have on the actual Work. In litigious struggles, online skirmishes and witch wars, some may get ahead, but when all is said and done, no one really wins. Spiritual traditions and their communities end up diminishing themselves and their reputations. Yet again, there are those who stay out of the fray altogether, or actually conduct themselves with aplomb. It is those people who can rise above such things that have the most potential to be good mentors.
You may wish to withhold questions about community members until later, though. You want your first impression to be that of a light-seeker, not a gossip-monger. That said, give some thought to the initial questions you want to ask your group of potential mentors. This again comes back around to first impressions. If you ask a question whose answer is easily and readily found on the Web, there may be variable results, but none of them will be good. To the more unscrupulous mentors out there, you will be setting yourself up as an easy mark. The standup community members, however, are likely busy with projects in the magical, literary and mundane realms. To them, you will be wasting their time. No worthwhile mentor is going to take on a student who can’t do his own homework.
Once you get your answers, of course, check and cross-check them to see if they are valid, or at least consonant with the tradition at hand. For example, if a prospective mentor teaches you that the sign of Libra is ruled by the “esoteric planet” Atlantis, you’re not getting a lesson in astrology, you’re getting a bucket of hogwash. That’s not to say that there isn’t any room for innovation in a tradition. Many modern astrologers assign the planet Pluto as ruler over the sign of Scorpio, for instance. However, when it comes down to tradition versus innovation, consistency must rule the day. If a teacher proclaims to be a traditional astrologer in one breath and then spouts off about Ophiuchus being the 13th sign of the Zodiac in the next, he’s feeding you a line.
What’s happening here is these mentors are trying to be all things to all people to make their Orders look enticing, as if they have an edge on all the other groups out there. What that really makes, though, is not a good tradition nor a good Order, but just good recruiting, and nothing more. You’ll find that most especially in Orders which smash together a bunch of disparate traditions. Yes, syncretism is found at the very heart of the Western Esoteric Tradition, but again, coherence is the key to an intelligible magical system. A Thelemic Rosicrucian Order of Mystic Knights might sound really swank and exclusive, but more than likely, once inside, you’ll be served up a “garbage plate special” of cryptic tripe instead of sound arcane knowledge.
All that said, the other critical thing you need to pay attention to is how your questions are answered. Any teacher worth his salt is going to answer the question in a language the student is going to be able to understand. Anyone who answers in a grandiloquent fashion, all the while denigrating alternate views, is an instructor to avoid. A good mentor doesn’t need to beat others down in order to raise himself up. A great mentor doesn’t need to raise himself up at all.
This leads then to the question of the character of the mentors with which you are now interacting. A spiritual teacher could hold the keys to the mysteries of the universe. However, all that information is going to be of no use to his students if the teacher treats them in such a manner as to leave them spiritually and psychologically broken.
Knowledgeable mentors are those who have spent years working a magical system through and through. Oftentimes, though, such magical achievements yield a certain inflation of the ego, sometimes even leading to a level of self-adulation. They may treat your basic questions with an air of haughtiness or even a hint of derision. A telltale sign would be when such a mentor doesn’t know the answer to a question you might have but responds nonetheless. If the response smacks of rhetorical sophistry rather than pertinent information, then he’s being dishonest with both you and himself.
On the other hand, wise mentors are those who have allowed their magic to work on them as well. They understand the nature and importance of spiritual alchemy and the psychological transformation that it yields. These people will not have forgotten the steps on their path up the mountain, so they would answer your questions sincerely, on the level, and at your level. They would also have the proper balance of self-assurance and integrity to actually say “I don’t know” to questions outside their sphere of expertise. The best types of mentors will go so far as to make you think for yourself, rather than spoon-feed you answers from their font of knowledge.
Again, it would be wise to spend a number of weeks sifting through your short list of community members and filtering them out according to their proficiency in the tradition, their prowess in tutoring, and the quality of their rectitude as a spiritual advisor. Once this is done, now is the time to ask your key advisors about their affiliations and recommendations when it comes to esoteric Orders. Listen to them carefully and take their guidance in this regard seriously. Armed with their well-informed insight, you can now endeavor to make first contact with those esoteric Orders which would be the best fit for you.
Next Chapter: Observing the Chiefs (If You Can)