When I left school it was said that the knowledge we gained would make us civilised members of society and equip us for the world of work.
But Isaac Bonewits had already convinced me that the only path worth taking is the one a magician makes for herself.
Eventually I left the path I was shuffling along with everyone else, and walked through the Valley of Death (suicide was an option) to a temple, where I gained what school and church and an ordinary life had failed to give me:
A traditional religious education.
Thinking about it now, basically the practitioners of a religion (any religion?) divide into three classes:
- The religious specialist in charge of ritual,
- The ordained monks and nuns who do the ritual.
- And the lay practitioners who seem to cross between dog's body, and specialist, depending upon what is needed.
- A fourth class are the wealthy, who pay the bills, by paying for prayers, and keep the temple open.
It was said that the lay practitioners were the most diligent of all classes.
I am biased.
During the day we went out to work. In the evening we learnt the rituals, made the symbolic offerings and got on with our own practice.
Public rituals were dictated by the phase of the moon and what the sponsors wanted...
Outwardly we were engaged in therapy.
We taught meditation.
We listened to people's troubles and made them tea.
The rituals, though public, were not advertised, and I guess the rituals appear to be little more than a historical relic.
When people asked me, I would explain what we did in terms of Jung and New Age syncretism. I'd answer intellectual questions about the inner meaning of various terms used in text books on my religion, that had originally been translated into English by people steeped in if not an exactly Christian tradition, then a Gnostic one, and I'd maintain those terms because this seemed to be what people wanted...
The other side was keeping the traditions, performing offerings and fulfilling my obligations regards 'practice'.
Sometimes we would go to other temples to teach the practitioners there how to make ritual offerings and perform the chants and music associated with a specific deity.
And quite often I'd take a third-person point of view and analyse the rituals and beliefs that surrounded me.
But the getting of wisdom?
The trip to Kutha..
The temple was just a stop on the journey.
When I left the temple I missed to some extent the comradeship of being with others committed to a certain way of seeing the world, I miss the atmosphere of the shrine room a little bit. I miss the ritual and the busyness of dealing with the public.
But not much...
A station on the way.
Even before the Faust myth, seeking knowledge of the sort found in the Other place has been regarded as a dangerous undertaking.
The worship of Underworld deities is generally associated with death and madness.
Therefore I am grateful for the lessons I learnt there.
Our attitude to deities was reverent respect.
There were the peaceful and the wrathful gods ; a sense that I was protected because I had taken some pretty heavy duty vows.
Then there were the other, invisible entities, the trouble-makers and the down right dangerous, for them there were offerings and threats.
I got to wave my 'thunderbolt scepter' about.
Living in a culture minus these rituals makes me stop and stare sometimes, looking hard to see where instinctual responses to how the world feels to be, have gone in post-Reformation Britain.
How do people cope without the sense of duty to, and blessings from a deity?
How do people intellectualise the sheer weirdness of the world and the phenomenon of being an embodied mind?
It does us all a great disservice when a religion stops being as weird and wonderful as it is and pretends to be rational.
My connection is with the Underworld deities.
Understanding how to practice when there is no lineage, and when living in a land where religious behavior is often seen as simple-minded, is not clear.
But practice was never easy, and being with others who understood, didn't really help. It always comes down to doing what needs to be done, and making the path yourself...
In the light of that
And bearing in mind that I much prefer the experiential immersion in ritual, to intellectualising, and I'm not at all sure where therapy fits in...
I found these words, the other day.
A secular prayer to the Underworld.
What must I give death to today in order to generate more life..
What do I know should die, but I am hesitant to allow to do so..
What must die in me in order for me to love..
What 'not-beauty' do I fear?
What power does the not-beautiful have over me, today?
What should die today
What should live
What life am I afraid to give birth to...
And if not now; when?