Responsibility and Right Action

Responsibility and Right Action

Author: RuneWolf   

I’ve lately taken to thinking of and describing what I do as “Zen Wicca,” or “Zen Witchcraft.” And I do that with the full realization that what I practice actually bears very little resemblance to Zen as it is normally practiced, and I apologize to those Zen practitioners who may take exception to my libertine use of the term. But, like “shamanism,” Zen has fallen into common (mis-) usage, and who am I to buck a current trend?

When I say “Zen Wicca,” I mean a practice that is holistic and pervasive, to such an extent that it impacts and informs all aspects of my life. I am not a “Sabbats Only” Witch – I don’t just come out of the woodwork on the High Holy Days, don my robes, gird my athame and fare forth to impress the impressible. I am a Witch every day of the week, every minute of the day, whether I’m at my altar or on the toilet. I don’t think about being a Witch constantly; to me that infers an intellectual process that is anathema to the spiritual experience. Rather I am always aware of being a Witch. And with that awareness comes recognition of the obligations that I accepted when I made my initiatory oaths to the Gods, the Craft and myself.

Wicca is work, pure and simple. When the Gods bless me, that work involves helping others in my life and my community, maybe even the world. But most of the time, it means working on myself, so that when I am called on to help others in some way, I am ready, willing and able. A big part of that inner work involves the practice of Right Action, which itself involves taking personal responsibility for my life and my actions.

There is an axiom in recovery: “I am responsible for my own recovery.” This means that, while I am powerless over my addiction, I am responsible for doing what I have to do to recover and stay clean and sober. Nobody is going to do it for me, no matter how much they want to – no one can do it for me. Only I can make the decision to not pick up a drink or a drug, to go to a meeting, to talk to someone in recovery, etc.

So it is with life. While I am often powerless over people, places and things, I do have the power to respond appropriately, when I choose to do so. Sometimes this means standing up for myself when my boundaries are violated, and sometimes it means apologizing and making amends when I violate the boundaries of others. What I strive for is the intuitive ability to know what the Right Action is in any situation, and to have the courage and willingness to take that action, even when it is uncomfortable, inconvenient or scary. If I am able to do this, I don’t end up needing to apologize, because my actions are not harmful to others.

Where I come from – as the saying goes – personal responsibility is a requirement in the practice of the Craft. If I am not practicing personal responsibility to the best of my ability at any given moment, I ain’t practicing the Craft. The good news is that, in a holistic practice, each part of that practice supports and strengthens every other part. To the linear mind, this makes no sense. But then, I don’t really care if it makes sense to a linearist – all I care about is that it works.

When I look at it from a non-linear perspective, it really makes perfect sense. As I said above, my goal is that intuitive knowledge of what is the Right Action in any situation. Intuition can be described as the sensing of subtle energies below the level of analytical consciousness. When I work with energy, I am exercising my “subtle energy muscle.” I am consciously practicing the perception and manipulation of extremely subtle energies. Projecting and receiving energy, circulating energy and creating and manipulating energy forms all improve my ability to perceive subtle energies. The side effect is that by increasing that ability, I am also increasing my intuitive abilities, since those are based on the same “subtle energy muscle.”

So tai chi really does help me to be more personally responsible.

In “Zen Wicca,” everything I do is magick. That’s the Big Secret. When I am in the middle of a full-blown ritual and am wandering hither and yon between the worlds, its magick! When I am sitting in traffic fussing about being late to work, its magick! In both situations, I am walking my chosen Path – neither is more or less holy, more or less mystical, more or less magickal than the other. If I am infused with the Power of the Lady and the Lord during a ritual trance, then I am just as infused with that Power sitting at a traffic light. The only difference is that I am more aware of it during the ritual. But if I can focus my awareness properly while I’m waiting for the green light, then “suddenly” that Power is available to me. And with that kind of Power available to me, it becomes easier to intuit – and take – the next Right Action.

The disciplines of the Craft, which for me include many that I have “grafted” on to it from other traditions and cultures, don’t necessarily give me more control over my mind, emotions or events in my life. However, diligent practice of these disciplines does tend to make my mind more supple and relaxed, my emotions less turbulent, and my overall perception of life less anxious. And they certainly improve my awareness of the processes of my mind, the ebb and flow of my emotions and the essential unpredictability and uncontrollability of daily life. That awareness improves my ability to work with my circumstances and myself in a positive way. Accessing the Power of the Gods at a traffic light won’t necessarily make the light change faster, but it allows me to widen my perspective, to appreciate the “Big Picture,” and realize that being late to work is not the end of the world, so I can relax.

Witches – like other such folk – are never “off duty.” This doesn’t mean that we don’t sleep, take vacations or say “No” on occasion. It means that we are never disconnected from the Web of Life, even when we feel disconnected. It means that every breath is a chant, every step is a dance, every word is an invocation. We are not adrift in the currents of life, we are stroking downstream! We are little vortexes of energy moving through the manifest world, and it is incumbent upon us to be aware of and responsible for what we do to that world and its inhabitants with that energy. A touch can heal or harm: the choice is always ours. Even when we harm unintentionally, we made the choice to be unaware or careless in the moment.

I can’t tell you what constitutes personal responsibility for you, and I won’t bore you trying to tell you what it means to me. But a pretty good summary is: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’re going to do.” That doesn’t mean that I always live up to that, but I’m getting a little bit better at it every day. Mostly because I have come to realize that when I practice Right Action, I draw closer to the Gods, and when I don’t, I move away from Them. I can live with the material consequences of personal irresponsibility, but I cannot live without the Gods.

For those who are just joining us, the best things I can suggest are perseverance and consistency. The nature of the techniques is not really as important as staying with the practice. There is an awful lot of material available to the newcomer, and the down side of that is the temptation to jump from one thing to another if one is not getting “results.” If we don’t find enlightenment after doing what this book says for a week or so, we toss it out and buy a new book, and start the cycle all over again. My experience has been that, while the synergy of certain individuals and certain techniques can yield immediate and impressive results, for the most part any technique should be practiced for a period of at least three (3) months, before evaluating whether it is useful or not. So the real first step is to consider, as objectively as possible, whether the technique appears to have any merit conceptually, and whether it seems sustainable over the long run.

For instance, driving 40 miles into the country every night to meditate in the woods hoping to meet the Horned Lord face-to-face is probably not sustainable for someone working a 9-to-5 in the city, and He’d most likely stay out of sight just to be difficult anyway! On the other hand, a commitment to 13 days of early morning meditation and prayer as an offering to the Lord seems both sustainable and rewarding.

How will this build a more positive and responsible life for you? I don’t exactly know. I mean, I can’t give you a formula to prove it, or a guarantee that it will actually happen. But one of the cornerstones of magick is focused intent. If you approach anything with focused intent, it will manifest results in your life. And everything affects everything else. Somehow, when I quiet my mind for a few minutes every day, my life becomes quieter. When I work with energy, I become more energetic. When I talk to the Gods, They talk back. When I respect myself, I respect other people. And when I accept the responsibility for being Who I Really Am, I find that I am willing to accept responsibility for my life.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense sometimes, but it always works.

In Their service…

RuneWolf

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Informal Training

Informal Training

Author:   Mama Fortuna 

If I were planning on performing brain surgery, I would probably want to attend medical school first.

Lucky for me – and for anyone undergoing brain surgery – I’m not planning on doing any such thing. I’m merely planning on altering reality, which does not, in fact, require a medical degree in the slightest.

In fact… does it require any degree at all?

For some people, there’s something comforting about knowing that the person leading your religious ritual has some sort of credentials. Someone, somewhere, has deemed that That Guy up there invoking the gods is strong enough, responsible enough, and knowledgeable enough to handle the spiritual needs of a large body of people. Likewise, if there’s magic to be done, then That Guy can handle it because he’s passed some sort of test.  He knows what he’s doing.  Pressure’s off.

For other people, the idea of letting somebody else direct their rituals or spells makes them awfully uncomfortable. “Just who ARE these people who decided That Guy should be in charge? Why can’t I do it myself?”

And let’s face it – some people just do not play well with others.

I am such a person.

I’m skeptical by nature.  If someone tells me that they have the Secrets of the Universe™, my first instinct is not to say “Wow!” and throw piles of money at them, but rather to cackle maniacally and say, “Yeah, and I’m the Queen of Atlantis.” While this doesn’t exactly make me popular at parties, it does keep me from placing my trust in people who don’t deserve it. If somebody wants to teach me something, they had better expect me to interrogate them. Frequently.

I believe very strongly in personal responsibility.  I feel that every person on the planet is ultimately responsible for his or her own destiny. Therefore, even if you’re engaged in formal traditional training, it is your duty not to follow along blindly. Question everything. You’re dealing with concepts like your soul, here. If you were buying a new car, you’d ask plenty of questions.  Shouldn’t your spiritual path be afforded more thought than that?

A true teacher won’t mind if you ask questions. A really good teacher will expect you to, and a fantastic one will kick your ass if you don’t.

Looking back, I can safely say that the best teachers I’ve ever had – mundane or otherwise – were the ones who recognized the importance of personal experience. I learned the most from teachers who pointed the way and then stood back, letting me make my own discoveries and yes, my own mistakes. This method might be more frustrating, but I also find it infinitely more rewarding because everything you learn is taken to heart. There’s also a much greater sense of accomplishment to be had – you really earn your insights, rather than just having information handed to you.

And let’s face it — sometimes you won’t truly learn a lesson unless you learn it the hard way. No matter how many times you might have heard that summoning Pazuzu in your living room is a Bad Idea, you might not ever really believe it until you try. (Note: the author has nothing against Pazuzu personally, but feels he serves as an excellent example due to his lousy PR.)

If you have the drive and the ability to think critically, then a flesh-and-blood teacher isn’t exactly necessary. Your desire to improve yourself spiritually and magically will force you to try, try, and try again. In many ways, not having someone there to lay out the basics for you will make you work even harder, as you’ll imagine you need to keep up with some imaginary class of initiates. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, if only through trial-and-error.

Traditional ritual is not useless, mind you– there’s something to be said for tried and true methods. They can certainly be time-savers, to be sure, as you eliminate a lot of that previously mentioned trial-and-error. But we no longer live in small rural communities where 90% of people are illiterate; we live in the information age, where supposed ‘secret’ teachings are available for $24.99 on Amazon.com.  If you really have your heart set on learning how to perform the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, you can do a Google search and presto! Knowledge at your fingertips. (Like magic, I’m tempted to say.)

This knowledge is pretty useless without practice, of course. The motivated practitioner realizes this and will take the time and effort required to master the techniques he/she learns. And all that practice translates into more personal experience. The learning never stops.

One of the downsides of sticking to a strict formal training regime is that some people fall into the trap of “this is the way it is done, and this is the ONLY way.” Gosh, sounds awfully dogmatic when you put it like that, doesn’t it? For many people, one of the allures of Paganism is the lack of rules etched on stone tablets and the encouragement of creative thought. While some people are content to do things the way they were taught and only the way they were taught, others find such an attitude stifling.

Ritual and magic are, I think, meant to push a person’s limits. You learn more about yourself – and indeed the world around you – when you force yourself to explore boundaries. It’s awfully hard to do that, however, if you don’t try and think critically and creatively about what you already know. How can you grow if you’re not willing to challenge yourself?

“Nothing is true, everything is permitted,” cry the Chaos Magicians. I think that all Pagans could benefit from meditating on what they mean by that. (Whether or not you wind up agreeing with it is totally irrelevant.)

The emphasis on personal interaction with deity in religious matters is another thing that is so attractive about Pagan paths, and to claim that one has to go through a series of qualifying events in order to truly be able to experience the Divine would seem to run completely counter to that idea. Is it truly necessary to complete some sort of theological course before a deity deigns to speak to you? I don’t think so, and if the stories of fellow Pagans are to be believed, the gods don’t think so either.

That’s another thing – if people are truly interacting with gods, wouldn’t that alone be sufficient to act as a learning aid? In my experience, if the desire to learn is present, the gods tend to be more than willing to teach. And I personally place a lot more importance on what my gods have to say rather than what any High Priest or Priestess does.

Formal training certainly has its place in Paganism, but it should not be viewed as the only method for judging how serious a person is about their faith, or as a measuring stick for magical adeptness. If a person does not hold a third-level degree in the Fantastic Coven of Our Lady of the Moonbeams, but they have been practicing and pushing their own magical limits for fifteen years, does that automatically mean they are not as skilled as some Pagan ‘elite clergy’?

If it does, then I think the Pagan community needs to re-examine its values.