We all strive to be open-minded about one another’s beliefs and experiences. This is essential to our community, because we have had to keep an open mind about our own beliefs and experiences in order to accept them as valid and real. Much of what we believe and what forms the foundation of our community’s identity are claims of supernatural or psychic experiences that mainstream culture would simply debunk. Our materialist, scientific society has no room for a sixth sense, let alone a seventh or an eighth, and the empirical rule of science leads most materialists to assert that if you can’t touch it, it isn’t there. So many of the perceptions and sensations that form a vital part of our experiences are subtle and numinous in nature. They cannot be proven in a laboratory. Often, it is hard for us to “prove” them even to ourselves. We simply have to accept that we are not crazy, that these impressions are valid, and that the materialist approach to reality somehow fails to account for a large portion of human experience. Yet this creates a certain amount of credulousness within the community. Since we each have had experiences that the rest of the world would reject as lies or delusion, we are much more likely to listen with a sympathetic ear to someone else’s experiences, no matter how strange they may sound. We are painfully aware of how hard to believe many of our own experiences and beliefs are, especially because we have had to struggle to believe them in the face of a culture that tells us these beliefs *must* be the product of a crazed mind. Obviously, we don’t want to disbelieve another’s claims especially because we want to be believed ourselves. But this can lead us into a dangerous habit of accepting everything that is told to us by others without question, and the sad fact of reality is not everyone who makes an extraordinary claim is telling you the truth. There are quite a number of people who lie and make up tales about their beliefs and experiences. They do this as an attention-getting measure, to make themselves feel powerful and important, or to get you to follow them and accept further stories and orders without question. These are the poseurs and cult-daddies of the scene, and they hurt our community not only by preying upon the innocent and vulnerable, but also by giving the outside world a very negative impression of us.
Developing Sound Judgment
So how do we know when our tolerance has crossed into the realm of gullibility? Whenever someone makes a claim to you of a supernatural belief or experience, listen carefully to what they have to say. See if what they say makes sense based on your own experiences. Even magick functions on universal laws, and although we may not understand all of these laws as of yet, they still seem to hold true in most cases. If what this person has to say is radically different from your own experiences and what you’ve learned of the magickal world, that should set off warning bells in your head. You should not discount their claims just yet — it may simply be that your own experiences are limited and this person is discussing a principle that you have not encountered yet. It’s also possible that some of the beliefs and conclusions you’ve drawn from your own experiences are either wholly or partially wrong. We make as a great a mistake assuming that everything we believe is 100% accurate as when we believe that everything other people tell us is 100% accurate. After analysing what the person has to say, analyse the person himself. How does he act? How does he dress? Does he speak like someone who is reasonably intelligent and well-educated? These might sound like judgments based on superficial things, but the fact of the matter is that mentally unbalanced individuals often demonstrate their problems in their mannerisms, diction, and dress. Not everyone who has a nervous tic is insane, just as not everyone who refuses to look you in the eye is lying to you, but these are good cues to keep in mind when trying to judge someone’s credibility. There are quite a lot of people who our mainstream culture would label depressed or bipolar or delusional who have had very legitimate experiences and who have a lot of insightful and worthwhile things to say. However, you must keep in mind that people with chemical imbalances and unstable personalities cannot always determine the line between reality and imagination, and any of their stories should be especially scrutinized for this reason. After analysing the person, analyse the situation in which you are receiving this information. What could the person’s motivation for speaking with you be? What kind of level of trust has been built up between you? Chances are, the voodoo queen of Wheeling would not come right out and say who she is and what kind of army of zombies she commands to every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the street. Common sense dictates that she’d have to trust you quite a bit to reveal information as sensitive as that, and if you just met someone at a coffee house who makes similarly wild and powerful claims, chances are, they’re telling you a tall tale. If it’s pretty clear that the person making the claim has something to gain from you be very leery of it. But also keep an open mind on what you consider “gain” to be. Not everyone who’s trying to “sell” you something is out for your money. A lot of people are simply motivated by a need to be believed, or they want to get you on their “side” for some imagined conflict. If you thought you left the petty social politics and cliqueishness behind in high school, you’re in for a surprise, because as far as I’ve noticed, those silly social games keep a lot of people occupied well into their 70s. Sex is another basic motivator, and if you’re a pretty young girl (or even a pretty young boy), really keep your eyes open when people start coming up to you and trying to tell you how the universe works. All too often, they’ll wind up trying to teach you tantric sex magick or something similar — the long and the short of it is they want you in their bed.
With all these things to watch out for, how can you ever find a teacher or mentor that you can trust? Well, the best approach is to educate yourself. There are a lot more books out there than used to be the case, and with the Internet, a great deal of material is at your very fingertips. Not everything in a book or on a web page is truthful or accurate — just about everyone is trying to sell you something in this day and age. However, if you approach all information cautiously, analyse it carefully in respect to your own experiences, and try to judge the motivations of the writer, you’ll find a lot to teach yourself. Material that you read in a book or on a webpage is a little safer than having someone come up to you and spout off all their vast occult knowledge. For one thing, you can read at your leisure, and if there are claims or references in the work that set off alarm bells for you, you have the additional luxury of being able to research those claims and see what other authorities have to say about them. Also, although part of a writer’s job is to present a convincing argument so you agree with his points, still read material is not nearly as dynamic nor as potentially overwhelming as spoken conversation delivered by a real pro at the debating game. So when you’re just starting out and you’re not sure what to believe or who to believe it from, read, read read! It will give you a great background for later when you are comfortable enough and self-assured enough to tackle face to face conversations with people who may be trying to take advantage of you. For face to face conversations and study, always try to stick with informal study groups where everyone has an equal say. You’ll find that some persons within the group can be considered authorities on certain topics, but as long as they’re not always trying to dictate what others will accept and believe, then they’re the kinds of authorities that will only help you expand your own knowledge. Steer clear of groups or individuals who are “gathering members for a light and darkness war” or who are engaged in “battles on the astral plane” or other such nonsense. These psychic war dialogues are just a very common and dramatic way to pull people into the group, incite them with a purpose, and let them run around as pawns for one or more cultish-type leaders. Also, if someone comes up to you and claims to have information for you because they’ve known you in a past life, try to make certain that you get impressions that reinforce what this individual is saying. That’s another dialogue that I’ve seen misused in groups in the past, and unfortunately many a poor innocent has had her head screwed on backwards with tall tales of a long ago life in a magickal time that’s nothing more than a tale someone was spinning to gain her affection. So, back to tolerance and gullibility. There is nothing wrong with listening to what people have to say. In fact, I encourage everyone to keep an open mind, because we can never be 100% certain that our own beliefs are entirely accurate or well-founded. Even if a person you talk with has beliefs you utterly disagree with, still you’ve learned something in the very act of ordering your thoughts for conversation and comparing your beliefs against their own. Do not, however, believe everything that is told you. This does not mean that you should go around being paranoid of everyone who comes up to you and wants to chat about spiritual things, but you should let wisdom and common sense be your guides. Always analyse what the person is saying to you, analyse the person himself, and analyse the situation and what may be gained from getting you to believe the story. If any of these things set alarm bells off for you, then take what is said with a grain of salt. Feel free to challenge someone’s beliefs that you disagree with — sometimes there’s nothing better than a heated debate on theology! And if they are unwilling to debate or defend their beliefs to you, or to back up their claims with real incidents or examples, then you can probably spend your time more productively with somebody else.