Articles/Essays From Pagans
July 13th. 2016 ...
What Every Pagan Should Know About Curses
Magic With A Flick of my Finger
Banishments, Conjurings, and Hexes for a Modern World
An Open Mind and Heart
Finding and Caring for Your Frame Drum
June 13th. 2016 ...
Pollyanna Propaganda: The Distressing Trend of Victim-Blaming in Spirituality
Living a Magickal Life with Fibromyalgia
My Father, My First God
Life is Awesome... and the Flu
May 15th. 2016 ...
Faery Guided Journey
How to Bond with the Elements through Magick
Magical Household Cleaning
Working with the Elements
April 2nd. 2016 ...
An Alternative Conception of Divine Reciprocity
Becoming Wiccan: What I Never Expected
Rebirth By Fire: A Love Letter to Mama Maui and Lady Pele
The Fear of Witchcraft
Blowing Bubbles with the Goddess
The Evolution of Thought Forms
Magic in Sentences
March 28th. 2016 ...
Revisiting The Spiral
Lateral Transcendence: Toward Greater Compassion
Spring Has Sprung!
January 22nd. 2016 ...
Coming Out of the Broom Closet
Energy and Karma
Community and Perception
December 20th. 2015 ...
Introduction to Tarot For the Novice
Magia y Wicca
October 24th. 2015 ...
Facing Your Demons: The Shadow Self
The Dream Eater--A Practical Use of Summoning Talismans
Native American Spirituality Myopia
A Dream Message
Feeling the Pulse of Autumn
October 16th. 2015 ...
Sacred Lands, Sacred Hearts
September 30th. 2015 ...
September 16th. 2015 ...
Nature Worship: or Seeing the Trees for the Ents
Vegan or Vegetarian? The Ethical Debate
August 6th. 2015 ...
Lost - A Pagan Parent's Tale
July 9th. 2015 ...
Love Spells: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
The Magic of Weather
June 7th. 2015 ...
A Pagan Altar
A Minority of a Minority of a Minority
The Consort: Silent Partner or Hidden in Plain Sight?
Why I Bother With Ritual: Poetry and Eikonic Atheism
May 6th. 2015 ...
Sex, Lies, and Witches: Love in a Time of Wiccans and Atheists
Gods, Myth, and Ritual in Naturalistic Paganism
I Claim Cronehood
13 Keys: The Crown of Kether
March 29th. 2015 ...
A Thread in the Tapestry of Witchcraft
March 28th. 2015 ...
On Wiccan Magick, Theurgy, Thaumaturgy and Setting Expectations
March 1st. 2015 ...
Choosing to Write a Shadow Book
Historiolae: The Spell Within the Story
My Concept Of Grey
February 1st. 2015 ...
Seeker Advice From a Coven Leader
The Three Centers of Paganism
Magick is No Illusion
The Ancient Use of God/Goddess Surnames
The Gods of My Heart
January 1st. 2015 ...
The Six Most Valuable Lessons I've Learned on My Path as a Witch
Manipulation of the Concept of Witchcraft
Publicly Other: Witchcraft in the Suburbs
Pagans All Around Us
Broomstick to the Emerald City
October 20th. 2014 ...
Thoughts on Conjuring Spirits
A Microcosmic View of Ma'at
October 5th. 2014 ...
The History of the Sacred Circle
Abandoning Expectations and Remembering Your Roots
September 28th. 2014 ...
Seeking Pagan Lands for Pagan Burials
Creating a Healing Temple
September 20th. 2014 ...
GOD AND ME (A Pagan's Personal Reply to the New Atheists)
September 7th. 2014 ...
Deer Man- A Confounding Mystery
August 31st. 2014 ...
Coven vs. Solitary
A Strange Waking Dream
August 24th. 2014 ...
Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation
The Pagan Cleric
A Gathering of Sorcerers (A Strange Tale)
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Initiatory Witchcraft and the Beetle in the Box
Article ID: 14848
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 1,705
Times Read: 2,843
RSS Views: 18,261
Author: Rhys Chisnall
Posted: November 27th. 2011
Times Viewed: 2,843
Although I should know better and haven’t done so for years, and will probably not do so again for many more, I recently took part in a debate on the Craft on the inter-web. Generally speaking, I think this is a bad idea, as the anonymity the Internet provides tends to make some folk feel that politeness is optional. Also the net does not convey body language and tone of voice, which can lead to misinterpretation of intent, context and meaning. Happily this remained a civil debate amongst, for the most part, intelligent people. However one of the participants was someone who used the debate to have her faith position confirmed and became defensive when it wasn’t. Her position was that you could only be in the Gardnerian Craft if you had a literal belief in the Gods.
My experience of initiatory Craft is that it does not have or require orthodoxy of belief. As a mystery tradition it does not offer easy ready-made answers in the way that exoteric religion does. There is no one faith position, but positions as numerous as the individuals that practise, hard won through the processes and arts of mysticism and liable to change in light of new experience. This lady had a religious faith, and a faith can’t be changed in accordance with evidence or experience, else it would not be religious faith (as commonly understood) . Someone told her that a certain faith was required for initiatory Craft and she expected everyone to think the same.
“Why then”, this person asked, “Do we have the word ‘Gods’ if we don’t all have to literally believe in them?” To my mind it is because the meaning of words such as ‘God’, ‘Goddess’ and ‘Divine’ are not as fixed in meaning as she might think.
In the theory of language called descriptivism, a word’s meaning depends on its extension and intension. Its extension is what the word refers to in the real world. This is what Hillary Putnam meant when he said that ‘meaning is not in the head’ (Putnam as cited in Barber, 2010, p., 193) ; the conclusion he came to from his famous Twin Earth thought experiment. So water means water because it refers to a substance in the real world. That substance has the chemical formula H2O and it does not refer to something that looks exactly the same as water with a different formula says XYZ (Barber, 2010, p. 43) , even if we can’t tell the difference.
The lay person learns the meaning of a word through deference to an expert who fixes its meaning. However, as you have no doubt have spotted, this can’t be the whole story as we have words for things that aren’t real, such as phlogiston. There can be no extension of the word phlogiston to fix its meaning. So a word’s meaning is also fixed by its intension. This is the lexical description of what the word means, which we carry around in our heads. For example water is wet, colourless, falls from the sky, can drink it, swim in it, favoured by fish, etc.
This would seem to make the Lady’s assertion that Gardnerians should all believe the same thing by the word ‘Gods’ to be correct. So far it seems that for the word to have meaning it must have an extension, but it is more complex than that. Descriptivism also claims that words can have intension and no extension. For example, we can talk about Santa and Phlogiston without them existing (Ok, ok… so Santa is real) .
But should the words we use all have the same intensions? Ned Block says no, because meaning can be narrow or wide (Block as cited in Barber, 2010, p 248) . Narrow meaning is when concepts vary from person to person. For example, Jocasta is Oedipus’s mother and wife is the wide meaning of the concept Jocasta, but the narrow meaning for Oedipus is that Jocasta is my wife and not my mother (Barber 2010, pp 245-246) - until he finds out differently. So, if narrow meaning varies amongst individuals, then how can words such as ‘Gods’ be used in discourse amongst those who hold it to mean different things?
To my mind Ludwig Wittgenstein, without a doubt one of the most important philosophers of the 20th Century provides us with an answer. In his famous thought experiment from his book, ‘Philosophical Investigations’, he writes:
“Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle”. No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine that such a thing is constantly changing. But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people’s language? If so it would be the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language – game at all; not even as a something; for the box might even be empty.” (Wittgenstein as cited in Beaney 2010 p., 131-132) .
Wittgenstein was using his thought experiment to illustrate how it did not matter what the subjective meaning of ‘pain’ meant for the word ‘pain’ to mean what it means. But I think the analogy can be extended, and even works better for the experience of the Gods and the mysteries. For example, in the Craft we all have individual subjective experiences of what we call the Divine. For some, it is see as an experience, which is interpreted, as a literal god; for others it is interpreted as a Jungian archetype, and for others, it is simply interpreted as a mystery. We cannot look into each other’s heads to directly see what the experience was. Even if we could, we could not have that experience of the other person, in the subjective first person and in the same context. The only way we can know anything about what the other person experienced is by using language.
Herein lies a problem. Experience of the mysteries is transcendent of language. This is the definition of mystery; it comes from the Greek musterion, meaning ‘to close the mouth’. It is ineffable and can’t be adequately described with words. Perhaps it would be better to follow Wittgenstein’s advice in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus where he says, “whereof what we cannot speak there-so we should remain silent”.
However, we are a chatty species and do like to communicate using words. The words we are using in this case are words like ‘God’, ‘Goddess’, ‘Divine’ and ‘Mysteries’. These words from Wittgenstein’s perspective have a function in discourse that is not directly attached to their extension, or even intension. They are words that are learnt when we learn English and are used in a specific way. In this case, they are words used to describe our own gnosis ‘ (gnosis’, when used in English, refers to spiritual knowledge) .
Therefore the words refer to different things to different people but can be still used in discourse where the function need not rely on the direct reference of the experiences that they pertain to. In other words, in using the language of the Craft when we are engaging in its myths and ritual, we can use the same words, as their functions are not fixed by lexical intension or literal extension, but by discourse. Therefore Initiatory Crafters don’t all have to believe the same thing to share a common language and use words like ‘Gods’.
Barber, A., (2010) , Language and Thought, Milton Keynes, Open University
Block, N., (1994) , Advertisement for a Semantic Psychology, in Barber, A., (2010) , Language and Thought, Milton Keynes, Open University
Putnam, H., (1994) , The Meaning of Meaning, in Barber, A., (2010) , Language and Thought, Milton Keynes, Open University
Beaney, M., (2010) Imagination and Creativity, Milton Keynes, Open University
Location: Stowmarket, England
Author's Profile: To learn more about Rhys Chisnall - Click HERE
Bio: Rhys lives in a small town in Suffolk. He is a member of a long established rural coven and runs a training group for those interested in initiatory Witchcraft. He is studying for a degree in philosophy and psychology and lives with his fiancee Martika and cat Tabatha.
Other Articles: Rhys Chisnall has posted 17 additional articles- View them?
Other Listings: To view ALL of my listings: Click HERE
Email Rhys Chisnall... (No, I have NOT opted to receive Pagan Invites! Please do NOT send me anonymous invites to groups, sales and events.)
Web Site Content (including: text - graphics - html - look & feel)
Copyright 1997-2016 The Witches' Voice Inc. All rights reserved
Note: Authors & Artists retain the copyright for their work(s) on this website.
Unauthorized reproduction without prior permission is a violation of copyright laws.
Website structure, evolution and php coding by Fritz Jung on a Macintosh G5.
Any and all personal political opinions expressed in the public listing sections (including, but not restricted to, personals, events, groups, shops, Wrenâ€™s Nest, etc.) are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinion of The Witchesâ€™ Voice, Inc. TWV is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization.
Sponsorship: Visit the Witches' Voice Sponsor Page for info on how you
can help support this Community Resource. Donations ARE Tax Deductible.
The Witches' Voice carries a 501(c)(3) certificate and a Federal Tax ID.
Mail Us: The Witches' Voice Inc., P.O. Box 341018, Tampa, Florida 33694-1018 U.S.A.
of The World
NOTE: The essay on this page contains the writings and opinions of the listed author(s) and is not necessarily shared or endorsed by the Witches' Voice inc.
The Witches' Voice does not verify or attest to the historical accuracy contained in the content of this essay.
All WitchVox essays contain a valid email address, feel free to send your comments, thoughts or concerns directly to the listed author(s).