commentary, philosophy, and outright rants

Archive for August, 2006

Why could the Collective not let go of "Reclaiming"?

"’To know what would have happened, child?’ said Aslan. ‘No. Nobody is ever told that.’"

-C.S.Lewis, Prince Caspian

And yet I can’t help wondering about the demise of the Reclaiming Collective some years back. Why did they feel it was necessary to set a structure, a "Tradition"? Couldn’t they tell that the structure was already becoming deleterious to the work?

Sure, back then, the World Wide Web didn’t even exist, but there were zines, and newsletters, and Factsheet Five. Back in the mid-90’s, I subscribed to one such zine, the Compost Newletter.

So why retain a name already somewhat ill-omened, and continue on with a formal structure? Why create a structure to begin with? Why could they not just have taken the magickal vocabulary of rites, songs, spells, and so forth, composting the demise of the Collective by biddings its works

"’free to all finders, birds, beasts, Elves or Men, and all kindly creatures’; for so the spell of the mound should be broken and no Wight ever come back to it."

(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Fog on the Barrow-Downs")

When social structures are created, they must be continually open to question, or they become ossified. By truly de-federalizing the Magick created by individuals in Reclaiming, by establishing a non-structure that does not have a unified name, I believe that the Wights of the old Collective would have been banished. The Wights are still present; and few dare to speak of them, and when they are spoken of, the old Powers of the Collective unite to suppress the speech; for how else may the Barrow that remains of the Collective be preserved?

"’But anyone can find out what will happen’, said Aslan. ‘If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me – what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.’"

-C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

The many failed and the somewhat successful spiritualities

In the third chapter of his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lt.-Col. T.E. Lawrence, CB, DSO, Légion d’honneur, writes of the religions that have come out of the deserts to which he was assigned. He writes of the quasi-successes: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; he also writes of the thousands of failures. One point he makes quite clearly is that in order for a spirituality to succeed, it must be communicated effectively to those who have not had an experiential revelation. He writes in part:

"They were a people of spasms, of upheavals, of ideas, the race of the individual genius. Their movements were the more shocking by contrast with the quietude of every day, their great men greater by contrast with the humanity of their mob. Their convictions were by instinct, their activities intuitional. Their largest manufacture was of creeds: almost they were monopolists of revealed religions. Three of these efforts had endured among them: two of the three had also borne export (in modified forms) to non-Semitic peoples. Christianity, translated into the diverse spirits of Greek and Latin and Teutonic tongues, had conquered Europe and America. Islam in various transformations was subjecting Africa and parts of Asia. These were Semitic successes. Their failures they kept to themselves. The fringes of their deserts were strewn with broken faiths.

"It was significant that this wrack of fallen religions lay about the meeting of the desert and the sown. It pointed to the generation of all these creeds. They were assertions, not arguments; so they required a prophet to set them forth. The Arabs said there had been forty thousand prophets: we had record of at least some hundreds. None of them had been of the wilderness; but their lives were after a pattern. Their birth set them in crowded places. An unintelligible passionate yearning drove them out into the desert. There they lived a greater or lesser time in meditation and physical abandonment; and thence they returned with their imagined message articulate, to preach it to their old, and now doubting, associates. The founders of the three great creeds fulfilled this cycle: their possible coincidence was proved a law by the parallel life-histories of the myriad others, the unfortunate who failed, whom we might judge of no less true profession, but for whom time and disillusion had not heaped up dry souls ready to be set on fire. To the thinkers of the town the impulse into Nitria had ever been irresistible, not probably that they found God dwelling there, but that in its solitude they heard more certainly the living word they brought with them."

"The Beduin could not look for God within him: he was too sure that he was within God. He could not conceive anything which was or was not God, Who alone was great; yet there was a homeliness, an everyday-ness of this climatic Arab God, who was their eating and their fighting and their lusting, the commonest of their thoughts, their familiar resource and companion, in a way impossible to those whose God is so wistfully veiled from them by despair of their carnal unworthiness of Him and by the decorum of formal worship. Arabs felt no incongruity in bringing God into the weaknesses and appetites of their least creditable causes. He was the most familiar of their words; and indeed we lost much eloquence when making Him the shortest and ugliest of our monosyllables.

"This creed of the desert seemed inexpressible in words, and indeed in thought. It was easily felt as an influence, and those who went into the desert long enough to forget its open spaces and its emptiness were inevitably thrust upon God as the only refuge and rhythm of being. The Bedawi might be a nominal Sunni, or a nominal Wahabi, or anything else in the Semitic compass, and he would take it very lightly, a little in the manner of the watchmen at Zion’s gate who drank beer and laughed in Zion because they were Zionists. Each individual nomad had his revealed religion, not oral or traditional or expressed, but instinctive in himself; and so we got all the Semitic creeds with (in character and essence) a stress on the emptiness of the world and the fullness of God; and according to the power and opportunity of the believer was the expression of them."

"This faith of the desert was impossible in the towns. It was at once too strange, too simple, too impalpable for export and common use. The idea, the ground-belief of all Semitic creeds was waiting there, but it had to be diluted to be made comprehensible to us. The scream of a bat was too shrill for many ears: the desert spirit escaped through our coarser texture. The prophets returned from the desert with their glimpse of God, and through their stained medium (as through a dark glass) showed something of the majesty and brilliance whose full vision would blind, deafen, silence us, serve us as it had served the Beduin, setting him uncouth, a man apart.

"The disciples, in the endeavour to strip themselves and their neighbours of all things according to the Master’s word, stumbled over human weaknesses and failed. To live, the villager or townsman must fill himself each day with the pleasures of acquisition and accumulation, and by rebound off circumstance become the grossest and most material of men. The shining contempt of life which led others into the barest asceticism drove him to despair. He squandered himself heedlessly, as a spendthrift: ran through his inheritance of flesh in hasty longing for the end. The Jew in the Metropole at Brighton, the miser, the worshipper of Adonis, the lecher in the stews of Damascus were alike signs of the Semitic capacity for enjoyment, and expressions of the same nerve which gave us at the other pole the self-denial of the Essenes, or the early Christians, or the first Khalifas, finding the way to heaven fairest for the poor in spirit. The Semite hovered between lust and self-denial."

So how do new modern religious ideas get around this? I don’t know, but if their participants are not willing to acknowledge and discuss the problem, and prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist, never happened, and/or never will happen, they get to be #40,001 on the failure list.

Is this the fate of the Reclaiming Tradition?

The government’s latest antics

For those of us in the United States – and for some in the UK as well – our tax dollars are hard at work attacking the innocent while making the skies more dangerous to fly. Three recent examples:

The Register points out the sheer impossibility of the TATP plot to blow up planes, and also points out that the new security measures make things less safe. Some choice quotes:

“Certainly, if we can imagine a group of jihadists smuggling the necessary chemicals and equipment on board, and cooking up TATP in the lavatory, then we’ve passed from the realm of action blockbusters to that of situation comedy."

"Nearly everything must now go into the hold, where adequate amounts of explosives can easily be detonated from the cabin with cell phones, which are generally not banned.”

In other flying news, there is apparently a United States Law which is a Secret Law, which stops people from flying on planes without identification. However, since the law is secret, the personnel enforcing the law are not allowed to show the law to someone that they stop.

Sound like the Twilight Zone? Amazingly, it is all too true, and the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Gilmore v. Gonzales, which will hopefully make secret laws clearly illegal in the United States.

“Mr. Prince, would you like to know the most significant event in the history of freedom?”

“The American Revolution?”

“A defensible choice, a close second even, but not mine. I would choose the moment when the Roman plebians required the patricians to write down the twelve tables of the law and put them where everyone could see them – and thereby proclaimed the law supreme over the politicians. The rule of law is the essence of freedom.”

– Jerry Pournelle, Prince of Mercenaries

And now it’s illegal to have lots of cash, too. Even if no other crime can be proved, at least in the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has ruled that because drug dealers often deal in cash, and because a drug sniffing dog detected traces of drugs on the money possessed by a man neither charged nor convicted of any crime, that the United States Government has the legal right to steal nearly $125,000 which represented the life savings of himself and some of his friends.

Sources as varied as the Snopes urban legend site and the United States National Institutes of Health have published information that indicate that the vast majority of paper money, American and otherwise, will test positive for drugs – simply due to the nature of contaminated bills coming in contact with money which was earned licitly. It’s nearly a sure bet that money from an Automated Teller Machine will test positive.

Just another way to fund the war in Iraq, I guess.

Some Guiding Thoughts for Reclaiming, a Tradition of Witchcraft

So now it’s looking more and more like the people who speak up on one of the Reclaiming lists don’t want the Reclaiming Principles of Unity to be viewed so prosaically. Even though they’re prose. ;> The words can mean so many different things, and they should, even when they contradict, or something like that. Or maybe they should be poetry.

So, here’s poetry. (Or at least my idea of the Principles of Unity in a poetic, less-definitive format, anyway.)

Some Guiding Thoughts for Reclaiming, a Tradition of Witchcraft
by steward
August 20, 2006 CE

We are alive.

We are not just We the People;
We are.

We are We the Earth;
We are We the Rocks,
We are We the Plants;
We are We the Animals.

We are We the Ancestors;
We are We the Goddesses;
We are We the Gods;
We are We,
The Allies seen and unseen,
We are what we have not named,
The nameless and the myriad.

We are not what We are not,
But claim no superiority in any way
Regarding those who We are not.

As We are all We have named,
We are Goddess; we are God.
We exist as a Divine presence
Wherever we exist
Whenever we exist
However we exist.

Whether we are coming forth on to this Earth,
Whether we are growing on this Earth,
Whether we are slipping away from this Earth,
We are.
We are still and we are Divine
And We are still of the Connection
With all of the named.

We do.
We move.
We act.
We do and move and act with our bodies.
We do and move and act with our wills.
We do and move and act in ways
That are often immeasurable in weaving
Yet potent in result.
We call these ways of moving “magic”,
And we do and move and act with our magic.

When we do and move and act, we hold intentions.
We recognize that We are a collection of many that are I
We recognize that each I comprehends Us differently from each other I.
We do not require that each I comprehend Us in any specific way,
For to do so would be to bind each and every I,
Assembled as We,
From doing and moving and acting.

The We that has been Named seeks healing,
And an end to those actions that cause a need for healing.
The We that has been Named seeks compassion.
And an end to those actions that cause a need for compassion.

The We that has been Named seeks to explain to those,
Who are not of the We that has been Named,
Why it is that We seek such things
And why it may be that They may wish to seek such things as well.

We believe that,
In past cycles on this Earth,
People who thought as We do Named themselves as Witches.
We, acting on this our belief, proudly Name ourselves as Witches,
Honoring and connecting to our Ancestors of Belief.

We recognize that without each I
There is no We
And for this reason, when We act,
We seek to involve each I in the named We.
We celebrate what is given to us in doing and moving and acting.
We celebrate the wonders of the I Incarnate.
We celebrate the differences
Manifest in each I.
As We do not claim no superiority in any way
Regarding those who We are not,
So We, as manifest in each I,
Do not claim that one I of the We is superior in any way
To any other I of the We.

We seek joy in each I and in the combination of the We.
We gather,
In large and small groups,
To do,
To act,
To move,
To celebrate,
To be.

We look to the future,
To Those not yet come,
To Those who may be Us
As We will be,
Not in this time,
Nor needfully in this place.

The We that has been Named seeks healing,
And an end to those actions that cause a need for healing.
The We that has been Named seeks compassion.
And an end to those actions that cause a need for compassion.

The We that has been Named believes that those ends
May take many cycles of birth, growth, death, decay and regeneration.
The We that has been Named is not discouraged by this:
For the We that has been Named transcends this our beloved Earth
For the We that has been Named transcends the limits of Time.

The We that has been Named,
Here and now,
In this Time, in this place,
Seeks ways to end actions that cause a need for healing.

The We that has been Named,
Here and now,
In this Time, in this place,
Seeks ways to end actions that cause a need for compassion.

The We that has been Named,
In so doing, in so moving, in so acting, and in so being,
Seeks to empower an Action and a Being.

This Action and Being shall survive each corporeal I
In the We that has been named
But shall ease the way
For future I’s in the We that has been named
To end the actions that cause a need for healing
To end the actions that cause a need for compassion.

So the We that has been Named
Seeks to Empower this Action and Being;
If you would be an I within this We
Then join together with this We
As you and you alone see fit
If you would not be an I within this We
Then the We that has been named
Honors the choice by the I that is You as well.

Time best spent?

A comment was made on another blog that:

"I’m hardly going to blame Reclaiming for the slide from Reagan to W."

This was in response to a comment of mine that, in regard to Reclaiming:

"as a political force, I believe that it has had little effect – possibly even a negative effect. Twenty-five years ago, Reagan had just taken office; but I don’t really see GWB as any sort of improvement."

Although the only people who can be "blamed"for Bush being in office are the people who voted for him, there are two very real ways in which Reclaiming may have contributed to that happening.

First, purely on the level that even non-Witches can deal with: substitution of causes. People have a limited amount of time to spend on causes. How much time this is differs from person to person: self-support issues, family-support issues, child care, family, and so forth, but in any case, once sleep is subtracted as well, there is a very limited amount of those 168 weekly hours left to do other things. If people spent those hours on Reclaiming, when they could have been spent helping the Gore campaign – especially in Florida – these are the hours of work that could have made a difference. When an organization seeks to link magic (or its own particular form of spiritual / prayer activity) with political action, it behooves the participants in that organization to take a serious look if – in linking their spirituality with their political views through the medium of a particular organization – their time is better spent in such an organization, or somewhere else. If the organization is so constructed that it can easily move to help link those views and activities together without spending a lot of time on running the organization itself, then it may be a good avenue. If, on the other hand, the people in the organization cannot even agree on the meaning of basic terminology in the group – such as "Principles", "Unity", and "non-violence", then efforts made through that organization may be diffused to the point where there is no political effectiveness.

Secondly, there is the problem of like efforts affecting like – the belief espoused by most Witches in the "as above, so below" effect; that what happens between the worlds affects all the worlds; and the belief that I have often heard espoused in Reclaiming that things we do present a model to the multiverse of what we would like to see happen. As I’ve written above, Reclaiming as an assemblage does not even agree on the meaning of terms such as "Principles", "Unity", and "non-violence". Reclaiming models this disagreement to the multiverse; is it any wonder that the American President can speak of his principles and of the way he’s unified the country in ways that make no sense to some people – but if you can redefine "principle" or "unity" to mean whatever you want, he’s not exactly lying. I have heard some Reclaiming Initiates state that "non-violence" does not exclude the use of violence for "self-defense"; and "self-defense" is the precise excuse for the apparently non-violent minor altercation of late in Israel and Lebanon. (If you can call the killing of thousands of people by rockets and other weapons of war "non-violent"; and I guess you can if it’s "self-defense".

And the great Reclaiming nonsense continues

A recent post on Reclaiming’s Spider list claimed (in an ongoing discussion of the meaning of “non-violence”) that Mahatma Gandhi said:

“When confronting oppression, if the choice is between  violent action and non violent action, then I choose non violent action.But if the choice is between violent action and no action, then I choose violence.”

Strangely enough – or perhaps not so strangely for a Reclaiming list – the quote is not attributed to any specific writing, speech, or other utterance of Gandhi’s. It’s simply there as a statement, maybe even something that Gandhi never said. It certainly contradicts what he’s written in his books about non-violence,  such as the following:

“Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. ” ( Non-Violence in Peace and War, Mohandas K. Gandhi. Navajivan PublishingHouse, Ahmedabad, 1948 , Volume I , p. 61.)

I do not see how someone who said that non-violence must be inseparable from the practitioner of non-violence could possibly even imagine choosing a violent action, for any reason.

I see a lot of this in Reclaiming as a worldwide organization. I see people who do not seem to understand that a questioning attitude can be expressed in the declaratory mode; who think that people who say that “I have heard that Mudflap onkized Doodleface” are declaring that, as a fact, Mudflap onkized Doodleface. I see people who make sweeping statements that other people have never engaged in certain actitivities, when the people making those statements cannot possibly make any such statement from the first-hand mode they demand because they haven’t been at every single activity of every single Reclaiming-related political action.

What I see, especially of late, in Reclaiming as a worldwide organization, is the following:

  • A fear of speaking truth to power, when that power is within the organization;
  • Ad hominem arguments used on a regular basis by those in perceived power, which in turn actualizes a power-over which is formally disclaimed;
  • Lip-service to the ideas in the Principles of Unity about the “questioning attitude”;
  • An unwillingness to look at how the organization deals with its purported Principles – or even the simple redefinition of “Principles” to “sorta kinda suggested guidelines”, in practice;
  • Ad authoritatem arguments used without reference to any reliable source showing that the authority cited is even responsible for what is being attributed to her or him;
  • A seeming lack of understanding of English grammar, even by those who live in the US, UK, or other English-speaking countries.

I’m not bothering to post to Reclaiming’s Spider list anymore; I find it of no practical use to simply set myself up as a target for people who exhibit such behaviors, and to see no list-based response to this from a 251-member list of people, many of which (but not necessarily all, because one does not need to be a Reclaiming practitioner either to organize or to teach at a Reclaiming WitchCamp) supposedly adhere to Reclaiming’s Principles of Unity.

King George rides again

George W Bush’s latest way to turn the presidency into a kingship: he signs laws, but then issues a statement that he won’t enforce them.

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