Friday 3 June 2011

Time Marches On: A Look at Witchcraft and the Modern World

Time marches on, time marches on.

South moves north, North moves south
A star is born, a star burns out.
the only thing that stays the same is everything
changes, everything changes.
~Time Marches On by Lawrence Tracy

The world changed a lot between the "rebirth of witchcraft" and its origins.  The world of the 50s and 60s was not the same as the classical world that gave birth to the Mystery Religions of Greece and Rome.  It wasn't the same as the world that gave birth to the Gnosticism of the Middle East.  It wasn't the same as the world that gave rise to Christian Mysticism, Islamic Sufism, or Jewish Kabbalah.  It wasn't even the same as the world that gave birth to alchemy or ceremonial magic in Europe.  It wasn't the same as the world that gave birth to the pagan revival on the 1800s.  All these things, all these worlds that had passed away, influenced the "rebirth".  There are elements of them even in traditions that predated the repeal of the Witchcraft Act.  The world changes.  But does the Craft, the Art?

The roots or magic and witchcraft are very deep, back to the beginning of time.  Has the Art remained unchanged since time began, or has it changed with the times, adapted with the changes in culture, in perspective, in knowledge, in technology?  What parts are traditional and what parts are innovation?  What parts need to be kept and held onto, which need to be kept as lore but not practice, and which parts are no longer needed?  Is witchcraft an eldritch craft that has to be done the way it was in prehistory, or is part of the modern world in the same way it was part of the ancient?

I would say both.  Without the tradition, you're afloat on the ocean with no compass, no sextant, no chronometer, no map.  But if the Art doesn't evolve, it is static, and static is dead, like a pond with no outlet, rotting and stinking.  Witchcraft is all about change, and even the tradition needs to change.  I think the Art should have tradition and lore as its foundation, but modern things can be built on that foundation.  If any of that makes sense.

If there is one word that I would use to describe magic, to describe witchcraft, it's Change.  The Craft changes the practitioner, and it changes the world.  Sometimes the intention is one, sometimes the other, but it always does both.  How can something that's static cause Change?  Do volcanoes erupt do to static forces or dynamic?  What has ever been changed in the world by doing nothing?  Of course, there's a time to act and a time to do nothing, and you have to decide which it is.  But Change comes from Action.  This is, after all, the World of Action.  Action is, obviously, active.  Active is dynamic.  Change comes out of the dynamic.  If the Art becomes static, unbending, unchanging, it can't create Change.  Without Change, is it still magic?  Is it still witchcraft?  Is it still an Art or a Craft?

Whether a landscape is done with water colours and a paint brush on a canvas or using a computer, it takes the same eye, uses many of the same techniques, and uses the same symbols.  Most of the people I know that create that type of thing on the computer don't go in and change each pixel until a pattern emerges.  They either use styluses on a tablet or the mouse to do brush strokes.  And the brushes don't work that much different than a physical brush.  It's still painting.  It won't look the same, since it uses different tools, a different medium, true.  But water colour doesn't look like acrylic, nor does it look like spray painted graffiti murals on a wall or air brushed paintings on the side of a motor cycle tank.  But they are all painting, and they all use the same techniques, the same lessons, the same symbols, the same traditions.

I would see the tradition in the Art as the training the art student receives to learn the techniques and to get an eye for what is needed in the painting.  Some students train in art one-on-one with a mentor, others in a classroom setting with other art students.  Some art teachers and professors only train one-on-one, others in groups.  But there comes a point where to move from  being an art student to being a real artist that the student must make what they learned their own and apply it apart from the teacher.  And after that point, they must learn from the world around them and other sources, to integrate, to adapt.  Michael Angelo's art isn't the same art that is created and sells today.  But the same principles are still taught and still used, just applied in new ways, with new subjects, with new tools, and on new media.

There are a lot of examples from the 50s-70s of people teaching the Art through letters.  There are people who teach it through emails today.  There are people who use phone calls (adding the aural, the way things are said) or video chat (which adds the body language, which I can't read anyway) to pass on oral tradition.  I have experienced imparting of knowledge in a non-verbal way while on the telephone, and have heard of curses laid on people using pictures on the Internet.  I talked to someone who was involved in a powerful magical working on a conference call.  Modern technology can be used in the Art without it no longer being what it was.  There's things you can't do over technological pathways, but there's much you can.

On a list once, I asked if a certain book would be available on the Kindle.  Someone else on the list responded saying that you shouldn't buy books about magic in electronic form, because books have a soul so you need a physical format.  My response was:
I'm sorry, but I have to say you're wrong.  Unless magic or rituals are performed over the book when it's published, a book about magic is no more powerful than a book about fantasy.  The words have the same power no matter what medium they are in.  Maybe I could agree if you said that books that are hand written have more power than ones in electronic media, but then they would over printed media as well.  Anything that's mass produced can't have any inherent power over that of the words and diagrams, no matter what the medium.  I'm sure people thought the same kind of things when books were first published on the printing press instead of hand copied.  I have a number of books about magic on my Kindle and I've got as much out of them as I have from the printed books I have.  There are some books that I'd prefer to have in paper form, just because I like books, but there are others that I'd prefer to be able to carry with me, so I can read or refer to them when I need to, not just when I have access to my library.  I can't carry more than one or two books with me, but I can carry my Kindle and have a library full of books right there with me.  I can perform magic just as easily by referring to my Kindle as referring to a paper book.  It's your Intent and Will and Faith that works magic, not the book you read it from.
 Technology can be used as a tool in the Craft.  I was just reading an entry in Francesca De Grandis's Outlaw Bunny blog today about social media and oral tradition.  She makes a point about how even though the written word is powerful, oral tradition, spoken word, is more so, but that they each have their place.  On her Third Road site, one of the things she talks about is how she has embraced using technology to share oral tradition, even presenting her Steller Rose teleseminars to her local students.  She is using technology to do things that "traditionally" were done without it.

Technology is a major part of our world, as it always has been.  Even during the Middle Ages, major advanced in technology changed the world.  As practitioners of the Art, we have a choice.  We can either avoid technology and do things, all things, the way they used to be done, and live a static life, or we can find ways to integrate the technology and the changes in the world and move forward, in a dynamic life.  Because the Art isn't just a job we do for eight hours and then forget about it.  It's an integral part of your lives.

It's like my dream of Romulus and Remus.  The founders of Rome in a modern parking lot.  Me the priestess and our leader, sitting on a modern couch.  There was magic, there was tradition, there were the Old Ways, but mixed with it was the modern.  It doesn't have to conform to society, in fact it shouldn't, but it does need to adapt to the changes in society, and utilize what tools society can provide.  For it isn't the same world it was in the 50s and 60s in Britain.  The Art, the Craft, witchcraft, needs to adapt and Change if it's going to be of any use in the modern world.  But if it's not true to the Foundation, to the tradition, it is no longer the Art, but just a fad.

When Joe Wilson's son Chad asked Joe, in 1972, which was right, fundamental Christianity or 1734, Joe answered, "What they all have in common must be close to the truth."

This is the case with the Old Ways and modern society as well.  We need to see the magic, see the Divine, see the Art, in the modern, for it's there.  We must see the modern with the eyes of tradition, mix the Sight and technology.

~Muninn's Kiss

UPDATE: I found the section from Franscesca and reworded that paragraph.  It was actually on her Third Road website, rather than her Outlaw Bunny one.

1 comment:

  1. Grat post, yes lets get past labels and see what are the underlaying apsects :D
    Re the commmunality between pagan and christian, in my King Arthur's Summer Solstice at Stonehenge machinima film, King Arthur of Britain reads his own poem in which he calls for the cauldron and the cross to unite, and increasingly i think or hope, that many may begin to see the deeper meanings and values in tachings beyond their names or their delivery medium.
    Bright Blessings, elf ~


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