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A Candidate at the Threshold

Rubaphilos Salfluĕre

A new student of inner alchemy … a novice … is someone who for the first time has requested real Hermetic 'initiation' and training from an expert (aka: an Adept, in the true meaning of the word). No matter what he or she has studied before, of esoteric subjects, or has been involved in before … there is always that dividing line in the sand between involvement in popular occultism and the first time the student approaches and is accepted by a bona-fide Adept, capable of opening that link between the lower and Higher Functions of the mind.

Whatever happened previous to being accepted as a student of a true initiator is almost inconsequential. Of course it all matters in that it helped the candidate get to where he now finds himself, but the reality is the nature of the training from this point forward is going to be quite unlike anything he has previously experienced, or that which he 'presumes' will now form part of his training. For this reason, no matter what exalted grade or title he may have been used to having attained in systems of training previously, every new candidate arrives at the Threshold to real initiation a novice.

This is an important concept because about half of individuals who are accepted for real initiatic alchemical training fail to complete the training early in the work because they cannot let go of assumptions about what the work will require of them, and what it is about. Those assumptions often place conditions on the work that do not naturally belong there, and so the candidate can be recognised, sooner or later, as having an agenda, and that agenda will often be found to have nothing to do with the method and the goal of Hermetic initiation, and alchemical training.

When the lab alchemist chooses a plant or metal that will become the focus of his lab work, he does not perform that work in the field or in the mine. The laboratory is the location of the work. An analogous situation exists with the initiation and training of a novice student. His training is not carried out in the environment of his everyday life, his natural habitat. It is carried out in the seclusion of the metaphorical or actual laboratory. A space and time specially set aside for the work, where the common activities of everyday life do not intrude.

The plant or metal cannot be used in the work as they come from the field or the mine. They must be cleaned, broken up, often ground to small particles and often heated in order to prepare them for the process. The situation with the candidate for initiation is the same. His 'condition', as an everyday person, is not conducive to the alchemical process. Therefore he or she needs to learn a number of new skills and behaviours, and change a number of old habits, before being in a position to learn and experience alchemy. The way I often describe this stage of the work is that the novice needs to re-learn how to learn. Part of this process usually begins by focusing on two problems: (1) the habit of 'assuming', and (2) the habit of not following instruction exactly.

Hermetism is a science, and therefore initiation, like any scientific experiment is based on a specific formula, designed to provide specific results. In order to attain the goal of real Hermetic Initiation … Spiritual Illumination … an exact and specific process must be used. One of the first and most common problems that is recognised as being part of training novices are their 'assumptions' about what this process is (this formula is), how it is structured, and how it will be taught. These assumptions are usually based on the idea that real initiation must be the same (or very similar) to initiation in other (popular) systems. If that was true then popular systems would not only work, but they would also be based strictly on accurate alchemical principles. It will be found in most cases this is not the reality. Likewise in real esoteric initiation was like popular systems, it simply wouldn't work, because popular system, largely, do not themselves work. What defines the difference between popular systems and the real thing is that the real thing works, it works quickly and to an extreme degree. For it to be in that category reason dictates that training must indeed, then, be different from popular systems claiming initiatory rites.

In this way, based on assumptions which come from previous experience, many novices will approach their training by doing things that they either have done in previous training, or that they assume are required by real, effective training. The result of this kind of behaviour is usually that these 'tweaks' on the effective instruction work towards undermining the process. One of the reasons why 'conventional' (popular) training systems often are not effective in attaining real results, and quickly, is because they either are delivered in such a way that makes them impotent, or because students are allowed to deal with the instruction in any way they feel might be more helpful, or 'easier'.

It should be understood that if the novice already knew the inner alchemical method well enough to know how it works, and how to make it work (on himself), he wouldn't require a teacher. The first premise about the tuition relationship is that the student requests training from an expert because he actually needs the expert's help. The problem often arises, though, that the student makes inaccurate judgment calls about what help will entail, what he wants help with and what he wants to deal with in his own way.

Changing the process of training … altering its instructions … in any way at all, can be likened to changing a recipe for baking a cake. Each ingredient in the recipe is there for a reason. The flour serves a specific function. So do the eggs, sugar and milk. Their exact quantities are important. So if we leave out an ingredient, or add one that wasn't on the list, or alter their quantities … “without first understanding the role each item and its quantity play in the final success of the cake” … that alteration will always change the final outcome … and could cause all kinds of problems en route to the final goal.

So this is where the second most common problem arises. Not following instruction exactly. It is a curious fact that out of 100s of students the Heredom Group has accepted for training, that less than 1% of novices pay any attention at all to the promise they make, at the beginning of training, to follow all lesson instructions 'exactly' … “without adding to, subtracting from, or modifying”. When one is in the position of facilitating the alchemical initiatory process, and has the benefit of overseeing dozens of students of all ages, both genders, advanced intelligence and of average intelligence, with previous well developed experience in Western esoterica, and with little previous experience … and you come to witness how often, and to what degree, novices change the instructions they are provided with … the mind literally boggles.

The inner alchemical process is specifically designed to seriously and deeply alter the student's mind in such a way that those changes will then seriously and deeply change his life. Changes that lead quickly to accepting new knowledge, new understanding, a new structure of mind, a new level of function, and new behaviours … all to an extreme. An uninformed novice who feels it is ok to alter carefully designed instruction, is almost accepting … like the cake recipe analogy … that changes that occur because of those changes could lead to serious problems.

The exact same problem occurs with lab tuition. After the standard warnings provided, and the usual exchange of promises to work strictly according to instruction, I have (for example) had a student who had a serious stroke (which almost killed him), because he overdosed on a powerful metallic preparation. Even after discussing the problem with him (some months after he had his speech and semi-normal motor functions back), he still insisted that he had the right to do whatever he wanted, and initially would not admit that in fact he had taken a dose 100s of times greater than the traditional recommendation. The outcome of his decision was still not enough to teach him the lesson that the student is not the teacher and that alchemy is dangerous in uninformed hands. I have also witnessed a number of equally dangerous effects from the inner work, as a result of students who stubbornly refuse to follow instruction exactly … for their own safety and in order to ensure success.

From this angle we might understand that more often than not the common issue of whether or not the teacher is 'kosher' is frequently not the issue. Many students of the occult question the entire culture of the occult teacher and the teacher-student relationship. But they rarely ask themselves … is the student himself ripe for the task? Does the student respect the position of the teacher and of the training system? Does he recognise that if he already knew enough to know what makes the process work, and therefore what won't undermine it, that he wouldn't need a teacher? Will he read and follow instruction with the degree of care that the journey to Spiritual Illumination would warrant? Where is his primary focus? Is it on the Great Work, or on something else?

How often does anyone succeed in any deeply serious endeavour when he is not fully focused on it? The reality is that in 99 percent of cases the answer is, to some degree, no. Nevertheless, a good teacher will understand that most of his new students come to tuition with many assumptions and preconceptions, part of which will cause them to believe they know enough to tweak their tuition work in a way that they feel will be more beneficial, and/or make it easier. With that understanding a good teacher will take all necessary precautions to assure the novice is not exposed to anything dangerous until he has proved he can and will follow instruction exactly, and if he won't, then to end his tuition on the basis that at the least success is unlikely, and at worst the journey could be too dangerous for him.

So here we have the student, standing at the outside of the metaphorical Threshold to the Mysteries of alchemy. Knocking at the gate may elicit a response, and the door may be opened, but entrance is not guaranteed. Alchemy is a mystery, as is the process of initiation. In this way the journey in to alchemy is a journey in to the unknown for the novice … not a journey into something which is already understood. This is why an expert teacher is a natural necessity … because when traveling into the unknown, when entering the Mystery, a guide is always the preferred option … especially when we are not simply a sightseer, but have a specific goal in mind. How do we get from 'A' (a known location) to 'B' (inside a unknown territory)?

At this point, when the aspirant approaches the Threshold seeking admission, and he is tested and assessed as being properly prepared, willing and able, a new situation arises in the student's life that has never existed (significantly) before. When he is accepted for initiation and training, and the Adept has confirmed that he will behave in a way that will assure maximum safety and opportunity for success … the Nachash awakens, as he recognises that his mandate of assuring the novice stays firmly entrenched in common human life is now under threat. It is a curious property of the Nachash that it possess an understanding of that which constitutes effective initiation and recognises when the aspirant is involved in an effective system, and when he isn't.

While 'preparing' the novice in a way that will help him overcome the habit of assumption, and the nasty habit of not following instruction exactly, is a relatively simple situation … dealing with an awakened Nachash Function is a whole other matter. This situation is one few occultists are aware of … even though ideas about this Guardian are scattered around here and there in a good number of esoteric texts, and can be found as part of most Masonic based group ritual systems such as that of the Order of the Golden Dawn. But knowing what the Guardian really is, in the literal sense (not just as a symbol or metaphor), what its function is, and how it will behave when awakened, is something very few people know anything about.

One of the reasons why the old Adepts referred to the (metaphorical) location of the Guardian as 'The Threshold' or 'Gate' to the Mysteries, and why they gave that intelligence the title 'Guardian', is because this stage in the process, if not understood and mastered, is a sure and secure boundary that keeps all comers away from access to repeatably reliable experience of Higher Knowledge.

Nature has assured herself that the way in which the Guardian appears to the novice, is so threatening, and the solution to how the Guardian effect is neutralised, is so unusual (counter intuitive), that the chances that anyone would find the way of truly enterining-in through this Threshold are so unlikely, without having the 'key' given you by someone who already possesses it.

I make this point so emphatically, and repeat it here, because I realise that a good many people who adhere to the modern popular theory of self initiation, because they have 'issues' with the whole teacher-pupil culture of esoteric training, will look at the concept of the Guardian as I have presented it here and deeply dislike the entire idea that they may not be able to make significant … significant … progress in Hermetic initiation without help. While this situation is pervasive throughout the whole esoteric community, I believe it is less serious an issue in magical circles than in alchemical ones. At least in the magical community the concept of formal tuition in organised schools is well known, and many solo practitioners will eventually concede to give up their isolation and seek training in such a school. But the alchemical tradition, especially today (but also largely in the past) has never really had that same focus on organised formal training systems. Most modern alchemists see one of the defining qualities of the alchemical community as being that it is composed mainly of single individuals studying alone. Whether that view has historical precedence or not.

But the fact remains, I cannot think of a single individual in the laboratory tradition (by itself) who is known to have made significant progress and was never the student of a classically educated teacher. Where the inner tradition is concerned the situation is the same.

So this is the core theme of the beginning of the work. Firstly, that in order to be able to start the work effectively (to enter-in through the Threshold, metaphorically speaking), the keys to effective learning and practice must be given, accepted and used … in exactly the right way. “The entrance is narrow, and the way straight” … as the old Adepts would say. Secondly, that when the Threshold is approached in the right manner, and the work begin in the right way, because the 'matter' has been properly prepared, the first result of that proper preparation and approach is that the matter must 'die' and will putrefy.

We have already see how the natural substance taken in hand by the lab alchemist 'dies' philosophically … so the question that is often asked by the novice is now … how does the aspirant novice die, philosophically, as the inner Great Work is begun in him?

This essay was first published on the Hermetic Alchemy Forum on 24 April 2013, as post #130.

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©️ rubaphilos salfluĕre 2022

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rs/essays/initiation/candidate_at_the_threshold.txt · Last modified: 2022/02/01 16:46 by Spiritus Libri