Who or what are the Gods? Maybe we should consider what exactly we understand by the term “God”, and also what “God” means to us. Karen Armstrong defines God as being a symbol that points, beyond the Self, to an Indescribable Transcendence.
We should differentiate between God and The Gods, how do you see the difference, if any? Some people think of God as “real”, that is, in a theological manner, He, She or It actually physically exists, be they sitting on a Throne on Mt Olympus or perched on a cloud in the Sky. Do you envisage the Divine as a long-haired person clothed in an Ancient Greek toga, skipping through leafy glades, bestowing a sickly smile on all? Various religions have differing views on the Actuality of Deity, and many insist that God is capable of interfering in the affair of this, and other, worlds. After all, that is the belief that lies behind the practice of Prayer, beseeching the Divine to change, or affect, yours or someone else’s Life.
Are the Gods Natural? Supra-Natural? or Super-Natural? Do they possess powers beyond those that we ascribe to them? We know that psychologically we give away “power to do” and “power over” so readily when we are in a religious state. Do the Gods exist separated from us? or are they part of us? Are they, and are their opinions, lasting and eternal? or do they change their directives on how to live? Can they change their minds (if they have minds to change)?
Fred Lamond’s book Religion without Beliefs tells us that the Gods may be thought of in three different ways. Firstly, we could consider the Gods as Thought Forms, that is a form of Spiritual Bank Account. This is where, through our actions, rituals and beliefs, we build up a store of Spiritual Energy, from which we can later draw on, as and when needed. This is similar to belonging to a tribe, regiment or society, where we invest time, effort and energy to fulfil common goals, and from which we may expect certain benefits or advantages.
Next there is the consideration of the Gods as Jungian Archetypes. This is where the gods remind us of our personal subconscious primal experiences in Life. We see them as “The Mother or Father” figures, Warrior, Virgin, Vamp, Wise Man or Carer. These are parts that we play on the Stage of Life, or character models we come to rely on in our daily struggle.
Lastly, he posits that the gods may be viewed as Gateway Images to Cosmic Forces. I suggest that an alternative word to that mouthful is metaphor. The Gods are metaphors for aspects of ourselves, of our Past, our Present, and of the Cosmos, which, while we may not comprehend directly, we can use to connect to initiate actions or change, to ourselves and to the world about us. Hegel calls this Absolute Spirit, and said that the unfolding of human history is God’s autobiography. Mistaking metaphor for reality is yet another example of confusing Mythos with Logos. For instance, the term “Astral” is a metaphor for the emotional component of our selves, not an actual separate “entity”. To all of those options, I would add the suggestion that the Gods could be envisaged as our Ancestors, the Old Ones, those who have gone before, contributing to our growth and wellbeing. Not only our genetic forebears, but also those who help build the society and civilisation that surrounds and shapes us, since we derive part of our identity from our society and culture.
Karen Armstrong in her book The Case for God proposes that God is not a Thing or a Being, but is just Being. God is no-thing, nothing, but is Everything. Karen suggests that God has no characteristics, therefore it is idolatrous to call God, All Powerful, Loving, Father, Wrathful, etc. Philosopher Paul Tillich, using the term “The Ground of Being”, and I know, from my own realisations, that all this aligns very much with the experience of the mystic. One commonality of the Mystical Experience, regardless of the culture from which it arises, is that of Oneness, Unity, no Divisions, no Them and Us, just Being. Everything is Divine. Maybe the Gods are an expression of this awareness of God, for instance Hindus view the Gods, like Vishnu, Lakshmi, or Shiva, as being different aspects of the one God, Brahman.
Are the Gods out there or in here? I would suggest that the Gods are creations of our own mind, representing the sum total of our personal and social values. Are the Gods eternal? The Rig Veda tells us “The Gods themselves are later than Creation, and the man who truly knows this is arisen”.
Religion is a human construct. In ancient Greece, there were two types of Mysteries, the Greater and the Lesser, in both the Eleusinian and Dionysian Cults. The Lesser Mysteries, probably going back to the Mycenaean period, were re-presented as the myth of the abduction of Persephone from her mother Demeter by Hades, the king of the underworld, in a cycle with three phases, the “descent” (Loss), the “search” (Journey) and the “ascent” (Return), with the main theme the “ascent” of Persephone and the reunion with her mother. It was a major festival during the Hellenic era, which later spread to Rome, and it parallels the Egyptian rite of Isis and Osiris. Maybe you will recognise the similarity to the Gardnerian Second-Degree Initiation, or the Hero’s Journey. Then, there are the Greater Mysteries, with connections to the Mystery Cults of Assyria and Egypt. These took place in temples when, after training, an initiate was shown an ear of corn, and they experienced the cosmic connection. In another rite, the initiate was presented with a mirror and told to “Behold the Face of God”. After having a mystical experience, life would never be the same for them.
The rites, ceremonies, and beliefs were kept secret and consistently preserved from antiquity, but today, in the Western Mystery Tradition, dating from the 17th century, these mysteries again, may be divided into the same two categories.
The lesser mysteries are gained relatively easily. They are the experiences and situations that make us go “Wow”, such as an enchanting sun-set, the birth of a child, being loved, the wonder of fecundity, the joy of being alive, of being transported by a piece of music or artwork. These are events that take us out of ourselves and show us another view of this world, and offer a glimpse of other realms of existence. These states can come at any time, and at any stage of life. In fact, many people, who still have a long way to go towards Maslow’s self-actualising, experience the Lesser Mysteries. The artist, the musician, the poet, the writer, the skier, the engineer, the saint, the inventor and many other types, have experienced this as a fleeting moment which occurs while they are pursuing their work or in deep thought.
The Greater Mystery, which was later termed the Great Work, is a voyage of self-discovery and self-realisation, through Self-Actualisation, onto Apotheosis, and through to Mystical Transcendence. Humanity’s first world-encompassing idea, was the hunter-gatherer belief that “everything is connected”. Then followed an agricultural era, during which humanity lived under the “hierarchy of the gods”. Today we need to seek some perspective on our modern juggernaut of radical innovation and global polarization. Maybe we should reach towards ancient wisdom traditions that some call “the harmonic web of life”.
A common experience of those who have had a mystical experience, regardless of their religious background, is that all Life is One. There is no Separation, no Sacred or Profane, no Good, nor Bad, just Unity, a Totality, an Integrality of which we are a part. It is dissolving the Ego, getting rid of the Self, losing oneself in the Whole. No I, just Us. There is only the One, of which we all are components. This results in changing our concept of our own identity, to become inclusive rather than being a separate individual. Crafte is about dissolving the Ego. It’s a matter of where or what you identify with, if you are the Cosmos can you ever die?
Kierkegaard reminds us that “It is only ones self that stop us from becoming one’s self”
Crafte is a spirituality, it is a spiritual dynamic, not a religion. Having a Mystical Experience does not lead to feeling superior, because you know that All is One, so there cannot be any differentiation. Crafte, with its awareness of Divinity, both Imminent and Transcendental, confirms these experiences. We may see this interconnection as the Wyrd, or in more modern parlance it could be called Jung’s Collective Unconscious Reality, that “Psychological Parent” which guides us through Life, and shapes our Being. In fact, attaining a mystical experience may be part of our Ecological / Evolutionary Psychology, since it goes across time and cultures. With this, we can use the Collective Unconscious to gain access to the Cosmos, becoming one, in a direct relationship with the Cosmos.
It is only through the mystical experience connection that we modern Witches may honestly claim alliance with the rites and practices of Ancient Egypt and Greece.
We worship the Gods that men fear, the Horned God of Ancient Days;
We worship the Goddess, the Lady of Older Times.
And the God is the Sun-God of Life,
Yet also is He the Great Lord of Peace and Understanding.
The Goddess is the Maid of Joy and Hope,
She is the Mother of Love and Protection,
the Grandmother of Wisdom and Knowledge,
Yet also is she the Dark Lady of Peace and Magic.
Yet beyond these Two is the One we do not know.
That which we cannot name or limit, for that One is Limitless.
We work our Crafte in the name of the Lord and the Lady.
Every spell that we weave, every magic that we work,
and every act in life is done before these.
We carry a part of each within ourselves
But they, the Lord and Lady, are above us.
Through our Crafte do we serve the Lord and Lady,
and do what best we can for our fellow men, both within, and without, the Crafte.”
Thus, runs one declaration of Crafte belief, and again we see the concept of Oneness. Behind the Lord and the Lady lays the One who we cannot name, for by naming we define, confine and limit, and that One is Limitless. Think what “Limitless” means.!! That will give you a sense of Being. The Ultimate can only be experienced, in a wordless way, that is beyond thought. This is an idea which can be compared with Tao, and Zen. Remember the Zen kaon “There are many paths up the mountain but the view is always the same”, once more inter-relating the many Paths to the one centre. The One, the Wyrd, the Tao, is the sum of these indivisibles. It may also indicate our common cosmic origin, which is implied in the words of another Crafte ritual, which says, “From the stars we come, and to the stars we shall return.” This cosmic point of view is one of the empowerment sources of a Witch.
What is this thing called mystical experience? and how may we gain such? Joe Campbell, that great author and student of human nature, used the term Epiphany, in his magnum opus “The Masks of God”, but what does it mean? An epiphany (from the Ancient Greek for “manifestation, striking appearance”) is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally, the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but the word epiphany originally referred to insight through the Divine. Today it is often viewed as Supernatural, as the discovery seems to come suddenly from the outside, but it is not supernatural, but is better described as Supra-Natural. It is a breakthrough from the mundane, to that which lies beyond normality. Epiphanies are relatively rare occurrences, and generally follow a process of significant thought about a problem. Often, they are triggered by a new and key piece of information, but importantly, a depth of prior knowledge is required to allow the leap of understanding, hence the importance of Crafte training and education.
I suggest that Witches are the mystics of the Pagan Path, I further posit that the Gardnerian Third Degree is not a knife waving ceremony, but is undergoing a transcendence, where Unity, and Being is realised, and the petty divisions made by Church, State, or Tribe dissolve, and the integrated Web of Life becomes apparent. The mystical experience is personal, and immediate, not vicarious or deputised, and changes your life irreconcilably. Mystics may attempt to express their feelings in terms of Christianity, of Islam, of Hinduism or of Paganism, but there are no Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Pagan Mystics as such, just mystics. Do not confuse the “tools” that they use to attempt to convey the encounter with the happening itself. This Oneness may be associated with the Quantum Mechanics Theory of Entanglement, where space disappears and particles are entangled so that an action on one affects the other, they are one. All endeavours to explain the mystical concurrence, must, by its very nature, fall short of perfection when we remember that mystery/mystic comes from a root-verb meaning “to be beyond words – to shut the mouth”. The common expression used by many to attempt to convey the mystical experience is “ineffable”, beyond words. It can only be expressed in symbols, not words. The mystical experience means that there is No Heaven, no Hell, you are free from the constraints of any belief system, even Crafte, and therein lays another mystery.
The Charge of the Goddess says it all.
And thou who thinkest to seek for me,
Know that your seeking and yearning shall avail thee not,
unless thou knowest the Mystery.
That, if that which thou seekest, thou findest not within thee,
Thou wilt never find it with-out thee,
For behold: I have been with thee from the beginning,
And I am that which is attained at the end of desire.
We no longer look for gods in the woods or rivers, but there is still a psychological tendency, called Personification, to look for a Mind behind anything, or event, which seems inexplicable. Something to blame or to take responsibility for what’s occurring. We used to call this agency God or Nature, but I would suggest that it is us who are the Prime Factors of what is happening in this world, not some supernatural entity. Being free from the spectre of an all-avenging wrathful deity leads you on to personal responsibility, and to freedom to do your will. But what about the Three-Fold Law? you may ask. To this I reply that energy cannot be created or destroyed. The only repercussion from any ill-advised actions on your part is from 1) your personal guilt or misgivings, 2) from the person to whom you cause harm and 3) from the community at large. That’s my version of the Three-Fold Law.
Crafte is Service, Service to Crafte, Service to Coven and Service to the Community. Yes, there are such as a Community Witches. It is hard work, but it is up to you. No one is given a pass by the Cosmos to say that their Way will be easy. It’s Crafte, and its hard work, but it’s worth it.
Dave Bracey, April 2021
Photo’s – Morgana