Is ‘Public Occultism’ Fading Out?

Because the subject is very much on the go so to speak I thought I’d share this blog from Aaron Leitch.

I’m not really sure if I have much else to add to it. In Ireland the occult, generally speaking, has two primary facade’s from what I can see. The first is that of the Neopagan or Wiccan who over a sympathetic Pub Moot will nod to the more CM work that they may operate on parallel lines to Paganism or Wicca. Of course their Paganism or Wicca is not for the fluffy-bunny types either but the moniker often shields them in conversations with the New-Agers in pagan social circles. The second type is the type that will not really be caught out too handy. Their occultism is not for the masses and as genuine practitioners of magic they rarely take on students.

I’ve hidden among college going students for a while now. Even attempted to set up a college pagan society (we had no takers) but I found that most modern witches don’t really wish to explore the occult or magic they simply wish to practice it. When it becomes clear that practice means PRACTICE things waver and teeter off. I’ve come off even crazier amongst these lot of people than I do amongst “Muggles”! It is frustrating and tiring being alone in a crowd. In fact if I am honest trying to make the crowd work out has cost me my own magical practice.

As such I am a fan of retiring from the limelight and paying more attention to the Art of Magic.

Ananael (The Secrets of Wisdom)

And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:. – Acts 2:17

Nick Farrell has done it again.  Love him or hate him, you have to admit he knows how to stir things up from time to time.  😉  This time, it was with a blog post declaring the death of “public occultism.”  If I were to summarize his position, I would say he feels occult students have become millennial wannabes who believe magickal knowledge should simply be on tap.  You just turn on your computer, press a few buttons, and one of the various modern occult leaders will simply deliver their wisdom to your front door in a nice box with a smile…

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Are The Gods Dead?

Not to put too fine a point on it but Nietzsche proclaimed that God was dead quite some time ago. It has been a bit a crow for the modern pagan movement to deal with since we like to boast of our vast reading experience, our familiarity with various philosophers and with this one right on the doorstep of when modern pagan witchcraft was borne [nope shan’t be dealing with that ol’ crap of the ‘Burning Times’ or the ‘Old Religion’ because so many rabbit holes!] Tonight I happened upon a Facebook post by Wade MacMorrighan in which he asked:

Say, does anyone else cast some seriously judgmental side-eye at fellow witches and pagans when they speak of communing or working with some amorphous and divine entity that they call “Spirit” as if they are some New Age hippie on the verge of being diagnosed with diabetes from all the sweetness-and-light they are spewing?

Well straight out to bat I am going to say yes, yes I do get fairly judgmental when I hear neopagans hide behind some vague concept such as “Spirit”, the reason isn’t because I have a particular issue with ‘Spirit’ in Native American traditions but because most neopagans or new-agers have no concept of what they might mean. Often it is a means to obfuscate the fact that they are insecure about their own processes and relationship to the world around them.

I recently had a very surreal experience with someone who claimed to be a shamanic practitioner here in Ireland but who used Chakras and basically blamed my epilepsy on my Chakras being misaligned or some shite like that. When I asked why “Oh Spirit told me”, as if that was a legit reason to try to claim my neurological condition as your truth. Of course same said individual went on to say ’Spirit’ had revealed to him that everything was an illusion… great so thousands of years of mystical and magical structures and teachings get ignored from a hundred odd traditions and spiritualities because you don’t like being told what do do… Bardo, Maya, etc!

If you want to offer sound healing advice for me then test your contacts out. Ask them for specifics and get them to check their own sources. Or better yet, if you don’t actually have any contacts or spiritual guides then don’t blame them for advice that comes from some inexplicable source an is only partially correct. Even in Traditional Reiki, Usuhi had diagnostics as an intricate part of the early studied for would-be healers in his system.

Moreover, it irks me when some witchlings say, “I don’t worship anything!” as if they are somehow greater than the spiritual powers that animate the Universe! Of course, some actually say, “I don’t believe in the gods!” and they insist that anyone who is pagan and calls themselves a “witch” is misusing the term. However, it is they who are misusing the term “witch” since “Witch” has always had strong magico-religious connotations. Instead, they ought to call themselves “sorcerers”, which yields (academically!) those atheistic denotations that best describe their practices. But, they still *want* the term “Witch” for some reason. They are trying to redefine it! In recent years I have seen MANY so-called “traditional witches” harshly criticize any anythor who dares to conflate witchcraft with paganism. They simply won’t have it and use the internet to bully anyone who might.

I disagree here. I think it is not only entirely possible to call oneself a witch and mean it when you don’t believe in gods or do but simply refuse to worship any. Personally, I fall somewhere into the spectrum of existentialist views on paganism. There is much of the g/Gods I can accept but worship seems to fly in the face of thousands of years of working with tutelary deities and spirits. Even when cultures or individuals in cultures have acted as emissaries to the g/Gods the depth by which they worshipped was varied.

In classical times witches and priests were not one-in-the-same. That innovation only really became accepted mainstream with the growth of the Traditional Wiccan movement. This is not to say that priests and priestesses were without charms or magical spells but that these were not for the day-to-day running of the household.

Cochrane, Gardner and Sanders amongst others all coopted the terms; witch, Wicca, Wica, Pagan, et al. for their own purposes to revive the idea of the ‘Old Religion’ echoing Margaret Murray but this has long been disproven. Gardner in particular wanted to see PAGAN witchcraft flourish in Britain. The “witches” who were more properly called cunning folk or healers were either Christian or non-plussed about doctrines of faith, they had cures and spells to enact those cures alright. The specifics are often muddled now but I daresay assuming that all so-called low-magic systems of witchcraft believed in worshipping deities is a bit far-flung.

I personally feel the problem in trying to guess the secularist attitudes of the cunning-folk witches lies at the heart of British culture at the time. It was just starting to establish a modernist identity following WW2 and we can see this in the power-structures of modern Traditional Wicca. I’m not suggesting everyone who joined Wicca or the Craft of the time did so because Nietzsche proclaimed God to be dead but it does mark the epistemological doubt surrounding society of the time which I do believe affected modern Paganism. Customs and traditions being what they are and cures often cheaper that medical advice people found a sense of control in keeping these alive.

From the period of 1800s-1900s magic as well as modern paganism enjoyed a revival. Because modern witchcraft became synonymous with modern paganism other forms of witchcraft either fell outside of the accepted vernacular for what defines a witch or succumbed to modernity and the development in technology. I know of only one confirmed family tradition of Witchcraft which was Christian but it died with the last practitioner because the children refused to carry it on viewing it as too archaic for a modern world. So what I suspect kept the familial customs of witchcraft alive in Britain until the popularity of Wicca could help to define it may have also killed off other forms.

I’m not a fan of most of the Traditional Witchcraft forums online – certainly not the Facebook groups because they often spend more time defining themselves as something other than Wiccan. They seem to ignore the fact that they have just as much magpie syndrome as any other witch out there. I know some really good people in the Appalachian region of the USA who work magic and help people in their communities but I don’t need the forums to remain friends with them. I’m always doing to remain open to learning from others as I go – I don’t need family lineages going back to before the Famine anymore than I think lineages in Wicca or the Golden Dawn have served to help end false groups.

Many of the posts in response to Wade’s question seemed to err on the side of least judgement. I don’t think the word sorcerer is well defined enough my anyone to accurately state that it is better for atheistic witches. Largely because many of the words we use: witch, sorcerer, magician, warlock, pagan, etc. have been used as both cultural and counter-cultural motifs when deemed necessary. In modern parlance I call myself a Witch amongst pagan friends as I am Gardnerian and Magician amongst my ceremonialist friends as I am a member of MOAA. And frankly I see both terms as meaning much the same.

Sharing – a rant

Okay, Peregrin is a little on the harsh side here but I do see where he is coming from. For those that read my wee ramble on “Why join anything?” I referred to a few different schools and teaching styles. I know that many solo practitioners enjoy “working things out for themselves” the thing is even if you have access to a teacher or elders within a tradition you still have to think for yourself. So a person really needs to consider their audience when producing information for mass consumption online.

One of the main reasons I have shied away from diagrams here is that I don’t feel comfortable with all that I need to learn. I have some ideas that I’m happy to share publicly because I’m happy to hear alternatives and suggestions to correct misinformation. I’ve learned FAR more from my years hosting this blog and it’s predecessors than I have taught anyone.

In the previous post on joining a group I was writing in partial response to some off-hand comments from non-affliated friends. Now by virtue of them being my friends they are not misappropriating materials and remediating them online with misinformation as if they full know and comprehend materials. Most of these friends are animistic in a very non-descript way. Honestly, they just resonate with energy and rarely overthink matters. They have no need to look for hidden meaning.

Peregrin does identify some issues with online posters. Many are seeking to learn but seem at times fearful to even antagonistic toward learning within a system or a structure. Believe me I too feared I would loose my sense of self and be simply another generic Wiccan or a generic Golden Dawner (MOAA) by the end but in a well structured approach this sense of self doesn’t need to be completely eradicated.

Magic of the Ordinary

This is kinda a follow up to the last post. And then I’m done, as these problems seem to be more and more prevalent in the magical-Pagan communities since the internet. I’ll have said my piece and will move on to bunny pics or good news stories 🙂

First off, it should go without saying that I view the people mentioned (but not identified) in this post as images of the One, whole and divine and that I do not – cannot – judge their spiritual life. I am simply responding to what they say and do.

The other day I noticed on Facebook a rather new beginner to all things magical produce a nice little chart of the Kircher Qabalistic Tree of Life, complete the 22 paths, superimposed over the human body for meditation reference. Very nice and kind of him to make and share this publically. However, there…

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Why join anything?

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?

My Motivations

btg-oneplayerPsychologically 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…

BOOM!!!

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!

Skeletor is LoveFor 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. wp333 Golden Dawn 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.

Another Way?

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.

About

Check out this new blog from David a Gardnerian in Canada who describes his blog in About. Yet Another Gardnerian Blog joins the list of blogs seeking to widen the perception of Gardnerian Wicca in the magical arts.

Top 10 Questions for Seekers

Doreen Valiente older“I think what matters is if people are sincere in their wish to follow the old ways and to carry them on – not whether they’re initiated by so-and-so or whether they have the umpteenth degrees. The power you get is the same. A witch is a witch is a witch.” – Doreen Valiente.

For the purposes of this blog the terms mythology and mythical figures shall stand for heroes and deities because various traditions and systems of magical practice have different outlooks on these concepts.

Here we go, for your entertainment, development and consternation, the top 10 questions as compiled by myself:

  1. Is the process of “backward birth” or palingenesis in modern magical systems something seekers consider before applying? If it helps discussion then palingenesis begins with the initiation of the seeker or candidate into an underworld which generally represents the unconscious mind. Through here ‘ordeals’ or ‘trials’ are faced on the understanding that the new initiate will temper their minds before the main process of magical and spiritual work begins.
  2. Following on from the above, then do you think the mythos or the mythology of the Tradition or System bares upon your decision-making? Basically does it matter whether you are placed in the Great Hall of King Arthur as Arthur himself or Merlin or is the importance more of spiritual link to God or the Gods of Mount Olympus?
  3. How intimately do you think/feel/believe you ought to identify with mythical figures from the Tradition/System? Here you may have intimate relationship as worshipper or postulant or do you feel that the story is what is of importance not the figure itself?
  4. Is this always a good idea? Explain why or why not. Many magical initiators have developed theories on how much one identifies with the figures within the tradition – afterall we aren’t Herakles or Persephone themselves… (shshhh if you are tell me I’ll not blab!)
  5. How important is this process to your sense of connection to your overall goals (Higher Self/the Gods/Deity etc.)? The process may be separate entirely, especially if the process is cerebral or completely psychological (D.H. Lawrence’s “Having it in the head!” comes to mind here!) but then why not just go for therapy?
  6. Do your patron/s mythical figures act as a psychopomps or guides on your Traditional Path or are they separate? If so, then see Q7, if not then see Q8.
  7. How important is the role of a guide/s on the magical path to you? I’ve a theory that in the wake of modern Wicca moving in to the realm of public scrutiny something crept out as a means to help people not freak out and see devils at every turn and that was personal protectors or patrons (in Male-Female pairing just like Wicca we all know and love) these forces could be called upon to remove negative impressions or block spiritual attacks on seekers who worked without training. I could be wrong – there is a lot of precedence for the tutelary deities of a household in antiquity but these were not connected to the mystery schools insofar as we know.
  8. How much help are guide/s on the mundane path? Or is it all business all the time?
  9. If they are separate from the Tradition, how do you reconcile the two natures/forces? Have you considered the time and dedication that each entity or figure is likely to demand for your to obtain a meaningful connection that can be worked with? There is offerings of prayers, invocations, ritual ensoulment (either ceremonially or over time), journeying (shamanic or Inner Vision work) and then making sure that the personal does not conflate or become confused with the group’s figure – whats good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander!
  10. As you change do you expect your guide/s or psychopomp figures to change too? I wonder whether you feel this is a psychological change being projected on to the situation or if this is a new contact for you to experience and learn with?

Lately, Nick and Peregrin have been having a wee dialogue on their blogs concerning the nature of the Golden Dawn beast! Basically they have been asking what it means to be contacted and how this works with tradition and lineage. This got me to wondering about whether new seekers even cared for such discussions. I mean how much thought is ACTUALLY put in to applying to a Tradition when most seem to be acting on a gut feeling or deep routed intuition. So I compiled these questions to get a body started.

There is, of course, an obvious counter to this if one reads Doreen Valiente’s quote stating a “witch is a witch is a witch!”, while one may or may not be a witch or magician in a particular tradition or system one can be a witch/magician by one’s own work.