Deepening the Line

It would seem that I struck a nerve with my post yesterday. Frankly I’m a little overwhelmed that it’s been shared so many times and that quite a few people agree with what I had to say. This corner of the internet is usually so quiet, and if anything, I was expecting more of a e-lynch mob for my views; after all, my position is uncompromising. While I’m flattered and overwhelmed that people are sharing and talking about my post, I’m far happier that I’m not the only person who sees this issue, and who wants to roll up her sleeves and do something about it. How often do we hear that the first step in solving a problem is to acknowledge that there is one in the first place? It feels like a lot of people want to take that first step now.

And yes, it is controversial to admit that there is a problem with our expectations of ritual, experience, and magic. It’s controversial because it calls into question so many people within our various communities, and I’m really not trying to be like the person whose shit doesn’t stink here. I am nobody’s guru, I have no interest in being anyone’s guru, I fuck up and have my ‘off’ days. I’ve tangibly experienced, and also tangibly fucked up in ways that would make you not even trust me with children’s safety scissors. Some days, I’ve fucked up so much that nothing has happened, the energy hasn’t been there, the spell (or whatever I was doing) didn’t work, and the whole thing was like the magical equivalent of the flan in the oven that just doesn’t make it out right. But you know, I think it’s important to be honest about that, it’s something we can ultimately learn from, all a part of the developmental process.

But this is nothing if not a nuanced issue, and as a friend commented on my Facebook post in which I initially shared this blog, it really isn’t so simple as ‘I felt nothing so ergo *this* is shit’ either. To quote Heather O’Brien:

I think sometimes the cynics build walls too high that they block themselves in, others have a trust and fear to overcome and will only be able to do that through directly engaging. Still, there are those who are roasting Twinkies. It’s a tangled ball.

I think Heather puts this beautifully, this is a ‘tangled ball’. The question of discernment, of figuring out if something has its roots in the sacred and magical, or profane and chicane is not an easy one. Further compounding this, there are some individuals who do block themselves off from experiences for various reasons. This sounds like a kind of handy ‘get out clause’ that the less scrupulous could use as a way to explain away any lack of experience, but bear with me here.

When I was a kid, things got quite intense at times, and sometimes they got to the point where I was so scared and so resistant to seeing or experience things that I then wouldn’t. As time would pass though, I’d begin to feel like I’d lost a faculty, like something was missing, and then I’d realise that I’d shut myself down. These experiences were the beginning of learning to open up and shut down for me, but most people who build those walls so high don’t learn to ever open up a door so that they can have those experiences.

Some experiences are so powerful they break through anyway.

There was this one time when I lived in France that a friend of mine – a vocal skeptic – saw a shadow person under the full beam of a street lamp. That was enough to pull down those walls for her, and that was her introduction to a world that was far less certain and manageable. As you might imagine, this was quite terrifying for her. Unlike me when I was a child, she’d never had any experience before,so her walls weren’t walls erected out of fear but what she felt was logic.

So, how do we know when we’re dealing with a ‘null event’, or if we have somehow bricked ourselves into a protective keep? Because it’s important to know the difference. Knowing the difference is how we maintain a sense of realism even with the ‘unreal’.

I have no hard and fast answers for this, but again, I do think this is something we should be thinking about, discussing, and figuring out in a more concrete sense.

Thinking of my own experiences in this though, during the times I’ve sat behind the thick, impenetrable walls of my own keep, my disconnect has been so utterly complete that *nothing* would get through to me. If you go to one ritual and feel nothing, then maybe the ritual was badly done. But if you go for months feeling nothing – even doing activities that were previously guaranteed (well, as much as things can be guaranteed with this kind of thing) to give you those experiences – then the chances are that you’ve shut down and you probably need to figure out why.

However, if you’re not having experiences or being grabbed by the guts within certain contexts (but outside of those contexts still have things happen), then it’s those rituals and magical contexts that are the issue.

That’s my ‘twopennorth’ on the matter anyway.

The second comment that I’ve seen in relation to my first post (which can be found here)is one that has baffled me a little. A couple of people have gotten enthusiastic and said that they’re in and pretty much asked, “What’s next?”

I have ideas, oh goodness do I have ideas, and I fully intend on pestering certain people in my local community about those ideas in the coming months, but I don’t have a magical ‘fix’ or product entitled ‘How To Up Our Collective Magical/Ritual Game’. As I said above, I’m not a guru, I’m not here to sell anything (except maybe things that I knit/crochet/spin/felt, or workshops filled with months worth of research and come with citation-filled handouts).

So what the hell was I on about with my exhortation to push things forward if I wasn’t presenting what that ‘forward’ looks like?

I’m talking about honesty, discernment, and adopting an almost scientific methodology. I’m talking about approaching spirituality with all of those things and using them to figure out what worked, what didn’t work, and having the honesty, courage, and integrity to ask “What went wrong?”. I’m talking about being willing to go back to the drawing board, look the sources we have on how people did things in the past, and then trying them out now. I’m talking about a constant process of trial, error, and growth. I’m talking about no endpoint, only constantly striving to improve. I’m talking about knowing.

That goes for basic skills too – I mean, I’ve lost count of the number of self-described magic workers who have told me they can’t do basic meditation, let alone visualisation, pathworkings, or really any of the exercises used by pretty much every occult tradition to build the various types of discipline in practitioners. In a lot of ways, if we want to ‘up our game’, we need to emphasise the basics more. Aside from being necessary in terms of developing skill and honing our arte, there is no greater test of commitment than sticking to and practicing those (mostly boring) exercises. I would even refuse to teach people that don’t demonstrate that commitment to practice, or in other words, that lack Will or the ability and commitment to developing it/developing it further.

You see, I’m talking about work here, hard work, the kind of work that takes years. In other words, not something that can be neatly packaged and sold as a product. By the way, the people that asked me about how to go forward from here are not work-shy or lacking in commitment in the slightest. I don’t want anyone to get any wrong ideas about that here, I respect these people greatly.

But still, the point needs to be made that this shit can’t be neatly packaged and sold as a product (or, horror of horrors divided into ‘modules’ that may eventually make up a whole). A product is the end of a creative process, it’s selling an endpoint – usually with an accompanying title – and when people get titles and think they have an endpoint, they become entrenched.

Finally, we need to Dare. We need to suck up our fears, roll up our sleeves, stop pushing the goddamn sofa back, and get our asses down to the graveyards, into the forests, out to the crossroads, and onto the burial mounds. We need to dare to seek out the sacred and liminal, the holy and scary, and encounter it with our hard-earned knowledge and hard-won Will.

We need to not just talk about doing, but actually do too.

 

The Line in the Dirt

So, I’ve been around the block a few times.

From the years as a kid having little chats with my dad about why I saw the dead and the odd exercises ‘reading’ objects or ‘channelling spirit’, to the (now decades) of witchcraft that followed, I’ve seen and experienced my fair share of ‘Other’. I’ve had everything from being pushed around a room repeatedly by something unseen, to seeing objects floating in the air, to watching scratches appear on my skin as the scratch was being made by something unseen,to losing my ability to walk until leaving a place, to having a crooked stick actually jump up at me in a forest, to…well, you get the idea. I’ve dealt with possessions and curses, cleared haunted homes, experienced a deity, and participated in the odd bout of necromancy.

In other words, I know what it is to experience the ‘supernatural’ in a very tangible way and to feel the kind of power inherent in that.

I’m going to be honest here – downright controversial even – but most of what passes for ‘magic’ or ‘supernatural’ in the Pagan or Heathen communities isn’t it. I see so much stuff that is simply wishy-washy, that may as well be cold reading, that relies on people wanting to believe and experience. It’s rare that I see something that truly grips a person by the guts.

We need to up our game, not just with magic, but with ritual in general. How many Heathens and Pagans can truly say they’ve ever experienced hierophany? I’m not talking about the ‘Odinn told me that he *wants* some Twinkies and he says that you need to do (insert hopefully inane activity here)’ variety of experience. I’m not talking about experience via intermediaries, but true hierophany where you learn on the deepest gut-level the real meaning of awe, where that indescribable sense of fear and love permeates every cell in your being and any doubts are completely swept away by something that is so.much.greater.than.yourself. If more people had experienced that, the enormity of that, then we’d have far fewer people claiming to speak for the gods.

You may have noticed that I keep mentioning guts too – they’re important. The real grabs you by your guts and when that real is nasty, digestive problems are not uncommon. You see, your head may not know the difference between the real and illusion, but your guts do. If you have a reading and you don’t feel like you’re going to throw up, like somehow that person is peeking inside you – renegotiate the price. If you are told that someone is channelling a god and they have a message for you yet you don’t feel anything in your guts – don’t buy it, take a look at the person that’s making the claim and assess what may be going on with them that they are saying such things. If you put on a ritual and you don’t feel anything in your guts – go back to the drawing board and figure out how to do it better.

Because the responsibility is on us, it’s for us to figure out how to do better so that we might experience more. So that we might push things forward.

The problem though, is that too many of us are convinced we’re already at the endpoint, that we already know all that we need to know.

Bullshit.

That’s like seeding a quarter of a field in exactly the same way year after year and then wondering why the yield becomes less as time goes on. Eventually, the field becomes barren and those that engage in that particular tradition of seeding the field starve.

We can do better.

But we need to be prepared to try, we need to be prepared to push past our comfort zones and reach for that better. We need to stop thinking about our gods in such ‘convenient’ ways and to truly respect them for what they are. This isn’t some alternative to psychology, the spirits aren’t automatically benevolent, and magic is often dirty. Being half-assed isn’t how we grow, it isn’t how we create something coherent and rich to pass on to our descendants, and it isn’t what will bring our descendants back to pour out offerings on our graves when we’re gone.

So, are you in or out?

Edited to add: This post got quite a response and some interesting discussion ensued which led to  Deepening the Line.