“Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.” – Screwtape from the Screwtape Letters
The above quote is from the book The Screwtape Letters, written by C.S Lewis as a series of letters written by Screwtape, a senior devil to his nephew Wormwood, a junior devil in charge of corrupting a man. Though the book is written regarding the Christian religion, it has many valuable insights that are useful for people of all spiritual paths.
To elaborate on the above quote, Lewis sees a type of behavior/mentality in certain Christians where they hop around and “shop” for the perfect church for themselves. To Lewis, attending a single church is meant to be a process where even though one still utilizes common sense and judgement against potential falsehoods, one is generally in a receptive state of mind where they are ready to receive, to learn and grow spiritually.
Church shoppers go from this receptive state of mind to one where they are a connoisseur and critic. A receptive learning process turns into a critical reviewing process. If the pastor speaks with a funny accent, or if some of the other churchgoers seem snooty, then oops, this church is no good. Let’s leave. The baby is tossed out with the bath water. Church shoppers don’t get much out of their religion and experience limited growth.
The same mentality can be found in the occult and alternative spiritual community, but it seems few people are aware of it. There are people who similarly read many different grimoires and studies different magickal paths, only to denounce them all and reject them based on the tiniest details.
I’ve seen Thelema rejected because of Crowley’s misadventures in life and his involvement in Thelema itself. I’ve seen the writings of Franz Bardon, and to a lesser degree, the Hermeticism he’s associated with rejected simply because Bardon was chubby (he had an underactive Thyroid that made weight loss difficult). Chaos Magick gets completely dismissed by some people simply because it’s a more recently created school. Often times I see the same people denouncing multiple books and paths in this manner. More hilariously I’ve seen on 4chan’s occult discussion threads with people claiming grimoires and entire magickal practices as invalid because they lacked the proper “ethnography”.
I mean, for god’s sake, as an occultist and magician you’re here to grow spiritually, better yourself and/or get some material gains. If something gives you results and harms no one, then it’s fine. Who gives a hell whether some book or practice has the proper “ethnography”? You’re an occultist, not a academic author.
Often times Grimoire shoppers end up as armchair occultists who are well read, but practice only a superficial level of a fraction of the material they’ve come across. That by itself is their own business, but unfortunately in some communities they are perceived as gurus and authority figures because they’re so seemingly well informed and are willing to speak up on a wide variety of discussion subjects.
Sadly when they are treated as a guru they end up offering the same endless stream of criticisms to often times new practitioners, and would steer them off otherwise perfectly fine paths or create confusion amongst them. Do you really need a genuine lion skin belt to work with a Goetic Demon? Maybe Guru says you do, but do YOU really? Not only are the grimoire shoppers the occult equivalent of the church shopping Christians Lewis has warned against, in the occult community they can also have a much bigger, and usually negative influence on others.
It’s always a good thing to have critical judgement and also to broaden your horizon by reading more occult works, especially of different schools. However going overboard and having your mentality subtly warped to an unhealthy one of a critical connoisseur is something to watch out for.
When I read new occult material, I find it fruitful to see how it may share similarities with things I’ve already learned and how the similarities may tie into my practice and worldview. I’ve also had good results carefully trying out promising new ideas from new things I read, testing whether they work, and how they may fit in my preexisting system of practice or even change them. In short, I find it beneficial to somehow actually work with new material I come across, instead of critically dismissing everything, and then go on a frenzied search for the “perfect” system.