Dear readers, I have recently been enjoying Yvonne Aburrow’s excellent All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca published by Avalonia Press. What I have really enjoyed is Yvonne’s thoughtful and inspiring reflection on how a contemporary Pagan path (in this case Wicca) can evolve and become more conscious regarding issues around inclusivity and power. For our magic to be real, it needs to impact directly on issues regarding justice, freedom and seeking political change within society. To meet with the Gods means not only to access archetypal forces from times past, it can also ask that we engage with the on-going impulse of cultural transformation that fed into the Neo-Pagan revival.
Inspired by Julian’s recent musings on Priesthood, I’ve got to thinking about the exoteric dimensions of our occult or esoteric paths. As magicians it can be easy to get lost within the labyrinthine halls of our spooky clubs. In seeking to plumb the depths of mystery and our own process of psychological change we can be endlessly inventive in developing techniques and elaborate symbol systems. While folks may find value in roaming the paths of the Qliphoth or in liaising with denizens of the Nightside, it seems fair that at some point we should ask “and what difference does that actually make?”
Personally I think that the socio-political implications of our paganisms will be as diverse and complex as the religions themselves. It may well be that the libertarianism of a Setian and the eco-collectivism of a druid are equally valid ethical stances generated by their personal philosophies. To me what feels critical is that our claims to personal development or magical advancement need to birth something that contributes to the betterment of humanity.
This is not to suggest that we all need to be reduced to blanket prescriptions as to the focus and shape that our activism should take. The manifestation of our spiritual passion into the realm of Midgard can take many forms. Whether via writing, music, marching, advocacy or innovative financial investment, the forms of our engagement are rightly tailored to our personal preferences and drives.
In Yvonne’s book, we are given a really helpful overview of Wicca’s historical development and the wide variety of theological positions that initiates into that tradition might hold e.g. forms of monism, duotheism, polytheism and animism. These are rarely neatly delineated positions and there are often huge overlap and apparent inconsistency as people seek to live the reality of how they engage with their experience of the Gods.
As with all good books, Yvonne’s work triggered my own reflections as to how my own take on Pagan Theology might help shape my own attempts to evolve a deeper sense of engagement. This list is by no means definitive and each deserves a blog post of its own:
- Multiplicity: Even if one’s Paganism takes a decidedly scientific and monistic form, there is usually an engagement with the concept of Polytheism at a mythic/psychological level. The idea that we should understand the divine as a series of differing beings (or principles) that have an interaction or relationship with each other is appealing for many of us. While Polytheism can take many theological forms, what it does seem to entail is a move towards acknowledging the multiple, the complex and the relational nature of how we experience life and contemplate the numinous-what we might call “Pantheonic” consciousness.
In our devotional work we may well chose to focus our energies towards a specific deity within a given pantheon e.g. the God of consciousness, the female destroyer, the Son of new endeavours etc. but we remain conscious of the whole. Similarly in our activism we may focus on a given issue (Indeed we have only such much time and energy) but seek to resist becoming overly narrow in perspective.
In reflecting on this emphasis on theological interconnection, I couldn’t help but think about the general increase in awareness of intersectionality with regards both identity and social issues- issues rarely (if ever) stand in isolation, rather the parts effect the whole in a way that demonstrates the subtle ecology of any given situation. Such awareness helps us more fully appreciate both the weight of multiple struggles and also the positive impact that change in one sphere can have in creating larger scale change.
- Localised discourse: In my practice, much attention is given to location and what might loosely be called “the spirit of place”. As much as my being a magician is located somewhere my head and heart, it only really becomes activated within the context of “what’s out there”. I can only really focus and shape magical attention when I am in the place of doing it.
In many ways my activism (i.e. living my life in relationship with self and others) is profoundly shaped by the place I find myself in. Yes I am increasingly connected globally and engaged in struggling to evolve macro scale principles, but “small is beautiful” still has meaning. Yes I may contribute by signing numerous on-line petitions, but what am I willing to do within my immediate communities. How can I use a form of “social animism” to tune-in to how reflection and change might occur at a grass-roots level?
- Importance of human drives: In her book Yvonne helpfully seeks to examine ideas of what holiness, piety and sacredness might mean for the modern pagan. In contrasting an integrative Wiccan perspective with potentially more dualistic paths, we can begin to evolve ethical and spiritual positions that have sensuality at their core.
While issues such as sexual liberty and artistic expression may be seen as somewhat periphery when confronted by issues such as poverty, war and terrorism, it is my view that they are often at the very heart of why these conflicts take place. The drives to experience pleasure and to express creativity are central to humanities’ attempt to find meaning in life. Many conflicts and the resulting social inequalities seem to result from trying to overly police these passions via either religious or political means. In seeking such constraint and potential suppression, it is sadly all too common that that those threatened by their own humanity then project onto an “Other” who becomes demonised in the process. For our spiritual paths to take seriously the pursuit of sacredness in its fullest sense, it must call us back to the sensual and provide a challenge to thin-lipped piety.
While there are always dangers inherent in the process of seeking to evolve forms of religion that are more inclusive and liberal (consumerism and over-simplicity spring to mind!), they do offer the possibility of informing any process of social change. Yvonne’s book provides us with an excellent example of how religions can evolve. These are processes that rejoice in the way in which our ever inventive humanity interacts with the divine. To be open about this unfolding does not rob our religions of power, rather they ask us to seek and use power consciously.
Those who work to free themselves from the Vulcan death grip of monotheism are often consumed by its shadow. Reaction is normal and healthy, but past a certain point, it is nothing more than a prison, and a very small one at that.
It is difficult for the modern western sensibility to divest itself from its indoctrinated theme of self-importance. Thus the image of modern life becomes the reality even though the image and the reality are two very different things.
We want to believe we are part of a meme that is expanding and bettering itself, that is at once rejecting the old and worn out, while embracing that with fresh potential. Yet through all this, we are falling victim to the fantasy of endless expansion,and forgetting about the laws of cyclic reality.
Personally speaking, I have found that a millennium and a half of overt monotheistic mind control doth not easily disappear. It hides in the shadows, the corners of our psyches, especially strong in those places and systems we do not question-yes, those very mechanisms and pre-set conditionings that make it possible to effectively interact with a culture birthed through monotheism.
Laughably, the most anti-religious, and thus ostensibly anti-monotheistic, come from the scientific community. Yet any review of their attitudes and beliefs, both codified and unconscious, reveals a startling degree of monotheistic programming.
Before we congratulate ourselves on escaping the condition that doomed our ancestors, we had better take a much closer look at ourselves. In my experience, the shepherding of new paradigms is little more than the turn of a wheel, and the celebration of such should be tempered with a good dose of humility.
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