Friday, April 9, 2010

Our Job Here Is Not Done

Yvonne and I come from two entirely different family backgrounds : she from a fundamentalist Baptist family, and I from what might best be called a default agnostic family. Our childhoods were very different : her family was poor, whereas Gavin's was what might be described as upper middle-class--certainly what the French call confortable or aisi. She was expected to go to the Baptist church regularly for her dose of piety and guilt; he went, though rarely, to the handiest Anglican franchise for marryin's, buryin's, and harvest festivals. In fact Gavin's Welsh grandfather was so anti-Christian that he didn't want his descendants walking down a street with a church of any denomination in it.
When we two came together in the 1960s, we found a common ground of understanding : the civilization we lived in was broken and was getting worse. Yes, we are of an older generation than many of you; and many of you seem to think that we don't understand that good Christian homes can be friendly and nurturing. We deny that we are carrying scars that Christianity inflicted on us in childhood. In fact, a child of today gets more scars than we were ever likely to experience. We decided that a new religion--a new spiritual path--was sorely needed--a path of freedom and of spirituality but one that recognized the possibilities inherent in belief structures encompassing both (a) an unknowable Ultimate Deity and (b) what the Welsh called hearth gods and goddesses (Latin lares and penates). The key was freedom from rigid fundamentalism of any stripe. In our minds, fundamentalism means a group (affiliated with one of a variety of conventional religions) with a set of rigid dominator rules that are enforced through peer pressure or through actual physical punishment and through guilt, shame, and fear.
We know many of you were raised in happy, supportive homes--but many others were not. For those scarred souls who are still in pain and don't know why they hurt, we articulate these thoughts.
To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, we two sought Evidence for spiritual belief, declining to base our ideas on Authority, Revelation, or Tradition. (Thank you, St. Richard!)
Unfortunately, some people assumed that Wicca and Witchcraft traditions were inherently fundamentalist. Thus in Wicca today we have a giant split. When people think they have left conventional paths behind--but carry over the dominator mindset into their "new" beliefs without examining their assumptions, they make Witchcraft into just one more package of rigidity. A big thumbs-down to that!
The only way this split can be healed is through honest debate, through honest, objective examination of "tenets" and "principles". The way to heal that split is to join forces with other like-minded people to battle the fundamentalist rape of the world and soon of the universe. And healing is what we need, if the Craft and the Community are to survive the relentless, pervasive, well-funded, creative 24/7 water torture of conventional fundamentalists.
Let us quote from Thomas Flynn, editor of the magazine Free Inquiry (800) 458-1366) :
"You and I are currently under an attempted psychological siege by fundamentalist religious control fanatics. The world is under assault today--more than at any time in the last 70 years--by religious extremists who invoke their particular notion of God to try controlling how we think, what we read, what our kids are taught in every class from civics to science, how we vote, and even when and with whom our nation goes to war.
"The rise of hatred-encouraging, fear-inducing propaganda in best-selling 'Christian literature.' Fundamentalist leaders like preacher/novelist Tim LaHaye are preparing readers for the emergence of 'the Anti-Christ,' preparatory to the eventual destruction of the world. Nor is fundamentalist-encouraged hatred limited to Christian fundamentalists. Muslim clerics have issued a fatwa against one of our contributing editors, a genuinely ominous event in southern Asia, where this editor then lived."
We are going to risk Bertrand Russell one more time with his immortal words :
"Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific cooperation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment. It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion."
Please, please, Gentle Readers, wake up and smell the outhouse! We are in the hands of, and at the mercy of, fundamentalists who care little for human pain and suffering, and apparently could not care less for the fate of this planet.


Anonymous said...

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Chris in the Emerald City said...

THRILLED to find out that you will be coming to Fayetteville, AR in the fall!!! Save a dance for me!

Ayn Soph Aur said...

Dear Gavin and Yvonne,

I apologize for not responding sooner to your posts. I have been undergoing chemotherapy and my mind has been extremely fuzzy due to the medications.

Thank you for your work to fight fundamentalism and dogmatism within the Craft. Dogmatism is something that is, at least within the "traditional" Craft (Alexandrian and Gardnerian I can speak to, at least), rife throughout many groups, I think.

Ayn Soph Aur said...

Within the latest incarnation of the Craft (say, post 1980s), there is an interesting psychological dynamic at play. I have commented to others before that many modern Witches are really Christians who have lopped off the genitals of their deity and stuck him in a dress. At the very least, their morality, ethics and "white wash thinking" of Nature does not appear to me to be substantially different from that of the modern Christians. The Hag is a loving grandmother, the Virgin is a pre-pubescent innocent 12 year old, etc. - which negates, I believe, the mythic dynamism of the earlier archetypes and forces originally embodied in these beings. The ancient concept of Virgin was far away from our modern concept of hymen intactus. Also, initiators of sacral kings (such as "Macha of the friendly thighs") were far different forces, I think, than we like to picture initiators of today. For Celtic witchcraft, a reading of the myths and legends of the Celts reveals an earthy people who had gods that were anything but unidimensional.

In the discussion of Spirituality, there arose the concept of progression from parental authority to religious/mythic authority to self-authority. Part of the issue with dogmatism within the Craft at large might include that the independence streak of the early Crafters (which led to innovations of practice, experimentation, etc.) has given way to the Craft becoming, increasingly, a "mass religion". In speaking with Fred Lammond (a covener who was in Gerald Gardner's coven), Lammond had commented that Gardner said the BoS was not "the Bible or Koran", but was a workbook/notebook. It has, within branches of the Craft, become holy writ without a dot or tiddle or misspelling to be changed. I think this is the result of fewer truly independent explorers joining the Craft (of whatever variety) and, instead, followers of the religion of the book not breaking from the apron strings of their parental faith.

Ayn Soph Aur said...

I would also argue that many modern Witches (especially of the ecclectic variety), in their seeking of acceptance from the larger culture (while maintaining a psychological stance of "we are separate and special") have taken the approach of a conquered people by adopting the vocabulary of the dominant culture in an almost apologetic way. For example - "covens" become referred to as congregations, "spells" get referred to as prayers, etc. Comparison using differing terms is useful, but direct equation is not, I think. Intimate coven settings are, I would argue, far different from a religious congregation, and the raising of energy for a spell worked by the will of the witch is not the same as a prayer to a deity. The integrity of retaining a language is not only, I think, a matter of being "uppity" - language structures our thoughts and our beliefs.

I do not advocate throwing out all that has gone before, and not having training structures within which to work. I believe that there is much that has been found to work in the magic and rituals of, say, the Gardnerian Craft. And I do believe that, for beginners, foundational training in ways that have been found to work reliably for a large number of people is important. Without a good foundation, forward progress can't be made - eternally re-inventing the wheel is insane.

Ayn Soph Aur said...

The balanced approach, as exhibited by you and the School of Wicca (at least from what I have read - I have not taken any of your courses, I fear, though I am considering doing so) is healthy, in my opinion. It seems that you layout a structure of "this is what we will train you in, this is what we have found to work for us and many students" - and then you support experimentation and feedback. I think this is emminently sane and the only way that we will break out of the superstition that, surprisingly, is infecting the Craft with increasing frequency. I think the original pioneers in the Craft were more honest with themselves and were more willing to take the empiricist's approach to their rituals and magick than many are today. This included admitting when their magic, despite being psychologically fulfilling, had no effect in the outer world. The keeping of records and journals of their experiments being an invaluable "b.s. detector" for their own work.

I believe that both of you have done wonderful work to help push the Craft forward in the world and to seek to maintain the integrity of an art and science that requires its members to fight not to self-deceive. Once more, thank you.

Anonymous said...

He who would climb the ladder must begin at the bottom.......................................................