Oathbound Witches Sworn to Secrecy

Commentary on this Vlog:

I am a huge fan of Oathbound Secrets both her blog and vlog are brilliant. You can click on the link to her blog in my sidebar. The fun thing about this vlog post is that I’d been considering e-mailing her to ask her opinions of the matter in contemporary paganism and witchcraft, which is open to both individuals and groups outside of the initiatory lines of British Traditional Wicca (or Traditional Initiatory Wicca if you prefer). Now as I turn to my own musings on the matter I would suggest that readers take a gander at this particular vlog on Oathbound Secrets’s YouTube channel. There is a long abstract included which examines the functionality behind secrecy and the innocent ways in which comments can play up. Before I engage with the wider discussion I wish to hone in on some other aspects of this vlog…
While I have Circled with friends and acquaintances from time to time in the past much of my Pagan practices remain personal to me. Odd for someone posting on various social media undoubtedly. For me I too made the decision, long ago, never to publicly post images or details of my Craft tools. Namely because for ages I had no camera but also because of my relationship to my tools and implements. These might come from published sources but the energy placed into them comes from my workings and my altar takes on a life of its own magically speaking. The placement of implements forms a basis for the language employed in any given ceremony or ritual. As I came to this realisation myself I began to notice many of the more sincere practitioners of my acquaintance had been doing the same and the images often shared on forums and social sites were of shrines rather than altars, so a distinction from the essential elements of a person’s Craft may be made.
As Annika states in her vlog, posting such images can, if one isn’t careful, become little more than feeding the EGO on junk-food. Personally I would second this opinion, while a certain amount of theatricality cannot hurt in a group ritual it is not simply street performance or in this media savvy age a multimedia arts exhibition. Its nice to have recognition for our work and involvement with a magical operation but is it wise? As a once and future artist (I have some arts’n’crafts in the pipeline related to my Craft practice) I love the sense of achievement gained from a “completed” project but conversely I know what its like to have a piece of poetry crafted and dissed upon publication. Words have power whether in magic or the mundane worlds (as if theres a difference!).
The Witch’s Pyramid:
As always I have an analogy on hand to relate to this to the muggle world (mundane). The following four axioms can be related to a level of study one finds in third level education.
  • To Know, nescere, to gain knowledge, through study, research and experience.
  • To Dare, audere, to make use of the knowledge gained, the willingness to implement knowledge gained, in essence this is experimentation and can be frightening as doing so means standing by one’s own assertions and theories.
  • To Will, velle, to concentrate and make happen.
  • To Be Silent, tacere, to engage in the silence is not as passive as might first appear as this is the “still point”. Speak to anyone who’s tried to hold still consciously and they tend to wobble. In terms of mundane study this is equatable to assuming end results to a process and thereby contaminating the results/conclusions. Balance and patience reduce such risks considerably.
The Witch’s Pyramid has also been mapped onto the elemental structures found in modern traditions of Wicca; Nescere to Air and intellect, Audere to Water and emotions, Velle to Fire and will-power, Tacere to Earth and formation. Such a mapping strikes me as a mental map to study and the progress through the elements as an Initiate, though I can only speculate to this effect. Grading feeds the EGO in positive method until the Self becomes a master over it and can assert its own authority. The difference being developing a healthy EGO and inflating it.
The Witch’s Pyramid is also known as The Four Powers of the Magus illustrating the influence of this paradigm in modern magical approaches or schools of thought. Such schools of thought may also be best seen as relating to schools or disciplines in mundane study as well. With this analogy in mind let me pose the question of which school is superior, offering the most authentic knowledge and material on magic? Personally, I doubt it matters unless the leadership of a group feeds off material gained in the same manner as Annika highlights whereby it runs of newly founded information since this fails to form from the baseline of the group. So far I’ve speculated on membership of groups and traditions but what if one doesn’t belong to one particular school and studies on their own? The same rationale applies as a solo-student one’s approaches is just a limited by poor foundations as those of a school or system. Since a solitary practitioner lacks pre-established structures they must form their own such as the case with the ritual-language referred to in terms of Altar arrangements, etc.
In the past I have had to use confidentiality in working groups for community events, particularly in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans* groups where confidential information may be disclosed. Invariably someone always found something personal to disclose, and to my surprise so too did I. Having this shared space that was in all by name sacred was crucial to the trust being cultivated as a team. Not so different from a magical group so far eh? Typically those that do not take part do so from a sense of detachment from the group. In one magical gathering where such a circle was being established this sense of detachment manifested in control games. In my experience trust must cut both ways for such an exercise to work effectively. If the leadership isn’t prepared to trust then I have to ask do they deserve my trust?
This stirring question also sparks the question that if someone swears to an Oath of Secrecy then how are so many initiated folks so readily available online? Namely because its next to impossible not to be online in some capacity in this day and age. This age is often referred to as the Information Age in sociological circles. And with so much published online and in books its easy to discuss matters from one’s Craft through such liminal spaces. These ‘public domains’ allow for a bridging of the subjective experience to the external experience. However, much like language in general ritual-language employs symbolism that is explained by also understood on the semiotic level. I would add to Annika’s comments on sharing relevant links by saying that when sharing such links endeavour to include a clear and succinct line or two synopsizing YOUR understanding of the information. Before posting or speaking for that matter save the post and sleep on it if you’re privy to confidential information belonging to the group. As Annika states; “be clear in yourself”, afterall gnothi seauton applies too!
In her comment below her vlog, Annika raises the point of the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice stuff”. A teacher that shares too openly is dangerous but so too is one that uses information and teaching as a weapon, and in my experience former often leads to the latter. Groups are immensely beneficial to development, indeed, in academia it is often stated (and I believe I’ve mentioned before) that, one’s opinions NEVER come entirely from oneself, but rather the community and environment one hails from. Understanding yourself as a product of your society and culture means you can begin to know yourself and in so doing at the very least begin to set firm foundations for the Witch’s Pyramid to take its place.
Overall Annika’s vlog focuses on the reasons how a well trained teacher or coven utilise secrecy as confidentiality to enhance the experiences of the initiate, however, as has been skirted around there are some groups which form on the basis of such principles but for some reason or other misattribute these principles. Secrecy has often become a dirty word when associated with modern magical groups because of fool-hardy teachers or leaders eager for the EGO boost. It happens a lot more frequently than people like to admit alas. Annika mentioned that it was her belief that a coven/group should sit down an discuss confidentiality and its my belief that such abuses of the Oath of Secrecy are the reason why. It is afterall a solemn oath and important to understand the boundaries it sets forth for individuals involved. Its function solidifies the members of the group as brothers and sisters, and all as students of magic. As a solemn oath it should be respected not just by the Candidate but by the witnesses and presiding officer administering it. Especially considering that breaking it often leads to immediate expulsion. Secrecy doesn’t seek to trip up members but to allow for seeding of all aspects of the Tradition.
In the much discussed “witch-wars” secrecy can be used both positively and negatively. During my time working with a group in college I learned the practical usages of conflict-resolution. When employed to settle or resolve issues ‘in-house’ secrecy forms a base of confidentiality that eliminates using humiliation as a tactic. However, when used to silence people it serves little but to sustain hostilities and chastise “inferiors” for stepping out of line by disavowing their voice or worse still ensuring that others know better than to step out of line and question the authority. Unfortunately, discerning the need for secrecy or discretion concerning disputes requires a wise head on one’s shoulders otherwise we’d all do it all of the time and conflict would be an unknown experience. Establishing what secrecy (knowledge of the system) and confidentiality (the personal experiences of members) mean can minimalise the risks of future conflict but also opening the door to dispute procedures can enable initiates to use the protocols of the system/tradition to assert their own voices (advocacy) in a healthy manner.
By all means listen to the vlog by Oathbound Secrets and post comments to her channel or below to continue the discussion.
Beannachtaí díobh!
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