Whoever is not against us is for us. – Mark 9:40 (NIV)
Thirteen years’ worth of ministry taught me one thing: most people don’t care about a church’s claims to apostolic succession. Most people only care that God loves them and you love them too.
Twenty-seven years’ worth of magical study and work taught me another thing: most people don’t care about a teacher’s or lodge’s claim to lineage or teaching succession. Most people only care whether that teacher’s or lodge’s system works for them and can help them do whatever it is they want to do.
Questions of lineage or succession are disputed in churches – many “Old Catholic” and “Independent Sacramental” churches in the English-speaking world go on about it ad nauseam as if it’s the sole justification for their existence. Likewise it’s common to hear people in “high magic” lodges drone on about their supposed lineage tracing themselves or their lodge back to Crowley, or to Mathers, or some individual they claim was contacted by so-called “secret chiefs,” “ascended masters,” or “inner-plane adepts.”
On its surface, this claim is effectively no different from the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican claim to be directly descended from Jesus (the trope codifier for an Ascended Master), by way of the Apostles (examples of Inner Plane Adepts since they’re now considered to work on our behalf from heaven). In fact most who make these claims do so for informational purposes with no intent to defraud anyone, so the claims don’t bother me and I’ll let them stand for now without further examination.
What does bother me is when individuals and groups with a claim to succession bandy it about as a sole criterion of legitimacy, as though folks without such lineage could not have access to solid teaching or real spirituality.
I say this as someone who has apostolic succession – I was consecrated a bishop in the Traditional Roman Catholic movement in 2007 into lineages descended from Popes Benedict XV, St. Pius X, and Leo XIII, so I have every right to talk about this – and I firmly believe that bandying about lineages like a cudgel is a sign of hubris and egotism more so than a sign of spiritual maturity.
I learned the hard way that when we obsess over “lines,” we blind ourselves to the lessons other people and other traditions have to offer. When we obsess over “lines,” we lock ourselves into only one way of thinking and stunt our possibilities for learning and growing spiritually. When we obsess over “lines,” we shut ourselves into prisons of our own devising.
Look, I may be done with church or exoteric ministry, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take the lessons learned there and apply them to my magical life. If anything the outer is a reflection of the inner, meaning the lessons learned without are a key to understanding the processes ongoing within.
It seems better to me to recognize that an unbroken succession can establish the historical claims of a given teacher, group, or tradition, and to realize it gives an institutionalized safeguard from others who would hijack that tradition. Yet the existence of such a lineage is not necessarily a gatekeeper against others tapping into that tradition’s spiritual current or into that tradition’s power.
Consider Protestantism. Most Protestants admit to being outside apostolic succession, and in fact many reject it as a fiction. Thus if such a thing were necessary, then no Protestant would be able to get even the simplest prayer answered.
If succession were the only gateway into a group’s spiritual current, then no “uninitiated” solitary practitioner would be able to get the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram to work for them. Yet many do on a daily basis.
The higher and further one goes in tapping that spiritual current, there comes a point where receiving lines of succession will be important to them. For example it’s required to initiate others into that current, especially the highest initiations. Yet to obsess over it as the sole justification for one’s existence or to use it as a battering ram to tear down others outside your own lines is not only arrogant, it’s a foolish exercise in spiritual immaturity that can drive away many who might otherwise be interested in what you have to say.
So please, stick to subjects people actually care about. When somebody’s interested in the more advanced concepts like sacramental characters and validity versus liceity and wotnot, they’ll tell you.