Outline of a possible course of study for the traditional student
I. If possible, obtain and begin Franz Bardon's course in "Initiation into Hermetics." The exercises therein will be somewhat compatible with Golden Dawn style working, and much of it can be studied concurrently. Another very good document to get hold of is Robert Bruce's New Energy Ways (located in the files section of the Real Magick e-list). His methods for learning energy sensitivity and developing mobile body awareness are excellent! If you diligently practiced only Bruce's methods as described in that document, you would develop more (energetically/aurically and perceptually) than in a whole year of most basic ritual work.
II. L.R.P. for at least one month to familiarize yourself with it. You should continue to practice this ritual twice daily for a minimum of 6 months, preferably for several years. This is a foundational ritual for practice. It will teach you how to banish unwanted forces and thoughts from your sphere of sensation, and with repeated practice it will also establish a greater sense of balance in your energy structure.
III. Once proficiency has been attained with the L.R.P., then other rituals such as the L.R.H. may be attempted. However, the L.R.H. normally isn't learned by Golden Dawn initiates until they've advanced to the Adeptus Minor grade. Though it may be of little usefulness to the beginner, I see no harm in learning it for extra practice.
IV. The Middle Pillar Exercise would be good to begin performing daily (or comparable chakra work to begin turning on the energy centers) to step up your energy. If you've found Robert Bruce's N.E.W. document, then you'll already be practicing a very good set of similar energy exercises. In order to do any magickal/psychic work, you have to have the ability to draw in energy into your body, auric fields, chakras, and pranic tube (a.k.a. 'Middle Pillar' - energy circuit that runs parallel with your spine). This and similar exercises will serve as a form of psychic weight-lifting or aerobics. Bardon has breathing and energy manipulation exercises that serve a similar purpose.
V. S.I.R.P. (Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram- invoking elemental energy). This is the balanced invocation of all 4 quarters/elements, and should only be commenced after some time has been spent working with the L.R.P. and the student has learned something about psychology and absorbed a decent amount of basic occult knowledge. Perhaps after a year of practice and study. If you're doing Bardon's course, then you may wish to hold off on this until you've reached the point in the text where he first has you start invoking elemental energy. Now that I have had a few years to reflect on my early days of practice, I have to agree that prematurely invoking certain energies, for example elemental fire, could unbalance someone who was already predisposed to being unbalanced toward that element. A state of overall balance should be strived for first. The student could begin practicing the S.I.R.P. for a month or so while invoking all 4 elements simultaneously in balanced form (not just one individually).
An example of how a general ceremonial working for practice and personal development would procede at this point:
1. First do invoking form of the S.I.R.P. (using invoking forms of the pentagrams and Sign of the Rending of the Veil at appropriate places)
2. Then, after all the portals are open, address each quarter individually (beginning with East then on to South etc.) and say something to the effect of this:
"May the forces of (insert element) purify and equilibrate me."
Then, inhale the element into your body (clear down to your feet and in your arms until you are filled with it). If it is Air, imagine the energy of air clearing away impurities. If it is Fire, imagine the fire burning them away. If Water, imagine the water washing them away. And if Earth, you might imagine elemental earth energy focusing and healing your personal energies and making you stronger. Again, do this with each quarter one at a time.
3. Once you have done all you need to do with this stage of the ritual, you need to systematically close each portal. To do this, you need to go through the entire S.I.R.P. all over again, but this time use the banishing forms of pentagrams you used before, and use the Sign of the Closing of the Veil (to close the portals) instead of the Rending of the Veil.
D. The portals being closed and the Q. Cross performed, pause for a moment and collect yourself if needed.
E. and F. at the end of the ceremony are to clear the area again and get rid of any unwanted entities that may have been trapped by your ceremony. There are nicer/gentler ways of doing it, but these are far more thorough for the beginner.
VI. During the next stage of study, you might study/explore/work with each element individually for at least 1 week each to get familiar with it. A few months spent mastering each element is better. To do this, you could use the S.I.R.P. in the predescribed manner, but invoking ONLY 1 quarter. Then you can sit in your circle and meditate on it or, if working with Enochian spirits, ask them to teach you about that element (recommended). Don't forget to close the portal properly when you're done.
Side note: Instead of going through the ritual at all, you could use the middle pillar exercise and simply invoke the element spontaneously and then meditate upon it. If it is fire you wish to invoke, try to feel your body filled with the warmth of fire (but not being harmed- just visualize it strongly). If Earth, try to feel yourself lying in cool earth- try to smell it too! Feel yourself taking on those qualities. You'll think of similar visualizations you can do for each element if you try. Explore all of them for one week each: Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Spirit. See page on Elemental Energy for additional info.
VII. Next, it will be very necessary for a period of balanced invocation using the S.I.R.P. again. The reason for this is because you just got done systematically UN-balancing yourself/your energies. Now it would be a good idea to re-balance. Why so much work with the elements? Because they correspond (in action) to aspects of yourself, so mastering the subtle nuances will assist you to master those homologous aspects of your own consciousness. Without initial self-mastery, it would be very difficult to safely accomplish more advanced operations in magick such as evocation.
"If thou thyself hast not a sure foundation, whereon wilt thou stand to direct the forces of Nature?"
VIII. After mastering elemental energies, it would be appropriate to study planetary energies. Astrology can be helpful for learning about the planets - in fact, it would be silly to suggest trying to learn about planetary energy within a western magickal context without any prior knowledge of Astrology. Astrology is a complicated science in itself and requires much time devoted to it.
Always keep in mind that the true adept (once he/she has practiced for many years and developed supreme skill in self-observation and a strong will) is not ruled by the planets. He is aware of their influence, but is able to turn whatever effect they may impose upon him into a positive and beneficial one in his life, rather than being lead about by the nose and driven by unconscious impulses like most people. Planetary positions show patterns of influence, or in the case of a birth chart, the circumstances during which an entity chooses to make its entrance on the 'stage' of physical life. Can sometimes show the possible 'lessons' a being wishes to learn based on the obstacles it sets up for itself by incarnating at a particular time. A person's fate is not always set in stone. The element of chance is always at work.
A practical reason for studying planetary energies is the fact that they are types of energy with their own signature feeling (all energy is in essence the same energy of course, but with varying degrees and particular qualities) that can be channeled, collected, and applied to particular tasks. There are ways to do this properly, but this document doesn't pretend to deal with that topic in any depth.
David Griffin's text The Ritual Magic Manual: A Complete Course in Practical Magic is a useful reference for the beginner with regard to commencing ritual invocation and study of planetary and zodiacal energies. Though much of it is repetitive (due to similar formats used across each planet, for example, only with different sigils and names etc.), it spells out each ritual in detail (in the Golden Dawn style) for invoking every elemental, planetary, zodiacal, and sefirotic energy.
IX. Study of Zodiacal energy is a useful next step.
X. More in-depth study of Qabalah/Kabbalah is appropriate at this point. Most lodges have the student become familiar with the Qabalah in the beginning as a framework for understanding one's psychological parts, but serious work (with sefirotic energies, some pathworking) isn't usually started until much later. Serious Tarot meditation could be inserted here. The traditional 78-card Tarot is considered to be a pictorial representation of the principles of the Tree of Life. Some good decks include the modern Golden Dawn Tarot by the Ciceros, and Crowley's Deck of Thoth. The Qabalistic Tarot by Robert Wang is a good starting text for learning the Qabalistic symbolism of the Tarot.
Some knowledge of Alchemical symbolism wouldn't hurt at this point.
XI. Effective astral work could be commenced at this stage, since the student would have spent a considerable time developing his/her energy bodies/system. Spontaneous astral projections may have already occurred as a direct result of regular energy exercises (such as in the N.E.W. document). The best text to begin with would have to be Robert Bruce's Astral Dynamics. (See my books page for details).
XII. After several years of perfecting one's abilities with the above studies, one could begin some work with spiritual communication and scrying with Enochian magick. This may not be suitable for you, and if it doesn't appeal to you, then you could study older grimoires and commence some evocation work if and ONLY if a deep degree of self-knowledge and self-mastery has been attained. If you've been practicing heavily for 10 years or more, then you might be ready to try some simple experiments. There are a few decent books becoming available - see my books page for details.
Something obvious that should be mentioned is that since this is only an outline, I've had to leave out details such as ways of applying what you're learning and studying to your physical life (something that many people neglect to do!), various exercises for developing clairvoyant ability that can be found across a myriad of books (which most occultists tend to collect by the truckloads - myself included), and lots of other practical information too numerous to attempt to mention. It's understood that the student will spend several years studying and reading hundreds of books on Magick and Qabalah before deeper understanding begins to occur. Even if you limited your study to development of mental faculties alone, it would still take many years before most advanced concepts can be grasped fully. Every year that I study, I find myself developing a deeper understanding of concepts I thought I'd had a handle on.
Ultimately, regardless of whatever direction you decide to pursue from here, you'll have to figure out a way to put all this stuff together into One system- YOUR OWN. The solitary non-traditionalist would have an advantage here, having been developing his own personal system and ways of viewing reality all along (although in many cases such views are eclectic and often not compatible with mainstream magick systems).
From a purely traditional point of view, I found that it was easy to get stuck viewing reality in only one way: that of the system in which I was submerged. As more aspects of reality were opened up to me, I realized that my system was only one small part of the whole. All of reality cannot be contained within one book or one way of doing things. I decided that I should endeavor to expand my consciousness to fit reality, rather than trying to condense reality down to fit a shriveled consciousness.
If you're still lost after reading this page, just keep in mind that most of the previous information is for the purpose of learning about yourself and the universe you share with others while developing your psychic skills and abilities to manipulate energy and consciousness in order to cause change within yourself and in the world you live in. Once you've developed those skills, you'll need to have some purpose for having them - some practical applications to direct them toward. Some people pursue higher states of spiritual awareness as their goal in practicing magick. Others prefer to learn how to make their physical existence better. Some prefer a combination of both. Which direction you pursue is entirely up to you.
Some additional advice on the practice and application of Magick
Don't try to manipulate others and force them to do things against their will. While no all-powerful beings will likely come down out of the sky and try to punish you on the spot (I can't guarantee the same about later), I will say that from a personal point of view it's not worth the consequences. I've done it successfully, but I didn't feel good about it later - it wasn't as much fun or as thrilling as I'd imagined it to be, and there were additional negative by-products that I hadn't counted on which further tainted the thrill of success.
There is so much free energy and so many free resources that it is virtually unnecessary to manipulate (e.g. bend others to your will without giving them a choice) in order to obtain your goals. If you're ever in doubt as to whether you should do something to or for someone, just imagine how you'd feel if someone did the same thing to you without giving you a choice.
Don't use magick as a form of escapism from physical reality. You'll only end up living in and hoping for a fantasy future that never comes. BE RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. Plan for the future, learn from the past, but LIVE in the present and don't neglect the physical realm. Support your magickal workings with physical action to ensure good results. The physical realm is a great mirror for reflecting your personal internal problems and issues back to yourself (through social interactions). If you're not successful with human interaction in the physical realm, and you're not successful with establishing a comfortable (to you) physical existence for yourself through normal means, then how can you expect to become a successful magickian?
Help only those who are willing to help themselves. I know this one sounds selfish, but it avoids wasting time and energy on people who want you to do all the work while they sit back and allow you to spoon-feed them. Such individuals usually don't want to change or fix the root of their problem (which is usually in themselves). They only want a quick fix that will allow them to remain the same. That is why I prefer only to help those who are at least willing to help themselves (even if they're not in a position to do so).