It was a dream of fervent reality, of intense meaning, the kind of dream that inspires prophets and builds religions. I could literally feel it interrupt the visions I had been having, as if someone had changed the channel my brain was viewing.
Suddenly before me in a forest scene is a Caucasian woman dressed in brown clothing, simple yet complex in it’s unspoken elegance. Plain though her clothes may be, every cell in my body is screaming that this is no straightforward dream image, no mere human. An unknown aspect of my own dream body makes a startling proclamation: This is Hestia.
Hestia, the Greek Goddess of the Hearth and Home, two subjects I had been fanatically reading about for a week. For whatever reason I was compelled to study the traditions of Hearth-Witchery, something far removed from my own tradition; to this day I still have a spot on my “family” altar for our home’s Kobolds. I had thought it all simple research, just something I had a passing interest in, but the somehow “realer-than-real” Goddess that stood before me made it very clear that perhaps my literary wanderings were being led all along.
After it was clear I understood just who and what she was she pointed to a clearing in the forest. There a circle of woman danced semi-nude around a fire, singing some kind of joyous song. My attention was again drawn back to the Goddess. Her face was…haunting; beautiful yet otherwordly. Hestia stated in no uncertain terms that she desired I become her devotee and build her an altar in my home. Most might consider this a special calling, perhaps even destiny.
I told her no.
Well, I politely told her I really appreciated the offer but could not in good conscious become the servant of any god or goddess. I told her I’d give her special thanks and always remember to think of my home as a place her spirit was welcomed and then went on my marry way. The forest scene ended and I returned to my former nocturnal excursion.
When I tell this tale to the few pagan-oriented folk I know I often get shocked looks and gasps. An ancient Greek goddess comes calling to you and you deny her? You had been chosen and you said no? You denied the will of the Gods?
Yes I had, just as easily as I will deny the Will of the State and Society.
“We knew what we were up against but we were going down fighting.”
This is not to say I’m assuming I did so without consequences. I’m very well aware my own magic has limits and extra-dimensional entities that are thousands of years old can turn me into a chew toy. People still disappear with the faeries…or worse. Put on your wizard goggles and become acquainted with the mysterious death of Elisa Lam. Better yet watch the last known video of her alive.
Sometimes we forget in magic is that we’re dealing with creatures quite capable of making you disappear into a water tank, or better yet making your whole town go poof. The world of the Occult is not underwater basking weaving. We are fully aware we may not escape with our sanity, much less our lives.
It’s the same challenge any radical faces when confronting the American Imperium. I was cornered by a random university student after I covered a Bernie Sanders rally and told in hushed tones that I needed to be careful, to be aware that I was surely on a “list.” I’ve had family warn me of the same thing, to be careful what I post online, to be careful what I say. Even staunch patriots seem very aware of Black Site prisons where “enhanced interrogation” means rape and beatings. Liberals chide the revolutionaries “Have you seen the kind of firepower the government has? What they’re capable of? We’d never win. They’ll simply mow us down and declare martial law!”
Which could be true. The two possibilities of the Fed’s raiding my home and making me disappear or a pissed off Goddess striking me blind could have all happened. I could have and still can pay dearly. There is a chance The Good Doctor will cross the Veil far quicker than most.
Yet while I can understand this, even accept that the risk as too great or the outcome too certain, I refuse to be forced to obey these circumstances because of what the other party is or what they can do. I weigh probabilities but I do not take orders. My spiritual power and psychical energy are MINE to be given freely as I desire. To have that taken by office or custom is to lose what truly makes us human in the first place.
Going It Alone
To quote Nietzsche “wherever authority still forms part of good bearing, where one does not give reasons but commands, the logician is a kind of buffoon.” We follow goddesses’ and god’s, spirit’s and power’s for specific reasons whether a personal affinity, an unconscious spiritual resonance or even simple tactical desires. But is it truly a relationship when the two of us are simply forced to act a certain way, when one party calls all the shots and the other simply follows? When such behavior goes beyond simply “because it works” to “this is the only way?”
“…it is always the principle of useful suffering and willing sacrifice that forms the most solid base for hierarchical power.” – Raoul Vaneigem, Treatise On Living For The Use of the Young Generation
Perhaps this is the philosophical split between Occultism and the more hierarchical forms of Polytheism or even militant radicals and mere liberals: for some “the line” extends as far as they’ve been told, for others nothing will do unless they draw the line themselves. Few pagan faiths allow priestesses or priests self-initiation. Magic is practically rife with it and for good reason.
Gordon White in his new book The Chaos Protocols(review forthcoming) notes:
“Boiled down to its essence, a self-initiation is a declaration to the universe that you have a seat at the table, that your Highest is united with your Lowest, and you expect the cosmic croupier to deal you in. It is a fundamentally radical act, a transgressive move. It runs counter to almost two thousand years of social, economic, and religious diktat. There is a lot to burn through, which is why you must persist in your transgression until the volume of High Strangeness in your life is so extreme it cannot be interpreted as anything other than contact.“
Self-initiation? The individual bypassing years of established protocol and getting direct contact with the spirit world? You can’t do that! By the Gods, what about our traditional hierarchies?
Only you can. And we have. Many times before.
I remind you it was this exact kind of transgression that started the myriad of spiritual traditions we see in the world today, people called by the spirits or seeking them out on a hunt for knowledge and power. From Muhammed to Crowley a million times over “holy laws” or “spiritual taboos” were either broken or trampled on to amazing effect. Wicca, Santeria, Thelema, Hoodoo, and any kind of magical activity pre-1800’s was seen as a supreme violation of social mores and spiritual canon for it’s host culture. In a world still dominated by Abrahamic faiths each “holy hierarchy” of every alternative faith has been born in blasphemy and raised in rebellion. That they now put on an air of purity is either foolishness or at worse hypocrisy.
There is no such thing as purity. Each magical order, each sacred tradition, is founded on the last crime against the order before it. The idea then that things must be “just so” too often is not founded on practice but unquestioned doctrine.
Was not the first sorcerer, the first shaman, the prime transgressor? That lonely human who wandered into the woods, quite possibly with a head full of mushrooms, and decided that she would of her own accord seek congress with the Those Who Dwell Outside? How many laws and divine ordinances were shattered by that first contact?
The spirits of the Congo and West Coast of Africa were called up by foreign names and drawn as European saints. This never stopped them. Brigid too found herself petitioned for aid in cathedrals based upon a Middle East religion. Never once did she falter. Isis and the Virgin Mary, Thoth and Hermes, the pantheons of extra-dimensional intelligences seem quite willing to change shape and change tastes.
Yet we alone remain locked rigidity.
I’m not against limits because as a finite being no matter of philosophy or esoteric know-how will allow me to walk on the sun. What I am suspicious of is anybody or anything telling me such a thing is unthinkable. Restrictions in liberty are a part of the natural world, but the restriction of my Owness is what these rules and regulations aim at. And for what? My benefit, the spirits, or the benefit of the tradition itself?