Thursday, January 16, 2014

Buy In

                OK, I’m a hippie. Or I would have been, if I was just 6 or 7 years older. By the end of the Viet Nam war ‘Hippie’ had been declared dead and buried since 1967. Us high-school kids (I was 18 in 1973, 
the year the draft ended) of a certain long-haired, anti-establishment sort called ourselves ‘Freaks’. So, really, I was a freak, not a hippie.
The funeral for the death of 'Hippie',
Haight-Asgbury, October 1967
I’ve spent my biologically ‘adult’ life focused as firmly as life allows on art, music, organizing and spiritual practice. I’ve had to keep a job throughout, though I’ve opted for low-rent work that doesn’t bother me when I’m not doing it, so that I have mental space for my personal efforts. My serious lovers and life-partners have been partners in the art-and-magic as well. Certain character weaknesses may have kept me from being more artistically ‘successful’ in the common way, but I’ve produced a body of work that pleases me, and if I get another 20+ years I’ll surely produce more. I’ve done it without adopting the suit-and-tie hypnosis but while participating in a good deal of the world of adult social life – mortgages, management and the like. It has not crushed my spirit.
                There is an ongoing discussion about the value and meaning of institutional Paganism. Usually the
desire for property, physical worship spaces and ongoing local Pagan programming is contrasted with the freedom of spiritual renunciation and living in freedom. Some of the objection is simply concern that spiritual mission will get lost in the minutia of operations. There is also a more philosophical objection, in which an image of ‘witchcraft’ is offered that places the magic-user outside of society’s limits – a sort of combination of the Indian Sannyasins, Tantric sorcerers and western Satanic Witches.
                I dig that. Magic is juicy when it is part of Forbidden Knowledge, and there is personal power to be gained in stepping outside the safe zone and standing firm. Even in the ancient Pagan world the magician or sorceress was a figure at the edges of Hellenic society, though maybe not so much so in Vedic or Celtic lands. However the other end of traditional magic and ritual was worked right in the center of personal life; the rites of temples and home shrines, invoking the gods, offering to the Dead, divining and charming for small things, consulting professional spookers for spooky stuff – all normative, and all part of ‘religion’, as it was loosely understood.
                That’s the front-end of a magical culture which I am interested in helping to restore to the west. Despite life-long fantasies of conjuring the Green to crack the concrete façade of the sleepers I find myself working to establish Pagan temples and public worship, and design ways in which occult skills can be brought into the lives of people with no particular time for or interest in learning them for themselves. My vision is of Pagan temples where the Fire of Magic burns, and modern people have access to vision, devotion and teaching.

                I haven’t given up on the other side of the work. Here’s the thing – antinomianism is only as powerful as the Law it pushes against. Where I live the general spiritual atmosphere is one of apathy. There is no serious devotion to Christian values in my local culture, in terms of sexuality, commerce or social duty. Tell modern kids that they can join an orgy-cult and they’re like, “Hmmm. Orgy cult… what am I doing Friday night?” When the sense of shock is gone, antinomianism is less fun.
                In fact, for a lot of modern hipsters commitment to growing an institution might be more psychologically revolutionary than individualist seeking. Many of us grew up with individualism, iconoclasm and skepticism as norms. Whether we learned them from our families or adopted them from elsewhere, many of us have long accomplished the work of cutting ourselves free of the values and expectations of mainstream culture to one degree or another. For us it may be more of a conscious effort to decide to devote ourselves to a group project whose goal isn’t focused on the self. To choose to identify with a group even if it isn’t as cool as we wish it could be, to commit to both sweaty material effort, financial participation and even ideological mutuality might seem like the worst sort of ethical compromise.
Doesn’t that make it valuable as antinomianism?
                It seems to me that establishing a main-street normalcy for the more simple end of occult practice will provide a cultural background within which wilder systems can grow. The renunciate often needs the temples to shelter her, both physically and ideologically. Public, family-picnic religion (sweet as it is) could be
contrasted with more private mystery rites that lead us away from common norms. Private teaching of occult arts could be sheltered within socially-protected shelters with cool ritual rooms and gardens. The possibility of antinomian and other radical self-targeted work could be greatly enhanced.
                Back in the day we used to worry that we would be tempted to ‘sell out’ – to trade our birthright of freedom and creativity for the bead-strings of suburban life as we saw it before us in the 70s and 80s. However, as time went by, some of us developed a bit of personal juice – some resources, financial or personal. We began to realize that we might be able to buy in to the larger society, while maintaining control of the transaction.
                Perhaps this is a metaphor for the way the magical understanding of the Pact with Spirits has changed. As a kid I learned that any ‘deal’ with dangerous spirits was a bad idea. Today many of us think that dangerous is often where the power is. When we make deals with ‘devils’ we hold firmly to our own sovereignty even as we bargain in good faith with powerful forces. It is just as reasonable to make a deal with the devil of modern society, to buy in and get one’s box-full of useful crap.
                This requires the magical skills of the shapeshifter, of the cloak of invisibility and the Essence of Look-Over-There. It involves just walking into Mordor, for many of us, as we pass through the gates of the corporate hell-worlds where so much treasure is stored. But the treasures we take away can be employed in the work of re-enchantment. It is rather satisfying to subvert traditional values using the very substance of the inhumane system.
                I’ll conclude with a pitch – even if you’re a wild, naked, animal-sacrificing, gender-indifferent woods-witch, it is valuable to support local Pagan organizing and help to build institutional Paganism. Apply your shape-shifting skills, assemble some resources and go help, or at least tell your local Pagan priestesses how you can be reached, in case someone needs a dose of the wild. If we are firm in our understandings of virtue and confident in our own power we can avoid being ‘polluted’ by our involvement with and proximity to mainstream culture. We can be beacons of the weird in the fog of common life, etc… but I’m not going there now.



Michele Morris said...

Love this! I was a practicing witch and a 17 year Army spouse. I now lead the Open Circle on Fort Hood. Over the years I have raised 2 children and traveled all over the world, openly practicing the whole time. My tenure in "normal" society affords me opportunities to translate, if you will, my path to supportive and curious non pagans and my role in our Circle feeds my soul. I have found immense value in the balance of worlds and the opportunity to stand in the gap.

Sharon Gorbacz said...

I think you've got a good point about the 'low-rent' job being more conducive to being able to spend more mental energy on art and spirituality on the off hours. I often find myself so mentally exhaused at the end of a workday that everything else but my television watching suffers.

I'm seriously considering figuring out what I need to do (other than marrying, which I'm doing anyway) to not only work closer to home; but perhaps find an employment situation that's a bit less stressful to boot. The end goal would be to have more time and energy for spiritual, academic, and artistic pursuits.