Knowledge Is My Salvation
Article ID: 10733
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: May 7th. 2006
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My ponderings may appear to be a tad johnny-come-lately. I've been enjoying the other postings on this topic, so…it’s been a busy time reading, processing, and appreciating the words of others.
Is Training Necessary in Today's Paganism?
I think this begs for clarification.
Structure helps. Having a framework of ritual (such as a Wiccan Circle Casting or Heathen Blot or a Hellenic Thusia) can lay a solid foundation for approaching the Gods with respect and having a more ready connection therein. Still, with respect to worship, no one is privy to the one correct way (ad nauseum). In my experience (and my honest opinion), the Gods don't really care about cosmetic details (such as holding the knife this way, or correctly pronouncing archaic Greek or butchered Latin or heavens-no Enochian). They care about the heart, the intent.
With regards to magic and more mystical pursuits, I deem structure as necessary. This is true whether you are applying a folk or ceremonial approach. It is especially true if one is working along more (to use the modern umbrella term) shamanistic lines. You can get lost in the Other World, you may encounter forces and entities out there that are way bigger than you (and/or that really don’t like humanity), and so on. Knowing your stuff is so vital in this respect.
This brings us to training. Is it necessary? Can one study on one’s own, or must one have a qualified teacher?
Routes of Passing on Occult Teachings
There are three main routes by which Occult Teachings and Mystical Thoughts have been (and are) transmitted.
The route of self-teaching. This route is really flowering nowadays. On one hand, the abundance of media geared towards self-teaching insures the student a wide range of opinions and perspectives. On the other, this abundance of information can be overwhelming and confusing. It requires a lot of discipline and motivation, or it can quickly deteriorate into sloppy ritual and sloppy magic.
The route of studying under someone else. This was the historically favored approach. In the East, you become a chela under a guru. In the West, we see this in the phrase 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' and the like.
By studying under someone, you are placing a great deal of trust in the teacher. Whether it is a life-long relationship (as in Yoga, Ceremonial Magic, Traditional Craft, et al) or through an 'intensive seminar', or over the World Wide Web, the student naturally should expect teachers who are experienced, valid (if claiming a particular lineage or path), and capable of clear communication. You also expect or idealize a certain amount of charisma.
Yet this is not a one-way street. The teacher also expects a lot (or should). You will be expected to do the work. You will be expected to be respectful and open-minded. You will be expected to follow the teacher's methods and protocol within the class framework - regardless of where 'outside class' time and personal experimentation lead you. Add to this the consideration (from Tantric Yoga and Golden Dawn style Ceremonial Magic) that a Spiritual Teacher takes on some of the 'karmic burden' of the student. Your teacher is responsible for your welfare and your knowledge, because it ultimately reflects upon and affects them.
The last, and the most traditional, route is when the Gods and Ancestral Guardians thwack a seeker over the head, tell them how its going to be, and lead them through a wonderful joy ride through a personal Hell on Earth. Hopefully, if you survive this curriculum, you will emerge alive, sane, and holding within your core the heart of Wisdom.
Each of these routes is valid if pursued with respect, integrity, and devotion. Personally, I think the best is a combination of all three.
What about those 'Secret Teachings'?
The Mysteries. We don’t hear a lot about these nowadays. Traditional Craft (in both its Wiccan and pre-Wiccan variants) is not the central focus of Paganism. Neither is Theurgy (High Magic) the general aim of modern Occult teachings - at least, to the extent it was a decade or so ago.
Add to this the theory that the old Mystery Religions fell because the priesthoods therein focused more on stroking their egos than truly serving the Gods. (Eleusis fell long before the martyrs Paulina and Praexturus made their stand against the Roman Church... it fell because the preceding Hierophants turned from the People, and the People returned the favor. But I digress...)
One of the few things I agree with Aristotle on is the Mysteries. The True Mysteries are transcendent. No one can ever or will ever be able to communicate them through any means of communication we humans are capable of.
Citing the above, I differentiate between Mysteries and 'secret teachings'. The secret teachings are the technology with which a particular sect or creed aspires to attain to the Mysteries. The Mysteries, however, are in and beyond all. The REAL Mysteries are the Gods themselves, and their relations with ALL life.
Secret teachings are secret because they contribute to the identity and spiritual current of a particular Path. The identity part is easy to understand. Families have their own special customs; fraternal lodges have their attendant symbolism, and the like. Spiritual currents of initiation are less concrete, and not so easily understood by outsiders. They are the life blood of an initiatory path. The only way of accessing a spiritual current (and the attendant teachings and powers which the Ancestral Guardians of said current bestow) is by training under a recognized adept.
Solitaries can have their own secret teachings. Modern traditions can develop (as some already have) their own secrets. And, truth be told, you can find most secret teachings of most paths by knowing where to look. As blasphemous as it might sound, they are really just cosmetic details.
The Shard of Knowledge
I was recently watching Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. There is an anime miniseries entitled 'Witch Hunter Robin.' This series became an addiction of mine, contributing to many bleary eyed mornings at work (as it generally aired around 3am).
The premise of the series is beyond the scope of this article. Most modern Pagans would twitch at the specifics. Partly, in that it primarily defined Witches as people with psychic abilities, who generally used them as they saw fit (for good or ill). The Hunters were pretty much 'Witches' supported by the Vatican (remember, this is a fictional series), who were charged with hunting down the noncompliant Witches (aka those who didn’t use their powers to support the Roman Church). They also brought in aspects of DNA, Egyptian mythology, and genetic engineering. Like I said... not really tied in to this theme.
Except for one episode. Robin, one of the Hunters, has been declared a 'Witch'. As such, the Church sends a Hunter after her. Her only salvation is the 'Shard of Knowledge' - which resembles a really dried out mummified rose. Unfortunately, the person hunting her gets it first and destroys it.
At this point, our heroine Robin is confronted by her pursuer. A sudden realization dawns in her. The Shard, as an external object, was never important. She realizes that true power and true knowledge comes from within. In her own musings, and in comments made by others who know her, it is stated that she has 'pierced the Veil of the Craft Arcanarum', and found it within her. Reminds one a bit of those lines from the BTW Goddess Charge, eh?
Knowledge is My Salvation
I know I’ve meandered and wandered through this article. I apologize for those who prefer writings that stick to the point. However, I ask for your patience in humoring this eccentric seeker after Truth while I am still on my proverbial soapbox.
Ancient Egyptian religion tended to focus on knowledge. This translated into its mysteries, and (by extension) into the other Mystery Cults of the Mediterranean. The approach was one of what one knew and what it meant to you. We see this in the Hermetic Schools flourishing in ancient Alexandria way back in the day. Students would study with a Teacher until they had their own brush with Truth. Beginning with the Hellenistic era, a Greek word became applied to this process. That word was Gnosis.
Everyone knows about the Gnostics. Through realization, they could escape the world of illusion and attain to the Hidden Realms of Truth and Light. In pure Egyptian terms, I suppose one could say that they have embraced Maat and become one in truth with Truth.
However, knowledge is worthless, unless it is transformed in the crucible of one's heart. Once transformed, it becomes Wisdom, perfect understanding - which, to my knowledge, is part and parcel of that Great Work of Absolute Good so much talked about by the early pioneers of most Holy Magic.
It all comes back to the Self. Whether you are taught by others, smacked upside down by the Gods, or truck it out on your own, it is ultimately YOUR responsibility. For some, this responsibility is frightening - for others, it is a joyful addiction to appreciating the Majesty of the Immortal Gods and our relations with them.
"When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears". Some have taken this too literally, as in a physical person.
To borrow a popular cliché...
Life is the Greatest Teacher
*Heart of Wicca by Ellen Cannon Reed
*Witchcraft, the Sixth Sense by Justine Glass
*Keepers of the Flame by Morganna Davies and Aradia Lynch
*The Golden Dawn by Israel Regardie
*The Ancient Mysteries (ed. Marvin Meyer)
*Witchcraft: The Old Religion by Dr Leo Louis Martello
Witch Hunter Robin - producers, etc., unknown.
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