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HomeMy Articles, Personal The Thin Line

The Thin Line


I’ve been putting off doing this article for some time. This is due (in part) to life.

Life, when it smacks you, really smacks you. There were many things that I expected to happen, several things that didn’t happen that I thought would, and things that I didn’t see coming and had no clue about.

And guess what? That’s the topic of this article.

Mostly this article is going to talk about a trend that I’m seeing in Mainstream Wicca (as opposed to Traditional Wicca) and that’s the “One Book and I’m a Witch” attitude that is being espoused by many authors these days. They state (either outright or implied) that all you need is to read their books, follow their Way and you too will be a 20th level High Priest Warlock in Squirrel Society and authorized to act as the high priestess of any ritual there.

Not on your life. Not on your best day, not on MY best day and absolutely no chance of this happening.

It means you read a book. That’s all.

In Wicca, as in many other mystical traditions, personal experience is paramount. Knowing what is going to happen because you have done this before or because you have encountered a similar situation before is critical to this path. Knowing how to deal with Situation X because you have had this situation before is damned near a requirement.

There are going to be those who read this article and go “nope, I’m a High Priest Warlock, and I know what I’m doing. High Lady Suffandnonsence said so.” There will be those who think that just because I’m saying that experience trumps most forms of knowledge that I’m off my rocker. These are the very people that need this article the most.

It’s been said that Experience comes from Good Judgment and that Good Judgment comes from Bad Judgment. This is one of those statements that could have been said by anyone and it’s so important and pervasive that it transcends any one person’s cerebrum. This is a Universal Truth.

Book knowledge is good, but learning from a book can only take you so far. It can give you the framework to base experience on, but without that experience, the framework is useless.

An analogy of this would be a house. Take the house frame. It’s the foundation, the wall skeleton with the studs and window frames, then the floor joists and that framework, and so on till you get to the roof and the ridgepole of the house. That’s fine, but no one is going to be able to live in that house. All it is is a skeleton of wood that COULD potentially become a house.

It’s not until the drywall is attached to the studs, the floor is nailed down, the shingles put on, the water pipes run, the electrical wiring put in place, the doors hung that it becomes a house. A very important component is the insulation that protects guards the house from attack. That is what experience does to the framework of book knowledge.

Book knowledge can tell you about what you MAY have happen to you. It can tell you about the situations you might be in, and how the author dealt with them. It can tell you that if you feel this that you shouldn’t panic, it’s supposed to happen. But in reality, the book can only describe what the author has had happen to them, not what you may have happen to you.

Everyone has different feelings during a ritual, during a spell and during an initiation. That’s one of the Mysteries of Wicca and any other tradition that has transcendental experiences as part of its mysticism. When you get to the part where you have to feel something, my experience in the EXACT same situation is going to be different, if only because I am using my own mind with my own “spin” in it to interpret those experiences. This is what a subjective experience is. It is subject to your interpretation and only what you perceive.

Two people going through the exact same experience at the same time are not going to report the same thing happening to a third person unless they compare “notes” afterward. This is one of the reasons that police HATE witnesses to crimes, since every witness is going to have a different experience. The only way to have the same experience is to swap stories of what happened before reporting it to a third person.

Back to our house analogy. Both of us have the same framework to hang our experience on. When we finally get around to putting different experience in the house, our shingles may be different colors, the drywall may be from two different companies, the pipe may be routed in different ways, the electrical wiring may take a different route to the various points in the house and may terminate into plugs that are in differing locations. This is okay; these are little stylistic differences that make us unique. But the lights still turn on when I hit the switch, I can still run a computer, my head is still dry when it rains, and when I flush the toilet it still travels through the pipes.

This means that with experience, the framework now can function more fully as it was intended to do, and it can support more and more experience. Little stylistic differences are immaterial in the overall picture; the bare functions of this house are exactly the same no matter how many differences like this are pointed out.

“What about a construction company?” you may ask, meaning what about the “row houses” who are all built by the same company and who all are almost exactly the same. Good thought, but look at the statement closely, “almost exactly the same”.

No matter who it is, no matter what group is training them, what order or religion it is, there is no way to have the exact same set of experiences happen to another person, so it’s useless to say that your experience and my experience, even though we are both members of the same coven and have been trained identically, are the same. They are not the same and never will be.

The general overview and the gross characteristics are going to be the same, granted. But when I learn something, I may have a slightly different “take” on it, or understand the material a bit differently from you. While this makes us of the same group, I cannot say that I have the same knowledge as you do, other than in what we were taught. You may have had insights to your knowledge that I have not had.

So no matter what company builds our houses, or even if they follow the same exact blueprint and get the materials from the same companies, there will still be differences. Slight and subtle differences (the placement of the nails, where seams are located for floorboards and drywall and so on), but differences nonetheless.

Now, I have talked about the Framework (the book) and the Finishing (experience), now to talk about the Decorating (intuition).

Because your experiences and my experiences will be different, and I may have a different insight from you, my way of doing things will be different. I may even understand that it’s not necessary to do (whatever) but that I can substitute (this and that) for what I was doing. This is the intuitive process that makes for a great Priest, Priestess, Wiccan, magickian or practitioner. It is the customization and the stylistic stamp that will be on your personal practice.

This “stamp” is not a bad thing. It is an individual expression. Crowley said that Magick is the Science and Art of causing change yadda yadda yadda. This is the Art process, where you take your experience, which is hung on the framework of books, and temper it with your understanding into something that works for you and your mind. Make absolutely no mistake here, EVERY religion; EVERY transcendental process has this element in it. If not, it would be worthless to the individual practitioner.

Yes, Christianity has this element too. The core teachings are the same, Jesus is the savior, the Bible, the moral structure, God and Satan and so on. This is where the details get fiddled with, and it becomes very important as to whether or not you have a kneeler at your bedside or a home shrine to Mary. This is why there are so many sects of Christianity.

The same is true for Wicca and Druidism and Asatru and Chaos magick and on and on. Each of these spiritual paths has a time when you are allowed to put your own stylistic mark on the beliefs and practice them for yourself.

In our house analogy, we have the frame and the finishing done. This means that this house is ready for human habitation and use, but it’s not very pretty. It can be used, exactly as is, but no one is going to like it like that for very long. So, the house is cleaned up, paint is applied, carpet laid down, tiling done, furniture moved in, beams and so on stained, lamps and window treatments placed, and plants are put about the home. For it is now a home, something one person can be happy to be in and to live in and with. They have a place to sleep, a place to eat, a place to relax, a place to lounge about on the floor, a place to bathe and so on. Each of these places reflects their personality and their wants and needs. Therefore it is THEIR home. Doesn’t matter that the same exact wall studs appear in EVERY house around them, or that the same company which built their house built 40 other houses nearby, or that the layout is the same as all the other houses around. Nope, this is THEIR house and only theirs for it has their marks all over it.

It is the same thing in religion.

Now it has the marks of the individual practitioner, and it is customized for them and only them. It is THEIR religion in a way that could not happen any other way. It is meaningful and it answers their needs.

My wife pointed out something that needs to be mentioned at this point. There IS a maintenance phase that fits both these analogies. In both a religious structure and in house building, there is a phase where you maintain it, either the religion or the house. Maintenance of a religion consists of attending rituals, interacting with your gods, teaching and so on. Maintenance of a house is what is important to you in terms of the beauty of your house. This is just as individual as decorating the house. And it is necessary as well, since if you don’t use your religion and practice it, you loose it or fall away.

Having looked at the proper way of doing things, let’s spend the rest of this article looking at what happens if the “house” isn’t built to code.

First problem: Adding various elements together that don’t belong together without the knowledge or experience to make them work properly and having no structure to support them. Here you have an empty lot, it has beautiful bushes, a fountain, trees, a couple couches, some carpet, wallpaper laying around, a lamp or two standing up. It looks nice, but the substance of this home doesn’t exist. The decorations are nice, but there is no place to put any of them, and the first strong wind that comes along will blow away much of what is there.

This is the “one book and I’m a witch” or Fluffy Bunny syndrome run rampant. It looks wonderful, and the fantasy is astounding. It is pretty and seems comfortable, but the first hint of a storm or challenge, and it starts falling apart.

This comes when all that exists are the stylistic elements, the incorporation of unicorns and dragons into the religion, the myths of other lands as examples to be used, the invocation of Kali as a mother figure. All these elements actually work if there is a house to put them into, a framework to support them, but when left naked and alone on the lawn by themselves, they look absolutely stupid.

And what’s worse is the resistance that is encountered when a construction worker comes along and says that there’s a storm coming. All this beautiful furniture needs to be under shelter or it will be ruined. The owner fights and argues, cries and wails, and may deny the very existence of the storm. IF s/he becomes convinced of the need of the shelter, a tarp may be thrown over everything, and left. The person in question thinks that this tarp is sufficient to protect his/her wondrous possessions from anything, without ever seeing just how fragile that shelter is.

The solution is simple: Move everything into storage, and start building the foundation. Once the framework and the house are finished, everything can be moved in, placed where it should be, and it will work as a whole. Additionally, all of it will be protected from others, sheltered from the elements and so on. It will also become very plain which elements work and which don’t. But until the fluff actually admits that there is a need for something more solid than a tarpaulin, no progress can be made.

I know a lady, a good friend, whom I met under the fluffiest of circumstances. A friend of hers and I had an encounter, he asked her and many others to look at what I had said and they had a good time ripping it to shreds. Come to find out that she was not a fluffy idiot, as I had believed, but rather someone who had been badly misled by her friend. When she and I started talking, all the stylistic things I had seen from a distance that initially turned me off of her (and had me labeling her as fluffy) I actually saw for what they were, individual marks. I hadn’t seen her house for all the topiary bushes of dragons, motorcycles and unicorns in the way. But once I saw the house, they all worked together and presented a complete whole. At which point I said, “Okay, her home is not for me, and *I* wouldn’t want to live there, but it works for her.”

The lesson here is that just because you can’t see the home, does not mean it’s not there. There are irredeemable fluffiest out there, those that don’t know when to cover their stuff. But what could be taken as an excess of squishy marshmallow may just simply be you seeing only the surface of something that goes much deeper. So don’t be quick to judge.

Second problem, ONLY experience with nothing else.

Okay, this could be a major problem. It means that you do three times the work than if you just did things right from the beginning.

Imagine that you have the drywall, the floor tiles, the carpet, the siding and the shingles ready. So you start constructing the house from these materials. Except the drywall won’t stay standing unless you brace it against itself, using twice the drywall you might under other circumstances. The siding you nailed to the outside of the house is falling off since it’s only nailed to gypsum drywall, and the pipes are running all over the house, exposed since there is no place to put them. Sockets for lamps and electrical power are laying on the floor, and the power isn’t running to them since there is no way the Inspector will let you turn on the power to this “house”. There’s no second story since no matter how careful you are, you will fall through the plaster that is used on the ceiling.

So, your wall collapses, injuring people. You jury-rig something to hold it up. Then the pipe bursts since it’s not supported right and the joint isn’t done properly. That puts water all over the place. It takes out another wall, and ruins the carpet. So you fix that and buy new walls and carpet. It goes on and on and on ad nauseam.

Eventually, you start building a frame for the walls to hang on. Glory be! That works! So you keep building the wall framework. You take the carpet out and put down a floor. Then you go back and add a ceiling and so on. Holy crud, you now have a house. There is no foundation, and there are probably many things you missed in building a house like this, but it’s up and you stay dry. It may still fall down in a high wind or a storm, and Gods help you if there is an earthquake, but you have something that looks like a home. You have to be careful of the placement of your furniture, and forget about finishing some things since you are running around trying to keep the house erect.

This is what only “street smarts” does to you. You have to get your framework from the school of hard knocks, and Gods above does it knock hard. Many times there is a complete meltdown before there is ever a chance to correct the mistakes made out of pure ignorance.

There is actually a lot to be said for learning like this. Primarily among those strong arguments in favor is that you learn to do things that people say can’t be done. You have a thought about substituting a cigar for the athame. Your reasoning is that a cigar is phallic; therefore it looks like a wand. A wand can be substituted for an athame in other rituals; therefore the cigar can substitute for an athame. I laugh. “That’s fluffy-speak,” says myself. I say it can’t be done.

You go and try it anyhow. Since this is a ceremony for summoning Mars, it works much better than anticipated. You do a little looking and find out that one of the herbs sacred to Mars is tobacco. Ah HA! You exclaim, and shove it in my face. You were able to do this because you didn’t know it could not be done that way. Like putting an electrical outlet in the middle of the floor.

Classical training has some serious flaws, one of the biggest being that it ossifies and codifies the way of doing things into almost a holy writ, without allowances being made for those who actually can do it other ways and succeed. Improvisation and intuition are discouraged until it’s almost too late. Experimentation is not allowed since doing things THIS way is traditional.

Learning on your own is free of that flaw, and reasonable sounding associations can and do happen all the time. Still, there are many times when there are reasons for doing things the traditional way, most of which can be summed up in two phrases. Precedent and what works.

The experimentation and discarding of what doesn’t work is already done. What is left is what works. Learning through experience means that you will have to repeat someone else’s mistakes before you find his or her successes. So you may find, through long and laborious effort, that it’s much better to go clockwise around the Circle when casting it, and going counter clockwise seems to unravel it for some reason. This could have taken you years of effort to discover, when spending ten minutes training under an already experience teacher would have given you the same information and reasoning.

It takes quite a bit of additional time, effort and energy to do the entire discovery on your own. The trade off is that you may be able to do things those others say can’t be done. While it’s not worth it in my opinion, your mileage may vary.

As far as precedent goes, magickally any action creates a resonance in the Spirit Worlds, and that resonance adds energy to the spell or ritual. Doing it the same way every time pulls upon that energy and helps the ritual along.

The last problem in this essay is the “only framework” problem.

This is the chronic “I read a book” set that irritates so many. Just having the framework is as bad as only having the decorations. The difference here is that this state is curable.

Think about it, the foundation may be there, the walls may be framed out, but there is nothing keeping out the rain, there is no place to go to the bathroom, no bed to lay down on. All you have is the skeleton of what COULD be a beautiful house.

It’s being able to recite lists of associations for deities without knowing anything about the individual deities’ personalities to understand WHY that deity likes red and not green. With this, you will not be able to do anything when it falls outside the limited range of what you know.

Let’s say for a second that you want to call up a goddess of love to help you get a lover. You know red is the color of romance, so you use red candles to do your ritual with. Aphrodite shows up. You think “Great! Who’s better to help me than the goddess of Love herself?” Except you don’t know that Aphrodite, while certainly being a love goddess, is also a goddess of lust and infidelity, as evidenced by her bribery of Paris. So instead of romantic love and faithfulness, you get a lover who jumps from bed to bed to bed because of a need for sex, and who leaves a trail of broken hearts in their wake. You got what you wanted, but you didn’t know what was going to happen because you only knew a limited amount and had no experience to back it up. Please, don’t try saying to a deity, “I wanted what I meant, not what I said.” Scorch marks are hard to clean up.

Had you some experience to back up the framework of the tables of association; you may have remembered Aphrodite’s myths and how she acted toward others. (And if you really want to have your head spin, check out Artemis Diana of Ephesus.) You may have remembered that red is most commonly associated with passionate love, while yellow is the color of a steady love, a committed love and white is pure love. You may have known, from having seen other love spells go bad, that Cupid has two sides to his personality.

Fortunately, as I said back in the beginning of this essay, this bad judgment will bring experience that is the forerunner of good judgment or wisdom. If you have the learning curve of a snail, you will learn from this incident and do better next time. So the next time you work with Aphrodite, you will remember this incident, or you will work with a deity that you already know.

The point of this diatribe is that Experience costs. The best and easiest way of doing things, be they religious, magickal or just in life, is to build the framework first, from various studies (books or school or tutoring), take that knowledge and apply it in your life to gain experience, then put your own personal interpretation on your combination of studies and experience to have a system that is uniquely you.

Added to this is responsibility. If you are teaching others, you should be careful to teach the framework, share your experience, and keep your stylistic stamp to yourself unless and until you see that your student can handle and separate your interpretation of things from their own.

Don’t knock any one stage as being unnecessary. Intuition and understanding are just as important as the book knowledge. Conversely, don’t make the mistake of thinking that any one stage is the be-all, end-all of how to do things. One dowel does not a structure make; it’s only when you have three supporting legs that the tripod is born, and the tripod is one of the most stable structures there is.

Originally posted 2015-01-04 19:49:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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