Against Tradition: Anarchism in a Magical Context
It was a dream of fervent reality, of intense meaning, the kind of dream that inspires prophets and builds religions. I could literally feel it interrupt the visions I had been having, as if someone had changed the channel my brain was viewing.
Suddenly before me in a forest scene is a Caucasian woman dressed in brown clothing, simple yet complex in it’s unspoken elegance. Plain though her clothes may be, every cell in my body is screaming that this is no straightforward dream image, no mere human. An unknown aspect of my own dream body makes a startling proclamation: This is Hestia.
Hestia, the Greek Goddess of the Hearth and Home, two subjects I had been fanatically reading about for a week. For whatever reason I was compelled to study the traditions of Hearth-Witchery, something far removed from my own tradition; to this day I still have a spot on my “family” altar for our home’s Kobolds. I had thought it all simple research, just something I had a passing interest in, but the somehow “realer-than-real” Goddess that stood before me made it very clear that perhaps my literary wanderings were being led all along.
After it was clear I understood just who and what she was she pointed to a clearing in the forest. There a circle of woman danced semi-nude around a fire, singing some kind of joyous song. My attention was again drawn back to the Goddess. Her face was…haunting; beautiful yet otherwordly. Hestia stated in no uncertain terms that she desired I become her devotee and build her an altar in my home. Most might consider this a special calling, perhaps even destiny.
I told her no.
Well, I politely told her I really appreciated the offer but could not in good conscious become the servant of any god or goddess. I told her I’d give her special thanks and always remember to think of my home as a place her spirit was welcomed and then went on my marry way. The forest scene ended and I returned to my former nocturnal excursion.
When I tell this tale to the few pagan-oriented folk I know I often get shocked looks and gasps. An ancient Greek goddess comes calling to you and you deny her? You had been chosen and you said no? You denied the will of the Gods?
Yes I had, just as easily as I will deny the Will of the State and Society.
“We knew what we were up against but we were going down fighting.”
This is not to say I’m assuming I did so without consequences. I’m very well aware my own magic has limits and extra-dimensional entities that are thousands of years old can turn me into a chew toy. People still disappear with the faeries…or worse. Put on your wizard goggles and become acquainted with the mysterious death of Elisa Lam. Better yet watch the last known video of her alive.
Sometimes we forget in magic is that we’re dealing with creatures quite capable of making you disappear into a water tank, or better yet making your whole town go poof. The world of the Occult is not underwater basking weaving. We are fully aware we may not escape with our sanity, much less our lives.
It’s the same challenge any radical faces when confronting the American Imperium. I was cornered by a random university student after I covered a Bernie Sanders rally and told in hushed tones that I needed to be careful, to be aware that I was surely on a “list.” I’ve had family warn me of the same thing, to be careful what I post online, to be careful what I say. Even staunch patriots seem very aware of Black Site prisons where “enhanced interrogation” means rape and beatings. Liberals chide the revolutionaries “Have you seen the kind of firepower the government has? What they’re capable of? We’d never win. They’ll simply mow us down and declare martial law!”
Which could be true. The two possibilities of the Fed’s raiding my home and making me disappear or a pissed off Goddess striking me blind could have all happened. I could have and still can pay dearly. There is a chance The Good Doctor will cross the Veil far quicker than most.
Yet while I can understand this, even accept that the risk as too great or the outcome too certain, I refuse to be forced to obey these circumstances because of what the other party is or what they can do. I weigh probabilities but I do not take orders. My spiritual power and psychical energy are MINE to be given freely as I desire. To have that taken by office or custom is to lose what truly makes us human in the first place.
Going It Alone
To quote Nietzsche “wherever authority still forms part of good bearing, where one does not give reasons but commands, the logician is a kind of buffoon.” We follow goddesses’ and god’s, spirit’s and power’s for specific reasons whether a personal affinity, an unconscious spiritual resonance or even simple tactical desires. But is it truly a relationship when the two of us are simply forced to act a certain way, when one party calls all the shots and the other simply follows? When such behavior goes beyond simply “because it works” to “this is the only way?”
“…it is always the principle of useful suffering and willing sacrifice that forms the most solid base for hierarchical power.” – Raoul Vaneigem, Treatise On Living For The Use of the Young Generation
Perhaps this is the philosophical split between Occultism and the more hierarchical forms of Polytheism or even militant radicals and mere liberals: for some “the line” extends as far as they’ve been told, for others nothing will do unless they draw the line themselves. Few pagan faiths allow priestesses or priests self-initiation. Magic is practically rife with it and for good reason.
Gordon White in his new book The Chaos Protocols(review forthcoming) notes:
“Boiled down to its essence, a self-initiation is a declaration to the universe that you have a seat at the table, that your Highest is united with your Lowest, and you expect the cosmic croupier to deal you in. It is a fundamentally radical act, a transgressive move. It runs counter to almost two thousand years of social, economic, and religious diktat. There is a lot to burn through, which is why you must persist in your transgression until the volume of High Strangeness in your life is so extreme it cannot be interpreted as anything other than contact.“
Self-initiation? The individual bypassing years of established protocol and getting direct contact with the spirit world? You can’t do that! By the Gods, what about our traditional hierarchies?
Only you can. And we have. Many times before.
I remind you it was this exact kind of transgression that started the myriad of spiritual traditions we see in the world today, people called by the spirits or seeking them out on a hunt for knowledge and power. From Muhammed to Crowley a million times over “holy laws” or “spiritual taboos” were either broken or trampled on to amazing effect. Wicca, Santeria, Thelema, Hoodoo, and any kind of magical activity pre-1800’s was seen as a supreme violation of social mores and spiritual canon for it’s host culture. In a world still dominated by Abrahamic faiths each “holy hierarchy” of every alternative faith has been born in blasphemy and raised in rebellion. That they now put on an air of purity is either foolishness or at worse hypocrisy.
There is no such thing as purity. Each magical order, each sacred tradition, is founded on the last crime against the order before it. The idea then that things must be “just so” too often is not founded on practice but unquestioned doctrine.
Was not the first sorcerer, the first shaman, the prime transgressor? That lonely human who wandered into the woods, quite possibly with a head full of mushrooms, and decided that she would of her own accord seek congress with the Those Who Dwell Outside? How many laws and divine ordinances were shattered by that first contact?
The spirits of the Congo and West Coast of Africa were called up by foreign names and drawn as European saints. This never stopped them. Brigid too found herself petitioned for aid in cathedrals based upon a Middle East religion. Never once did she falter. Isis and the Virgin Mary, Thoth and Hermes, the pantheons of extra-dimensional intelligences seem quite willing to change shape and change tastes.
Yet we alone remain locked rigidity.
I’m not against limits because as a finite being no matter of philosophy or esoteric know-how will allow me to walk on the sun. What I am suspicious of is anybody or anything telling me such a thing is unthinkable. Restrictions in liberty are a part of the natural world, but the restriction of my Owness is what these rules and regulations aim at. And for what? My benefit, the spirits, or the benefit of the tradition itself?
“Death to Society! Death to Tradition! Death to All That Hinders The Unique!”
There is a key difference between actual intercourse and mere repetition. Individual-to-individual action on terms decided between two intelligences often yields the strongest results and the most steadfast allies because it is based on a legitimate relationship. We learn the quirks of certain spirits, they get to know ours and over time a clearer connection is made literally. In The Chaos Protocols Gordon White provides the example of the Scole Experiments in which researchers had to build a rapport of intercourse with twice-weekly seances for a year before the earth-shattering manifestations began.
This was not the work of any community, lodge, or specific tradition. This was a union of individuals united in purpose, creating an energetic and personal relationship with the spirits themselves.
This connection between the individual and the Spirit World seen so often is the lifeblood of magic: the better the connection, the better the wet-ware “melds,” the better we’ll find the communication and results. Established practice and well-worn paths make establishing this connection easier. There is a moment however where, to preserve itself, the tradition begins to take control of these pathways to communication. The Anarchist Philosopher Max Stirner says:
“If a union [Verein] has crystallized into a society, it has ceased to be a coalition… it has become a unitedness, come to a standstill, degenerated into a fixity; it is — dead as a union, it is the corpse of the union or the coalition, i.e. it is —society, community.”
What he’s saying is that the minute our relationship to the Spirits crystallizes into something non-organic, something that exists for it’s own sake rather than our own, we lose something significant: ourselves.
We become mere cogs in the clockwork, a living breathing mechanical device for the propagation of our tradition. Bound in the psychical armor of law, custom, and oath we become storm-troopers, true believers, mere vessels to be filled by things other than ourselves. The community owns us rather than us owning it.
“Every community has the propensity, stronger or weaker according to the fullness of its power, to become an authority to its members and to set limits for them: it asks, and must ask, for a “subject’s limited understanding”; it asks that those who belong to it be subjected to it, be its “subjects”; it exists only by subjection. In this a certain tolerance need by no means be excluded; on the contrary, the society will welcome improvements, corrections, and blame, so far as such are calculated for its gain: but the blame must be “well-meaning,” it may not be “insolent and disrespectful” — in other words, one must leave uninjured, and hold sacred, the substance of the society….
There is a difference whether my liberty or my ownness is limited by a society. If the former only is the case, it is a coalition, an agreement, a union; but, if ruin is threatened to ownness, it is a power of itself, a power above me, a thing unattainable by me, which I can indeed admire, adore, reverence, respect, but cannot subdue…and that for the reason that I am resigned. It exists by my resignation, my self-renunciation, my spiritlessness”
This tightening of ideological control naturally begins to extend to the spirits themselves. We are told we must act this-and-that way, say spells or pray in this specific manner because it ends up serving the interests of the community itself. It grants it an air of sacredness. Why must I obey the Police Officer? Because he is a servant of the “Law.” Why must I call Legba in this manner? Because that is the way of Vodun. We become servants to these spiritual ideologies, their territorial maps and nested practices. We become more invested in the trappings than ourselves and the actual spirits. We trade union for society.
From the North Pole to Australia we have seen that spirits work in a million different ways. These societies whether covens, lineages, or “schools” in reality are only tools, styles, well worn paths spirits recognize, nothing else, just like nations, cultures, and “peoples.”
Nobody has a monopoly on the “Truth,” nobody has “the one true path,” nobody is anymore “special” than anybody else. Every “spiritual lineage” today could be wiped off the globe tomorrow in a host of nuclear fire and provided there were still people around a million more would replace them.
The sanctity of tradition is an illusion, much like the unquestionable nature of the Gods themselves.
Disobeying the Gods and Getting Away With It
Perhaps it’s only a leap from believing a tradition’s word is law to believing the forces serviced by those traditions are just as untouchable. We regard the spirits as something alien to ourselves, something purer and wiser. We instead would do better to acknowledge we are cut from the same cloth as they, existing for a moment in a different realm. One day we shall return.
Though spirits may have far greater power or greater reach than we do this does not automatically mean they know what’s best for us.
The cosmic myths of the Gnostics had as a stated goal to “liberate” themselves from the powers of the Zodiac, Ceremonial Magicians bound goetic princes so that they might be free from their influence, and anybody with a Ouija board can tell you that quite often spirits lie.
So why grovel?
I freely acknowledge powers and intelligences larger and stronger than my own, but I will not give over MY own power to question them, to analyze and make my own choices regardless of how they might feel. I do not give whatever food my actions might be to spirits simply because they say so or worse, because this is how it must be done. Dogmatism and an unthinking faith are the tools of slavemasters, whether they come from a hammer and sickle or a pentagram.
We must not forget then that we have just as much right to say no, to decline the will of the spirits as freely as they can decline ours. We seek etheric unions, not spiritual servitude. And if these choices bring situations where the spirit decides to force our hand? We will charm, cleanse, pray, and work ourselves out of them! Failing that, we will loudly intone the words of Insurrectionist Marius Jacob when he was brought before the court of the French State:
“I don’t ask for either pardon or indulgence. I don’t go begging to those I hate and hold in contempt. You are the stronger. Dispose of me as you wish; send me to a penal colony or the scaffold. I don’t care!”
Hundreds of years of peasants putting the statues of hesitant saints upside down to make them work speaks volumes on the two-way nature of force between worlds. We were not built to be mere worshipers.
I’m not advocating storming heaven. Remember: spirits kill people for much less. I’m merely reminding you the right to live isn’t begged for, it’s taken.
From The Chaos Protocols:
“If any of this sounds too much like bullying spirits, I recommend taking the ayahuasca/shamanism route mentioned at the top of this chapter instead. It may serve to re-frame your opinion away from cartoon fairies at the bottom of an Edwardian garden more toward the intense and occasionally unpleasant realities of extradimensional contact. The spirit world is certainly holy, but that does not mean it is nice. Shamanism, for instance, is better described as ‘wrangling and trading’ with the spirit world than anything we might consider worship.”
If a spirit bothers you, remove it and seal your home against it. If a particular goddesses’ game plan does not suit you, walk off the field. If you seek knowledge and magic, go out and find it yourself. If you like to work with poppets more than candles don’t let anyone or anything tell you that you can’t. Go out and find the ways you can. Hell if it suits your fancy join a long standing current, school, lodge or tradition. Limit yourself to a cultural pantheon you find particularly appealing if you want.
There are no judges, no laws, no rules in this world. There is only force and the powers that can wield it.
Never forget that you’re such a power too.
Dr. Bones is an 8 year practitioner of the Southern occult tradition known as Conjure, Rootwork, and Hoodoo. A skilled card-reader and Spiritworker, Dr. Bones has undertaken all aspects of the work, both benevolent and malefic. Politically he holds the Anarchist line that “Individuality can only flourish where equality of access to the conditions of existence is the social reality. This equality of access is Communism.” He resides in the insane State of Florida with his loving wife, a herd of cats, a house full of spirits.
Dr. Bones is one of the writers who will be featured in our next issue of A Beautiful Resistance.
For pre-order, subscription, or underwriting information, click here.