(This discussion played out two months ago or so and eventually reared it’s head in a semi-public mailing list. I’m fairly sure the person who popped the question is a friend-of-a-friend. That mailing list eventually pops up this link which may be of interest to the Gardnerian readers).
I’m hanging out with some Gardnerians who are well read and have philosophy behind their witchcraft – they have asked not to be named.
The important thing, or the part that caught my attention, wasn’t that they are Gardnerians. Rather what gets my attention is where they disagree with Gardner. One of them is a feminist. I know what you’re thinking – finding a feminist in wicca is like finding a leaf on a tree. She is actually extremely well read and points out in a variety of places where Masonry has crept into Gardners work via Crowley. She actually knows Masonry probably better than the Masons I know. One of the things she harps on is the pantacle (ranks, god, goddess, scourge, kiss) is lifted almost directly from the OES. As such she tends to see Gardnerian wicca as a vehicle for feminism rather than an end to itself and as such is not scripture. The other one is a philosophy major and he’s also wildly interesting to talk to. He’s a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and you probably know where this is going if you’ve read American Gods. I personally am a fan of William Gibson and think Gaiman fans are worse than trekkies.
I kid. I kid.
But, me being me, I’ll present the topic from the Ceremonial Magic perspective. The particular idea was the concept of a “small god”, or tulpa.
They think that the God and the Goddess assist them in making their magic, as they assist the God and the Goddess in their turn by raising power for them by their dances and by other methods. In fact, they seem to consider the gods as being more like powerful friends than deities to be worshipped. To them the concept of an All-powerful God, one who could simply say, “Let there be peace. Let there be no sickness or misery”, and all wars, sickness and misery would cease, and who for his own reasons will not say that word, and keeps men in fear and misery and want, is not fit to receive worship.
So there’s two things going on in what Gardner writes. One of them is a requirement of faith. The “perfect love and perfect trust” here also extends to “perfect accountability”. Since the gods, so to speak, have failures, we can fairly comfortably put them into the realm of the demiurge. The dedication of the coven to a particular god and goddess works a lot better when the god and goddess are represented in greek, or teutonic forms where they are not infallible. This is contrary to ceremonial magic philosophy which requires that a god/demon/whatever be infallible within it’s own realm of influence. Or, to make a god or demon imperfect implies that they don’t have complete control over a realm. I oftentimes believe that something like “hostility” can be controlled by Mars in both extended and with-held forms. Mars may initiate hostility, but he also may stay his hand when appealed to correctly.
They quite realise that there must be some great “Prime Mover”, some Supreme Deity; but they think that if It gives them no means of knowing It, it is because It does not want to be known; also possibly, at our present stage of evolution we are incapable of understanding It. So It has appointed what might be called various Under-Gods, who manifest as the tribal gods of different peoples; as the Elohim of the Jews, Isis, Osiris and Horus of the Egyptians, and the Horned God and the Goddess of the witches. They can see no reason why each people should not worship their national gods, or why anyone should strive to prevent them from doing so.
Yes, I realize this is really Wilhelm Diefenbach or Wilhelm Riel talking, but the point stands – a culture is going to call a storm god by whatever name the culture wants to name a stormcloud. If we call it Zeus or we call it Jupiter, Thor or Baal, the culture has named the storm. I think The Weather Channel does a particularly shit job of naming storms.
Julian – ironically killed by Persian polytheists after spawning a civil war on his home front – really ushers in this idea of a hierarchy of gods in neoplatonic form. Julian does it largely for the same reasons Hitler will eventually follow – he is born Christian but sees the religion as foreign, so he takes the idea and attempts to hit rewind on it and come up with an idea which won’t see tread until the renaissance in Dee’s work inspired by Bruno.
What we have in Gardner’s world is an idea which seems more comfortable in modern chaos magic. Rather than the Gods of the Eddas which are really ancestor worship, the small gods fit very comfortably in the chaos magic of Peter Carroll. Carroll himself never cites Gardner as an inspiration but perhaps ironically that’s because Carroll is a fan of Crowley. If we do some back-work here, the product which is Wicca is putting the small gods into the same altar as what a chaos magician would put any Teutonic or Celtic or whatever have you Gods which fit into that European mold. The mold is earthy, everything is made of sticks and stones, leafy sort of feeling. Ancestor worship may be a welcome part of Wicca, but there’s definitely a separation of the gods and the ancestors which doesn’t track to history, but we can certainly see the product.
To take that idea and run with it, America is a largely young nation. Our heros aren’t thousands of years old, they’re hundreds of years old. We don’t typically think we all descend from Abraham Lincoln. And actually one of the particularly weird ideas that folks hold in the Asatru scene is that they can track familial lineage back to Thor. The much more balanced folks would simply tell us a fun story about their uncle who beat the sheriff in a wrestling match. But, one of the things which I think neatly ties up the Order of the Eastern Star, Gardnerian Wicca, and such is one of the folks at my Lodge commented that he could “trace the grips, ritual, and uniform” (paraphrased) “back to George Washington”. There is a desire in the American, or European subconsciousness to have that national identity which Gardner writes about. (Before anyone reads Hitler into this, this was an idea floating around Europe since about 1860 or so, and Gardner himself doesn’t have it until after he’s gotten on with Crowley who we know is openly racist). In the European consciousness, this idea has very obvious implications. In the American consciousness, not so much. Hence the citation of American Gods.
In America, we can’t do the Ancestor Worship thing for more than a handful of generations. It simply didn’t exist. Rather, if we follow the idea of a National God, we could do something like worship Uncle Sam, but I suspect that most Americans have been disappointed with the federal government their whole lives (I know I have) and so he’s not worthy of worship. On the other hand, as an American celebrating Halloween, I had strongly considered the idea of dedicating the holiday to Spider Man. Science? Check. Selfies? Check. Newspaper spin? Check. Urban sprawl? check. Spiders? Totally checked. It would have worked. Instead I built an ancestor altar with my wife.
Anyway, neat ideas, philosophical points on Gardnarian Craft, and a bit of a halloween treat. Happy Halloween! Samhain! All Saints Day! Satans Birthday! Motmass! Or whatever you call it!