I've recently given up my occult practice after almost 20 years. In that time I went from Wicca to paganism to ceremonial magick to chaos magick to the Temple of Set to whatever I am now. I've been working on how to put the transition and my feelings about it into words for a while now, but it's been rough, because my feelings haven't quite settled down yet, I'm still sorting it all out. Not to say I'm conflicted or anything, or in some kind of “dark night of the soul” nonsense, I actually feel pretty good about my current state of mind. Before my epiphany, for lack of a better term, I was already a model agnostic à la Robert Anton Wilson, agnostic about everything, recognizing that all of our maps were flawed and that there was always another lens to focus our perception through. I didn't make too many assumptions about the underlying reality of my magical work, I just got results as best as I could, and entertained numerous possibilities about the meaning of said results. I know it sounds ridiculously wishy-washy, and it does to me too, now.
The biggest flaw with this approach is that I had no self-correcting mechanism. The eternal ambiguity of my position also put me in a place where I couldn't distinguish between actual results and self-deception, and while I was happy to be skeptical about my interpretations of said results, I was never questioning my assumption that I was actually obtaining meaningful results, I wasn't seriously considering the possibility that I was just going through particularly elaborate acts of mental masturbation. Not only did my approach lack rigor, but it was incapable of rigor. I had basically philosophized myself into a solipsistic death-spiral.
I resigned my membership in the Temple of Set a few months ago. Unlike other ex-members I've talked to, I have no complaint with the Temple, I met a lot of really great people during my time as a member, had a lot of fun, experienced interesting things, got some insight into my own values, and all in all, it was the school I needed at the time I joined. I just gradually realized that it was no longer particularly useful to me and my own process of development (Xeper, in Temple jargon), and it hadn't been for a few years. I was basically still in it for the social aspect, and it would've been hypocritical of me to stay in just for that, not to mention anathema to the values the organization itself stood for.
Funnily enough, I got a burst of motivation right after I left, and began a new project of daily ritual practice (a modified Gnostic Pentagram Ritual mostly, for those occultists keeping score), and got it into my head to revisit hermeticism. I had previously had an interest in the Greek Magical Papyri and related texts that originated in Graeco-Roman Alexandria, and so I started re-reading books in my library like Hermetic Magic by Stephen Flowers, got Greek Qabalah by Kieren Barry, along with copies of the Hermetica, the Enneads, and various other neo-Platonic texts. I decided I wanted to re-formulate the Western Esoteric Tradition materials such as can be found in the writings of the Golden Dawn and Crowley, but I was going to rework it from the ground up as an alternate magical history, trying to imagine what it would have been like if the rise of Christianity had never occurred, and if things had proceeded more directly from the learned Alexandrians. It was going to be EPIC.
Then one day, probably a few weeks into this project, I had an epiphany: What the hell was I doing? I had just been a member of an initiatory occult organization for almost 10 years, and what did I really have to show for it? And now I was starting over again with basics for about the fifth or sixth time? With all that effort expended, how had my life actually improved in a significant way? I'm not talking pleasurable and insightful subjective experiences, I'd had plenty of those, made valuable friendships, all that's to the good. But if I was really the capable magician I'd been attempting to be for so long, why was I not wildly successful, financially speaking? Why was I still in such bad physical shape, halfway crippled with recurring back pain? What concrete results could I show for all of my hard work?
Nothing. I had nothing to show for it. I gradually realized that I had basically been lying to myself for years, spending lots of money, effort and time on a fantasy power trip that kept me an ineffective deluded fool when I could have been actually doing something worthwhile and productive with my life. I had wasted nearly 20 years on a Quixotic quest for false enlightenment.
The funny thing is, while I was amazed at the magnitude of the waste I had engaged in, I didn't feel depressed about it. I found it hilarious. I was such an idiot! But more importantly than that, I felt free. I had locked myself into a hamster wheel of nonsense, and I had just remembered that the key was in my pocket the whole time. So I let myself out.
This is getting long, so I will make this Part 1, and continue later.