Lately, I’ve been reading Caitlin and John Matthews’ Walkers Between the Worlds: The Western Mysteries from Shaman to Magus. My goal was to understand a bit more of the roots of ceremonial magic, which seems far removed from what I do as a ban-drui and trance-seer. The latter is a term I’ll use rather than shaman, because I consider the latter word culturally linked to Siberia and the cultures there.
I tend to lack good words for what I am, and I’m sensitive about cultural appropriation. There is, of course, the argument that I am stealing from the ancient Celts by using the word Druid and representing myself inaccurately; to quote Spinal Tap’s recitative to “Stonehenge”: “no one knows who they were or what they were doing.” The term, however, aligns me with Keltria and, prior to that, ADF, from which I get my current spiritual identity. Prior to that, I would’ve identified myself as a Reclaiming Witch. It’s not that those terms encapsulate the totality of my spiritual self, but they’re good shorthand.
As a basic history of Hermetic magic, the book is decent. What bothers me, however, is the first part, which covers what many would call natural magick and what the authors call the Native Tradition.
At the core, I have a problem with the concept of an Ur-religion that all cultures took part of. Not that this is explicit exactly, but I’ve seen that in quite a few overview texts. I also disagree with the assumption of euhemerism; some Gods — most specifically demigods — may be deified ancestors, but I doubt all or even most Gods are. What the Shining Ones are is worth a whole ‘nother entry, and a question that will never be answered by the living. They’re among the true Mysteries, if not the Mystery.
I also have difficulty with the idea of the Western Mysteries as a whole — a tapestry weaving together ceremonial magicians with shamans, cunning men with Christian priests. Is there a commonality between all groups who seek to engage the sacred? Perhaps. But I’m not sure all paths seek to engage the sacred in quite the same spirit. For magicians, it appears to be about control — of powers, spirits, the cosmos. For a priestess or a shaman, it’s about right relationship; there’s a limit to human power, and rightfully so. Forgive the over-simplification or the inexactitude of the terms.
“Mystery” implies there’s something hidden; the Greek term “musterion” means secret rites. And indeed, Mysteries are about secret rites, when you come down to it: they define the initiated (which stems from a term meaning “beginning”) from the uninitiated. For the rites to retain their meaning, their specialness, they must remain hidden.
Ultimately, however, this defines Mystery as an entirely human phenomena. The mysteries of the nature, the cosmos, even the Otherworld aren’t necessarily hidden; they’re out there for anyone with eyes to see and an open mind and heart. Granted, some would argue that initiation is required to point your eyes in the right direction. I can agree with this; quite a few people in the world learn best from the instruction of others. They don’t trust themselves enough to open their eyes, wonder and engage.
But the mystic — the word comes from a Greek term for an initiate into the Mysteries — doesn’t always require initiation into human-formulated ceremonies. There is a subset that’s just, well, born that way. The born-that-way type may not “play well” with members of an initiatory group, or be willing to submit themselves to all the restrictions, traditions and definitions of the group, which are really formulated for human social cohesion rather than sacred import.
Maybe there is a vast tapestry that these many mystics, groups, cultures and experiences are part of. It’s part of my nature, however, to look at the specificity — of culture, time, individual personality — than merge them all into one mega concept, kind of like how gummy worms melt into a giant pancake in a hot car. I’m still looking at the smiling gummy worm faces and seeing them as individuals, albeit merged into one mass of sweet goo.
Oh my. That’s a really awful metaphor.