Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Lies and Lineage

One of the most pervasive aspects of Western Occultism and neopagan movements is the idea of lineage. Lineage can be very important from the point of view that you want to know that the person from whom you are learning learned something at some point. Lineages can also be a point of manipulation where the mystique of ancient lineages draws people into a tradition that simply doesn't have the goods.

I think that in the 19th century the prevailing attitude was that tradition was important. As the Industrial Revolution began to transform the world in which people lived, they sought out stability through tradition. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all had long pedigrees and the idea of ancient knowledge newly discovered spoke to the imagination of the time. Rightly so as the discoveries of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were rocking the world.

This extended through the 20th Century. Surrounded by a rapidly changing world, people wanted to cling to ancient wisdom, sought pre-Christian native traditions, and craved spiritual paths founded in antiquity. How many traditions claim lineage from lost Atlantis? Gerald Gardner claimed his Wicca came from the New Forest region of England and that it was an unbroken line from before Rome introduced Christianity.

The reality is that most of these traditions were invented, sometimes entirely from scratch. The "Charge of the Goddess" is claimed to come from ancient Greece, and yet the only known versions date no earlier than 1949. The Golden Dawn, founded in 1888 claimed lineage from Germany through a Frauline Sprengel, yet there is no evidence of her existence.

Both stories were created to add legitimacy to the creations of new ideas, concepts, and traditions. Surrounded by innovation and transformation, people wanted, yea needed, a sense of legitimate history behind anything in which they were going to invest their time.

Yet this takes away from the individual autonomy of the seeker. The Golden Dawn tradition was founded by a group of scholars, experts in occultism, initiates in other traditions and formed as a synthesis of the existing ideas, philosophies, and rituals of their day. They introduced radical ideas like sexual and social equity and equality.

Wicca was formed by Gerald Gardner, writing by himself, borrowing heavily from Aleister Crowley, and building a cult of personality surrounding himself with sexy young women who (he claimed) the gods wanted to be naked all of the time.

Both claim the legitimacy of ancient lineages, but they are not equal. One is a system built by educated men and women, the other is a religion.

So what is the difference? You can either accept or reject any and all of the claims of ancient lineage given by the Golden Dawn and still find legitimacy in the work itself. Rituals are built on a philosophical foundation and they can be deconstructed and examined. Wicca, on the other hand only really works if you believe that everything comes from ancient sources. When examined much of it is set dressing without any real purpose or function.

For example. Both traditions require certain dress codes within their initiated rituals. In the Hermetic tradition, this is based on a single white robe. This represents the Spirit and the removal of all social ranks and privileges. The only markings of rank are those earned within the Order or Lodge in which you are working.

In Wicca, to remove the social hierarchies and symbols of rank initiates are naked in their rites. They still have symbols of rank and power within the system (cords, necklaces, etc...) but the function of the white robe of the Hermeticist is replaced with nudity. So, OK, it's the same symbol, but WHY? The reason Wiccans work skyclad is that they are told to do so by a "charge" which claims ancient lineage. "As a sign that you are truly free ye shall be naked in your rites."

The separation of secular and sacred spaces and the removal of society's symbols of rank are reasonable and arguable goals for working within a spiritual context. In every way, this is better represented by the white robe. This is a special piece of clothing, used only for specific types of work. Putting it on gives a clear signal to the Subconscious that you are about to embark on spiritual work, and seeing your fellow initiates in their white robes keeps the mind focused on the work at hand. My experience is that the mind does not remain very focused on "the Work" when you're surrounded by naked bodies. The hind-brain has its own ideas about what you should be doing in that context.

Yet to question Wicca's requirements of nudity is tantamount to heresy. I feel that it takes away from body autonomy and breaks one's focus. If we question the fakelore of the Charge's veracity then we find that the only reason for the nudity is to get people's clothes off. The sexual coercion that takes place in neopagan and Wiccan groups is rampant, and all done in the name of the gods and ancient tradition.

Perhaps we're at a point where we, as a society, can put stock in innovation over fake tradition. In the "information age" there's no way to pull off the kind of plagiarism and fakelore that formed the foundation of groups throughout the 20th Century. I've argued for a change in many situations only to be told "this is tradition" even when it is clearly not.

A lesson on Atlantis which is designed to teach a psychological principle and give the student tools for decoding myth comes across as factual all too often. I argued to change this lesson to make it clear that we were not requiring blind faith in Atlantis, and was shut down time and time again. I have a feeling that my superiors at the time DID believe in Atlantis, not so much as allegory and myth, but as reality.

Understand, mystique, allegory, and myth are all extremely valuable tools, but they must be presented as such. We can decode the Genesis story of Eve being removed from Ha Adam as a psychological allegory, or we can argue that it really happened exactly as translated. It's a valuable myth and part of our collective Egregore in the West, but it loses its value when we demand blind belief in it as a fact. I feel the same is true of our lineages and traditions. Does it matter if something is new if it's based on a solid foundation? Does it matter whether or not it can trace an unbroken line into the past, into cultures that no longer exist, into societies that are no longer relevant? Or is it more important that it is relevant and valuable to today's student and initiate?

I feel strongly for the latter.