Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More for Wade Long - and Welcome Back, Sean the Sorcerer!

First, I'd like to welcome back an old fan, Sith Lord Sean the Sorcerer, who came to the aid of Wade Long in a recent debate that has arisen on an earlier post.

Sean has added to his repertoire since our last encounter.  Not only is he a Sith Lord, a sorcerer whose mind "is a lethal weapon to which very people few can withstand prolonged exposure," and a Ninja trained by Bruce Lee and repeated watchings of Kung Fu, he's also a psychic vampire.

In his words:

It seems that my voracious mind, being so powerful yet so lacking in sustenance, is actually starving my body of energy and bringing me to the brink of death. In this drained condition, my immune system is weakened and I am vulnerable to any number of maladies which conventional medicine is at a loss to explain. The witch therefore prescribed some powerful supplements and herbs which are supposed to dramatically increase my energy level and thereby exorcise whatever demons may possess me. I am rather ambivalent about this approach though, because while it would undoubtedly be advantageous to elevate my energy level to something higher than one notch above dead, I fear that in doing so I may lose my connection to the eldritch realms and demonic entities which so inspire me.

In the interest of avoiding prolonged exposure to Sean's mind (such as it is), I shall refrain from commenting on his thoughts. Those who are interested may check out the earlier post, where a healthy debate has commenced.  Since ethical considerations are being given due consideration there, I'm going to concentrate here on some practical issues I see with Wade's statements.

"there are many white Pagans who want to practice spooky, exotic magic from African diaspora, Hispanic and indigenous cultures but who show an active aversion to actually meeting representatives of those cultures. "

Okay ... but again, why is skin color the determining factor for whether or not they can do it? Why do they HAVE to meet those representatives in order to make the magic work right? Also, there are white people in the Congo, born and bred, who would also be considered "representatives of those cultures" for all practical purposes. Not to mention the Christians and Muslims living there who, even though their skin color might match the Paleros and Brujas you mention, would hardly be qualified as teachers based only on their skin color.
The question here isn't skin color, it's culture. You don't have to be Haitian to practice Haitian Vodou Although there are houses which will only initiate natif natal Haitians and spirits which will only work with those who have a particular ancestry, it is certainly possible for a non-Haitian to serve the lwa honored in the asson lineage with or without an initiation.  But unless you know something about Haitian culture and Haitian history, you're going to miss a lot of the nuances of their service.  You're going to learn things by attending a fet thrown by and for Haitians which you probably will not see at a fet thrown by and for a group of Wiccans who want to honor the lwa in their own fashion, based on what they've read in a few books and learned from available websites.

That's not to say that those Wiccans can't hold a perfectly reverent and respectful service which pleases the spirits and which accomplishes the goals they set out to achieve. But it will be something very different than the fet you see in a yard in Port-au-Prince or in a basement in Brooklyn. And I think it is worthwhile, when learning about a culture's traditions, to go to representatives of that culture if possible.  This offers a deeper and more direct introduction to the spirits, the theology and the magic than one can get from research using secondary or tertiary sources.  I would think this self-evident, but apparently Wade disagrees with me.

As far as the Congo goes, a Portuguese person living in Angola who had been initiated into certain mysteries and attended services in honor of those mysteries might well know more about working with those spirits than a black Angolan Muslim who looked upon those ceremonies with horror and disgust.   But again this speaks to culture rather than race or ethnicity.  And since I've never claimed that skin color was nearly so important as culture, I'm not sure what point that serves in this discussion.

Contrary to Victorian and contemporary magical scholars, I don't believe that you can reduce magic down to some lowest common denominator and use various props to control the current and shape it to your own needs. I'm a Hard Polytheist: I believe that the Gods and spirits are not only real but are individual entities that each must be approached and honored in his/her/its own right. And since I also believe that cultures are the reflections of their Gods rather than the other way around, I think one of the best ways of approaching a particular God is to learn as much as possible about the followers He or She inspired and the civilization He or She helped to create.

Yeah, and how about all those silly pagans who dare work in the Feri Tradition, but have no interest in going to Ireland and meeting real life Little People out in the mounds? I really really would like to know *why* the practice of a particular magic-using tradition should be based on a person's skin color at all. Why do they *have* to meet those people?
Feri traces its roots not to Ireland but to the teachings of Victor and Cora Anderson and Gwydion Pendderwen. Which brings us to another question: lineage. Modern American Neopaganism tends to downplay the importance of initiation and lineage, but the question of "from whence did you receive your teachings and initiation, and from whence did they receive theirs?" has been considered vital in traditions as disparate as Hinduism, Ifa and Apostolic Christianity.

This gets back to the question of culture again.  Wade is (or was) a high-ranking member of an initiatory order, the Temple of Set.  There are certain documents (the "Tablets of Set") which are only given to those members who have attained the proper degree.  PDF copies of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree Tablets (at least) are available to anybody with an Internet connection.  Could somebody download those tablets, study them diligently, and get the same experience that they would by joining the Temple of Set and interacting with official members? Or would they miss out on subtleties which a higher-ranking member could show them? Would they tend to run into blind alleys that they could avoid if they had the proper guidance.  Would they reinvent wheels that had already been created and were being exchanged through private channels - or not invent those wheels at all?