A somewhat clichéd saying is that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” While this may be true, there are several levels to it, and once a student realises that their life is rich in symbolism, and from their life’s experiences they can distill wisdom, a new insight is given to the aforementioned axiom.
Everyone, and everything, in our life can be a teacher for us. It only requires an openness to look, a willingness to reflect, and the skills to find out what something means for us.
Beyond this, the best teacher for us is our Higher Self. It is certainly an important aim of occult study to develop awareness of the Higher Self, or at very least supraconsciousness and intuition.
To gain the skills we need to do any kind of task we often seek a teacher. Some things we can learn through trial and error, or through intuitive means, however it can still be expedient to find someone to teach us the basics – or to assist us in avoiding some of the pitfalls. This needs to be kept in perspective. Essentially we can only learn something for ourself, so the role of a teacher is primarily that of a guide. The teacher / guide can offer us theories, exercises, and lessons, or demonstrate techniques and principles to assist in our learning, however it is still the responsibility of the student to apply what they have learnt, so it doesn’t stay as merely knowledge. It is also the responsibility of the student to choose what to do with the knowledge gained from a teacher, and what parts of the teachings they will accept as valid, or reject as not for them.
From the point of view of a student it is wise to not reject the words of the teacher too quickly. If it doesn’t make sense, rather than fully reject it, it may be more worthwhile to remember it, but file it away for later consideration once more knowledge and experience is gained. This is particularly true of any intellectual knowledge within occult training as much esoteric and occult knowledge is not rational, logical, or scientifically provable. However, as a student, if you constantly reject and resist all the teacher’s teachings it is time to look at your own motivations, and what you are trying to gain from the relationship. If you have accepted training from a teacher / guide, but feel you know more than them, then what is the need to stay as their student?
The bottom line for a student is self-responsibility. This includes take responsibility for the choices they make in regards to accepting what a teacher instructs them to believe or do. In making decisions to accept tuition from a teacher, or to be involved in any particular facet of training it may be necessary to rely on intuition and gut feelings over any intellectual rationalisation.
All this said, there are various consideration a student searching for a teacher can keep in mind.
Firstly, be clear with yourself in regards to what you want from a teacher. This can be easier said than done when beginning esoteric studies, as often it is the case that you don’t know what you really need to be learning, or you believe you want to learn something in particular – and later discover that your interest has diminished. It is wise to have some boundaries of what you are willing to accept or not accept from a teacher. For instance, sex is something often misused and abused within occult training, or the notion that the teacher can pass on their ‘wisdom’ and ‘enlightenment’ to a student through sex. Be wary of these claims, and if you are not involved in a group or teacher that openly acknowledges the training specifically involves tantra or sex magic practices then consider who is getting the ‘benefit’ from such liaisons.
Pay attention to your initial feelings and emotions when you are first talking with a teacher or group representative. Don’t get caught up in the sales pitch, but go deep down inside yourself to get a sense of whether the proposed relationship is right for you. It doesn’t matter if it sounds nice and makes sense – if something feels wrong or not-quite-right then rely on your instincts. This is an important lesson in leading a more magical life, as your emotions and feelings connect you directly with you True Self and bypass many of the belief structures, and intellectual justifications we may be prone to. This is not to say that there are necessarily any negative intentions on the part of the teacher, but it may point to the relationship (which is in potential) not being necessary or right (I am not using this in any judgemental or moral sense). It may be the case that this is the first time you’ve been confronted with someone who will challenge your views of reality – I have experienced fear of people, and seen this fear induced in others around me, in reaction to meeting a person who is a little ‘different’. Working through this fear I have sometimes discovered this person actually has a lot to teach, and is actually rather wise – although sometimes not in conventional ways.
Another important thing to consider in a teacher is how developed and balanced their personality is. Occult training can certainly be disruptive to our personality and create imbalance, and likewise people already unbalanced or with personality problems are often drawn to magical teachings and training. This can be a difficult thing to assess at the beginning of a relationship with a teacher, which is why my comments above suggest relying on gut feelings. There are several warning signs I suggest watching out for in a teacher. The first one would be whether they seem overly dogmatic, and disallow any difference of opinion with what they have to say. I believe a well adjusted teacher will happily impart what they know and understand, and if someone rejects it – either rightly, or out of their own ignorance – it will be of little consequence. The teacher will either reflect on their own beliefs and beginning to grow and adapt from the challenge, or they will happily agree to differ. A teacher who is forceful in their proclamation that they are right and the student is wrong is not allow a student to learn and grown for themselves, but rather to force a belief upon them – this is not a magical act, it is very mundane; something we have experienced since childhood from our parents, school teachers, and society.
This leads on to looking out for warning signs that a teacher seeks to manipulate, dominate and usurp power-over you. These are tactics of an unbalanced personality, a teacher who is not acting from their True Self. Be weary if a teacher sounds like one of your parent’s – as this is a hint they are indeed acting parentally. As a student of the occult you do not need a parent. You only require a guide, to assist you in finding your own inner guidance – i.e. your Higher Self. If the teacher does things to belittle you, or other students if you work within a group setting, then this is a sign they are seeking to have power over you, by making you feel smaller than them, most likely in an attempt to feel superior or show their supposed superiority to you or others involved. Likewise, excessive demands on you follow out their instructions, or as penance for a mistake you’ve made are unlikely a direct lesson they are teaching you – it is punishment. If there are mistakes made, boundaries crossed, then that should be an opportunity for more learning and dialogue between teacher and student. If a student is unwilling to be respectful of the teacher (or vice versa), or repeatedly fails to take responsibility for their actions, then it must be decided whether the relationship is continued – there should be no force or coercion in maintaining something which is not meeting any needs.
The next big warning sign I believe is claims of secret knowledge or wisdom, that only this teacher can impart, or insistence on a genuine lineage that makes them the true inheritor of a particular type of esoteric training. There are many teachers out there, and as I’ve already stated, I believe the most important one is our Higher Self. If our Higher Self actually requires us to learn something from an external source it will find the way, and another teacher if necessary. The only true secrets of the occult cannot be revealed, as one must experience these things for oneself, and develop their own wisdom. Yes, there are various concepts and techniques which may not be widely known and useful to some people, however I would strongly suggest that our Higher Self will allow us to discover what we need to know, when we need to know it. If a teaching or concept is truly a universal truth, then it is open to discovery by anyone who seeks.
Remember, that opinions are the beliefs of a teacher. You are free to accept or reject those beliefs. Any teacher or system that says you have to accept their beliefs or cease your involvement is to me rather suspect. In fact, anything that suggests that there is one physical source for all teachings and wisdoms, whether it is a book, or a person, has set itself up as a limiting factor for those who adhere to it.
There is one final point I would like to cover, which reflects what I said at the beginning about “everyone, and everything, in our life can be a teacher for us.” The overall relationship we have with a teacher can be used to learn from. All the behaviours of the teacher, good and bad, are things we can reflect on and learn from. Once we take responsibility for our own learning, as opposed to believing someone else can make us learn, we can free ourselves from following in our teacher’s footsteps and repeating their mistakes, taking on their beliefs that are not appropriate for us, and stop ourselves from hooking our Will onto theirs.