Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Pagan Ego

This is going to be a topic that will poke some buttons. Strap in.

An issue came up among my students recently. So I'm going to share my thoughts on the ego as it expresses itself in the evolving Pagan.

Most mystery schools believe (they have also found success in the application of this principle) that the ego is the largest barrier to moving energy and using one's innate paranormal powers. If you want to be a medium, you must allow your ego to be pushed aside. If you want to astral project, you must let a separation from ego happen. If you want to be a shaman, you must put yourself aside and act in the best interest of your tribe. If you want Kundalini to awaken, the ego must die.

All over the world, spiritual paths promote the management or even the outright destruction of the ego. As an evolutionary step, this makes perfect sense to me. The ego is the remnant of our instinctual programming. It is the inner voice that wants our own material needs to be met. It is why we say "I am hungry," or "I am horny." The ego is the expression of the self, seeking the pleasure and power to keep the animal continuing with as much success as possible. But it requires that we exist in our "desire body" to accomplish the directives of our egos.

People deal with ego in two ways, based on the kind of person they are. The first are those whose egos scare them. I'm one of these types myself. Perhaps we are afraid of what we might be capable if we really let our egos run the show. Perhaps we worry that we might become foolish or turn into a big spectacle. Perhaps we also worry that what we are doing is just pretend and, in the grand scheme, amounts to nothing. This kind of person gets eaten alive by the worry that he misread the signs and his religious efforts are wasted as empty gestures.

The second group deals with their egos by embracing them. They feel that their inner voice is the most important authority to which they must bend. This hat-tip to the ego is usually represented as "being authentic." Yet in these moments, there is a lack of balance as the ego gets anything it wants all the time. I've met so many "strong witches" who use the authenticity excuse to be a raging bitch. No one loves a bitchy witch.

The ego is a character with a lot of strength. It tries to assert itself at every moment. When you think you have put it in its place, it surges forward and so it needs constant discipline. I've found that the ego loves to be strong particularly in spiritual settings. It wants to feel amazing things. It wants to be the center of attention. It is capable of transforming self-worth into "vainglory." It wants us to be powerful, to be known, to be famous.

Fame is very attractive. It doesn't have to be fame from the whole country or even your town. Just the fame of a small group of friends (your coven) is enough to stroke the ego. I often see people striving hard to be famous among pagans or Wiccans. Every witch wants to be the next big pagan writer. Adonis Merlin describes these as "Sassy Swish-capes." I think it's a wonderful way to describe how melodramatically grandiose some witches can be. This makes for great theater, but horrible magic and it is annoying to be around.

Being a pagan, I have exposed myself to people and places that manifest what I can only label as supernatural. I have seen things that I would call unbelievable, but I have also seen a lot of faking.

Faking comes from the egotistic inclination to make one's life appear supernatural so one can feel special. Every ego wants to feel special, so we sometimes overact, over-react, or act blatantly fake. When people are fake, they are stroking their own egos. Witchy fakeness looks like this:

"I can see auras, you must be upset right now because I'm seeing spots of X color." (Truth: I wasn't upset at all until you tried to tell me some baloney about what I'm feeling.)

"This house is haunted. I know because I can feel spirits." (Truth: there has never been a report of a haunting in this house, ever. It was built in the 80's so it only suffers from bad interior design and an obsolete building code, not from anything supernatural.)

"I can feel the circle so strongly that I can't bring myself to walk through it." (Truth: you are a very effective performer and you should consider a career as a mime trapped inside a bubble.)

"Aries, the god of war, appeared to me through a bear I saw in the woods." (Truth: you are telling a tall tale to make yourself appear as if you are favored by the divine. You saw a bear because there are bears endemic to our woods.)

That's not to say that  people don't actually have these abilities. Rather, I'm stating that too many who don't have them claim that they do.

I should note that I have a very healthy skeptic living inside me (he's a scientist). I leverage this skeptic against my ego, which wants me to do and say nearly anything to get what I want. Unfortunately, the skeptic and the ego are forever in conflict. I'm getting better at recognizing the voice of each, but particularly my ego. There are times when its strength serves me, so I give it it's due, and other times when it just complicates matters, so I tell it to shut up. Keeping the balance is a daily game of checking in with the self and making constant adjustments.

I also leverage my love for my spirituality against my ego. I never want to lessen or debase my spirituality by polluting it with falsity, so I get offended when I find others being intentionally false in an attempt to heighten their own fame. The act of being truly authentic in any moment feels amazing. I get upset when I get grouped in with people who don't operate from a position of being authentic. I get annoyed because I don't want my own expression to be diminished or devalued by being characterized as false. But that's my own issue and I shouldn't take on the ownership of anyone else's opinion of me. I can't worry if they think I'm a fake or not. I should just do my own authentic thing, but not give my ego total control. The problem is that it's easier said than done.

As a way of exerting its power in a way that we are least likely to notice, the ego will root itself in a facet of our personalities. One can notice this by looking at one's archetype. I believe it is this ego-link that generates our overall personality archetype.

For example, my ego ties itself to logic and evidence. So my primary archetype is the scientist. All of my efforts to interact with the world are filtered through logic and evidence because my ego has decided that only those are valid. The only way I could ever feel a boost to my self worth was if I acted the scientist completely and was complimented for my knowledge, research or logic. Those compliments were like drugs to an addict for me and I just didn't feel as powerful if someone complemented me physically. This caused me quite the struggle when I entered witchcraft, because there is a quite a bit about witchcraft that flies in the face of logic and evidence.

Similarly, one could have his ego tied to body image and youthfulness (archetype: the sex symbol). The only way this person will feel a boost to the self worth would be to be physically complemented. There are also artists who tie their egos to their creativity, so they will feel completely worthless if their art is not well-received. There are also healers and nurturers who tie their egos to their care-giving, so they will feel worthless if they can't alleviate suffering.

The best way to notice how your ego is linked to a part of your inner self and boosts your self worth is to ask yourself these questions.
"What kinds of complements do I like to hear more than any other?"
"If I could be renown in my town, for what reason would it be?"

I'm not claiming that finding the answers will resolve your ego and make you the master. I do believe that this work - our witch's work - will stay with us until we die; it is the struggle of this particular incarnation. However, knowing your ego's main mechanism gives you tremendous control over it.

Ultimately, those things to which we cling, because they make us feel more valid or more valuable, are simply illusions. Validity comes from the inner self and needs no ego to validate it. Resolving the overwhelming power of the ego, so that it can be activated or deactivated when and how you wish, will unlock the deeper powers of your inner self - your witchcraft. This is what the mystery schools call "self mastery" and it can only be achieved by the difficult process of knowing thyself.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Witchcraft Works Contrary to the Western Religious Tradition

Before I can exorcise all the gook in my head that created this thesis, I have to define the Western Religious Tradition (WRT). To be simplistic, it is all of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

But the definition actually goes more deeply than that, because these faiths occupy a dominant position in the West. They influence the greater morality of our western society in a way that is largely unseen, or at least not very obvious.

They all originated from the same concept that God made the material universe because he is a mega-powerful spirit-being. The material universe, as a creation, is separate from that which is spiritual. It is a difficult place we have to experience for a short time so that we can get the heck out of here - to a paradise - which is better than this material world here.

This kind of eschatology spread throughout the Ancient Near East. Once a part of the faiths that originated there, it became incorporated into our deeper morality and eventually our legal systems.

At its core are two ideas. The first is that something greater than this material creation, which is the spiritual being that is God, existed first. The second is that God is supremely powerful.

Extending from these ideas are deeper principles: only God has the power to create reality, creating the need for appeals to God for changes to the material world in our favor, the need for a mediator between us an God (the priesthood), that the power of God requires that we subjugate ourselves to his supremacy and lastly, that we should all be trying to get back to that spiritual thing and away from the material, because the spiritual is good and the material is bad.

For many who convert from one of the Abrahamic faiths to Witchcraft, the former principles hang on, preventing the expression of their true power. We can see this in the way Wiccan books are written. The whispers of the Western Religious Tradition infiltrates even those who claim to be pagan.

These ideas have been so pervasive in the morality of the West that most people who are non-religious agnostics will concede that most of them sound true. I have even witnessed self-proclaimed atheists operating as if these principles about the universe were true.

But what if they are not?

True witchcraft views the universe from a very different point of view. Let's take each idea one at a time and examine how witches do it.

The first is that only God has the power to create reality. The witch believes that all human beings contain within them the creative power of the gods. To put it simply, if they can do it, why can't we do it? This doesn't mean we can create planets and stars and galaxies, but we can generate influence on the events of this world so that natural cause and effect will bring about certain results in line with our desires. We can essentially create happenings that the WRT calls "mind over matter" or also "miracles." This process requires both symbolic and veridical actions. The symbolic is done in ritual (casting a spell) while the veridical is done in the material world, appearing as modified behavior. These are viewed as two necessary steps to causing the desired change. First, one casts one's desires out into the universe as a kind of energetic wave. Then, one acts as if the desire has already been attained. The energy that was released will tip the balance of cause and effect events so that the desired result actually happens.

Any witch who casts spells but is unwilling to modify behavior, and in turn act upon the real world to support one's spell, isn't casting spells. They are simply doing a complex ceremony to express their wishful thinking or longing.

As a result, witches do not need to appeal to any deity to get their reality changed. Witches believe in their own creative power; belief is important to actually having that ability. Witches will request or even make deals with forces they call gods to help with the influence. But no witch who is worth his sacred salt believes that such appeals are required to cast spells. Working with pagan gods is simply a way for witches to build relationships with the natural forces of the universe. It also creates mental focus because each deity has a correspondence. Using the right deity helps the mind to feel more invested in the working. Below, I'll discuss in more detail the power of the mind.

Because of the belief in one's own power, witches do not need a priesthood. We believe that our inner power allows us to relate to deity directly; every witch is capable of being his own priest. So why do witches have "high priests?" When several witches develop a personal bond with each other and want to do spell work together, the high priest acts as the director of the play. He ensures that any accepted traditions are observed. He keeps everyone on the same page, creating ritual consistency. Otherwise, every witch would be trying to do a very creative, but utterly chaotic ritual. The high priest is the primary chef in the ritual kitchen.

A high priest also teaches the tradition to those who are less in-the-know. However, since paganism is an orthoprax ("right action") religion, rather than an orthodox ("right belief"), every witch is allowed to believe whatever he wants about the universe and the way it works, so long as his practice permits the uniform operation of the tradition. Despite the general uniformity of belief discussed here, no high priest is correct to tell his coven what to believe or not believe, but he can tell them "how it's done."

Obviously, without the belief that only God has power, witches do not feel the need to subjugate ourselves to any deity. We do fear the unpredictable power of the universe's forces, most of which are the representations of pagan gods, but we will try to influence those forces. The idea that we must bow down to anything is repugnant to most witches. Witchcraft is a self-empowering practice.

Finally, let's address the idea that the spiritual is more important than the material. This is a common idea in the New Age movement as well as the WRT because both claim that our purpose for being on Earth is to spiritually evolve. Aside from the philosophical comfort that people derive from believing in some insoluble part of us that won't ever stop being us ("the soul"), most people experience the world on a daily basis and find it all very common and predictable. Only the spiritual seems evocatively different from all that. Surely, the goal of the enlightened must be to become free from the mundane. Or is it?

If the material is so unimportant, why do so many witches keep bothering to interact with it through spells? Why don't they all just kill themselves to hasten their transition into the spiritual world? If the material is so awful, why are we here experiencing it at all? The witch will tell you that the material is actually a dream of experiences that we are supposed to have. Being a dream doesn't mean it's unimportant or of low value. Indeed, it is incredibly valuable because it is the dream we have made to drive our own spiritual evolution. Most have been exposed to the quote, "We are not material beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a material experience." Similar is the shaman's idea that we are simply spirits, collectively dreaming this world into being in every moment. To the witch, we are experiencing exactly what is most appropriate for us to evolve. This material world is an important tool that we learn to manipulate by exercising our "god-powers."

Now let's bring this topic full circle. Above, I mentioned the power of the mind in relation to appealing to spell-appropriate deities. This kind of appeal is only a manipulative tool. Similarly, incense in ritual, repetitive action, the use of certain symbols or altar tools, even the utterance of certain sounds, all help to modify the creative power that flows from the unconscious mind to increase the success of the desired change. It's important to remember that the witch is the source of the power. All these material tools have an affect on our minds by teasing and activating our senses. Certain combinations of sensory input can greatly augment the power of the mind and its success. It can cause it to fail completely, or function contrary to what it wants (i.e. curses). The ritual drama, which is simply an act of manipulating the material plane, trains the mind to perform the creative acts increasingly better. Spell craft is nothing more than self-hypnosis and behavior modification (plus a spiritual belief).

Eventually, the tools are no longer needed to generate success. Even the ritual itself stops being necessary. It is a truly adept witch who can sit quietly in a chair and achieve the same success as someone who needs a full ritual experience.

Now you know why Witchcraft is so often misunderstood and demonized. It has fundamentally contrary beliefs from the WRT and just doesn't work well in that sandbox. But more so, it empowers the religious congregation so that there is no need for a group of elevated holy men who maintain power and freely get shelter and food at the expense of the community. There are no pagan gold cathedrals and no religious city with its own army. Paganism takes spiritual and material power away from the greedy organized religions of the WRT and places them back in the hands of the common man. What could be more threatening than that?