Thursday, January 24, 2013

We can't know what is not known to us

Out there is a sense of something missing and a longing for what is unknown.  This is evident when I speak to people at festivals, Pagan Pride Days, and in Internet forums.  They have feasted on the seemingly endless books on Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft.  But like a bag of potato chips there is only temporary satisfaction there, and one bag is much like another (even when flavored by a different spice).  For a lot of people this leaves the erroneous impression that there isn't anything else to be had.  They mistakenly feel they're seen and read it all. 

In the early days when Wicca and Witchcraft came to Public attention as a contemporary practice, there was a great deal of mystery surrounding it.  Authors and other practitioners who wrote on the topic, if they were knowledgeable and experienced themselves, tended to veil things.  This was the period from the 1950s up until the 1980s. It was the time of looking through key holes.

When I first entered the Public scene, it was the summer of 1969.  In those days the Internet did not exist, computers where the size of a refrigerator, and there were very few Occult Shops to go to for supplies (most cities had none at all).  Finding an experienced teacher was almost as impossible as finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

I lived in San Diego, California, during this era.  There was a place called The Unicorn Book Store and Theater, which was located in one of the beach communities.  They showed underground movies, had a few books on Witchcraft and Wicca (but mostly on Astrology and Eastern Mysticism) and they also had these rare things of the day known as Tarot cards.  Specifically there was only one deck, the Rider-Waite.
As the years passed there came into existence two other places in which one could find information on things like Witchcraft.  One was called Controversial Bookstore, and the other was called Oracle Books.  The latter was in a beach community known as Pacific Beach (in San Diego).  Most of the people, if they knew anything, they learned it from books purchased in those places.  But there were a lot of people who pretended to possess knowledge and experience of which they actually had none, and others claimed to belong to either an ancient secret society or a surviving family tradition of Witchcraft. Very little was shared with others in those days, and the preference was to remain mysterious and have an air of esoteric knowledge that exceeded others.  I call this the Game of Wizards.

Playing the Game of Wizards was relatively easy.  The silliness begins with testing the other person's knowledge by bringing up a subject.  The subject itself is unimportant to the Game.  If someone offers a bit of philosophy, you reply "Oh, yes, but there is so much more to it, as you know" - and then you smile very wise and knowingly.  If the other person only agrees and offers nothing to expand the conversation, then he or she is deemed unenlightened, and the loses that round of the Game.  However, when something is added, then it increases your base of knowledge, which you later incorporate and draw from when someone plays the Game on you.  The other part of the Game is that when someone shares a magical or ritual technique, you say "Oh yes, I remember when we used to do it that way" or if you want to stop the round completely, you say "Oh, yes, don't we all remember when we thought that was the way it is done" and then you poke the person and laugh as though he or she is goofing around with you.  The Game of Wizards is a slow method of learning with little effort while all the time trying to appear as the Silent Master.  Fortunately, few play the Game today.

Outside of those who played the Game of Wizards were a relative handful of people who were trained in very serious and rooted methods of ritual, magic, and workings with deities and spirits of the Old World.  They were also well-versed in the Occult literature of the Great Masters.  They were willing to teach, but they required the same efforts from their students that these teachers themselves put into their own development.  There were no free rides and nothing was there simply for the taking.  You earned it, which required work and dedication.  As unpopular an approach that this is, there were some who took advantage of the opportunities, and we studied with those who had previously achieved much upon the Path.

In the early half of the 1980s an unexpected phenomenon occurred.  Authors such as Scott Cunningham introduced the notion that Traditional training, experience, and knowledge is an out-dated idea.  He taught that doing whatever feels right is the way to go, and that everything you need to know you already do somewhere inside of you.  It was a no fuss, no muss, approach that required almost no effort.  Likewise, initiation through someone experienced in the Craft was seen as unnecessary. You could be initiated simply by asking the Goddess and God for it, and "Bibbity Bobbity Boo" you are in! 

With the passing away of writings about initiate level teachings that stood the test of time, books on Wicca and Witchcraft throughout the 1980s and 1990s continued in the spirit and style of Cunningham.  The "do whatever feels right" attitude appealed to teenagers in particular, and this audience was the largest base of readership that supported the book Publishers.  So a new generation cut its teeth on books of this nature, and were unaware of the books that preceded the shift away from foundational material.  Some people who were part of the new generation went on to become authors on Wicca and Witchcraft.  Their roots were steeped in the writings of those who likewise knew little to nothing of the writings of those who were trained and experienced in the ways from which all of this originated.  Fortunately this is not true of all the authors from this period for the wise among them have studied beyond and outside of their own generational experience and understanding.

Rising from this situation came the convenient allegations that the "Old Ways" are made up, never were, and so it doesn't matter.  In such a belief that attitude manifested in remarks such as "Well, it's all made up anyway, so my made up stuff is just as valid as anyone else!"   And so, Wicca and Witchcraft became anything anyone described it as at any given time of day.  With the passing away of those who knew better (the Elders we have lost from the mortal realm in recent times) it may well be true that the time-honored and time-proven ways have become irrelevant to contemporary Witches and Wiccans as a whole.  Today the focus in upon the Self, and we are cut off from the Whole; cut off from that which integrates the Self and connects all things together.  This wholeness is what the ancients knew and understood, and it is reflected in all the myths and legends of our ancestors.

Despite prevailing modern views, the uncomfortable truth still remains, underneath it all, that things do matter.  There are consistently effective ways of doing things, metaphysical mechanisms exist and function that always have, and the fount of ancient knowledge and wisdom still flows.  However, the leafy vines of the self-styled ways have grown over the Fount, and they obscure it.  Few come anymore to drink from its enlightenment.  But there is a reason why the old myths and legends tell us of the Quest taken by heroes to find that which is lost.  For it is the doom of men that they forget, and so the Bards remind us of what needs to be done.  Their message is that we do not come into this world complete.  There is something we need to find and join with, and integrate it into our consciousness.  We do not possess the knowledge we have yet to gather.  So the ancient myths of the Quest tell us that when we find ourselves in a time when the Knowledge is lost or hidden from us, we must journey to retrieve the lost Cauldron.  It's an ancient theme, and it's a message of great wisdom.  There is a reason why the epic myths are not about people who stayed in the village and focused on themselves.  The heroes Quest is to enter into something much greater than the hero, and then to return transformed by the experience.

My own adult journey began over 40 years ago.  Like all true Quests it was both an inward and outward journey.  In my 20s I read the works of the Occult Masters but was too inexperienced to understand the deeper levels.  I know this to be true because I re-read them in my 30s and they revealed quite a bit more to me.  But in my 20s I thought I knew a lot more than I actually did.  There was so much more to learn that I didn't know even existed.

I used to drive 9 hours from San Diego to San Francisco to go to a shop called  The Mystic Eye.  Online stores were non-existent (no Internet back then) and the store did not sell through a catalog.  The supplies at Mystic Eye were made from the old methods, magical correspondences, and traditional ways.  The supplies, and the people one encountered in the shop were "the real deal" of the day.  The only alternative to this, at the time, was to buy through a catalog from a place called International Imports, which carried the mass produced Anna Riva products - hence my 9 hour drive to the Mystic Eye.   Today, people are rarely willing to drive anywhere for their Craft if it's a two hour ride or longer.  They say it's not worth it or it's too much trouble because it's too far away.  But the Quest is not about how far one has to go, it's about achieving something of value in the end.  When we do not seek, the things that are unknown to us remain unknown.  This leaves us to think and operate from a place of limitation and partial ignorance.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Throughout the 1970s I was involved in Wicca and received formal initiation into a British-rooted tradition.  The High Priestess claimed a lineage back to Gerald Gardner, but this later proved not to be the case.  But the ritual and magic she taught was quite sound and strongly resembled what could be found in published books of the era, but it also went beyond them.  In the 70s I also studied for the traditional year and day under High Priestess Sara Cunningham, a well-known figure of the times.  For a brief time I was an initiate of the Brittic Tradition, a system claiming roots to Basque Witchcraft.  But the High Priestess and High Priest disappeared one day (literally packed up and moved without telling anyone) and they were never seen or heard from again by any of us who studied under them.

My experiences in the 1970s left me with signposts pointing to things yet explored.  During the 1980s I studied academic texts on the Great Mystery Traditions that were taught in ancient times.  I also read a great deal of classical literature.  It was a vast education in things previously unknown to me.  But the value of learning new things isn't simply for the sake of additional knowledge.  The greater value is in integrating them with your previous understanding, seeing how they connect, what greater sense they make of things, and where they lead you to from there.  I spent the entire decade of the 1980s focused on this process, and in 1983 I entered into initiation into the Pictish-Gaelic Tradition.  Within this decade I discovered that knowledge and wisdom isn't only found in the books, places, and things devoted to them, it also exists in the nooks and crannies of things not obviously related.  Over the years I learned that academic methodology doesn't allow for the detours and leaps of faith that eventually lead to profound discoveries.

The decade of the 1990s  found me writing about the things I had learned, practiced, and the insights I believed I had at the time.  My academic studies were narrowed down to anthropological studies and folkloric studies.  I knew from past experience that Witchcraft carried with it the mystery tradition of pre-Christian Europe.  I spent the majority of my time trying to show the connections as I understood them.  Through this process I learned a great deal about things not known to me.  Many of them revealed themselves as the pieces joined together to present a larger view.
Here in the early half of the 2000s, in which I write this blog, it is proving to be a bountiful cauldron of visions.  But gaining knowledge, and being honed by experience, is not all about what benefits you.  In the higher sense it is about sharing it with others (hence the ancient tales of the return of the hero from the Quest).  Sharing my discoveries was my goal in the past, and remains so today.  When we all share, we then see all sides the whole.  Our personal perspectives are only one facet of the jewel.  When someone examines a diamond, she or he turns it around and looks at all the sparking facets before coming to a full appreciation of it.  Jewels are rarely completely flawless but their beauty is still of great value.  This is something we should remember and realize as a metaphor in our discernment of things.

On some Internet Forums my name appears on some of the "Authors to Avoid" lists.  Reportedly the complaint is that my history of Witchcraft/Wicca is flawed .  It may or may not be, but the fact is that my books are not books on the history of the Craft.  They are about magic, ritual, and inner mystery teachings.  Granted, my books do have a chapter or two on my views of the Witches' history, but this topic is not the bulk material.  Arguably the one exception is my book The Wiccan Mysteries.  But what I try to bring to my writings is my experience over some four decades in ritual, magic, and an understanding of what is at the core of it all - the inner mystery teachings that have stood the test of time.  I am not aware of any criticism of my material in this area.  So I find it odd that some people discourage others from examining this particular material because they don't agree with my bits of history scattered amongst it.  It is unfortunate because it contributes to keeping things unknown.

My current focus today is upon writing a Grimoire.  It is to be the accumulation of what I have learned over my decades of study and practice in the ways of Witchcraft.  The material in the Grimiore is "ever ancient and ever new" because it is a blend of the ancestral view with contemporary application.  I wish to assemble a legacy of the Old Craft that can be carried forward by a new generation.  The material in the book is not the common things we see in books published over the past several decades.  Instead its focus is upon the little known and the unknown things of Witchcraft as practiced in the Shadows by those who know the Night.  

In the days of Wicca/Witchcraft in the time of Gerald Gardner, it's practitioners were known as the "secret few."   This phrase appears in the text of an Esbat rite related to the Gardnerian system:

"My love is as endless as the skies,

As deep as all the seas,

As soft and gentle as Summer rain

Falling softly through the trees.

My love is gentle, yet strong and true,

I can give it only to a chosen few.

My love is gentle as Summer rain

Yet strong as the tempest wild.

It is pure and simple as the love of old,

Like the Gods who are worshipped from time untold,

So take this love I offer you
A chosen one of the secret few"

Along with all else that this means, we can look at the idea of a "chosen one" as someone who decides to go beyond themselves and their current understanding.  In this light we can also think of the "secret few" as those who know the way out of the box, or simply know there must be one that exists.

In closing I leave you with these questions:  In your life, how do you actively limit your understanding?   How do you expand upon it?   Do you actively limit the understanding of others, or do you offer things to stimulate their own exploration?  Are you the measuring stick of reality, or is there something greater than your own positions?  But most importantly, what is unknown to you?  Understanding that we don't know all there is to know about Witchcraft is the first step on the sacred Quest.  And as Joseph Campbell once wrote:

"We have not even to risk the adventure alone. For the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the heroe path. And where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward we shall come to the center of our own existence. Where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world."

While the Quest is always ongoing for us all, we stop along the way to reveal the trodden path to others who follow in their own time.  Hope to see and meet you on the road less traveled!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

If I am not me, then who the hell am I?

I feel that one of the sad facts about Internet forums is that many people believe whatever is repeated long enough.  I don't recall which Republican once made the following comment, but I think it's true.  He said that he could convince people that a square is really a triangle if he just said it often enough.  I see a parallel here that I believe applies to reputations as well.  When I read things on Internet forums about me, I am always at a loss to understand how people who don't know me and have not had first hand experience of me, have such strong opinions about my character.

One of the many odd things about being an author is to encounter statements about me that are wildly inventive.  I'm not sure why some people use their time to create false tales about me, but I suppose that's another blog to consider at some future time.  But I will add that a friend recently commented that detractors are people who want to limit.  They are opposed to expansion and to alternative views.  I suppose that living in a closed box that way is comforting and protective.  A threat to that causes anger, which is a fear-based emotion, and so the need to remove or diminish the threat becomes imperative.  So with key boards at the ready, off these people go into Internet forums to attack the threat to their version of reality.

Some recent nonsense on the Internet forums has caused me to muse about something:  are we who we are, or are we (to some degree) what people paint us to be?  Does a false image become a truth because it's fed?  It does seem to take on a life of its own.  So, from a magical perspective, what does this manifest in connection to the real person who is falsely depicted?  One occult principle states that thoughts are things, which means that manifestation can take place when enough concentration and effort is applied.  Interesting possibilities there....

One of my favorite false allegations is that I'm not even Italian.  This was a popular tale created by critics of my first book, which was on Italian Witchcraft.  The tale disappeared for awhile, but has recently popped up again. False allegations seem to reappear whenever I have a new book come out, which I do at this time.  But the fact is that my mother was born and raised in Italy.  My father was an American soldier (of German and Scott descent) who met her during WWII and married her at the close of the war.  I am first generation Italian-American.  Because my surname at birth is that of my father's name, it's not an Italian name.  A critic of mine uses that to declare that I'm not "even a drop" Italian. It's fascinating to me the lengths that people will go to distort things in order to fit their agenda.  So, does the energy of the lies that I am not of Italian descent result in a magical transformation of  my DNA and make me non-Italian?

Another allegation against me is one I really love, and recalling it is always good because it makes me laugh to this day.  It appeared on an Internet Forum in the Wicca section on AOL many years ago.  A critic wrote on the forum that "Raven Grimassi is a fraud and an oath-breaker" - which is a contradictory notion.  You see, I cannot be both because one negates the other.  If I am a fraud then I have no initiation background and therefore no oath to break.  If I am an oath bound initiate then I cannot be a fraud.  But people seem to love this type of nonsense, and they keep it alive.  I guess that's why people love reality shows - drama entertains even when its complete nonsense.  I assume they don't care about the impact of unsubstantiated allegations against a person's reputation and character, nor the harm it can do.  Or, perhaps they do realize it and that's what they want to do - harm the reputation.  It's really psychic attack if you think about it. What do you suppose inspires such dark hearts?

One really fascinating element is when I correct the misrepresentation (or outright lies) on the Internet.  It's regarded as being defensive, which is then transformed into being a lie on my part (in order to support my "phoney baloney" books).  Not responding is regarded as having something to hide.  So being who I am becomes irrelevant to how people choose to see me.  Sometimes I feel that I have slipped into an alternative universe where I am supposed to be that person they describe, but I'm stuck being who I really am (the guy from back in the universe that I originally came from!). The Grimassi described by my detractors got switched from here to my original dimension, and I can only wonder how the evil Grimassi is doing in my universe back home - lol

So, I must answer my own question and say that I am who I know myself to be, and therefore, logically speaking, the person other people choose to falsely shape me into has to be all about them.  From a magical perspective they have created an entity that attaches itself to them and then feeds off their negative energy.   The occult principle here is "like attracts like" and so negative people draw negative concepts to them through their thoughts and desires, and that forms into their reality ( a necessary illusion for their agenda).   I suppose there is some justice in the idea that as a result they have to live in their heads with the evil Grimassi they create while I continue on to live my authenticity and my writings flourish.  That's the ying and the yang of it all.

So, for my loyal readers, friends, colleagues, students and fellow initiates, I will continue to do the work of spirit that I am called to do.  I want to spend whatever time I have left on this planet dealing with matters of sacredness.  That is the best use of my energy.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Skim Reading: The art of knowing little of what you speak

An interesting phenomena keeps presenting itself.  It's the fact that a lot of people simply skim read a book and come to a determination of the entire book.  The deeper problem is that some book "reviewers" do the same thing.  If you are going to review a book, please actually read it.  That seems fair enough. 

I think that skim reading is fine if we're just looking at the author's writing style and poking around for tidbits.  But skim reading, by its very nature, means that we haven't actually read the book.  The only thing that can come of that is a weakly informed opinion, and quite likely a misunderstanding of the book and the author's actual position (as opposed to what we're asserting through our personal filters).  While skim reading may give us a personal sense of whether or not we like what we're finding, it really doesn't provide enough objective findings to merit evaluating it for others.

On Internet forums, many people argue that skim reading works very well and they appear to rely upon it for discernment, education, and direction.. But in reality, skim reading misses more than it catches, That's simple logic.  By analogy, skim reading is like passing by a restaurant, looking in the window, catching the aroma of what's cooking in the moment, and then going off to write a review about the restaurant.  We haven't actually had the full experience, and so our opinion is not truly an informed one.  But we tell friends whether not they should go there. Why do we offer our limited experience of something as an indicator for others to avoid the full experience that we ourselves haven't had?

There is much more to a book than a few pages or passages here and there.  A book is the presentation of something holistic.  I know that a lot of people don't read the Preface or Introduction in a book.  That's unfortunate because they provide the reader with an understanding of what the author is presenting, why, and how it is that the author came to believe in the material.  These are important things to know and to understand.  It can provide us with new perspectives, which in turn allow us to grow and expand.  Without understanding the author's preface, we can bring preconceived notions to the material that really get in the way of comprehending what we're reading.  Without reading the introduction, we miss the experience and insights that are foundational to understanding the material in the book.  Therefore our reactions to the material we skim read are more about the prevailing limitations of our personal experiences to date than they are about what the author is saying.  We end up robbing ourselves of that breakthrough moment of - Oh, I never looked at it that way before.

If you skim read this blog, please go back and read it through.  :-) 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How to Best Misunderstand Me

There are popular misunderstandings of my teachings, and it's been suggested that it's far past time to address them constructively. So, here I go.  I note that many people read into my words things that I don't believe I've said, and certainly things I do not believe in myself.  While there are some people who benefit from misunderstanding me for personal reasons, I'd like to believe that the majority prefer the facts.  Hence my reason for writing this blog.

One of the things I often talk about is the benefit of traditional training.  I believe it has value and is important.  If you want to misunderstand what I'm saying, then read this as though I mean it's the best and only way you'll ever learn anything.  That's a very popular way to misunderstand me, and by doing so you can belong to a large club!  But, if you prefer to understand what I actually mean, all you need to do is read each word without adding anything to it.  Because what I actually mean is that I believe traditional training is beneficial.  I don't believe it's the only way to learn or achieve your goals.

What I do know about traditional training is that it's a faster way of learning and achieving expertise in ritual and magic than is trial and error.  For example, by analogy if I train under a Master Woodcarver, I can learn wood carving faster than by taking a Learning Annex class, reading some woodcarving books, and whittling away for hours over months and months, trying to make it all work out right.  Can I skip the Master Woodcarver and learn to carve wood on my own - of course!   But the Master knows things that maybe aren't in the books, and things that can save time and make your own work better than you could at first imagine on your own.  But yes, you can say "Fuck you , Master Wood Carver" and do whatever you want.  It's your life and your time, and so there you go.  But may I suggest that you don't be pissed at the Master for advertising Wood carving classes and existing in your neighborhood.  He has as much right to do his thing as you do.

Here's another easy way to misunderstand me.  When I say that initiators within a Mystery Tradition can guide you into a realization of the inner mysteries, read that as though I'm saying you cannot ever discover them on your own.  That's a really effortless way for you to walk away thinking I'm an elitist know-it-all who considers you to be a wandering idiot.  Can't be easier than that.  But, if you prefer to understand what I'm really saying, again just read the words.  Because what I said is that initiators can, and I did not say you cannot.

You see, what I believe is that someone who has already penetrated the Mysteries can direct you in time saving ways by helping you avoid dead ends and time consuming labyrinths of study that are not necessary to arriving at your own enlightenment.  Such initiators can help you fine tune things, and help you have a clearer idea of things as you shape your own vision of the inner mysteries and your own connection to them.  But, you can certainly say "Fuck you, initiator of the Mystery Tradition" and take as many years as it takes to arrive at where he or she can lead you to in mere months, not years. An easy way to misunderstand that last statement is to regard it as snarky as opposed to what it actually is, which is a consideration of simple practicality.

In closing, the most effective way to maintain a misunderstanding of me is to disregard and reject the rest of this blog.

You see, I am actually trying to be helpful with my views, writings, and what I teach in workshops and classes. I believe that all the decades of my own training and experience have likely produced some things that can add to your own experiences in some useful way.  I don't feel better or superior than anybody - I just know that I've learned some things that maybe others have yet to encounter.  In other words, I'm an old witch, but not a useless one.  You can regard me as outdated, but the truth is that I engage in the currents that flow through time from the ancestral spirit that whispers in our blood to each of us.  That is timeless.

I believe in the things I write about, and I have a passion for them. I am proud to have studied under the Masters who taught me the Ways that were passed to me, and I feel fulfilled to be where I am in life at this point.  But no one ever stops learning, and yet at various times we can pause for reflection and acknowledge our own achievements.

It has never been my intention to be offensive, insulting or demeaning to anyone in anything I have written or teach.  I respect the experience others have had, but like my own, I believe there is more to learn. We can all learn from each other, that's one of the gifts the gods have given us by putting us together here in this material realm. I have my place and you have yours.  We can be allies if we chose to understand one another.



Sunday, July 24, 2011

How did it come to this?

Many Publishers of books on Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism, Magick and so on, are seeing a sharp decline in the interest of such books among the public.  In response fewer books are being accepted for publication, and in some cases none at all.  While the poor economy is a contributing a factor, there is, I believe, a larger contributing factor.
It is said that Generations come into the world with a like-mindedness.  Those of us born in the 1950s were the teens of the 1960s.  The 1960s saw the resurgence of the Occult and its related arts - palmistry, tarot, witchcraft, and mysticism.  There were few books and materials available on the subject at the time, and fewer places where seekers could find kindred spirits.  The lucky few ended up being taught by practitioners of old lineage lines.

The 1960s was a time of great experimentation.  We took the available knowledge along with the guidance of those with experience, and we worked hard to integrate such things and to develop ourselves.  There was simply no other way to make things happen.  We had no Internet, and few cities contained shops that offered anything to people with mystical, occult, pagan, or witchcraft interests.

From the1960s and 1970s arose individuals who fought on the front lines against those who condemned the rising interests and involvement in paganism, witchcraft, and the occult arts.  Many cities had laws against "fortune telling" and it was a difficult time to practice our beliefs and ways openly.  A large percentage of the people who fought for recognition and acceptance in mainstream society, and equal treatment by governments agencies, are now dead.

The 1980s introduced a departure from training and experience, along with an abandonment of lineage systems.  Self-styled ways, intuitive approaches, and the philosophy of "do whatever feels right" took the place of time-proven and time-honored ways.  It was also at this time that "Wicca" was separated from "Witchcraft" and the new generation dubbed Wicca as a religion and Witchcraft as a practice.  This was a severing from the past, where in ancient literature we find references to the witch Medea as a priestess of Hecate, and southern European witches calling upon such goddesses as Diana and Proserpina (along with Hecate).

Many of the popular authors of 1980s, 1990s (and now into the 21st Century) had no formal training.  They drew upon the written works that contained the experience of other people (most of who had no formal training themselves).  With this they designed their own teachings and systems.  This is an observation and not a criticism.  From these decades arose the eclectic formations that mixed various cultures, deities, beliefs and practices together (or attempted to reconstruct preexisting traditions of the past).

What the lineage traditions offered was the understanding of the inner mechanisms that supported the beliefs and practices of our ancestors.  This mechanism is sometimes referred to as the inner mysteries or the Mystery Tradition.  It is the "why" behind the "how" and the template for understanding and integration.  This is what empowers a tradition, and it is what makes practical sense along with the mystical revelation of it all.

Over the past several decades the market has been flooded with material of little substance.  What many people believed they would find in the overabundance of books, they did not.  Instead they found cute and fun spells, whimsical musings, home spun charm, and a rehash of concepts and techniques that were largely generated by the misunderstanding of non-initiates who were passing them on.

I believe that many seekers became disheartened with the available material.  They thought "Well, if this is all there is, I think I'll move on to another path" - and many have. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of what is available to them on deeper levels.  They assume that all authors are putting out the standard tripe, and that there is nothing of substance, nor anything beyond what they have already read.  So they have stopped buying books and they avoid books by authors they have yet to read.  This is truly unfortunate for everyone.

Another contributing problem is what passes for book reviews these days.  I know several people who "review" books they have only skim read.  This is like passing by a restaurant, looking in through the window, sniffing the fragrance of food cooking, and then telling friends what a good or bad establishment it is.  How would they really know without the full experience?   Truth is, they can't.

Some people establish themselves as influential on Internet Forums, and they provide other members with a list of books and authors to avoid.  Many members thank them and they avoid these books and authors (of which they have no first hand knowledge).  They allow others to make up their minds for them.  While I believe it is helpful to share our experiences and insights, we have to have our own in order to possess an informed opinion.  There are a lot of uninformed opinions and borrowed insights out there.

The danger that we face as published books are declining and readerships are dwindling, is the return to a previous time when finding anything on the subjects of Wicca, Witchcraft, Magic, and Paganism was a hard challenge.  Local communities have withdrawn their monetary support of local New Age and Witch Shops, and all across the country many are going out of business.  This is a yet fully realized tragedy for these communities.  While it is true that you can buy a book cheaper on, or buy a candle cheaper at a discount store, and the Discount store don't care about your spirituality and won't take the time to council you in a crisis, or help you network with others of like mind.  Saving a dollar or two that results in losing your local shop seems counterproductive.

In recent times, attendance has been very low at Pagan Festivals and conventions across the United States.  One very popular festival, for the first time in its history, had Mead vendors end up with most of their stock still in hand.  When you can't even sell alcohol to Pagans at a festival, I think we are seeing the "End Times" - lol.

As Wiccans, Witches, and Pagans, we love our individuality.  But we need to understand that this should not separate us from others.  We can have unity through diversity.   We can belong to a community without losing our self identity.  Our hope lies in helping each other and supporting each other; not simply with words but with actions.  If our ways and beliefs are to survive for future generations, then we must work to make them survive here in our own time.  What you and I do today, or fail to do, will shape the future.




Saturday, May 21, 2011

When imagination runs wild

In a recent blog written by a gentleman named David Griffin (aka Lupercus) I note some very odd and unwarranted allegations against my character.  Mr. Griffin's defamatory attacks against my name appear to stem from a post I made on the Traditional Witchcraft forum.  Mr. Griffin's apparent misinterpretation of my comments seem to have resulted in what I consider to be a very bizarre rant.

While much of what he says is a reinvention of the history between us, and a misrepresentation of the facts regarding me and my tradition, I feel that I should address his blog anyway. Normally I do not like to give energy to false accusations, but it seems wise in this case to make a statement.

Mr. Griffin and I had early communications by phone and email.  He reinvents the history here by claiming that I wrote to him seeking protection for my reputation and wanting him to alert me to negative comments made against me.  However, the facts are I first contacted him directly because people were writing to me inquiring about the authenticity of these individuals. Before arriving at an opinion, I wanted to go to the source. So, that is what I did.

In the beginning, communications were cordial.  I tried to help them deal positively with their critics, and David and his Italian guests and I agreed to keep each other informed about comments that people might make in an attempt to set us against one another.  I expressed my desire to have them judged fairly by community, and I actively countered anything on the Internet in which people without first hand knowledge were saying negatively about them.

During the course of events, one of my initiates went into a private forum without my knowledge or direction, and posted a critical view of David and his Italian guests.  Mr. Griffin chose to regard this as a covert operation launched by me, which of course it was not.  In response, I wrote a public post on Facebook pointing out that I did not agree with my initiate's views, and did not set her out to post against anyone. At the time this seemed to satisfy Mr. Griffin's misgivings.

In an attempt to keep boundaries clear, Mr. Griffin, his Italian guests, and I agreed not to cross-pollinate (so to speak) and it was decided out of courtesy that we not teach each other's initiates and active students. However, in his recent blog, Mr. Griffin reinvents this agreement, and paints it in the light of fear on my part that my people would learn the "true teachings" he and his guests hold, which implies that mine are bogus.  A clever maneuver, but an easily seen through move on his part.

Among the odd things in Mr. Griffin's blog is the reference to the Great Rite as indicator of the only true and authentic form of Italian witchcraft, and he asserts that I know nothing about it.  This, of course, appears to indicate an attempt to take away my credibility as a witch practicing a form of  Italian witchcraft.  He also asserts that the tradition of his Italian guests, which is known as The Sublime Art, is the mark of authentic Italian witchcraft.  He then asserts that it is unknown to me (by that name) and therefore what I teach is entirely made up.  How sad to see this "My way is the only true way" theme reappearing in the Craft community. I remember this mentality from the 60's and early 70's.  I had hoped we had all gotten over this nonsense and ego driven agenda.

For anyone actually interested in the facts, what I stated that apparently upset Mr.Griffin was a factual clarification of his position and not a condemnation.  Here is what I wrote (which Griffin edited on his blog) in response to a question someone raised, asking if anyone knew something about the Stregheria del Bosco Sacro (people). This appeared on the Traditional Witchcraft forum, under the thread someone else started, which was titled Stregheria del Bosco Sacro  -

"Yes, I have had several emails and phone conversations with the people in question.  In the early stages of communication they claimed to be an Italian  witchcraft  tradition of great antiquity, which  they stated continued in the Lake Nemi region of Italy.  They further claimed that the priestess in their company comes from a lineage of 38 generations of priestesses at Nemi (the former sacred site of  the temple of Diana).

The couple from Italy are staying with their sponsor David Griffin, a name associated with the Golden Dawn controversy.  When I first spoke with him about the couple, David told me on the phone that the "coming of the Stregans" is going to be like when the Beatles first came to the US, and that the impact on the Pagan community will be unimaginable. However, following their debut at the Pantheacon convention, it seems like things turned out a bit differently than he envisioned.  Attendance at their talks was low, and the majority of the reviews were not complimentary.

It is noteworthy that after Pantheacon, and the resulting questions and objections raised, David and his Italian guests are no longer referring to themselves as "Stregans" or "Italian Witches". They have changed the text on their website, removing all references to Stregheria, Italian Witchcraft, and so forth. They are now calling their tradition "the ancient Shamanic tradition of the Great Mother in Italy". The use of "Stregheria" on their site has now been replaced with Egyptian Alchemy.

I have more information and am happy to answer any questions related to this topic.

- Raven Grimassi"

Mr, Griffin chose to regard this as an accusation that I consider the folks in question to be frauds.  I did not say that, and it was not my intention to depict them as such. My intention was to demonstrate that they are no longer referring to themselves as strega/Italian witches, which is an important point and distinction that I wanted to make on a forum devoted to traditional witchcraft. Nowhere did I state these people are fake, I simply clarified their position as conveyed to me.  No one on the Traditional Witchcraft forum asked me for my personal opinion about the authenticity of these people and I did not offer one.

What Mr. Griffin chooses to leave out of his rant blog, is my forum comment:

"I also have a problem with the idea of initiating people on first meeting.  I asked them about it and they replied that this is their structure and how the system functions.  They inform me that after initiation the training begins, but that initiation and oath-taking is required before anything else.  They have no "outer court" phase.   It's alien to what I was taught by my native Italian teachers.  But, to be fair, witchcraft differs in each region of Italy.  There is no "one size fits all" - but even so.....further questions are begged.

- Raven Grimassi"

My comments were intended to convey that one tradition of Italian witchcraft cannot be compared against another in an attempt to mark authenticity.  Each regional system differs.  But, as clearly indicated in Mr. Griffin's blog, he apparently feels that his system is the only true one, and if differences appear in mine, then mine cannot be authentic. All of this reminds of the stage magician's trick of misdirecting the audience's attention away from what is actually taking place so as to leave the impression that what he showed is real.

In closing, I suggest that Mr. Griffin and his Italian guests should feel confident in who and what they are, and not be threatened by something they misinterpret as a debunking of them.   People who are genuine have no need to be fearful. Anger, it is said, is a fear based emotion.  So, Mr. Griffin and his Italian guests should embrace the courage of their convictions, and go forth with their truth. It's a much healthier approach than what appears on Griffin's blog.

Peace to all,
Raven Grimassi
David Griffin's blog:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who are the "real" Strega?

If you have any interest in Italian witchcraft and have Googled “Strega” (Italian Witch) then you’ve read comments about the so-called “real Strega.”  One argument is that you have to look to Italy for authentic practitioners.  This dismisses the fact that people do relocate to other countries from Italy and therefore some witches from Italy (or from an Italian lineage) are not living in Italy.

Another argument is that you must at least have visited Italy (if not lived there) in order to know anything about authentic practices of Italian witchcraft. This view dismisses the fact that relocated witches can teach their offspring or others in the country of their new residence.  Being taught witchcraft from relocated witches does not make for a poorer witch.  It only means that the offspring witch has not had the benefit of personally experiencing the mainstream culture of Italy. It comes instead through the native teachers.

One thing we must realize is that witchcraft is as misunderstood in Italy as it is in any other country.  Ask the “man-on-the-street” in Italy about witchcraft and you will hear about the stereotype of the witch as a doer of ill deeds.  You will most likely also hear about the witch in league with the devil.  Therefore just because someone was raised in Italy doesn’t automatically mean that he or she actually knows about authentic forms of witchcraft practiced by Italian witches.  The same is true about people in other countries regarding the “man-on-the-street” view of witchcraft (versus a true practitioner).

One of the problems in trying to define the “real Strega” is that Italy has long been divided into regions with different customs, lore, and folk traditions.  It naturally follows that witchcraft in these regions will have differences.  Therefore one cannot be compared against another in order to decide which one constitutes the real thing.  This leaves us with the reality that no one can speak for Italian witchcraft as a whole.  But of course, this fact does not stop people from doing so.

The answer to the question “who are the real Strega” is simple; they are the people who practice their regional traditions.  They are the people who practice evolved forms of regional practices.  They are the people who feel a spiritual lineage. Some have a hereditary lineage and some do not.  A witch is not the region she or he was raised in, a witch is someone connected to the Old Ways that emanated from the spirit of the land.  By analogy, breath comes from the lungs but does not stay in the lungs.  The breath of Italian witchcraft can be drawn in by those who know how to be in the wind.

Some people feel that someone coming from Italy and stating that she or he is a witch makes that person automatically credible.  In accord these people feel that whatever such an individual says must be the real deal.  But logically speaking, think about your own country and the variety of people there who say they are witches.  If one of them goes to another country are they representative of all the witches in your land?  Do they speak for witchcraft as a whole in your country?  The truth is that they represent their particular view derived from their own experiences.  No country has the “One True Way” and there is no central authority that regulates what constitutes the “official” witchcraft of the nation. To believe otherwise is nonsense and should be discouraged.

When we look at Italian witchcraft, there are identifiers that identify its roots.  There are identifiers that point to additions.  While traditions tend to preserve, they do not stop growing and adapting to the needs of each new generation.  This is why some additions and modifications can take place.  But the old guard doe not allow anything to be tossed out in favor of something new.  The Old Ways survive, and nothing is forgotten.

There are challenging obstacles when defining Italian witchcraft and they are based upon academic studies and field research.  Academia defines witchcraft as harmful acts, and defines witches as practitioners of the evil magic.  The problem here is that the academic study of witches, in terms of history, is not an ethnographic study of a people calling themselves witches.  It is instead a study of the beliefs and attitudes held by non-witches about witches and witchcraft.  In other words, the “history” of witchcraft is the documentation of the views of judges, interrogators, theologians, commentators, and official Church doctrine.  It is not the views of witches and what they believed in or practiced.  Therefore there is no history of witchcraft to examine.  We have only a history of how superstition influenced popular beliefs about imaginary witches and witchcraft, and how theologians further invented ideas about the subject.  This is a make-believe witchcraft of fantasy themes, and again, not an ethnographical study of a real culture of people who were witches. It is inventive “history” at best.

Another challenge is that there are two different words used to indicate Italian witchcraft: Stregheria and Stregoneria.  Stregheria refers to witchcraft as a religion and Stregoneria refers to it as a magical system, a form or sorcery.  Stregheria is an old term, not commonly used in mainstream Italian society.  Stregoneria is the contemporary word in common usage, but this word always refers to witchcraft as something of ill intent.

A relatively new addition to Italian witchcraft is the introduction of saints.  The traditions of Italian witchcraft that have maintained their pagan roots view the saints as the Old Gods in Christian garb.  They were added as a veneer to hide the old practices.  Systems that actually venerate the saints (as being the saints of Christianity) are viewed by pagan-rooted systems as offshoots of Italian witchcraft. They are more closely related to folk magic traditions in Italy than to old witchcraft traditions.

Do additions to old traditions negate their authenticity?  If we add something from one culture to the tradition of another culture, is the original completely undone and no longer relevant to the culture?  Or is this simply the new blossoms on the old tree whose roots remain the same as they were in the previous season?