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!