Thursday, April 25, 2013

Trouble with Duality for Pagans and Witches

Duality and dualism, as well as thinking and behaving in an opposing manner has pretty much saturated our culture and has become ironically something of a multi-faceted theme in our current world. This has become lionized by the statement “it’s Us against Them!” and it has given people a polarized and mythic prism in which to engage the world. We saw this in the second world war where the Axis powers were ultimately defeated by the glorious Allies, who soon afterwards had an inglorious falling out. Then the cold war with its theme of western capitalism fighting against eastern communistic aggression lasted for nearly 40 years. Now we have Christians against Muslim terrorists, liberals against conservatives, atheists against fundamentalist Christians, secularists against people of faith, Pro-Choice against Pro-Life, aggressive gays pushing their agenda for civil liberties against the strenuous objections of die-hard straights, blacks against whites against browns and everybody else, the list is nearly endless. Pick a side, and somebody will stake their life and its purpose on the opposing faction. It’s a carnival of human stupidity!

We can watch endless hours of so-called news TV and get sucked into this kind of political Kabuki theater, aligning ourselves with our favorite pundits and expressing outrage at the supposed insurgent antics of the opposition. In fact there doesn’t appear to be a loyal political opposition anymore, just the hated opponents. We now see those with opposing views as somehow imbued with “otherness” that seeks to contaminate us with their obvious and odious evil intentions. Our reflexive repulsion at the extreme qualities of this opposition is really nothing more than all of us seeing through the mirror very darkly, indeed.

We see ourselves allied with angels and fighting against the demonic hoards here in our own communities and homes. Such a pageantry is most distressful, but underlies something much more sinister and compelling. The public is being completely hoodwinked by the power elite who have disguised this mythic battle in terms that ignites people’s fears but not their minds. If we continue to idle away our time fighting these imaginary battles, then we will be easily led to our ultimate destiny, to be slaves of the corporatist machine. Instead of an epic battle between good and evil there is just a cold, ruthless grasping for power and a cynical tarring and pillorying of straw men and imaginary evil adversaries. These so-called enemies are actually figments of our imagination, but they serve to hide the business as usual activities of those in power.

Sometimes I find myself ignoring the news for days because I have found that the persistent noise and distraction is so pervasive as to be nearly unavoidable. I also try to ignore Face Book news stream postings for the same reason, since it pains me to observe so many obviously good people falling prey to malicious disinformation and maudlin mendacity. I have to sadly shake my head when I see how some people are so fixated on all kinds of idiotic conspiracies, but I also realize that critical thinking is often in short supply or non-existent. However, the way out of this terrible Manichean world catastrophe is to realize that there are never just two opposing opinions about any issue. To force yourself to think of a third, fourth or even more points of view to any given hot-ticket issue is to be liberated from this awful political and social dualism that plagues our post-modern world.

None of this is revelatory, as such polarizing sentiments and perspectives have been known to materialize at certain times in the past, and I might add, all too frequently. Yet to step outside of this pandemonium-like din even briefly is to find a kind of empty and peaceful solace, a place where one can think, rationalize and apply some critical thinking skills to the real issues of the day. Still, what this means is that we can all see the damage that duality is wrecking upon our media saturated world, and that duality by itself is the greatest vice and obstacle for all thinking and reasoning people. So, when I say that duality isn’t good for pagans and witches, I also mean that it isn’t particularly healthy for anyone. Taken to extremes, polarized thought can even temporarily cause a rational and sane person to become violent and dangerous, not to mention what it can do to a crowd of people. Before we slip over the edge from hotly opposing views to violent insurrection, let us pause, take a breath, relax, and let go of our ardent and cherished beliefs for just a moment.

Ah, that’s much better, isn’t it? You can feel the tension drain away, and the awful things that you were thinking are now quite plainly, awful. You can also see that such carrying on does nothing more than throw gasoline on a small fire, making it a much bigger fire. As you stand with a clear head and begin to philosophize, you will no doubt wonder how we got into this mess in the first place. I wonder that quite often myself. It makes me somewhat afraid for the future, and I am quite the optimist.

The source of all of this social polarization and sorting out is nothing more than a collection of media based corporations that are intent on selling themselves in the most sensational manner possible. It is, therefore, attributed to their greed that they amplify small inconsequential matters into huge crises, and this becomes the order of the day, every day of the week. Yet this is a theme that is all too familiar to anyone who has ever been forced to go to church and listen to some pastor rant and rave about the sinful world we live in. Having heard such sermons, we will undoubtedly know the source of this duality. It is a major and important part of Christianity, especially Protestant Evangelism. Nothing compells a sinner to be repentant and remorseful (and also cough up some money for the offering basket) than a good old fashioned verbal exhortation of hell-fire, wicked sinners, the blessed saved, and the end of days. But if you are a pagan or a witch and you are not a believer in this mythic tale, then certainly you should resist and even deny it as relevant.

If denying the whole mythic theme of guilt, redemption, eternal damnation, and the constant warfare of good and evil locked in mortal conflict is an important affirmation for pagans and witches, then the rest of the dualistic opposition that has so seduced our society should also be deemed irrelevant and emphatically dropped. There is no need to be sectarian about our pagan beliefs and practices, since that is a contradiction of what it is to be a pagan. To us, all Gods are valid and true, or they are all invalid, including our own. So, pagans and witches shouldn’t see the world as a constant war between good and evil. Instead, we should see the world as being a natural confluence of light and darkness, each blending into the other to create the harmony of day and night, and the perfection of the natural world. We accept Nature as it is, and we don’t try to color or taint it as something other than what it naturally is. Animals don’t need to know the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, but we humans have had to adopt certain codes of conduct and behavior. Otherwise, as the most dangerous creature on the planet, we would destroy ourselves and all living things.

The natural way is what the Chinese call the Tao, the Way of Nature, which has no premeditation or contrived manner of being. It is the way of the uncarved block. Following such a path would cause us to judge things and events only when sufficient information has presented itself, otherwise we would remain neutral and uncommitted, silent but resolved. Thus, we would judge everything individually and would avoid heaping things into too generalized of a category. What this means is that we would no longer play into the games of polarizing beliefs and myths, but would instead try to independently judge a thing using our own reason and logic.

If someone were to say that gay men are an evil menace to our Christian values as a society, we would ask them to prove that all such men could be so generalized, and that our society is steadfastly secular (not Christian), and for good reason. If another person said that the secular society is engaging in a persecution of the Christian faith, we would respond that there is no proof. We still have churches where people are peacefully gathering on Sundays, there is still Easter and Christmas on our nation’s calendar, and people are behaving pretty much as they always have done. We would question these many false claims and find no evidence for them, and we would say that they cannot be facts - only hearsay urban myths.

If enough people did this, then the cable news channels would find themselves out of business. At least if pagans and witches took this kind of perspective to heart, then suddenly, we would no longer be one of the partisans in the ever-present social conflict. A real solution is to actively question everyone and everything, but quietly and internally, at first.

There was a cool saying that was passed around in the late 60's, almost to the point of it becoming a meaningless metaphor. It was supposedly first stated by Timothy Leary in 1967 (at the Human Be-in gathering), words of wisdom spoken by the Godfather of LSD and the High Priest of psychedelics. He said, “Turn on, tune in and drop out!” I would recommend that my fellow witches and pagans follow this advice. We should turn ourselves on to the many sacraments and joys of life, then tune in to nature and what is really going on in our world, and then we should drop out of the partisan rat-race that’s eating everyone else alive.

The actual quote was: “Like every great religion of the past we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of God. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present — turn on, tune in, drop out

Still, the most important thing to do is to remove yourself entirely from the polarizing media circus that is happening out there and focus on the simple and direct things that are really important. Whenever you come across a heated and polarized discussion, or two warring viewpoints at odds with each other, try to think of a third, fourth or even a fifth perspective. Bedevil your family, acquaintances and even strangers with these other perspectives whenever and wherever possible. Never lose your ability to remain a free thinker, capable of independent and deep critical insights, and empowered with the ability to know personal truth from social bullshit. And most importantly, never lose your sense of humor. Because in the end, all of this noise and cacophony is just the sound of change, and also the fear of change.

May you forever avoid the curse of duality!

Frater Barrabbas    

Friday, April 19, 2013

Nature of Spirits - Angels and Demons

Frater Rufus Opus recently wrote that demons are elementals, or that they have elemental qualities. This is in his article about demonic agendas, and you can find it here. While some might think that this is a neat and tidy way of defining the nature of these spirits, I have to disagree with what he has written. (I also hope that I have understood exactly what he has written, too.) It really has to do with the nature of Angels and Demons, and whether either can be considered as nothing more than simple, mindless intermediaries of the Godhead, or as the Greeks would call them, the Daimones.

I employ the term “mindless” because it is a defining adjective that I have used when talking about elementals. Even if one is using the supposed “Hermetic model” to define the natures of demons, my own personal experience (and that of many of my associates) has shown me that these supposed infernal spirits are quite intelligent. So, it would seem that either elementals are keenly intelligent (contrary to my experience) or demons are quite limited and dumb. That is, if there are any congruence between them at all. Allow me to explain my point.

Now just because some authors (or grimoires) have given an order to the Infernal Hierarchy that is elemental doesn’t equate those spirits identically with “elemental forces.” It is an ordering structure, and like all ordering structures (or maps, for that matter), the order is not to be confused with the identities that are being so ordered. These ordering structures are a kind of analogy, not an actual physically based taxonomic ranking. You could also organize the Goetic demons according to the astrological decans (which I have done), and probably would learn more about them (from an astrological perspective) than you would by assigning them an elemental hierarchy. Of course, this is just my opinion. Needless to say, however they are organized it doesn’t mean that the organizing structure is synonymous with that which is being organized. It is just a matrix or model structure that human minds use to understand the complexity of the spiritual world, which can’t really be intellectually grasped in the first place.

So, what are demonic spirits? For that matter, what are angelic spirits? Using the most simplistic perspective we should see them as embodying a force as well as a highly evolved intelligence. They are ultimately emissaries of the One that has no attributes or even a name, but more directly, the agents of various Godhead attributes, or what some would call the Gods. Like a living and activated symbol, they can be focused to a single point, multiple points simultaneously or effused into an overall general attribute of the Godhead. Actually, they exist as all three of these qualities simultaneously as well as other mysterious qualities, some of which might be altogether unknown to human nature. This is why a magician might summon one of them into appearance and then fully engage with that entity, even though what has been summoned is just an active link or a single (fractional) instantiation of the overall symbolic being. This whole matter is a profound paradox, as are all things that reside wholly within the world of spirit.

What I have stated above is true of both angels and demons; they are analogous beings to each other. The difference between them has to do with their specific loci, although that is not a particularly useful term when talking about the world of the spirit. We can project onto the world of the spirit the structures that we find in our own world, namely, the threefold domains of celestial spheres, the geographic structures of the earth, and the chthonic underworld. All of these domains are actually a kind of symbolic topology, which should be viewed as similes or analogies and not actual physical locations. The locus for angels are the celestial spheres, the locus for earth spirits (not to be confused with elementals, I might add) is the geographic domain of material place, and the locus of the demons is the chthonic underworld. Each of these loci have their own qualities, but neither should be given the value of good or evil (or any other limiting quality), since they are actually beyond both good and evil. All of these structures are just mental models to help us differentiate and distinguish what is, in reality, a formless unity known as the One.

Since many demonic names have within them the corrupted names of ancient pagan deities, then we can consider them to be demi-gods, and in some African Traditions, they are seen exactly in that light. Additionally, elemental spirits are below the influence of the planetary intelligences, while higher spirits, such as angels, demons, and sect-based intermediaries have the aspect of intelligence to crown their beings. I have joking referred to elementals as “dumb” or “mindless” because they operate below the level of intelligence and function as animated forces to be imprinted and directed by the magician and then allowed to operate on the simple goal to which they have been applied. They are incapable of thinking about that directive or mitigating it if something changes. They will therefore either hit their mark or miss it entirely. Elementals represent the emotional and passionate energies that all higher creatures are subjected to, but without any of the guiding forces of rational thought or intellect that can direct and control them. That controlling attribute is represented by the will and the assumed godhead of the magician.

(A useful analogy of the basic four-fold Elemental Spirits can be found in the court cards of the Tarot. There are 16 cards within the matrix of an element base being qualified by an element crown. However, there are other elemental systems, such as the 64 Hexagrams of the I-Ching, or what I call Elemental Gateways. If one were to apply the concept of broken and solid lines (like the I-Ching) to Geomancy, then 256 individual Octagrams would be produced. Anyway, you get the idea - elementals consist of the four elements and nothing else.)

This is the quixotic nature of the elemental spirits, and since I have worked extensively with them for so many years I believe that I can make some important judgements about them. They are quite useful and simple to generate. They can be assembled like building blocks, but the are not overly effective, particularly for long term workings. However, no angelic or demonic being that I have ever summoned has been quite as one-pointed and lacking in intelligence as an elemental. For this reason, I have to reject Frater R.O.’s theory that demons are elementals. If that were so, then the magician wouldn’t need to take such great care when establishing the binding agreement with demons.

However, I believe that such care should be taken no matter what spirit is being invoked. Still, this means that the magician is dealing with an entity that has quite an evolved intelligence and is able to not only reason as we do, but also deal with ambiguities quite effectively , often to our ultimate dismay. How we are able to summon such an entity has more to do with the fact that there is a Deity residing in our core, and that Godhead within us is analogous to the Absolute Deity. (Some would say that they are equivalent.) Since spirits are, by definition, emissaries of the One, they are also emissaries to each of us who has realized, however briefly, our inner Godhead. Yet to treat spiritual entities with a respectful attitude is nothing less than treating one’s own inner Godhead in a respectful manner, too.

Magicians should deal with chthonic spirits in a respectful and careful manner particularly since the underworld is the source of all material wealth and material potential. It contains the essence of transformative evolution as well as the mysteries of life and death, good health and material well-being. These qualities (provided by chthonic spirits) are even more important to life in the material world than what the celestial spirits might provide. Yet just as angels give a powerful perspective of the higher celestial domains and its visionary and prophetic potential, the demons wield the powers and wisdom of the underworld.

Magical workings that incorporate either angels or demons will produce a powerful spiritual transformation within the magician, and this should be a sign that all such spirits are an active embodiment of the One. They are agents of the challenging ordeals (demons) and ecstatic visionary insights (angels) of a magician’s progress from his or her individual nature to the ultimate reality of the final Godhead ascension. These spirits and this kind of magick is far beyond the workings of the elementals, so we can dispense with any claims that they are one and the same. I might be breaking with tradition in making these definitions and building this view of the spirit world, but it is based on many years of continued praxis and an even longer period of study.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Whence Cometh Spring?

April has come and there are only a few indications that anything much has changed from winter to a verdant spring. It is a cold and lifeless spring so far, which is probably just as confusing for the returning geese as it is for the humans and creatures that have endured the long winter. While the snow is slowly receding, the lakes and ponds are still iced up, and only the brilliant sunshine seems to indicate that the season has indeed changed. We got an early spring last year and this year we get to experience a very slow transition, which will likely extend winter like conditions into May. This is not unusual for this part of the country, but it is somewhat depressing. The receding snow only reveals a brown and lifeless undercoat with no indication of any kind of new life. Also, the spring peepers are mostly silent, although I have heard, from time to time during the sunny afternoons, some singular croaking somewhere in the fields.

(Of course, as I was writing this article, Mother Nature dropped a couple of inches of wet sloppy snow on the land, and it looks again like a winter-scape. Well, so much for spring! I guess we’ll have to wait a few weeks for warmer temperatures in order for all of the snow to completely disappear. It is depressing in a way and also a slight shock to one’s sensibilities. The supposed end of winter had many starting to come out of their months long hibernation, but now they have receded back into the winter-like torpor. Welcome to the tundra-like experience of the northern Midwest plains.) 

The long harsh winters make all of us here in Minnesota avid seekers of any sign of spring, sometimes even desperately. Some will even wear shorts when the temperature gets into the late 40's or early 50's. My career workload has finally dropped down to just maintenance, and I am now contemplating a period of self-study and training to assist me in making the transition from my current project to future projects once this one has lapsed. I have also put together my resume and sent it to the corporate leaders as requested so that they can find new prospects for me to be assigned, and I have also indicated that I am willing to relocated, provided that the relocation package is reasonable and helpful.

This means that my tenure in the tundra is nearing an end, since my company has now indicated that they are open to relocating key employees once again. This is how I managed to move every few years back in the 1990's and into the early 2000's. I have decided that I will pursue employment possibilities in other locations by undergoing yet another corporate move. I have endured six corporate relocations, but this time I am a home owner and not a renter. It will obviously be more complicated than previously. Since I have proven my value quite dramatically in the last several months to my corporate overlords, I am quite certain that I will be getting a new project to work on in the months ahead, and also, a relocation deal.

Over the course of the last few months I have still not engaged in any ordeals or extensive magical workings. It has been a period of reading, research, pondering over the meaning of this or that, and a lot of self-examination. Lately, this has become very productive indeed, since I seem to have stumbled upon a mother lode of insightful and thought provoking treasures.

Two lines of thought have guided my steps recently. These thoughts have produced two different directions for research, and they have both now converged together. The first thought was that if the Chaldean Oracles would represent an actual sacred book, at least for the late Classical period of Neoplatonism, then having the original Greek language version would be very helpful. I wanted to find this text because it would fit in with my thoughts about building up a completely Greek version of the Qabalah. To build a Qabalah, one needs to have sacred writings in the basic language proposed - in this case, Greek. So, I began to search for a book that contained the original Greek language version of the Chaldean Oracles. It turns out that there was only one book that fit this requirement and it was long out of print.

My other line of thought was that somehow Neoplatonism could be completed by adding some strains of Indian Philosophy to it. I have long felt that there was something very important missing from Neoplatonic philosophy, and that “something” can be identified by a simple concept. As a practicing ritual magician and witch, I have long known of the fact that there is within me (and every other human being) a Deity, which I have called the God/dess Within. This concept is analogous to the Indian concept of the Atman. However, according to Advaita Vendanta, there is no difference between the Absolute Godhead and the Individual Godhead, where it is said that Brahman and Atman are one (and indivisible). (I have discussed this idea previously in an article, and you can find it here.)

What that means is that we all have within us a direct path to the realization of our own Godhead as revealed in the One. Assumption of the Godhead is one mechanism to developing this realization, but what it means is that there is no complete separation and distinction between the Absolute Godhead and the Godhead within each and every human being. This is quite a profound realization and, I might add, it doesn’t appear in the various Neoplatonic writings where the distinction between humanity and the Godhead is quite rigorously enforced. This is why Neoplatonism talks about the theurgy of  “ascension” as a method of returning to the One. However, it would seem that returning to the One is actually not possible for anyone but a very small minority. In Indian Philosophy the concept of “returning” doesn’t exist. It is more of an internal revelation (a transformation and a spiritual evolution); it is, in a sense, discovering what was a fact inside of oneself from the very beginning. I believe that this distinction between Indian and Neoplatonic philosophy is also to be found in the practice and experience of modern witchcraft and paganism, or at least where Godhead assumption (as the Draw) is central. 

So over the course of the last few weeks I have been very busy reading and studying the books "Chaldean Oracles" by Ruth Majercik and the anthology "Neoplatonism and Indian Philosophy" edited by the late Paulos Mar Gregorios, which I might declare is very heady stuff. Yet the combination of these two perspectives is helping me to make a breakthrough of sorts.

I believe that Neoplatonism and Indian Philosophy are both monist systems developed within a pagan religious environment. However, Indian Philosophy has had a much longer and continuous evolving life-span. In fact, I suspect that Indian philosophy made breakthroughs that Neoplatonism might have made as well if only it had continued in the same spirit and direction over the course of centuries instead of being uprooted from Athens and Alexandrian and then slowly waning in the remote fastness of Harran.

Another distinction is that Indian Philosophy is, for the most part, a living religious and philosophical tradition, where the praxis that represents its foundation is still being worked today. This is so unlike Neoplatonism, which has had to be reinvented based on a lot of fragmentary lore. I believe that it might be possible that certain schools of Indian Philosophy, such as the Indian Tantras, could be used to help complete and evolve Neoplatonic philosophy to a more complete and mature form, and perhaps even help to formulate a comprehensive praxis. That is my belief and the intention behind my work, however, we will see how it works out in the months ahead.

One thing that is tragic about the Chaldean Oracles as they exist today (and it’s something that I hadn’t fully realized) is that this work exists only in fragments. The complete text has never been found. What we have are the quotations that other late classical authors have written about it and these quotations were preserved to the present times. However, at least now I have those remaining fragments in their original Koine Greek. Ms. Majercik's book has been out of print for years and is only available as a scanned copy that can be downloaded from the internet. I realize that downloading a copy (as I have done) is to facilitate a process that I can’t fully condone, but the only copies that are available are being sold for over two thousand dollars. I could also maybe get a copy through inter-library loan and then wait for weeks if it does show up, but this was the quickest way to get a copy. I am hoping that someday the author or publisher will deem to reprint a new version and make it available to everyone who wants a copy.

Yet I am once again quite taken with this mysterious work. If ever there was a book of sacred writings for Hermetic Pagans, it was the Chaldean Oracles. This book was produced through a form of magical skrying, where the senior Julian acted as the magician, and his son, the skrier. As quoted from Ms. Majercik’s introduction, “The Chaldean Oracles are a collection of abstruse, hexameter verses purported to have been ‘handed down by the gods’ (theoparadota) to a certain Julian the Chaldean and/or his son, Julian the Theurgist, who flourished during the late second century C. E.” She goes on to say that the oracle verses were derived from the theurgic techniques of calling and receiving. It is, therefore, quite singularly amazing that these verses derived from theurgic rituals were regarded as authoritative from Porphyry to Damascius (3rd to 4th centuries). Even so, what has come down to us today are just some of the verses, or at least the most important or profound of these. We also don’t really know the sequence that these fragments originally occurred in the original work, and it can only be hoped that some future discovery will locate a complete copy of this work.

Still, what fragments we possess have always astounded and perplexed me, but Ms. Majercik's commentaries are the most illuminating that I have ever read. The Gnostic sect, the Sethians, particularly were engaged with this work and its inspirations can be found throughout those Naghamadi texts that have survived. We can see the effects of this work in the magical texts of the Greek Magical Papyri, too.

With these books in hand, I feel like I have some pretty profound answers to some questions that I have been asking for quite a long time. I will write all of these musings up in my blog in the very near future.

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Pagans and Christians

Recently, Sam Webster wrote an article on Patheos where he said that basically, you can’t worship Jesus Christ and also be a Pagan. It would seem that he believes them to be mutually exclusive. What he means is that if you are a Christo-Pagan then you are behaving in such a manner where you are not being true to the spirit of either religious tradition. It does remind me of a saying in the New Testament, where the visionary Jesus declares in Revelations 3:16 “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” This, of course, is a warning to those who would pose as Christians but not be passionate or true about their faith; that such individuals are even worse than out-right deniers. It is a harsh unequivocal declaration that would pose a kind of terrible sorting of Christians nearing the mythical end-times. Curiously, I have found Sam’s article of a similar nature, seeking to sort out true Pagans from the pretenders. You can find Sam’s post here and read it for yourself.

On the surface it would seem reasonable to request, or at least address the issue, that Pagans worship as Pagans and Christians worship as Christians. It would also seem to address the issue that Paganism and Christianity are strategically different enough that they should not be mixed. I have known a number of Witches and Pagans who feel strongly that those individuals who, for whatever reason, still adhere to the actual worship of Jesus Christ cannot in all good conscience consider themselves witches or pagans. Superficially, I would have to agree with this perspective, but only if we are talking about the idealized traditions of Christianity (of the Evangelical mind-set) and Modern Pagan reconstructionism.

Of course, when you consider the wide and massive variety of beliefs and practices that actually exist, the idealized perspectives become nearly useless. In the end it doesn’t really matter what anyone believes as far as organized traditions are concerned, particularly if that belief is based on authentic religious experiences. Another problem with this perspective is that it doesn’t take into account that there are quite a few versions of Christianity and even as many different perspectives on Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, the Saints, Angels, and every other attribute of that faith as there are individuals practicing it. This is also becoming quite true of Modern Paganism as well, and it just becomes nearly impossible to establish borders and generalized definitions if the population of the faithful doesn’t fit at all within those definitions.

What seems to be driving Sam Webster is a phenomenon that is quite local to the United States, where there is a united and seemingly threatening religious political faction that is bent on making all members of the population conform to a single theological and politically conservative mind-set. Of course, this faction represents many individuals who are frightened of any social changes as well as inimical to the basic freedoms of religion accorded to everyone in a secular political society. However, this faction only appears to be united, and in fact, it is itself quite fragmented.

Additionally, this faction represents only a small minority of overall Christians living and practicing their faith in our country. It is doubtful that this highly conservative faction of Christians will ever hold sway over the nation and they will likely remain an ever dwindling part of the population over time. This is not to say that there isn’t any danger to our society from the actions of Christian right-wing religious fanatics and their apparently misguided beliefs and political machinations, so we should be diligent in enforcing our right to worship as we see fit without any outside interference. I also don’t agree with Mr. Webster that belief is central in Christianity, since there are a number of levels of religious experience and participation in Christianity (as there are in other religions), and that belief by itself represents only the most basic and superficial level. I would have to say that faith is much more powerful in Christianity than belief, especially if it is faith based on authentic religious experiences.

The chief problem that I have with what Sam Webster is saying is that he is holding up a model of Christianity and saying that it is a religion of oppression, and that its Triple Deity is somehow malevolently disposed towards non-believers. Christianity is not a monolithic religion, and its various spiritual attributes are defined quite differently, depending on the sect, organization, time-period, geographic location, etc. The Roman Catholics of antiquity, or the middle ages, or the Reformation are not the same Catholics of today; these are different groups of people operating under different time-periods who espoused a different set of overall values. While the majority of people in the U.S. today are mainstream Christians, a much smaller percentage belongs to what would be considered the most conservative and fundamentalist of religionists. To equate the whole population of Christians with the beliefs and activities of this small minority is analogous to making prejudicial judgments about Islam based on the actions of a handful of Salafi jihadists.
Time changes everything, including very orthodox religious organizations. If anything, the religions functioning in the world today are actually a lot more tolerant and peaceful than they have been for quite some time, despite the villainous activities of a small minority. There are heinous crimes committed by religious groups and institutions that go against the sentiments of world justice, just as there are with nations and their actions. The world is not perfect and religious persecution still exists in pockets of our world, although it has diminished considerably over the centuries. Mr. Webster seems to have taken the slights and the inconvenient events of living and working in a nominally Christian U.S. society and amplified them to point where it would seem that we are living in a nation that is persecuting and is overtly hostile to non-Christians. Are there certain levels of discrimination experienced by Pagans and Witches living in the U.S.? Yes, but what they have endured hardly matches what Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, Women or the LGBT community have experienced over the course of the last several decades.

In regards to my own religious and magical practices, I am not a Christian. I don’t, for instance, worship Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, or pay homage to any of the Saints. However, I have appropriated Christian liturgical rites and adapted them for my own use. I also work extensively with the Qabalah and the entire hierarchy of Angels, as well as Demons and other spirits, although certainly not in the same manner as either Christians or Jews. So, Sam Webster could judge that I am behaving like a creditable Pagan should behave, but he would have to overlook the borrowing and appropriation that I have made from Christian beliefs and practices. Since I happen to know that he is a Thelemite then I wonder if he is also against the Gnostic Mass, since its basic structure and function was also appropriated by Crowley from the Christian Mass.

While I might agree with some of what Sam Webster has said, I don’t feel that anyone can place boundaries on what is definitive in regards to Paganism or Christianity. Our world seems filled with heterodoxic adherents who have taken beliefs and borrowed them from nearly every tradition and sought to build something for themselves that is meaningful and spiritually fulfilling. As time goes on, this blending will probably only get worse, profoundly blurring the boundary between creeds and sects to the point that any kind of sociological definition would have to be considered absurd.

Where does this mixing up of religious traditions lead us? Who can say with any authority today who is a true Christian or who is a true Pagan? As a ritual magician, I believe that ultimately we end up at the point of being religious and spiritual individuals, practicing our own personal creed and belonging to a sect of one. Where we find points of unity, then these should be considered the foundation for a greater re-unification, and the newly emerging sodality would not be recognizable as any of the traditional religious organizations that are now being engaged. 

We live in a Christian-based culture with national holidays that are suffused with Christian themes, so it almost seems impossible to be able to completely exclude oneself from the traditions and heritage that are endemic in our culture, and this despite the fact that we are supposedly living in a secular society. While what Sam wrote did strike a cord within me, it also demonstrated that what we don’t need is to formulate any kind of sorting process between true pagans and the rest of the syncretistic masses who would happily join us in our public rituals and celebrations.

If there must be a definition of Paganism then it must be made in such a manner that it includes everyone who wants to be included, and that it discriminates against no one. If we have learned anything in the last millennium or so, it is that tolerance and mutual understanding should be our principle values in dealing with our own pagan diversity as well as the diversity of other faiths. What we don’t need is sectarian sorting, discrimination, or absolute definitions of how and whom a Pagan or Witch should worship as their attributes of Deity. We are still working out the details of our theology and practices, and establishing harsh limitations at this point makes little sense to me.

I do applaud Sam Webster for publishing his opinions for everyone to read and ponder, and some of what he says does resonate with me. However, the harshness of his judgments against a single monolithic faith is nothing less than counter productive. If we want other religious communities to respect and give us credit for being an authentic religious creed, then we need to accord them the same respect and credit. If someone wants to engage in a syncretistic search for personal spiritual truth, then who are we to either criticize or denigrate that approach? Obviously, within Modern Paganism, there should be room in the temples of our hearts for all Deities, creeds and spiritual perspectives, since that is the way of paganism from ancient times.

Frater Barrabbas