Perils on the Path

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

Photo by Jill Burrow from Pexels

To live a magickal life is to walk a road of both joy and danger, for you are following the path deep into unknown territories. Author and teacher Raven Grimassi taught that we walked a well-worn path, which then came to a hidden path that would be well-worn for generations to come if enough of us take it. While there is beauty on the path, and love, there are also perils, and having an awareness of them, from those who have walked before, can help us avoid or — at the very least – better learn from our encounters with the perils.

Occultists like myself always look for patterns and correspondence, so I’ve organized some of the common perils through the well-known categories of fire, water, air, earth, and spirit. Of course this list is not complete, nor does everything apply to everyone’s path, as we are all on a unique journey with some similar landmarks.

Fire: Excessive Outside Validation

While everyone can benefit from praise, particularly from teachers, mentors or peers, there can develop an almost pathological need for approval, confirmation, or validation from others. Such confirmation often leads to a cycle of each new step needing an excessive amount of validation to feel secure. While so much spirituality tells us to kill the ego, we are really looking to identify with the part of us that is greater than the ego, so our ego doesn’t run the show. To transcend the ego as a step in the path, you must have an ego, and many people are so wounded that a sense of identity, let alone a healthy identity, never fully forms. Creating a healthy balanced ego is key, where one can listen to praise and critique but also navigate an internal sense of self at the same time, and then transcend it to make the ego one of many parts of our team. In this modern occulture—dominated as it is by social media—getting trapped in this cycle is even more likely to occur and even harder to avoid, particularly if you transition into a reader, healer, reviewer, or influencer too quickly, and that world and identity fuses with your personal practice.

Other fire perils can include burnout, hyper-sexuality, religious zeal, and over-enthusiasm when it blinds you to the reality of the situation.

Water: Victimhood

A huge part of the magickal path, whether called so or not, is healing. We gather lost parts, we reevaluate past actions and relationships, and we navigate new ways of relating to ourselves and others. At times we can build a sense of self based in victimhood. For some it’s a necessary phase. Our “fight” becomes “out there” and allows ourselves to turn our emotions into productive change, but some get caught up in the outer battle. The connection between inner and outer change is lost, and the focus on outer agencies alone, including the harm they do, negates the potential inner world change. Often those entrapped by this peril becomes the very thing they seek to destroy. Those raging against dogma becomes dogmatic in their rage. Those protesting lack of voice silence others in their protest. Those seeking equality for a specific group or identity will marginalize others, yet still hold the identity of victim even with greater external influence and power. When things become entirely external, one gets lost on the path.

Other water perils include not feeling worthy of love enough to receive and share in love, over-sentimentality, and having rose-colored glasses without a true understanding of the nature of the people around you, assuming all are altruistic.

Air: Distraction

Distraction is a seemingly harmless yet potentially devastating peril on the path, and due to the availability of more and more information in and out of the magickal path, more real than ever. When things get too tough in anything, including magick, we distract ourselves. When we are in pain, we distract ourselves from the pain. When we confront something difficult, we seek to look away. When we can justify the distraction as part of our magickal education, we think we can go around the next difficult step intellectually, and not face it. We can fool ourselves into thinking we have the experience because we have the knowledge. Teacher Stephanie Taylor and I often talk about the difference between knowledge and realization. I had a young student once, simultaneously enrolled in a master’s program in psychology, announce that he’d had “all” the spiritual experiences already, and without saying the word “enlightened,” was effectively enlightened. He got it. He was awake to spiritual reality. There was nothing more than to coast. As you can imagine, life on a magickal path disabused him of that notion fairly quickly when my heartfelt conversation could not. In less serious circumstances, we can distract ourselves with entertainment, information, and even some misunderstandings or misapplications of “self-care.”

Other air perils are all in a similar vein: the misuse of intellect or information towards ourselves and others, the need to be right in debate with others and equating that with spiritual evolution, difficulties listening to others and equating intellectual intelligence with emotional intelligence and maturity.

Earth: Impatience

The magickal path appears to promise the quick way—spells and talismans and workings of all kinds—but in truth it’s a very long way filled with many years of practice. Like any art or craft in which you seek mastery—music, dance, painting, sculpture, and yes, magick—many hours and many mistakes are needed to hone your craft. We think it took the Druids twenty years to complete their education. Pythagoras supposedly had to wait twenty years before being admitted into the Egyptian Temple tradition. His own students had to wait behind a curtain to listen to him lecture, neither seeing nor speaking to him until they reached a higher grade of initiation. Today many people want to rush to be a High Priest/ess in three years, or worse yet, a weekend. It’s easy to rush through because it’s hard to dedicate the time to the craft to gain a level of mastery. One must remember that achieving a black belt in martial arts means you have just started your journey, not ended it, reaching the minimum level of proficiently to really learn and do the work. Magick is similar with higher initiation really symbolizing a new beginning.

Other earth perils include difficulties with physical resources­­­­—especially money, home, and health—as we often emphasize the spiritual and do not take the next steps in the physical. Others have the inverse, focusing all their spiritual energies into manifesting physical things and losing sight of the inner initiatory process.

Spirit: The Full Cup

When you enter a new phase of training, particularly if you join a new group or study with a new mentor, you must approach things fresh. Many seek new trainings in order to validate what they already know, and can recoil from that which does not validate. It’s like the parable of the potential Zen student getting his cup filled by the master. He continued to tell the master all he knows and all he’s done until the tea overflows onto his hands, the master pointing out he is like the cup, too full for anything new to enter. One must find, regardless of expertise, a beginner’s mind when approaching new things. There will always be time for comparison, but if you mess with what you have done already, you miss what teaching is really before you.

Other spirit perils include excess pride, striving too much for your individuality without seeing the interdependence and interconnection of all things, and the inverse of being so focused on the collective that you lose sight of your individual true will and purpose within that collective, often to please others or conform to perceived expectations.

Recognize any of these from your journey? Even if you think you are past them, like many things, you’ll find yourself circling back time and again to refine your understanding and test your experience. Walk with courage, joy, knowledge, and patience, seeing each step as something fresh that can teach you to go deeper.

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