One of the public things I’ve been doing is taking a Wicca 101 class with my wife’s coven. So far it’s managed not to wander into feminist crap territory or the fluffy bunny new age crap territory, which I took as a positive sign. One of the questions that came up (not unexpectedly) is “can you self initiate?” The official party line was “no”, but that’s pretty much to be expected in any tradition that makes any emphasis on succession. The priesthood since before Christ has always had a laying-on-of-hands to establish clergy. I didn’t point out the obvious that lineage is largely goofy if the roots don’t go back before Gardner despite his claims to the contrary, but no skin off my back and it wasn’t particularly worth getting anyone’s blood pressure up. For some perspective, there’s orders which intentionally are run by board, including the OTA. There are orders which are intentionally run with succession to protect the integrity of the information, which is really in my opinion what Gardner wanted to do and Crowley, and Mathers…
The self initiation prohibition is largely practical – I cannot self initiate into her coven any more than I could show up to the local church and tell them I run the show now. The idea is simply goofy. On the other hand I do believe in certain modes of self initiation. Alan Watts, for instance, couldn’t find anyone in the west to teach him Zen Bhuddism (or his western version of it where a cat sits until he is done sitting), so he simply sat down and started reading. In fact he didn’t actually go to Japan, or India, or anywhere we traditionally think about being a Bhuddist and learn, but rather took a university course on it moving from NY to Cali for the purpose. This is one sort of self initiation, people learn, and they come up with a product, and that product is identified by some people as a member of the line or is identified by other people as not a member of the line. People in the beikoku would turn their noses up at the over-educated brat and people who wanted to learn but had no money for school or grasp of eastern concepts would see him as a guru. It’s sort of amusing to me he didn’t ever really get that level of fame and greatness until far after he was dead when the American agitpop fascinated Japan as our American culture today consumes so much Japanese media. He was really 40 years ahead of his time. I think he would be amused that his videos are being translated to Japanese.
The Alan Watts example also applies to dead systems. No-one for instance was named as a successor to Dee except perhaps Rudd if you believe it. Who succeeded Rudd? Well he has no clear successor, and like a lot of the manuscripts of the day he sorts of takes notes but it doesn’t tell us a lot about his philosophy so we have to add flesh to the bones by reading Shakespeare and other things which may have influenced him. Really that’s where (I believe) Gardner comes in. He vaguely knows about “witchcraft” by some definition of it, he may have even run into the Cotton collection at some point (doubtful) but he has some view of esotericism and wants to dress it up in clothes which make it work for him.
But there’s a second type of self initiation floating around here and one of those is the idea of initiating into an Aeon. I postulated that the Wright brothers were one such self-initiation. Flight was not a dead system, but rather flight was not invented yet. Who would mentor and initiate them into a system of flight?
The flight line of reasoning is a really interesting one because this is how Crowley got into magic. He’s sitting in the pyramid, he encounters an inspiration (a spirit) and he initiates what he calls an Aeon. He is the priest of this Aeon the same way the Wright brothers are the priests of the Aeon of Flight. Would someone be inspired by the spirituality of flight (and we have, for countless ages since we put wings on every spiritual creature…) that would be the same as operative flight or (speculative) craft flight. Similarly chemistry is divided up into operative chemistry – or what we think of today as the proper labwork and spiritually dead how society teaches it – and craft chemistry, or what we think of today as alchemy. Substitute your favorite discipline here which inspires you.
One of the more beautiful examples I can think of recently is how inspiring it could be to go to space. Right? A ceremonial magician touching the faces of Gods? Who might think that? But that requires that someone fundamentally self initiate into believing in the holy power, which is purely a personal choice. This is also an atomic choice, no-one can initiate you into belief in these things. Maybe someone might go to space in a purely scientific environment. I think it would cheapen the experience, and perhaps they would look around, and they would see nothing but their hands and the work, and sigh and say to Earth…. there is no god here. How disappointing.