Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Age of Secrets

There are two seemingly separate topics I want to write about, but I keep finding that they are entangled and intertwined like vines....Age and Secrets.

When I was much younger and finding my way on the path, I felt that surely that there were secrets to be uncovered, protected by the initiated and handed out to the worthy.  That if I found the right mystery tradition or gatekeeper, all the knowledge would be revealed.  Also, somewhat related to those secrets, I would experience real anxiety thinking about the burning of the library in Alexandria, or the knowledge lost with the countless possible cunning folk killed during centuries of witchhunts.

Now? I believe that there are no secrets, only revelations. That isn't to say there aren't any mysteries and that all of the answers are out there in plain sight...but rather we learn things as we're ready to receive them...and that no one person or path has all of the answers. And that knowledge is never really lost - it always finds its way out again.

Growing up, we tend to think of our parents as infallible, and that they must know all of the things. But as we become adults ourselves, we realize that they are human, just like us.  That means they can be equally wrong as they are right, depending upon their experiences and choices.

The same is true regarding an "elder" of any path or tradition - they are not all-knowing or always-right.  But it is important  - with both ones' parents as with elders - to give respect where it is deserved. And a true elder (as with a good parent) fosters relationships that allow respect to flow in both directions.

What does that mean and look like?

In both dance and Witchcraft classes, I often talk about the stages of growth I've identified below:
-the neophyte/beginner: eager to learn everything, freely admits they know nothing
-the acolyte/beginner-mediate: staunchly dedicated to what they're learning, full of fervor for their new-found passion, and quite vocal about everyone/thing else being wrong
-the practitioner/intermediate: a swinging pendulum of confidence and insecurity - trying to prove they know things while secretly worried they will be found out for not knowing.
-the elder/advanced: has forgotten more things than they count, are still avid learners open to new ideas, and aren't afraid to say they don't know.

I have been blessed to have worked with several wonderful mentors along my path up until this point, and what sets those individuals aside from other would-be instructors/teachers/elders is that they were (and are) just as willing to seek advice from me as I am from them.  Even though they are recognized masters of their respective fields, and have been practicing for decades - they are not closed to hearing about other experiences and perspectives.  They also find that their own paths are more fulfilled in seeking answers outside of themselves and what they know.  The biggest secret that is not a secret is - the more we learn, the more we are open to grow and share, the more we can understand what makes, connects, and expands us.  And that power doesn't come from hiding, gate-keeping, or taking from others, but from mastering of oneself - spiritually, mentally, physically.

So for all of you seeking the secrets, the answers are waiting within you, poised for the right time and place to be revealed.  It won't happen all at once, nor from one source, but if you seek, you shall find. Or sometimes, the best revelations aren't the ones you think you are looking for.  Look at your journey as nonstop, and that as you go along your path, you pick up tools that help you uncover more clues, maps, and possibilities.  It's essentially a choose-your-own-adventure book that has infinite possibilities - all unique to YOU!

Most importantly, anyone who tells you that they are the keepers of the secrets and that you must submit to them to discover them - well, they're essentially telling you they don't know any.  A person who lauds "don't you know who I am?" over anyone else hasn't reached the elder stage.  They're more concerned with what they know and what power they can hold over others.

And so this is the point where the concepts of secrets and age find a twisted mutual root. Every relationship must start from a place of equal footing and understanding, in order for respect to take root.  Respect comes from active, healthy growth that is constantly renewed - not a ribbon or crown that sits upon a dusty pile of books or long-ago deeds. Laurels can become stagnant, and youthfulness is not to be discounted for a mere lack of apparent years. Wisdom comes not strictly from the numbers of years, but by how well you have experienced those years and choose to share them with others. A true mentor or guide understands this dynamic - and knows you both will grow from what you experience together.

Lastly, the wise Witch knows that in order to uncover the secrets within, one must be able to listen, to be kind, and to be bold.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Living Tradition

Our Witches' Almanac* lives in the bathroom. This location is pretty much the only guarantee that I will look at it regularly, instead of losing it in my studio.  (Seriously, in a former life, I misplaced past issues for nearly a year, so the bathroom placement is a revelation.)

I tend to check in with the monthly calendar, but I particularly revel in opening it to any page and see what comes up - and am nearly always finding new material within it, no matter how long I have had it.  Usually it tends to be something very much appropriate for that moment as well.

And it so happened the other day I picked up the newest edition and started in on David Conway's "The Old Religion." Which to summarize, talks about the need/desire of esoteric organizations and spiritual traditions to espouse how old they are, how much they are connected to antiquity to prove the authenticity of their ways - and then points out how silly it all is. (Mind you, this is a brief summary in my own words - it's quite an extensive long article for the WA!)

This sentiment created a big AH-HA! moment in my head for something I've been pondering for nearly two decades in many ways: in Witchcraft & Paganism, in Art, in Dance. What is authenticity? What does it mean to be authentic and why is it at the heart of so many arguments?

I think back to any number of the Traditional Witchcraft forums/groups/chats/discussion boards I used to frequent 15 years ago - and how often "my way/tradition is better/more correct than yours" would come up. Even as the truth about various hereditary stories being fantasy came to light, folks dug in deep.  And there I was with my Modern Tradition oxymoron - "why yes, I'm both modern AND traditional, and no I don't mean Wicca" - not really giving a damn about arguing better/worse/older/newer.

Why? Because I'm not a genetic pureblood anything, nor am I living in the 12th, 17th, or 19th centuries.  If I'm not from one particular ethnic background, why would I align only with the gods found in a portion of my blood - when there's many more talking to me? What if it's not just ethnic heritage that factors in, but also past lives - and what if those aren't connected by blood either? What if our ancestors really can come to us in dreams and initiate us in the Old Ways (as believed possible by various Slavic/Russian and Mediterranean traditions) as needed? And if they had the tools we have access to today, would they exchange the flint for the lighter?

Every day we live, we are not only existing and working with tradition, but we are innovating and creating new traditions.  To me, Witchcraft is about doing what needs to be done, with what you have available. There are time-honored things we do, not just because Grandmom did them, but because they WORK - and then there are the ways we find that work better.  Whether the method is ancient or modern doesn't make it any less effective, as long as it works.

That's what authenticity is about - doing what works because it's the best option available. It's not about trying to forge a link to a distant or imagined past to justify your system. There's a weight that comes with that facade that holds back growth and prevents finding truth. If you strive to maintain balance, to know yourself, and to take responsibility for your actions - it doesn't matter how old or new the tradition is, who may approve or disapprove of it. That stuff really doesn't matter in the big picture.

Instead, when you decide to be authentic to yourself, and truly live your own tradition, the Universe opens up in new ways - or old ones you may have not seen before. Knowledge is never truly lost, it can only be hidden for a time.

*the one published in RI - always has been my favorite - check it out at www.TheWitchesAlmanac.com