These Blogs are relevent to the training group and include information about the main topic or about side topics which are not directly covered in the sessions. We hope you enjoy them.
|Posted on August 15, 2017 at 11:05 AM||comments (0)|
Witchcraft works best in small intimate groups where people know and like each other. These small groups are called covens and by their very nature they are hard to get into. Ronald Hutton said that genuine Witches’ covens are like lobster pots in reverse. They are hard to get into but easy to get out of. In this session we examined what a coven is, the expectation a coven has for its members and the pros and cons of being a member. We also discussed the roles of the coven officers such as the high priestess, the high priest, maid and elders.
Due to the emotional nature of the rites in order to effect changes in our consciousness and thus in our phenomenal reality, the Craft works best in small intimate groups. This is for two reasons. Firstly it is difficult to let go of ourselves emotionally to the degree required in magical work in front of people we do not know. And secondly, when people are in rapport they tend to mirror and then experience their peers’ emotional states. In a way emotions and feelings (like sexuality) occur between people. This means that an experienced and effective high priestess can skilfully evoke the appropriate emotions to the rite, but invoking them within herself.
This means that Witches covens differ significantly to other pagan groups in important ways. Most importantly their membership is relatively constant. It rare for people to leave and to join the group, although this does not mean that there is no through traffic of people. Joining a coven is through a formal ceremony called initiation. This rite not only inducts the new member into the group but also changes the status of the individual from a cowen (a non-witch) into a witch. It also initiates the newcomer into the priesthood of the mysteries. Essentially it introduces them to a certain experiential mystery in a way, when done well, is life changing.
With this in mind the coven has a responsibility to ensure that the new initiate is ready to undergo that experience, is able to partake and make active contributions to coven life, and is liked and can fit in with the group. A coven is only as strong as it weakest link and being a member of a Witches’ coven means more than just turning up once a month to rituals. It means fully taking part and contributing. Likewise if members of the coven feel that they do not like a potential newcomer than it will be difficult for them to trust that person enough to let go to partake in the emotions and feelings central to Craft rites. It only takes one bad egg to spoil a coven for everyone, so a responsible coven will only take on new initiates once they have gotten to know them and their motives well. This takes a minimum of one year, and we would suggest much longer. It is also a test of commitment. If a potential initiate waits two years before being initiated then they are obviously committed. The responsibility of the coven is then to be worthy of that commitment.
Likewise the potential new initiate has a responsibility to ensure that the coven is really for them. They need to honestly ask themselves whether they can make a contribution to coven life, commitment to regular attendence and whether they will be able to fit in with the rest of the group. Having a long period of training allows the potential new initiate to ask these questions and get to know some of the members of the coven. They may not know the practices of the coven, or perhaps all the members but there is a role for trust and taking a leap into the dark as well.
Covens have to be careful about new membership as it can take time for a new person to become established in a coven and its practices. However, new initiates are often thrown in at the deep end and are expected to hit the floor running.
Because Craft works best in small intimate groups, covens are loath to take on new members. If a coven grows too big it loses its intimacy and rapport. It becomes harder to lead the rituals and for people to let go. Thirteen is often quoted as the maximum number of people in a coven. Any more than this and cliques begin to form. A coven should be one clique. I would suggest that even thirteen is pushing it in size and that nine makes for a more realistic maximum number with somewhere around six to eight being ideal.
There are several advantages to being a member of a coven. The first is that it gives you access to the expertise of other people. You can learn from others and from the living tradition itself. This means that you don’t have to be an expert at everything and this allows you to develop your own area of expertise. In covens you will find people who are good at writing or leading rituals, people who are good at divination, and people who are good at winemaking etc., etc. Being a member of a living tradition gives you access to techniques and practices that you would not otherwise have. It gives you the opportunity to take part in structured and tested training that will facilitate your magical career. This means that you will be helped to avoid the common pitfalls in occult practice. Ultimately, once you have made it your own, it also gives you the opportunity to add to the tradition, moving it forward so it meets the demands of the future.
The second advantage is that being a member of a coven helps to prevent glamour. In a good coven there will always be someone who is prepared to tell you that you are off with the fairies. Working in a group keeps you grounded. When you are working in the occult it is a good idea to have a stable benchmark for reality and sadly such a bench mark is lacking in the wider pagan scene.
Thirdly, in magic you will be able to achieve more in a coven than you can alone. While in many ways it is easier to get into the emotional states numinously experienced and altered states of consciousness when you are alone, being in a small intimate group where the other members are also in that state has been shown to heighten the emotions felt and deepen consciousness states. We are after all group animals. When combined with the authority that is derived from the coven and from the tradition, it makes the manipulation of meaning, leading to the changes of belief far easier to achieve. Hence a coven, anecdotally, at least has more success as magic than a person working by themselves. That being said, one skilful operator will have more success than an unskilful and ignorant group.
Fourthly, covens impose a certain discipline of practice. You will be expected to write and take part in pathworking and rituals, to turn up on time to ritual dates. You may also be asked to practice certain techniques as part of a structured program of training, with feedback given. While there may be some that baulk at the idea of discipline it is a necessity of progress in magic. If magic is a set of skills then it follows that skills improve with practice. We require self-discipline or an imposed discipline in order to practice those skills and a coven provides this through its expectations. When working on our own we have to rely on our own self-discipline.
The fifth reason for working in a coven is back up. When things go wrong you will have your friends to back you up. You will have the coven to give you honest advice as well as to support you through times of difficulty. It will also give you the opportunity to provide the same service to others.
Sixth, it gives you access to a lovig tradiution. This savs you time and efort as you don't have to reinvent the wheel and can enage with the wisdom and experinece of the tradition.
The last reason for coven work is that it is very difficult to have a party if you are on your own. The Sabbats and the Esbats are times of merriment and fun, as it says in the charge, “mirth and reverence”, and good company is admirably conducive to merriment.
Sir Terry Pratchett is well known for saying in his Discworld series that the natural number of a coven is one. The point he was trying to make was that his Discworld witches are the kind of people inclined to be very opinionated and natural leaders. If we assume that witches are or work towards self-actualization then perhaps there is some truth to this. However we also need to remember that self-actualizers, if Maslow is to be believed, enjoy the company of other self-actualizers. Self-actualizing people often have strong opinions but rather than being devastated when their opinions are challenged, as a personal attack, actually enjoy the debate and may secretly hope that their opinion is changed (this is called learning).
The Pratchett quote is often used by solitary and hedge witches as a reason for not working in a coven. Debates about whether it is best to work in a coven or alone are on the whole a good distraction from the business of getting on with the Craft so I shan’t say too much about it. While it is up to these people to decisions for themselves on how they work it is worth remembering that the coven Witch has the opportunity to have their cake and eat it. They can have all the benefits (and pitfalls- after all we are only human) of working in a coven while enjoying all the benefits of working alone. What is more coven work actually mitigates some of the danger, such as glamour and lack of self-discipline, which are some of the possible drawbacks of working alone. Every coven Witch is also a solitary one most of the time.
It is a fact of life that every functional and effective human group needs to have a hierarchy. When I first entered the Craft there was a vogue of having groups with no hierarchy, or where people took it in turns to be in charge. None of those groups now exist, having fallen into infighting and backbiting, whilst the coven I joined has endured. There has to be a clear if loose hierarchy to give the group direction and so that decisions can be made. A good leadership is the servant of the coven who will do all the organising such as setting dates for meetings, deciding who will bring the food, wine and incense, who will write the pathworking, as well as dealing with any coven problems that crop up. Coven leadership is a far from glamorous job. It means being available at all times to help coveners with problems and support, it may mean asking people to leave the group who are not up to it or bring discord to the group. Coven leaders are where the buck stops and require both compassion and ruthlessness.
The leadership of Witch covens is through the High Priestess, High Priest, Maid and Elders or equivalent jobs names for equivalent job descriptions. It is important to bear in mind that these are job descriptions which are earned through service and are not titles.
The High Priestess along with the High Priest is the leader of the coven. Their jobs are to act as coven organiser and leaders during ritual. The feel of the ritual comes primarily from the High priestess in the summer and autumn and from the High priest during winter and spring. The High priestess personifies the Goddess during ritual and in the circle her word is ‘law’ (assuming she is a reasonable person). If the High Priestess asks you to do something in ritual, within reason, you need to do it and the discussion comes later on. Much of the ritual is led by the High Priestess and the High priest often plays a supporting role. Although the High Priestess may ask other coveners to perform part or all of the ritual on the evening, so always be prepared (she lets newcomers settle into coven first).
Typically the High Priestess is like the hostess at a party. She is the servant of the coven who runs around making sure that everything is organised and making sure that the other coveners are having a good experience. As such she has to be sensitive to the needs of the coven and as such needs to be regarded with the respect that her service and hard work entails. The High Priestess and High Priest are responsible for discpline with the coven. and may sometimes be called upon to have difficult conversations and make difficult decsions.
In general the High Priest is a secondary role to the High Priestess. Although the emphasis is on the male during the winter months, the High Priestess still performs the lion share of the doing and saying in ritual. The High Priest often has an organisation role with the setting of dates, perhaps organising a training program and he generally brings wine and incense to the ritual, although he may well nominate others.
The maid is a High priestess in training and acts as her lieutenant. The maid has a role in ritual and she also performs a pastoral role within the coven. It is her job to look after new initiates and to make sure that any concerns and problems come to the immediate attention to the high priestess before they become big problems. The maid may also be responsible for sending out birthday cards and networking. In many ways he maid is a high pristess in training.
Elders are older people who have spent a considerable amount of time in the Craft. They may well have served as High Priestess and High Priest but have retired to allow younger people to take those roles. They tend to have a pastoral, advisory and teaching role. Elders who have made a considerable contribution to the Craft may be Witch Masters. There only tends to be on or two Witch masters in a county.
|Posted on May 31, 2017 at 3:15 PM||comments (0)|
Whether Witches work their rituals indoors or outdoors has got to be a matter of practicality and preference. Working rituals outdoors can be a wonderful experience if the weather is amenable as it leads to the possibility of serendipity. For example, a few years ago I attended the funeral of a Witch at Wrabness Green Burial site near Harwich in Essex. As the coffin was being lowered into the earth a skylark rose up from a nearby meadow into the sky and began to sing creating a poignant serendipitous moment full of meaning and magic.
There is something magical about being in the countryside at night surrounded by wild nature. You can feel the breeze on your face, smell the wild flowers and leaves. You can hear the night time sounds of owls and the barking foxes. In my experience and opinion rituals done outside require less words and tools than those performed indoors. Just being in the woods at night surrounded by the season puts you automatically into a ritual frame of mind. It is unusual to be in the countryside after dark and so our minds are full of the expectation that something special is about to occur. There is a certain feel to being out in the woods, or next to a corn field swaying in the breeze on a calm warm summer evening that can’t be matched.
However wondrous the experience, there are also some drawbacks to outdoor work. The first drawback is the problem of privacy. The last thing you want during an intense and meaningful ritual is to be happened upon by strangers; an alarming experience for the stranger as well as for the Witches. Just imagine how they must feel to chance across robed (or skyclad) figures in the woods bearing swords, knives, and cauldrons; possibly chanting as well! Not a good look to explain to a policeman. Even in remote areas it is possible to be disturbed, for example, some friends and I went to Comb’s Woods one evening to listen for nightjars. As we gathered on a woodland ride full of ornithological expectation, a police helicopter descended upon us and shadowed our progress through the woods, even following us on our journey home. And that was just for bird watching! While it is true, that when the circle is cast unwanted eyes seem to be kept at bay, it is still a struggle to relax into rituals when there exists a fear of discovery.
The second drawback is the problem of weather. It is very difficult to enter an into an altered state of consciousness and focus on the purpose of the rite when it is freezing cold or it is lashing it down with rain. Another distraction is biting insects and trip hazards; all of which can very easily take you out of trance.
The third drawback is that there may be people in the coven who are very old and not very mobile. For them traversing the countryside by night is not very practical or safe. Rituals are for people, not people for rituals and so the rites need to be accessible to all the coven’s members.
An advantage of working outside is that the place in which you are working may be special to you in some way. You may have a personal relationship with the character of the place or it may have cultural associations and meanings to witchcraft, such as a crossroad or corpse-ways.
In my experience the same ‘feel’ of an outdoor ritual can be achieved at an indoor one. When the covenstead is set up, with seasonal foliage on the altar, candlelight playing off the naked bodies of the coveners and seasonal incense rising form the censer, the expectations are raised and we slip effortlessly into trance. If we have experienced wild nature, if we have been in woodland at night or the cornfields on a Lammas evening, or heard the roar of stags in the rut we bring the characters and meanings of those experiences into the circle with us.
The advantages of working indoors are that we are assured of privacy. Unless you live with non-Crafters and are foolish enough not to make sure they are out of the house and not likely to be back any time soon, you are not going to be stumbled upon and if you are, then you deserve it. There is the advantage that the weather is not going to be a problem. A warm temperature and lack of rain will help our concentration and focus on any work that needs to be done. Magic and the Craft are difficult enough and there is little point in making them any harder. An indoor ritual is accessible for all coven members including those who are old or immobile. A chair can be set out for the elders of the Craft who may find it difficult to stand through the whole ritual, allowing them to participate. Being inside makes it easier for the coven to practice any pathworkings, meditations, divinations, and practices like herb preparation, training or any other activities the coven works. Finally, being inside is more conducive and amenable to the after ritual feast. I know that Craft is a celebration of life, but we draw the limit of having extra life, in the form of ants and other insects invading our food.
At the end of the day there are pros and cons to both. Arguments about which is best on internet forums are a waste of time and a symptom of glamour. After all as a friend of mine once said, if you can’t work magic in a bare concrete room, then you can’t work magic at all.
|Posted on May 12, 2017 at 2:00 AM||comments (0)|
By getting to know plants we build up our world of meaning, our mythos, and so enrich our experience of the world. Instead of seeing a hedge we see hawthorn, field maple, oak, ash, mugwort, common mallow, poppies, cow parsley etc., etc. We learn when certain plants flower, when trees leaf and come into fruit and so we learn about the rhythms and cycles of nature. We don’t just experience these things prosaically but experience them as having meaning. We experience mugwort as being ruled by the moon, St. John’s wort at being ruled by the sun, roses as symbolising love, and poppies as representing sacrifice. They enrich our world of meaning, transforming our phenomenal reality.
Planetary associations of plants are of course not literal (or physical properties) but rather make up part of the character of the plant species; in other words how we ‘experience it as’. The delicate rose is often associated with the planet Venus which is symbolic of love. We give roses to our loved ones as tokens of our affection; hence the association. These characters exist in the non literal world of meaning, the semantic landscape, lifeworld or inner plane of the Witch or Natural Magician. These characters can be used in spell work as they lend authority to the spell. Authority is one of the ingredients which make magic effective as it creates the expectation that transforms how we experience our phenomenal world. The Law of Authority in my opinion, although seldom stated, is fundamental to magic.
The characters of plants act as symbols and metaphors; the symbolic association of the plants bypass rational consciousness and enter the unconscious, where transformations of meaning can occur. The likes of Freud and Jung argued that the unconscious mind works and communicates through symbolism. So if you do a spell to keep someone away from you, you may represent that person as a poppet and stuff it with nettles, which have a protective and aggressive association. To bring a loved one to you, perhaps you might make a poppet stuffed with rose petals. Such things speak to the deep mind, and knowing these associations adds authority. It manipulates meaning, transforming how we (and others) experience phenomenal reality which makes our outcomes more likely. How we subjectively experience has objective implications as subjective meanings, through humans, have objective impacts on the world.
When I speak about a plant’s spirit, what I mean is its character. Plants do have a rudimentary awareness of their environment. For example, plants are aware of and turn towards the position of the sun, a process called heliotropism. Likewise some plants use chemical signals to communicate the presence of pests and predators when they’ve been browsed. This communication facilitates the increase of tannin in the leaves of neighbours, making them less palatable. However these examples do not point to an extra ‘spiritual’ something in the plant, but rather to physical properties and processes. To my mind the spirit of the plant is how we subjectively experience its character.
Many pagans say that you must ask a plant’s permission before you pick it. When considered literally this is nonsense, after all plants are hardly going to answer back and if they could I am sure they wouldn’t agree to their own mutilation. Rather what we are doing is relating to their characters and so fundamentally treating them with respect. We may get a hunch that it is either okay to pick or it is not. We may unconsciously notice that this is not a good plant to pick or pick from. Perhaps it does not have many berries or maybe it is diseased or infected with a pest. It is a matter of intuition.
Alain de Botton (2012) and the magician Ramsey Dukes (2011) have addressed how intuition works. We have evolved as pattern seeking animals and so unconsciously interpret patterns in the environment. Natural selection and experience has taught us what patterns ought to be like and so we notice when they don’t conform to (unconscious) expectations. This is not done consciously by thinking about it, but rather through feelings and hunches. Ramsey Dukes gave a wonderful example in his book Sex Secrets of the Black Magicians Exposed (which I can whole heartedly recommend). He asks us to imagine a woman who opened the door to a man who claims to be a meter reader. He was dishevelled and unkempt and so the lady felt that there was something wrong and so reacts suspiciously. She did not know whether the man was a confidence trickster or just got up in a hurry. Natural selection ‘programmed’ her to unconsciously and automatically notice incongruent patterns and experience had taught her that this pattern was wrong. All this manifests as a hunch, which on the plains of Africa might be the difference between living and spreading your genes or a cruel and gruesome death.
It reminds me of the hunter of man-eating tigers Jim Corbett. This pioneer conservationist in India wrote several books about his adventures. Being a sporting fellow, he would hunt these man-eaters on foot. In his books he described what he called a ‘jungle sense’. Basically this was the intuition and hunches he had which alerted him to the presence of the leopard or tiger. It was pattern recognition, unconsciously detecting a bird alarm call or a stilling of the jungle noise; something that led the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up, alerting him to the fact that he was now no longer the hunter but was prey.
To my mind, even though it is not always right, intuition matters. Meaning and character are important as the Craft (and magic in general) works in and through this world of meaning.
|Posted on April 27, 2017 at 2:15 PM||comments (0)|
The Craft is a practical approach to life.
It is not an intellectual thing, not mental masturbation. There is a cycle to the year. There is, or should be, a cycle, or pattern, to our lives, both on a long term and an annual basis. By aligning with that ‘natural’ cycle we flow with the force, we do not swim upstream, and so life becomes ‘easier’.
The cycle of the year can be summarized in four words; sow, grow, reap and weep.
Think about it, those words represent events in ‘nature’ side of ourselves.
An old regime of the year was rest- purify- sow- love- tend- harvest- store and death.
Yet another view could be sow- harvest- prune and dream (plan).
Correspond what each Sabbat, as far as personal actions mean in your life. Bring the wheel of the Year down to Earth. Relate each on an annual basis. Consider the physical, emotional and mental aspects of each Sabbat to you.
The Craft is, and should be a practical, every-day, useful guide to us. We should reflect it and its aspects in all that we do. To become Witches we must think and act as such. We should think and consider, before each action, what does the Craft have to say on this? Then and only then will the will of the Gods and the way of the Witch become plain. The Craft is a way of life. It is often described as a ‘coming home’. It is you and your action, at all levels, that mark out the path. Follow it, live it, let it live and then the path becomes not only obvious but easier and more rewarding.
One key word of the Craft is ‘responsibility’. Personal responsibility for our actions. All our actions. There is no Devil, only us. We should realise the implications of each and every action that we perform. By bringing the Wheel of the Year into our lives we align ourselves with the forces of life and so infuse greater meaning to each and every act.
The Craft us not an intellectual exercise, it is and must be a way of life. Go live it each and every day, in full knowledge and open consciousness.
|Posted on April 1, 2017 at 9:40 AM||comments (0)|
Since its inception in the late forties or earlier depending on your point of view, the Craft until recently had only two deities, the Goddess and the Horned God. These two deities came into the Craft through a complex process inspired no doubt by the Egyptologist Dr Margaret Murray’s highly flawed treatment of the Witch Trials, ‘The Witch Cult in Western Europe’ and ‘The God of the Witches’. British historian Prof. Ronald Hutton has very lucidly described the cultural and literary forces which have shaped the perception of the two deities since the romantic period in his classic book ‘Triumph of the Moon’. That being said the Craft originated with two deities representing the two human sexes who were personification of life and death, summer and winter, female and male etc. etc. These in turn were seen as aspects of a pantheistic mysticism. Thus the whole language of earlier initiatory Craft was couched in terms of mysticism and mystical experience.
In his book ‘Religion without Beliefs: Essays in Pantheistic Theology, Comparative Religion and Ethics’, Fred Lamond a long standing Gardnerian Witch and one time member of Gerald Gardner’s Bricket Wood coven posed the question “Are the Gods real?”
In answer Fred concluded that there were three ways, or perspectives, of looking at the gods. Firstly as thought forms in which people invest time and emotional ‘energy’. He used the analogy of saluting a flag every morning in the same manner as those in the American Military do, investing the symbol with emotion. Fred suggested that the occultist or religionist would be able to withdraw some of that ‘energy’ banked in that thought-form in times of need. For example the soldier could be inspired by the flag to persevere in order to carry out great deeds in times of crisis.
Secondly, the Gods could be viewed as archetypes. These are the Jungian concept of the originating patterns or functions which underpins the characters in myths and stories. The examples that Fred gives are the archetypes of Mother Earth and Father Sky.
Lastly they may be seen as gateways to cosmic forces. By this rather grand sounding statement, invoking the principle of charity I take Fred to mean they are anthropomorphic representations of the forces of nature, for example life, death, sexuality and so on.
In the chapter he suggests that individual deities could be encountered at all three different levels, for example Isis may be viewed as the personality in the myth, a thought form that can inspire a person to live up to the ethics she represents. She may be encountered in the archetype of the mother, a function that represents our universal ideas of motherhood, or that aspect of our own characters played out in the narrative of ourselves. Or she may be seen as a gateway and metaphor for the experience of life, of reproduction and all that entails. So which level of the Gods do we deal with? It depends, according to Fred, on how one views the deity as to how we encounter them.
To my mind Fred Lamond has done the Craft and the occult a great service. He has shown that the Gods if you view them from an esoteric perspective are far more complex and interesting than if they are assumed to be as in the literal religionist’s conception. It rescues them from being seen as literal entities, a position for which there seems to be little room for in our current understanding of the universe, thus saving them from becoming irrelevant. With this in mind this session seeks to examine Fred’s idea of the gods in more detail and to determine what, if any, relevance they have to the Craft.
Let’s begin with Fred’s first level of the Gods, as thought forms. What exactly is a thought form? According the coiners of the term, the theosophist Annie Besant and co founder of the Liberal Catholic Church C. W. Leadbeater, a thought form is a manifestation of mental energy. The theosophist believed that this energy was the shape of a thought, a construct of some kind of ‘energy’ that would take on the shape of a particular person, a particular object or organise into its own shape. They believed that thought forms influenced the way we use language, for example when we ‘look daggers’ at someone, it is because there are little literal thought form daggers that we direct at the object of our displeasure. A thought form as a deity would be all the mental ‘energy’ built by people into the character of the god or goddess which manifests on some other plane of existence.
It seems somewhat naive to think of spiritual or mental energy manifesting on a different plane or hovering in the aether, but perhaps it does have some metaphorical truth, but if so what? It has not escaped the notice of some astute occultists that thought forms seem similar to the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ concept of memes.
Dawkins first coined the term meme in his classic book of Neo-Darwinism, ‘The Selfish Gene’. In the main thrust of the book he outlines the power of the gene as a replicator, the unit of natural selection. But he also asks the question “is there was another type of replicator on the planet?” Dawkins conjectured that the units of ideas that make up culture fitted that bill. He called these replicating ideas memes based upon a play on the Greek word mimetismos meaning ‘something imitated’ and the word gene. Although hardly without controversy, memetics is the science of how these ideas or units of cultural information are replicated through mimicking. This includes copying other people’s behaviour and ideas, through language, body language, books, the internet or any other medium of communicating information. The environment in which these memes exist is the human mind which like the outer environment is shaped by physics, chemistry and biology and also by other memes (the equivalent to other genes). In the environment of the human mind some memes do better than others, for example memes about life after death do better in the mind environment than the meme that death is the end. The psychologist Susan Blackmore in her book ‘The Meme Machine’ has also suggested that memes that spread other memes like mobile phones also often tend to do better. As such memes are subject to their own natural selection pressures from the mind environment and ‘competition’ with other memes. Blackmore argues that every thought you have, every piece of technology you use, every piece of entertainment which entertains you, and even your sense of self are all memes. Memes like genes can group together for mutual benefit. For example the, ‘you must believe in God’ meme comes with the, ‘faith is a virtue meme’. Both memes reinforce each other and so better increase their chances of survival in the mind environment. A group of memes such as a religion are called memeplexes. Memes have no real agenda; they just thoughtlessly replicate from mind to mind using the human ability to mimic; which is something that makes for a very uncomfortable thought.
This being the case I would argue that we can think of the concept of thought forms as an early groping towards the ‘science’ of memetics. They may not be literal free floating mental energy (rather information encoded in the structure of the brain) but they do metaphorically give a shape to our thoughts and exist in the complex mixture of the physical and informational world that metaphorically we call the mind environment. If this is the case then at one level Gods can be seen as memes or perhaps more accurately memeplexes. If as Dr. Blackmore argued that our narrative of ourselves, in other words how we view our own characters, are made of memes, then why not the same be true for the characters of the Gods?
Would the Gods as memeplexes have what it takes to survive in the mind environment? According to Douglas Fox writing in the 27th November 2010 edition of the New Scientist, they would. He writes that the anthropologist Steward Guthrie suggested that anthropomorphism is rife throughout the world’s religion. Most religions have Gods with more or less human characteristics. Even Gods with animal appearances such as Baast and Anubis in Egyptian mythology are endowed with human like personalities and job roles. The Greek philosopher Xenophanes commented 2600 years ago that people tend to worship Gods that look like them, so black people worshiped black Gods etc. He wondered whether if horses had Gods they would be horse shaped. While Xenophanes observations are not always true, for example Christ always seems to be portrayed as pale skinned even in Southern European countries, it does seem to be generally true. Fox reports that we infer anthropomorphism for evolutionary reasons similar to those described by the anthropologists Pascal Boyer and Dan Sperber. Evolution has shaped our minds to project agency onto things and situations where there is none and this is particularly true of situations that are unpredictable and unexpected. For example we often attribute (though often in jest) agency a personality to our computer when it suddenly freezes. Somehow it feels personal and we wonder why the computer picked that moment of maximum annoyance to let us down. This is a classic example of our tendency to infer human like qualities. What is more the psychologist Nicholas Epley has discovered that people tend to project their own opinions and beliefs onto situations, especially if we are unsure about them or feel confused. For example we judge how people will respond to rude jokes before we tell them by thinking about how we would respond ourselves. Likewise we imagine that the Gods hold our own moral standards, we project our own beliefs into the void.
This tendency for humans towards anthropomorphism means that memeplexes, characters with human like tendencies are likely to appeal in the mind environment. Added to this is the human tendency derived from evolving in groups towards a hierarchy with a dominant male or female in charge. All this means that god and goddess memes which naturally play on these tendencies are likely to be communicated and copied. The mind environment is fertile place for such memes and scientifically we could predict that the Gods memes are likely to do well, as indeed they have.
This I believe has certain practical applications and goes some way to explaining the genuine experiences of invocations and deliberate possessions of religions such as Voodoo. If Dr. Susan Blackmore is right, and she is not the only person to suggest this, as Daniel Dennett makes similar claims in his book ‘Consciousness Explained’, then our sense of self is a collection of memes, it is a collection of stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves. It does not seem to me to be too much of stretch of the imagination that in altered states of consciousness the narratives of the self can be put to one side and the memeplex (character) of the ‘spirit’ inferred can come through. Likewise if we have the memes of a god in our mind, especially if we believe that the character of that deity is different to ours (bearing in mind Nicholas Epley) then we may be able to get access through a relationship and ‘conversation’ (via unconscious inference) to a different perspective of the subjective world. In other words we may be able to see the world from the perspective of the God or spirit which might be a valuable insight and guide (both for good and ill) to our actions. As Fred suggested in his article they also serve as role models and sources of inspiration. This is something that psychologists may be able to construct an experiment to test and I would love to see the results. Perhaps we could look at it in this way Humans have genes while Gods have memes
When we talk about the Gods whether in the positive or the negative, we are serving them. We serve them by communicating their memes. But memes need not lead to our benefit. What matters from the memetic perspective is simply that they are replicated and spread. For example at the Further Education College where I teach there are students who have taken to rasping the skin of their knuckles against the wall to make them look like cage fighters. The meme was detrimental to their health but appeals to minds shaped by other memes about ‘being hard’ and macho. As a result it spread through a certain proportion of the student body infected by those memes despite the pain it causes. Likewise suppose we have the memes that some evil entity wishes to cause us harm. Remember memes in our mind are not necessarily for our benefit, only their own (metaphorically speaking). Therefore memes that represent evil characters and our belief in them could bring us to harm. I have seen this happen to a literal minded dabbler in the occult. This also means that angels are as potentially dangerous as demons, as both ‘use’ humans for their own metaphorical ‘agenda’; to be spread from mind to mind. So it is with the Gods.
The next perspective that Fred discusses is that the Gods could be viewed as archetypes. What makes archetypes interesting if we take on board Dennett’s and Blackmore’s idea of the self as a collection of narratives is the Jungian concept (which underpins some of the ideas of Joseph Campbell on myth) is particularly useful in understanding stories. For example, the Hollywood producer Christopher Vogler in his book, ‘The Writer’s journey: Mythic structures for Writers’ suggests that many successful scriptwriters are mindful of the contributions made by Jung and Campbell.
Jung was particularly interested in myths and dreams and from this interest and through a period of intense self analysis he noticed that certain themes seemed to reoccur. He was not the first person to notice this as the 19th Century the German anthropologist Adolf Bastian spoke about the elementary ideas that underpinned the folk stories and myths of various cultures. However it was Jung who coined the enduring term archetype referring to these reoccurring themes. Jung suggested that archetypes were universal; this means that they are central to the way all humans see the world and themselves. They underpin how we create narratives. Perhaps the best way to think of archetypes is as character functions within a story. In movies Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter fulfil the archetypal role of hero while Obi Wan Kenobi and Dumbledore fulfil the archetypal role of mentor. Likewise in Arthurian legends King Arthur or Sir Lancelot perform the hero function while Merlin is the mentor function with Sir Mordred fulfilling the role of the Villain/shadow. In myths you have many heroes in the shape of Hercules, Beowulf, Jason, Balder, Apollo, Thor, etc, etc, while you have paternal king archetypes in the shape of Jupiter, Balder, Osiris etc. Every culture in the world and every person understands the concept of a hero and the function they fulfil in stories. The characters of the individual heroes may be different from story to story but their function is always the same. This applies equally to the archetypes of mother, father, child, dweller on the threshold, mentor, villain, shadow, trickster etc, etc, etc. They are all have roles in narratives, they all influence they way we tell stories about ourselves, other people and the world. Essentially they are the product of our evolution and according to Jung dwell within the collective unconscious. This is the part of our minds of which we are unconscious but whose content is the same as every other member of our species.
Gods are characters and myths are stories, and the roles the Gods play are archetypal. From this perspective the characters of the Gods may be different but Odin has the same function as Zeus and the Buddha (depending on how you wish to look at the story) plays the same function as Mithras who fulfils the same function as Christ. This is important, as the myths are the product of the human psyche and the archetypal functions highlight aspects of the narratives about our own psyches. As such the Gods represent functions within our inner lives; they are part of our semantic landscape. This has practical applications as by invoking the Gods we activate the archetype in our own narrative influencing our subjective reality. For example, the magician who wishes to bring love into their life may perform a ritual to Venus. Venus is a symbol that points to the archetype of love which means that by identifying with the archetype, we identify with love. By invoking Venus and taking on her archetypal characteristics which changes our subjective view of ourselves increases the probability, if the archetype is left to do its work, of getting the magician what he or she desires. By numinously experiencing the archetypal god to change our subjective view of reality we can change ourselves from someone who is loveless to someone who is loved.
For Jung archetypes were important to personal development and individuation, especially the archetypes of the shadow, the anima/animus, the mana personalities and the self. Jung suggested that these archetypes were represented by mythological gods, for example the Shadow is represented by the devil, Aphrodite could represent the anima, the earth mother and sky father the mana personalities and Christ or the Buddha or even God representing the self. By invoking, working with and understanding these archetypes and these God function within the narratives of our self we come to have a more realistic and balanced sense of who we are. We can become more inclusive of all our narratives allowing us to match it to a more congruent view of reality. By accepting this larger sense of ourselves, warts and all, it allows us to deal with the world in a wiser way. We have a truer and more integrated sense of self, leading to individuation, the process of becoming who we truly are. Because the Gods are archetypal, patterns common to all of human kind it is natural to project them onto the divine. And through these archetypes, these myths and patterns, we can like an artist through the medium of canvas or music, reveal and form a relationship with numinous experience, leading to profound and life changing experiences.
Lastly Fred spoke about the Gods as ‘gateways to cosmic forces’. He argues that the Gods can be seen “as anthropomorphic images to aid human relationship to cosmic forces”. The example he uses is that Shaivite and Shaktiie. Hindus can see Kali in the primordial energy/matter of the universe. As such perhaps witches choose to see the Lady in the processes of life and fertility and the Dark Lord in the processes of death and change. Perhaps we could view the Lady as among other things as anthropomorphic symbols and metaphors for the first law of thermodynamics and the Dark Lord as the second Law. The first law of thermodynamics states that nature is neither created nor destroyed and the second states that energy has a tendency to move towards entropy (another example of life and death).
This is the level of Gods which Prof. Joe Campbell describes as being transparent to the transcendent. From here we can go beyond the metaphor, the symbol that is the God to the experiences that it represents. If we are able to do so then the experience of the divine, the experience of the mysteries is open to us in a way that is forever closed to those who are stuck with on the literal concept of their God. Fred argues that this level is an empowerment source for the Witch, for we are relating to the forces of Nature herself; a source of wonder and of terror, the experience of mysterium tremendum coined by the German theologian Rudolph Otto.
Is there a role for the Gods as metaphors in the Craft from any of Fred’s perspectives? From my own view point I prefer the rule of parsimony as laid out by the scholastic mediaeval philosopher William of Occam who said, “Never multiply entities beyond necessity”. The Craft already has two deities which symbolise Nature and the human condition and who act as ‘gateways to cosmic forces’; does it really need more? That answer is up to the individual of course, but to my mind using any symbol takes time and effort to get to know it, to build up the connections in the semantic landscape. For me, and my personal subjective experience, while I find the myths of polytheistic Gods and Goddesses very interesting, they do not appeal to me living in the modern world in the way the Lord and Lady of the Craft do. All these many mythological Gods seem to me to belong to another time and as such these polytheistic myths appeal to my intellect and academic curiosity but not to my spirituality. That of course is not to say that they don’t appeal to others and bring them a profound sense of spirituality and provide deep personal relationships. For me and my own sense of spirituality I experience numinous and mystery through the metaphors of the Lord and the Lady of the Craft, the Old Ones, in much the same way that others experience numinous and mystery through art. Like artists we create that experience for ourselves, through the memes, the archetypes and metaphors of the Gods.
I applaud Fred Lamond for he and other mystics like him have shown that the occultist and Witch need not look at the Gods in any simple literalist way. To my mind this makes them far more interesting and relevant than outdated literalist beliefs in supernatural beings; something very difficult to sustain if we want our beliefs to be in some way congruent with how we now understand reality. Fred does ask the question, are they real? He concludes that they are as they sometimes answer prayers and have a real affect on those upon who they are invoked. I would have to agree with him as I have experienced such subjective things myself. But such phenomena do not require the existence of literal objective deities as the unreal can have an effect on the real. So in answer to Fred’s question, are the Gods real? I would have to answer, “that all depends on what you mean by real?”
|Posted on March 23, 2017 at 2:40 PM||comments (0)|
The elements were late comers to the Craft. Gerald Gardner’s Bricket Wood Coven, the first coven that we reliably know about, did not originally make use of the elements and there is no mention of them in the early versions of the Books of Shadows. Rather the coven invoked ‘The Mighty Ones’ of the directions. The Mighty Ones of the Bricket Wood Coven eventually gained elemental associations probably from ceremonial magic and they seem likely to be here to stay.
The 5th Century BCE pre Socratic philosopher Empedocles is credited with the creation of the concepts behind the four classical elements, earth, air, fire and water. He referred to these properties as roots. He believed that these four roots are simple and unalterable, the physical parts of the Universe mixed together by the dualistic forces of love and strife. Empedocles publicised his ideas in his famous poem called ‘On Nature’. As far as I know it was Plato who first called them elements and Aristotle added a fifth to the list which he called aether or quintessence (literally the fifth element).
The five elements persisted in classical and medieval ‘science’. They were included within Galenic medicine in the second century which was based upon the four humours of the body each with elemental associations. These four humours were melancholic (black bile) associated with earth, phlegmatic (phlegm) associated with water, sanguine (blood) associated with air and choleric (Yellow bile) associated with fire. The belief of the physicians who practised this form of ‘medicine’ was that illness was caused by an imbalance of one or more humours which the physician was then required to redress. This is where the reasoning behind bleeding comes from, the idea being that the loss of blood would restore the balance. It was, of course, at best completely ineffective and at worst detrimental to your health. Fortunately for us Galen’s method was replaced with effective medicine based on proper scientific method from the 19th century onwards.
Before the Newtonian Revolution most people accepted the Aristotle/Ptolemaic model of the Universe. In this Cosmology which endured until Copernicus and onset of Newtonian physics, the elements were seen as trying to return to their place of origin. Hence earth and water would fall down (a nice but wrong explanation of the effects of gravity), while air and fire would try to rise. This was a common sense explanation of why rain fell and fire rose. The Aristotle/Ptolemaic view of the universe indicated that the closer you got to the centre of the Universe, i.e. the earth, the denser and more profane things become. The further you got away from earth the more ephemeral and sacred things were. Hence the belief that the planets could influence what occurred on Earth as they were believed to be made of a more divine substance than earthly things. This was the thinking behind Astrology. Newton showed us that it can’t be literally true, but it still has value as a metaphorical symbolic system and inspiration for culture.
The five elements endured into modern times and today the five classical elements are an integral part of the Western Mystery tradition, including Witchcraft. But it is one thing for them to be included in classical science and quite another thing for them to be relevant today. After all, we now know that the Universe is not made up of just five kinds of stuff. We now have the periodic table with its 118 known elements; you know hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, sodium etc, etc. As such it would be very difficult to take the classical elements seriously if we view them as literal. But all is not lost as they do, of course, make wonderful metaphors. The classical elements are myths, they are figurative and not literal and it would be a mistake to confuse them with objective reality.
Empedocles, Plato and Aristotle have provided us with a wonderful psychological allegorical model for the human spirit. It is a model that has important practical implications and is well suited to the initiatory Craft with its emphasis on personal understanding, empowerment and the mysteries. With this in mind, to avoid the trap of literalism and supernaturalism, it is important to remember that when we discuss spirit we mean a representation of character. In this case it is the meta-representation we have of our own spirit. In other words we are reflecting on and possibly transforming our own characters. The key to understanding the power of the elements as a model of the human spirit is firstly in the work of the Swiss psychologist Dr. Carl Jung (in his ego functions) and secondly in building up and exploring our meaning landscape. The ideas we are going to be discussing are not new. They have been put forward by people like the English Witch and psychologist Dr. Vivianne Crowley in her book ‘Wicca the Old religion in the New Age'. Before we examine these ideas it is perhaps a good time to refresh our memories about the traditional meaning of four of the elements and how they lay in the Witch’s meaning landscape.
Each element traditionally has a direction. In the Robert Cochrane tradition of the Clan of Tubal Cain the elemental directions follow the pattern of Galenic medicine, with air in the north, fire in the east, earth in the south and water in the west. In traditional occultism (including the Craft) which was inspired by the 19th century magical lodge the Golden Dawn, air is placed in the east, fire in the south, water in the west and earth in the north. The associate of Gerald Gardner, Fred Lamond, in his book ‘50 years of Wicca’ has suggested that there is no reason why this convention should be followed and you may want to look at the local environment as to the elemental placements. For example, if there is a large body of water in the east then the east could be the elemental direction of water. I have to admit that Fred’s breaking from tradition does appeal to my rebellious nature and I do agree with him to a point. However in practise if one has built up one’s meaning landscape with the traditional association of elements and directions it can be hard work to break from it. Perhaps it is a case of if it isn’t broken why fix it? But, if you are starting from scratch in the Craft and have an eclectic turn of mind, there is no reason why you shouldn’t follow Fred’s advice.
It is these directions that give the elements some of their associations within the Craft. For example Air and the east are associated with the dawn. East obviously is the direction of the rising sun as the earth spins anti clockwise on its polar axis making the sun seem to travel in a clockwise direction from east to west. For this reason it is the direction and so the element linked with new beginnings. It is associated with birth and youth, the emergence of consciousness from the unconscious and with the spring. The easterly direction is associated with the Sabbats of Candlemas and spring which celebrate and allow us to re-experience the mysteries of birth and sexuality. Air is seen as the least dense of the elements and is viewed as masculine in gender and is given the attributes of being hot and wet. In the tarot it is associated with suit of rods and in the Craft it is semantically connected with the censer.
Fire and the south are associated with midday and the summer, when the sun is at the highest in the sky and the days are at their longest. As such this element can be associated with adulthood; with the reaching of one’s potential. It is the full light of consciousness and the summer. Fire is the third densest of the elements and can be associated with vitality and action; it is the burning of energy, the transforming of chemical energy into heat. It above all is the element of change and transformation. Fire is the full emergence of will with life force. It is dynamic and changeable. In the tarot fire is connected with the swords suit and in the Craft the athame or sword is associated with fire.
The element of water is the second most dense of the elements. It and the west are associated with the evening and the autumn. It is the element that suggests the melancholy, bitter sweet of old age. It is the inevitable force, subject to the tides and changes of nature. It is the element of wisdom, of self reflection and reaping the benefits of the productivity of past youth. Water is seen as a feminine element. In the tarot it is associated with the cups suit and in the Craft it is most often linked with the chalice.
The last of the classical elements is earth. This is the densest of the elements and represents the physical world of matter. Earth and the direction of north mean that it is associated with death and the unconscious. Yet paradoxically and this is a common motif in mythology it is also associated with fecundity and fertility. Metaphorically and literally sex and death are intimately linked; both of which power evolution by natural selection. Like water, earth is seen as feminine and in the tarot it is associated with the discs suit. In Craft the element of earth is most often associated with the dish or the pentacle.
The directions and the elements associated with them also correspond with colours. For example from the Golden Dawn and the traditions of ceremonial magic which have influenced Wicca in its colour associations are black/brown for north and earth, yellow for the east and air, red for south and fire and blue for water and the west. In the Enochian cannon the mythical colours of the directions are black for north, red for east, white for south and green for west. To my mind influenced by this Enochian system are the colour associations given by the influential Witch Doreen Valiente which are still used within the Craft today. She suggested that they should be red for east, white for south, grey for west and black for north. These colour associations also tie in figuratively with the meaning of the directions in reference to the time of the day. For example red suggests the sunrise of the dawn in the east, white the brilliance of the noontide sun of the south, grey in the west, the twilight of dusk and black, the darkness of midnight. This myth like the wheel of the year and the phases of the moon models human life from youth, adulthood, old age and death.
We must bear in mind the subjectivity of these meanings (remember Craft works in the realm of the subjective) connections and symbolisms. Other systems and other people’s experiences of these meanings are equally as valid as this short tour of elemental semantics. It is impossible to write about the meanings that these elements and directions have within the minds of the individual witch and this has to be built up over time using techniques in building one’s semantic landscape in relation to the myth. This is the Crafter’s own subjective experience.
Let’s discuss how the four elements can be used as a model for our spirit. The word spirit is often used to synonymously with the fifth element aether. They are seen as the same thing. As you are aware we are taking the term spirit to mean character rather than a dualistic notion of another non material substance as suggested by Descartes and is popular in religious and new age thinking. In other words we are not talking about the supernatural concept of spirits which are difficult to believe in. Rather if the anthropologist Dan Sperber is correct, we have the ability to represent our own characters (and those of others including the dead and fictional personalities) in our own minds, which he calls meta-representation. This reflection of our own characters means that we can to some extent (within the restrictions of our biology) influence and change our characters. As character is a filter through which we interact with reality then so we can change our subjective reality, giving us a powerful tool.
In order for this model to work we shall make the mythical assumption that spirit is made up of all the other four elements. Again we need to remember that what we are talking about here is myth and not literal reality. What we are saying is that in this model of spirit (representation of character) can be seen as being made up of what the four other elements are metaphors for. That our sense of character can be associated with the four elements is an idea suggested by Carl Jung. He suggested an influential typology on how people made judgements about the world, which went on to influence Myers-Briggs psychometric test. Jung suggested that people’s ego-functions were on a spectrum between extrovert or introvert (he invented the terms), though he seems to have believed that this could change throughout one’s life and also with one’s situation. He constructed a directional rather than categorical model based on a four-fold system suggesting that people have favoured ways of making judgments which influence their character. Some people prefer to make decisions through thinking and others through how they feel about something. Both these two ways of judging Jung called rational. Others make decisions through intuition and others through sensations, e.g. it tastes good or it feels good. By intuition Jung meant that we make decisions based on unconscious leaps where it is not clear where the information is coming from. In the public mind intuition is often associated with creativity and artists. Current psychological research suggests that intuition is really a matter of using information built up through experience. So those hunches that policemen or Witches get from time to time come from unconsciously using information from similar past experiences, or through unconscious pattern recognition. The intuition and sensation judgment functions were deemed by Jung as irrational. According to Jung people preferred one or two ways of making judgments, though a developed and balanced character type would make judgments based on all four.
I daresay that you can see where I am going with this. The four-fold typology can be associated with the four elements. In fact traditionally, in occultism, the elements do have more or less these associations with air relating to thinking, communication and the intellect, fire relating to intuition and the will, water to feelings and emotions, and earth to perception and sensation. Therefore like the mediaeval physicians, though metaphorically rather than literally, our spirit is made up of these four elements. While useful and suggestive we need not follow Jung’s four functions to the letter rather we can use them as inspiration. To my mind air relates to thinking, intellect and communication, fire represents the transforming power of the will, water the profundity of emotions and earth the body. Together they are all aspects of the spirit, the character. We are the product of our body (genotype and phenotype), we are our intellect (cognition) including imagination, we are our will, what we want and how effective we are in achieving it (conation), and we are our emotions and past experiences. At least that is one of the many possible stories that we can tell about how we are made up. But this is not reality and a fair criticism is that character is much more complex than this. However models are always necessary simplifications if they are going to be of use conceptually, but we should always remember that they are just models however apt they might be. This representation is how we see ourselves and so has a profound effect on our character and on our subjective view of reality. But simple or complex the proof of the pudding is in how the model can be put into practical use and I would argue that this model, mixed with no small amount of discipline does have practical if still subjective applications.
Carl Jung and the classical elements have provided us with a working model for the spirit, but what can we do with it? The answer is that in theory we can use it to have some control, subject to other complex forces, over our own character. One of the aims of the Witch is to balance all four elements within their spirit, to make wiser judgements and be a ‘more whole person’. It is possible to invoke within our characters biases towards one or more ways of making judgements, or a balance towards all four ways. Also as we are essentially working on our ego or the representation of the story of who we are, we are working on a relatively shallow level in Occult terms but this can still have profound effects on our reality. For example imagine that you are studying for an exam. It would be extremely useful to bring forth your thinking side. Perhaps you wish to take up exercise or give up smoking it would be useful to invoke the will (while remembering that willpower is a skill). Maybe you are participating in ritual and you wish to balance all the aspects of your character. This in essence is the start of using elements in magic.
Despite beginner luck, that common phenomena of newcomers having success with their first try (then failure thereafter unless they develop the disciplines), these kinds of things are very difficult to do. The problem is that although some of the semantic connections seem logical, it takes a great deal of work to semantically link one symbol to another, let alone to a state of mind to facilitate change. This is where tables of correspondences often fail. They are written by people who have put a great deal of time and effort into building up their meaning landscapes, so that one symbol immediately brings up its corresponding state of mind in that person. But for newcomers the correspondences only have connections in superstition which while can be powerful can also be hit and miss and is easily destroyed by doubt.
Therefore the Witch, if they want success, needs to spend a great deal of time and energy building up the elements as triggers in their meaning landscapes to achieve these states of mind. This is done through meditation and participation in the myth. The Witch needs to emotionally connect the elements with the tools, the judgement functions, with the directions, the colours and with other semantic values. To my mind this is best done through actual experience of the elements, with visualisation meditation and with contemplation; where one gets emotionally involved and identifies with what you are meditating on. It is important to get out there and experience the power of the wind and sea, be in the earth and experience the ferocious nature of fire. Visualisation involves building up pictures in the mind of the elements and interacting with them, building up a relationship. Some people prefer to use fantasy images using the corresponding elemental creatures such as gnomes for earth, sylphs for air, salamanders for fire and undines for water, in their meditation. But my feeling is that by using such fantasy creature the unconscious is likely to treat them as fantasy and as such the results will also be a fantasy. Craft operates in the semantic, spiritual and emotional worlds and it also operates and needs to be of value in the real one. As such I recommend using images taken from your real experiences. It is also much easier to feel that you have a relationship with them, as you have already experienced them. But this means that you have to go out and experience the four elements, the times of day, the time of the year, the four Jungian functions and contemplate the stages of your life. Then you can form the pictures; build the connections and the relationship of wonder which after all is the basis of spirituality.
Visual meditation and contemplation on the four elements is a discipline that needs to be done regularly over a long period of time. One way to do this is to visualise your covenstead with the four elemental coloured candles, behind which is a veil or curtain of the same colour. In the centre of the covenstead is the altar on which sit the four elemental tools, the censer, the athame, the pentacle and the chalice. You can mentally pick up each one and associating it with the element it represents and with the Jungian function. You could then visualise yourself going round to each curtain and opening it. Beyond the curtain visualise the scene of your choice which corresponds to that element. For example in the east I would visualise myself opening the red veil to see the sun rising over RSPB Minsmere. This is a bird reserve on the east coast near to where I live. I imagine the sun rising in a red sky; there are daffodils and other spring flowers near to my feet and new buds in the trees. I picture the view as if I was standing on raised ground looking our across the reserve. The wind is blowing strongly in from the sea and I can hear it rustling the reed beds as it whips through them. I can also feel the wind on my skin and see and hear the birds in the distance. Here I can contemplate and feel intellect, thinking and communication, or youth and new starts.
I return back though the veil closing it behind me with thanks before proceeding to the south. Here I open the white veil and step through. I see myself in a summers meadow surrounded by oak trees. It is midday at the height of summer and the sun is shining over head. The meadow is filled with summer flowers, along it edges grow meadowsweet. It is hot and drowsy and ahead in the field a see a cauldron bubbling over a fire. The fire is burns hot and I can feel the heat. I can smell the burning wood and hear the crackling of the flame. Sometimes I might choose to go into the fire and become the flames. This scene comes from a memory of eating a meal cooked in huge cauldrons, al fresco, on a visit to Tuscany. I simply transplanted the scene to an English meadow instead of the Tuscan mountains. Here I can consider will and more rarely intuition, or think on adulthood and action.
Next I turn to the West and the grey veil. After opening it I find myself standing on the west coast of Scotland. The sun is obscured by clouds as it sinks below the western horizon. It is raining steadily and I can see, smell and see the sea before me. Behind me are beech tree whose leaves have changed colour to orange and red. The beach is rocky and covered in kelp and rock pools. On occasions I slip into the water and sink below the surface. As a scuba diver this is a familiar sensation and so the strange world, so full of life, comes into focus. On the beach or below the waves I can contemplate and feel the profound depth of emotions and feelings and wonder at water as the source of life. It is also a good place to contemplate getting old.
Lastly I turn to the north and open the black veil. Beyond is the frozen darkness of a winter’s night. There is no moon, but ahead is Polaris the pole star shining faintly in the sky. I touch the ground which is cold and hard and the air is chilly and still. I know that below the ground is the seed of next year’s crop, waiting for the ground to thaw so that it can germinate. Up ahead is an old church yard behind a stone wall. Climbing over a wall passing by the evergreen yew tree a gravestone catches my eye. It is covered in lichens and a rose bush wraps around it. Upon that gravestone is my name. It is in this place that I contemplate the physical aspects of my body and my own mortality.
Afterwards after the last veil is closed you I imagine myself standing before the altar, left with the feeling of a profound sense of balance.
Alternative meditations can be done using the memory and the imagination to take oneself through a journey of your own life ascribing childhood, adulthood, old age and death to each of the directions in turn. It is interesting what you can learn about yourself when carrying out this kind of reflection.
These meditations are just suggestions and to my mind it is much better to come up with your own visualisation loaded with your own meaning than borrowing from other people. After all it is your own semantic landscape on which you are working. For me, with a lifelong interest in nature and a spirituality expressed through it (one of the things that drew me to the Craft) visualisations and contemplations based in images of nature work best for me. It also aids in forming a relationship with what the elements represent in the outer world, connecting our pattern to the greater pattern of Nature herself.
Once you have done the work, you have built up the meaning connections, you have earned the right (metaphorically) to use the myth to transform your reality. You can use the meditations to invoke the elements and characteristics in your mind, influencing your reality as they will speak to your unconscious. The symbols, once the work is done will automatically invoke the state of mind. If you need to work with emotions you may draw on the element of water, for healing yourself, to invoke your will draw on fire, for invoking your intellect draw on air, for sensation and the body draw on earth. It may be subjective but from my experience it has seemed to have worked well for me.
In ritual when the four elements are invoked. Instead of just saying pretty words and drawing funny pentagrams in the air, you will truly be able to part the veils and bring forth those aspects of yourself, intellect, will, emotion, body making up your spirit in ritual. The four elements are not out there on the edge of your circle, but rather they are round the circle of your spirit (existing should you have done the work) in your meaning landscape, the metaphorical place where the unreal influences the real through the medium of mind. In ritual we are invoking the spirits of the elements. By this I mean we are invoking their characters within our mind. This can be more effectively achieved if we know their characters, if we have done the work and built up on that relationship, allowing those characters to work through us. This is where the Craft works, this work is the foundations of magic, and without the myth and the discipline and semantic connections all you are left with is pretty words and dodgy gestures.
The five elements, earth, air, fire, water and spirit are often at best overlooked or at worst treated as literal in books on the Craft. This is a shame as they make a powerful mythology that informs part of modern Witch rituals; they are a gift from ceremonial magic. Without the discipline and the exploration and building up of our meaning landscapes in regard to elements they are of little use. But if you put in the work, as in anything in magic, they can pay off for the time and effort you have spent as they become a powerful tool for changing your reality.
|Posted on February 24, 2017 at 11:55 AM||comments (0)|
Glamour is one of the most subtle dangers in the occult. In many ways it is like a spiritual personality disorder that hinders your growth to spiritual maturity. The concept was first coined by the theosophist Alice Bailey. Theosophy, incidentally, is the practice through speculation or experience, of discovering the nature of God.
Glamour can be split into three different levels, illusion, glamour and maya. Illusion, in this narrow sense, is being overly intellectual and ignoring emotions and meaning; think Mr Spock. Maya is a Hindu concept and is the illusion (the wider sense shall be used here-on-in) of duality. In mystical traditions the illusion between subject and object disappears.
Bailey said that glamour is the confusion of the real and the illusion. Put simply this is where we confuse the world for how we would like it to be for the way the world is. Or more technically it is when our view of phenomenal reality is incongruent with our experience of it. It is also when we mistake mythos for logos, imagining despite all experience to the contrary that our guardian angel is an empirical being. Here the illusion of the astral is mistaken for the brighter verisimilitudes of actuality (Bracey, 1990).
Bailey also claimed that it is where the desires of the personal are mistaken for the drives of the inner self. This colourful use of metaphorical language, so commonly used in the occult, simply means that we mistake our wants for our needs. The whole of materialist consumer culture is an example of this glamour.
So often we can be caught up in the snares of false colours, where the trappings become more important than the ritual that they support; or the ritual becomes more important than the people participating or the experiences they represent. To paraphrase Jesus, “rituals are for people, not people for rituals”. This is where the need for fancy velvet robes and tools becomes an end in itself. This is where people believe that by attending a wand making workshop they are doing witchcraft. Now there is nothing wrong with tools per se, as long as you use them in full knowledge, but you don’t need them, they are symbols or have practical functions and not an end in themselves.
This glamour is where we believe that our ritual has to be done on such and such a date. Where since Eight Sabbats for Witches was published, that Halloween Sabbat must be performed on the 31st October, or on the proper date in the old Julian calendar and so on. Likewise it is the use of Gaelic names for Sabbats to make them sound more pagan and exotic. It is the belief that the ritual should follow the exact same words as Gerald Gardner’s Book of Shadows. This is where rote is mistaken for ritual, and the words are taken to be more important than the mythology it enacts. This kind of ritual glamour also manifests itself in irrelevant discussions about whether it is better to do rituals inside or outside, whichever is practical and you prefer, or whether a particular place has significance for you should surely be the guide here. It is also when people insist that rituals must be done robed, skyclad or plain clothed at all times. It is when people become ritual junkies, with a ritual for every occasion or where they feel the constant need for magical protection and banishing.
Dave Bracey argued that it is glamour that encourages people to give themselves imposing titles as a substitute for deeds and accomplishments. For example, it is when people call themselves King of the Witches, or Grand High Poobar of the Purple Octopus.
So is the title of High Priestess an example of this part of glamour? The answer is that it can be, especially if it is seen as some kind of high glamorous office with associated power. The term High Priestess is probably a throwback to the early 20th Century where Egyptology was in vogue. In the modern Craft the term refers to a job title that has to be earned. The High Priestess is the servant of the coven which means she is the one running around making sure everyone else is having a good experience. She is also the one that deals with any problems. In many ways she is like the hostess of a party, except that she has a lot of pastoral duties as well. She does a lot of the organizing and leading of rituals and as such needs certain skills in order to be able to do the job properly. These skills are hard won through practice and experience. So those that swan about with heavy eye makeup and jewellery who claim to be high priestesses without having put in the time and effort are certainly englamoured. It is also glamour that encourages certain American Witches to take the title Lady (name) and Lord (name) for themselves, something that causes European Witches much amusement.
This kind of glamour can also manifest in the changing of names for more glamorous ones. There are several legitimate reasons why people do this, many of them legitimate. It may be that they have suffered personal trauma in their lives and so in order to distance themselves from it, take on a new identity. These people are changing their names in full knowledge of what they are doing. Also in the Craft, upon initiation, we take on a new name that reflects our sense of self and this name is kept private within the coven. Again, this is done in full knowledge of what we are doing. However, there are those who take on names to support their fantasy view of the world. Perhaps they want to live in some Wicca Wonderland or imagine that they are ancient shamans and take on names that support these fantasies. This is when people call themselves Thor instead of Kevin, or Windy Thunderthighs instead of Sharon; mistaking fantasy for reality.
It is glamour when we mistake the messenger for the message. This is where we believe that the symbol is more important that the numinous experience it represents. For example worrying about the directions in which pentagrams are drawn when calling the Mighty Ones, rather than the experience itself. It is the belief that an athame must only ever be used in ritual, or that a common kitchen knife is what a ‘real’ Witch would use. Either or, neither is intrinsically better, it is horses for courses and whatever tradition or mythology is followed. Arguing about it is irrelevant and is symptomatic of glamour.
Glamour is when we believe the part to be the whole. It is where we mistake the persona (the roles we take on) for the self. As Campbell said, “the executive comes home in the executive’s car, eats the executive’s dinner, plays with the executive’s son and then goes to bed and makes love to the executive’s wife”. It is mistaking our ego (that which we think we are) for the entire self. We mistake the part for the whole when we think we know it all. This is certainly a very common glamour amongst Witches who tend on the whole to be very self-confident people.
It is also when we believe our myths, our metaphors and our superstition of choice to be intrinsically better than anyone else’s. For example Christians have a very different mythology to Witches, and while you may want to make judgement of how each will influence your life, it seems inappropriate to say that one way of ‘making sense of’ is any better than another. No one system of thought, practice, mythology, science or metaphysics can capture the majesty and absolute wonder of the complexity of the cosmos. Therefore all such systems of thought and meaning are contingent and situated. There is no grand Narrative.
It is glamour when people believe that they have the ‘one true path’. It is common for newcomers to the Craft who have just had direct experience of numinous to think that their way is the only way. With time they should grow out of it. The internet forums are full of ‘traditional witches’ who believe they have the authentic Craft. It is glamour where we judge a practice on how old it is rather than on whether it is effective. It is glamour that encourages some to be more interested in what other people are doing (wrong) then worrying about their own practice. In fact this is a great distraction from getting on with the Craft.
Glamour is when sickly emotionality clouds our judgment. For example, I teach people with learning difficulties and some peoples’ emotional sentimentality makes them treat these learners like children which stunt their development into adulthood.
A classic example is where people want to be healers because they want people to see them as special, very spiritual and good, rather than having a genuine concern for their patients. This is also true of those who imagine themselves to be psychic. They want to be seen as special and spiritual. They make vague statement like, “I am feeling a bad energy in this house, or an old man and his cat lived here who died from old age”, without any attempt to back it up with evidence. It is found in those people who give ‘psychic’ advice to vulnerable people without any thought to how that advice will influence that person’s life. That is not to say that sometimes people have intuitions or access to information in ways that are hard to explain, or that playing the psychic card is a good way of telling people things they need to hear or accept advice they might not otherwise take. But is has to be done with personal integrity and responsibility.
It is found in those that feel the constant need for therapy, either going from one crisis to the next, or feeding off the attention given to them by healers. It is an under or over estimation of your own abilities; hubris or false modesty. It is believing that outmoded philosophies and practices are still valid when there is evidence to the contrary. It is seeing the world the way we would want it to be rather than the way it is.
It is also when we prefer cold logic over heartfelt conviction. This means participating and buying into a system that robs us of our humanity and creativity. According to Doctor Who and Philosophy this is what the Daleks are metaphors for. It is losing yourself in the world of systems and standardisation, which reduces people to resources and a means to an end. Of course, the Daleks are always defeated in the end by acts of creativity.
This glamour is where we miss seeing the beauty and sublime in an over emphasis on reductionism. Reductionism is useful in the natural sciences to give us descriptions of how things work. But what I mean here is where we say that the Mona Lisa is just paint molecules or love is just the release of oxytocin hormones. We miss the beauty of the whole.
Glamour is akin to the difference in seeing a scene by soft moonlight and the observation of the same scene by bright sunlight. The former may be more romantic, but the outlines are more defused and we are liable to make mistakes and trip as we traverse the landscape.
Glamour is not a ‘be and end all’; it is not a separate thing, but rather clouds our experience in varying shades of false colours. It continues throughout our occult career, no matter how long we have been involved and how experienced we are. It reoccurs at different levels and through different times and situations in our lives.
There are, however, some ways to counter our englamourment.
Firstly by working in a well-established and experienced coven. There will always be someone there who will be kind enough to tell you that you are englamoured and away with the fairies.
Secondly, you have to be able to set aside your ego and be able to take constructive criticism and advice. Listen to it and don’t just react emotionally. Consider and reflect upon it seriously and if the person was wrong about you, you can always tell them so at a later date.
Thirdly, write your personal myth and examine it for reoccurring patterns. You may or may not want those patterns, but unless you know they are there you can’t change them.
Fourthly, meditate on yourself and your motives. Watch how you interact with others, think about and constantly review your beliefs, attitudes and values; do they reflect your experience of reality or are they illusionary ego/persona driven.
Fifth, keep a diary on which you can later reflect on our motives, actions and results.
Six, be involved in the real world. This means you should not just hang out with occultists and pagans who agree with your world view. Hang out with other types of people as well; people who don’t necessarily share your views.
Seven, have your views challenged to see if they stand up to the bright light of examination. Speak to people who have completely different views to yourself and read widely on science, religion, philosophy, nature, natural history, history, psychology, the arts etc.
Last of all be prepared to discard outmoded philosophies and practices that are no longer in accord with the world and are not working for you.
|Posted on February 13, 2017 at 3:50 AM||comments (0)|
What is integrity?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “integrity” means “the condition of having no part or element taken away or wanting; undivided or unbroken state; material wholeness; completeness; entirety”
Or better still, “The condition of not being marred or violated; unimpaired or uncorrupted; a condition of soundness.”
You have to know what it is you believe, before you can make a decision on what is right or wrong for you.
Many problems that now exist in the Pagan community would probably never have come about if some people had taken the time and made the effort to find out if Witchcraft really was for them BEFORE they made a commitment to it.
Instead they find themselves in situations where they have to either, 1. Admit they made a wrong choice or 2. Try to change the Craft to suit them.
So instead of transforming then, some attempt to transform the Craft to suit their particular needs and desires. They are continually re-inventing Witchcraft to suit themselves!
A Promise is a Promise
If you have decided that Craft is your path of choice, you have to commit yourself to following its basic principles.
One of these principles is of course, the Rede. If you are going to promise to abide by the precepts of ‘And it harm none’, have you worked out what you would do if someone attacked you? Or your child?
Do you think that it is even possible to ‘harm none?’.
Well that is what you are promising to do isn’t it?
Too often people make a promise in haste and then spend countless hours justifying why they had to break that promise “just this once” because of “conditions beyond their control”. They have their reasons, lots and lots of reasons.
The truth is they just didn’t give enough thought to their commitment BEFORE they made it. Unless you have given serious thought and reflection to both the results and obligations contained in a promise, do not make one! And certainly not to the Gods…….
Integrity Requires Three Things
1. The ability to discern what is right and what is wrong
This requires reflection, time and effort.
It is a difficult process, but one which cannot be avoided by anyone who truly wants to be a better person.
How much easier it is to find someone else to tell us what to do, what to read, what to think and how to act!
But then, who would actually be living you life?
Who would be in control?
Who is pulling the strings?
If you don’t think that you would enjoy being a puppet, then you simply must find out what your limits are, what you believe to be correct behaviour, and what you yourself are willing and unwilling to do.
Whether there is an ‘absolute’ right or wrong is something theologians and philosophers have been puzzling about for centuries.
The fact that very thought that they could be wrong keeps many people from being willing to take a stand on anything at all!
Carefully study, investigation, and thought, lessen the possibility of being wrong. Of course, you may be honest about a belief. Later you many find out that you were honestly wrong!
However, approaching each subject with an open mind; examining all the possibilities, answering all the ‘what ifs’ will help you sort this out.
Most people and societies do agree that some things are just ‘more right’ than others are. You need to find out the measure of your ‘rightness quotient’. You need to do the work of creating your own personal code of behaviour and ethics. Then you can use that as a standard for decisions for what Path, or group, is correct for you.
Maybe you thought that just finding a coven was hard! Finding the right coven, the right place, the right path can change your life for the better. The wrong choice can be devastating.
If you have not done this work, then you are basically leaving yourself open to follow anything, or anyone, and do anything that they tell you.
Witchcraft is a path of personal power and responsibility. If you are not willing to do the work of discernment and introspection – to formulate a set of integrated values for yourself then- the Witchcraft is probably not for you.
2. Acting on what you have discerned even at personal cost
Suppose the trainer that you have been studying with begins to introduce issues or behaviours that you just don’t feel are right. Suppose that you now find that having sexual relations are a part of this group’s workings? What is suddenly this loving coven wants you to do a death spell against someone who has given another covener a hard time? What about that ‘harm none’ thing? What if you don’t want to participate in this activity? But what if, by refusing to participate, you can no longer be part of this group? What will you do?
These people are your friends- maybe you even think of them as your ‘family’. Now you face losing all this and starting over. This group may say bad things about you if you leave. You may lose your friends and their support. You have to decide, do you stay and compromise your own code of right and wrong? Do you leave?
Where is your soundness, your faculty of judgement, your integrity now?
The truth is that most of us cannot say whether we really possess integrity until we are tested on it. Doing what we believe to be right as determined by the hard work of reflective discernment, even when it becomes personally painful, tells us if we have it or not.
This is a test. There will be others. Get use to it. Witchcraft is a way that requires that we as Witches are equal to the challenges that life brings our way. If you can easily compromise your ethical principles or can turn your back to what you know to be the right action, then this Way is not for you.
3. Integrity means keeping your promises. You openly declare where you stand.
Now we get to the Horned God and the Goddess (whatever or whoever They may be or however you perceive Them). Do you still think that you are prepared to stand before Them and pledge your life, your heart and your hands to Their service? For that is what the journey of the Craft is all about- SERVICE.
It is not about gaining power- although that will certainly be part of your magical life. It is about enabling others to learn ways to empower themselves.
It is not about ‘getting more’ for you- although you will benefit in untold ways. It is about ‘giving more’ to others in their Names.
It is not about changing others to suit you- it is about changing yourself, so you are better equipped to do the work of the Old Ones on this Earth.
It is not about fame, although others may seek you out. It is about being available to help those in need.
It is not about pulling others down- although what is not working will fall before you.
You are stepping out into a Path which will change your Life and not only your life. It can drastically alter your outlook on life, your relationships, your personal desires and objectives. It can lead you into lonely ways, along paths of despair, scorn and derision, rejection by those you love and isolate you form the familiar.
It can guide you to wondrous places, but it can show you madness.
You may well find loving companionship but equally you may have to walk alone up the treacherous path of knowledge.
Magic of any sort requires commitment and just like taking on a new job or house you will be sensible if you check out the terms and conditions of any agreement you make and this is especially true of any involvement in the Occult world.
There are several levels of commitment and you will be wise to look at these in turn as all of them have some effect on your life and ambition.
The first commitment is to yourself, which has several levels in itself.
There is the practical matter of your job, your family, your home and your circumstances. How will you be able to share out your time between things already established and the new time consuming things such as meditation, study and attending meetings?
What are your family’s views on Witchcraft? If they fear or distrust or openly object, what are you going to do about it?
Are you going to ride roughshod over their feelings, however valid they may be?
Are you going to demand your ‘rights’ for quiet, for entertaining your weird friends, for spending money n books with strange sounding titles.
Are you going to share your new found views with your nearest and dearest? Will your views upset them?
Do you have the right ti upset others?
If you are sensible you will take your raining period at a steady pace, being certain you have mastered one art or concept before moving on to the next. It is not a race. There is no prize for getting there first. Lay firm foundations on which to build the rest of your magical life.
The skills of the Craft have taken centuries to evolve and cannot be learned in five minutes. Be patient and persevere with the basic before rushing on to the more exciting things like making talismans, casting spells and exciting rituals.
Learn to walk before you run
One of the first lessons you will learn is that of disillusionment.
Magic requires VERY HARD WORK, not just a week or two but for years!
If you want to learn a musical instrument you do not expect to have mastered it after a few lessons, yes you may be able to play a simple tune, but to really exploit the full potential of that instrument takes an awful long time and so it is with the Occult.
You get ow’t for now’t.
If you put in no effort you will get no results, except upset psychic senses and delusions of fear or grandeur. The work is hard and steady but the final results will amaze you.
Take time to choose wisely the Path that you will walk. Think of what it stands for, what it wants of you, and what you want of it before making your commitment. The work will demand time, effort and dedication to the Old Ones, so think and meditate before making any form commitment.
Becoming a member of this group will demand things of you that maybe you have never have to do before. It is more serious a move than getting married. So think before you commit.
Will you be able to keep any promises that you make? Will you be able to sustain your efforts?
Any decent group is choosy about who it asks to join, you have passed the first of many tests. There is no failure, just maybe disappointment if you see initiation. By the way it is Ok to stay and attend the classes without seeking initiation. It’s too far away to even contemplate it yet and I would remind you that it is the Gods who confer this, not us.
You may have to make a decision to change religion, or adopt one if you don’t have one now. Are you ready for that, with all the guilt feelings that will accompany that move? You will have to get to know the Goddess and God of the Craft rather than ‘God the Father’; this will take time and a change of mind set.
You cannot take the Gods for granted and once you have made some sort of promise to them, even a sort of half-hearted dedication or what, they will be there, to talk to, to influence you and perhaps guide you. Do not take the God’s names in vain, and that includes using them as magical names if you are a novice. They have more power than you might think.
You will have to make the commitment to your trainers and to your fellow students. This is not a social club where you can drop in when you fancy it.
If you do not attend on a regular basis you are disrespecting the Craft, your trainers, those who have gone before and your companions here. Not only are you making a commitment to attend but also to participate. No free rides.
Join the discussions; do your homework and the projects. If you don’t you will be the one losing out.
|Posted on February 2, 2017 at 1:30 PM||comments (0)|
“When is a Witch not a Witch,” wrote Robert Cochrane (aka Roy Bowers) in the 1960’s, his answer was “when he or she is a pagan”? Maxine Sanders also claimed that she was not a pagan at a conference in 2000. What is more other long standing Witches have claimed that Initiatory Witchcraft is different to Paganism. What do they mean? Is their a difference between a Witch and a Pagan?
Initiatory Witchcraft is the mystical side of paganism. It is a mystery tradition in the classical sense of the word
However, there is some confusion about what the word mystery means especially in relation to the Western Mystery Tradition. It can be argued that the word can be used in three ways.
Firstly it could refer to a secret kept from the profane by people in the know, i.e. secrets kept by the Free Masons, or particular myths or rituals in the Craft which are kept hidden from the outside world.
The second meaning refers to something that is unknown. This is the sort of mysteries that scientists are very good at solving. It is also the type of thing investigated in Agatha Christie Novels or by Sherlock Holmes.
Finally, mystery refers to an experience that cannot be described in everyday language. The French existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel distinguished between a problem, something that blocks his passage, and a mystery, in other words something in which he is caught up with. A Mystery is something that you participated in rather than something you solve. The mystery of mortality or the mystery of life herself are not solvable problems with a solution to be discovered but rather are existential qualities that are to be lived and experienced.
However the experience can never adequately be put into words only hinted at in poetic metaphor. In fact the word mystery comes from the Greek verb Musterion which means ‘to close the mouth’ which is an apt expression for experiences that transcend our ability to describe them in literal language.
While the word mystery can be used in the first two senses in Wicca and Witchcraft, it is the third meaning of the word to which has most relevance to Initiatory Craft which is part of the Western Mystery Tradition. As such the Mystery traditions seek to give the initiate direct experience of Divine; they give an awareness of connectedness, their place within the wider unfolding patterns of Wyrd.
Within mystery traditions there is no separation between Nature, Humanity and Divine (we are using the words Divine, Divinity and Numinous as adjectives rather than nouns). All is connected; all is one system- at least in a mythological sense rather than ontological one, which is a metaphysical speculation.
If nature is numinous and we are equating numinous with Divinity (as Rudolph Otto does) this suggests that Divinity is not just the nice bits of nature but all of it; fascination and terror, beauty and horror.
As such training in mystical traditions seeks to give and open up the initiate to the mystical experience, that realisation of ecstasy, of non-separation, of connectedness with Numinous, transcendental experience, and so called ‘cosmic consciousnesses. It is “The Divine in which we move and have our being”, to quote Paul Tillich. It can never be described directly; if you can describe it then it was not a mystical experience. Such experiences can only be hinted at in metaphor such as myth, ritual and symbols.
According to the psychologist and philosopher William James, all religions have their origins in mystical experience. It is when metaphors such as myth and ritual become ends in themselves that religions are formed. Religions such as those in Paganism generally see a separation between the Divine (in this case a noun) and humanity, in other words they are distinct entities. As such it is appropriate to use a transactional mode to describe the relationship, with the worshipper being in the child ego state and the god being in the parent ego state. Many pagans expect things of their Gods such as the answering of prayers and keeping them safe. They in turn feel that they must do certain things like enacting ritual and living a moral life that will help them curry divine favour.
In contrast mystical traditions meet the Divine on an equal footing, after all we are all part of that Divine, aren’t we?
Myths, rituals and symbols are used in mystical traditions, but the initiate never forgets that they are not ends in themselves. Rather they are a set of tools and a language to help communicate the experience of the mysteries, to celebrate and re-experience them. The initiate cultivates a sense of profound meaning within themselves, their own semantic landscape and as such these meanings become far more valuable than anything that is ‘externally’ imposed. The initiate like an artist builds up meanings to the symbols and myths, but understands that they are metaphors or the real experience. They understand that the signpost to Stowmarket is not Stowmarket itself.
Mystical traditions require training from a facilitator who has had experience of the mysteries. How else can the trainer show the neophyte (beginner) the road to having these numinous experiences for themselves? The Western Mystery Tradition of which the Craft is a part can be seen as reversed engineered mysticism and as such training can be a long process. Tantric and Taoist Masters look at it in terms of decades. Many in the initiatory Craft say at least two years training before initiation and even then it takes years to get anywhere. Mystery traditions are not quick fixes, they are lifelong processes. They require balanced personalities, as the road to the mysteries is fraught with peril and pitfalls. Mystery traditions, which used various skills and techniques, can be likened far more to an Art or a Craft than a religion.
Where Craft differs from other Western mystical traditions (e.g. Hermetic Qabbalah), is that it builds upon a nature paradigm in the myths and rituals that it uses. Both inner and outer nature; it deals with the mysteries of birth, sacrifice, sex and death.
Craft initiates as members of the Western Mystery Tradition participate in the real world, and meeting the challenges of life. It is what Gurdjieff would describe as a path of the Hearth. As such the Western Mystery Traditions are not an escape from life; rather they underpin it and provide paradigms in which to build up its meaning.
So what is the difference between a Pagan and a Witch?
The goal and aims of the Pagan religions are to honour the Gods. One of the goals of initiatory Witchcraft is to become God, the same aim as Ceremonial Magic. I would argue that Iwhile nitiatory Witchcraft is the mystical side of Paganism, it is much closer to the Western Mystery Tradition. It uses basically the same techniques as the WMT and its aims are exactly the same.
|Posted on January 26, 2017 at 1:40 PM||comments (0)|
Many people are investigating the religions of Witchcraft, Wicca and other Pagan Paths today. There are many books and reference materials available, yet after some self study, there are some folk who would like to meet and perhaps work with a physical teacher. This could be a rewarding learning experience – or it could turn out to be your worst nightmare. As such it is essential at the very start to have some knowledge of what is expected so you can exercise some quality assurance.
There are all kinds of people out there today who may call themselves ‘teachers’ or ‘experts’ in Witchcraft and Wicca. Some advertise in New Age shops and publications or over the internet. Some are well known local personalities who offer regular lectures, workshops or Wicca 101 classes. You may hear of a teacher through networking with other Pagans in your area. How can you know that these people are who they say they are? Or more importantly to you perhaps, how can you know that a teacher will be the right one for you?
There are many paths and many different approaches to passing on the Craft. A little prior research into the various systems or traditions in advance is almost a necessity before making the decision to take training in a particular system. We encourage everyone to do as much reading on the subjects as possible. See what interests you and then try to find a teacher that will help you further develop in these areas of interest.
There are some definitive things that you can do to help insure that you enjoy a positive experience before you spend a lot of money in classes or other training. Remember the Craft tradition that all genuine training is given free of charge. The following information has been developed from personal experiences, the experiences of others and various reference materials that may help you to know what you should be looking for and how to ask the right questions that may help you decide if this is the teacher for you. Some teachers may not exhibit all of the signs listed, but most teachers will fall predominately into one category or another.
Firstly they should have a good sense of humour. Human beings do silly things sometimes, and a good sense of humour can help you keep things in perspective. A good teacher will help you laugh at yourself (and them!) but will not hold you up to ridicule.
Secondly, they should have respect for living things. One need be a vegetarian to care about the lives and welfare of animals. Environmental concerns are also important as Neo-Paganism is a ‘Nature or Earth centred’ path. Therefore the abuse if any living thing is pretty much a ‘no-no’.
It is also important that they have a healthy self image. A teacher who realises that he or she can learn just as much form a novice as a novice may learn from the teacher is probably comfortable in what they know, yet open to new ideas and concepts.
They should be kind and compassionate. This doesn’t mean that you will not be challenged or have to work hard, but it does mean that your honest efforts will be met with encouragement and gentle guidance. A good teacher will not ‘look down their noses’ at your sincere attempts; they realise that experience is necessary to gaining knowledge.
They should tell the truth and be direct. This means that you will not be lead astray either by one who is afraid to confront you when you are heading in the wrong direction, or by one who seeks to manipulate you for unspoken ends. They ‘walk their talk’ and do not have a separate code of conduct for themselves while expecting you to follow another. No 'alternative facts'.
They should be able to teach by example. The good teacher will often tell stories about the time that they really ‘screwed up’. They also can tell you about their successes and failures and do so by neither making excuses nor being overly melodramatic about their experiences. They can offer practical examples and show applications of such examples clearly. They are not ‘mysterious’ so much as they demonstrate the ‘mysteries’ in simple ways to help you understand them.
They should have a global point of view. Local ‘gurus’ may only be interested in making a name or creating a following for themselves. A good teacher will encourage their students to reach beyond the local area and embrace the rest of the world community.
Hopefully they are inclusive rather than exclusive in attitude. Anyone who promotes a ‘them and us’ situation is dangerously close to becoming a cult leader. There are real forces out there to contend with, but a teacher who finds an enemy around every corner should be avoided. Just call them paranoid.
They allow for mistakes and admit they are not perfect. ‘We are all in this together’ is a good statement to hear from a teacher that you are considering working with (although maybe not from the Prime Minister).
They should be flexible, yet honours commitments. Too rigid a set of rules and regulations stifles ‘energy’ flow and the learning experience. Too random a training program may also interfere in the disciplines required for growth. A balance between the two is best.
They should encourage you to do your own research and ask questions. A good teacher wants you to discover and explore new ideas. A good book list should be included in any training program. You should be able to disagree with a teacher without being censored or reprimanded. A well thought out concept should be ‘thought provoking’ however and not just ‘provoking’.
They should gives credit where credit is due. A teacher who is using references or techniques from other sources should plainly state this fact. The use of other people’s work without credit is theft, plain and simple.
They should listen as much as they talk. A good teacher is genuinely interested is your thoughts, feelings and opinions. Feedback is only one way that as teacher can tell how you are absorbing and integrating the materials and lessons. Someone who talks all the time about their experiences is more interested in impressing you with their personal knowledge than helping you to acquire knowledge of your own.
They want you to mature and move on. A good teacher wants his or her students to surpass them. That is the greatest compliment that a teacher can receive. Just as a good parent wants to send mature and well balanced children into the world, so does a good spiritual teacher want their ‘children’ to grow up and leave home.
You should avoid a teacher who:
They should not possess a superior attitude. If a teacher states or implies that they are the sole holder of some sort of ‘special’ or ‘secret’ knowledge disclosed only to a ‘chosen few’, you really don’t want to know what that may be ….really!
They shouldn’t exclude members of any race, sexuality or culture. Bigotry of any kind has no place in spiritual circles.
Avoid people who are attacking or violent. Obviously no more need to be said.
They should not be either overly sensitive or too insensitive. Someone who either sees slights and attacks where there are none or ignores actual tangible problems may not be in touch with ‘reality’. Best to leave them to their own little fantasy world.
Avoid trainers who are ingratiating. Someone who is overly friendly and shares intimate details of their personal life with you immediately may be looking to ‘win you over’. This is a real danger sign that is often overlooked. By ‘bearing their souls’, they encourage you to do the same in return. This ‘instant intimacy’ can leave you vulnerable to manipulation and abuse. It might also be that they are very insecure and need you to prop them up. Go slowly when meeting someone new.
The teacher should not be controlling. No teacher should expect you to abandon your family and friends. Isolation from the rest of society is a classic cult activity. You should not be expected to run errands or perform tasks. Sometimes you and the teacher will work out a ‘fair exchange of energy’ in return for training. Make sure it is fair. If you feel like you are being taken advantage of, you probably are.
They should not be continually cancelling classes. This is a classic indication that they no longer care about fulfilling the deal. If they are postponing classes until several months from now, you may well have a problem on your hands.
They should never be-little you or use you as an ‘example’. You deserve to be treated with respect even if you are a novice. No teacher has the right to strip you of your self esteem. You should not be bullied into doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable or that you do not understand. On the other hand, being held up to others as the ‘teacher’s pet’ is also incorrect and this teacher may be setting you up for something you may not want to become involved with.
Be suspicious of those with few or no ‘elders’ in the group. “Where are the people who have been trained before me?” is a good question to ask. Perhaps they did mature and move on…… or perhaps they just ran screaming from the room!!! It pays to check. Talk to anyone you can find who has trained with this teacher before.
Avoid training groups and trainers that have assistants, cohorts or senior students who you are expected to obey. Some groups do have a system of ‘elders’ who deserve respect. However, you are not obliged to accept anyone simply based on their ‘rank’ within a group, at least until you join that circle. If the teacher has an ‘entourage’ which follows them everywhere and seems to ‘cater’ to this teacher’s every whim, watch carefully. You may end up being the next ‘groupie’.
They should not be overly idealistic and impractical. If the teacher has marvellous plans for the world – and especially if they tell you that you will be part of this grand scheme- but they cannot balance their bank account, take care of their children or hold onto a job, you may want to leave now. You may end up not only shoring up these ‘dream castles’, you may end up supporting this person financially and emotionally. Witchcraft is a Path of responsibility and a teacher should be able to manifest this in their own lives.
Avoid teacher who exhibit any of these characteristics…..
Lying, sexual misconduct, theft, physical violence or abuse
Thus the wise man residing in the Tao
Sets an example for all beings.
Because he does not display himself,
People can see his light.
-Tao te Ching