PaganPerspective – Spirituality and Religion/Tradition

Hi folks,

Been hectic at Uni lately so I’m being only partially present online lately. A while ago I posed another question to the Pagan Perspective – a collaborative channel on YouTube. I’ve posed a number of questions to the hosts of the various days over the years and some I’m managed to link to here, sometimes not though.

This is the most recent question:

The topic, from MrAbhainn
–“I am curious what the Hosts think about Spirituality subverting or overtaking Religion/Tradition (by Traditions I mean formalized systems such as Initiatory Wicca) in the modern Pagan Movement? With Spirituality people have great personal freedoms and can take from a plethora of sources the techniques that suit themselves but they also change the forumlae that that Tradition/System has developed, they also open themselves to what I see as an endless spiral of consumerism from the more New-Agey side of Paganism. Thoughts, ideas? :)”

Once again the hosts have not disappointed with their individualistic views and relationship to the topic matter. To make this easier I’ve collected the posts into a playlist from my own YouTube channel. Cara is usually pretty good at categorising the topics herself on the PaganPerspective channel.

So, now its my turn to answer back and this may be brief, hopefully for your sakes it will be! lol Obviously, such a division between religion and spirituality is completely artifical for the purposes of this blog and conversation. There are some very spiritual i.e. conscientious and active people of faith in organisated or systematised religions. And furthermore, since Wicca is an initatory system which prioritises personal gnosis through orthopraxy it too can’t be so easily boxed into religion or spirituality. However, in a much wider sense to it all we’re very much consumers of religion and faith and this has, in my opinion, always been somewhat true. The problem isn’t with the inherent truth of the matter but in the how, how we relate and through what models or paradigms is our consumption regulated.

Lets break down the question a little further and see what we can make of the idea from there. In short Spirituality has more public affection because its not inherently or obviously esoteric in nature. By esoteric I mean secretative where meaning has to be derived by experience rather than the aphorisms of modern Mind, Body, Spirit type events and communities. If I sound jealous its because I am! But modern spiritual movement of that ilk do indeed have esoteric philosophies or paradigms running behind them. They tend not to know this but there we go. If I transplant an idea from my brain to yours via a book or website the idea is framed from my own experiences and ideas and then the medium is factored in to make conveying the idea more palatable and easier to understand and relate to. So is it what it was? This always happens but from one culture or approach to another it can morph into something completely different. Same words just different idea.

There is another facet that is worthy of consideration; while its conceivable, and I daresay likely that “truth” may be derived from the maxims, axioms and aphorisms still alive within the social fabric of a movement or tradition within a Tradition/Religion there is often a formula that one lesson, seemingly distinct can in fact develop other ideas and aspects of the Tradition. So does someone learning of “An it Harm None; Do as Thou Wilt” depriving them of the relationship to the Traditions in which we find this aphorism. It can be found in various renditions in forms of modern witchcraft and owes its origins to the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley and his religion of Thelema found predominantly within the magical system of the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.).

The discussion fundamentally hinges on the Saussurean argumentation of linguistics and the relationship of symbolism and semiotics. The above phrase may just have easily been discussed in some of the YouTube videos by the host on PaganPerspective (langage) or it might have been blogged about on one of their blogs (langue) and the adjacent dynamic of discussions prior to it where the principle for discussion is born, this is the parole or genesis of the ideas being conveyed.

This is the beauty of Spirituality as a movement and Tradition as it’s base since it invariable involves people’s interactions and ideas being conveyed. It happens in the most subtle of ways and if one were to be a purist concerning Tradition it might be reasonable to assume that any usurpation of principles or axioms is a deliberate attack on one’s own understandings of meaning which have been agreed upon within the unique social structure of one’s own Tradition or Religion. It’s happened in Paganism as modern groups emerge and are met with older traditions using a similar but different lexicon (codified speech unique to the subculture).

Okay, that looks at what happens from a theoretical perspective applying some ideas of linguistics, cultural studies and sociology. Here’s the crux its NOT all doom and gloom whereby we all need to keep to our own sides of the playground. Something interesting happens in these ‘culture clashes’ whereby people begin to has out the various languages and meanings and agree upon a shared understanding. This is a path of compromise and can take groups some time before its reached and to be honest compromise isn’t something that everyone sanctions in the egalitarian sense of the word, “agree”; but rather that we simply convey a limited understanding for the purposes of conversation. Occasionally, this will mean that some things can’t be conveyed due to the limited nature of this agreement. However, as I say the creativity of this meeting can mean that people develop loanwords such as when colonialism meant that West met the East, it enriched our literature, culture and understanding of ourselves beyond a limited heteronormative meter. We need the challenges to create a dynamic of movement culturally.

Now we can start to see what Tradition can learn and in short this is flexibility for survival. Such flexibility enables the Tradition to learn to relate to the enfolding world around us without the necessity to hole ourselves off from external influences. Heck, even the Amish aren’t fully cut off! But this can be flipped as I proposed in my question to the channel the idea of consuming ideologies can go unchecked if people never learn to ground their practice in the moment. So much of modern Spirituality I seem to be referring to is the New Age movement and it works as a prime example of need, want and desire creating a huge melting pot of ideas for the consumer to immerse themselves in. So, in the meeting of approaches described above Spirituality learns to contextualise itself and tether itself like a kite.

I’d love to hear other people’s ideas too!


2 Replies to “PaganPerspective – Spirituality and Religion/Tradition”

  1. So…

    I always find myself commenting on your posts, which means they raise questions for me. First I would take (polite exception) with the phrasing of the question which is so closed as to demand a particular answer agreeing with an initial hypothesis that has not been discussed or substantiated. This is that ‘Spirituality [is] subverting or overtaking Religion/Tradition (by Traditions I mean formalized systems such as Initiatory Wicca) in the modern Pagan Movement’

    I do not know if I necessarily agree with this position, and I will explain why. First the word subvert which means to ‘Undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution)’. The words overthrow, and undermine are used synonymously. I do not see how certain individuals holding spiritual beliefs, eclectic or not, undermines structured group work, initiatory traditions and even religion. There is also a basic assumption that spirituality as a personal practice is eclectic, while there are many people whose spirituality is based in buddhism for example that has definite forms and history. This is either a very poor choice of word or an actively held belief, and if the latter I would ask that you would substantiate it. As ‘your’ definition of spirituality seems synonymous with eclecticism, at least as you use it here, I will address this in these terms of reference.
    If the latter I would also like to offer a counter image. In the 1980’s there were the revivals of the major magickal Orders – the OTO had a few hundred members (and now has a few thousand). The Golden Dawn work was being carried out by a handful of people, when now we have many, many GD initiates and a pluralistic choice of Orders. Membership in ‘mail order’ orders like AMORC and BOTA has skyrocketed. New and innovative vehicles have also sprung up from the IOT (Illuminates of Tanenteros) to the very dynamic and previously very individual work of LHP Orders like the Temple of Set and Dragon Rouge. Most Orders do not self publicise, but it does not mean they are not there and hard at work, nor does it mean they have not grown significantly. I personally know of Orders and traditions that you will not find on the internet, that you will not hear casually discussed, and that cannot be found in print anywhere, even though some of these traditions go back a significant bit.
    Orders and traditions also have the tendency to look ‘less’ because they are single names, but when you have a name like OTO or Golden Dawn, attached to that are thousands and thousands of individual voices, some (most) which happily work within their tradition without feeling the need to tell everyone in internet land.
    As a personal example, I have fraternal and organizational ties beyond what I publicly allow to be known (I allow my relationship with a thelemic socio political vehicle be known because of its goals in the world) because they are deeply personal and private, and have no business being hung up as badges in the public domain. Many of the people I encounter on the scene come and go, but the voices that I see recurring over the period of a decade or more are those who work in established traditions. When I look in the Irish community there are many people who have a deep rooted eclectic practice (for which I have deep respect), also rooted in their experience and deep respect in initiatory traditions. I do not see eclecticism as subverting traditions, or opposing or contrary to them at all and I find such a position counter productive and suggest it is perhaps more indicative of the authors position and views than the scene as it is to be met.

    Compare this with pagan eclecticism where people are very vocal, individuals who, self admittedly, can be only 2 months into their path. There is no bond to secrecy, and people will twitter and you tube not only methods, but the also the intimate details of specific work. There are also a large number of voices that comment, but does an internet full of regurgitated information on the witches tools (often ad verbatim what can be found elsewhere online) really reflect active spiritual ‘practice’. Is eclecticism to be measured by the drone of often repetitive voices, or is it to be measured by those who can be seen being practical, innovative and working. In either case, with personal spirituality and ecleticism, or within traditions, it comes down to a few seen individuals that may or may not be representative of the practices in these two ‘scenes’.
    Traditions and groups are bound together by action, sharing common ideas, but also practice. To belong to an Order like the GD, the A.’.A.’., SOL etc without ending out on your arse testifies that you have done some work, turned up to meetings etc. Not to say thats a great achievement, but its certainly a more reliable measure than the grand high poobahs in internet land. When I go to moots, and meet people in the real world, there is a very high proportion of people who, quietly or loudly, belong to initiatory traditions or traditions of working.
    To belong to such an Order or tradition means a focus on the work rather than its advertisement, and sometimes the loudest voice in the room is the one with the least to say.

    You have also said ‘With Spirituality people have great personal freedoms and can take from a plethora of sources the techniques that suit themselves but they also change the forumlae that that Tradition/System has developed, they also open themselves to what I see as an endless spiral of consumerism from the more New-Agey side of Paganism.’

    It is not only the changing, but the consistency that can be an issue. In ritual magick one can often encounter people who ‘did’ the Abramelin working, but with a little probing they did it for 3 months, and changed everything and missed a few days (or 4 weeks) on the way and so on. There are solomonic magicians who have limited practice, have not bothered with circle and triangle and have changed the script and method completely, having actually actually only worked with 2 of the Goetic spirits etc. The beg, borrow or steal approach often leaves a long list of interests and activities, but when all of these snippets are put together, they can often lack the cathartic effect of a consistent approach..
    There are also inconsistent people in traditions. In a group context they may not measure up to a basic standard and move on, either willfully or by the boot. As an individual working within a stream but not in an order or group this inconsistency can be encountered as the loudest, most opinionated voice in the room without much to say. Such people oftn hold very dogmatic, hard lines. Traditions don’t just train and temper knowledge – they develop and temper individuals also and people who are busy telling people the right way for everything while being as socially inept and obnoxious as possible often find themselves at the edge of that tradition and sub community. Finally there are the spiritual butterflies who dip into various traditions before flitting off to the next. These people can also mix and match. Being a member of a tradition or an Order for a year is hardly testament to great work, and having been a member of 20 organisations in 20 years even less so. And earing these as badges is a big flashing sign. This does not mean people cant and shouldn’t belong to multiple traditions, but they are worked in and assimilated over several years. I have wide interests, and know about many organisations and approaches, but I belong to, work with and within very few.

    Spirituality (personal practice) is deeply esoteric – just because people blog about their workings doesnt reflect on those who don’t. I don’t instagram or tumblr my food before I eat it, nor do I share with the world what i ate through facebook. It doesn’t mean I didn’t eat or didn’t enjoy it just as much. Many things which are esoteric are esoteric (hidden), not because they are not in print, but because there are experiences that cannot be easily articulated with words that arise out of personal spiritual practices. The spirituality movement is esoteric for those who maintain a personal practice. Its the difference between writing about the LBRP and performing it. Different experiences entirely and there is always an esoteric aspect that is beyond articulation. Also esoteric knowledge and revelation is an unfolding reality that arises from experience. For everything that is said and written, that is not hidden or ‘esoteric’, there is so very much more in the experience of personal spiritual practice. Language is a map, not a territory.

    Small point of clarification on the way – Thelema is not a religion and Aleister Crowley did not posit it as such. The argument of religion is made in an OTO context because a) it is a religious not for profit organisation and needs to call itself a religion in the context of its company structure (as I understand it is incorporated as a religous not for profit organisation) though many initiates of the OTO would argue with this position and b) the OTO amalgamated the EGC, a religious expression of thelema and a certain mystery of the OTO, into the OTO whereas before they were two distinct but interrelated bodies. This has blurred the line between the OTO as an order of social promulgation and the religious ‘expression’ of Thelema through the EGC. Not a judgement on this practice, just an explanation as to why Thelema is commonly called a religion, particuluarly in an OTO context and a signpost that many people, including OTO initiates see this situation very differently. Not at all relevant to the rest of the thought, just one of those things I need to address as it personally irks me as an inaccurate generalization.

    Other assumptions are also present such as ‘Now we can start to see what Tradition can learn and in short this is flexibility for survival’. Tradition should not be assumed to be inflexible. From the OTO to the Golden Dawn and onto initiatory Wicca there have been huge changes in these traditions, but over a number of years and as a sensible and organic development out of changing society, changing values but still in the same stream or spirit of working. They seem not to change because 1) they change over a longer period of time and 2) the changes belong as an organic aspect of the tradition and represent syncretic additions and developments as opposed to ecleticism which is not bound by tradition or any boundaries or limits. And indeed traditions and Orders have survived, many (demonstrated above) are bigger than they ever have been before and they continue to grow develop and do the work. I dont know why you think tradition is dying, being subverted or struggling for survival is really beyond me…
    Just because we don’t jump up and down and shout about it doesnt mean we’re not still here working away, developing our traditions organically and growing in numbers. This however is a dynamic that can only be experienced from within.

    Hope this finds you well and thank you for writing something I could disagree with, as it was a good opportunity to articulate a less heard perspective on these questions.

    93 93/93


  2. Always great to hear from you Brian, and no need to apologise for having opinions its what the reply button is for! 😉 Indeed, invariably your responses help me to thrash out my ideas even more.

    I believe you read into this at a level that was not intended. As a means of helping hand to reach further into the angle at which I was coming from my intention wasn’t to have Tradition or Religion duke it out with the eclecticism of modern Spirituality as it were but to establish the nuances of Tradition and Spirituality as being in dialogue with one another. I believed I was clear and succinct in my post above whereby I said that the division between spirituality and religion (tradition) was artificially created for the purposes of this post. Insofar as this was the case and judging by your own response I believe this dialogue to be quite successful; it has indeed opened the door for us to discuss it.

    Let us break it down further, spirituality can be defined as; “the search for the sacred”. In a biblical context it means being animated by God. By extension the meaning has come to reflect people’s personal lived experiences rather than simply the notion that ritual or custom is done simply because others have done it around you. Taking this meaning anyone can be spiritual when they engage consciously with their practice and this includes people with religious beliefs too. So, armed with this addendum I hope it clearer that I wasn’t simply launching an attack on either religion or tradition.

    You commented, “Other assumptions are also present such as ‘Now we can start to see what Tradition can learn and in short this is flexibility for survival’. Tradition should not be assumed to be inflexible”, and in doing so you also made an assumption, that my argument assumed Tradition or Religion were inflexible this is not the case. I’m a little perplexed I thought this would have come across in my post to be honest but how-in-ever I think we both need to consider augmenting our phrasing here as personifying Tradition or Religion like this actually deters from the central argument I’d hoped to posit which is that any religion or tradition out there is reliant on the agency of individuals to relate and convey ideas using the languages of said traditions as a map (as you kindly put it). You’re quite right that the map isn’t the territory but alas as my argument puts it forth my concern is that a person who fails to see their own agency involved in deriving meaning from an experience can but, admittedly, not necessarily conflate the map with the territory.

    We’ve engaged in using metaphor again as this may yield further confusion, the map as we’ve identified it is the various symbols encountered within one’s belief system be it a dogmatic religion, an esoteric tradition such as Ceremonial Magic, or the eclectic path of modern spirituality typically consisting of New Ageism and Lightworker modalities. I’d like to remind you that we’ve already established that the terrain of any of these paths can and is usually more convoluted with streams and valleys sometimes not found on the map or bridges dilapidated beyond usage. All of which as you, Brian, have identified in some version or another above. However, as I stated I’m not discussing the terrain as you’re right some things experienced on there can’t be adequately depicted or related to someone who wasn’t there or even if they were by from another perspective. What I am discussing is the map and whether we have the necessary tools to decipher it’s legend.

    ” I dont know why you think tradition is dying, being subverted or struggling for survival is really beyond me…” (Walsh, 27/04/2013; 10:19pm)

    Once again I never claimed Tradition was dying but meaning can be subverted affecting how it is remediated (to borrow a new media term) through the different lens’s. I’m not even making a value judgement on the inherent worth of this remediation since who’s to say that something won’t solidify into a Tradition from this remediation? Indeed, I’d posit it does happen and this isn’t bad thing. What I posited that might have confused you was that one of the reasons Tradition seeks to remain flexible is for survival this doesn’t inherently mean that I believe its automatically struggling. It’s important to be sure as not to read into each other’s comments too much here as I was genuinely only positing on some ideas around the nature of tradition and eclecticism within symbolic cultural boundaries such as modern esoteric groups.

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