by John Barbiero
Seekers upon the Path of Return, the path to find one’s True Self and meaning in existence, are provided with diverse images for that journey of awakening.
The archetypal images of the Hero’s Quest and the Path through the Labyrinth come quickly to mind with the companions on such journeys, the archetypal Hero and his/her instruction under the Wise One, facilitating the Hero’s coming into his/her own inheritance of Self-realization. This article will recount one such experience for one such student and how supervision on the SOL course has been the guiding thread through the Labyrinth of many possible paths, but only one ultimate destination, the heart center and dawning awareness of the True Self. A journey, as Bilbo Baggins informs his nephew, Frodo, “goes ever on and on.”
I first determined to seriously embark upon the path when I was eighteen years old. Like many seekers, the “divine discontent” that Dion Fortune refers to, the need to perceive what lied behind the Veil of Isis, the outward appearances of Nature, was my spur to start a journey. Now the roads that are possible for this journey are many and as a young man who had New York City and the esoteric bookshops of that city, such as Magical Childe, Quest, East West Books and Enchantments, I was soon inundated in books offering instruction on any path that struck my fancy. I was fortunate to have a companion in my seeking and we would spend many a Saturday, after a mundane week at school, on a trip to the city to find the one book, for it had to be one book only that encapsulated the entire needed teaching under one cover, that would show us the way and give us our start on the path. In my searches, I had set myself the “humble” goal of becoming an Adept in one year’s time with an impatience that it would have to take a whole year to achieve this goal. Perhaps citing the impetuousness of youth can serve as an explanation.
Confusion soon set in as each book raised more questions than it answered so that I was left wondering what to study first and how to connect one study to another. Hopelessness soon followed with encouragement given to me by the owner of the Magical Childe bookshop who took one look at this frequent Saturday morning visitor and brought me to the books by W.E. Butler. In those pages, I was acquainted with one who knew and could point the way. His teachings first impressed upon me the hope that there was a True Self to discover on a path of meaning that would soothe my discontent. Dion Fortune and Israel Regardie soon joined the bookshelf of authors “who knew,” but I was running out of time and still not an Adept. I had found my Wise Ones and these books impressed upon me the necessity of magical instruction from a teacher, but I was a self-starter and wanted to do it on my own once I found my “how-to” book. My hopelessness had turned to a despondency that I sought to counter quickly so that my return to the Magical Childe had an air of determination and desperation to find that one book.
In browsing the well remembered shelves, I soon found one book entitled “The Ritual Magic Workbook” by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, a one year manual on ritual magic. My interest was instantly perked by this manual of instruction as I frantically flipped through its pages. The timeline of one year was in keeping with my goal of becoming an Adept, but the introduction soon burst my bubble as the author stated that this manual would not promise to make its readers magicians, but would strive to ensure that they did not burn their fingers in the practice of ritual magic. In shock that one year’s training would only result in my not making ritual magic mistakes and not in my becoming an Adept, I promptly returned the book to the shelf. However, I could not stop looking at this book and considering the implications of its possibility. There was nothing for it, I had to have it and on that day resolved to follow it and amend my magical goal.
In reading this book, I soon happily discovered another “one who knew” who would point out the first steps that needed to be taken on the Path. My despondency was happily replaced by a returning hope that soon caught fire with an even greater hope in the discovery, at the end of the book, of The Servants of the Light as a school of the Western Mysteries through correspondence. My goal soon turned to a desire to learn more about this Mystery School and to hopefully receive its teachings. In receiving its introductory packet, covered with all of the beautiful Jersey Island postage stamps, I soon found a most welcome sight in the description of the Mystery School and its teachings that soon brought me the tears of joy of finally coming home.
Not long after the submission of my application, I received the welcome letter of my supervisor who would be my mentor and companion through this course of instruction. I cannot describe the joy of receiving that letter that gave me an overview of what to expect on this four year course, time that I now knew would be well spent as my illusion of one year Adeptship was flung out the window, with how I may turn to him with my questions and find encouragement when the road became difficult. The lessons soon followed and I now had a personal teacher and mentor who could look at my submitted work and help me derive the most from my studies.
The introductory lessons soon highlighted how much I had to learn regarding the initial steps of meditation and visualization, steps that I superficially dwelled upon in the readings on my quest to become an Adept in one year. What I had considered as very simple and boring in comparison to the mysteries of High Magic and ceremonial ritual was not so easy to do so that doubts about my effectiveness and capacity to do this work soon set in. I took these doubts to my supervisor who had seen such doubts before, first in himself when he began the course and second in his students. I learned that I was not alone in realizing that the “alphabet” of the language of the Mysteries, meditation and visualization, would take time and care and daily practice to master. Following this encouragement, I soon continued my studies and would submit work that I did not always find satisfactory, but my supervisor was able to see what was done well, what could be improved and returned detailed feedback filled with words of inspiration that carried me through.
Regular practice on the lessons soon clarified what was before unclear so that I began to take the “alphabet” and form “words” and “sentences” and see more clearly the Path that lied before me. Such regular work, encouraged by my supervisor, soon led to the dry spells that I had heard about, but did not fully know anything about. When I began to get more reliable results in my practice, I felt that this would just continue as my understanding grew and grew. This was not the case, for I soon hit a dry spell that was characterized by a feeling of futility, “my realizations are empty and without meaning,” despondency, “I will never return to that feeling of contentment and realized purpose,” and desire to cease all further efforts, “it was all just a dream and now its time to wake up and face reality.” That was a dark time, a time in which I doubted my prior successes and suspected that I had only deluded myself and needed to stop dreaming about the Inner Planes and more fully focus on building a more solid life right here and now on the physical plane. Sadness marked that time as I feared that something so beautiful, my connection to the Path and what could come from walking that Path, was now a shut door with my reaching only so far and now having to give it up and return to physical matters exclusively.
My work on the SOL course became more sporadic so that my supervisor had to reach out to me and enquire about this change. I poured my heart out to him, my fears and feelings of failing in this work and the dread that I could no longer get realizations on the work. He quickly pointed out that all that I was experiencing and suffering through was an indication that not only was I still on the Path, but that I was taking a necessary step that happens to everyone, the time of spiritual dryness, the dry spell, in which realizations become empty and harder to achieve. A ray of light returned to me as I took his encouragement to try and meditate even if I feared that nothing would come to me in the way of realizations. I read recommended books on spiritual dryness and saw how my feelings were mirrored in the writings of Mystics, who experienced this to a far greater degree in the form of the Dark Night of the Soul, an experience that I would happily put off forever, thank you very much.
I strongly suspect that if I did not have my supervisor to help me understand and work through this dryness, I could have very easily surrendered and given up on the Path. I am not saying that a solo practitioner cannot win through these obstacles on the Way, but it is much harder to do so alone and there is much to be gained in having a mentor who has made this journey and can encourage you to recognize where you are in your stage of traversing the Path and what you may expect on the road ahead. Companionship on the Path is a true blessing for true seekers will dive deep within the inner sea of Self and to have someone to share such realizations with, to encourage when the road gets harder and the Way obscured is a gift beyond measure for to set upon this Path is to walk in many ways alone and apart from your fellow man and that loneliness can be one of the hardest things to bear. The friend that started this journey with me set upon a darker road of black magic and drugs that I could not dissuade him from nor could I rescue him so that I had to walk alone except for the letters I would receive from my supervisor, letters that were like a beacon of hope in the dark times and a celebration of joy and purpose when the Way was made clear. That road does indeed go on and on so that learning only deepens and the Way opens more fully. I will always be a student and always have another step to take with my learning continuing as I serve as supervisor to the students entrusted to my care.