Skryclad: Clothed In Visions

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Paging Thoth & Athena

 

I read a lot of blogs, go to a lot of conferences and festivals, teach a lot of workshops, and have lively discussions with friends related to all things Pagan and Magickal. Although I can say that ease of access to ideas through the internet, bookstores, and Pagan and Magickal events has increased awareness of many social issues, ideologies, religious and theological perspectives, and the vast amount of minutia related Pagan culture and fads, there is an increasing percentage of the Pagan community that is magickally illiterate and innumerate.  I’m not saying that people are less serious, less devoted, or less committed to their path. Nor am I saying that the level of discourse has dropped, in fact in many ways it is much more sophisticated in exploring the development of Pagan culture. What I have noticed is that the technical end of things, magick theory, sacred sciences, and the like, are less well known. I've also noticed a trend towards focusing more exclusively on the lore and mythology of a specific people or a specific time at the expense of a generalized understanding of how magickal paths manifest in a variety of cultures and communities.

 

There has been an increase in the academic study of both historic and current Paganism, which I greatly appreciate, but much of that research is magickally illiterate and innumerate even when it is well done. The criteria for what is valid and what has merit in academic circles is often quite different than what would be valuable and applicable in magickal circles.  Also it seems to me that most of our pagan academics model their work on paradigms from the mainstream culture. I do understand the dilemma involved in trying to balance the need for acceptance by the broader academic community against the goal of creating our own sort of academic model. It is hard when “magical thinking” is used as a loaded term to describe irrational thinking when from a Pagan perspective it could mean thinking that includes an understanding of causality and synchronicity larger in scope than the shuttered limits of the mainstream.

 

 Let’s start with the basics. The capacity to read, to write, and to do arithmetic is considered essential to the foundations of learning, hence the many programs throughout the world to reduce illiteracy and innumeracy. There is no existing word that I am aware of in a Pagan/Magickal context that is analogous to the core capacities implied by literacy and numeracy so for the moment I am just adding the word magickal as a way of exploring the question. So what do I mean by what I am tentatively calling magickal literacy and numeracy? It is not as easy to define as reading, writing, and arithmetic. By extension, magickal literacy and numeracy involves an understanding of symbols (the equivalent of letters, numbers, etc.) and of grammar and rules of operation for the manipulation and measurement of subtle forces. Magickal literacy and numeracy also means that a person has a way to read, to reason, to understand, and to make comparisons between magickal concepts, practices, and experiences.  Integral to this is the capacity to analyze and to quantify what works, what doesn’t work, and why in rituals, operative magic, divination, and other similar practices.  Magickal literacy and numeracy are hard to separate from each other, but this last description leans more heavily into the idea of magickal numeracy. 

 

This kind of core capability would probably arise from a basic working knowledge of magick theory (laws of magick), metaphysics (philosophy of being and reality), trusted systems (Qabala, Astrology, Alchemy, etc.), and other related frameworks. This may be a good starting point from my perspective, but the next obstacle is in creating an agreeable curriculum. There are so many different approaches, schools, and systems that it becomes almost impossible for any one individual to have time to truly become conversant in more than a small sector of what is available. Moreover, the choices to be made and what is valuable to be included or excluded in such a curriculum would be determined by the sensibilities of the person’s starting point. There is also the predicament of finding adequate teachers for each of the topics that are included in such a curriculum. For many years, the rate at which new people have been entering into our communities far exceeds the rate at which adequate teachers can be trained so the challenge of finding teachers is significant.

 

 This particular blog post is meant to be the start of a conversation around these issues. I’m still working on understanding what I have observed in the last few decades in our community and I’m still in the process of formulating both questions and proposed solutions. It may be that there are no good solutions, and if that is the case then the focus may shift to reducing and mitigating harm. I am still hopeful that over the next several decades we will make progress. I also understand that we are not a monolithic community, we are more like an ecology of communities. Different communities will have these issues move through them at different times and in different ways as each reaches the developmental stage where they become relevant.  How much help we can be to each other hinges upon how much we actually know about each other and how much we hold as common ground.

 

 If we work hard and are fortunate, then perhaps we might be able to take things a step beyond simple magickal literacy and numeracy. Perhaps we can increase the range of what is considered common knowledge in a magically educated person. Let's say that there were an imaginary college for all things magickal. In that college you might major in Druidry, or Heathenry, or Thelema, or Wicca, etc.  By the way, this college is a thought experiment and not proposal. In addition to the courses that relate to your major, you would also take courses that are part of  general education. The general education courses allow exposure to a broad range of disciplines that provide context for your major and the capacity to communicate and to interact with those things that lie outside of your major field of study. By the way, I believe that sometimes our best insights into our major come from looking at it from outside using the perspective of another field. 

 

Those general education courses are really a subset of what corresponds to a liberal education. The goal of a liberal education is to empower people with the capacity to think and to understand and to adapt to a changing world. Today, that often means teaching a broad range of disciplines, multiple systems for knowing and analysis, and a grounding in ideas from both art and science. The origin of today’s concept of a liberal education evolved from the historical Artes Liberales with its Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music), also known as the seven liberal arts.  Perhaps one way to begin the discussion of what would be included in a curriculum for a general education that provides or expands upon magickal literacy and numeracy could be started by having discussions about which seven systems you think are needed for clear magickal thinking. Lest you take me literally, I don’t necessarily think that it is seven systems. It is just useful to have parameters if you’re going to be doing brainstorming and exploring.

 

I may write another post about this topic in the next year if I get clearer and sharper on my analysis of this concern. If you’d like to engage in a conversation with me about this, please look me up on my website or on Facebook. I gave a talk at Spring Magick 2011 in Pennsylvania called “The Touchstone: Discerning Magickal Truths” that has material germane to this blog. You may listen to it or download it at this link.

 

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Ivo Domínguez, Jr. is a visionary, and a practitioner of a variety of esoteric disciplines who has been active in Wicca and the Pagan community since 1978. He serves as one of the Elders of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, a Wiccan syncretic tradition that draws inspiration from Astrology, Qabala, the Western Magickal Tradition and the folk religions of Europe. He is the author of Casting Sacred Space: The Core Of All Magickal Work; Spirit Speak: Knowing and Understanding Spirit Guides, Ancestors, Ghosts, Angels, and the Divine; Beneath the Skins with other books in the pipeline as well. He is also is one of the owners of Bell, Book, & Candle (www.bellbookandcandle.biz), Delaware's largest metaphysical shop.
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  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    Heathens and others who focus in such a way are *practicing a different religion than you.* They hold different worldviews, motivations, goals, beliefs, and practices than you do. Heathenry would not be a major in a "magickal college": it isn't a "magickal path."
    As a Hellenist, I have one word: Indeed. Only by the loosest definitions of "magical path" is Heathenry or Hellenismos or Roligio Romana or other recon-based paths "magickal" --you know, definitions wherein any kind of prayer, or ritual, or sacred dance is "magickal", which now means all religion is inherently "magickal", including any Christian who has ever said a prayer. If some-one is defining all religion as "magickal", then OK, we can talk about about Heathenry and Hellenismos and other recon paths as a "major" at a "magickal college" (obviously Christian sects would also be "majors" available to a student), but if only some religions are inherently "magickal", as seemed to be the implication in this post, then no, Heathenry does not apply, Hellenismos does not apply, and so on.

    Are there systems of magic specific to Heathenry, Hellenismos, etc...? Of course, but as you said, amongst the ancient forms of those cultures and religions, that was the realm of specialists, and not everybody even employed those specialists because of either local or philosophical taboos a person may have held.

  • Ivo Dominguez Jr
    Ivo Dominguez Jr Monday, 25 November 2013

    Dear William,

    I am not bewildered nor confused and certainly expected responses similar to yours and others. Certainly you do not need a liberal arts education in occult theory to be a devoted follower of a religion, but if you are a practitioner there is great value in understanding multiple systems. There are magickal practitioners that are Heathen. I would say that authors and teachers like Diana Paxson, Kveldulf Gundarsson, and Edred Thorsson are as good as they are because they cross-trained in multiple systems. One of the most interesting conversations that I was a part of included, among others, a spiritualist medium and a spaekona. All walked away with more insights on their practice because we knew enough about various systems to ask good questions and to infer more.

    What I am saying is that we are all different as are our practices and that we could improve what we do my exploring broader perspectives.

    I have suggested to people within my Wiccan/Pagan community to look to the Heathens and Druids for good examples of devotional work which is usually less developed in my community. I have had Heathen practitioners train with me because of their desire to delve deeper into magickal practices that were looked at askance by their fellow Heathens. Not surprisingly they told be not to tell our mutual Heathen friends. We live in the present and hopefully plan for the future. Though it may not be your calling, I know reconstructionists that do want to develop homegrown theories of magick and my blog is as much for them as for my community.

  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    There are magickal practitioners that are Heathen.

    But not all Heathens practise magic. If some-one is taking a magical path, then sure, I wouldn't be surprised if they might benefit from learning the basics of multiple systems, at the very least. But most Heathens and other recons are not on magical paths, so saying that Heathenry is a "magical religion" is in err.

  • Ivo Dominguez Jr
    Ivo Dominguez Jr Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    Dear Ruadhán,

    I understand your reasoning but I don't agree. The use of healing, divination, oracles, and the like is in the historical record and yes it was mostly for specialists or the priest/ess/es. From my perspective that makes it a part of the religion and the culture. In modern times it is also still a minority that are practitioners but I don't require all or the majority to be practitioners to call it a magickal religion. I know a number of people from various systems that view their magickal practices as an integral part of serving in their religion.

  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    From my perspective that makes it a part of the religion and the culture

    And by that reasoning, that would also make the United States as a whole a culture defined by its doctors.

    I know a number of people from various systems that view their magickal practices as an integral part of serving in their religion.

    I'm sure many such people in Heathenry would consider it an integral part of their own practises as way for themselves, and others specifically on a magical path to serve their gods, but I challenge the notion that many would consider it an integral part for every other Heathen (or Hellenist, etc...) to be well-versed and knowledged in.

    From where I stand, it seems that you've noticed a handful of people saying "this is an integral part of what I do", and you're assuming that they hold this standard to everyone else in their religious communities, when, as a person in one of those communities, from where I see things, that's very seldom true. No-one in traditional polytheistic religions, not even those who practise magic, sees magic as an integral part of the religion as a whole; it's a small part of those religions, and one reserved to the practise of specialists, and there is no shortage of people who can get along in Heathenry, or Hellenismos, or Religio, or so on, just fine without ever even needing to employ "magic" as you've defined it. It's like you're telling me my latte needs caramel when I know for a fact that I can enjoy it just fine, without.

  • Ivo Dominguez Jr
    Ivo Dominguez Jr Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    Dear William,

    I am not aware of anyone that can speak for all of any community. You are as free as any to define and to theorize and I am under no obligation to accept your perspective and you are under no obligation to accept mine. I do not believe it disrespectful to think about more than my immediate community. My difference of opinion is not the same as offering an insult or disrespect. I also made no claims about what is best for Heathenry or anyone else. My reason for writing this blog is to point out a problem and to make suggestions. If you do not care to engage in magickal practices, then this blog does not apply to you.

  • William Anthony Hood
    William Anthony Hood Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    "From my perspective that makes it a part of the religion and the culture."

    Couple things here: first, "part of" does not equate to "defining feature of." I understand that to you it may be the most interesting part of those religions, and this brings me to my second point, that your perspective does not get to define communities you don't belong to.

    "I don't require all or the majority to be practitioners to call it a magickal religion."

    Ok, sure, I understand where you're coming from. But again, the way you choose to define religions, based on your own bias of what you consider centrally important, is not binding to those religions. We are under no obligation to let you define us. To insist otherwise is lack of respect. Now yes, I'm perfectly aware that some Heathens or Hellenists may agree with you, and if you want to speak for them, by all means do so. But one portion of the community seeing things your way does not give you license to make blanket statements about the entire community, contrary to the wishes of *other* portions of that community.

    In addition, your definition of "magick" as "Magick is the use of the subtle powers of the universe to bring about change that serves your spiritual, religious, and/or mundane desires" isn't a universal, and if it is, it's related to very differently by different communities. Within Heathenry, there are those who agree with you and use magic in this way; there are those who define it differently, but still personally use magic and follow a magic path; there are those who agree with your definition, but do not include it in their path nor see it as integral or *absolutely* needed in the community; there are those who disagree, and think all magic is hubris; and so on and so on. You don't get to latch on to one section of the community and decide their interpretation and engagement with Heathenry is the "best" or that it extends past them to the rest of the community. See my statement above about blanket statements.

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Monday, 25 November 2013

    Mr. Dominguez,

    Some people bristle at the idea of "working with" gods, which I think is hinted at by your saying, "I have suggested to people within my Wiccan/Pagan community to look to the Heathens and Druids for good examples of devotional work which is usually less developed in my community." I know others who identify themselves as Pagan, but believe that magic is complete hooey.

    Your assertion that "we could improve what we do [b]y exploring broader perspectives" is one I support, but I think that would be more easily achieved by focusing on religion, not on magic. Not all Pagan religions consider magic to be part of their faith, but I don't think it's going out on too fragile a limb to say that all Pagan religions consider religion to be part of their faith.

    For someone interested in magic, I wholeheartedly agree that learning a wide variety of systems can be very beneficial. I know several people who have become quite accomplished using that strategy. But is it your contention that even Pagans whose faith is not tied to the use of magic at all should practice it? Or simply that Pagans following paths traditionally magic-focused, such as Wicca, should do so? I can definitely see the wisdom of the latter position, but would need to study the former more deeply.

  • Ivo Dominguez Jr
    Ivo Dominguez Jr Monday, 25 November 2013

    Dear Mr. Ward,

    Whether in the past or in current times, not every member of a system/tradition/etc. is a practitioner (user of magick). The percentage of practitioners varies from system to system. Even in a magick-centric system like the one I practice, not all members are practitioners. We do encourage our members to learn the basic knowledge about magick even if they are not intending to use it. If they intend to do more and request more then they are trained more fully. Each community makes its own choice about that.

    I am aware that the majority of various flavors of reconstructionist systems (or faiths if you prefer) do much, much, less magick, but I personally know a small number that do. I suggest that those practitioners would be served by a broader exposure. I think the stance that it is not magick is not a part of some of the faiths mentioned here is more about where they are in their rebirth. You may be right and I may be wrong, and I think we'll know for sure in the next 20 years or so.

    You may get a better sense of where I am coming from if you read this blog: http://witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Studies-Blogs/defining-the-path.html

    I have a question for you. What do you consider oracular work to be?

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Monday, 25 November 2013

    You ask the right questions to get my brain working. I can't fairly answer about oracular work, since I've neither performed it nor seen it practiced. From what I understand it sounds a lot like a form of ritual possession, which I can't easily separate from magic because I learned it in a Wiccan context, and it would probably devolve to splitting hairs. Someone more familiar with the process could probably speak to whether or not the techniques used for that sort of work are magical or not.

    My original sense was that you were arguing that all Pagans should be well versed in the study of magic. Your comments now seem more focused on magical practitioners, and how important a broad base of knowledge is for them. I may take you up on that advice myself -- we'll know for sure in the next 20 years or so.

    It is far too late for me to take a look at your recommended link tonight, but I will try to revisit it.

  • William Anthony Hood
    William Anthony Hood Monday, 25 November 2013

    "I would say that authors and teachers like Diana Paxson, Kveldulf Gundarsson, and Edred Thorsson are as good as they are because they cross-trained in multiple systems."

    Well, you're considering that what you consider "good" is objectively "good." There are those in the Heathen community who don't have the same respect for Paxson, Gundarsson, and Thorsson that you do (in fact some don't even consider them Heathen, with the exception of Gundarsson). I have no desire to paint them one way or another, just pointing out facts. Also, how exactly do you get much a picture of Heathenry when the folks you interact with are both Heathen *and* something else? Paxson is a Neo-Pagan and runs a pan-Pagan group and Thorsson is an occultist with Setian roots. Whether one likes them or not, it's obvious they aren't representative of the Heathen community generally, so it isn't surprising that you were most impressed by Heathens most similar to yourself.

    "What I am saying is that we are all different as are our practices and that we could improve what we do my exploring broader perspectives."

    That isn't what it sounded like. What your post came off as was, "all traditions I consider Pagan are, or should be, magical and the Pagan community is failing to keep all individuals magically trained." Regardless, I'm not ignorant of magic anymore than I am of Jesus. But just because I understand how Christians view Jesus doesn't mean I agree with them, the same way that I understand the way Wiccans, witches, and occultists view magic, I just don't share their view. Though even if I didn't, this doesn't make me anymore "illiterate" than someone ignorant of Southern superstitions would be (eating black eyed peas on New Years, and the like). Just because some hold those superstitions to be important does not make them a standard by which to judge others' "literacy." I understand you think there is value in others understanding your beliefs and practices, but not everyone feels the same way. Jehovah's Witnesses think it's important that others understand their beliefs, but I think we can agree that their methods leave something to be desired.

    "I have had Heathen practitioners train with me because of their desire to delve deeper into magickal practices that were looked at askance by their fellow Heathens."

    Did you sit down with those "fellow Heathens" and discuss the topic with them? Do you really understand their point of view and why they hold it? I think it would do you just as much good to do so as it would for them to understand you.

    "I know reconstructionists that do want to develop homegrown theories of magick and my blog is as much for them as for my community."

    So do I, and they're doing so independently without the help from Wiccans and Pagans. From what I've seen and experienced, borrowing from Wicca, witchcraft, and Neo-Pagan magic is at least equally as detrimental to the overall Heathen project as it is helpful. It tends to divert our people from understanding magic from within our own cultural context and from *really* delving into what we know about magic in our cultures. You end up with people defining seidr as "Norse Shamanism" and other nonsense, and never developing further from there. Adopting the assumptions, worldview, and practices of modern Western occultism and trying to shoehorn it into our culture and community does not result in a genuine form of "Heathen magic." At best, such a person ends up practicing something foreign alongside their Heathenry. I think that detracts the very thing from our religion that you are suggesting we develop.

    What my objection ultimately comes down to, though, is the underlying assumption in your post. You're "magickal college" analogy is perfectly illustrative of this. Heathenry would in no way be a major in a magickal college; Hel, it would be a "college" in and of itself. All I'm asking is that folks quit speaking with the assumption that Heathenry is "essentially the same" and shares the same worldview, culture, and beliefs. It isn't Paganism with mead and Germanic god names, it is a fully-fledged movement with its own distinct motivations and goals that aren't shared by the Pagan community, generally speaking..

  • William Anthony Hood
    William Anthony Hood Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    Mr. Dominguez,

    I am not able to reply to your specific comment, so I'll have to put up a new one, I hope that is ok.

    "I am not aware of anyone that can speak for all of any community."

    Agreed, which is one of the points I've made. I've tried to be clear that my community has diverse opinions on this topic, but diversity of opinions does not mean one can make blanket statements about a community. Quite the opposite, actually.

    "You are as free as any to define and to theorize and I am under no obligation to accept your perspective and you are under no obligation to accept mine."

    It isn't a matter of perspective, it is a matter of fact. Applying values and concepts to a community that doesn't share them (at least not universally), especially when you do not belong to that community, is an act that members of that community who take exception have every right to criticise. I am not saying that my perspective on Heathenry is the only right one, I'm saying that it *is* one and therefore must not be dismissed and ignored if one is going to make reference to Heathenry *as a whole*, as you've done in this article.

    "I do not believe it disrespectful to think about more than my immediate community."

    Probably because you frame it as some kind of positive consideration of others without considering how your article reads to others.

    "My difference of opinion is not the same as offering an insult or disrespect. I also made no claims about what is best for Heathenry or anyone else."

    Yes, you did exactly that. A "difference of opinion" is not at issue here. The disrespect comes from that fact that the problem you describe in your article singles out those in your community who do not value, focus on, or share your understanding of magic. You then make a blanket inclusion of Heathenry within your "solution," which very clearly extends your "problem" into the Heathen community as well. I'm trying to explain to you that "focusing more exclusively on the lore and mythology of a specific people or a specific time" is not a "problem" for us, because doing so is the *point* of our religion. To treat the activities that are a result of our core motivations and goals as a "problem" to be "fixed" is, in fact, highly disrespectful. I'm not really sure how you don't see that. I'm not pointing this all out to denigrate your beliefs, religious perspective, or anything else, I'm doing so to let you know that this article reads as highly disrespectful and ignorant of our religion and community. If you don't find any value in our perspective, don't complain when Paganism continues to hemorrhage recons and polytheists.

    "If you do not care to engage in magickal practices, then this blog does not apply to you."

    Then don't write as if it does. When you make reference to specific kinds of people causing a "problem" in your community and those people take exception, you can't just turn around and say "this blog isn't for you." If it isn't for me, then don't make broad references that include me.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Wednesday, 04 December 2013

    Ivo, this is well thought out and beautifully written. Thank you for this glimpse into your own processes.I hope you will consider more writing in this area as your thinking on it continues.

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