Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Still More on Wicca, Neopaganism and the Mysteries

My earlier posting on Wicca, Neopaganism and the Mysteries has sparked some discussion on Mystic Wicks. I thought I would compile some of the more interesting points raised here regarding the role of the teacher and of the benefits of initiation. 

One poster, Heather, stated:  
Either way, there's not a human being out there who can reveal 'the Mysteries' to you, you have to do it for yourself. Like the Charge of the Goddess says, if you can not find it within, you will not find it without.
The idea that "no one can reveal 'the Mysteries' to you" is a comparatively modern one. Most traditional religions place a great deal of emphasis on learning from a teacher. A Yoruba proverb declares that "the knife cannot carve its own handle" -- in other words, the initiate must be assisted on the path. Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism both declare that one cannot become a guru without first receiving initiation and training from a guru. People traveled from all over the classical world to undergo the Rites of Eleusis and become initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

There is definitely precedent for people being "initiated by the spirits" and reaching a new state of being through spirit teachers: powerful life-changing events can also serve as initiations. I've heard recovering addicts describe their struggles as a rebirth experience - hell, MY recovery from alcoholism and mental illness was a rebirth. I've also heard people who had survived cancer, sexual assault or other traumas talk about how they had been reborn upon rebuilding themselves. But by and large these "solo initiations" were far more painful and traumatic than ceremonial ones. (I suspect the initiation ceremonies came about because the attrition rate for "spirit-taught" shamans was so high).

If you mean that the initiate must be an active participant in the initiation and that s/he must be prepared to accept the Mysteries, I would agree 100%. But I wouldn't underestimate the life-changing power of an initiatory ceremony for those who are ready to receive the initiation.

Another reader, Dio, said that
Having had a traditional initiation myself, within a traditional coven, I actually agree with the "no one can reveal the mysteries to you" concept. My opinion on traditional initiation may bother some, but my belief is that the rite itself is not the end-all "this is it" moment. The mysteries continue to reveal themselves to you as time goes by if you're diligent in learning and listening for them. No priest or priestess can do that for you, whether it be coven, tradition, or none at all. 
That being said, a traditional initiatory rite does give you a push along your path whether you are on your own or still within a practicing spiritual group. I've actually always thought that one must already be walking the path and the initiatory rite is merely a recognition of that. Whether a spiritual group acknowledges it, or just the gods or spirits, it's really up to the individual initiate to decipher what they are to be learning on their path. 
Not everyone can find a teacher. Sometimes teachers are taken away, and none are replaced. Yet the initiate and the initiatory path remains. It would *have* to, otherwise the initiatory rite means nothing at all.
Absolutely. A worthwhile initiatory group can also save you from reinventing the wheel and from wasting time wandering on unproductive paths. Having a structure within which to weigh and measure your visions and intuitions may stifle them -- but it may also stop you from mistaking wish-fulfillment and fantasy for genuine contact with Deity. It can give you relatively quick access to techniques and shortcuts you might never have figured out on your own.

Much as I hate to put it this way, there's also a bit of the "McDonald's effect" with established groups. McD's became a worldwide phenomenon because around the country and later around the world you knew exactly what you were getting when you ordered their Big Mac or their Cheeseburger and Fries. In a similar vein, you have a fair idea of what a recognized Gardnerian coven or Feri group has to offer: you can be sure that the HP and HPS have a certain amount of experience and that their rituals don't diverge too widely from those practiced by other Gardnerians or Feris. You know that the leader isn't preaching a heady blend of Silver Ravenwolf and J.K. Rowling with a sprinkling of Just F****g Nuts on top.