Copyright (C) 1998 by William Mistele.  All rights reserved.

Teaching Methods, Initiation, and Esoteric Traditions

Methods in Teaching:  Since I think of myself as a student, I feel free to
share my experiences with others.  I hope to learn something from others
in the process and feel a part of a larger community.  There are, however,
a number of questions which are raised  when we discuss teaching methods
in the context of esoteric traditions.  For example, how much of a
spiritual or magical tradition is to be kept secret, how much is to be
divulged through a formal or informal training system, and how much can be
offered freely without restraints of any kind?
   Let me be specific.  If I write a book on one of the eight undines
Bardon mentions who is named Istiphul, am I not revealing too much?  Have
I inadvertently opened the gates to the astral domain for those who are
unworthy?  Do I not jeopardize these marvelous beings by enabling their
realms to become contaminated by individuals who are manipulative and
greedy?  Or, more important, am I not taking away from others the
opportunity to experience Istiphul for themselves without being fed
prepackaged and digested material?
    Speaking from experience, it appears no matter how much others read my
writings about elemental beings their experience will always remain
individual and unique. These beings are full of wonder and boundless in
inspiration.  There is nothing I or anyone else can write or reveal which
can reduce or substitute for a direct encounter with an elemental such as
   From my perspective, the human race is just at the beginning of
exploring the spiritual universe.  We only have a few pages of the prelude
to the books of wisdom and the operating manuals of creation.  Is it
possible to abuse the power we acquire?  Yes, this will always be a
possibility.  Is it possible to somehow interfere with an undine's beauty
and love?  Yes it is just as it is possible to interfere with the purity
and nurturing power of the seas.  But we do so at our own peril risking
self-destruction if we proceed motivated by selfishness and greed.  Yet I
would not write as I do unless I had a backup plan and overall agenda
which justifies my actions and puts safeguards into effect.  
   I have lived for forty years in a world where the deployment of power
was biased on a balance of nuclear terror. Even the most conscientious of
politicians considered it a necessary evil and refused to think anything
more about it. The human species has placed not national boundaries but
its own existence and the biosphere at risk by proceeding in this manner.
It is natural under these conditions (when I was growing up) to ask for a
wisdom and a love of sufficient magnitude and quality that they can
contain all power within themselves--that they can guide the human race
into future centuries with a degree harmony and also the ability to take
responsibility for our own self-destructive tendencies.    
    If there are new powers in the world and new challenges, then we also
need new teaching methods and opportunities for learning to cope with our
real life situations. Let me cut to the bottom line.  What I have learned
most from teachers in many traditions is not  their esoteric information
nor their process of initiation nor mysterious and wondrous magical
secrets which they have shared in one way or another.  What I treasure
most in  teachers is their enthusiasm toward their subject matter.   When
they have had this enthusiasm and invited me to discover my own enthusiasm
as an equal--this is when I learned something valuable. 
   Teachers such as this are willing in any moment to communicate to you
the essence of all their teachings.  It is a heart to heart transmission.
If you can get this, then they know that all knowledge, wisdom, technique,
and method will fall into place.  Everything else is at best secondary.
Everything else is empty and worthless without the heart. 
    This idea of transmission does not put the student in a subsidiary and
passive relationship to the teacher.  For me, a good teacher realizes that
inspiration is beyond all knowledge and the wisdom of all traditions.
Inspiration is wonder, awe, love, and appreciation.  For this reason, a
teacher will regard the light burning in a student's heart not as a dimmer
flame than what is in his or her own heart or a cloning of his or her own
     The student's experience is always new.  It is full of
incomprehensible possibilities and experiences which the teacher may never
in this life time have the resources to fathom.  From my point of view,
the only way to tell a teacher in any group of people is by observing the
individual who is learning the most.  That is the one with the most open
and receptive heart.  Let us consider further these issues of knowledge
and initiation, of enthusiasm and the heart.  In terms of methods and
exercises for self-mastery, I can summarize my 23 years of experience with
the Franz Bardon system in nine paragraphs.  To me, this is what Bardon
has a student practice in his three books: 
    1. You make your mind completely empty of thoughts so it is reflective
like a mirror, receptive like the ocean, empty like a void,  open like the
sky, intense like air the moment before lightning strikes, serene like
moonlight, fragile and responsive to suggestion like a dream, and solid
and enduring like a mountain.
   2. Next, with this empty mind, you focus your attention on something--a
problem, your life path, an elemental being, a spirit, or a project you
wish to accomplish.  You add to this a little technique.  Techniques are
endless in variety.  You can visualize a picture, a sigil, an image or
symbol of God/Goddess;  you can meditate on a prayer or a chant;  you can
use incense, music, or a tone;  you can do a pathworking, mental
wandering, construct a magical circle or perform a ritual, gaze upon a
crystal ball, speak a word of power, etc. etc. Technique, methods, and
procedures are employed to receive and amplify impressions. 
    3. And finally, through direct experience and careful study and
analysis, you interpret your impressions.  You translate them into words
and call it telepathy, into visual images and call it clairvoyance, into
sensations and feelings and call it clairsentience, into all three while
connecting to a spirit and call it an evocation, into new information and
call it knowledge, into a spiritual realization and call it wisdom, into
light and freedom and call it enlightenment, etc.  Impressions received
from outside yourself can also over time become  internalized so you
embody their qualities and energy.
     4. This same procedure can also be expressed in a more active manner
typical of magick.  All methods and techniques for changing oneself or the
world boil down into a simple formula:  you concentrate on what is desired
as if it is real right now in this moment.  You add an appropriate kind of
energy to your picture, feeling, thought, etc. so it has some power
independent of your mind and thoughts and can move with enthusiasm toward
the objective on any or all planes.  And you also take into consideration
and comprehend from within every force, situation, resistance, and
obstacle which blocks your vision from becoming reality.  This last
element insures that your course of action is forged from wisdom and
results in harmony--that you can proceed without inference or resistance
from the energies or environments your desire encounters on the four
    5.  For example, in chapter three of Bardon's Initiation into
Hermetics, you practice imagining the elements of fire, water, air, or
earth around yourself as if you are immersed within a boundless sphere of
a single element.  Take the earth element. What is it to imagine you have
within and around yourself a vast expanse of the earth element?  This is
the same as learning to think, feel, and perceive as a gnome.  
    6. Your mind attunes to that one element learning to amplify,
condense, and transform it.  After this training, it is not so difficult
then to form connections and interact in a creative manner with gnomes.
If you spent time concentrating on minerals, precious stones,  trees,
mountains, and so forth you would be undergoing the training of a gnome
magician.  And so it is with fire, water, and air.  
     7. You can also use colors instead of the elements. If you imagine
yourself within a boundless expanse of emerald green light, then you are
learning to think, feel, and perceive as a spirit of Libra or Taurus in
the earthzone or a spirit from the sphere of Venus.  The colors, then, can
be used for probing the qualities, powers, and consciousness of the beings
within the spheres regardless of whether you make connections to them or
    8. In the end, when you can concentrate effectively, your thought is
like electricity and magnetism.  Everything else is attracted to and
becomes aligned with it.  The four planes cooperate with it.  It is like
akasha--obstacles dissolve in its presence.  It is like a mating of Saturn
and Uranus--something completely new and without precedent is introduced
into the world and yet it feels so natural it seems like it is what was
meant to be all along. 
     9.  When I consider the entire spectrum of methods in Bardon's three
books with over five hundred different spirits and 26 cosmic letters, this
summary is what I come back to in order to understand what I am doing.
Self-transformation, self-mastery, and integration--aligning oneself with
the forces, the laws, and the harmony of the universe--are at the heart of
the process from beginning to end. 
    Does Bardon communicate enthusiasm and a willingness to regard the
student as an equal?  Does he transmit the essence of his teachings to his
students with the intent of empowering them to acquire their own
experience guided by their own sense of wonder?  For me he does this.  
   He introduces methods for training the mind, soul, and body.  He gives
sigils and descriptions of elemental beings and spirits.  The sigils and
elements are keys opening the gates to elemental and spiritual domains.
He teaches evocation but evocation is optional.  You can also interact
with spiritual beings through mental wandering--meeting them in their own
domains--or you can seek spiritual wisdom through practicing the cosmic
language.  Freedom and self-initiation are the nature of his system.
    Bardon's system provides for nearly every conceivable kind of
assistance.  There are spirits who specialize in protection, magical
perception, wisdom, enlightenment, love, power, relationships,
peacemaking, business, advertising, technology, science, industry,
history, justice, music, art, poetry, healing, alchemy, sex, birth, death,
the bardo, reincarnation, religion and ritual, any and all of the four
plane, and the spheres of the solar system, etc.  It is up to the student
to discover and to make connections to these spirits according to his own
needs and maturity. 

 The question still remains about how to teach magick to others within the
context of a large and mature esoteric system.  The trick is to share and
inspire without spoon feeding others or demeaning and minimizing their
own, unique discovery process.  To this end, I will review some examples
of educational situations in which I learned the most.  
   Naturally, everyone will have their set of core experiences which guide
and motivate them.  There is no need for consensus on this matter.  Yet we
are perfectly free to listen to and learn from each other. I will state,
however, form the beginning that I am an Aquarian and my approach
emphasizes freedom, discovery, and cosmic wisdom over tradition,
structure, and authority.  
    Technically speaking, I do not see a conflict between tradition and
innovation.  Recall that in some circles Aquarius is co-ruled by both
Saturn and Uranus.  Aquarius finds a way of honoring and working with the
past while fulfilling its own obligation to make all things new.
    When I was in eleventh grade in high school, I was bored to death in
algebra class.  The American system of math education and United States'
students are nearly the worst in the world.  Other nations have the
teacher present a problem and leave the students to first work out
individually, in groups, or as a class the solutions.  The students then
share and teach each other what they have discovered.  The teacher steps
in at the end with suggestions for how to improve upon the student's work
offering them feedback on their problem solving process. 
   In the United States, the method is to teach the rules and concepts of
math and then have the students apply this rote knowledge to solving the
problems which fall within these categories.  As a consequence, the
students do not learn initiative or self-reliance.  They are not
challenged and ambiguity is not permitted.
   It was my good fortune in eleventh grade algebra to be thrown out of
the class along with another student.  Both of us kept pointing out to the
teacher that there were more effective ways for solving the problems than
what he was presenting.  The two of us were permitted, however, to spend
our hour of class time in a tiny little math library with wall to wall
books on mathematical theory covering a wide range of topics.  The two of
us spent our time rambling through these books challenging each other to
solve the most interesting problems we could find.  I learned a lot
because our enthusiasm was like an explosion.  We never considered what we
were doing as involving work, discipline, or effort. 
   The result for me due to an enlightened department chairwoman was that
I was permitted to skip a year of math and go directly into the advanced
placement calculus class.  But there I again ran into the American system
of education.  The teacher taught explanations and occasionally gave
problems a little more challenging than what had been explained.  Many of
the students in the class considered themselves superior to other students
and slightly elitist.  Many did not feel I should have been among them
even though I was in the top percentage of the class.  Nonetheless, I
learned that you can educate yourself on a topic if you are
well-motivated, challenged, and in an interesting environment.
     Another example.  I had the opportunity to race sailboats during the
summer in high school.  I learned  from many different teachers who took a
lot of time and effort to drill me on basic techniques.  One day during
the world championships in the Lightning class, I had an opportunity to
see the world champion perform.  With eighty boats at the starting line,
the water was crowded and maneuvering restricted.  But he cleared a space
and then gained enough momentum that after the starting gun he sailed out
ahead and then crossed in front of the entire fleet. 
   It was clear that he was master of  his competition and had good
technique.  But what I learned was different.  From the way he sailed his
boat, I had my first clear vision of a man who had learned to join the
boat, the water, the wind, the sails, and his crew into one energy system.
He sailed his boat from a state of trance as if nothing else existed.  He
was a fierce competitor but also a mystic--the elements of nature fell
into harmony around him as he moved among them.  I do not think he could
explain or teach what he was doing but in seeing it I received that flame
of inspiration--that there is a way of being within nature that neither
competition nor aggression can ever capture. 
    In college, I learned the most from a drama teacher.  For class
credit, she let me produce and direct several dramas (Samuel Beckett)
without ever giving me directions or even feedback.  She did not give me
materials, a stage, or even other actors.  
    Some of us converted the basement of a house into a stage and gave our
performances at night to other students invited by word of mouth.  It was
a very small auditorium.  The experience was a magical enchantment as good
drama should be--drama like the spoken word of a bard can take you into
another world and another plane of existence where you encounter the
mystery within and of your self.  The power in this teacher was in her
ability to nurture.  She could give others a new world to enter without
restricting them with her judgments or imposing upon them standards from
outside. Inspiration like fire is contagious if given the fuel of freedom
and ignited by enthusiasm.
   Over the years I have also studied with many esoteric, oral traditions.
Any good esoteric tradition will outline a cosmology--a summary of the
active energies shaping the universe.  And then it will ask the student or
initiate to seek to discover, encounter, embody, and harmonize those
energies within himself.  
   However, in a number of monasteries where I studied, the insecurity of
the students was so severe they would attach themselves to and demand
conformity from others with nearly hysterical anxiety.  Like a group of
chimpanzees or baboons, they engaged in intense hazing and power struggles
in an attempt to form a hierarchy among themselves.  Though they were
there to transform themselves from within, they were addicted to an
external order and could not survive without it. 
    Needless to say, I did not learn much in these monasteries in spite of
the massive amount of occult information and rituals they begrudgingly
would teach from time to time.  The masters hoarded their wisdom as
something they would teach and pass on only to the most loyal who spent a
life time serving their interests.  But I did learn a lot from one Zen
priest, a kind of master of akasha. He transmitted his enthusiasm and his
wisdom without ever once speaking one word of Buddhist doctrine to me.
From sitting and eating with him, I learned what it is to have a heart
that is always open. 
   When it comes to seminars and retreats, I love situations where there
is structure and the constant presence of a teacher.  But the teacher is a
facilitator whose primary mode of interaction is to set up conditions
under which the students engage each other.  The teacher adapts his
knowledge and experience to this group of students in this moment of time.
Everything is open to modification without compromising the flame of
    In summary, speaking for myself, information, knowledge,
esoteric/occult/magical techniques and rituals are pretty much irrelevant
to the process of initiation.  There are those who will say, "We will only
give our higher teachings to those who have proven themselves to be worthy
by meeting our standards and qualifying by proceeding step by step through
the stages of our system."  These procedures will put you in touch with
the wisdom of the past to the extent they actually reflect the past.  The
problem is that the ancient teachers were innovators breaking the rules of
their day when they founded their traditions. 
    For me,  secrecy is like someone guarding a few feet of sand on a
beach stretching out into water a foot deep and advertising, "We can give
you a taste and feeling for the sea."  Yes, they can do that and some do
it extremely well.  But what I am after are sailors who are adventurers
and who are prepared to sail a sea which has no shores, a sea whose winds
are ecstasy, whose waves are bliss, and whose depths contain the dreams
and visions of eternity.  This is what I believe is the scope of Bardon's
training system.  It emphasizes discovery and direct, personal experience,
an absence of secrets, and an endless process of transformation.  
    The reason for this is that clear, open, well-formulated, and truthful
communication is a divine virtue.  This principle is written into the
stars, into the constellation of Gemini, and it is an aspect of Divine
Providence.   It requires an open and inspired heart and there is no limit
set on the range or power of its influence.  As I often repeat, the light
of our sun and its song of inspiration shine to the ends of the
universe--every single day and every single moment its heart is outpouring
love.  May we all attain to such illumination.
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