Saturday, August 12, 2006

An open mystery

(The painting at right is called "Medicine Woman," by Melissa Harris, from her Women and Magic series.)

I've wanted to blog more often, but I'm too enchanted by the weather and the season to spend any more time than necessary looking at a computer. The days have been clear and sunny, the nights cool, the humidity low. The harvest is coming in, and we're feasting on fresh, local foods. Since we got so much rain earlier this summer, everything is lush and green. It's a sensually extraordinary time, these days after Lughnasadh. Pleasure is simple.

Still, I have so much I've been thinking about and want to write about.

Having come to witchcraft out of feminist spirituality, herbalism, and love for the earth, I haven't known much about the occult tradition in Western thought. (I've read Ronald Hutton, of course, but that's about the extent of it.) Through a series of - ahem - coincidences having mostly to do with my job, I've begun learning more about the history of Western occultism and discovering the sources for many neo-Pagan beliefs. At the same time, I'm noting the differences between gnosticism and Hermetism, for example, and my own Wiccan beliefs. For example, it's very important to me that the body and the world not be conceived of as hindrances to spiritual "progress." And I put the word "progress" in scare-quotes because I eschew all those metaphors of forward, upward, transcendence, enlightenment. Also, whereas I like the idea of initiation as a rite of passage and a transformative experience in itself, I don't think initiation should be used to keep out the riff-raff - to keep the mysteries secret from those who allegedly can't grasp them. As I've said before, I think that when (serious) neo-Pagans speak of the mysteries, they speak not of secrets, but of things that can't be fully conveyed in words or cognitively grasped.

It's an interesting question, whether Wicca and other forms of neo-Paganism are ultimately meant for masses of people. On the one hand, we're a rapidly growing family of religions, although our numbers are still relatively small. We often speak of paganism as simply being the spiritual practice of the pagans, the (apocryphal) country folk, who lived close to the land and honored the agricultural cycles. Maybe Paganism, then, is for everyone who wants to give it a try. On the other hand, we have zero investment in convincing others to become Pagans. We often identify with those who were either honored or outsiders in their societies - the priestly Druids, the village herbalist, the shaman. Most people are (were) none of these. Certainly Wicca, and Druidism to a lesser extent, suffer from fluffy-bunny syndrome. There are those who claim to be Witches (or, Goddess forfend, warlocks), or Druids, or Asatru who have no freakin' clue what they're doing and are doing it for all the wrong reasons. There is a tremendous amount of study, dedication, and practice that goes into participating in any of these traditions. They aren't easy paths. Maybe Paganism will ultimately always be a rarely-chosen spirituality.

I advocate standards, but not gate-keeping. I don't think that only initiated Witches are real Witches. As we continue to mature as a family of religions, our trendiness will wax and wane (cf. Buddhism). While I admit my ego has some investment in being special, different, and counter-cultural - I hate to admit that, but it's true - my deeper self knows she's found her path in this lifetime: to delve into the mysteries but not to cling too tightly to secrets.


Andy said...

Excellent article again! I had someone insisting I must be a warlock several months ago and I recoiled from the word. Warlock? Moi? No, I said, you're mistaken. There is nothing of war in me and everything about the witch!

There are what I call decorative pagans around - the kind who would do well as extras in a Robin of Sherwood movie! And anything involving Dungeons & Dragons. Me, I've never been into those kind of games and resolutely insist on being the Heinz 57 mongrel I have turned out to be! :-) x

Inanna said...

Oh Andy, I'm sure you're plenty decorative!

George Allan said...

Great blog!
What you wrote ("It's very important to me that the body and the world not be conceived of as hindrances to spiritual "progress.") is probably one of the best things I've read in a long time. What a wonderful way to express something that's been on my mind lately. I liked a lot of what you wrote but this really struck a chord.