by Estelle Daniels
Being a good magickal practitioner means using consumer skills in evaluating a psychic or magickal group.
The most important rule is use your instincts. Don't argue against your own common sense. If it feels wrong or bad, don't let anyone talk you out of it. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If the claims sound overblown or unrealistic, they probably are.
Be willing to investigate and verify claims. "I was trained by Merlin Ambrosius who awarded me his special third degree". Ask for Merlin's number and follow up. Diplomas can be faked, so a piece of paper is no guarantee. If your request to check up is met with bad feelings, claims of lack of trust, threats or curses be wary. Perfect love and perfect trust is an ideal, not a shield to hide behind nor a club to bludgeon people into feeling bad.
If a person makes mundane claims (I consult for the local police) call for confirmation. If they say we have never heard of this person that can confirm someone is not telling the truth. If the claims are fantastic or unverifiable (I was an NSA agent researching psychokinetics) be wary. There are people who think their own life is dull, so they feel compelled to boost their importance. A good teacher or leader is a good teacher or leader, and that's all you should need.
Ask for references. Watch their reaction. Is it polite, surprised, hostile, paranoid? The more extreme a reaction to a benign request signals warning. If you are expected to take everything on faith, use your instincts. They might try to make you feel bad for doubting or having natural reservations. They might have a million reasons to combat doubts or misgivings. BEWARE. The more they try to persuade or coerce, the more it could be a scam. Alternatively, the more secretive and enticing it sounds, and the more they appear to resist you, the more barriers you have to hurdle (often involving money) the more they can be trying to set you up.
How you hook up with a group is an indicator. Were you referred by a friend? Is someone in the group a contact? This is the best way of assuring the group is OK. However, there are groups which capitalize on this. If an old friend from out of the blue tries to recruit you into something, be careful. If a friend gets into something, then their personality changes, and asks you to come also, evaluate them. If the change is positive, go for it. If the change is creepy or sinister, stay away.
Did you get a contact through the internet? Be extremely cautious. Make sure the first meetings are in public, like a restaurant or mall. You pick the place. Have friends watch as backup if you are apprehensive. If it feels wrong, leave and stay away from those people. Some people count on the anonymity of the internet to further their sick schemes.
Was the contact through a bookstore or coffeehouse? Asking the proprietors about the group or person can get information. If they know nothing, use the same techniques for the internet.
If you answered an ad, be cautious also. If it does turn out to be a scam, inform the paper or website, they are entitled to know. At least you did your part.
Before you commit, find out what your obligations will be, in time and resources. Find out what you will learn, what the teachers or leaders will do. Get a feel for the group and people. Especially get a good idea of financial obligations. If it's a training group, will you be guaranteed a degree or is it up to you and your efforts? Be honest with yourself because if you go in unhappy and expecting problems, there will be problems. Don't try to make the group something it is not. If you have to wait for a teacher to be ready or a class to open, evaluate whether it's worth the wait. If you must wait, ask if there is anything you could read or practice on while waiting.
Once you are in the group do not abandon your instincts. Keep perspective. A group that demands all of your time, and then some has wrong priorities. Especially if they load you down and then make you feel bad when you went to your sister's wedding. Look objectively, is it you who is choosing to take the time or is the group making demands on you, or both? If it's too much, you may have to drop out. It happens.
Beware of a group that states all books are wrong except for X. They may forbid you to read books or do certain things. There can be valid reasons for this. However if you ask for an explanation and you get "because I said so" watch out. If there are unethical or shady practices present, some of these banned books may expose them.
Ask about the rules up front. Well-organized groups will state them clearly. If the rules are nebulous or changing, watch out. And if punishment for breaking the rules seems out of proportion or accompanied with threats, run away.
If you are required to undergo some ordeal, make sure you have some idea of what it entails and be wary of strange substances. Psychological and verbal challenges are common. Requirements to imbibe unknown substances or inhale unfamiliar things are not. Say you have allergies and demand to know what you are to imbibe or inhale. If you have to, say NO and leave. In these days of date rape drugs and designer psychedelics you have to protect yourself. If you are made vulnerable in some way (no clothes, in an unfamiliar place) be sure you feel OK about it. If you are isolated for a day or more, be very wary. There are groups that require you go to some remote place, and stay out of contact with anyone for the duration of your training. This can be a possible attempt at psychological breakdown and reprogramming.
If you find you are reporting what happens in your personal life for evaluation and/or reprocessing to the group, look out. If it ends in some restrictions or demands in your personal life (especially sex), then reevaluate your membership.
If you are coerced or pressured to have sex with anyone affiliated with the group, run away. There are unethical people everywhere, and sex in exchange for whatever is a common coercion. Romance does happen, but in the context of a magical or religious group, it should be carefully examined. Do you have anything in common outside the group? Is the relationship being used to keep you in the group?
Sometimes a group will not charge money upfront, but when you are in then the pitches come for products which are sold by group members and are vital for your continued health, well-being, psychic and magickal development. If there is value and genuine benefit, then there is no problem. If costs become difficult, or you are encouraged to give up prescribed medications without consulting a doctor, be very wary. And if you try their stuff and you have problems, quit immediately and consult your doctor. If it comes to everything you are doing/ eating/ taking is wrong and you will be greatly harmed/ never fully well or empowered unless you follow the group’s régime, run away. Always check with your doctor before changing your medications, starting exercise or changing your diet or lifestyle drastically.
Are threats made by group members? This can range from threats of cursing you if you leave, to threats of terrible disasters befalling friends or family from supernatural forces. These are more common in religious based groups, but magical groups do this also. The more you believe the threats the more they own you. This also comes in the form of shadowy conspiracy groups, and your efforts are needed to combat this menace. If this group is the only thing that stands between the free world and whatever, watch out.
If you leave a group and group members cause problems for you, take action. This is not merely a follow-up request to find out why you left, but a continued strong effort to get you back, and/or threats and intrusions in retaliation for leaving. If a crime was committed, go to the police. If you explain the circumstances, most law enforcement personnel will understand and since Jim Jones, they are more educated about these scams.
Don't beat yourself up if you did make a mistake. Take the experience as a lesson, and make sure you do not repeat. Learn the warning signs and keep them in your mind.
Hopefully you will never have a bad group experience, but if you do, use these guidelines. If you keep your eyes open and examine people and claims with a critical eye, you should avoid the worst manipulations.
© 1999, 2005 Estelle Daniels, all rights reserved.