I am going to try to get a huge subject into a very few words. This is difficult not only because the subject is huge, but because it involves "initiatory secrets," by which I simply mean "matters which, if explained fully and plainly, would tend to interfere with people's initiations"...plus "matters which, even if explained fully and plainly, can in the nature of things only be understood by initiates."
Between 1898 and 1906 EV Aleister Crowley "underwent initiation," progressing from beginner to Magister Templi, though he wisely refrained from accepting that grade for three more years: he had already learned the hard way that seeing the nature of attainment is distinct from actually undergoing it. In 1904, in fact, he had tried to lay out his intellectual understanding of attainment (in the book The Sword of Song), only to spend a couple more agonizing years actually attaining. Anyway, in 1907 he started preparing a system whereby to share this process with the world: the "A.'.A.'.". Keeping this brief (and slightly obscure), his early successes in dragging people to their own attainment nevertheless taught him that some changes had to be made; he ultimately ended up with an interlocking system, the visible components of which were his original one-on-one teaching order ("A.'.A.'.") and his (as it became) group order, Ordo Templi Orientis ("OTO"). He also made it as sure as he could that his writings would remain as available as possible, in hopes that smart cookies would find the hints he left, and solve his puzzle for themselves. And already I'm going on too long, but at least the history part is over.
Complete initiation teaches people three distinct things: broadly, how to be a Student, an Adept, and a Master. These aims are not hierarchical: they can be attained piecemeal, out of "strict consecution" ("One Star in Sight"), or (as often) not at all, of course. But that's what one can learn by these methods: how to work, how to change experience*, and how to attain to mastery.
I don't think any path allows one to avoid hard work, but there are folks who attain to mastery with little or no practice of Magick (or even Mysticism, in the usual sense); and nothing is more common in magical circles than those who have become magically adept without attaining to mastery...which is fine, so long as an unattained mind doesn't start copping magisterial attitude, right? But, y'know, Guess What. ;)
The first thing one learns in the astonishing relief of attainment is just what an idiot he has been all his life. Hence, those playing the seriositude game -- "unattained minds copping magisterial attitude" -- are instantly recognizable to the attained (and often to, well, everybody else) as pompous maroons, deserving of the ridicule they so consistently bring upon themselves. I see nothing whatever amusing in the struggles of suffering humans to make sense of their lives; that's why I have spent the thirteen years since my own attainment (which itself took fifteen years on the Path, 'cause I'm slow) dropping increasingly clear hints to try to speed the progress of others. What I do find amusing is ego-crazed twits making fools of themselves, and God bless Uncle Al, but he made absolutely certain that we in mystico-magical circles would never, ever want for those. :D
93 93/93 -- AJ
* But wait (you say), I thought Adepts attained the "Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel." Yes: that's Adeptus Minor (Within). But the Adept grades also include Adeptus Major and Exempt Adept: broadly, the acquisition of "magical abilities" and public explanation of same, hence "how to change experience." I am consciously shortchanging the spiritual side of this entire process, here, for any number of reasons, the obvious ones being brevity and, umm, "ecumenicism." :)