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Walking with the Mighty Dead......
My latest book is entitled The Mighty Dead: Working with the Ancestors of Witchcraft. It's an usual topic for me, but one that's grown out of a lot of direct experiences, followed up by research both in the Craft and looking at it through the lens of different traditoins. I thought I would give you a brief introduction with some excerpt of it here on my Pagan Square blog.
“There is a part of the Inner Planes, the Other World, which is called Witchdom. There you may learn much, if you can contact it. There are spells and chants, dances and music and such woods and streams as delight the hearts of witches. Witchdom has a temple, in that all sacred places on this earth have their astral counterparts. Nothing is lost, but much is stored deep.” - John Brakespeare
Who and what are the Mighty Dead? Why are they important? And how do you commune with them? All of these questions are explored in detail, but each is a mystery. As you go, you will find your own answers to these three questions, for my answers will not necessarily be your answers.
The simplest understanding of the Mighty Dead is they are the sanctified dead. They are the holy dead. While modern Pagans live in a world where we see everything as holy, as everything has an indwelling spirit or spark of light, when we call these spirits sanctified, we are setting them apart from what we would commonly think of as the dead. They have reached some state of holiness differentiated from the rest of their peers.
Every religious practice has some tradition recognizing this category of spirit, though the terms might not be clear or explicit. Every religion has those souls who have, to some extent, “succeeded” in the given goals of the religion. They become examples, guides and teachers to those on the path, separating them from those who simply died without this level of success or wisdom.
Examples of such figures from across the world include:
Heroes and Demigods
Ascended Masters of Theosophy
Secret Cheifs of Ceremonial Magick
First Ancestors of Native Traditions
In the traditions of Witchcraft and Wicca, one of the first mentions of how these beings apply to our work comes from Gerald Gardner:
“I am forbidden to give any more; but if you accept her rule you are promised various benefits and admitted into the circle, introduced to the Mighty Dead and to the cult members.”
Various other references are found in materials associated with the Clan of Tubal Cain and the work of Doreen Valiente. Valiente actually communes with one named John Brakespeare, who illuminates the nature of Witchdom for her. The names the Watch or the Hidden Company are also used for these beings.
Ultimately this lore shows us that one can become the Mighty Dead through the practice of the craft, or perhaps the practice of any true spiritual system of empowerment and mysticism, in opposition to dogma and belief. Remember Dion Fortune’s words explaining the inner plane masters:
“What you are now, they were once. What they are now, you can be.”
It is an invitation to follow. It can be helpful to look at the wide range of spirits and entities we can collectively associate with the Mighty Dead. Purists from the camp of hard polytheism would say that each is its own “tribe” with its own chiefs. Each tradition has its own separate clan and family of masters. There are overarching collectives for greater world religions, and then specific groups tied to specific lineage traditions. While the Bodhisattvas serve all those approaching Buddhism, there might be specific groups of Bodhisattvas for specific lineages of Buddhism. The Mighty Dead apply only to the Witch Cults, and specific groups of them guide specific traditions and coven. The Mighty Dead or Hidden Company of the Clan of Tubal Cain and its offshoots are different than those guiding Gardnerian Wicca or the Temple of Witchcraft.
Theosophists would look at the multidimensional nature of enlightened consciousness, where there is no separation, and believe in a collective and connective awareness that simply manifests in different families and tribes, based upon the assumptions and predilections of the mystic approaching them. One large collective of enlightened souls is working together. Those who came to their enlightenment through Buddhism might be focused on manifesting that way. Those who approached it through Christianity are manifesting as saints. And those sorcerers, priestesses and cunning women are manifesting in the Witchcraft traditions as the Mighty Dead. Collectively they are all reaching out to all the traditions of this time, in a joint effort to usher in the new aeon, and will work with whomever will work with them, whose purpose is in harmony with their own.
In the end, much like the gods, their nature is a mystery we need to explore, and no one approach has exclusive claim to the truth for us all. The truth is in the experience.
Dedication to Joining the Mighty Dead
Light a candle and create a sacred space in whatever method you choose. This ritual of dedication can be done before a coven, circle or community, and many would consider that preferable, giving you a clear obligation and duty to your community to behave and operate in a manner that is in harmony with the dedication, while others feel that doing so before the immaterial body of the Hidden Company is not only more appropriate, but more binding, for it is a private vow between you and the hidden masters.
I (name yourself), dedicate myself to become one with the Hidden Company
The Unamed Order of the Timeless Tradition
Eternal and Ever Present in All Ways.
By the blood of the Witches
I seek the Wisdom hidden in all things
And choose the Wisest course of action.
By the heart of the Witches
I seek the Love found within all things.
And choose to follow the true heart.
By the power of the Witches
I seek the Will found within myself and therefore the cosmos.
And enact it for all things are possible.
I remember and vow to return to the body that is first, last and all in between.
I become one with the Living Dead, beyond the grave.
I dedicate myself to the service of the Gods,
I dedicate myself to the Earth, Depths and Starry Heavens
I dedicate myself to the Great Work of Transformation
and unite my three souls in union
By life, death and paradox
This I vow.
When done, release the sacred space and let the candle burn out on its own. Know that you have altered your course irrevocably towards union with the Mighty Dead and the mysteries beyond the grave.
This dedication to join the ranks of the Mighty Dead is somewhat akin to the Oath of the Adept in the Golden Dawn tradition or the Bodhisattva Vow found in the story of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. It is the genuine desire to achieve “Buddhahood” or enlightenment for the good of not only the self, but for all. Specifically and simply it states, “May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.” The traditional ritual from Mahayana Buddhism is far more complex, but the heart of the rite is this vow. While this rite and the traditions of Witchcraft do not confer that specific vow or responsibility, it is inherent in the understanding of many modern Witches, with the web of life, that to change and heal the self is to change and heal the rest of your ancestors, species and the world. Our entire lives become rituals to attaining our Highest Will with Love and Wisdom, and joining the Mighty Dead for the next round of our journey. Our magickal evolution is not just for the self. It is for yourself, your people and the entire world.
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