Just a bit over a week ago the Independent posted an article called “I spent a week becoming a witch and the results were worrying.” Obviously, and with good reason, it created quite a bit of a stir in the pagan communitiy. The article can be found here.
I do not wish to comment on that article directly as there are several other people who have done that already, but I do want to write a little about a subject that touch upon some of the points that some of the criticizers have pointed out.
As I have said in previous posts there is no kind of unison idea of what witchcraft is, which makes it quite complicated to dive into. I even think that some people who claim to be practicing witchcraft actually are doing something else. That alone makes it difficult to get a good overview within a short time period.
On top of that perhaps the most difficult thing about witchcraft or the reconstruction of ancient religious practices is understanding “myth”. To move away from our normally logical and organized modern worldview and into a mythical one is something that takes practice and a lot of effort. The reason for that is that becomes myths are anything but logical and organized. They can be quite irrational to our modern standards, there can be different version of myths and still they might be considered to be true even if they can be conflicting to one another.
To our modern minds things essentially need to be either right or wrong. If anything falls inbetween those two categories we find it disorganized and difficult to grasp. Often myths do exactly that. They claim to be true, but there is little or no evidence to prove their validity. A rational mind would then be inclined to disregard the story simply as false. Granted, according to scientific standards the tale of a myth does not hold up, but a myth is not something that only aims to describe events just as they happened. They are stories, but at the same time they are filled with information about our cultural heritage. In that sense they need to not to be true even if they claim to be. There may be elements in them that are true, but whether or not they were true may not have been that relevant to the ancients. It is us in the modern world who care about making that kind of distinction. In the mythical world they were still being treated as if they were true.
Perhaps the best example is the Trojan War. None knew exactly when this war had been fought, but it was commonly accepted in ancient times that this actually was a real event that happened even though none was sure of when exactly it took place. Today, none of us, would have accepted a tale about a war in the distant past without some kind of evidence of it. To the ancient Greeks though it was very real and the stories of heroic deeds from an ancient mythical era were used to educate and teach the desirable virtues.
My point here is that with myths the boundaries are often blurry. That is why they can be difficult to work with. I highly doubt that most modern day pagans would take the myths literally. I suppose even the same could be same of the Abrahamic myths. Although it is less common to talk about them as myths as in the western world those are the dominant religions. In fact, myth has been suggested to be “the religion of others”.
That kind of mindset which is required to understand and work with myths isn’t something that can be developed quickly. It requires practice, reading the myths and contemplating them. It requires the ability to shift the mind from being logical and rational to something that is more undefinable. Something that is not quite irrational either, but something that follows its own “inner kind of logic”. It is the understanding of the world inbetween the categories – the thinking outside of the box; beyond right or wrong and true or false.
The first post on this topic was written quite some time ago. I never forgot about it, but it has definitely been challenging to figure out. I would not say that I start from the beginning again, but to start right where I left off would not make sense either. In fact, here I was planning on writing a new topic until I realized that a lot of it ties in with what I wrote back then even if it may not be that obvious at first. The original post can be found here.
When I was younger there was a tradition to watch the BBC dramatized version of the Chronicles of Narnia in the period between Christmas and New Year (Of course I have also read the books). In particular I found the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to be extremely fascinating. The idea that you could walk into a wardrobe and enter a magical land, which by the way, only was accessible to children, was for me a truly inspiring thought. It did not matter to me that it was a land of ice and snow with an evil white witch causing it all. It was a land that was magical. That was enough for me. It did not seem to bother the children in the story too much either. After all they eventually became the heroes of the book. They got their adventure until they were too old to return. In one way it was the one thing in me as a child that was all I ever wanted, but never could have. In that sense Narnia became the Land of the Broken Dreams, because it was not real. It was just a fairy tale. I knew that of course, but I still wanted it to be.
As an adult, can I honestly say that it has changed all that much? I think that making up stories and things for us to believe in is something that we are doing constantly through our lives. There is no reason to think that an adult do not make up stories or create their own realities of how they want things to be. Just try being a tarot reader for a few days and you will soon realize that most of your clients only want you to reinforce their own fairy tales. Most of them have no real sense or even interest in developing themselves outside of their set of beliefs and ideas. They might not have a naive and childlike imagination anymore where the fantasies are quite distinct from the world we have to relate to, but they will still tell themselves things about themselves that probably are not true. It can be about finding true love, getting a little bit more cash or perhaps losing a little bit of weight. The fantasy is obviously not about that these things are not achievable. They might be. The fantasy many people keep telling themselves is if that they only get this one thing it would lead them to some kind of everlasting state of happiness.
Everyone who had just one piece of chocolate or one like on a post on social media knows that they could do with just one more until they become satisfied. It’s never ending.
It’s not about the dream in itself. It’s about the satisfaction. People tend to believe that their dream or vision of things are “supposed to be like” will bring about that satisfaction. Most probably it also can, but only for a while. The satisfaction is temporary and when it is over we return to the state of yearning once again.
As a child, I did not think of the consequences of entering Narnia. It was perfect, even though it clearly was not, but I failed to understand that. I did not possess the wisdom to understand that even in this fantasy land there would be hardships such as friendships forged and broken, love won and lost and so on. I thought that the power of a magical land filled with magical creatures would be enough for me to be satisfied and get a break from the dull and ordinary world.
There is only one thing to be done to break out of that endless circle of seeking satisfaction and that is to realize that there is only one thing that life will force you to do. That is to face the consequences of your actions, which really is the true meaning of karma. You are fated to face those consequences, but it does not tell you how or why. It really does not matter as the outcome anyway will be that there is one set of consequences that need to be faced. There is no judgement or human concept of justice in this. In the tarot trumps it is represented by the Wheel of Fortune and Justice. Crowley renamed the Justice card to Adjustment precisely because it is more about balancing the scales than any human concept of justice. Together these two cards reminds us of Fate and accepting it to bring us into a balanced state. Extra baggage or distractions would just tip the scale in one direction. Satisfaction would be extra baggage for you are not fated for it.
Mystically speaking this relates to the divine feminine. The Spinners of Fate and Justice have always been seen as feminine forces. Justice is connected to Venus through Libra and shows us a darker side of the divine feminine. At first we meet the Empress and experience Venus in its seemingly more positive aspect, I say seemingly though, because what is given birth and becomes manifested will later have to experience the fate and the judgement that awaits at the scales. There is no escape from it and it is why Venus also can be experienced as having a darker more sinister side, but that is only through the lense of what mortals think of as right and wrong. Nature can be experienced as brutal and this is not really any different than the nature of things.
That is also why the Hierophant is connected to Venus through Taurus, It is the card that reminds us of the mystical connection between all things and the divine. It can be a symbol of seeking spiritual guidance, but also that the divine mysteries have a role to play out on earth and that the hidden knowledge should be shared to the people. On its own it is not enough to gain any kind of enlightment, but it can be an important step towards it. It is a card that is often being interpreted as standing for the traditional and sometimes hierarchical structures. It is one of these cards that really seems to bring out the patriatrichal side of the tarot as within the Judeo-Christian tradition priesthood has mostly been male. I find though, that with the connection to Venus it is not a good interpretation for it. And I do not really see any reason for why the priesthood here could not have been substituted with female priestesses.
In any case, the seperation of these three cards to put them together based on planetary and zodiac associations is just an exercise. In practice everything is connected somehow and it is why I had to resort to be using the Wheel of Fortune to try and tie things together. In the universe the male and female forces, if you can call it that, work in unison with each other and therefore are dependant on each other as well. I still think though that these kind of exercises can be good for an increased understanding and may at some point increase the wisdom of the practitioner, but it took me a long time and quite a bit of work (book reading, contemplation, rituals, all kinds of stuff) to even begin understanding the divine feminine. I can also say that my perspective has changed quite a lot since that first post. Some would call that development.
I think I have learned my lesson through this experiment which is to accept fate and leave out that idea that there is something out there that will bring me some kind of lasting satisfaction except the truth. That satisfaction is at best temporary and a short term escape, exactly like that fantasy about heading into the magical dream land of Narnia.
In my last post I wrote about the current ongoing magical revival where I focused on some of the issues related to that. One thing that I did not mention is that alongside it there are also a myriad of different online courses being set up which will promise to teach you all kinds of things. There is nothing wrong about that as such, but there are more than a few people out there who seem to be more interested in earning a few quick bucks.
I think that some of them setting up those courses genuinely think that they have something interesting to offer, but sometimes they seem to be a bit too eager to be coaching others. So my advice whether it is a magical course or a tarot course is to try and get an overview of the course material before signing up. Sometimes it can be difficult as we usually enroll into courses if we do not have any prior experience with the subject, but it is at least worth it to make the effort. These courses can be quite expensive, usually a lot more expensive than books and it would be a big disappointment when you enroll only to find out that it is not in the slightest what you expected and you end up giving up on it.
I have myself taken a few online courses – none of which I ended up completing. And I also considered taking a few others too that I probably also would not have completed. At first they may have sounded appealing, but when I looked at the course material I realized that 1) This is not what I am interested in or 2) I already have a lot of the material found here available in books that I already bought.
If it is a good and well set up course then it will structure and help you out with the material and perhaps give you the right motivation so they are not all bad. Still it is worth being a bit extra cautious so you do not jump aboard one of the many bad and expensive ones.
In my personal and non-commercial opinion (spambots please stop asking to send me traffic, I am not interested. I do not sell anything) the need for courses are highly exaggerated. It is far better to get some good book recommendations and set up your own syllabus for what you are interested in. Don’t know where to start? Start somewhere. If it is something you end up liking a lot of books often have a reading list for further reading. That is a stamp of quality as it also means that the author has done some proper research.
In recent years more and more people are coming to an agreement that we currently are in the midst of a magical revival. Compared to 15-20 years ago the amount of texts that were available have skyrocketed. This is of course something positive and there is no doubt that scholars are doing a tremendous job in making old texts accessible to the public, but in its shadow and mainly in social media, something else that is less positive has also emerged in its wake: a kind of unhealthy and competitive spirituality.
I am not of the opinion that everyone needs to agree with each other, but the aggressive tone of the various discourses goes well beyond that. And it seems to be the norm everywhere whether it is regarding Solomonic Magic, Witchcraft and perhaps the occult in general. This is why I have chosen to call it “The Tragical Revival” as the premises for making something better is there, but the general outcome is rather tragic and depressing.
One example of a discussion which tends to get quite heated is the discussion of methods within Solomonic Magic and perhaps particularly the method of Drawing Spirits Into Crystals (DSIC). On one side you have the grimoire purists and on the other side you have those with a more experimental view. I am not going to go into that discussion here. My point is rather that it quite clearly demonstrates a kind of competitve tone in the discussion between two sides who are not willing to settle on their differences.
Mysticism and Magic
Recently another discussion has popped up, which at least I have not picked up on before, that relates to mysticism and magic. In a recently published anthology called Circling the Compass by Anathema Publishing Dr. Stephen Skinner is quite explicit on that he does not see a place for mysticism within magic. That is of course a legitimate view, although I strongly disagree with it, and find it quite peculiar based on that the Magical Revival in the 20th century had a lot of mystical ideas in it. It remains unclear whether Dr. Skinner thinks that the leading occultists of the 20th century were practicing much magick at all. In any case, it is not a matter that is undisputed. Although I can agree that there seems to be limited interest within Solomonic Magic for mystical ideas.
However, this is not my main problem with his article in that book. My problem is with what he proceeds to say. He states that the techniques found in Solomonic Magic is similar to scientific methods where the experiments are repeatable and that he values this type of scientific enquiry also in magic. It all makes sense so far. But then he goes on to tell the reader about the supposed dangers of not having a proper circle. Okay, so he agrees on that the warnings in the grimoires about physical demon attacks are a bit too much, but he claims that he often hears accounts of people who shortcut the method and make careless mistakes. And then he, rather arrogantly, adds that they are mostly protected by their own incompetence.
I have two problems with that. The first being that “hearing accounts of…” is not very scholarly. I understand that this is not a scholarly work, but one cannot simply go from stating that scientific values are highly desireable in magic to come with such an unspecific example. Sure, I have heard “accounts” of people who have dabbled in the grimoires and horrific things happened to them. The problem is that none actually knows these people. It’s always that friend of a friend or someone distant. Taking away all those who have managed to scare themselves, there are not much to these accounts at all.
The second problem is quite revealing. It is obvious that Dr. Skinner cannot have an overview of what methods or what amount of knowledge these people supposedly have had. To me the whole thing sounds like an ad-hoc explanation, while at the same time trying to establish his own authority with cheap rhetorical tricks. I found it unecessary as Dr. Skinner is already highly regarded for his work. And I also find it disappointing that someone who has done so much for the occult scene feels the need to take part in that kind of competitive spirituality. It is definitely not a kind of behaviour that I associate with scholarly or scientific work. These types of formulations are things to be expected to be found in social media discussions (who unfortunately are way too toxic) and certainly not in a published anthology. The essay certainly left me with a feeling of left-hand work. Although this post is not meant to be a book review I can reveal as much as that there are several other interesting essays in there that may be worth getting it for. Dr. Skinner’s contribution however only left me with that I should be getting his other books and follow the formulas precisely, if not, I would be considered incompetent.
Let’s leave Dr. Skinner alone for now, but I am not quite done with the grimoire purists and their view of magick yet. Naturally, I cannot say that all the grimoire purists share the same idea as Dr. Skinner that magickal experiments should be repeatable similarly to how scientific experiments are, but my general understanding is that it is quite a common opinion to have among them.
That brings me to the Abramelin and the idea of the Holy Guardian Angel. It needs to be said that the Abramelin operation is not considered to be Solomonic Magic – yet for some reason it is still quite popular among the grimoire purists, First of all, the idea of a Holy Guardian Angel to begin with, is a mystical idea, secondly, everyone seems to have their own interpretation of what the Holy Guardian Angel is and thirdly because the Abramelin operation is extremely demanding in a modern society (it was already demanding enough back in the days), almost none can follow it by the book. Suddenly because of the great inconvenience of the method it seems to be okay to shortcut it. To me there seem to be just as much to that as that there is a gentleman’s agreement to that a bikini on the beach is okay while underwear is taboo. Personally I disregard the whole idea of a HGA as none can seem to agree on what it actually is anyway.
My point is not to take any experiences away from anyone, quite to the contrary, I just want to encourage people to not be so vocal about them and also refrain from commenting too much on what other people experience. There is a reason for why one of the powers of the sphinx is to be silent. I don’t think it is in the best interest for the continuation of magick within the frame of competitive spirituality. The original Magical Revival had a lot of mystical elements to it and that is why I find it tragic that they now are being left out.
Well, that is only partly true though. For starters I am not sure how one could claim that having contact with angelic beings and so on would not have some element of mysticism in it. The lore around which they build upon is quite mystical.
Then you have different brands of magic such as various traditions within traditional witchcraft. And surprise, some of them are highly mystical. Just look at the works of Andrew Chumbley, Robin Artisson, Nigel Aldcroft Jackson and several other writers and tell me that there isn’t any kind of mysticism in it.
The Witchcraft Issues
Witchcraft has also undergone a process of renewed interest, but the challenges it faces are quite different from what is currently happening within Solomonic magic. My main issue with witchcraft is that there seems to be so much nonsense going on. It’s so diverse that it is really difficult to get into and see what it really is about, but it seems like most of the Facebook groups out there are mostly busy with posting nonsense cat memes, getting advice for their own experiences in life (often completely unrelated to what I understand being relevant for witchcraft) and progressive political opinions (naturally these people are extremely offended if you would disagree with them). There is very little discussion of witchcraft practice in itself or in the very least the history of the various practices of witchcraft. Most people seem disinterested in that or they are just unaware. And don’t even get me started on the Wiccans who always seem to have the most fantastic and embellished accounts that I ever read across any occult tradition.
I find it tragic that with access to all this new information and possibility to connect and share experiences through social media, that it seems to be a step backwards rather than a real revival of anything. I am not so sure if it is the quest for truth that is the most important for everyone involved. If it was, then why spend so much time and energy on other people to try and influence their opinion? It seems like a self defeating thing to do and it does not have any place in anything that can call itself a true magical revival. And that is a great tragedy, as there is potential to be had out there. But in its current state it does not seem to be anywhere near fulfilled.
I am not here to decide what works or not for others. I am here to share my own experiences so that other people can decide if that works for them or not. That is also how I treat books by the authors I read and what I look for when connecting with other people. Right now I feel quite disillusioned about the whole thing. It seems to make more sense to just take a step back and only focus on my own stuff, because “everyone” you connect with on social media seem to be focused on anything but themselves. Except the likes they generate of course. Who knew that the meaning of life (and magic) after all is a number: the number of likes that you generate. At least we can agree on that isn’t very mystical…