Semantics: We're Not So Different
Article ID: 13412
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Scott A. Johnson
Posted: June 28th. 2009
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One of the many things that we Pagans come up against in our pursuit of the freedom of religion is what George Carlin called the "Scary Words." If you look at the Craft from a religious point of view, it's easy to see why so many religions fear and loathe us: simply because they don't understand.
The history of the human condition paints a grim picture of our race, in that we as a species tend to fear things we don't understand, and what we fear, nine times out of ten, we destroy. But one of the main reasons, to my mind, for this lack of understanding comes mainly down to word choice, or, if you will, semantics.
Take a look at a few of our most common terms, and you'll see that the religions aren't so very different after all.
•Spells - What exactly are we trying to do here? We are calling upon power (ours, the universe's, the deities', etc.) to try to illicit an effect. We commune with the deities, not so much asking for intervention, but assistance. No matter what your spell, no matter what trappings they take, there is one common thing that all spells have: intent. We have a goal in mind, whether specific or general, that we want to take shape.
Sound familiar? In other religions, when you call to the deity asking for assistance or intervention, they call it "prayer." Essentially, the two are the same.
•Ritual - We get our group (or, as solitaries, you work alone) together to perform a repeated group of actions to honor the deities and to bring us closer to them. Whether it is a Beltane ritual or the Great Rite (look it up) , the fact that it is described as a "ritual" is indicative that this is a defined set of actions designed to achieve a desired result. It may mark the passing from childhood into adulthood, signify the unity of a couple, or even declare one's devotion to a particular path.
Every religion has a similar set of actions, but they are just called something different. Look at the Jewish Bar Mitzvah, the traditional Catholic wedding, or even the act of Baptism. All of them are symbolic actions to represent a passage into the next stage of life. Is it so different, then, to substitute a ring for a chord to signify the joining of two lives? Not really.
While we may call it a "Handfasting" and they call it a "Wedding, " we are talking about the same commitment, the same vows, and the same symbolic passing into the next phase of existence. And, of course, there is the grandaddy ritual of them all, Catholic Mass. Break down the components of it (Censers, priests, wine, bread) and you're looking at a very pagan ritual.
•Coven - When a group of like-minded individuals get together to concentrate on that which makes them like-minded, what do we call it? Well, we could call it a "club." We could also call it a "society, " or even a "church." When you break it down to its base components, that's all a Coven really is.
Sure, it's what we are "like-minded" about that gives us the distinction of being a "Coven" or a "Church, " but the same could be said for any number of groups. The fact that we come together (in any religion) to further our relationship with the deity is, in this case, irrelevant. The word "Coven" is one of those scary words Carlin talked about, but not because it has any intrinsic frightening value, it's just not a term they're used to.
In Texas, we have so many "Our Lady of the..." churches that it isn't too far of a stretch to see a coven called "Our Lady of the Moon" or something similar. If it were referred to in similar terms, words they recognize and can wrap their brains around, I doubt they would be afraid of them.
•Book of Shadows - If you really want to freak out a group of Christians, refer to their Bible as a Book of Shadows. Chances are, they'll get angry and, in some parts of the country, throw rocks at you. But here's something they may not have considered: Christianity was once considered a cult, an underground religion. Much like the Pagans, they had to meet in secret, took "Christian" names, and hid their teachings in scrolls.
Sound familiar? It should. And think of how many Christians were persecuted at the birth of their religion for their beliefs. Men wrote the Holy teachings, each with their own prayers, stories, and ways to bring them closer to the deity. It was only after time had passed that each of these "books" were brought together into one tome (and don't get me started on what got left out...That's a whole 'nother debate) .
Much the same as we in our Covens or solitary practices keep a record of our path in our "Book of Shadows, " so too did they in their own scrolls. Therefore, it stands to reason that, whether it be called a "Book of Shadows, " "Bible, " or the "Boy scout Handbook, " it still is more or less the same thing: A written history of one's path.
•Magick - This is a really big one, and one that has caused more arguments at family get-togethers than can be easily counted. The only way to truly decide the difference, if there truly is one, between Magick and Miracle, is to cite examples. If a man walks on water, what is it?
If a person turns his staff into a serpent, what would you call that? If a person, by raising his hands, can part the waters of a sea, what do we call that? I assert that, in these, and every other case of true "Miracles" (which does not count the face of Jesus showing up on a blueberry muffin) , can be referred to as what we call Magick. But why?
Simply put, look at what was happening. It was Jesus' will that he walk across the water. That assertion of will is, in fact, how we define Magick. Moses called upon the power of the deity to change his staff into a snake, right after the Pharaoh's sorcerers did the same thing after calling to their deities. There doesn't seem to be a big difference, does there?
Moses (he was pretty popular) also parted the red sea after asking for the assistance of the deity. Sounds an awful lot like a powerful spell, doesn't it? It just depends on how you look at it. There are so many examples of divine intervention of assistance that can, depending on your point of view, be labeled either Magick or Miracle.
There are so many ways to handle the differences in words. The above five are just a few places where words combined with purposeful misunderstanding and ignorance can get a body into real trouble. But what does this mean?
If I were to see, for example, a guy walking on water, I probably wouldn't cry out either "It's Magick!" or "It's a Miracle!" I'd probably be that guy standing on the shore muttering "That was cool." So when I take my Book of Shadows to my Coven to perform a ritual of Magick spells, do I tell people I'm taking my manual to my club to do some cool stuff and meditate? No. I'm not of the opinion that we should sanitize our terminology for the sake of getting along. To do so, I feel, would marginalize not only us, but also our entire way of life.
Don't believe me? Tell a Christian that the Bible is just a book, or that the Torah is just a manual. Go ahead; see how far it gets you. No, these terms are as much a part of our way of life as the sky and trees.
What I'm saying is simply this: Scary words aside, we're not so different. The only thing that makes us different is willful ignorance. And, of course, it works both ways. The next time you're invited to a prayer circle, look upon it as that group's form of a Coven meeting.
When someone says, "I'm praying for your recovery, " realize that it is no different than your performing a spell to aid a sick friend. When someone treasures his or her Bible, think of how you would feel if you lost your Book of Shadows.
Understanding has to come from both sides of the argument. At least, that's what I think.
Scott A. Johnson
Location: Kyle, Texas
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