Pagan Perspective: Learning Different Ways

Question: from MrAbhainn
–“Recently the group I work with had an open event for seekers to come and ask questions and test the waters before applying to the group for membership. There were a few people who’d practiced personal paths and had pre-established correspondences already. This is not a problem though seeing some of these individuals take the correspondences as doctrine they found it a shock to see differences. I’d love to hear host’s experiences learning correspondences and developing associations beyond the ‘Wicca 101’ material. Have you any techniques for learning pantheons or crystals etc.? How about complexity of herbs?”

The Vast World of Correspondences

Learning as one goes seems to be the way for this poster, which I sort of get because its tough enough learning everything and sometimes meaning does lie in the moment. I like that he identifies with the role of memory and the sensory experience of the process as well.

To be honest I hadn’t really expected the question to be read to literally but to offer options for the different vloggers to discuss so I appreciate that he went to the bother of examining everything from herbs and crystals to pantheons (which if I were asking now I’d probably ask about more grimoiric borrowings such as angels and then more shamanic or Traditional craft of spirits).

Learning Associations

Cara does seem to identify that most books and tables of correspondences are caveated with the phrase that “these are the author’s own views” or similar. Thankfully Cara also goes to other views from blogs, vlogs and talks with other practitioners too.

Pantheons: Very much a run of experiences based on need much like the previous poster’s methodology.

Crystals and Herbs: Books and Internet help Cara immensely and looks for commonalities between sources and then exploring discrepancies. For her its more of a scientific methodology as she will also go to friends and experienced workers. She also interesting looks to what is in her possession and what is familiar from books before exploring exotic herbs and crystals.

Trial and error comes into it more with Elements and Directions. This time she went with basic feeling around positioning her altar.

For me personally, having listened to Cara’s experiences, I find myself realising there is a synthesis of knowledge and experience to work a system of magic that works for her.

Wednesdays with Eric: Associations and Correspondences

Eric is pretty forthright in that his knowledge is limited. He’s very clear on herbal work and correct use of herbs as medical work and magical work.

Interestingly the group gnosis concept is an interesting facet behind this line of questioning because I’ve met so many groups whose associations and world-views are so far removed from my own that I have struggled. Some of this was learning to be more pliable myself but mostly it was learning that we just weren’t a good fit.

Correspondences

Charlie explains that her own experiences have been influenced by the wide diaspora of practitioners of modern magic. For Charlie there is a natural tendency to synthesise her own praxis with tips and suggestions working for her.

She does note that for her energetically North makes more sense that East as the starting and end point of the ritual Circle. Interestingly, she spends time building up her own associations to each element and from this she seems to pick up on the various influences on the crystals or energetic make-up (spirits?) of stones and crystals with her analogy to Amythst. Herbs, however are based on natural medicine and a more orthodox perspective.

What I LOVE here is that Charlie really drives home praxis rather than study… getting out there and learning to build up what I would call an energetic language to work with that is beautifully complex but honest.

Are these Facts?

PurpleKillJoy offers some insight into the jumping off point. From the perspective of Pantheons PKJ is interesting because he works with patron gods moreso than a range of gods from a particular pantheon. Also he explores the role of fun in learning with a board game he played which helped with Herbs. Flashcards and hiking are some of his suggestions.

PKJ suggests this is rather easy because they are all “just theories”, I’m not sure I would agree with this because even if some theories hold true a lot of these theories flow very strongly into the egregore of a tradition or a group. Essentially forming the backbone for the student’s development within the system.

Many Paths…

DancingRabbit does a little more to distinguish between approaches to running a coven or group. DR comes from the CUUPS which is a pagan branch of the Unitarian Church moreso with a variety of influences in their open group. DR acknowledges the syncreticism unique to their group which offers each member to lead the group in turn with their own tradition or spiritual outlook.

DR seems to be confusing associations with the concept of sympathetic resonance – which to be honest I was hoping more of the speakers would pick up on behind the question. Associations have a basis in comparative obversation often following cause and effect i.e. fire creates ore for metalurgy to create the knife or sword. Sympathetic resonance, can owe a lot to comparative observation but also plays off against symbolism in ritual use.

Pagan Perspective: Labeling Issues [7.9-7.14]

Labels Are for Soup Cans

This is an interesting concept in Wicca because you actually find the same dialogue being espoused in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community. Of course I agree you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone else but as I do find it can be difficult to engage with like-minded folk without a few descriptors being involved. Sometimes this involves developing other people’s mental associations beyond the primary label being used so for instance – I’m not a gay, disabled, English grad student, occultist and witch even though these can be very informative of my opinions and interactions with people. Assuming such is problematic because some people guess my sexual orientation and some don’t, most never guess that I have a disability or what’s classed as one in Ireland because it’s classed as a Hidden Disability and as the label suggests its hidden but it’s effects are no less poignant on my life. Conversely, my grammar isn’t too good now either so I often giggle when I see people recoiling for fear that the mean English Graduate student is going to correct their grammar all of a sudden. Much like the Hidden Disability my occultism and witchcraft isn’t something someone on the bus is going to know though I am open amongst friends – both other practitioners and non-practitioners.

Wednesdays with Eric: Labels

Eric takes up the mantle of the social creature. I tend to share Eric’s view that labels can provide a jumping off point for discussion. Interestingly, Eric comments that “there is no set in stone label I could set on myself” and does indeed call himself by a few different labels within various discussions.

As Eric identifies clearly the problem with labels in modern paganism is that what someone calls Pagan can be very different in practice compared to someone practices. There is obviously a bias and prejudice as Eric points out but my own stance is one of “story-teller syndrome”. Now STS is a fun social condition wherein no matter what I saw to someone or how clearly I express it it WILL be misconstrued through ‘Chinese whispers’.

Names and Titles

Here we come into my own sphere of dialogue here with Arianravenheart as she begins with Traditional Wicca as borne by Gerald B. Gardiner. Traditional Wicca was/is a part of the greater Western Mystery Tradition with rites, rituals and traditions held in secrecy between initiates. The rocketing of the label “Wicca” into the public sphere has brought about new understandings of the term but a recent backlash has been to ascribe non-initiated Wiccans as “Neo-Wiccans” or “solitary, eclectic Wiccans”, which some argue is a bit too oxymoronic to work.

My only issue with this addition is that it refers to finding “The Craft” online, this infers that the Craft is a homogeneous whole rather than a descriptor for individualistic practices with shared themes. For instance saying the Craft to a Freemason means something slightly different than it does to a Wiccan. So, realistically speaking as ARH describes her relationship to the Wiccan Rede, which has been publicly explored many times online and understood to be an anarchism of the word Rede meaning advice rather than rule we can start to see how “Names and Titles” convey a variety of meaning to different groups and individuals.

Thankfully ARH does surmise by asking a person not to feel obliged into being pigeon-holed into certain descriptors.

Identity

PurpleKillJoy adopts a rather Individualist mentality as he sees religion as a living tradition approach to the whole dialogue. Thing is PKJ identifies that books will say one thing about labelling as a means to self-identify when comes to Wicca and what he’s read enables him to claim a right to the use of Wicca as a label but that many Traditionalists have taken umbrage with this.

Ironically PKJ seems to chastise those who don’t read the material or work with the correspondences and associations of the Elements and the Sabbats yet the question remains what has he NOT learned that exists in Traditional Wicca (Wica) that would have people in that social/religious grouping feeling a bit irked at his labelling. To be honest I tend to get the feeling that policing the labels is done through how much knowledge or information one can retain or present. Problematically PKJ ascribes the role of decider to Society yet the Global Society is too large and removed to understand the sub-society of Neo-Paganism in my view. Someone who is experienced enough must be leading Society to determine the right use of labels here, so who?

Truth in Labelling

DancingRabbit (author of The Way of the Horned God: A Young Man’s Guide to Modern Paganism) comments on the group label as the group mind comes into effect. He takes up a ethnological view of the development of the meaning vs interpretation of certain labels.

Basically DR sees a labelled-group as somehow unreal or cerebral in nature rather than hosting or being ensouled as an egregore. An egregore has a spirit behind it which is powered by the group. Obviously this assumes the group we’re speaking about is structured around a magical purpose (i.e. Initiation, Healing, Divination, Magic as a whole), indeed DR made a few misnomers himself when he was writing his novel and marketed as Paganism but considerably taken from Neo-Wicca themes rather than wider Pagan practices.

DR does offer the handy advice that understanding the label is as important if not more important than claiming the label. I have called myself by a few labels now mostly because since I originally planned to share this post I’ve read a lot of interesting labels but also because I’ve enjoyed playing with expectations of meaning. For me personally, I have found that playing with labels allows people to ask more about my personal world-views and such.

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!

Pagan Perspective: Philosophy/Theosophy [3.19-24.12]

Okay that sounds a little more dodgy than might first appear!

Pagan Perspective on YouTube

For those not in the know I’ve been harassing the Pagan Perspective (PP) for years now with my suggestions for topics and so forth. The PP is a collaborative channel on YouTube with a variety of speakers each on a nominated topic for the week. Theres a post from each of the contributors everyday and the channel coordinator, Cara aka Cutewitch772 (who’s awesome blog can be found HERE) edits the channel to allow people like me to keep easy track of the awesome topics too! So a HUGE shout out and thank you to the gang on PP!

Philosophy/Theosophy

While “Philosophy/Theosophy” is not the first topic I suggested to the Pagan Perspective it is the first one I can link to like this. Bare in mind this is a playlist and so while Anni (from MIRTHandREVERANCE fame) is up first there are a number of other contributors take a look at all of them as they are all wonderfully insightful.

One of the reasons why I posed the question of philosophical and theosophical influences on a person’s path was because I find myself heavily influenced by subjects I covered in college. I can tell you it makes for a surreal experience to find that subjects in college have real world application! 😉 In college I had the opportunity to study Feminism, Queer theory, Existential philosophers such as Camus, Sartre and Beauvoir. Then I had a wee think – well it was a slow day – and realised that these awesome philosophers and critical thinkers weren’t just the preserve of a select few. Indeed at a new media student I was uniquely positioned to see how widely such paradigms have influenced modern pagans. Queue the Pagan Perspective! I did ask on other sites but the responses were too slow or just not in-depth enough. Perhaps this has something to do with the media being engaged as people tend to be a lot more scathing when able to hide behind a username or handle.

From my own end I tend to describe myself publicly as an Existentialist Pagan, this is largely due to the recognition in the Craft movement to self-responsibility. During my early readings of the practice of the Craft authors such as Janet and Stewart Farrar, Doreen Valiente and others emphsized the importance of ethical Craft practice. Most modern books on the subject go so far as to include the 13 Goals of a Witch and Wicca’s very own Golden Rule, The Rule of Three or the Threefold Law of Return. Marking a universal set of axioms or maxims is a difficult endeavour in modern Paganism yet Witches and Pagans are held to be all there is! The focus on environmentalism alone should help to support that complexity of modern pagan philosophy surely as aside from the rampant feminism its the most obvious influence on neopaganism.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love pondering complex concepts fot the sheer mental pleasure of doing so. However, my core philosophy and ethical code is quite simple. I think the progression from simple to complex to simple is necessary so that we can understand the simplicity of things without being simplistic”. (Christopher DeGraffenreid, Facebook, 29 November 2012)

For me identifying the philosophical [and theosophical] influences on my practices allows me to critically engage with my path and express what the Existentialists would call ‘good faith’. Well, really they’d be more preoccupied with the ‘bad faith’ which is the notion that through being overtly passive i.e. not a critical thinker and merely accepting matters at face value is an article of bad faith. The term was coined by Jean-Paul Sartre. If I’m to be responsible as a Witch is this merely with regard to magic and spell work or am I to become a better person for it?

Personally I strongly feel that the role of the Witch is to the community they serve and not to a priesthood or subculture. I know this is a stance that many Traditionalists will find hard to rectify because for them the title they earn is Witch and Priest/ess, and because of their work within Coven structures the two terms may be synonymous as many work as witches solely in private and all else is merely as a person. Indeed my own experiences of being a “witch to the community” have been through the mode of a friend and confidant. Certainly what kind of a Witch one is going to be depends on their background and for this reason magic can be very painful as a lifestyle (we all may call it a calling but lets face it we’re always presented with options to take the road well trodden) since it brings us into touch with who we are and what is likely to happen as an end result is a person being more human not less.

This PP’s topic was the starting point I went on to discuss “Ethics in the Craft” with some Facebook friends a few months back now. While Facebook is hardly indicative of the wider Wiccan or Pagan community the subject of “ethics” was a thorny one for most as Tradition as a static concept seemed to conflict with people who felt that “ethics” required people to bring in new laws. For those who know of Alexandrian and Gardnerian Wicca they have a series fo laws or precepts gathered by Gardner called the Ardanes and these Ardanes vary in number amongst the two Traditions of Wicca and possibly even between Coven-lines (if some got newer ones and others kept the older MSS, etc.). As a non-initiate I’m not even sure how many of the Ardanes are concerned with rules of conduct and whether a distinction is made between ethics and etiquette.

It may seem rather random for me to jump from philosophical perspectives to ethics and in the same breathe flow into laws. But philosophy can be internalised and assumed to be universally understood, some ethics can be held to be universal amongst the ‘human condition’ but people do vary a lot and sometimes I do wonder if we see the similarities ignoring the differences – ignoring the diversity.

As always I would love to hear from you dear readers…