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Thursday, August 4, 2022

Where are all the Intermediate and Advanced Books? What even is intermediate and advanced...?


          Sometimes, my friend likes to look at reviews of my books. Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits has a rating of 4.7 out of 5 on Amazon, I feel pretty good about that. There are a lot of reviews I'm pretty proud of. I watched closely when the book first came out because it was new and I really wanted to see what people thought. I try to check still sometimes, I appreciate the reviews and would love if more people who liked my books reviewed them. A lot of the time now it's my friend who brings them up. He's been popping over to scope them out off and on for the last two years. He's not a magician, but he finds the reviews interesting and will comment on ones that seem odd. Last night, he brought up one that I don't think I'd noticed before.


" I haven't finished the book yet. I am only on chapter 7 but already feel like some of the information is a tad bit hard to retain because it's so detailed. This is definitely not a book you can just pick up and read straight through. I do think the author has alot of knowledge on the subject and I like that there are rituals listed"


          He felt like the review, which gave the book 4 stars, basically downgraded it for not being a beginner book. 4 stars isn't bad. In a world of actual ratings, 4 out of 5 isn't bad, in a world of algorithms and statistics, yeah, everyone wants as many fives as possible. I like the content of the review though. Having rituals is good, author has lots of knowledge, and it's very detailed. The draw back, it's not really an easy read for someone beginning to explore this and you have to take your time reading it. That, can still a good thing depending upon the goal of the book.

          I kind of like the idea of Living Spirits as a semi-intermediate book. It grew from a series of posts introducing concepts and approaches to spirit work. It formed into a book as I expanded, reassembled and added to them in order to create an explanation of a worldview, and approach to that worldview, and serve as a kind of magical field guide to several types of spirits and spirit-work. It kind of presumes some magical practice and is intended to build a deeper layer for that practice even if it could be approached without that background.

          Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration was written with kind of the opposite intention. Someone who has no magical experience, or who has magical experience but no experience with conjuration or spirit magic could take Luminarium and hit the ground running within a week or so. If someone reading it has magical experience or conjuration experience it tweaks and arranges some stuff in new ways, and short-cuts some things which should hopefully present new ideas to experiment with. It's written more for a beginner with the intention of being used as a handbook or working manual rather than an instructive text, but with the goal of also being useful for an experienced magician.

          I think a lot of magic books feel like they need to be written with the intention of being an accessible how to book that can be picked up by anyone. It makes sense, the market for magic books isn't large, so it's easier to have an audience if every book works for every reader. It's still probably good to have an idea of an experience level in mind, and it's probably good to sometimes have the intention of writing with the expectation that the reader should have some experience. Jason Miller's new book Consorting With Spirits, openly talks about expecting the reader to have experience. I would still feel very comfortable handing it to a beginner and it is a book I'd happily recommend if a friend asked me for books to start with. It's very accessible and it presents ideas that make a good foundation for thinking about spirit interactions.

          My friend's comments that the review sounded like the only issue was that my book isn't a beginner book lead to me talking with him a bit about how "so what do we recommend as intermediate or advanced material?" is a question that gets asked every few months on the magical internet.

          More and more these days people seem to shy away from actual answers. Learning from spirits, or all books are beginner books have become more popular answers. In reality, learning from spirits can also be a beginner activity, and all books don't have to be beginner books.

          I think part of the issue is, as I mentioned, that it's easier to write something accessible for beginners. Partially, because of the audience, partially because we can feel more confident that we're writing something meaningful to that audience. We also don't have to strain our depths as knowledge holders or researchers if we're writing for beginners. Keeping language simple, direct, readable and clear could be something that some people find easier with beginner material, or it could be something some people struggle with regardless of the level of the material. It should probably be a goal even in intermediate and advanced material though.

          I think another element of the issue is "what constitutes beginner, intermediate, or advanced?" There isn't a set firm answer for that. We don't have set curricula for all of magic. As we progress, things that seem advanced to others seem like simple beginner info to us. I was once part of a group where we were doing series of 101 and 201 classes in a local store. We frequently got feedback that the 101 material was much more advanced than people expected in a 101. We thought we were keeping things super basic. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced can be very subjective things. I think this is true in lots of disciplines, not just magic. People want to know what material is really advanced, when often the answer is there is no advanced material, there are advanced approaches to material.

          When I was first getting serious as a fencing coach, or really, a little before I got serious, I put together a curriculum which I thought was basic foil. I told some foilists I could work with them but I could only teach basics in foil since my background was sabre. Later, those experienced foilists pointed out that I was explaining stuff they thought was intermediate or advanced. The curriculum I put together really constituted the bulk of anything anyone would learn while training as a foilist and was sufficient for taking people from beginner to what would be considered an "elite" athlete by some measures.

          I would still say my foil curriculum covers beginner and intermediate material, not advanced material, because there isn't advanced material. Advanced is instruction modifies approach and perspective. Either way, it kind of illustrates how beginner, intermediate and advanced are based on your own self-assessment. I assumed my background in foil was less extensive than it was so I limited my self-assessment to being capable of work with beginners.

          Breaking down my current assessment of beginner, intermediate, and advanced in fencing is pretty simple. Beginners learn to move, they learn basic footwork, they learn the essential concepts and rules of the sport, and they learn simple fundamentals that give them a few basic actions. They have enough to move around and try the sport and fence some bouts.

          Intermediate training is a much bigger range and can have intermediate-beginner, intermediate, and advanced intermediate as subheadings if that's helpful to you.  Intermediate students start learning how to more or less correctly execute and use those fundamentals. They learn some contextual ideas that form basic tactics. They learn a wider range of techniques and that wider range of techniques is what lets you break down those subheadings. Eventually, your wider range of techniques starts to become more about details and variations and more tactical elements of application.

          An advanced student has learned essentially all the techniques. So lessons for an advanced student will often just be very demanding very detailed execution of fundamentals. Advanced students perfect the things they will rely on. They work on determining what techniques to lean into and begin to specialize those and learn to create opportunities to make those specializations more useful. They deepen their tactical and ideological understanding and how to apply that understanding. They might work on filling specific gaps or wholes, but usually with new ways of applying or correcting existing knowledge. Advanced isn't about new techniques or secret moves, it's about going deeper and becoming more perfect with what you already know.

          Magic can be the same in a lot of ways, but it also has some differences in how we might look at concepts of beginner, intermediate and advanced.

          The A.'.A.'. curriculum, and those curricula which led to it and which stem from it are based on this kind of structure. The magician initially learns some basic rituals and meditations, and a lot of basic ideas as a beginner. The intermediate magician puts those techniques and ideas together and contextualizes them in more involved systems of techniques that involve more powerful and effective approaches. The advanced student has learned all the techniques of the system and pulls it all together into a complete understanding of the system and the magical universe which contextualizes it. They express this understanding and let that lead them to a space in which they more deeply engage that magical universe as a context for understanding their work and their existence.

          We don't have to look at the A.'.A.'. or other ceremonial magic systems for that approach to make sense. A beginner in witchcraft or sorcery learns some basic ideas and basic skills. Frequently they learn a few spells or rituals to try out. They get enough of a sense of things to try it out, see that it works, and realize that they want to explore more. They might not even really know what direction they want to take that exploration.

          The intermediate beginner starts exploring different systems and experimenting with them. They try different techniques and ideas and experiment with what suits them. An actual intermediate student might pick a system or two to really study and explore and experiment with and start really diving into or identifying with it. An advanced intermediate student gains real traction and success with that system, and maybe has some fair understanding of a few other systems.

          An advanced student might dive in deep with specific aspects of a system they're working with. They might explore more deeply the development of ideas and practices and what that reveals about how we engage and use them, what they mean, and how to expand them or get more out of work with them. They might be proficient in a few disciplines and begin looking at how those disciplines inform an understanding of each other and how one can innovate and develop better approaches without compromising, harming or misappropriating the systems they're being drawn from. They gain a level of mastery over their system which lets them explore, compare, innovate and create ways in which to engage, use, and teach their system of working.

          When we approach concepts of beginner, intermediate and advanced this way, it remains that there are materials and teachings out there which are good for beginners and good for intermediate students of all levels. Spirits can teach at all of those levels, but so can books and teachers. Throughout the course of beginner through the range of intermediacies there are new techniques, knowledge, interpretations and approaches to learn. As we move into being legitimately advanced, there are still materials which will help, but I would argue that the materials might not be advanced so much as our relationship to how we explore and use them. I suppose some materials might be legitimately advanced on their own though, but would be more inclined to assume certain experiences, lessons from spirits, and maybe lessons from embodied teachers would approach the space of advanced material.

          We can all recognize the types of books that are beginner books. Intermediate beginner books might still kind of look and feel like beginner books to people with more experience. They still go deeper in their knowledge. They present more complex ideas or methods or a more thorough explanation. They might give a firmer basis on which to build ideas and practices. As we get to more legitimately intermediate work then we might start to see more specialization on particular aspects of traditions. There might be more particular information that gets missed elsewhere, more attention to correcting errors and assumptions, or techniques that have more impact or require more experience or attention to explore.

          As we move to advanced intermediate and advanced material we start to move outside of texts that are written for magicians. Academic books, history, anthropology, philosophy, botany, biology, medicine, and more might be things that inform a deeper exploration of more refined technique and refined thinking about the systems and approaches we're using. Some of these sorts of materials might also be useful for an intermediate student. There might also be some practical texts that are useful at these stages because of how specialized they are, or because of how much depth of experience the author communicates within the particular fine tuned area of the subject or system.

          Where particular materials fit in isn't necessarily a hard and fast delineated thing because there aren't set curricula and the way we engage these systems and this information will vary from person to person as well. We might also find books that seem really specialized but are still kind of intermediate-beginner because the author's depth of knowledge or skill just doesn't let it go beyond that point. Thinking about materials from this kind of perspective can also help us evaluate materials. Does something seem like it should be focused and taking a deeper approach and should therefore be more of an intermediate or advanced intermediate work, but the material it provides is still basic stuff you'd find in beginner books, riddled with errors, or just ungrounded speculations? Is it just material that isn't useful because it's the author expressing an aesthetic or an enjoyment of the feelings that something provides rather than practical lived experience with ideas or methods which can have practical impact? Then maybe those books really are beginner books even if they seem more specialized, or maybe they're just not good. Looking at where work fits can help us evaluate it.

          Because there are so many different approaches to magic this model of how we engage information isn't the only way to consider when classifying something as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. One system might be viewed as more advanced than another. Sometimes that is warranted and sometimes it is a misapprehension. Since I came up through the A.'.A.'. system I had an impression that Abramelin and grimoire work were more intermediate or advanced material that needed to be approached once you did the grade work. Now I realize there are more spirit driven approaches which could place this work much earlier in someone's magical development. Some people might say devotional work with spirits is for beginners, where conjuration is more intermediate and things like trance possession are more advanced, whereas other people might have different views because of how their systems approach those things. Differences in point of view and in systems of training can make these classifications harder.

          We might also need to consider the aptitude of the student. Some people are well suited to the most basic and mild systems of magic. Everything they ever explore and encounter might seem like beginner material to other people. This doesn't mean that there isn't some gradation for them as far as the material is concerned. Some of this gradation is a false structuring. For example, it has become popular in the eclectic Wicca community to treat working with deities as an advanced idea that beginners should avoid and should be cautious in approaching. There isn't a good reason for this if you have good material explaining that kind of work. It should probably be one of the first things being explored. It's viewed as advanced because people are told it is, not because they need to work to understand it. In that context, learning a system of divination might be more intermediate because the student needs to expand their grasp of beginner material to understand how divination works, and then they need to learn all the features of the divination system. The need to explore and increase understanding and assimilate a broader range of material might make that a more intermediate study for some people. Many of us might dismiss that as still being a beginner element of work. Maybe for those people who approach it as intermediate, things will click, they'll expand further and their frame of reference will change. It might still be good for us to be patient with other levels of ability and understanding and recognize that there are many framings for these hierarchies of complexity, or more appropriately phases of development.

          All in all, I think modeling beginner, intermediate, and advanced with the type of nuance referenced above where works might fall into different categories dependent on how they're approached or what purpose they're serving is going to give us the most mileage. Acknowledging that particular systems, tasks, or techniques might be contextualized as beginner, intermediate or advanced depending on the student is important too. There is also simple space for saying something like _Wicca: A Guide for a Solitary Practitioner_ is a beginner book, but maybe _Obeah: A Sorcerous Ossuary_ is an intermediate book (although a beginner book for that particular system), and the entire Brill catalogue could be taken as advanced books. Ultimately, the answer isn't that there is no intermediate or advanced material because no one writes it. The answer isn't that all material is really beginner material - some material would be ridiculous for a beginner, some material could be used by a beginner but applied more reasonably by an advanced or intermediate practitioner. The answer isn't, books are for beginners and spirits will teach intermediate and advanced material. The answer comes down to framing those terms and understanding what they mean. From there we can understand what to look for as we move ourselves, or help move others through those phases of development.

          As authors and teachers we can think about what it looks like when we create beginner material, intermediate, or advanced material. If we have a clear framing we can get closer to effectively building those materials. If we just say "this subject is more intermediate" then, we'll have people who find the subject to still be a beginner subject and others who think its advanced. If we can say "how do I handle this material and who is my audience and what should they get out of it? how should they be able to approach it? who will be able to approach it?" Armed with questions like that we can approach building material that more effectively addresses those developmental phases.


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