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The Role of Mages in the 21st Century

It’s finally here- the 21st Century, complete with all the wonderful technical and scientific advances that our ancestors dreamed of. True, we don’t fly cars around or have household robots yet, nor do we take vacations in orbit or on the moon like the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey foretold. But we have at hand wondrous things- like the Internet, and the outline of our genetic map; and every five years, the fount of human knowledge doubles. It is a wonderful time to live, full of cutting edge wonders and delights, running 24/7, and at the swipe of a card. There is never a boring moment. The world is at our fingertips, and there are many wonders ready to delight us.

Yet, amidst all this glitz and flash, away from all the raucous noise, music and action, there dwell people who would be just as comfortable in the temples of Ancient Egypt, Greece, China, South America or Tibet as they are in the here and now. People who do not bother to consume all that the popular culture would offer them, but who are content to contemplate the wise words of the ancients and the sages. These people are the Mages- the Mystics, Adepts, Elders and Masters, the holy Hermits and quiet Alchemists, the fratres and sorores of many mystical Orders and Lodges. There are many flavors of Mage- from ascetic to hedonistic, but the one thing they have in common is that they are capable of delving deeply into the Mysteries of life and answering the call to serve their concept of God. All of them use and understand the concept of magick in all its forms- although they may have different names for it. For brevity’s sake, I shall use the term ‘Mage’ (a wise and learned person- Oxford) as a general term.

You might believe that these people are throwbacks to a more primitive and superstitious time and place- but you would be wrong. The ancients revered their own Mages, and knew that their quiet work on the edges of society was the true engine of social and spiritual as well as scientific advancement. Mages brought Europe and other civilizations out of their respective Dark Ages. This is as true today as it was centuries and millennia ago.

True Mages are very rare. There are plenty of people who call themselves Mages, but seldom hold up under close scrutiny and sharp questioning. The idea of being a Mage is a rather romantic one- fraught with images of bearded and robed men hurling levin-bolts from their fingertips, or youngsters like Harry Potter coming up in the world fully realized. The popular image is almost always male, but Mages can be of either sex. Males are far more common than females, simply because men can get away with being independent bachelors and eccentric curmudgeons more easily than women can. But there are female Mages, and these rare ladies are very formidable. It takes a strong woman to overcome the cultural pressure to conform to the ‘traditional’ roles of wife and mother. Even in this supposedly enlightened day and age, women are still taught to be submissive and dependent, and are stigmatized when they discover and use their intelligence. Many female Mages come up through the teachings of Wicca and other female-empowering systems. They discover that being priestess and witch are excellent foundations for further spiritual development, and continue their studies and develop the internal connections required for being a Mage.

These people do not stand out in a crowd- in fact, you’d be hard pressed to spot one if you tried. This is because they are adept at blending into the community where they live and serve. Many are solitary, but those who choose share their homes will do so with someone who understands their need for privacy. They may not have formal degrees, but they are highly educated, and you would be hard pressed to find one who could not hold their own in a conversation about pretty much anything.

Many people are born with the potential to become Mages, but most seldom realize their true potential and develop their talents and insight. Doing this takes many years of steady learning and progress, under many teachers. It isn’t a formal progress at all- some people who teach Mages aren’t even aware that they are teaching one at all. But a Mage-to-be burns for knowledge, and becomes very adept at spotting a learning opportunity, and taking full advantage of it. The accumulation of a Mage-potential of knowledge and wisdom takes place over many years, and not necessarily in formal educational institutions. There are no child-Mages, and rarely do you find one under the age of 30. This is because one has to experience their first Saturn’s Return and align themselves upon their true life- track before proceeding. Sometimes this is a traumatic period in life, especially if the outer and inner lifestyles are in opposition. A Mage-in-training will take steps to realign their outer and inner purposes before proceeding. Once that threshold is crossed, the training proceeds in earnest, and at some point, the student blossoms into a Mage.

Becoming a Mage isn’t a mere consequence of reading a book or two or joining some pseudo- Golden Dawn order of magickal dabblers. In fact, the genuine Mage rarely belongs to such groups- or if they do it is only briefly. They prefer to live and work alone. They may not even call themselves a Mage. Some spend some time in communal groups to gain experience and learn about group interaction- sometimes for years. But a point will come when they have learned all they can from the group, and will go their separate ways.

It isn’t an ego thing- a Mage accepts that the Work is something that is done privately, and even secretly. They do not need the fawning adoration of acolytes or disciples, and have no need to run such groups. They may join one out of curiosity, but seldom stay long.

Mages seldom marry or parent children. The demands of these relationships are too great, and one cannot divide themselves between the demands of the Work and the demands of parenting or maintaining an intimate relationship. This doesn’t mean that Mages are celibate hermits. They may eschew the need for sex- preferring the discipline of celibacy to increase their inner power. Or they may experiment extensively in Tantric practices. They can and do cultivate friendships outside their private domain, but keep their true drives to themselves. They may have very public jobs, where they can interact with people all day, and return home to peace, quiet, and blissful solitude.

Mages don’t make a big deal about who they are. Anyone who goes around telling people that they are a powerful adept or Mage isn’t one at all, but wants to have that aura of power and mystery about them. A real Mage won’t let on about their status. You won’t spot them out in a crowd because of their wild style, piercings, tattoos, or clothing. They prefer not to draw attention to themselves. They’ll look very ordinary, and act, dress, and speak accordingly. But you’ll probably see a gleam in their eye or intuit that this is no ordinary person you’re addressing.

Mages today are attuned to the spiritual pulse of the people they live with and serve. But they are not religious or do they ever try to convert anyone to their way of seeing life. This is because they have grown beyond the bounds of conventional religions of any sort, and work with and answer directly to the Supreme Mystery of the universe. You won’t see wings or a halo, but there will be a palpable sense of genuine sacredness in their approach to life. They’ll serve their communities quietly and without drawing attention to themselves. Your computer guru may be one. Or your child’s teacher. Or the bus driver, or the factory worker who is your neighbor. They will talk to you about ordinary things- but you will also sense something extraordinary and wonderful about them. Should you ever have the honor of being invited into their homes, you will find an eclectic mix of books in their library, interesting music to listen to, and no lack of interesting things to talk about. But you’ll feel a sacredness in their home, and will leave feeling refreshed and energized. Whatever you do, mind your manners. Look, but don’t touch. And never go digging or prying. You won’t be asked back if you do.

Where do Mages learn their skills? Life is the greatest teacher, but many were born ‘knowing’ who and what they were, even if their life paths didn’t have a name. Mages are always ‘old’ souls, and as youngsters, often have an uncanny perception of how the world works that is almost scary to their parents and teachers. Sometimes their peers shun or bully them as youngsters, but many Mages-to-be shrug this initial rejection off, and use the resulting solitude to gather knowledge. They may be average athletes, but they are always above-average scholars, writers, and readers. In the course of these early studies, the young Mage will inevitably stumble upon a ‘catalyst’ that begins their journey down the path of Magehood. It may be a novel, or a reference in a text that is the trigger. Or it may be a TV show or a movie. Or a chance encounter with an adult Mage. But there is a point in a Mage’s youth that they hear that inner ‘call’ (vocation). At this point, they diverge from the beaten path of ordinary life and begin tracking through the philosophical and metaphysical wilderness towards their own realization of who they are. They often torment their parents and teachers with deep philosophical questions and arguments that leave the elders exhausted. They don’t mean to be difficult- they just burn for knowledge.

Leaving home is often a major trigger for the resumption of the Mage’s studies. Out of the purview of the parents, the budding Mage can study things that would be looked at oddly in a social environment. Even if they are in a communal dormitory setting at college, Mages usually find some place that gives them the required solitude for the deep thoughts that are the foundation of their development. If a Mage is fortunate, he or she will happen upon a Mystery School that is in an active phase. Few exist, but they are around. An excellent active example is the Rosicrucian Order AMORC .  This group has an active outreach, and an excellent training program that will give a young Mage a leg up in their training. These groups are not cheap to join or maintain, but they are a sound metaphysical investment that will pay off for the rest of the Mage’s life. They also offer a community of like-minded peers who, even if they are not Mages themselves, at least understand the basics of metaphysics and alchemy, and are willing to discuss topics that most people look at askance. There are no slackers in these groups- joining and maintaining membership requires activity and thought on the part of the member, and even the most basic texts for beginners will open a seeker’s eyes.

Another advantage of groups like AMORC is that they have beautiful rituals built upon sound metaphysical foundations, and encourage the interaction of the members in their services. Instead of rote readings and dogmatic one-way drivel that many church services offer their congregations, these temple-based groups build on the active participation of every member who attends a rite. Some of these groups are nominally Christian in their orientation, but are not dogmatic about it, and accept people from all backgrounds. Attending a rite or being initiated at one of these temples is an enlightening experience for a young Mage, and can set the stage for later development psychically and metaphysically.

Outside of these groups, where else can a young Mage find learning opportunities? Everywhere. The world is a classroom for the vigilant Mage-in-training, and s/he soon realizes that everything from book dust jackets to billboards to random conversations with strangers are strands in the warp and weft of the fabric of learning s/he is weaving. No activity is too minor to not notice. If a Mage inputs a question to their Higher Self, they can expect an answer in one form or another fairly quickly. The biggest hurdle is learning to trust ones intuitive insight, and fine- tune it for good use.

Sometimes this entails actually ignoring its suggestion and messing up. Learning from errors is as important, if not more so than learning from success. As the Mage’s powers develop, that intuitive insight becomes a formidable ally. Also, the harsh lessons of Saturn’s Return at around age 28 can be painfully enlightening to the Mage. If the ego is getting out of hand, which is always a hazard, the sharp shock of the Saturnian energies of this time will put the Mage in a more humble state of mind.

How can a Mage measure their progress if teachers or schools are few and far between? And what about the occasional lapses of enthusiasm for the constant training and learning? Measuring progress is difficult if the student does not have any peers to compare themselves to. But the ultimate goal of Adeptship is inwardly driven, and very seldom shared. The desire to brag about ones accomplishments and abilities is understandable, but undesirable. For one, how long would it take to explain the basic concept of how the world works? Martial arts masters don’t go looking for a fight just to measure their skills. Instead, they impart their wisdom to their students. A Mage must do the same. The cornerstones of the Mage’s Pyramid are: To Know, To Will, and To Dare and To Keep Silent. Doing so seals the learning circle. This ties in with Christ’s admonition not to cast pearls before swine.

Why should such people bother to practice their ancient ways in a supposedly modern and enlightened society? Why haven’t they vanished like the dodo or the dinosaur? What is their purpose here? A Mage is called to serve- perhaps not directly, but in word and deed, the Supreme Mystery of the Universe. In doing so, they will show through their ordinary lives, that the Extraordinary isn’t something you’ll see on TV or at the movies or the mall, but right in your own yard, or home, or heart. A Mage will never preach at you, but if you ask them a question, expect a thorough answer. Even casual conversation has something to teach- the extraordinary and sacred manifests itself through the ordinary and profane.

If you are on a spiritual path yourself, and are fortunate enough to encounter a Mage, do not be surprised. Such people gravitate towards students who need questions answered or the way shown. They will not try to recruit you, or ask you for huge sums or money or time. And they may not answer your question directly. But they will show you how and who to ask, and teach you strength and independence, intelligence and wisdom- just as their own teachers taught them. They are the Teacher who appears when you, the student are ready. And they will just as quickly disappear when their duty is fulfilled. Mystics are not co-dependent sorts. And they have their own paths to walk and questions to ask.

At some point in midlife, a Mage’s spiritual progress does a quiet flipflop that transforms them from student to teacher. It won’t be overnight, or overwhelming. But they will find themselves explaining complex concepts more often than actually learning about them. And the Mage will suddenly realize that the stuff their younger peers are reading is as easy for them to understand as it is difficult for their students. And they will find that they have developed a wellspring of genuine experience to dip into and share, and do so generously.

The Mage has become an Adept. They are still learning, but are now finding that they are on the other end of the random teaching conversations they learned from ‘strangers’ in their youth. They are ‘drawn’ to speak to certain people and quietly catalyze that spark within them. The call to serve the Supreme Mystery is not to be denied. And it is unmistakable in its clarity.

Copyright 2000, 2001 by Sunfell

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