Almost everything I know about the Probationer
This article covers:
● What’s the Probationer
● Giving meaning to the terms
● Extras of the Oath
● Probationer’s tasks
What’s the Probationer
Just as I was a terrible Student, I can say I wasn’t much better as a Probationer. As in the Student period, I wasted a good part of my time and my Superior’s time. More than half of my probation, I wasted distracting myself with all kinds of practices, except what I was supposed to do. Those would bring me clues about myself if I had registered them right, but not even that. From what I have seen in several years since Neophyte, this is almost always the case with very few exceptions. In certain way it’s part of the process.
The Student completed the three-month period, asked to be tested by the Superior, and eventually was approved. Now he will take his first Oath/Task with the Holy Order, which will make him a Probationer.
This grade, different from the others, is the only one to which admission is made without real spiritual attainment having occurred, unless one considers as such the determination that led him to go through the preliminaries and take the Oath, and maybe the choice of the Magickal Motto. As the name of the grade suggests, it is a probationary period that does not represent your attachment to the Order.
Almost everything a Probationer must do can be found in One Star in Sight and his Oath/Task which can be read in Liber Colegii Sancti, whose central element is “ obtain a scientific knowledge of the nature and powers of my own being.”
I looked but didn’t see it. I read the Oath and didn’t understand. They told me but I couldn’t comprehend. In One Star in Sight we read of the Probationer that “His principal business is to begin such practices as he my prefer, and to write a careful record of the same for one year.” I read this and understood “do the practices you prefer and write in the journal about the practices” — Who never did alike? — and my journal, with few exceptions, boiled down to “Such a day at such a time, I did practice X which resulted in Y”. Here is a excerpt from the beginning of my Probation:
11h26 - 7th failure.
11h50 - 8th failure.
+-11h30 - Lunch. Roasted chicken, potato mash, rice, letuce, tomato and a soft drink.
12h36 - 9th failure.
12h42 - 10th failure.
13h40 - 11th failure.
14h37 - 12th failure.
14h48 - 13th failure.
15h12 - 14th failure.
15h39 - 15th and 16th failure in the same minute! Frustrating as it suposed to be.
16h11 - 17th failure.
+-16h15 - My girlfriend and I went to de bedroom and begin sex.
16h49 - During sex, 18th failure.
17h30 - My girlfriend went home.
17h30 - 19th failure.
17h41 - 20th failure.
20h41 - On telephone with my parents, I failed two absurd times in the same minute!
21h00 - Had the same as lunch for dinner, but now reheated and whithout a soft drink. Used shoyu as seasoning.
If you’re not a beginner and your journal still looks like this, you might want to review your concepts.
I do not propose to teach how to write a good journal, as Fr. zG has already done it masterfully in “The Evolution of Writing of the Magickal Journal” (to be translated), which I now send to all those who become Probationers under my guidance. Nor will I talk about what would be “such practices of Scientific Illuminism” since Fr. S.P.E. has structured an excellent argument on the subject in “Notes on the Probation” (to be translated) which will certainly bring a valuable point of view on the subject upon which one can develop their own impressions.
What I propose is that the Probationer try to submit everything he does and perceives during the Probation to the service of his Great Work as defined by his Oath. The excerpt above used only to count the quantity and frequency of my failures said much less about my Nature and Powers, than for example the last record on that same day:
22h11 - I've just rewrites the draft of the day's events. It's frustrating to see that I've failed so much, as much as yesterday, and I don't seem to have the vigilance expected YET. My left arm looks like having been scratched repeatedly by a wild cat. I will use the right tomorrow. The failures are often followed by frustration, anger and an urge to blame someone, which are soon repressed by me.
The chosen practice, expectations about the practice, frustration, anger, impulse to shift blame, repress impulses… Observing these inclinations and reactions help far more in the realization of the Great Work of the Probationer than the mere list of failures in the chosen practice, which at best shows some discipline.
Giving meaning to the terms
The vaguest terms in the sentence defining the Great Work of the Probationer are “scientific knowledge”, “nature”, “powers” and “my own being”. There are very good reasons for being so vague: If one of these terms were defined, it would cut off the Probationer’s chances of developing meaning for these things according to his experience of the Probation. Furthermore, none of these things can be approached alone, and they are generally defined interchangeably with each other and according to each individual’s universe.
Much better than looking for a final definition — even because there is none — for any of these terms, is that each one meditates about it crossing hypotheses with what he experiences. I will give some points of view on them, but I insist that each one should reflect on the Oath for their own ability and experience. Searching for a standardized answer won’t get you anywhere.
In contrast to opinions and assumptions, scientific knowledge is that knowledge obtained through the analysis of verifiable facts. A proof can be merely of the legal type, of the logical or argumentative type, a proof from the soft sciences like Psychology, or from the hard sciences like Physics or Mathematics.
Scientific knowledge of your birthplace can be sufficiently acquired with the legal proof of your birth certificate, and it can be substantiated or disputed by the testimony of your family members. Scientific knowledge that you have some psychopathology would require a diagnostic manual such as the DSM-5, preferably operated by someone qualified and impartial.
The main tool which the Probationer has to gain scientific knowledge about himself is his journal. Memory in general is unreliable: Data from past events is easily lost and distorted even by a well-trained memory. The immediate perception of facts is skewed by various material and emotional factors, internal and external influences. We therefore resorted to an accurate record of the facts to later submit them to our analysis.
The journal, when properly used, allows the Probationer to check situations that occurred in his past, and there to perceive his inclinations, reactions, abilities, relationship with the world, etc. In this, precision will be your ally. Let’s compare two records below:
I had a fight with my girlfriend over bullshit. We later reconciled and it was great.
The Probationer who makes such a record can imagine that later, when he reads that same record, he will remember everything that happened. This is highly improbable not only because of the ephemerality of memory, but also because by employing such shallow and generic terms as “bullshit” and “great” he gave the brain a license not to think, and did not delve into understanding what had happened. It would be much better if you had registered something like:
Arguing with my girlfriend about politics, she made an argument for which I had no answer. To cover up what seemed to me an intellectual weakness, I replied ironically. She pointed out that I was being ironic for lack of arguments just like my father does, and that offended me because I abhor his behavior. I was left feeling guilty and with a physical sense of a lump in my throat. I later admitted my mistake and apologized to her, who promptly excused me. This immediately relieved the physical discomfort.
It may be asking too much for a person in the midst of a strong emotional reaction to write so clearly, but we can point two things: First, that even just trying to do so will help the writer to realize, at that very moment, the mechanisms that are at work . It will help even more when later he can read as accurate an account as possible of what happened. Second, that trying to avoid generic terms of the first model rather than mindlessly applying them will produce a broadening of consciousness and a record much more useful for self-study.
From the Latin natura, it concerns the personification of the creative principle, the essence of things — that is, the set of characteristics that differentiate what is something or someone from what is not.
I have flirted with the idea of defining “nature” as the properties and dispositions inherent in something, these properties and dispositions having arisen along with such a being, that is, by birth. If you, too, flirt with this idea, ask yourself if in fact nature cannot be acquired. A handful of carbon does not have “hardness” as part of its properties, but it contains the conditions necessary for it, when exposed to pressure and heat, to transform into a diamond. This transformation took place in accordance with its nature, and now it would not be so strange to say that hardness is part of the nature of that pile of carbon, now organized in one of its allotropic form.
I have also defined nature as “the disposition into which something moves without effort or difficulty, regardless of whether this harmonious fluidity is by birth, adaptation, or conditioning.” Here the nature of an individual would not be something written in stone, but would change as the individual changes.
Of all the terms, this one in particular will make the most sense if looked at together with the other components of this equation.
We can define "powers" as the individual's inherent capacities — whether innate or acquired — to accomplish something. Innate powers relate to those received by inherited destiny: Genetic inheritance, time of birth, family structure, geographic position, etc. Acquired powers refer to what intentionally or unintentionally became part of the toolkit that enables the individual to interact with the world, such as the languages in which he communicates, the body's athletic specializations, intellectual or artistic abilities, social influence, etc.
Powers are not limited by birth, although it is undeniable that certain inherited destinies—such as being born into a wealthy and healthy family, or with privileged genetics—can dramatically influence the powers a person will dispose of. As we read in Liber Librae "A man is what he maketh himself within the limits fixed by his inherited destiny; he is a part of mankind; his actions affect not only what he calleth himself, but also the whole universe."
Whatever the causes, it is natural that at a certain point in an individual's life he finds himself especially apt at something. It may be that one individual is an excellent painter, another communicates in multiple languages, a third is able to survive in the wild, and so on.
Unlike Nature, which in this interpretation is like the raw material we are given to work with, the Powers are like the form that raw material is capable of expressing itself. Changing the nature of an individual, if at all possible, would cause a lot of resistance and would likely transform the individual into something other than their previous identity. As for the powers, it is possible to develop them to a certain extent with more or less ease depending on what is innate in the individual, all it takes is some discipline and time.
As much as I dedicated myself to running the 100 metres since childhood, it would be unlikely that I would become a sprinter capable of offering a challenge to someone who dedicated himself as much, and who, due to his genetics, developed a predominance of fast-twitch muscle fibers — that I do not own — without any loss to the other characteristics which the race depends. Of course, this would not be an impediment for me to practice, improve in and enjoy practicing 100-meters dash.
My own being
"My own being" can refer to the combination of all that one are by inherited destiny — that is, a human with a certain genetic heritage, born in a certain geographic position, time, social conditions, etc — added to everything that was acquired or developed throughout life, which together distinguish one as an individual. A combination of "nature" and "powers".
The knowledge that is sought about nature and powers does not refer to humanity in general, but to its own being, so generic answers such as "my nature is to survive and reproduce", or "my powers are the four elements" are not enough. These things are certainly part of your being, but they are more or less the same for the rest of the humanity. The generic nature of most humans as well as irrational animals is to eat, sleep and reproduce. Generalism doesn't take you too far.
It is interesting that through scientific knowledge, one can see where nature and powers intersect to delimit the characteristics that separate their own being from what is common to the rest.
Extras of the Oath
In the writing of the Oath there are a number of secondary matters that will arouse the curiosity of the most attentive Probationers. The development of these matters ends up converging to the fulfillment of the Oath, bringing depth and breadth to the central task, increasing the quality with which it will be fulfilled.
It is possible that your Superior will allow you to advance with “enough”, but if something lags behind — and almost always does — it will be necessary that in future work the aspirant returns to considering elementary matters of the Probation. And there is no harm in that. I suggest that together with the main object of the Oath, you reflect on:
- The four triads at the corners of the Oath. (marked in yellow)
- The Wisdom and Understanding granted by the A.’.A.’. at work. (pink)
- The nouns the Probationer claims to bring to the Order. (cyan)
- The knowledge and conversation — not of the SAG — but of the A.’.A.’. (Orange)
- The chosen Motto. The act of choosing. The influences your choice brought to your probation.(yet to be translated) — (Green)
On the other side of the Oath, we have the Task to which the Probationer commits himself simultaneously to the Oath, all clearly spelled out in Liber Colegii Sancti. I would like to dissect some points about it:
0. Let any person be received by a Neophyte, the latter being responsible to his Zelator.
Anyone can be received as a Probationer by a Neophyte, but the Neophyte must be subordinate to his Zelator, or be himself at least a Zelator.
The autonomy of working for the A.’.A.’. on its own responsibility only arises with the grade of Zelator as we can see from the Oaths. In item 5 of the Oath/Task of Probationer, Neophyte and Zelator, it’s stated that:
- The Probationer shall perform any tasks that A.’.A.’. may see fit to lay upon him;
- The Neophyte shall perform any tasks that his Zelator in the name of the A.’.A.’. and by its authority may see fit to lay upon him;
- The Zelator is the first who will apply himself to work for the A∴A∴ upon his own responsibility.
1. The period of Probation shall be at least one year.
Although this “magic number” contemplates a complete revolution of the earth around the Sun, I don’t see why worrying about what is just a measure of time rather than maturity. Some Superiors still choose to receive the journal all at once at the end of the year, or at eleven months of Probation, and for them maybe the clock matters a little more. As a general rule, take as much time as necessary, but remember that life is too short to procrastinate with the Probationer’s Oath. How long does a cake take to bake? There are estimates, but in the end what matters is whether it’s baked or not. Nobody wants raw or burnt cake.
2. The aspirant to the A∴A∴ shall hear the Lection (Liber LXI) and this note of his office; IF HE WILL, shall then procure the robe of a Probationer; shall choose with deep forethought and intense solemnity a motto.
Here, the Probationer, in addition to the A.’.A.’. history lesson, must listen to each of the items of this task, so that even if he does not understand them, he knows that they exist and perceives them as objects of his universe. One point or another might catch the Probationer’s attention. The robe, though optional, is an outward symbol of that inward disposition of his soul, and one of its purposes is to attune the aspirant to the works of which it is a symbol.
Quoting Fr. Alion, in Liber Zelotes: “The Probationer’s robe is suitable for performing invocations in general, and especially for the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; white and gold nemes can be used. This robe can be used by the magician assistant in all of White’s rituals.”
As for the choice of the magickal motto, it represents the comprehension of the Great Work at that moment in which the aspirant finds himself, even the little he understands about it. Here is a list of mottos from some famous Brothers from the past.
3. On reception, he shall receive the robe, sign the form provided and repeat the oath as appointed, and receive the First Volume of the Book.
4. He shall commit a chapter of Liber LXV to memory; (...)
Here in Brazil some Brothers argue that the connotation of our word for memorize, “decorar” is of keeping it in the heart because of the etymology of the that word in Latin. In the English language there is the expression "learn by heart" in terms of memorizing, which is consistent with this interpretation. However, in Liber Colegii Sancti original language, we read "He shall commit a chapter of Liber LXV to memory", clarifying any confusion between heart and memory. Yes, it's more important to have it in your heart than merely repeating it like a parrot, but even better to have both!
Liber LXV speaks of the relationship between the Adept and his Holy Guardian Angel. When memorizing, your mind will draw deep correlations between text, image, narrative and symbols, which will become part of the symbolic set of the Probationer. What does not wanting to memorize, or considering yourself incapable of, say about yourself? If you can’t even do that, how can you do the rest?
(…) and furthermore, he shall study the Publications of the A∴A∴ in Class B, and apply him self to such practices of Scientific Illuminism as seemeth him good.
In some cases the Superior will direct the aspirant to choose a practice (almost always one of the Class B Libri), but he may even accept something unrelated to the Order, or even unrelated to magick/mysticism at all. In this task the Probationer should engage for the entire Probation, demonstrating reverence, duty, sympathy, devotion, assiduity, and trust.
In other cases, the Probationer will be free to choose when and what to do — as stated in the cold letter of this Task item. Some Superiors choose either approach as a matter of tradition, based on what they have been given in their own Probations.
My suggestion is that — for the reasons stated in item 0 — each Neophyte conduct his instruction according to the advice of his Zelator, and that if he is at least a Zelator himself, choose by his intuition and experience which tool is most appropriate for each moment and individual, and feel free to change the approach as feels fit.
5. Beside all this, he shall perform any tasks that the A∴A∴ may see fit to lay upon him. Let him be mindful that the word Probationer is no idle term, but that the Brothers will in many a subtle way prove him, when he knoweth it not.
Not only through Brethren, the Ordeals — about which I have written a little in this article (yet to be translated) — will begin to become apparent in the life of the sincere Probationer, and before them nothing is better medicine than courage and loyalty to the Oath. In this he will begin to touch the Powers of the Sphinx, mainly through the Vow of Holy Obedience, which you can read about in this article.
6. When the sun shall next enter the sign under which he hath been received, his initiation may be granted unto him. He shall keep himself free from all other engagements for one whole week from that date.
About time measures, we already discussed in item 1. As for the seven days, although it would be desirable for it to be free from any engagements, we know how difficult this is nowadays, and we adapt to the needs of the real individual in the real world in which we work. In any case, you will need time to organize yourself, and then at least one free hour a day for seven consecutive days to do what you need to do.
7. He may at any moment withdraw from his association with the A∴A∴
simply notifying the Neophyte who introduced him.
Simple as that! It seems to me highly unlikely that someone who took the Oath seriously and thoughtfully would be able to walk away. And if you took the Oath without seriousness or reflection, it is worth little.
8. He shall everywhere proclaim openly his connection with the A∴A∴ and speak of It and Its principles (even so little as he understandeth) for that mystery is the enemy of Truth.(…)
Again the question of devotion, but about “speaking openly” Again quoting Fr. Alion: “It is clear that our Order aims to unveil the mysteries and thus, by helping itself, it is helping the world. ‘The Word of Sin is Restriction’ — our aim is revelation, not concealment, however, by the nature of the world, you can have your experience of Truth, but you cannot convey it to others, so it is enough let your service to others be in the realms of guidance and conversation, and not at all in convincing, converting, or squabbling. But, about this each one has their own opinion and takes care of it for themselves.”
Reflect on the following: It is possible to talk about your connection with the A.’.A.’. without mentioning the Order or even touching on the subject of magick and mysticism? Your way of navigating existence can be a living testimony of the Order better than a thousand speeches.
(…)One month before the completion of his year, he shall deliver a copy of the Record of his year’s work to the Neophyte introducing and repeat to him his chosen chapter of Liber LXV.
In times when remote communication was more difficult, and face-to-face meetings between people living far away from each other were rare, delivering the journal all at once seemed the most coherent. Nowadays things have changed. I myself request the journal from Brothers under my guidance every fortnight, so that I can make the necessary considerations and help them in the efficient use of the journal, preventing a poorly done job at the end of the year. This is at the discretion of each Superior.
As for the chapter to be memorized, I ask that the Probationer to recite in person or through the most effective mean of communication available when the Probationer tells me he memorized it. This is also at the discretion of each Superior.
9. He shall hold himself chaste, and reverent toward his body, for that the ordeal of initiation is no light one. This is of peculiar importance in the last two months of his Probation.
The “body” that should be the object of chastity and reverence is not just the machine of flesh and hormones — on this, see the article on the Pantacle (yet to be translated) — but the set of all the parts that make up the individual’s own being. Any truly part of it — and finding out what constitutes it is part of the work of that grade — should not be considered impure or undesirable, let alone be forsaken. As it is said in Liber XV, The Gnostic Mass: There is no part of me that is not of the Gods.
The Vow of Chastity teaches how to use Magick Power only to perform the Great Work and is related to the verb to Dare. For more on this, I recommend reading this article on the Powers of the Sphynx.
10. Thus and not otherwise may he attain the great reward: YEA, MAY HE OBTAIN THE GREAT REWARD!
It is no easy to talk about what manifests itself much more in practice than in theory, and in ways unique to each individual. All of the above may elucidate some point, but if taken as the only truth it can stifle your process. Do not let this happen. I close with some short tips that can help one Probationer or another:
Your journal is not for your Superior. It is not a formality to comply with. Your journal is a tool without which fulfilling the Great Work of the grade is almost impossible. If you are careless or purposefully misleading in the journal, you will be contaminating your tool, which will be as useful as an unregulated microscope is to the microbiologist.
It is common for there to be an initial period of excitement when everything will be beautiful and fun, which will soon give way to a feeling of anguish, helplessness, disbelief and/or an almost invincible laziness. After that, the excitement will emerge renewed, to soon give way to the doldrums again. These cycles will repeat and it is unlikely that you will be able to do anything to stop them as Probationer. Get the best out of each one of them. Make them work for your Great Work.
Probation is not rank, it is not a medal, don’t grant any advantage by authority. No grade does. The fact that you are a Probationer — or the holder of any other grade of the Holy Order — is only important to you. How much you will dedicate yourself is only important to you. If you act deceptively, you are only deceiving yourself.
Your Superior cannot give you what you want. He should give you what you need, even if it's bitter-tasting medicine. Believe me, your Superior and the other more experienced Brothers are wishing for your success!
Questions and Answers
Question from “Bruno”
Q. Why only from the grade of probationer can the aspirant expect results in the rituals proposed and published by the A.’.A.’.?
A. I do not know of any claim about that. The rituals proposed by the A.’.A.’. can work even for a practitioner without any ties to the Order. Certain rituals depend on skills that will be acquired through the grades, but even that is not an impediment for any result to arise.
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