Our Problematic Occult Ancestors

Our Problematic Occult Ancestors June 12, 2019
Image Credit: Javier Peñas | CC0 License

Something I often think about and struggle with is the fact that almost all of our occult ancestors that contributed to our understanding of magick are more often than not problematic in one form or another. Some are racist, some are sexist, some are xenophobes, some are antisemitic, some are homophobic, some are classist. Unfortunately, it’d be hard to find some that aren’t problematic in one way or another at some point in their life. I feel it’s important to know in which areas that they are extremely problematic and not ignore it. However, I’d also be cautious of throwing out the baby with the bathwater entirely. By studying our own history and the foundations of western occultism we know where we’ve come from and can be more conscious of where we’re going.

For example, Dion Fortune was a raging homophobe. That doesn’t lessen her contribution to the occult or lessen her theories of magick. It just means she may have been a shit person with extreme character flaws, like Crowley and like many others. I think the problem is that we want ideal figures from the past, to put them on pedestals, to make them perfect, and reflect our current morality. We want occult figures whose words are always seen as authoritative, correct and just when often they fall very short of that.

We can look at their culture and time period and the common beliefs of the people for a bit of an understanding of their cultural attitudes, but it doesn’t give them a free pass, and excuse their problematic ideas and statements. We shouldn’t pretend they weren’t problematic in areas or that we should neglect all of their work that built the foundation of what we do today. It means that we should read with discernment and an understanding that we are here to make progress on that legacy and do and be better than they were as people, magicians, and theorists. I think the majority of Crowley’s writings on the occult are genius and often beautiful. I think I would have hated him as a person, and I think a lot of his personal non-occult opinions are trash and should be recognized as such.

Many of the Greek philosophers whom Western philosophical and metaphysical ideas are based upon were involved in pederasty, owned slaves, and didn’t always have the best attitude towards women. We don’t totally disavow all of their wisdom or the foundation that they provided us because of those extremely problematic practices and world views. But we also don’t view or embrace pederasty or the other problematic areas as correct because we value their wisdom.

I view it similarly as ancestral and familiar trauma, shadows, and curses. This is our heritage of bullshit that we’ve inherited and it is our responsibility to heal and fix it. Ignoring it isn’t going solve the problem, nor is completely disavowing these ancestors of occultism who laid the foundation for what we are doing today. When we ignore history we’re doomed to repeat it. We recognize their crap, call it out, and strive to be better people than they were and hopefully shift the future of our legacy in the present. We don’t use it as an excuse to engage in this behavior. We value their contributions of occultism and we use their problematic ideas and attitudes to use it as a reference point of what we did wrong and how we know better now. This is how we lay our foundation for the future of occultism and the generations that follow us. We should have higher standards for modern teachers and writers of the occult. In today’s climate of ‘wokeness’ there’s no excuse for the sins of ignorance from occult teachers and authors to be perpetuated in the present by the living.


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