Initiatory Witchcraft and the Great Work
|Posted on May 8, 2022 at 4:50 PM||comments (0)|
There are many ways in which people think about Initiatory Wicca. I was taught that it is as a Mystery and Magical Tradition, but what does this mean?
According to the historian of religion Karen Armstrong, the word mystery come from the Greek word ‘Musterion’, which mean ‘to close or to shut the mouth’. This suggest to me that the word mystery means something that can’t be adequately described in everyday language. “Of which we cannot speak we should remain silent,” to paraphrase the philosopher Wittgenstein. However, this still leaves a certain degree of ambiguity, as the word mystery can mean one of three things and this can cause some confusion.
Firstly, it could mean a tradition that keeps things secret. To some extent this is correct, as initiatory Wicca does keep some things secret, although I think private would be a better word to use. There are some techniques that might be potentially dangerous or misused if they were common knowledge, but also there are some rituals that might be spoilt if they were known by a participant beforehand. This is especially true for initiation rituals. A wonderful example was given by Prof. Joseph Campbell, the late great American expert of mythology. He described a ritual where the initiate is taken through a set of ordeals before they enter into the holy of holies. Here the new initiate is told by the elders that they will encounter, their God face to face. They are taken into the inner sanctum to the altar, a veil is removed and they find themselves peering into a mirror- they see themselves. Now, if the climax of the rite was known before, the initiate would have not had the transformative experience that the rite was designed to produce. The ritual would have been spoiled- and it is the same in the Craft.
That being said, while there is a strong element of privacy to our rituals, this is not what I mean by mystery tradition.
A second meaning for the word mystery refers to a mystery to be solved. This is something that scientists and detectives are very good at. The scientist or detective comes across the mystery and using various methods solve it. The problem is encountered and the solution is derived. Thus, the mysteries of the universe, or the case of the Hound of the Baskervilles is solved. This is not what I mean by the word mystery in mystery tradition when talking about the Craft.
Rather, I believe it was best summed up by the French Christian existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel. He said that mysteries are experiences in which we participate. These experiences as Armstrong suggested, can’t be explained adequately in everyday language. This is why we need the language of poetry, music, ritual and mythology. These mysteries can be the experience of Nature, of the human life and the Divine. They can be the experience we have when nature makes us feel very small. It can be when we witness a sunrise, a flower open, or experience nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. It can be the experience of motherhood, giving birth and death. It can be the experience of the encounter with the Great Goddess of Life and the Horned God of Death and Resurrection. These experiences can by numinous in quality, and can be thought of as the ‘lesser mysteries’.
Numinous experiences, a term coined first by theologian Rudolph Otto, are of the ‘other’, and leave us with a profound sense of awe. We feel that something profoundly important has happened to us. The psychologist Carl Jung reckoned that the encounter with the archetypes of the collective unconscious is a numinous one. Certainly, the archetypal experiences of birth, growing up, sex and sexuality, parenthood, sacrifice, old age and death, have can have this numinous quality, and offer a visceral connection to life, onto which we cannot help but place out own meaning. To my mind, this is part of what the myth of the Wheel of the Year does, it helps us to celebrate and make meaning from life’s inevitabilities. It brings us into contact with the mysteries of life. The Craft then celebrates the mysteries of life and death- Goddess and Horned God.
One of the great maxims of the Craft and the Occult in general, was said to have been inscribed on the arch leading to the Delphi Oracles. It said, ‘Know thyself’. This was also a tenant of Socrates, when Plato has him say, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” This is where the mysteries relate to the Great Work.
The Great Work is where we explore the mystery of ourselves and relate it directly to the Divine. This is not an intellectual exercise, but direct experience, it is a mystical experience- which can be termed the ‘Greater Mysteries’.
In her book, Wicca the Old Religion in the new Millennium, Viviane Crowley explains that experience of the mysteries leads to inner change. This inner change is where the initiate begins the work of transcending the ego (that which we think we are) and to experience and identify with the entire self. Psychologist Carl Jung, who was heavily influenced by the esoteric traditions, argued that there is much more to us than the ego. Once the person has begun to identify with the self (a life-long process he called Individuation) they can then experience and identify the self with the Divine. In Qabbalistic terms, the initiate first reaches the sephiroth of Tiphareth, the centre of the self, or the ‘Higher self’ before relating that self to Kether, the Divine source. Metaphorically the inner sun of the self-unites with the outer sun of the Divine.
Occultist Aleister Crowley, agrees when he says “the Great Work is the uniting of opposites. It means uniting the soul with God, of the microcosm with the macrocosm, of the female with the male, of the ego with the non-ego.” The model and language of Carl Jung becomes very useful to describe this kind of inner change. The Initiate has to transcend their ego and expand their consciousness. It means being able to reconcile the polarity within oneself. This means the reconciliation of the ego and the shadow, of the persona and the anima/animus. This is the sacred marriage of Goddess and God that occurs within the Witch. These aspects of ourselves, the dark side and the light, the masculine and the feminine, Goddess and God have to be explored and integrated into our sense of self, so that they constellate around the central point of self. Ego is then transcended or dissolved as the self is experienced as divine. As Joseph Campbell said, “we are all God in our deepest identity”. This is ultimate reconciliation of polarity. The reconciliation of self and the Divine is experienced first of all in invocation of the Gods and then mystical experience- the Greater Mystery.
Thankfully, the Craft and the Western Mystery Tradition in general provides us with a road map for the Great Work. Unlike the classical mystic who goes from zero to hero, the occultist and Witch takes the more crooked path of the mysteries.
They begin by working on the lower self, connecting us to the world about us and working on our bodies and mind. This is where we begin work with the classical elements. These not only connect us with the world about us, but they also relate to aspects of our being, connecting us to body, emotions, though and desire/will. The elements are states of being, but also metaphors for ourselves and our faculties.
Once initiated we participate in the wheel of the season, the great metaphor for life. It brings us into connection with the mysteries of life and death through the myth of the Great Mother and Horned God. We start to experience nature and the human as Divine. This is where the initiate begins to start the process of inner change, of transcending the ego, as they encounter the mysteries. However, all this takes work, hence the term, the Great Work. Often the ego rebels or can become inflated.
The underworld initiation, is where the ego needs to experience and understand its own demise. The Initiate learns to transcend ego and expand consciousness further through the process of being invoked upon. Here the witch or occultist expands their consciousness and begins to experience the identification with the divine. To my mind this is very different to trance possessions in Voodoo. Here the person goes into a trance and takes on the personality of one of the Lwa, and acts accordingly. The Gods of the Craft are a different category than Lwa who are spirits based upon Catholic saints.
Instead in invocation, the witch raises their consciousness to a divinity that is already there-always there, and then brings through the power of that divinity for the coven. To quote Herne the Hunter in the TV series Robin of Sherwood, “we can all of us be Gods.” This is the mystery that nature, humanity and the Divine are one. It requires the transcendence of ego and the expansion to consciousness to at least a part of the Divine.
Next comes the Great Rite. Its inner form is the reconciliation of the polarity within the initiate, the reconciliation of male and female, Goddess and God, light and dark, self with the divine, the inner and the outer sun. This leads potentially to mystical experience.
The philosopher and pioneer psychologist William James described the mystical experience in his book, ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’. It is the experience of ‘at oneness’, the union with the divine, where all contradictions disappear and we are at one with what Paul Tillich called the ‘ground of being’. It is the greater mystery, a profoundly transformative experience- after which life is never the same again. James says that the mystical experience is ineffable in character. It could not be described in everyday language. When taking about the mysteries and the mystical experience, we often have to resort to talking in metaphor. That is why this article is extremely metaphor laden, with its ‘joining of the inner and outer sun’ etc. James said mystical experiences are noetic, meaning that we learn some thing from them. This is not the ‘knowledge that’ or ‘knowledge how’ of the philosopher Gilbert Ryle, but rather the ‘knowledge of’- what some people call gnosis. These mystical states are transitory, while they seem to last for an eternity to the experiencer, they actually last for seconds. James also said that these experiences are something that happens to you and they can’t be brought on by a direction of will.
All of this is a process. The Great Work does not happen overnight. Indeed, it is a life-long process, and it may well take much longer than that. The Mystical Experience is not the end part of the Great work and your Craft career. Rather it is the midpoint. From there, as in Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, we have to be able to accommodate the transformative experience into our everyday lives- we must learn to be masters or mistresses of two worlds. We need to make sense of what we haver learned and to help bring others to these kinds of profound and transformative experiences. The mysteries were always a call to action.
In my experience the Craft is a mystery and magical tradition. It is part of what is known as the Western Mystery Tradition. As Viviane Crowley says it deals with metaphorical and metaphysical truth, not scientific truth. The mysteries are expressed through the metaphor of ritual and myth, and metaphysically it sees all as one, and one as all. Everything is a unity and all is connected, in that sense like it’s parent Hermeticism, it is deeply mystical. This means we should treat the Craft as an esoteric mystery tradition rather than an exoteric religion. I agree with Jung when he says that religion is the greatest barrier to a religious experience.
In the Craft, as indeed within the Western Mysteries, there is no part that is not of the Gods. When we connect with the Divine within, we connect with the Divine without, as in the Hermetic maxim of “as above, so below and so within, so without”. Rather than seeking to sperate the world into different ever decreasing categories, we should be looking for commonality, all is part of one. We should be thinking as Dion Fortune did, that ‘all gods are one god and all goddesses are one goddess, but there is one initiator’. In the mystery traditions we should be making connections, not separating, looking and identifying with the whole, and not just the separate parts.
Witchcraft and Paganism
|Posted on May 8, 2022 at 4:45 PM||comments (0)|
“When is a Witch not a Witch,” wrote Robert Cochrane (aka Roy Bowers) in the 1960’s, “when he or she is a pagan”? Maxine Sanders also claimed that she was not a pagan at a conference in 2000. Other longstanding Witches have also stood up and claimed that Witches are different to Pagans. What is it that they mean, what is the difference between a Witch and a Pagan?
Initiatory Witchcraft is the mystical side of paganism. With this in mind Mystery traditions seek to give the initiate direct experience of the 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 the Divine (we are using the words Divine, Divinity and Numinous as adjectives and abstract nouns rather than as simple denoting nouns). All is connected; all is one- the essence of the mystical experience. If nature is experienced as numinous and we are equating numinous experience with Divinity; this suggests that Divinity is not just the nice bits of nature but all of it. 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, transcendental experience, and so called ‘cosmic consciousness’. It is “The Divine in which we move and have our being”, to quote Paul Tillich. The experience can never be described directly, if you can it was not a mystical experience. Such experiences can only be hinted at in metaphors such as myth, ritual and symbols.
According to the 19th and early 20th century psychologist and pragmatic philosopher William James, all religions have their origins in mystical experience. It is when metaphors such as the myth and ritual become ends in themselves that religions are formed. Religions such as those in Paganism tend to perceive a separation between the Divine (in this case a noun) and humanity. As such they fulfil a transactional model, the worshipper in the child ego state and the god in the parent ego state. Pagans expect things of their Gods such as the answering of their prayers or keeping them safe. They in turn feel that they must do certain things like enacting ritual or living a moral life that will help them to earn favours from their Gods; a gift from a gift. Some pagans see their gods as friends, but still existing in a subject/object relationship. In contrast mystical traditions meet the Divine on an equal footing, as we see ourselves as part of that Divinity. The duality between subject and object disappears.
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, a language if you like, to help communicate the experience of the mysteries, to celebrate and re-experience them. The initiate cultivates a sense of profound meaning and relationship within themselves, and so these meanings and relationships become far more valuable than anything that is ‘externally’ imposed. The initiate is like an artist, who builds up their internal meanings to the symbols and myths, but understands that they are metaphors for the real experience. The metaphor is not the referent. They understand that the signpost to Cambridge is not Cambridge itself.
Mystical traditions often 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 such experiences for themselves unless they too have experienced them? The Occult and Western Mystery Tradition are in a way reversed engineered mysticism and training in them 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 still takes years to get anywhere in the Craft or in magic in general. The 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. Magical traditions which bring the seeker to the experience of the mysteries require various skills and techniques and are best likened to an Art or a Craft than a religion.
Where Craft differs from other mystical traditions (e.g. Hermetic Qabbala), is that it builds upon a seasonal paradigm in the myths and rituals that it uses. This refers to both inner and outer nature. It deals with the mysteries of birth, life, sex and death as illustrated in the myth of the Wheel of the Year. Craft initiates do this by participating in the real world, and meeting the challenges of life. They bring the mythology to Earth and work with its pedagogical as well as mystical functions. The Western Mystery Traditions are not an escape from life; rather they underpin it, enrich it and provide paradigms to give it meaning.
The goals and aims of the Pagan religions are to worship/honour the Gods. However, the aims and goals of initiatory Witchcraft are to become God, a goal it shares with Ceremonial Magic and other forms of the Western mysteries. Therefore, I would argue that Initiatory Witchcraft is much closer to the Western Mystery Tradition than it is to paganism both ancient and modern.
It is important to remember that the initiatory Craft is a tradition of practice rather than of belief. There are no set party line beliefs in the Craft, no metaphysical position, no philosophy of reality that must be believed. But it does have myth and accompanying ever evolving ritual to which one must commit in order to gain the benefits. Interpretation of the mysteries, the myth and the rituals is down to the individual, they are subjective and no one will tell you what to believe or what they mean. That is down to your own experience.
One way that Initiatory Craft differs from Eclectic Popular Wicca is that it practises a particular mythology whereas in Eclectic Wicca the practitioner can pick and mix mythologies. The eclectic movement also often mistakes myth for metaphysics or as something to be literally believed. While there is a big pay off in eclecticism there is also a large cost. The pay-off is that the pick and mix approach to myth can produce something incredibly creative and useful. This is often how new religions are formed, and it should be said that myth should change over time if it is to fulfil all of its functions. However, the cost is that by choosing the myths we want to believe in, we run the risk of having the myths serve our ego rather than allowing the myths to transform us. In picking the myths we like (or what feels right) we may not be picking myths which are useful in helping us to make sense of life and make meaning from its inevitabilities.
Witches do it in a Magic Circle
|Posted on May 8, 2022 at 4:40 PM||comments (0)|
Sacred space is place that is experienced as sacred. In many religions it is a permanent structure such as a church, a mosque, a druid’s grove or a temple. The place is seen as sacred, as numinous and special, a suitable and worthy place where the Divine can be experienced. These places are often made sacred through certain rites and ritual; a form of magic which involves the manipulation of meaning to transform phenomenal reality. The rites lead to experiencing the church or temple as sacred, not just for the original conductors of the rite, but for all who work in that space thereafter.
Witchcraft differs from other religious and spiritual traditions in that it does not have any permanent sacred spaces. There are no permanent temples in the initiatory Craft perhaps because it is a spiritual tradition where the focus of the experience of the Divine is through life and death, where there is no dualism between the sacred and the profane, therefore there is no need for a permanent temple. In the Craft the sacred space is declared at every meeting, wherever and whenever the coven meets.
This sacred space is declared when the circle is cast by the High Priestess with the sword or her athame and is magical, psychological and mythological in character. It is psychological, firstly, as it is visualised by and experienced by the participants as the sphere is formed about them. It is ‘experienced as’ by the mind through an act of active imagination. Secondly, the setting up of the sacred space in the Craft prepares the Witches for the rite in which they are to participate. For example, a church is laid out to either assault the senses such as in the stain glass, incense, bells, candles, crucifixes and robes of the priest in Catholicism, or the in the stark whitewash and lack of symbolism of the Methodists. The symbolism, the bells and smells of the Catholic or the austerity stemming from the suspicion of idolatry of the Protestant both work to put the worshipper into a worshipful and receptive state of mind.
Likewise, the words, gestures, incense, candle light and being skyclad involved in the casting of the circle puts the Witches into the state of mind where magic can occur. If the same method of casting is used each time (as in Initiatory Craft), then expectation and classical conditioning (like Pavlov’s dogs) combine to create the appropriate state of mind with little effort on the part of the Witch. Vivianne Crowley (1989) tells us of one priestess who says, “I only need to hear the swish of a broom and I am in an altered state of consciousness”. I can confirm from experience that that this is certainly the case. During the set up of our rituals and the casting of the circle, after eighteen years of working in the same coven, I automatically slip into ritual consciousness.
The circle is also mythological and is full of symbolism. The circle can relate to the four classical elements, air, fire, water and earth. It can relate to the phases of the moon, waxing, full, waning and dark. It can of course relate to the turning seasons and magical tides of the wheel of the year and to the stages of life such as youth, maturity, old age and death. To my mind it can relates to stages in the hero’s journey, the mono-myth described by Professor Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero with a Thousand faces. This is the journey of the hero, female or male (in our case the mystic), who goes out into the metaphorical wilderness, fairy land, the world of adventure. It is here that the mystic has their adventure/experience, attaining gnosis (spiritual knowledge), before returning to everyday life where they have to integrate that knowledge into their everyday lives. The failed hero or mystic is not able to do this, often englamoured they become stuck in the adventure world and so spiritually perishes.
The circle, mythologically speaking, is out of time. It is also all time, all the seasons, all the stages of life, all parts of the hero’s quest and so paradoxically, which can happen in myth, is all time and at the same time it is out of time. The circle is experienced as the mythological every-when, fairy land and eternity where the tick, tick, tick of time does not pass; there is no past, present or future. Mythologically speaking this is the mystical state. It is in this space were we experience mythologically, rather than logically. We participate in mythology, finding meaning and engaging with the mysteries.
It acts as a mythological circle that psychologically contains the emotion and meaning. It represents the keeping away of thoughts and feeling not required for the ritual. These are the daily round of duties and thoughts which might include stresses about work, money, or whether we have left the cooker on. They are outside the circle while we and the ritual we are participating in are on the inside. It is a psychological and mythological barrier between the emotions, thoughts and meaning necessary for the job at hand, and those that would distract us from our purpose. So the circle acts as a boundary and protection of meaning containing the emotional power we raise.
To conclude it is both a mythological space where we engage with and act mythologically and a psychological boundary. However, while this requires imagination, visualisation and concentration; it is not the same thing as play acting. Rather it is ‘seeing as’, making and experiencing profound meaning rather than simply make believe. This meaning can be allegorical but it is also archetypal in that it related to our deep feelings and patterns of experience which are invoked by what is fundamentally important in life.
Campbell, J, (1993), The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Fortana Press
Crowley, V., (1989), Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age, Aquarian Press
|Posted on January 3, 2017 at 4:15 PM||comments (0)|
We recommend that you read as widely as possible.
For those people who are new to the Craft we can recommend the following books.
Doreen Valiente's Witchcraft for Tomorrow, ABC of Witchcraft, Witchcraft a Tradition Renewed (with Evan John Jones) and The Rebirth of Witchcraft
Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today, The Meaning of Witchcraft and High Magic's Aid
Vivianne Crowley's Wicca the Old Religion in the New Millenium
Thorn Mooney's Traditional Wicca a Seekers Guide
History of the Craft
Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon, Stations of the Sun and Witches, Druids and King Arthur
The books of Phillip Hessleton
Wicca,Magical Beginnings by Sorita D'Este and David Rankine
Magic and Occultism
Dion Fortune's Practical Occultism, Psychic Self Defence, The Sea Priestess and The Mystical Qabbalah
David Conway's Magic an Occult Primer
Ramsey Dukes's SSOTBME, How to See Fairys and Uncle Ramsey's Little Book of Demons
Marian Green's The Gentle Arts of Aquarian Magic and Path through the Labyrinth
Aleister Crowley's Magic in Theory and Practice
Catlin and John Matthew's The Western Way Volume 1 and 2
Meditation and Pathworking
Pete Jennings and Pete Sawyer's Pathworking
Dolores Ashcroft Norwicki's The Shining Paths
Lawerence LeShan's How to Meditate
Religion, Myth and Sprituality
Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, The Masks of God (Primative Mythology, Occidental Mythology, Oriental Mythology and Creative Mythology), Goddesses
Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth, The History of God and the Case for God
Mircea Eliade's Rites and Symbols of Initiation
Terry Pratchet's Wyrd Sistres, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, A Hat Full of Sky and the Wintersmith
Lucius Apuleius's The Golden Ass
Robert Graves's The White Goddess
Charles Godfrey Leyland's Aradia Gospel of the Witches
|Posted on October 23, 2016 at 6:15 AM||comments (0)|
Beginners, you are about to embark on what may be the most important journey of your life. To you I say “welcome”. This is a powerful journey that will change your life. To those just starting out-- study, learn and practice. Remember that this is your journey and you must take active responsibility for it.
Some start by using the KISS method. Keep it simple. Choose one topic at a time and methodically work it. Really study it and then work the methods suggested. Submerge yourself in it. Get really acquainted with the techniques, keep what works and discard the rest. Do not pick and mix and do not hop from subject to subject. Pursue a logical flow to your studies. Building on firm foundations is a necessity.
This is not a path for everybody and many may explore its ways and then choose to go elsewhere, which is fine. A magical path can be difficult and time consuming with many hidden pit falls and traps. In magic we are doing inner work, so this is not a path for those who have mental health problems; it is path for coping adults.
One of those pitfalls is tools. They are lovely, but remember that they are just that – tools. You are the magic, the Witch is the magic. There is more magic in your mind and body than any handcrafted solid silver, crystal encrusted do-dad that you can buy for a ridiculous price. Are they nice? Of course they are. But I’ll match any found twig endowed in the mind of the Witch with meaning than any crystal tipped wand any day. Pagan artisans do create beautiful tools, but the beginner need not spend oodles of money to work on this path.
It’s funny, but your tools will be presented to you as you need them, and at the right price. It will be like the floodgates have opened. You will find that shop that you never knew existed. You will find a teacher etc. You will find that people you have been dealing with are witches. And each are as varied as there are numbers of grains of sand. Your first teacher may not be your only teacher, so keep an open mind. And you may get the answers from unlikely sources, so discount nothing. Listening in the beginning is vital.
As time goes on, keep notes and question, question, question. Accept nothing at face value. Remember this is not a religion as the term religion is usually understood, it is a spiritual quest, a craft, a practise, an art and a way of life. This is a very important road to travel, and you are in the driving seat.
Another trap is ritual. Ritual is lovely, but is only a part of the Craft. Some people get stuck on ritual—getting it right. It will come. Ritual is like riding a bike, or any new task, it gets easier with practice. Remember that it is only a part of the Craft. For the time being leave it alone, until you know exactly what you are doing. It can be dangerous to play with things you don’t understand or to invoke forces you can’t control.
Mistakes, will you make them? Of course you will; everyone does. Like anything they should be learned from; they are tools too. Actually, this is important in any area of life, not just the Craft. Remember the clever man learns from his mistakes and the wise man learns from other people’s. Not only will you learn from them (hopefully), but also you will then have a knowledge base that you can draw from you become teachers. Yes, that is how we grow the newcomers will become teachers eventually. It is simply natural progression.
The Craft has Elders, listen to them. They have a body of experience and knowledge, experience that you just can’t buy or read, it’s earned. Just like parents, they’ve been round the block and know or thing or two. And sometimes they may need to tell you things that you don’t want to hear (many times and for you own good). It bothers me when I hear people criticize elders, especially on erroneous data. The computer age, while wonderful in many ways, has added to this dilemma. Almost anyone can be an expert- or so they think. As I mentioned earlier, read and question, just because you found it on the web or written in a book for that matter doesn’t make it so. Believe me there are a lot of mistakes in books and this is truer now than it used to be.
Remember that teachers and elders are people too, they are not perfect. It can be devastating to some when they discover that their ‘guru’ is all too human. At times you will learn more from a poor teacher, or experience, than a good one. It’s extremely helpful to know what not to do, as it is what to do. This all helps build your knowledge base and remember in the Craft we are training to become our own guru- after all it is your life and your spirituality.
So know what you are doing and why you are doing it. You do not need toys (I mean tools!!). They are fun but you don’t need them. You are the magic; you are the only tool you really need. And don’t play with things you don’t understand, the Occult can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing, it is the same as anything in life.
If you are asked to do anything illegal or immoral run. Oprah Winfrey has a saying with problems; “you usually get a pebble before you get a brick”. Beware teachers who push toys, or who charge exorbitant fees for training. Remember, you’re asking someone to share their knowledge with you, so pay for it with attention and respect. Some of the poorest things come to us on a silver platter. Listen to your inner voice in all matters, it won’t let you down. Training is given free of money, but you will have to pay with it with changing beliefs, lifestyle and with hard work and commitment.
Enjoy the journey, don’t rush it. You don’t have to get everything right, right away. This is a lifelong journey, not a six week course. Take your time. Enthusiasm is one thing, but rushing is unnecessary. Don’t run before you can walk.
Trust yourself. This goes from choosing a teacher, to performing magic. Take nothing at face value, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. It’s that simple. Nothing should be forced. Does this mean the Craft will be smooth sailing? Hardly, nothing in life is and a valid spirituality is one that acknowledges that fact rather than just looking at the light. You will be challenged and tested, but remember we have greater inner reserves than we realise. Without challenge there can be no growth. Witchcraft is not static, it grows and evolves.
A few words of warning are in order for the newcomer, though. For one thing, as a newbie in the Craft, you may feel wonderful and filled with love for the entire Universe. That is not to say that the Universe necessarily feels the same about you. The Gods may perceive someone taking their first steps on the path of the Craft and say, “you’ve declared yourself ready to learn and grow- well here is your first lesson!” The Craft is not an answer to all your problems; you can’t just solve them by waving a magic wand.
Maybe that first lesson is to do with love and trust. “Perfect love and perfect trust” does not mean total love and trust. It means that degree of love and trust which is appropriate to the person and the situation. Just because you’ve become an Occultist, don’t let anyone tell you you’ve given up your right to make sure someone is trustworthy before placing anything important in their hands. There are people in the community who play on the theme of ‘perfect love and perfect trust’ to manipulate others to their will. We have a few bad apples in the Pagan community because we are human beings. These bad apples are very few, but they can cause harm far out of proportion to their number. Also many people are well meaning but misguided. They may use the perfect love and trust card to prevent people questioning them, or voicing an opinion that they don’t want to hear or from rocking the boat.
There are many paths in the Occult community, including secret orders, lodges, temples and initiatory traditions. Each of these have their advantages, the main one being structure. When you follow the path delineated by an established group, you will have some idea what lessons are coming your way, and can better prepare yourself to deal with them. But not all groups are reputable or competent. You should never be forced to do anything you find unethical or demeaning. Perfect love and perfect trust does not mean you turn your life and will over to anyone else, even to someone with a grand title and lots of followers.
Reach out and get to know as many different people in the Pagan community as you can. The more people you know, the more people you can talk to, and the more perspectives you can tap into whenever you have doubts about any person or group. If you have a number of contacts in the community you will always have someone you can ask about ethics and practices that you find questionable. No reputable group will insist that you cut yourself off from your roots, or pull your branches away from the air and light of the world. By getting to know other pagans you can get other people’s ideas on their beliefs and practises even if it challenges your own. You can test if your views stand up to being tested.
Read books by as many different authors as you can. Don’t assume that what is in Starhawk’s book, or the Farrar’s book, or Kate West’s book, is the only way. Most join get involved in the Occult to get away from fundamentalism
Practise what you read. Do at least a little something to observe the moons and the festivals and life. Do you know what phase of the moon it is? What seasonal tide are we in? By knowing and observing these simple things we are connecting ourselves to the natural cycles of life and death and it helps to give a rhythm to your life.
There is no secret key. No one group has the Ultimate Answer. You have entered a path that leads to wisdom, balance, understanding, individuation and enlightenment, but you have to walk it yourself. You will have lots of company, but no group and no author can carry you to the end of the path. You will have to do your own work and you will never feel ready until you have started.
Every now and then Pagans will disagree. We’re all individuals and some of us are more unique than others. Sometimes people will take these disagreements personally and the debate can flare into a Witch war. Witch wars are very exciting. They offer the opportunity to join the cause and fight on the side of truth, justice and right. Be sure that you hear both sides of the story before you get involved in a Witch War. Sometimes the first person to talk to you about a situation isn’t the one telling the truth. It’s best to stay out of them altogether.
One of the most important virtues of Paganism is tolerance. This is also one of the hardest virtues to practice. It’s easy to be tolerant of things you agree with, but often you’ll find yourself being quite intolerant of things that deserve tolerance. Tolerance comes from understanding and intolerance from ignorance, but this does not mean we should be tolerant of everything.
Many newcomers to the Craft have had negative experiences with Christianity. As a result, they harbour a great deal of anger towards Christians and towards Christianity in general. Not all Christians are intolerant Bible-Thumpers. Many Christians are wonderful people, secure enough in their faith to allow others to believe differently. The basic ideals of Christianity, including ‘love one another’, ‘do as you would be done by’, and putting other people first, not to mention of the virtues of hope and charity are very compatible with Paganism. We as pagans should certainly be tolerant towards those who do good; no matter what God they worship or whether they worship one at all.
Treat others as you would want to be treated,
Remember the words of the dictum of magic.
To Know, to dare and to Keep Silent.
The last is most important- why?