Of Tradition, Synthesis, and Danger

You may have noticed by now, dear readers, that I cannot keep my mouth shut when I see people talking about things I have an opinion on.  And y’all know that I have opinions on nearly every fucking thing on this mad, spinning Earth.  But that’s what blogging is, right?  An opportunity to express our opinions?  Well, that’s one thing, anyway.  Unlike some of last soapbox moments, though, this is not a direct response to anything.  People write things, I read them, and it makes me think.(*)

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a traditionalist.  I have never been invited to join a Lodge or Coven.  I had long disdained the grimoire traditions, and while I have come around on that issue in theory, the fact is (for reasons too numerous, and ultimately too obvious) that they will never be a major component of my practice.  It would be an oversimplification, but my practice could be fairly described as eclectic Wicca.

Nor am I a cutting-edge radical, disdainful of everything that has come before.  Hell, I didn’t even get into studying Chaos Magick until I started my ceremonial project.  Embarrassing as it is now, I didn’t really understand where the one ended and the other began; I just thought of Chaos as post-modern choose-your-own-adventure ceremonialism.  I know perfectly well that it’s a fucking bad idea to summon Goetic demons without the full pomp and circumstance: they’ll take that shit personally.  I know better than to mix and match traditions with no regard for the histories involved or the subtleties of difference in technique and emphasis.

My practice lies somewhere in between these two extremes.  I have pushed the Wiccan framework as far as it can go and serve my needs, and in doing so I have read about as far and wide as one can on the subject without ever being initiated.  I have moved beyond Wicca using shamanic techniques gleaned from Michael Harner, Gale Wood, Christopher Penczak, a few friends, a hand-full of workshops, and an ever-growing body of UPG—ever conscious of the deeply problematic elements of neo-shamanic practice, ranging from bad scholarship to appropriation of indigenous practices to outright “playing Indian”.  I have incorporated energy work with no parallel in any tradition I can find in print—Maya Heath’s Energies is the closest I’ve ever seen—but which a significant minority of the practitioners I’ve encountered in the world recognize as close enough to something they, too, did when they were young.  I’ve incorporated some of the Chaos techniques from my as-yet-incomplete survey—sigils in particular—and I’m working on comprehending certain portions of ceremonial arts as well—the evocation of spirits.

But, as you have already surmised, I am not content to merely reproduce the work that has been done before: I’m pushing forward in the directions that are most interesting to me, and where my native talent calls to be explored.  I’m experimenting with mask-making, and the particular sort of invocation and embodiment unique to mask-work.  Through my shamanic work, I’m engaging in congress with spirits the likes of which I have never seen addressed in anything I’ve yet read.  I’m experimenting with the use of sex, drugs, and music in my magic: this is fucking ecstatic work, folks, and sometimes I need higher octane fuel than I can (yet) get my brain to produce on its own.

RO (and all the others) is right to point out that yes, there are dangers.  When you mix traditions and tech—and I do both, for all my concerns about cultural appropriation and pissing of the various Powers That Be—things can go horribly awry.  But I’m with RO on the next step, too: do it anyway!  Magic has been a process of experimentation and syncretism for as long as people have been doing it.  Sometimes you’re going to botch.  Sometimes you’re going to piss off some people … or some spirits … or maybe even some gods.  People can be managed.  Spirits and gods can be propitiated.  Magical backlash can be healed.

Hell, some day you might even fuck up so bad that you have to step out of the game for a year.  Or three.  But you come back to it.  Trust me: you’ll fucking come back to it.

We’re hip deep in the forces of creation, y’all.  No matter what you’re told, there are no flawless systems.  Even when it looks like you’ve found one, you’re still going to have to adapt it to your own particular brain and body.  And even if you don’t, some spirit you get involved with is going to issue a geas or taboo that’ll fuck up your perfect tradition, rock your boat, and maybe even upset your whole damn world.  (Trust me on this one: if it’s happened to me once, it’s happened to me twice.)

(*) But rather than link to any of the inspirations for this musing in the text body above, I’m going to collect them here to make sure that none of this very interesting reading material gets missed.

RO has posted twice (at least) on similar subjects, and introduced me to some very interesting and important work being done in the Celtic traditions.  Jason Miller has also talked about his syncretism, personally, and recently more generally (though his snark about the issue of appropriation is grossly inappropriate).  Peter Alexander Vaughn has a couple posts that touch on the issues.

I’m sure there’s still something important that I’m missing.

Approaching the Garden

As of today, I have completed the first month of my year dedicated to the study of ceremonial magic.  For thirty-one days now, I have performed the Qabalistic Cross upon waking and before working any other magic (well, except that one day I overslept and had to come back home to do it at noon; rough morning, that).  I have performed Penczak’s Ascending the Spheres meditation a half-dozen times over the course of the last week, have prepared space in my Inner Temple, and have built my altar of Malkuth. 

After a month of performing the Qabalistic Cross, often more than once in a day, I have mastered it to the degree that I can perform it’s invocation silently – tuning to each of the arms of the Q-Cross the same way I tune to the Elements when I cast my circles.  It has made some lasting changes to my aura, not all of which I yet fully understand, but so far they seem all to the better.  The ritual has helped me keep my course as the time my coursework demands and the toll of my seasonal allergies tear away at the hours of sleep available in any given night.  At a school that strongly encourages people to overcommit themselves, to give more than they have, it is helping me maintain my proper position at the center of my own universe.

There is still a great deal to learn from the ritual, of course, and I will try further variants and modifications as the months pass.  But I am ready to move on.

I am ready to immerse myself in Malkuth – the Kingdom, or the Garden as Pecnzak also calls it, though I wonder at that translation.  I have familiarized myself with the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram as much as one can without actually performing it.  I will perform it daily at least for the full month, probably for the rest of the year.  I will perform it in its full and original glory, Archangels and all, for at least a week before experimenting with the common Wiccan variant.  I have a quart of Full Moon water left after starting my mead, and look forward to using that to make Holy Water.  I may also use up the rest of my Dark Moon water for a different batch – I wonder if it will turn out different.  I look forward to exploring the Elemental Realms of Earth as a part of this process, and exploring a new paradigm of the elements.

I approach Malkuth at dawn.  So mote it be.