Archive for January, 2009


I can understand the frustration people feel when they come to a message board or email list and ask what seems to them a straightforward question, only to be given a great runaround in place of an answer. As one who has been on both sides of that fence, the dance just looks ridiculous to me, because I know that oftentimes what the people being questioned are trying so hard to conceal are things that are in fact no secret at all–knowledge that exists and is accessible, if only one knows where to look. The new person doesn’t yet know where to look; they haven’t yet ferreted out the source materials, as it were, nor read any of the scholarship available. Then they go off and start asking questions of those whom they expect will have the information and share it freely–hey, we live in the Information Age, right?–and are disappointed and irritated when neither the information nor the holders thereof are forthcoming.

Why do the questioned ones behave as they do? For some, it is perhaps the belief that the illusion must be maintained, and that to cast a light of scrutiny on a cherished tradition might diminish it somehow. Then there are those who do truly believe the illusion is real, and cannot admit to other possibilities. Some may feel that their oaths prevent them discussing source materials and the possible origins of certain beliefs or practices. Others are, unfortunately, liars who delight in deception. I’m sure there are other reasons as well, as many reasons as there are people; I won’t presume to say that I could ever know for certain exactly what drives another, not entirely. I can only make guesses as to motivations, based upon over a decade’s observances.

As for the questioners, sometimes I think they maybe have had access to information, and are simply looking for someone “on the inside” to confirm their suspicions: why yes, so-and-so DID make that up! I don’t blame them; unassuaged curiosity is a painful thing, and even more painful is having fifteen sources that attest to the sky being blue, and your own eyes telling you that the sky is blue, and still being told by those from whom you seek spiritual sustenance that the sky is in fact orange. (That’s not my best analogy, but work with me here.) I’d like to be the one to offer solace in the form of confirmation, but I can’t–not because of any oaths I’ve taken (I’ve never personally interpreted any oath I’ve taken to mean that I must dishonour myself by lying about crap that anyone can Google up in 30 seconds or less), but because there would always be a doubt in the recipient’s mind, thanks to the old trick of calling the dispensers of information “either an oathbreaker or a liar.” Actually, one could reveal nearly everything without being either, or at least I believe that to be possible. But why should I take on that fight? If someone asks me a question, and I have the answer, I will provide it or not as I see fit. I no longer feel a great compulsion to be the answer-girl in defiance of the dogmatists and cultic minded, though the whole thing does still irk me and I suppose always will. It’s just so alien to my way of thinking and being, and it just seems so ridiculous and pointless. Once the cats are out of the bag, and they’ve had kittens, and the kittens have had kittens, it’s kind of absurd to try to pretend that there were never any cats in the first place.


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I’ve concluded that what most spiritual seekers are seeking is permission: someone In Authority who will grant them leave to do whatever it is they think they want to be doing. Our culture does little to foster any conception of autonomy, particularly in religious matters; it’s all got to be handed down from on high by the priest or the pastor, the minister, the preacher–that is, the Man In Charge, the intermediary of heaven and earth. Even those who are raised in only nominally religious homes seem to have this imprinting, which to me says it’s more a cultural meme than a sectarian one. Pagans do it too–and why wouldn’t they? They didn’t arrive, shrink-wrapped and untouched, at paganism; and a mere desire to change their worldview is no guarantee of how successful they’ll be at it, or how long it will take.

But while they may seek permission, I’m starting to think that few really expect to actually receive it, and that even fewer truly believe they deserve it; hence the popularity of restrictive, repressive fundamentalist systems even among those ostensibly fleeing same (as of those who leap right from the frying pan of Catholicism into the fires of Traditionalist Wicca, for example). The norm is still seen to be the Priest (or Priestess) receiving and dispensing the Wisdom of the Divine to the rest of us. Some aspire to someday be the exalted one, while others are content to sit at the feet of the guru. It still comes down to permission: the priesthood is granted permission by the deity, and then give (or withhold) permission to the congregants. The thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots can be fairly benign things right down to ridiculous control measures; still, actual grown adults willingly cede their own power, their own autonomy, their own authority, to others whom they perceive as somehow above them–in knowledge, in experience, in power, in wisdom, in connection to the divine.

Guess what? That’s crap. It’s a lie. It isn’t at all necessary. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do or believe or think or worship anything!

But-but-but-but–oh, I can hear people sputtering like stalling Chevys. Just stop it right now. You don’t need that; you don’t. You do not have to undergo any kind of initiation rite, or attend any workshops or classes or “training,” or jump through any human-constructed hoops whatsoever to have contact with the numinous–I swear to you, you don’t! If anything, those things can sometimes (hell, oftentimes) serve the opposite purpose of disconnecting you–because if the gnosis you’ve achieved in your own time doesn’t match up with the expected parameters of the system you’ve entered, I can guarantee that you’ll start to doubt yourself; it’s a rare individual indeed that wouldn’t, and that individual would be most unlikely to enter into any system at all in the first place were they that secure within themselves.

Note that I am by no means dismissing the efficacy of initiatory experience; I’ve had several myself, taken of my own free will–but they weren’t necessary, and did not put me in any closer contact with the divine. No one telling me “OK, you’re a High Priestess now, you can do X and Y and Z” has empowered me in any regard to do things I was previously incapable of, just as no one ever telling me “oh, you’re just a (whatever) degree, you can’t do A or B or C” ever stripped me of any innate abilities I had to do whatever I wanted or needed to do. Your real authority, your real power, doesn’t come from what someone else has decided to bestow upon you, because there will always be those who refuse to acknowledge you or wilfully deny you no matter what you do; YOU are your authority. YOU are your power. YOUR connection to the divine, to spirit, to the numinous, is YOURS and no one else’s. It can be neither given nor taken, and no one has the right to tell you how or when or what you may do about it. If you willingly cede that power to another, that is of course your choice, and I suppose that in that case that other person does indeed have whatever authority you believe they do; but do please always remember that you are a free agent, and you always have the right to say No and take back your autonomy at any time. Anyone who would obstruct you in that is an abuser, a manipulator, or worse, and definitely not a spiritual guide or leader of any worth.

And so, my dear ones, today I give you permission. Be the person you are, seek as you will, believe as you will, practice as you will. (I’m probably old enough and experienced enough, and hold degrees enough in enough different systems, that my words ought to carry some weight.) Free yourselves, free your spirits–seek and soar and let those who would restrict or deny you be damned! Know thyself, indeed. I give you permission. Now–pay it forward.

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Today I’m wondering what it is that binds people in places that are either actively or covertly hostile to them.

That’s one of the things that drove me from traditional wicca (ETA–at least as it was presented to me)–the feeling that the very system was designed with built-in forms of misogyny, and sexism, and heterosexism, that I found to be poisonous to me. I’ve come to the conclusion that Thelema, and the OTO, are no better. But I look around me, and I see apologists for both those systems:

* Women who remain attached to Gardnerian craft, despite the blatant sexism and ageism at its core (“ever mind that all power comes from him,” “she will retire gracefully in favour of a younger woman,” etc.).

* Women who participate in the OTO, even while bemoaning the state of women’s roles and advancement in the order–and while glossing over the unfortunately inexcuseable misogynist statements made by the prophet in his writings.

* Gay men and women who stay in heterocentric, and institutionally homophobic, craft traditions, which is to me as baffling as those who remain attached to Christian sects that are homophobic and condemning of them.

Why do they do it? Why do they stay? I can’t be so much stronger than other people that I could turn my back on a thing because I recognized its toxicity; and indeed I did stick it out longer than I might have had I been single, just because my partner wasn’t ready to give it up and I was determined not to let a potential knee-jerk cause me to preemptively give up something of which I might have had an imperfect understanding. (Well, turns out I understood perfectly well almost immediately; but you can’t blame a girl for trying.) Recognising the ick-factor potential in OTO has been a lot easier, thanks to previous experience. But still I wonder. How do people do it? How do they keep doing it, for years and years and degree after degree? And more importantly, why?

I know the mental gymnastics I engaged in my efforts to put a brighter spin on things; and that’s one of the problems of esoteric disciplines, the fact that things are presented in such a way that there is always the hint that there’s something deeper to a thing that you just haven’t yet grasped because you’ve not yet reached the necessary level of gnosis. I’ve come to realize that that attitude is bullshit of the purest ray serene. Those things over there, walking and quacking? Yeah, they’re ducks, and no amount of gnosis on this earth is going to turn them into swans. Blinders off; brain engaged.

I have to wonder if there isn’t, as I put in the title, a bit of internalised inferiority driving it; if people don’t, somewhere deep down, actually believe themselves worthy of no better. It’s hard to imagine that we don’t, on some subconscious level, internalize a bit of those messages, no matter how hard we fight them consciously. We’re raised with images of male superiority all around us; if we come from even slightly Christian upbringings, it roots in even deeper. And of course, if you’re gay, or bi, you can just multiply that, because the common culture doesn’t even attempt to disguise its hatred of homosexuality, whereas it does at least try to veil its hatred of women somewhat. Do those messages plant themselves in at an almost cellular level and run on a subliminal playback loop every time we start to doubt the evidence of our own eyes and brains? Pushing us back into destructive patterns, keeping us in our place?

I don’t know. The best I can do is theorize. But I do wonder…

I’m through with magickal systems that were designed by men with shitty attitudes and a preoccupation with deifying their own dicks. I’m through with magickal systems that push the old male/active female/passive dichotomy, because the ones that do invariably use it as a programming tool to prepare the female participants for their future role–as just another (sex) magickal tool for the male magician. I’m through with any system that in any way denigrates a person because of their physical sex or their sexuality. It disgusts me, it appalls me, it infuriates me–and if you tell me I’m just being an emotional female I will demonstrate on your ass some alternate uses for my ritual sword. Gods, when even my own husband–who was involved in wicca longer, and with a much deeper attachment than I ever formed–says these same things, that’s saying something there (because we all know there are some people to whom the word of a man carries more weight than that of a woman). All these grandiose systems, with their pretensions of high-minded holiness, are in the end just clubs founded by kinky men looking for ways to sacralize and justify their bad behavior. Wow. I just want to start digging people up and bitch-slapping their corpses.

But in the meantime, while I contemplate kicking some zombie ass, I issue a call to those who labor in toxic systems. Can you tell me how and why you do it? Because I would genuinely like to know.

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I know I’ve not been exactly a barrel of laughs lately, and for that I apologize–unless, of course, you read me because you enjoy seeing me wrathful and gloomy, in which case I retract the apology. In any case, I’ve at least reached a sort of (most likely temporary) peace in terms of my current rant-topics, so I’ll have to think up some other things to skewer. And considering modern life in general, that ought not be too difficult!

I’m now inclined to look upon my spiritual antecedents as being not unlike embarassing physical ancestors; you know, like the awful uncle that no one ever mentions or wants to invite over, or perhaps a great-grandparent who did horrible things in the distant past. They’re part of your lineage, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to admit to them upfront, and lots of things about them embarrass you or even make you angry–but the link is there, and you can’t escape that. And perhaps they even have some redeeming qualities: the ghastly uncle is kind to animals and small children, perhaps, even though he’s run through half a dozen wives and got more gambling debts than any one person ought to ever, or the creepy great-grandfather that kept slaves or beat his children also built with his own hands the house that you and your family still live and love in. See what I mean? (And why it’s so damned annoying to be me? Always with the shades of grey!)

I think I’m part of an evolutionary process, and I’m glad of that. I’m even proud of it. C. and I were discussing this in the car yesterday. Back in the spring, when we took Minervals in the O.T.O., we literally woke up the following morning with lightbulbs going off over our heads concerning a passage in Liber AL that suddenly tied O.T.O. and Gardnerian craft together for us in a way we’d not been able to see before that. Now I’m of the mind that Crowley got hold of something and developed it to the extent that he was able in his lifetime–Thelema, his recrafting of the O.T.O., and the current of do what thou wilt. When Gardner came along, he too had hold of that; but he took it in another direction, developed it to the extent that he was able in his lifetime, and then we got the current of an’ it harm none. For all their faults, both of them did good work, work that has made and continues to make an impact; but their work is only a part of the Great Work. The rest of us, those of us who have come along since their time, those of us for whom Gardner and Crowley are our spiritual creepy great-grandfather or embarrassing uncle, have our work to do as well, refining and defining and redefining the currents–or not–as we will. (And I know some will not want to change so much as a letter; others will write an entirely new book. Both ways are necessary. I walk the middle path, but that should come as no surprise to any of you.) The point is, if they–or others of our ancestors–made mistakes, we don’t have to make the same ones. That’s my lesson, and my passion; that’s where my bizarre protective instincts lead me (and why I chose the taijiya as my avatar). 🙂

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