It was such a nice day today I sat out on my porch and enjoyed Spring at its finest. I experienced a flash of inspiration and started to write. I suppose it could be described as poetry, which is not something I indulge in too frequently. I love poetry, but as a rule, only other people’s. Here goes:
I listened and I heard them
Your whispers on the wind.
I listened and I heard them
And took their meaning in.
From your words and through them
I came to comprehend
Your sadness, frustration, anger and sense of loss
Your arrogant self-belief, injury and insult
Your unedifying lustful spite, your desperation and despair.
Then comprehension’s grasp loosened
And your words again became as air
And from the East the wind
propelled them somewhere, anywhere
To fall as rain upon the earth
But not anyone who cares.
It’s probably a fair observation that I should probably get onto writing some more of my own stuff rather than linking to other people’s, however since this piece has arrived for Lammas, I must share it with those like-minded folk who visit.
This article explores the nature of relationships that form between coven members, and the importance of personal integrity in those relationships. But it isn’t hard to take Alicia’s advice out of the context of a coven and into any small group, be they friends, colleagues or team-mates. In any situation where people need to work closely together there is always the possibility that people will start to form bonds which become closer and more intertwined with time and use. What a lot of people seem never to grasp is the fact that those bonds hold people together in fundamental ways. Our emotions, ego and feelings of self-worth are often tied up in these associations and it becomes very easy for us to invest ourselves personally in the activities of others. So small matters are prone to being blown out of proportion, slights against others cut more deeply and disappointment stings more keenly.
Anyone who has experienced or witnessed the break-down of relationships within groups will find something familiar in Alicia’s words.
Over on the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering blog site is an article written by a senior member of the Gathering. It addresses many of the same issues I raised in my article from last year, only with an added depth of perspective and a delightfully witty and eloquent style I could only hope to emulate.
I’ve been reading about the 2DayFM DJs and their prank call to the hospital in which the Duchess of Cambridge was staying for treatment. Much as you’d expect, there are some parts of the media calling for the severe discipline of these two young people and another part rather pompously justifying their actions and telling the rest of us to just calm down because they’re not really to blame.
Blame is the thing, though, isn’t it? I imagine the family and friends of the nurse who seems to have taken her own life as a result of this debacle would feel like blaming someone for what happened, if only to help make sense of what would otherwise seem a senseless loss.
Blame seems to be apportioned in increasingly stupid ways in this case. You could blame the two DJs for making the call, but then they are just a couple of people trying to be amusing for our benefit, or at least the benefit of their employers’ advertising revenue. They claim they weren’t trying to be invasive of privacy, in fact they claim they were surprised their inept antics weren’t spotted immediately and the call terminated. They also claim that the decision to air the call was made by people higher up the chain of production, which is undoubtedly true, and so it’s really not their fault that any harm resulted from the call.
So yes, it was the 2DayFM management that are really responsible for the call being aired, but of course they claim that they haven’t broken any laws so really they’re not in the wrong. They tried, they claim, five times to contact the Hospital and couldn’t get through to anyone. The Hospital claim they received no calls. To my mind, at least, the decision by management to opt to seek forgiveness rather than permission and air the call anyway was cavalier, to say the least. Irresponsible, definitely. But their actions can be justified by the fact that they are simply trying to make their product stand out in a competitive marketplace. So it’s not exactly their fault, either.
The nurse who took the call and forwarded it through to the nurse treating the Duchess could be blamed for making an error of judgement. People will tend not to, quite rightly, because we’re all entitled to make mistakes and after all, this is the BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY we’re talking about here. The pressure of dealing with the Monarchy in person, combined with the pressure nurses are under just in their everyday course of duty must have been huge. Hence, if this error of judgement really led to that nurse taking her own life as is being suggested then it’s hardly surprising. I’m not much of a monarchist but I am a professional person and I would feel pretty awful if I allowed a breach in privacy like that to happen. So she’s not really to blame, either.
Then who is to blame? Everyone seems to be looking around for someone to pillory over this incident, but unsurprisingly they are looking in the wrong place. Instead of looking all around, they should be looking within. We’re all to blame for what’s happened. Every time we partake of the culture of celebrity we’re enabling these kinds of events to occur. Every time we gossip about people we don’t know personally for no reason other than that the details of their lives seem more interesting than our own, we enable these kinds of events to occur. Many Australian journalists are making merry with the irony of the UK media being up in arms over this in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry. It’s as if they’ve never seen hypocrisy before. So much of the media is occupied with gossip, celebrity or otherwise, that it’s all some people ever talk about. Numerous people make a living out of making the regular lives of people sound salacious and entertaining. Of course even more people feed off this information, become absorbed by it. The really awful part of it all, apart from the “dumbing down” of society that seems to be accompanying this trend towards gossip (which, I acknowledge has been happening for at least a few centuries – and ironically really took off during the “Enlightenment”), is the fact that an industry has been created merely to perpetuate the process. Huge sums of money are being wasted on this kind of information. Who benefits from it? Am I a better person for knowing who, or indeed what, “Snooki” is? Of course not. The only people who benefit are those who profit from it. Everyone else is just a greasy little cog in a dirty big machine.
It’s absurd. That’s the best description for it. Not only does the inane nature of popular media result in moronic pranks like the one that sparked this all off, subsequent moronic behaviour acts as tinder to set the incident ablaze. When lives are threatened, damaged and lost because we live in a world where there’s apparently nothing better for people to think about than taking the piss out of other people they’ve never met and shouldn’t have any business interfering with, it is absurd. That the people who actually profit from this absurdity actually refuse to see that there’s anything wrong with that, and indeed retort that they should be able to do whatever they like to whomever they like and can pay for the privilege, that’s absurd.
Where is the meaning in any of this? Why should we tolerate it? Comments are welcome.
Necessity, as the adage goes, is the mother of invention. With that in mind I have recently been brought by necessity to contemplate a number of interesting topics, ranging from ethics to mercantilism to a much deeper and more uncomfortable examination of my own beliefs and motives. So, as inventively as I can manage, I will attempt to bring a number of these ideas together into an article of writing to amuse and bemuse in possibly equal measure.
The matter, I would reply if someone were game to ask, “What’s the matter?”, is related to in what manner and to what extent it is acceptable to profit from one’s spirituality. “Oh, is that all,” you might reply and go back to your needlework. I have chosen the term “spirituality” here quite deliberately, as I’m rather loath to use the term “religion”, because I don’t believe they’re synonymous. How one defines “religion” is really a topic that deserves its own article, and perhaps one day I will give it some consideration but not today. For the purposes of this piece, the term “spirituality” refers to a person’s beliefs of a spiritual nature, whether they be associated with an established religion, a recognised mode of spiritual practice or just whatever their approach to contemplating the great transcendent “otherness” might be. It will have to suffice as an unlikely umbrella, under which I will stuff (quite against their will) Christians, Muslims, Wiccans and Zoroastrians, with “solo eclectic practitioners”, hedge/kitchen/fairy witches and so on. The more I try to make it work the harder it appears to be but I’m going to do it anyway, as much for the sake of expediency as anything.
Just to make things a little clearer I am also going to acknowledge and dismiss, for the most part, the manner in which the world’s major religions have fleeced the public for centuries as being common knowledge. We all know about things like tithes imposed by the church and so forth, so I’m not going to explore those issues in any detail. This is partly because to do that I’d have to conduct some meaningful research on the topic, but mostly because it’s all rather irrelevant to the principal topic of paganism. Pagans and witches don’t, generally speaking, own large amounts of property and enjoy tax exemptions from the government. So I will limit the scope of my enquiry somewhat and focus upon how us pagan and witchy folks have, and continue to profit from our spiritual beliefs.
Of course, as I look at the bookcase next to me I see a great many books on a variety of topics that bear some relevance to my beliefs. So one of the first ways a witch or pagan can profit from their beliefs is to write about them. A good book is a great treasure, and I have noticed that a great many witches and pagans possess significant libraries. I suppose part of the reason for this is the occult (i.e. hidden) nature of most pagan and witchcraft practices. The knowledge that seekers seek is seldom easy to obtain, and historically the process of finding one’s way through the dark is to follow the lights cast by scraps of text hidden in books. All of the great names have published works: Gardner, Starhawk, Valiente, the Farrars. None of them have enjoyed sales figures like J.K. Rowling, however. Making a living as a writer of non-fiction books within such a limited field of interest must be next to impossible. Anyway, now we live in the Internet Age, and the old ways of going about pagan business are falling into disuse. Once upon a time you would put an ad in the classifieds calling for students (often worded in a somewhat cryptic fashion) or announcing oneself as seeking. Now you just google “paganism” or “witchcraft” and you can have a whole world of information to choose from. So, with a certain degree of irony, what was once hidden now remains hidden, only whereas once it was occult through scarcity and the necessity to hide from unwanted attention, now it is occult through the sheer mass of information that is very often endlessly reproduced from un-cited sources, plagiarised from extant sources, or simply (apparently) made up on the spot. I have both experienced the frustration of the former and witnessed the frustrations of others with the latter.
So how does the money come into it? Well, apart from spending it on books, which can be a thoroughly worthwhile and rewarding pursuit, there seem to be more and more “teachers” emerging who are offering their services for a fee. (They’ve always been there, by the way, I recommend to anyone unfamiliar with Frank Zappa’s song from 1974, Cozmik Debris to give it a listen.)
My personal ethics, and those of my spiritual belief system forbid me from charging people for any knowledge or wisdom that I have acquired through my spiritual path. I believe if you operate in a group system, such as a coven or learning circle, it is entirely reasonable to ask for basic costs to be covered by participants – purchase of consumables like candles and wine, for example, or to maintain tools and paraphernalia. But for teachers, “leaders”, “instructors” or however they like to style themselves to profit personally from passing on “spiritual” knowledge or wisdom in the form of a structured “system” to me, at least, seems highly unethical. And now here comes the difficult part where I have to explain that.
It is difficult, this is now my third attempt. And I suppose the reason why it’s difficult is because in order to explain my position I feel I have to venture into parts of my own path that are not generally something I would share openly. I will go back to a previous article and re-invoke what I consider to be the core principles of witchcraft; or at least should be the core qualities of a witch, which are humility, discretion and the ability to remain silent. To my mind, for someone to use the knowledge they acquired through their own instruction within the context of a structured system for the pursuit of profit they are in breach of all three of these fundamental ideas. I must make it clear that I am trying to limit my premise to the teaching or instruction of spiritual system of practice. I should also reiterate that in my personal view, which is very traditional, knowledge that is passed on through traditional training is free, and should not be used as a source of profit.
Maybe if I examine these concepts further I can address my concerns. In a way, the third quality is really related to the first two. It’s as much about knowing when to be silent as knowing how. Silence is one of the most powerful weapons a witch possesses, and it requires such discipline to be good at it that it strikes me as though if you had taken the time to really come to grips with it, it would seem antithetic to go and sell your words to seekers. Likewise, as a seeker the ability to remain silent is probably the first and most important skill to perfect. How can you hope to hear what you need to hear when your mouth is loud and your mind is raucous?
Discretion is important to a witch because one is very seldom presented with scenarios that offer simple outcomes. This is true as much for one’s craft as it is for life in general. You can’t teach discretion, beyond offering advice, giving pointers or reminding the seeker to always learn from their mistakes. When you think about it, if you’re one of those that hopes to make a living from selling witchcraft you can’t afford to be discerning or to turn anyone away. You have to take all-comers in order to fill your pockets. It is, after all, what advertising folk might describe as a “niche market”. That, in itself, leads down a very difficult ethical path, because to my mind it is not ethical to pass on significant spiritual wisdom to someone who is unfit, for whatever reason, to receive it.
Humility is the most important of all three qualities. This is largely because it suffuses every element of the craft. Without humility you cannot remain silent or employ discretion. Without humility you cannot be anything other than what you perceive yourself to be. It takes humility to be able to release oneself from ego. However one who presumes to offer spiritual training for money can only be motivated by ego, and hence is not acting with humility.
Think about this (he says, in his best Morpheus-from-The Matrix-voice): how can another person tell you how far you have progressed spiritually, without you already being in possession of that knowledge? If I attend (or enrol online, as is more often the case these days) for Madam Moondrop’s school of all-things-witchy and pay to achieve the “first degree”, what does that mean, at the end? That I have enjoyed value for money? If I was humble, I would see that it doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. If I had used discretion, I would have considered, “if the doors to spiritual instruction could be found by anyone with a library card, then money is unlikely to be the key to opening them”. If I had remained silent, I might have heard my common sense prickling at me.
Generally speaking, the great and ever-expanding library of books covering various aspects of witchcraft and paganism contain all of the “knowledge” a seeker needs. It’s been said a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and it is instruction in the use of that knowledge that is at the heart of spiritual practice. I implore all of you to employ your intelligence, refuse to suspend your disbelief, and go about your spiritual path with your eyes open. By all means take a course in Tarot, or Reiki, or herbology, or attend workshops in what-not or whatever. But if someone is telling you that enlightenment, “initiation” or occult power can be yours for a fee, then they’re trying to take advantage of you. The means of connecting with the Divine are many and varied, but ultimately your path is your own, and no-one can charge you for your own relationship with divinity. If you’re humble, use discretion in your choices and know how and when to remain silent, then instruction will come to you.
Originally written for the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering blog, below is an article that attempts to examine at once both the role of men in Wicca and how the sabbats of Imbolc, Ostara and Beltane relate to them.