I have friends… don’t snigger! I do too!… I have friends who are very sincere witches and magical practitioners but who cannot for the life of them understand why covens are generally initiatory (I do know some covens are working circles but to make certain commitments to each other as a working team), nor can they understand my motivation for “joining in”. I think the phrase “joining in” is what is most interesting here because there is a sense of entering into something, even if one’s coven, circle or temple/lodge is of the utmost super secret squire variety, people being social creatures tend to sense something. Of course we may not wish to be part of something but it can still smart when you find out you weren’t being invited in the first place. Of course I have tried explaining that it is a personal decision made for personal reasons. I have also tried to be as honest as I can in stating I have no earthly idea why I have frequently had this compulsion. Prior to my initiation into Gardnerian Craft and even in to MOAA I frequently donned my sensible hat (the metaphorical kind, cause y’all know I’m not sensible hat wearing type) and told myself my practice of magic isn’t contingent upon joining a group nor is my sense of personal ethics and philosophy/spirituality. Heck, even my friendship with members of these traditions wasn’t contingent upon my joining in. So why apply/join?
Psychologically I could analyse myself and state that I have a pathological fear of being alone. I spent most of my formative years being “billy no mates” on the school play group to the point that I was suicidal from the age of 8-12 years of age. I would literally go in to my local church and pray the gay away, pray for my family to be spared by me dying. I wanted death. I must have been praying quite hard because I had my first in a series of experiences with the Sacred Feminine, of course I hadn’t a clue what this was. Christians would call this presence the Holy Spirit, rightly or wrongly the Holy Spirit has been linked to the Goddess through the Shekinah. I was raised Catholic and so this idea that the Holy Spirit may come and help me martyr myself wasn’t completely alien. I did try to take matters in my hand more than once when the bullying was at it’s worst but this experience stopped me. Continuing the psycho-babble I could state that because I was not ordered to join the seminary or immediately find the Goddess (or Wicca) this promise of better times to come was more than likely my own self-preservation kicking in. I was 13 and moving house with my family and frankly, aside from weird occurrences in my youth, magic wasn’t real. God and or the Gods were not something occupying my mind all that much. Given my experiences in primary school I was resolved not to be a “joiner” in secondary school either. Rejection from people scared the living crap out of me. I was slowly leaving behind wishing to die and learning to do things I just wasn’t ready to join in anything. Then…
Puberty really sunk it’s claws in. I knew before puberty came in that I liked guys more than girls but now the whole conversation in school seemed to take on more of an edge. People were prone to telling me my orientation before I even knew I could be different from the mainstream so now what was I going to do. Christianity didn’t really seem to be sex positive at all but in terms of being gay then much like culture as a whole it tends to boil being gay down to what happens in the bedroom (or woodland, carparks, beaches, public toilets, anywhere really). I didn’t want to be socially constricted by labels. It helped that bridging the links between what had happened in my own mind from before the first guy to approach me when I was 15 was also gay and interested in witchcraft. He dabbled with witchcraft and later with drugs and it sort of came to a head when he couldn’t pursue it any more and found my interest in the Wheel of the Year and the ethics of magic a bit of an oddity. It also helped that everything I read on Neopaganism and Wicca was very LGBT positive and sex positive in attitude. I found myself entertaining the idea of being part of something with others. Unfortunately, I was 16 and no self-respecting coven was going to take me on even if I could approach one. The Internet didn’t really offer up much for Ireland at the time and WitchVox Ireland listings seemed to be an eternity away from me. I also developed epilepsy around this time period as well. So “coming out” (yuk expression), developing a new, clandestine spirituality and also discovering sex was intense. Paganism offered a roadmap for all of these plus something for my own sense of individuality.
Social Pagan – that’s me!
For a while I was content with meeting other teen pagans and Wiccans but I found most of them to be dabblers and usually there was a distinct dichotomy between them – either they were all “love & light” or “I am Skeletor – Master of Darkness!”. I was lucky because I met up with a social group for occultists through a forum called, Occult Ireland. We had social meet-ups once a month in Dublin and I got to meet with practitioners of Enochian magic, Sinti Family Tradition of witchcraft, eclectic witches, Gnostics, Thelemites and we managed to attend some group rituals as well. I attended a few other Pagan Moots as I was a pagan at the time too and I was starting to live more openly among friends and family. Through some of the aforementioned traditions and approaches I slowly became for confident in the practical side of paganism and witchcraft. But I felt like I was avoiding some major aspects to the work of magic by not accepting a structured approach. Everything was still overly reliant on books and websites and so the words of a solitary ritual didn’t seem to go as deeply as I would have liked. I knew I was prone to being more psychically sensitive than I was letting on and I wanted to work to understand this side of me more and how it may enrich my life.
So I come to a Path!
I applied to an online correspondence course for the Hermetic Sanctuary of Ma’at (now closed), which oddly coincided with another of the Occult Ireland members joining too. So we established a study group to help us find others who may be interested in eventually being initiated into the Golden Dawn tradition. The idea was that we’d all help one another along the way. People come and go at this stage – though at the time I felt that some were pushed away unduly by other members of the group. Myself and the initial founding member of the study group applied to one order in the UK – he was accepted but I wasn’t. This false start seemed to hold meaning too because another Golden Dawn order was forming which would become the Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea (MOAA). Now, while I was hanging around all the magicians and ceremonialists I never really counted myself as one of them because they often seemed to be rather pretentious (not my lot they were loverly, of course!) but I felt compelled to do this. There was something in MOAA for me and because I wasn’t inherently a ceremonial magician I had no background reading on the Golden Dawn system nor had I any idea why some thought their Order better. G:.D:. lineage arguments went way over my head, still do if I’m honest about it. I already thought some of the so-called “witch wars” on the pagan scene were a bit naff over lineage but I had no easy routes of access to Wicca and thought I could learn something in MOAA that might help me. I suppose if you wanted to continue the amateur psychoanalysis the G:.D:. offered a centred praxis that was less routed in some issues around polarity that I’d started to develop (see A Note to Traditionalists) namely I was upset at the prospect that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*+ people may not have been as accepted as I’d thought in Wicca but moreso that this had been so widely adopted by non-Wiccan groups too. In the dialogue from the post I made a number of errors – namely I confused my own points but also that I failed to really consider what the difference was between “being traditionalist” and being a member of a Tradition. A “Traditionalist” may be someone who comes from a traditional background and wish to preserve the practices of this background for others to utilise. They are not necessarily the one you need to rebuke for being conventional and guilty of idealising the past. The other type of “Traditionalist” is the one who picks up a book – occasionally a duly copied Book of Shadows (BOS) or their Order papers – but more often than not they are the type to see a book as a living tome something to be adhered to. The latter will read the printed word while the former will look for notes in the marginalia for clues to how one may experience the ritual or rite in the now. Dividing the two is a bit of a red-herring on my part because once you are initiated into a Tradition everyone is a member of that Tradition.
Short and Sweet: Follow the Rules!
Over of MOTO, Peregrin has posted his advice to any neophytes / novices / apprentices, which was to follow the teachings or curriculum of their respective traditions. Now Peregrin’s argument is much more comprehensive than I can give due credit to here so please do pop over so we can continue on! (I’ll grant ye a few mins leave!) So basically skipping ahead is a bad idea in Peregrin’s view. Now I have to be honest I’m never going to advise someone to read ahead prior to an initiation. I didn’t do this for any of my grade advancements in MOAA nor did I read leaked copies of 1° Initiation into Gardnerian Craft (I did read the Farrar’s Initiation ceremony years ago). I truly believe my experiences were much more special to me because of it. I wasn’t trying to make educated guesses at what was coming next and much more routed in the now. My comment on Peregrin’s Facebook post was this:
I think there is some conflation between reading and praxis. I understand why there is confusion between the two because for many seekers the written word is their introduction to praxis – in short they learn on a very rudimentary level that the words are alive and contain a codified power. To my mind there is little wrong with reading ahead as it is the experiential understanding of the now in ritual work that brings it all together.
I’m a student of English Literature so believe me when I say my issues are not with the written form. Far from it I plan to make a living from this because I believe in literature and it’s potency in our lives. But even comparative literature students have to stop and note that even though a written text may be adapted to film or television there are now two versions providing two different experiences to the consumer. Anyone that has been to a Shakespearean play will experience that no two productions of Romeo & Juliet are the same. This becomes true for ritual drama or the drama of ritual as well. When others from a Tradition or group join you the synchronisation produces something of an altered state. There are of course levels to which how structured the rite may be as well all developing a new experience. My HP friend, for my 1° Initiation helped me to expand on my own understanding of breathing control and meditation practices before my initiation which helped to train me into the now. In MOAA we have our own teachings on breathing before ritual too all designed to help us focus and bring our awareness into the Temple. Some groups use pathworkings to develop on to the experience of travelling or journeying somewhere – I can only assume that this is to mentally carry the individual(s) along in a sense of now-ness. I’m not sure what I make of Peregrin’s ideas concerning “fallout” from progressing beyond certain levels. Certainly there is to be expected a natural pull and push as one tries to adopt new information or perspectives and to work on ourselves. In his Hermetic Tablet article “Dark Gods”, Nick Farrell comments on the motif of the Dweller of the Threshold which was first espoused by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in his fictional work. Farrell notes that this was a fictionalised description of an event the protagonist Zanoni informs us warns magicians who try to progress too quickly. The experience is a strangely horrendous one yet belies a sense of the ages as well. I can’t say that I have necessarily experienced a Dweller on any sort of a Threshold but I can, as a literary student, see how such a description could explain some of the internalised experience of falling short. There appears to be all this wonderful information presented in archaic grimoires and modern day tomes. Heck most of it is on the net now. All you have to do is assimilate it into your sphere of sensation. Well maybe not “all” you have to do because the how you do this obviously has a part to play in it. As Peregrin discusses the tripartite system of First (Outer), Second (Inner) and Third Order one has to acknowledge that the process of assimilation can be different for different people. Orders and schools of magical practice encode their teachings in the workings they do so that the intellectual material doesn’t just remain a cerebral experience for people with a superficial level of change.
On the subject of “Why joining” some may argue that the tripartite systems of the Golden Dawn and Wicca are not the only approaches as the mentor-apprentice system had been in use previously for many generations and through many approaches to magic. Of course this resolves some of the issues with people politics that creeps in but mentors are likely to advise students on reading material and so the temptation is to read ahead and with this being the social media age seekers are going to go online and see things too. Then again if Bulwer-Lytton can experience the Dweller back in the 1800s maybe it has little to do with systems and traditions of any variety and more to do the student themselves.