A Year of Ceremonial Magic: Month Ten

The month of October continued to be a busy time for me. I have faithfully continued to perform my daily rituals: the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, The Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram, The Middle Pillar Ritual, the Circulation of the Body of Light, and the Tarot Contemplation Ritual. Now that I’ve been practicing these rituals daily for almost an entire year, everything is committed to memory and runs smoothly. I focus more on visualizations and the intent of the rituals. But, much like other daily habits, I haven’t been experiencing any noticeable leaps and bounds of progress; it’s definitely maintenance mode going forward.

I continue to struggle a little with the Christian-ish language of the Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram. I decided that I would stay the course according to my original commitment. As I’m still considering what my spiritual practice will look like next year; if the Hexagram ritual is going to stay, it will require some retooling.

I cycled through the Minor Arcana suit of Wands twice throughout October, and then started with the Swords. I hope to be able to cycle once through the entire deck before the end of the year.

It was very exciting to get caught up with my reading. I confess, I’m still (as of the 2nd of November) in the middle of reading chapter 10 on sex magic. I read the chapters on talismans and Goetic magic with great interest. I’ve been planning additional tools and materials required to practice some of these (new to me) magics and techniques. As the end of the year quickly approaches, I’m considering using the rest of the year to focus on the creation (or upgrading) and consecration of my tools and then next year, focusing on creating and using talismans and digging deeper into Goetic magics. There are other things which I want to include (or do a better, more consistent practice) in my daily rituals in addition to shifting my focus to more work and devotion to my Gods and ancestors.

I have a criticism of Modern Magick, specifically chapter seven. This is a bit of a tangent and it assumes that my readers are familiar with some of the larger discussions happening in the “Pagan” blogosphere. I will do my best to summarize my understanding of the history of the conflicts and then present why I have a bit of a problem with this chapter.

The term Pagan has always been problematic, partially because the term was originally a pejorative label. Pagan also defies definition because it describes a negative, an absence: an absence of devotion to the Abrahamic faiths, not what a Pagan is or does. Unfortunately, Pagan (or Neopagan) is an unspecific word that is about as useful as “other” or “miscellaneous” to describe any religious beliefs, practices, and faiths that are not Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity, or Islam). I use the term as a quick shorthand to describe myself as it is technically correct. I do not adhere to the Abrahamic faiths (although I did convert to Catholicism before my first marriage, but that is another long and weird story).

Technically, Pagan referred to the world’s religions that were not Abrahamic: Hindus, Buddhists, Indigenous religions, Jains, Shinto, Wicca, Heathenry, Sikhism, Religious Witchcraft, African diaspora religions, and a bunch more. But like all words, the definition evolved over time and I’m guessing some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the word Pagan seemed to be applicable to a handful of dissimilar practices and religions, including Wicca.

Amongst people who define themselves as Wiccan, there is much disagreement and conflict over who is and who is not, Wiccan. After books targeting beginners were published (such as Scott Cunningham’s books), anyone with an interest could start practicing what they thought was Wiccan religion. This in turn angered the initiatory, British Traditional Wiccans, who (right or wrong) felt that their religion was being appropriated by outsiders. Because these were the years before the internet, interested people could not always find a British Traditional Wiccan (BTW) coven with which to train and receive initiation. Strong interest in “alternative religions” persisted however, so occult publishers continued to offer books filled with ritual structure, holidays, and practices that were called “Wiccan”, much to the consternation of the BTWs.

Because of the steady popularity of the books published targeting those interested in “Wicca 101” it seemed that Wicca (BTW or not) was all that was available. Eventually, the word Pagan evolved again and became nearly synonymous with the word Wiccan. Public events and rituals used Wiccan ritual structure, Wiccan holidays, and Wiccan language, so much so that Pagan and Wiccan meant nearly the same thing.

Meanwhile, there are other types of Pagan religion, some developing their own traditions, ritual structures, holidays; some with existing, fully intact traditions. There are reconstructionists, there are Asatru, there are the African Diaspora religions, and lots more. They are definitely not Wiccan. This has unfortunately led to several conflicts and the word Pagan doesn’t seem to be as inclusive as it once may have been.

Currently, the identity crisis rages on. A major disagreement is the variances in “-theisms” among different groups. From Polytheism to Monism, there are seemingly insurmountable conflicts over the nature of the divine. Some seem to come from a Human Potential background – viewing divinity as Jungian archetypes; psychological constructs. Others come from the point of view that there are many Gods, each an independent individual with their own personality, agenda, and agency. And others yet fall somewhere in between.

Things came to a head about a year ago when, what I will call the Devotional Polytheists complained that they were essentially disenfranchised from the Pagan identity. They pointed to Wiccan (or Wiccan-based) practice being the default position for Pagan identity, and that it didn’t represent them. Pagan/Wiccans insisted that many of them were in fact Polytheistic, and several continue to deny a position of privilege.

So…my criticism of chapter seven is manifold. Kraig includes a section he terms “low magic” preceded by a short description of Pagans, or Neopagans, or Wiccans; he uses the terms interchangeably. He describes “low magic” as being more folksy, the magic of the common people, where “high magic” (or ritual or ceremonial magic) is the magical technology of the educated aristocracy. This is a book on ceremonial magic, I don’t need to read about charging talismans using a Wiccan spell structure. There are plenty of books on the shelves of stores with formulas for performing your own “low magic”. What is exceedingly funny to me about this is that Wiccan practice shamelessly adopted ceremonial/ritual magical structure. If Kraig was trying to present Neopagan/Wiccan spell casting as a variation or adaptation, he wasn’t clear about it.

Secondly, Kraig’s history of Wicca is deeply flawed. He discusses briefly, an old conflict between Pagans and Ceremonial Magicians. Kraig was also roommates with Scott Cunningham for some years, so if he can’t tell the difference between Wicca and Pagan, (or BTW and Wicca-based practice, for that matter), I can’t imagine a person new to Pagan religion would be able to see the difference, let alone recognize the alternatives to Wicca under the Pagan “umbrella”. This leads me to believe that some of those Pagan/Wiccan big names are disingenuous when they deny their privileged “default” position. Ultimately, it is this incorrect information that makes me question the validity of the rest of the book. But Kabbalah and Ceremonial Magic are his areas of expertise – I wish he would have just stuck to that.

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