The Mysteries and Esoteric Witchcraft

The Mysteries and Esoteric Witchcraft

Author:   Rhys Chisnall   
 

“The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. He to whom the emotion is a stranger: whom no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms- this knowledge, this feeling, is at the centre of true religion.” – Albert Einstein

One of the hardest aspects of the esoteric initiatory Witchcraft to write about, or even communicate, is its strong mystery aspect. Yet, in my opinion, it is one of the most important things that distinguish it from New Age and Popular Wicca/Witchcraft. By its very nature the mystical aspects of Witchcraft are a thoroughly subjective experience and as such any cursory and brief exploration such as this article or any other in print are going to be subjective and inadequate.

“Second hand mysticism has generally an unsatisfactory experience, since if these notions are not the driving force of our life, are not the pulse beat of our heart or are not personally integrated into our whole, then they are empty gestures. Then they are devoid of meaning similar to reading a literary criticism rather than reading the poem itself. The mystical experience is immediate not vicarious or deputed” (Armstrong 1999)

The mysteries need to be experienced, and they cannot be explained in everyday language, hence the need for the metaphors of myth and the communication of the experiences through the metaphors of symbols and ritual. The religious commentator, theologian and mystic Karen Armstrong said that.

“There is a linguistic connection between the three words, myth, mysticism and mystery. All derive from the Greek verb musterion: to close the eyes or the mouth”. (Armstrong 1999)

There are many roads to the mysteries and the mystical experience. As Prof Joseph Campbell (the late expert in comparative mythology) quotes from the Rig Veda, “Truth is one, but the sages speak of it by many names.” He also tells the story of an interfaith conference set up between Shinto and Catholicism. He was struck at how the priests of Catholicism and Shinto found it difficult to find a commonality or a common religious language to communicate with each other, but the monks and nuns of each religion could. This was because the priests were concerned with holding up their metaphors, their myths, symbols and rituals as ends in themselves, whereas the monks and nuns had moved beyond the metaphors to the experience of the sacred and the divine itself. They were not stuck with believing that the metaphors were the reality and the end goal. They had gone past the virgin birth, the resurrection, and even God, to find a community in the mysteries and mystical experience that were shared by their Shinto counterparts. As Campbell said, “Religion is misinterpreted myth”

The Armenian-Greek esoteric philosopher and practitioner G. I. Gurdjieff suggested that there were four paths to the mysteries. The first three, the way of the fakir, the way of the yogi (nothing to do with picnic baskets) and the way of the monk are mostly eastern ways to experience the mysteries and represent the three disciplines of the mind, the body and contemplation. These three paths are typical of the Eastern Mystery tradition in that they all involve a withdrawal from society and the world.

The fourth way is ‘the way of the hearth’. It is the way of the Western Mystery Tradition of which esoteric initiatory Witchcraft along with Hermeticism, Qabbalah, mystical Christianity and Sufism are parts. It is the way of being fully integrated with the world, identifying with the universe and with life and not attempting to escape from it (with the notable exception of Gnosticism) . It is seeing no separation between humanity, nature and the divine.

To my mind esoteric initiatory Witchcraft liturgy and ritual are full of mystical language, myth and metaphor. For example within Gardnerian and Alexandrian Witchcraft there are phrases such as, “there is no part of us that is not of the god.” And of course the classic mysteries phrase of the Charge of the Goddess, “If that which thou seeketh, thou findest not within thee, you will never find it without thee.” These and other parts of Witchcraft ritual (not to mention many of the techniques used in ritual to help induce these kinds of states of mind) , strongly suggest the mysteries and mystical experience. The myths of esoteric initiatory Witchcraft point to the internal experience of the mysteries within the individual Witch, relating them to the cosmos, designed to take us beyond mere religion to the direct experience of numinous, divinity and the sacred. The systems, techniques and processes of esoteric Craft, to my mind, seem designed to take us beyond ourselves, and the sum of the parts of the tradition itself, into personal transformation and a new awareness.

So what are mysticism and the mysteries? According to the psychologist Lawrence Le Shan, “Mysticism from a historical and psychological viewpoint, is the search for and experience of the relationship of the individual himself (herself) and the totality that makes up the universe.” (LeShan 1974)

Karen Armstrong agrees when she writes, “Mystics have long claimed that he [God] is a subjective experience, mysteriously experienced in the ‘Ground of Being’…………..they claim that he did not really exist and it is better to call him No-thing”. (Armstrong 1999)

As such the mysteries go way beyond the dogmas, metaphors and systems that have been inspired by them. The techniques and participating within the metaphors of myth, relating it to the self and personal transformation give the practitioner a direct and vivid experience of a unity with a ‘different order of reality’, or perhaps, an expanded order of reality of which they are a part- unified with. They experience eternity within a second, being and non-being, beauty and horror but with no contradiction, no duality, no difference between sacred and profane. In essence the experience is indescribable expect through the language of metaphor, which sadly is mistaken for reality and an end in itself. The effect of these experiences is an inner alchemy, personal transformation- life and indeed you are never the same again.

Campbell hints at this when he says, “But the ultimate mystical goal is to be united with one’s god. With that the duality is transcended and forms disappear. There is nobody there, no god, no you. Your mind, going past all concepts, has dissolved in identification with the ground of your being”. (Campbell 1988)

Now sadly for the bit that people don’t like. The path to the mysteries is not an easy one. Rather it is one that requires hard work, commitment and dedication; it is not for people looking for instant results or an escape from reality. The starting point on the road to the mysteries and esoteric Witchcraft has got to be that of a coping adult, as Joanne Pearson reports in her essay Assumed Affinities (the difference between Initiatory Wicca- specifically Gardnerian and Alexandrian- and New Age spiritualities) .

“In the questionnaire, mentioned at the start of this chapter, none of the hundred (Gardnerian/Alexandrian) Wiccans who responded indicated that they had become involved in Wicca because ‘their life was not working’, and supplementary fieldwork does not indicate that these Wiccans assume there lives or the lives of other Wiccans are, or were Dysfunctional.” (Pearson 1998)

The Witch Dr. Dave Bracey confirms the difficulties and hard work of pursuing the mysteries when he says, “The mysteries are not easy to apprehend. It requires long training, usually with a spiritual guide or facilitator, and a considerable investment of time. This is not something that has much appeal to many in our present day society, conditioned as it is with fast cars, fast food, fast solutions and instant gratification and speedy communication. The mysteries do not arrive ready made and pre-packaged. They cannot be experienced as quickly as the instant high of the new age. But neither does the (esoteric initiatory) Witch’s ‘awareness’ wane, as does the let-down that so often eventuates when the newness of the ‘reborn’ convert fades to be left with the forms and structures of religion which so often become ends in themselves.” (Bracey 2001)

Like much else in life things that are of value are often thing that require a lot of hard work. Saying that though, there are circumstances where mystical experience arises quite spontaneously in some people. This may be down to horrific or beautiful situations, which invoke tremendously strong emotions within individuals that lead them to having an experience of the mysteries.

I am sure that there are many, many people who are perfectly happy practising their religion of non-initiatory exoteric Wicca and Witchcraft and good luck to them, each to their own. I am sure that people get a great deal of spiritual fulfillment from them. So just to reiterate so there is no confusion, esoteric initiatory Witchcraft is not better than New Age and Popular Wicca. It is just different, with different aims, philosophies and purposes and practices. So if the mysteries are not for you, then please feel free to ignore this article, remember that this is only one way and there are many others.

I shall finish with another quote from Dr. Bracey as he talks about the relationship between the mysteries and Craft. “So the mysteries are not for all, but is the way of (esoteric initiatory) Witches. We who ride beyond the ordinary, rejecting the supernatural in favour of the supra-natural, and who are aware of the relationship of the part to the whole.” (Bracey 2001)

____________________________________

Footnotes:
Campbell, J, (1988) , ‘The Power of Myth’, Doubleday
Campbell, J, (1959) , ‘The Mask of God (Primitive mythology, Oriental Mythology, Occidental Mythology and Creative Mythology) ’, Condor
Campbell, J, (1949) , ‘The Hero with a Thousand faces’, Princetown University Press
Campbell, J, (2001) , ‘Thou art that, transforming religious metaphors’, Joseph Cambell Foundation
Campbell, J, (2004) , ‘Pathways to Bliss, Mythology and Personal Transformation’, Joseph Campbell Foundation
Crowley, V, (1989) , ’ Wicca the old Religion in the New Age’, Aquarian Press
Armstrong, K, (1999) , ’ A History of God’, Vintage
Armstrong, K, (2005) , ‘A Short History of Myth’, Cannongate
Pearosn, J, Roberts, R, Samuel, G, (1998) , ‘Nature Religion Today’, Edinburgh University Press
Pearson, J, (2007) , ‘Wicca and the Christian Heritage (Ritual, Sex and magic) , Routledge
Fortune, D, (1935) , ‘The Mystical Qabalah’, Aquarian
Hutton, R, (2003) , ‘Witches, Druids, and King Arthur, Oxford University Press
Heselton, P, (1995) , ‘Secret Places of the Goddess’, Capal Ban
Underhill, E, (1993) , ‘Mysticism’, Oneworld
Lamond, F, (1997) , ‘Religion without Beliefs’, Janus
Lamond, F, (2004) , ‘Fifty Years of Wicca’, Green magic
LeShan, L, (1974) , ‘How to Meditate’, Turnstone
Bracey, D, (2001) , ‘A Personal View of God’, TNW

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Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 Days a Year – Ama-Terasu

December 8th and 9th

Ama-terasu

At this time of the year, the ancient and most important of all the Shinto divinities, Ama-terasu is honored. Ama-terasu is the daughter of Izanagi and Izanami, the Gods of creation, who gave birth to the islands of Japan. So bright and great was her luster, Ama-terasu was sent to heaven to govern humanity. Laster she was jointed by her brother Tsuki-Yumi the Moon God. Ama-terasu is the supreme deity of the ordinary people and of the royal family. The Emperor is descended from her grandson and is the high priest of her cult.

The Evolution of My Sacred Symbol

The Evolution of My Sacred Symbol

Author:   Lady Rain StarDragon (Teresa Garcia)    

All around us are symbols, and all are sacred when viewed with Sacred Mind, the state that we enter into when we meditate, or pray, smile at a new baby, or gaze in awe as the sky is painted with crimson and gold as Amaterasu leaves our visible sky as she traverses the High Plain of Heaven while our planet turns. The ones I have chosen for my personal use have changed through the years as I have changed and danced with Time.

As a child, I was raised to be Christian, and specifically Seventh Day Adventist, even though some would say my father was rather lax as he almost never went to church- he worked as a Correctional Officer at a fire camp and almost always ended up on-duty Saturdays. For a while, my mother took my brother and I, and the crucifix was a symbol that held power for me without question. My guardian spirit was with me from birth, and though he said he was a ryu and not an angel as believed in my the church I attended, and often encouraged me to consider what the symbols around and in the text read in services meant. Intuitively, the cross was the four directions for me, and Jesus was Man at the center, taking up his burden. Those in the church seemed to miss what I thought an important fact, his primary mission not being a scapegoat for mistakes we make in life, but a lesson in proper conduct towards our fellows so those mistakes would either not be made or would be lesser.

Others didn’t see my point, although my guardian and teacher agreed whole heartedly. To them, our race was unclean because the original humans disobeyed God (who I later learned was a particular deity called Yahweh of a particular tribe, and therefore possibly not the original creator in the grand scheme of things… provided there is one) . They took the Knowledge of Good and Evil without permission. I couldn’t understand, knowledge is for everyone, especially something like that. According to those in the church I attended, it was necessary for an innocent man to die to atone for such an act. For me, this symbol became tainted and sullied, and it took me a long time to discard the surface level understanding and delve back to the core. That is neither here nor there though, and I did not return to that church, setting out on an inner journey for understanding.

My guardian, that I will refer to here as Goruden, shared wisdom with me that day that I will never forget. “Listen to the wind, it will teach you everything you need to know. Become one with it and the water, flowing always home.” In essence, Nature held the answers that I was looking for. He had already helped me to learn to listen to what the trees told me, and I was learning to see through the eyes of animals. When visiting mountains, I listened to their slow, deep breathing, the voices of the stones, and the stories of the inner earth that Mounts Lassen and Shasta shared with me. Mountains and Wind became my symbols, as well as the stars of the night sky that had guided travelers for eons.

It wasn’t long before I was approached by someone Goruden-sensei had told about me, and I found books in the library when Goruden suggested that I look into knowledge about witches, as some of my ancestors reputedly had been killed as witches. While Goruden taught me the magic of his country and people, as different from humans and yet able at times to take humans into their families or join human families, I read what I could about witches from the reference section of the library and pondered what had been shared by the old woman who had come to me. After a while, I chanced upon “The Witches Bible” by the Farrars. After showing the ad to my mother, I used my allowance money and ordered it with her permission, and she had started checking the mail every day before my father could.

One day, he managed to come home early, and wouldn’t you know it, but that’s when the Gods decreed my package would arrive. Since he didn’t know the return address, he insisted I show him what was in it. Oh my, what a mess that was, and the big pentacle, cup and sword on the cover infuriated my father, due to what he had been taught as a boy about witches. Oddly enough, the next day after a long talk with my mother, I came home from school and discovered that my father wanted to speak with me about the book. He gave it back, having looked through it. The whole thing hadn’t gone the way that I intended it too, but we had a good discussion about why witches weren’t evil, and how a pentacle did not equate to Satanism. I was granted permission to explore this further since it had been he himself that had told me of how there was a witch in the family on his side (mother’s too, but that has no bearing on this) . I accepted teaching from the old woman who had come to me earlier, along with another young lady and a young man who became my training partners, my siblings.

It was during this time that I made personal acquaintance with The Lady, who I discovered to be much like Goruden. An indescribable presence in all her forms, both the terrifying and the beauteous, and although she was both harsh and loving I could stand before her without fear even when she revealed something that had ultimately driven my sister back to her former path.

The Pentacle became my symbol then when I had entered this training, and I determined that I would obtain one to wear. Goruden and I poured through the book together and reviewed the verbal lessons I was granted, as he admitted his knowledge of Western magic and religion was rather limited, having come from Okinawa (curiosity is what caused him to follow my father back to America when the time came) . The star is a symbol that is used by his people as well, and we had much interest in seeing the parallels and differences in practices and beliefs. I had something to call my beliefs, although Goruden never told me what he called what he was teaching, other than “The way things are” or “The path of the Spirits.” He wanted me to find my own path, not to copy what was his and followed by some in his own land.

Time continued to dance on, and I did obtain a Pentacle to wear (I had made several for use on my altar) , although I later ended up giving this to a family member through the man who later was my husband. I had outgrown that particular one, as it had the Tetragramaton upon it. By this time, I had also discovered sources on the religions of the East, and began learning about Shinto. I had obtained another Pentacle that bore the symbols of many religions on it, which symbolized to me not only the five elements I had learned of through Wicca, but the five elements as taught by my guide which were more like states than anything as they flowed into each other. This version of the Pentacle also symbolized to me how every religion contains truth, and how if these are found and combined a greater whole is made.

In the academic texts about Shinto, I found the views Goruden had taught me from as a child, and found pictures of the things he had described to me, the red torii, the roadside Jizo, the shrines both plain and ornate, the gorgeous Buddhist temples that he had visited with curiosity, and the shrine that he had to visit for a month every year. I learned the name he had only given me translations of, Shinto, “The Way of the Kami.”

I realized that every time I had learned something new, I had been approaching the stone circle of my ancestors through the red torri erected in my mind, the gate. Perhaps one day I will build a torri on my property. I also knew the central and most influential symbol in my life, which was not the Pentacle of the Element/States, nor the Sacred Mountain that I now live at the foot of which I am bound energetically to, but the Dragon, Ryu.

Dragon in Japanese is Doragon, Tatsu, or Ryu and is a Kami. Kami is translated by some as God, others as Deity, and others as Spirit but is all of these and more. Kami is Kami. Dragon to me stands for wisdom, strength, friendship, protection and love. Dragons can be vain and jealous, some are self-centered and violent, and like us they can be foolish as they too have negative qualities like everything. However, through my experiences with my guardian, he has taught me well and shared what wisdom he has. He has taught me strength, listened to me cry when hurt emotionally and physically, comforted me when he could. He has protected me to the best of his ability, as he does have other responsibilities than a young woman who is Priestess/Goddess and also both Kami and Human, that sometimes loses sight of the fact that she and all else are Kami. Goruden has been a friend to me all my life, and yes, holds my love just as much as my husband does, or my children. My life path is both Wicca and Shinto, and the symbol that I have designed to express my personal path is the Pentacle with a dragon lounging upon it, for it is who I am.

Purification Ritual for New Magical Tools

Purification Ritual for New Magical Tools

by Jame Kambos

Whenever you buy a new tool for magical workings it is important that the tool is purified. This is a simple purification ritual that I use to cleanse my new magical tools:

Ingredients:

caldron or any heat-proof dish

dandelion leaf

wormwood

sage

Ignite the herbs and let them smolder awhile. As the smoke curls about you pass your tool through the smoke and say:

“Smoke rise, Let me be wise. This (name of tool) is cleansed.  

I will use it only for good.”

The item is now ready to use!

Goddess of the Season: Amaterasu

Goddess of the Season: Amaterasu

 

The islands of Japan were isolated from outside influences, in much the same way as the old world islands of Crete or Malta. Due to this separation, the indigenous people of Japan have retained their polytheistic, nature based, Goddess centered beliefs well into modern times. This belief system is called Shinto, which translates as “The way of the Gods”. Within Shinto mythology, the most revered deity is Goddess…… the Sun Goddess and supreme deity of all Kami, the elemental forces of nature. She is….. Amaterasu-o-mi-kami.

Born of the primeval forces of the universe, Izanagi and Izanami; Amaterasu reigned over the heavens and brought life into the world. Her name literally means she who illuminates the heavens. “The Goddess of the beginnings is thus not only the mother of the world, but also the nurturer of living beings, animal as well as vegetable and humans. She is the protectress of all life, the unfailing one.”, writes Jean Markale in her book The Great Goddess. Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, is associated with royal power and with the returning of life and joy after dark-times.

For the story of Amaterasu and her brother Susano-O, both in audio and written form, entitled “Out of the Cave and into the Light” click on the following:
http://www.lyricalworks.com/stories/amaterasu/amaterasu1.htm

 

Amaterasu ruled over weaving and agriculture. She taught her people how to grow rice, their sacred food, and grains and how to cultivate the silkworm. She invented the art of weaving with the loom and was known to make the garments of the Gods. Like other solar deities, she is an archer, her quiver holding 1000 arrows. Her emblem, the rising sun, still appears on the flag of Japan today. Associated symbols from her myth are the mirror (truth), the necklace (compassion) and the sword (courage and strength) and they represent the Imperial Regalia which are kept at the Great Shrine of Ise. Her gift to the people as their guardian was to show them their own beauty and potential and to develop a cultural unity. As Patricia Monaghan writes “even the inroads of patriarchal Buddhism have not destroyed the worship of the bejeweled ancestor of all humanity”.

The Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, is still worshiped today in the Shinto Temples of Japan. The Japanese Imperial family traces their heritage back to her lineage. Emperor Akihito, the current Emperor, is said to be the 125th direct descendant of Jinmu, the great great grandson of Amaterasu, and is revered as a living God. The Japanese calendar starts from 660 BC and was the year of her accession. There are other scholars who believe it is possible that the indigenous religion of Japan (Shinto) may date back 5000 years. However, there is no official sacred scripture or dogma to validate this.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century and it maintained a peaceful coexistence with Shintoism. However, by the end of the 19th century Shintoism was to lose its status and recognition as a religion to become known as a cult of the Imperial family in the eyes of our western culture. At the end of WW2 the Imperial cult was abolished by the allies. The teaching of Shinto was forbidden along with the Japanese State financial support of it’s temples. Fortunately, this was but a temporary state, as today it again flourishes as a primary religion.

The major festival of Amaterasu, according to Patricia Monaghan, “is not tied to an annual cycle; it is held every twenty years when the sacred mirror is ceremoniously carried to a newly built shrine, identical in all respects to the shrine that has preceded it. Thus Amaterasu’s major ritual, like the myth of her return from the cave, emphasizes renewal.”

~Sacred pilgrimages to the Great Shrine of Ise occur in mid-February and again in mid-June.
~On May 3rd the Hakata festival takes place in Japan and is a national holiday with special celebrations for children and parades to honor their deities. Wear gold colored items today to honor Amaterasu. (365Goddess)
~Another celebration is on February 5th and is known as Sebutsen, the feast of “closing the door on winter”.
~On July 17th, the Great Festival of the Sun Goddess is held and street processions go on all day in honor of the queen of all Kami (Gods).
~And on December 21st, the winter solstice, she is honored for her creativity and the birth of light to the world.

 

Sources:

The Goddess Path, The Goddess Companion and The Book Of Goddesses & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan 365 Goddessby Patricia Telesco