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Author Topic: Coven experience?  (Read 15547 times)
Jenett
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« Reply #15: October 02, 2007, 09:55:26 pm »

Isn't separation of witchcraft-the-technology from witchcraft-the-religion a newfangled idea? I was just reading about this a few days ago ... darned if I can remember where. At any rate, separating the technology from the spirituality is the same mistake made by the materialists when they separate the material world from the spiritual -- and you can see where that has led.

I don't particularly care whether it's a new-fangled dea or not (I don't think it is, though.) I will clarify, though.

I believe there are many different ways to connect with the gods. Prayer. Dance. Music. Scriptures. Pain. Pleasure. With others. On one's own. In one's bed. In a sacred circle. Sitting down at a family meal. Over the stove. In the garden. Aesceticism. Hedonism. Aspecting/Drawing Down. Writing.

Which ones work depend on the person, and the Gods. (I'm pretty clear on the fact that some of the above would be pleasing to mine, and some of them wouldn't be.) When I speak about choosing a technology, I speak about it in the same way that I might pick one of several technologies to communicate with distant friends - email, IM, a shared online game, phone, written letters. Which one we actually use depends on a range of factors. I see witchcraft as being one particular constellation of technologies (and therefore more like saying "We use the Internet" than "We use email") but I also believe there are others - many of which are compatible with witchcraft, but some of which probably aren't (or aren't compatible with each other, anyway: aesceticism and hedonism don't exactly fit neatly together.)

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Instead, if there were trouble-makers who have their own agenda, I would simply disinvite them.

Who gets to make the decision on disinviting someone? The person whose house it is? That's a heirarchy of sorts. The person arranging the ritual or leading it? That is also a heirarchy. Everyone acting together? Great when it happens - but there will also be all sorts of situations when some people aren't sure, and other people are really upset. (This one happened in the group I work with: we're still recovering two years later, and it damaged some relationships: one result is that we've gotten a *lot* more explicit about who gets to say "Enough.")

My point is that once you get more than two or three people together - maybe five - you can manage on "Who do you want to ask" Any more than that, and there are coordination issues, in my experience. (And not just in witchy settings, but in pretty much every other social setting I've ever seen.)

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Again, wisdom is obvious. If something goes wrong, people will instinctively look toward an elder in whom they trust. You don't need titles for that.

Nope. But that's not the only thing the titles are good for. And the titles don't *hurt* in that setting - as long as they're backed up by consistency within the group. I'm not arguing that titles, by themselves, make things better. I'm arguing that making the commitments, obligations, responsibilities, training, and skills that people have *overt* rather than *covert* (hoping that that person in need is going to pick up on the right person to help them) is generally a far better idea than hoping it all works out fine.

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That's not the same thing as hierarchy. If someone's good a digging ditches, he gets the job. If someone's good at healing, she gets the job. Pure functionality, no hierarchy involved.

Again, who decides if someone's good at something? How do you notice?

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I think we have different ideas about what the Work is. I think it's personal transformation in the context of realizing our interconnectedness. In other words, love. There is a place for spellcasting for more mundane concerns, certainly; but these aren't the Work. At least, that's how I see it.

I didn't say it was. For me, my Work is the service of my Gods, and the service of my tradition, and through both of those, service within the community (in the same sense my professional work is: I'm a librarian, and consider it a vocation sort of thing. Doesn't mean I owe the community-in-general every bit of my existence, does mean I have some obligations towards consistent behavior.)

That's included personal transformation for me - but I wouldn't phrase it as interconnectedness or love in the way you have: I tend to go at it as "recognition of possibilities, and the gain of knowledge that allows one to make better informed choices about what to do about those potentials." Quite possibly the same practical outcome in many cases - but also some places where they diverge.

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Isn't a coven the responsibility of the senior Witches? Don't they direct? naturally, with the consent of those who are directed (who withhold that consent by going elsewhere). I have long thought important decisions would be made by consensus among the wise.

Again, who determines 'senior Witch'. Is it the person who's been around the longest? Is it the person who's built the most time and effort? Among the three women I mentioned in my last post: the one who is *least* involved in the running of the group is the oldest among the three of us. I certainly value her opinion, but there's a bunch of stuff I'm just not going to go to her with, because she has made it blatantly clear that she does not want that level of responsiblity.

I have a good friend - with whom I'm going to be doing some private work this weekend. She has been within the Pagan community, and generally identifying herself as a witch since before I was in college - around 20 years. (She's 13 years older than I am: I became a student in the group I work with in 2001, so just over 6 years ago). I consider her my sister, and I look up to her in very many ways. But when it comes to structured Craft work - she looks up to me, because I've had far more specific training and skill-building in a wide range of areas that are more relevant when we do that. (In talking to her today, I asked her to think about what kind of circle work she'd like for Friday: I can think of about 5 ways we could go about doing it, but she probably wants something more formal - and internally structured - than what she does on her own.)

We're really clear about that, in large part because otherwise it could get awfully confusing for both of us. We were *able* to do that because we were willing to pull the labels out, talk about what the ones we both have mean (to us, and within the broader community) and figure out what that meant.

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A coven is not church with a pointed hat -- at least, I don't see it that way. The heart of a coven is its elders, who are a handful of independent Witches who associate for work and worship, who regard each other as equals and who make decisions amongst themselves by consensus. There may be as few as two or three of these. They may agree to teach others (or direct them to teachers from among their own students) and welcome them into worship and working; but if so it is on their terms. That's my take on it, anyway.

I'm with you on this. We run that way - we have five people actively taking on leadership roles within a group (we usually have 13-16 at rituals, including potential students and occasional guests, right now.) But we still are clear that there are some things the 3rd degrees are going to listen to comments on - but then make their own decisions, because they have the greatest experience, and because they have the greatest responsibility to the group. (For example, we would not ask them to make a decision they felt they couldn't take responsibility for - say, initiating someone they felt was not ready.)

Now, that kind of disagreement rarely comes up - but we have had situations where people haven't brought something up that in hindsight, we should have talked about far more. Part of our overt structure work has been to help make sure that people *know* who to go talk to if they have any concerns, and so that people who are beginning to take on teaching roles in the group (or larger leadership roles) get mentorship, not just get thrown into the deep end.

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A tradition, however, is a way of approaching the gods together with others -- a religion within a religion, if you will -- and its categories and concepts tend to be etched in stone. A tradition is a way of seeing how things are; covening is just about who you work and worship with. They may overlap, but they are not the same.

Ah. This is one place we are, admittedly, non-traditional in some senses. We are an eclectic group: we are open to change in pretty much everything except our initiation rituals, and a few other things we've chosen to keep as group traditions. (Our Samhain ritual, for example.) We're very aware that we have sometimes very different views of the universe: what holds us together is a commitment to shared practice, and the changes that brings us.

I recognise this is not - entirely - the old-school traditional way of seeing things. Which is okay - we don't claim that, just pick up influences here and there. It does mean we're not very likely to get hidebound any time soon. And honestly, I don't see our degree system being a reason that might happen - or at least not in the top 10 reasons it might occur.

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You've really made me think, and that doesn't happen too often on Internet message boards. I hope that's a sign of what to expect here generally. Please feel free to respond again, but I feel a little uncomfortable discussing this any longer because it's someone else's thread. I'm sure we've given her a lot to think about. Blessed Be! Cheesy

Thread wandering is okay: I'd have suggested moving to a different thread except that I think it really all is relevant to the initial question (which is different ways of looking at this issue.)

As far as the quality of conversation - likewise, of course. And yes, the level of conversation is quite high here: it's one of the main reasons I keep sticking around.
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« Reply #16: October 02, 2007, 11:13:02 pm »


Again, who determines 'senior Witch'. Is it the person who's been around the longest? Is it the person who's built the most time and effort? Among the three women I mentioned in my last post: the one who is *least* involved in the running of the group is the oldest among the three of us. I certainly value her opinion, but there's a bunch of stuff I'm just not going to go to her with, because she has made it blatantly clear that she does not want that level of responsiblity.


Jenett, just using your quote to jump in very quickly and give another Traditional view. In a Gardnerian Coven, the "senior witch" is the High Priestess, usually in partnership with the High Priest. At it's best, a benevolent monarchy, at it's worst, tyranny. But, that's the way it is.

Many of the thread comments have alluded to the idea that a coven is a democratic gathering of like-minded individuals,all of similar stature and seniority.

A Traditional Gardnerian coven is not a democrasy, period.

We have a firm degree system. The "scorecard" of what is required to move from 1st to 2nd, and 2nd to 3rd is not public knowledge, but it invovles much more than just earning your degree badge. The magic involved in the initiation or elevation of the seeker is transforming, in ways they or their elders may not always predict. Filling your score card, completing your checklist, is no guarantee that an initiation or elevation will occur. It is a joint decision of the seeker and the elders, with a hope that the elders know what their doing.

Which leads me to wonder what a group of seekers, choosing to form a learning coven, would base degrees on? And what they would mean......

As to those comments about Gardner dragging the degree system into Wicca from his dark ceremonial background.....well.......yeah. So?
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« Reply #17: October 03, 2007, 12:20:48 am »

Idealistically speaking, Rodney, I understand just where you're coming from, because I have similar feelings about it.  In practical terms, though, I've learned (painfully) how seldom that ideal is possible.

The real problem lies in a dysfunctional group; and I think that's why you value hierarchy, for its power to prevent dysfunction. Instead, if there were trouble-makers who have their own agenda, I would simply disinvite them.
Hierarchy doesn't prevent dysfunction; if properly applied, however, it can be a very effective tool for minimizing the effects of dysfunction when they do occur.  I can't speak for why others value hierarchy, but that's certainly why I learned to value it.

You say that you would simply disinvite troublemakers.  What if others in your group don't agree that they're troublemakers, or believe that the problems can be handled in other ways, and don't want them disinvited?

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Again, wisdom is obvious. If something goes wrong, people will instinctively look toward an elder in whom they trust. You don't need titles for that.
In my experience, wisdom is not always obvious.  (Heck, even when it is obvious, it's not mutually exclusive with dysfunctionality.  I've known many people who had a great deal of wisdom, but who were also very damaged, sometimes even toxic, people.)  But for the sake of discussion, let's say it is that straightforward - in what way is "elder" not a title?  How is having elders, and looking to them when things go wrong, not hierarchic?

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Isn't a coven the responsibility of the senior Witches? Don't they direct? naturally, with the consent of those who are directed (who withhold that consent by going elsewhere). I have long thought important decisions would be made by consensus among the wise. A coven is not church with a pointed hat -- at least, I don't see it that way. The heart of a coven is its elders, who are a handful of independent Witches who associate for work and worship, who regard each other as equals and who make decisions amongst themselves by consensus.
And having those senior Witches directing and making the important decisions, is non-hierarchical how, exactly?

In fact this is pretty much how coven hierarchy does work when applied properly.  Indeed, the consensus-building you refer to very frequently includes not just a handful of elders, but all members of the group.  (Consensus-building is another thing where there's a gap between the ideal, and how it works in practice, but that's a whole 'nother line of discussion.)

It sounds like the groups you've encountered that used a degree system and coven offices were applying these systems poorly, even (here's that word again) dysfunctionally.  Holding a higher degree, or a coven office, is not about getting to throw one's weight around, although, regrettably, a lot of people (mis)use it that way - this is why I said that hierarchy doesn't inherently prevent dysfunction.

What it does do, is bring in accountability.  That's true even in heavily authoritarian hierarchies; the difference is that their accountability is to the higher levels of the hierarchy, not to all the members.  It's also true of the very loose hierarchy of "senior Witches" you describe.  But without some kind of hierarchy, however loose, there is no way to hold someone accountable - those who are charismatic, experienced, decisive, etc, can apply these qualities however they please.  If they do it well and honorably, consistently, it doesn't matter a lot whether the accountability is there.  But if they don't, you don't have a lot of options.

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« Reply #18: October 03, 2007, 06:10:59 am »

Actually, witchcraft as a religion is probably a newfangled idea for the most part. Witchcraft in most cultures throughout history is just a form of magic. If it has any religious aspects, they come from the religion(s) practiced by the people involved.

Magick is magick and religion is religion. Forms change, but the meaning is the same. The flaw I perceive is in treating them as separate entities, whatever their form, however they appear in different cultures. Even ceremonial magick, if I understand it correctly, is about the Great Work, union with the divine. Separating the technology from the spirit which gives it meaning is no different from raping the land and polluting the rivers to get rich. In my humble opinion. Smiley

Who gets to make the decision on disinviting someone?

The tradition and the coven are two different things. The tradition, the religion, is egalitarian. The coven is not. The heart of the coven is the seniors; it exists because they say it exists. They are the wisdom, they are the power. You could speak of this as hierarchy, but it's really a question of their personal freedom: they associate with whom they will. If you're lucky, you get to come. If you're naughty, you get to leave.

Who decides they're seniors? They do. Worst case scenario, some upstart manages to co-opt everyone, and for some reason they can't stop her. So, the seniors leave, and take their power and wisdom with them. They don't need the students; they offered their time and expertise out of the goodness of their hearts, and if the students don't want it, they don't want it. (I hope these seniors don't need students to validate them; that's co-dependent.) Perhaps it would be helpful to think back to the master-apprentice model. I think it's much the same as what I'm describing here.

You may think I'm saying the same thing as you are, only saying it differently; but I'm not. This hierarchy within the coven exists for a completely different reason than the hierarchy within a tradition. The former exists because a Witch is free to do with her time and energy as she likes. The latter exists as a religious benchmark that applies to everyone, across the board, who is a part of that tradition. It becomes a part of the "way of seeing" that a tradition is. It is division, etched in stone.

I think this explanation answers many of your questions and objections. Traditions tend to be taught at the coven level, I suppose, so it's easy to confuse the two. Since a coven, as I conceive of it, is basically a handful of wise people (who make decisions by consensus), spending their time and energy with others if they choose, they could institute all of the hierarchy you feel is necessary. But they don't need to make it part of their religion ("tradition") to do that. You still don't need those degrees.

As to those comments about Gardner dragging the degree system into Wicca from his dark ceremonial background.....well.......yeah. So?

It's just that my conception of Witchcraft is that it is different in character from CM. They are two different approaches. CM follows the lightning flash up the Tree, while Witchcraft takes the Sword path. Naturally, neither is purely one or the other; it's the same Tree, after all! Smiley

Idealistically speaking, Rodney, I understand just where you're coming from, because I have similar feelings about it.  In practical terms, though, I've learned (painfully) how seldom that ideal is possible.

I really appreciated your comments, Sunflower. Do my responses to Jenett, distinguishing between hierarchy within a coven and hierarchy within a tradition, explain anything? I confess, I don't think I was very clear about that before.

I agree with hierarchy within a coven, simply because the senior Witches *are* the coven, and they have freedom to associate with whom they will and on their terms. It's carving distinctions in stone within a religion that I find disturbing.


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« Reply #19: October 03, 2007, 07:54:44 am »

But they don't need to make it part of their religion ("tradition") to do that. You still don't need those degrees.

Ok, so leaving aside the situation of decisions within a coven (which it's clear that we're not going to agree on, no big deal since I don't think it's likely we'd be looking at working together in ways where it would matter.)

I talked, earlier, about the religious and ritual experiences involved in the degree work. Some of those were personal - those familiar with the descent myth know of one common structure used in some groups. The death and rebirth idea is a common initiatory experience in many cultures. But there's also an idea of connection to the tradition, and to the specific group (and to the specific individuals involved) in the inititation.

I believe that has value. If you don't, that's fine. No one's going to make you go through an experience of that kind that you don't care for, especially over the Internet.

But I *do* find those things meaningful. Yes, they do bring a sense of heirarchy. But they also mark levels of responsibility within the tradition, and energetic connections in specific ways to the tradition as a whole. They also recognise a particular level of work/understanding (and, as humans, I think we tend to like it when that happens.)

Do I think they're required to be a witch? No. Do I think they're required to be a priestess? Not exactly. I do think that having those experiences in a reasonably controlled way is likely to be safer than waiting for them to happen on their own. I also don't think that some of them are relevant outside of group work.

I did have the experience in my 2nd degree - and I fully expect it will be the same for my 3rd - of feeling my path narrow. It's a little hard to describe - but by making the promises I did, suddenly, I got to stop worrying about a whole lot of other options and might-have-beens: the direction I wanted to go suddenly got far more clearly signposted: the potential distractions faded. This wasn't just a "Gee, I've decided I want to take on more commitment": it was something deeply internal in the ritual. It wasn't verbally explicit in the oath, or even in the ritual itself: it was a functional effect of the gestalt of the ritual.

Could that be duplicated without a degree-ritual? Don't know. I do know this way works, and it's solid, and repeatable. I find value in that.

But, as I imply above, I rarely do things for just one reason any more: I do not expect a degree system to simply answer one question: my experiences in it cover a wide range of impacts on not only my life, but the lives of people around me (and not just my coven-mates: I've had some interesting conversations with college friends, living half the US away, about the effect it's had on me.) Therefore, even if I did grant your "heirarchy isn't needed", I'd still find good reasons for the ritual for other effects. Again, you may disagree: that's fine. But it has value for me, and for the people I work with.
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« Reply #20: October 03, 2007, 08:38:11 am »

Which leads me to wonder what a group of seekers, choosing to form a learning coven, would base degrees on? And what they would mean......

That would depend on the knowledge and intentions of the people involved. The system would not be Gardnerian, of course, but anyone with sufficient "occult" knowledge and experience could set up a working degree system. In a group of all beginners, it would be almost impossible. However, they could borrow one of the training systems that are public knowledge as a starting point. If there is someone in the group with a good amount of experience, it would be easier to accurately evaluate how successful people are of course. But there are a number of successful magical and religious systems out there that were created by people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.

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As to those comments about Gardner dragging the degree system into Wicca from his dark ceremonial background.....well.......yeah. So?

IMHO, More likely from Freemasonry which also has three degrees. Ceremonial systems in Gardner's day generally had many more degrees.
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« Reply #21: October 03, 2007, 10:57:20 am »

Therefore, even if I did grant your "heirarchy isn't needed", I'd still find good reasons for the ritual for other effects. Again, you may disagree: that's fine. But it has value for me, and for the people I work with.

I hope I haven't offended you by speaking plainly. As I've said several times, I believe you when you speak of these things having meaning for you.

I want to be clear that it is only the labels I take issue with -- not the rituals, not the experience, not even the structure. It is the labels that are the problem. I agree that labels may have benefits. But they also have drawbacks, no matter how well-intentioned; and I think the latter outweigh the former. As I think I said in my first post on this thread, "Your mileage may vary (and probably does) ..." Clearly, it does.

My aversion to the three degrees is based in this reasoning; but it is intensified by the awareness that the degree system was imported from a different esoteric family. This is because, as an import, it does not arise organically from the same soil as does Witchcraft. Yes, grafts can take; and this one does take with some. But there is so much ego associated with it in the minds of so many. "High" Priestess: what are people supposed to make of that? I'm not even thinking of the perverse, who twist these labels to self-promote; I'm thinking of the neophytes, the weak-minded, the easily-misled. It's a stumbling block for them, and they do stumble.

Your experience has been an organic one. I don't see why you couldn't have had the same experience without the formality of a degree system, but it's your path. And I can't say this enough; I believe that your path is a rich and rewarding one for you. It's obvious from what you write.

I referred to this earlier, but there is one distinction I accept: that between Witch and Priestess. I accept this because it appears to be part of Stregheria, which has been around awhile. I don't know what they teach is the difference between the two; but I assume the distinction is an organic one, something arising out of the Witch's relationship to the divine. What I've come up with is the notion that a Priestess is a Witch who has consecrated herself to her deity. As I say, I don't know if that's what the Streghe teach; but it works for me on more than one level. The step of self-consecration is qualitative, dramatic and profound. It's more than being open to Spirit; it's abandonment of self to Spirit. What a ride.
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« Reply #22: October 03, 2007, 12:26:18 pm »

I want to be clear that it is only the labels I take issue with -- not the rituals, not the experience, not even the structure. It is the labels that are the problem. I agree that labels may have benefits. But they also have drawbacks, no matter how well-intentioned; and I think the latter outweigh the former.

How do you propose to talk about things without having a method of referring to them?
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« Reply #23: October 03, 2007, 01:02:35 pm »

How do you propose to talk about things without having a method of referring to them?

You're kidding, right?

The issue isn't about whether or how to talk about learning energy work, or ritual design, or anything else. The issue is whether you get a title for doing so.

Maybe there's a compromise. Maybe everyone could wear sashes with merit badges on them. No, wait ... that would interfere with working skyclad ...

I'm really ready to drop this.
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« Reply #24: October 03, 2007, 01:40:13 pm »

I'm really ready to drop this.

If the topic is getting frustrating for you and you feel like you need to take a break or even leave the thread entirely, by all means please do so.  There's absolutely nothing that says you must keep replying to people.  Wink  We've all needed a break once in a while; people will understand.
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« Reply #25: October 03, 2007, 03:12:59 pm »

If the topic is getting frustrating for you and you feel like you need to take a break or even leave the thread entirely, by all means please do so.  There's absolutely nothing that says you must keep replying to people.  Wink  We've all needed a break once in a while; people will understand.

Thanks. Not so much the topic, but the fact that I feel like I've posted my share and it's time for someone else to talk. At the same time, if people ask me questions, I feel obligated to respond.
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« Reply #26: October 03, 2007, 05:28:51 pm »

I want to be clear that it is only the labels I take issue with -- not the rituals, not the experience, not even the structure. It is the labels that are the problem. I agree that labels may have benefits. But they also have drawbacks, no matter how well-intentioned; and I think the latter outweigh the former.

Anything have both benefits and drawbacks and different people will think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and vice-versa. In any type of organized group, I think a reasonable amount organization (and the hierarchy any structure creates) is better than the alternatives. The wonderful goal of consensus decision-making and everyone pulling their share of the work rarely happens in non-structured groups. What you are more likely to end up with is either a tiny subset of the group actually doing the things that make the group work (even if they don't take the titles) or the group soon will fall apart as an effective group.
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« Reply #27: October 03, 2007, 06:35:51 pm »

Magick is magick and religion is religion. Forms change, but the meaning is the same. The flaw I perceive is in treating them as separate entities, whatever their form, however they appear in different cultures. Even ceremonial magick, if I understand it correctly, is about the Great Work, union with the divine.


This seems to be assuming that all witchcraft is religious witchcraft and that all magic is powered by the devine.

The thing is, it isn't and it doesn't.  There are plenty of ways to do religion without magic, and to do magic without religion.

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The flaw I perceive is in treating them as separate entities, whatever their form, however they appear in different cultures.

That seems rather dismissive of those different cultures.  'They may perceive what they do as A, but we more enlightened people know it is really B.'  Rather Campbellian, in fact.

Absent - I'll define my own culture, thanks, and magic is not automatically religious in it.
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« Reply #28: October 03, 2007, 08:31:11 pm »

This seems to be assuming that all witchcraft is religious witchcraft and that all magic is powered by the devine.

Some people believe that the everything is One and that what we see is all interrelated. Then again, I guess some people don't.

Quote
That seems rather dismissive of those different cultures.  'They may perceive what they do as A, but we more enlightened people know it is really B.'  Rather Campbellian, in fact.

That seems rather defensive. It's one thing to say that all points of view are valid; it's another to say that all points of view correspond equally with reality. All sincerely held points of view are equally valid because the people who hold them are equally valid. All points of view do not, however, correspond equally with reality. The Earth is not flat.

Many people nowadays seem to think it's bad manners to suggest that there is a reality, and even worse manners to try and find it. I think they fail to distinguish between ethnocentrism and simple thought, and self-lobotomize in an effort to appear fair and trendy. However, the Earth is not flat; and it's not unenlightened to say so.

I'm new here. Is Joseph Campbell the new red-headed stepchild?

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Absent - I'll define my own culture, thanks, and magic is not automatically religious in it.

I heartily support your point of view.
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« Reply #29: October 03, 2007, 08:55:39 pm »

I want to be clear that it is only the labels I take issue with -- not the rituals, not the experience, not even the structure. It is the labels that are the problem. I agree that labels may have benefits. But they also have drawbacks, no matter how well-intentioned; and I think the latter outweigh the former.

I love clear labels. I also love hierarchy. I think things go much more smoothly when everyone knows where they stand, but perhaps that is because the subtleties of interpersonal interaction were never my strong suit.

Having a clear program of study with well-defined consistent benchmarks helps prevent people from believing they have so much innate wisdom and natural talent that their lack of training and experience is irrelevant. It keeps people who have made no commitment to a group from thinking they have just as much right to tell everyone what to do as someone who has been putting time and energy into the group for twenty years. It forces newbies to admit, "I'm a beginner at this. I'm here to learn. I acknowledge that these people have a greater understanding of these topics than I do." It forces people with more experience and training to say, "I've received this training and developed these skills, so I'm expected to perform up to a certain standard." It forces the people running the group to give a "public" assessment of each member's progress, with the implication that they vouch for the training of each person who they've given a degree to. It also makes it clear when a given person is not making progress, so everyone involved can look at why progress isn't being made and what can be done about it. It gives recognition to the skills and experience of people whose work is less public or who are less charismatic than others in the group.

Sure you can do these things in other ways, but a clearly defined rank is one useful way to do them. The benefit, as far as I am concerned, is accountability. To me, a flat hierarchy and vague distinctions between roles mean that if things don't get done correctly, everyone can point fingers at everyone else. It means a few loud people can call the shots and not take responsibility for the outcome. It means what skills a person claims can vary wildly based on who they are trying to impress and what actually work they are being asked to do.

With well-known trads, a degree system gives credentials that are potentially meaningful in interactions between groups. If someone is speaking about Gardnerian Wicca, or Blue Star Wicca, or whatever degreed trad, you can get a clear idea of their level of training and experience by knowing what degree they are. If I'm thinking about doing ritual work with someone and they say they are second degree in the Such-and-Such Gardnerian coven, that tells me a lot. If they tell me they've been "Wiccan" for three years, that tells me almost nothing. Maybe they've spent those three years reading a few substandard 101 books, wearing a pentacle, and thinking how cool it is to be Wiccan. Maybe they spent it in intensive devotional work and magical practice. Who knows? We had someone come to our group, asking for our assistance in a ritual. She claimed to have received extensive training in X, Y, and Z from Trad X. We inquire a little further and she admits she's a "seeker" in Trad X. If she'd been a third degree, that would have really caused our opinion of Trad X to plummet once we'd seen her lack of skills, but we wouldn't hold Trad X accountable for the bad behavior of someone they never even initiated. Degree systems allow you to calibrate expectations based on skills and reputation.


Frankly, the biggest objections I've seen to assessing rank in my own community come from folks who want to be powerful or respected based on nothing but their charm and a line of BS. The folks in my community who actually have the skills and experience aren't generally threatened by ranks, even if they find them irrelevant to their own practice.

-- Joshua
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