Monday, March 6, 2017

Don't Know Much About History... *sigh*

So, in my continuing efforts to seek out community of local elders, in the hopes of making their acquaintance and better vetting myself to them and them to me, I attended another “Wicca 101” class.  This one was to be a discussion of the History of Wicca, from the UK to the US.  Seemed pretty innocuous, and even the most unenthused historian of the early days of the Craft as we know it should be able to rattle off the basics. 

Given that this class was a two-hour long event, I had hopes for something more than a rudimentary Google or Wikipedia regurgitation but wasn’t sure how in-depth the teachers would be about early development pre-Gardner. 

Likely most folks would just start with ol’ Gerald, ol’ Alex and the Farrars, completely skipping over the bits about the insular pellars and cunning folk across the isle.  If they bothered to scratch beyond this surface, I would be lucky to get a small nod to Sybil Leek, Robert Cochrane, and Cecil Williamson.  In my mind, I was going to mentally award bonus points if they got all of Gardner’s high priestesses who have published various autobiographies, or if they cited the origins of how the Lexie’s came into being or explained who Rex Nemorensis was.

As for the stateside part, I was expecting to hear about the early days and the obvious ones like the Frosts, the Bucklands, Herman Slater, Lady Rhea and Eddie Buscynski, Laurie Cabot, Selena Fox , Scott Cunningham, the Zells and Starhawk.  I was also rather hoping that it would lead to discussions about the specifics of how the Craft arrived and developed in Colorado, Denver in particular.

As it turned out, they’d started the discussion by saying that they knew this topic was dry and boring  *sidenote:  It doesn't bode well if the teachers start off by saying even they don't like the topic at hand...a topic which, mind you...I had to pay cash money to listen to them present*  and that there had been a glitch in the class announcement and so the turnout was going to be very small:  just myself and one other attendee.

Now that said, I must preface by saying that I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the presenters, a wife-husband pair of elders who ran, by all accounts, a long-standing eclectic-style coven in Denver metro.  Prior to running their own group, each had studied with various pagan paths in the area and spoke with some experience of their individual studies leading to their current positions as teachers of Wicca.  

That they are older and probably close to my own age, I suppose that is what led me to expect that they would treat this subject matter with some degree of respect, maybe interjecting their own life-experiential anecdotes about how they’d tracked down this Craft history through the lens of their own 'coming into the Craft' stories during the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Because they, unlike the younger generations today that either find out about paganism from being brought up with it or have it so easily accessed with the internet-driven, pagan bookstores in every town age, folks of my generation had to do some hard-won investigation to get to the Craft.
Hell, speaking for myself, I actually ENJOYED hunting down real info.  I LIKED sleuthing out the backstories of how the Craft came to be and how it developed along the way.  Going from bibliography to bibliography was considered FUN and I've amassed a really healthy library over the decades. 

I don't know...I guess I had assumed if they, like me, had been into the Craft during the early years of the 70s onward and had a similar struggle to actually SEEK info and people to train with...that they'd likewise honor that hard-won info.

But back to my story here, and not to be a total snarky bitch, but it was my own fault for having such expectations. 

I swear that I went into this class with the mindset that this HP and HPS who are purported to be active and respected teachers in the area, that they would treat the subject matter with due sincerity and thoughtfulness…ESPECIALLY BECAUSE THEY, AS TEACHERS,  ARE PRESENTING SUBJECT MATTER TO NEWER, LESS EXPERIENCED FOLKS AND DOING SO FROM ALLEGEDLY A PERSPECTIVE OF “HIGHER LEARNING”.  AS SUCH, THERE IS AN EXPECTATION AND ASSUMPTION THAT THEY ARE QUALIFIED TO TEACH IT.

Well, that is where I got all disappointed, gentle readers.  

Ok, I get it.  I understand that it is unlikely that every person giving a public class like this is going to get every miniscule detail spot-on like they’re giving the material as a doctoral thesis.  And I’ll tell you that I did not go into this endeavor with a sourpuss face and an itch to jump the instructors’ collective shit for every little misrepresented thing. 

I did go in humbly, and without acting like a bloody know-it-all.  I'm used to the 'traddie bias' that eclectic folks assume I espouse or that they defensively ascribe to me, as if I'm already looking down on them.  SO NOT THE CASE.  

However, as the presentation unfolded and these leaders/elders/ teachers were starting to interject their own opinions and misinformation as facts, I did start to feel twitchy and, frankly, insulted by the tone of much of their dialog.

For example, more than once Gerald was referred to as a daft old fellow who was apparently taken in by some drama troupe people who were having great fun pulling his leg with their made-up witchery.    Wait...huh?

He was presented as an intellectual spiritual seeker, yes, but also "obviously" a bit of a lecher who liked to traffic with young naked ladies and who, because of his British schooling, had developed a penchant for BDSM due to their infamously disciplinary use of caning.   Oh no, not this yarn again...  I guess we are ignoring the historic precedent of scourges in meditation?  Heck, even the early Catholic mystics did that...and they weren't naughty British schoolboys, were they?

My fellow student and I were also informed that Dorothy Clutterbuck was an imaginary character that Gerald made up (much like Alex Sanders’ granny-on-the-kitchen-floor story) to fortify his version of the Craft in historical basis.  Actually, didn't Doreen Valiente track her down, along with the elusive 'Dafo' and discuss this in one of her autobiographies?  Didn't Phillip Heselton go into all of this in his two volumes about Gardner, and include photos and corroborating evidence for the pre-existence of the nuclear 'coven' that was comprised of some of the actor's troupe, but also a few other high-born folks that had nothing to do with either the theatre or the Rosicrucians?

And then there was a brief side-bar about The Laws being made up solely so he could kick-out poor Doreen since naked, she was no longer a looker post-menopause.  This one does have a kernel of truth, but for different reasons.  It wasn't an aesthetic issue with Doreen. As she herself states in her autobiographies, her falling out with Gerald started with both his penchant for publicity-seeking without candor and also his issue with Doreen continuing to pursue other variants of Craft (i.e., her stint with 1734/Roebuck, independent study with local pellars, etc.) and her desire and vision to take Gardner's "skeleton" of the Craft in a different direction than what he had in mind.  The appearance in The Laws in the BoS in Doreen's time and later did coincide with Gardner creating a loophole that he used to explain her exit from his coven.  She left of her own accord, not because Gardner forced her out for being 'past her prime.' 

Oh, and Gardner channeled the whole thing.  He meditated and wrote his BoS, which was later rewritten by Doreen Valiente to add poetry.   Um, nope.  There is evidence now that he was initiated into "something" and he, along with his successive high priestesses, added to this very basic framework from many, many sources.  In fact, the whole mysticism and theosophy and ceremonial magic movements were really exploding at this time in the UK and a good deal of "cross-pollination" was taking place.  The differing factions were very free with sharing amongst their peerage.  Read about the gatherings held at Aquarian Bookstore in London during this time period sometime...

*heavy sigh*

 This then discourse leaped jarringly ahead to the Craft being brought to the US by “Ray….Ray…um, I forget his name…uh, Ray…”  Here I couldn’t contain myself and answered aloud that they were trying to recall Raymond and Rosemary Buckland

To continue…and this is my paraphrase not verbatim:  “Ah yes, Ray, who then moved it from New York to California sometime around 1970 and brought the Gardnerian version of the Craft to the US.  That’s when Starhawk, who was a feminist, latched onto it and because of the women’s political movement dropped the God and kept only the Goddess.  She published The Charge…which she thought she’d channeled herself until it came to light that she’d somewhat plagiarized Doreen’s work….poor Starhawk must have read it someplace and forgotten that it wasn’t her own inspired creation.  I mean heck, by then the whole Gardnerian BoS had been published anyway and who wants to kowtow to a hierarchy of people running things upline from you, holding out and holding over…”  Um, what the bloody hell?!!?!  There's so much wrong, so much anachronistic here that it was all I could do not to lose my ever-loving shit.

Here.  Right here.  This is where I had to raise my hand to politely confess that I was having some difficulty in what was being said and that I heartily must disagree.

First, I explained that the perspectives I was going to present as counter-testimony are coming from the viewpoint of being a traditionalist and a duly-trained, vet-accessible Gardnerian.  I calmly said that I had a problem with the illusory comments about who Gerald was, what his motivations for adopting ritual nudity, binding and scourging may be and that being a traditionalist, particularly a Gard, entails a lot more than the flippant presentation of history being given here. 

When the teachers’ eyes widened a little, I retreated a bit to explain that while I understood that many, many folks studying or getting into the Craft today have a far wider range of introduction to the path than I, or surely the teachers themselves, had back in the day…it does these new seekers and eclectic practitioners a great disservice to make light of the progenitors of Wicca and to discredit the idea of traditional training.

Admittedly, I too started out as an eclectic student who read a lot and test-drove different things before finding a traditional teacher…and I fully attest that I was lousy at being an eclectic because I felt that I couldn’t dive deeply enough into such a wide breadth of practice, pantheon, trial-and-error style learning that comes with it.  I simply did not flourish in that method and really did desire more structure. 

I wanted the master-journeyman-apprentice style method of parceled-out, experiential, revelatory study.  I craved the ‘safety net’ of knowing that I was being trained by someone who had successfully completed the same learning program before me and had been able to grok things the way I was being given the opportunity to grok them.

Ugh, here we with history repeating itself.  Once again, me the token traddie, am having to defend the traditionalist views against the eclectic folks ---the same folks who decry WE are so judgmental, but yet they are the first to toss these bon mots of bullshit like: 

·       Traditionalists don’t have any modern or progressive components to their pathwork: they are stuck in the rut of repetition of rituals and verbatim celebrations.
    And you'd KNOW this how?  Since you're not privy to what a lineaged, British Tradition does, you are merely speculating and guessing...and you're absolutely wrong.  You have a birthday every year, right?  And at your party, folks gather to sing "Happy Birthday" and you have cake with candles, yes?  So are you saying every birthday party is identical and boring because you and the actual date of your birth are constants?  Duh.

·       Traditionalists have historically been stingy with their knowledge and have been (or still are) withholding info that should be made public to anybody who wants it.
    I've discussed this faulty logic before in my blogs, so I won't launch into full-rant here.  But suffice it to say, we have very specific reasons for keeping things oathbound and parceled out to those coming up in the training system; it is because the experience is supposed to be a controlled experiment which is purposefully designed to be relevatory.

·       Traditionalist oaths are only used to keep power-over those who aren’t yet trained as they have been trained.  The degree system is a form of one-upmanship
     See above.  Not to say there aren't individuals with egos prone to "high priestess syndrome" in our ranks, just as in the ranks of any group.  But in the main, that is not the case because our system has built-in safeguards and checks & balances for individuals who exhibit such behavior. That's also why it takes YEARS of study to be afforded the right to carry the tradition and be allowed to pass it to others as a teacher.  It is a very humbling and ego-breaking task to stay the entire course to become a third-degree member.

·       That the older traditions like Gardnerian and Alexandrian are for people into BDSM and nudity for some sexual or titillation purpose.  Participating in such things, even willingly, denotes more power-over mentality and subservience
    Ok, so you won't get a full answer from me here because I personally believe that the majority of the explanation and discussion should be relegated to the individual teacher-student dialogue leading up to tradition-specific initiation.  But it is worth noting that the energetic, endorphin-laden experience of being bound and/or scourged (very mildly) creates a unique and powerful mind-altering situation for the recipient.  Again, this is done for the bind-ee and the scourge-ee's benefit, NOT for the benefit of the person wielding the whip.  The other component is the trust-interaction between the parties involved.  That, yes, is similar to the emotional exchange in BDSM play, however here we are also combining and associating it with a spiritual component.

·       That having a lineage means having a stodgy hierarchy of people who all get to tell you, newbie, what to do and that you have to do it if you want to be in their club. 
    Um, so I guess you could then assume that such an ego-trip happens with college professors?  With sensei of the dojo where your kid learns karate?  With every position where one is a trainee at a new job or skill and at the mercy of the trainer?  Again, if you haven't participated in actually going through a traditional training system, all you're doing with this kind of blanket statement is showing that you're wholly ignorant of the subject and making an assumption.  The hierarchy is actually in place both to vouchsafe for the quality of training a teacher has and offer accountability to peers if someone goes AWOL with what their doing with the traditional materials they'd been granted permission to carry forward and share.

·       That there’s no place for gay or GLBT people to play in the proverbial traddie reindeer games because ol’ Gerald was homophobic and everything has to be boy-girl-boy-girl 
    This is the talking point that has some credence, but also is a bit misleading because, speaking only about my Gardnerian background, has to do with energetic polarities and those aren't necessarily analogous with one's self-determined gender.  For one, we do have GBLT folks in traditional groups these days and I myself have a few people in my own upline that are.  GBLT folks that chose to train and practice as Gardnerians have no problems working with the polarities as we are trained to do.  What the biggest hang-up is that when Gardner first began with his development of the Craft as he understood it, he came from a time and societal background that didn't acknowledge or accept people of gender fluidity or of non-heterosexual preference.  You have to consider the cultural and societal lens of everything back then, and take that into context.  As our version of the Craft deals with the creation, life-giving cycles in nature....back in the 40s, 50s, and into the saw that nature needed a male and a female to component to conceive a viable life form.  While we've since learned that creation and sustaining life in some select parts of the plant and animal kingdom do not need this gender-specific coming together to procreate, it is still the case in the vast majority of circumstance in this model of human propagation.  However, the act of creation isn't limited to just birthing babies.  It also includes creating art, creating experiences, too.  Those types of creativity don't necessarily need the XX & XY to tango.  Yet, for the basic purposes of what is energetically done in circle, the human propagation model is the easiest for most people to default to in a group-mind, combining of the individual personal energies into the egregore of a whole coven's collective experience.  As I understand it, Gardnerians who are GBLT's are ok with being gender-defined within time-space of the circle as whatever their naked bodies display (outies or innies) because it is a literal, physical characteristic exhibited to others in their nudity.  What they self-assign as their gender outside of circle (regardless of the "parts" they may or may not have) or whomever they choose to make love with outside circle is up to them to determine.

·       That if you participate in a traditional coven, they make you give up your relationships to other gods in order to only work with those they tell you to work with.
     Nope, false.  While in circle with your traditional coven and while working with the traditions materials, you work with the designated deities relative to the tradition.  You get to know Them very well and develop a relationship to Them through the lens of experiencing practices together as a group all concentrating on and cultivating the same group-family relationship to Them.  This is because the training system and practices were developed to work specifically with Them  ---  Outside of coven work though, you are perfectly welcomed and encourage to explore other relationships with various deities and pantheons. 

·       Etc.

What frosts my cookie most…is that these are TEACHERS/ELDERS who are promoting these ideas. 

Whether these ideas are borne of misunderstandings & second-hand hearsay, lack of real information or lazy scholarship on their part or just plain personal opinions with a side of ignorance…TEACHERS should be better, know better, than to spout off crap like this.

I mean if you are in a role of elder, teacher or leader, you have a responsibility to present facts to those students and seekers who look up to you.  You may give them stories and anecdotes about your own direct and personal experiences alongside the facts, but you shouldn’t deliberately mislead folks into thinking your opinions and suspicions are facts. 

Consider that your opinions came to you from life lessons and experiences which are solely yours.  Why would you rob someone else of discovery and the chance to draw their own conclusions?  How dare you steal that learning opportunity by tainting it ahead of time?  Just so irresponsible.

Ok, now that I’ve vented, let me wrap this up by saying that I don’t necessarily thing that the teachers at this event were hard-pressed and trying to be lop-sided in their presentation.  I think they were being more conversational and perhaps ‘coffee klatch’ in their approach because there had just been the other student and myself in attendance.  I have hopes that if they’d had a full classroom, the presentation would have perhaps been more on-point and factual than gossipy/conspiratorial.

 That is my hope.

And furthermore, I hope that should they give a similar class in the future, they might consider how vitally important their role as presenter is to the open and eager mind who looks up to them.  It is no easy thing to teach.  It is no easy thing to take on that mantle of responsibility, whether in an open forum or within the confines of their own private coven.

Because in that too, there is lineage:  that which they teach will get passed forward when their student accepts and adopts the ideas as their own….and may carry that onward to their own students one day.  Let's hope it is the truth and not hearsay.