In the Craft we often refer to a group which offers information to newcomers as an Outer Court Group. I believe this is an American term and may not be exclusively Craft terminology. However it does seem to sum up admirably the feeling such an information group radiates. I hasten to add that although we talk here of an Outer Court Group there is no similar ‘Inner Court Group’, unless of course we see the Coven as such a group. Some magical orders refer to this inner group as the Inner Sanctum.
During the numerous years that we having been offering information to newcomers I have accumulated quite a store of written notes and so forth. It occurred to me that perhaps it would be a good idea to begin a column in which some of the results of the discussions and evenings could be presented. It would also be extremely interesting if readers participated actively by submitting their own questions, for example concerning philosophical aspects of the Craft, or practical queries about magical work, making magical weapons, etc. I’m not saying that I will know all the answers, but I’m sure that I’ll be able to find someone who can help you, the reader, with your quest. And of course your comments will be of great importance in choosing a topic of discussion. Parts of this column will be a kind of ‘questions and answers’ piece, whilst I envisage other parts to be lengthy discussions. Much depends on the reader. By the way, to participate you don’t have to be newcomer: everyone is welcome to join in!
Just a couple of sentences about the name for this series of papers. Many years ago we were invited by the Fellowship of Isis to be a contact point for the Netherlands. We were only too happy to oblige and consequently we choose the name ‘Mara’ as our central name. Mara is the name of a sea goddess, which we felt was appropriate for a Dutch centre. Although the name is used occasionally – we still hear from people who have been referred to us by the F.O.I. – I felt that it was time we gave Mara more ‘body’.
The original series was written between 1994 and 2000. It has now been decided to bundle the articles together into a booklet of the same title ‘The Mara Papers’. And to use it as a primer for newcomers who want to play an active role in finding their feet on the path we know as ‘Wicca’.
This is part 1 and deals with the concept of Polarity.
Morgana, July 2012
Getting back to basics.
Many people see the Craft as a path in which one’s individual development plays a paramount role. We have few dogma’s, no Holy Scriptures and even less ‘rules’. On the one hand this gives the seeker an amazing amount of spiritual freedom whilst on the other hand it demands a great deal of devotion and commitment. Having someone to tell you what to do and how to think can be extremely comforting: if you do everything ‘according to the book’ you will be assured of the prize of peace of mind and ultimately happiness. This in itself is no mean goal and for many thousands of people has proven to be the ideal way for them. But it is not the way for everyone. The Dutch constitution guarantees us ‘freedom of expression’ and yet how many of us ever exercises our political right to individual freedom of thought etc.? Of course it is not easy to break away from traditional ideas and values and look at them with new eyes. And yet one of the things that the Craft is trying to achieve is precisely this. Although we can help each other on the way we still have to understand the need for making our own decisions. And then to act accordingly to our own decisions.
One of the ways in which we can become aware is by building up our own frame of reference. This frame need not be worked out in one year – it should be seen as a living organism. Parts will need to be re-adjusted just as the gardener needs to weed his garden. New insights – like new plants – need room to grow and flourish. But we do need to realise that this frame of reference will become the foundation from which we will grow further. It will be the base to which we can return after a long journey. It is our inner fundament, which will provide the link to our outer connections. It can be seen as a framework that works on many different levels – from the pure physical, waking state of consciousness to the realms of faery and devic consciousness.
One of the main principles of Craft philosophy is that of polarity. In fact understanding the principle of polarity can allow us to interpret many situations normally beyond our intellectual grip. However we need to define what we mean by ‘polarity’. It is not a static thing in which we see two opposite poles, rather the understanding that two extremes exist which cannot operate without each other. In other words black cannot exist without white: we cannot be aware of white unless we recognise the existence of black. In practical terms we become aware of the many shades of grey, which also exist between the two extremes. In fact we generally work with these ‘shades of grey’. Hardly ever does our consciousness swing to the outermost extreme. We would soon experience imbalance and we would usually find ourselves veering back to the centre of equilibrium. In effect between the two poles we experience ‘movement’. This is basically why in the Craft we don’t see polarity as a static thing. It is the root of movement and change and inevitably the creation of something new. As each person is unique, so too is the myriad of possibilities in solving problems. Naturally there are things that are going to be similar, just as humans share similar emotions and feelings etc. The outcome is however unique.
Between the two poles there is always a tension, which could be described as a dynamic balance. Absolute equilibrium is always short lived because the two poles are constantly pulling away at each other. In fact we come to realise that balance is based on a much broader band of acceptability. The ancient symbol of Yin-Yang seems to underline this feeling of movement and knowledge that perfection in nature is not based on absolutes but on acceptability. It is not a fatalistic view that we can’t ever reach perfection, but the acknowledgement that we can reach a level of acceptability with what we have, including the possibility that we may have a portion of the opposite quality within us. In other words we can only achieve perfection when we have acknowledged the other extreme or pole, even if that quality is negative by our normal standards.
This ‘two-in-one’ concept was one of the things which really made me sit up when I first became acquainted with Craft philosophy. That life is not based on an absolute duality but on the idea that creation is only possible when there is movement, tension. This would then mean that perfection is a momentary flash otherwise life would be static. These flashes of perfection are possibly what we could term as ‘divine’ – moments of pure equilibrium, the ultimate goal of creation. And yet we realise that these moments are few and far between and the major part of our life is based on striving towards the broader band of balance, or acceptability, I mentioned earlier.
So far I have discussed polarity from an intellectual point of view. How can we use this principle in our daily lives in an attempt to understand the broader implications? As is so often the case we can only fully understand one principle by testing it out on another set of principles. (Polarity already at work!!)
One of the major ‘reference cards’ we use in the Craft is the Yearly Cycle. This is in itself a huge subject; so let me limit it to the eight major festivals as points on the annual cycle of the seasons. We have four seasonal festivals linked with the Equinoxes and Solstices: Spring and Autumn Equinox and the Winter and Summer Solstice. In between those four we have another set of four festivals called the ‘Cross Quarter Days’. The complete order is as follows: Winter Solstice (December 21st), Candlemas (February 1st), Spring Equinox (March 21st), Beltane (April 30th), Summer Solstice (June 21st), Lammas (August 1st), Autumn Equinox (September 21st) and Hallowe’en (October 31st)
We can apply the principle of polarity by looking at each festival in relation to its opposite festival. For example if we look at the Winter Solstice, the opposite festival is the Summer Solstice. To come to a true understanding of one or both of these festivals we need to take into account the opposite. In Summer we see a lot of activity on the surface of the Earth: in Winter little activity on the surface of the Earth. Does this however mean that there is no activity at all? Or do we need to look further? On further observation we can conclude that whilst there is little evidence of ‘visible’ activity we know that underground in the Earth itself there is a great deal of activity, as the new plants begin to germinate etc. There is a great deal of ‘invisible’ activity – rather like the baby growing within the darkness of the womb. Winter is cold and dry, Summer is warm and moist: all different conditions needed for the plant to grow and bear fruit.
In Winter the Sun has reached it’s lowest point and will begin the new solar cycle: in Summer the Sun will begin to lose its strength and begin the last leg of the solar cycle. But we also begin to realise that Winter could not ‘be’ without the Summer and vice versa. The two seasons, though opposites, have much to offer each other in the way of their own existence. The plants in Summer can only come into fruition if they have been allowed to germinate during the Winter months. And vice versa: the seeds germinating in the Earth in the Winter months can only come into existence if the plants come into fruition in Summer. Opposites they may be, but they are also each other’s complements. In practise when we celebrate the Summer Solstice we also celebrate the existence of the Winter. It is for this reason that we use the symbol of fire in both rituals. It is our acknowledgement of the diversity but also the complementary qualities of both festivals.
It is worth the effort to look (and also to experience through ritual) the polarity of the festivals and to try and discern the similarities, and opposites, of the festivals. It is also extremely illuminating to try and figure out the ‘perfect balance’ between two festivals, i.e. place yourself at the central point between the two, on a kind of axis. What is the sum total? What do you experience as a new creative aspect? Can you translate this feeling into human terms? In a relationship? Can you symbolise this feeling? Or the feeling aroused at each of the individual poles? Can you verbalise the feeling? (For example “The sun of Summer caught within the seed of Winter”.) And ultimately, how does the experience alter your own perception?
Of course not all of these questions will be answered in one session. But it should give you some idea as to what extent a similar path of observation may lead you. Much of our observation is done by ritual, meditation and pathworking – but in this instance pure observation of nature can provide you with many clues. For example choose a walk through a piece of wood or field that pleases you. During the course of one year make this walk very consciously – make notes of how things look, smell, and feel. After a year compare your notes – how different were things during the year and the different seasons? Don’t forget your subjective experience and consciously allow your state of mind to play a role. How are you affected? Did you feel freer at other times or did you feel the same the whole year round? Try above all to discern the moments when nature seems to be in balance and when there is a definite period or feeling of discord.
Such observations can help you to build a frame of reference, which is not only there for life but is a personal frame on which you as an individual can unfold. Having your own foundation, based on personal experience, is one of the greatest gifts we can obtain and it is there for the taking.