Bird, Book & Bone
animism, ecstasy, knowledge, chaos

10 April 2013 @ 5pm


Killing Baphomet

Baphomet Buddha

Perhaps this post has been done to death on a thousand other blogs (certainly I’m not trailblazing here), but I was re-reminded of it again this week through a variety of channels.

Essentially, “Where have all the leaders gone?”

Into the dustbin of irrelevance, my friends, and don’t just sit there and complain about it, because you helped put them there.

The post I cited by Juniper generalized about three classes of leaders: the prophets, like Crowley and Gardner; the great witches, like Valiente, Farrar and Fortune; and the mentors, elders and High Priest/esses.  Juniper suggests that it’s because we wussed out and kicked them all out.  Which is true to some degree, but it’s more complicated than that.  We’ll take them apart one by one.

We “don’t have” prophets anymore, because of the way we receive information.  There are writers out there with Crowley’s vision, Gardner’s talent for synthesis, Valiente’s poetic skill — Peter Grey, Gemma Gary, Peter Carroll, Lon Milo DuQuette all spring instantly to mind — but they’re not publishing at a time when just writing a book might land them in jail, when they might be writing the only book on the topic.  There’s an entire industry devoted now to churning out occult books now, and you can get a book on witchcraft with minimal fuss at a chain bookstore most places in the Western world.  Maybe not a good book, but…

The point is, it’s not that we don’t have prophetic, mad-eyed academics howling messy sacred truths, it’s that they have a lot of competition.  It’s like asking “Why don’t we have as many hand-illuminated vellum manuscripts anymore?”  Because printing presses are easier, cheaper and more widespread than talented scribes.  Because now that the tide has shifted in favor of generally accepting Paganisms — partly because most people aren’t Crowleys, Gardners, or iconoclastic antisocial misfits — an industry with a ridiculously low barrier to entry and no required credentials.  Because we have blogs, Tumblr, Llewellyn, Witchvox, Patheos, et cetera ad infinitum.

Paganism and especially the modern neo-Wicca that dominates our publishing and public realms grew through the antiestablishment counterculture of the Sixties and Seventies, which changed their tone from the witchcrafts and paganisms that preceded them.  Every one of the great witches was a product of her time — Fortune, Valiente and Farrar included — and we have never had a time less amenable to ‘witch queens’ than now.  The way that Wicca was imported to the States in particular pretty much destroyed its emphasis on lineage, strict hierarchy and barriers to entry, for good or ill.  The reason we “don’t have” women like them in the younger generations is that we don’t recognize their authority or potential for it — they’re not becoming famous coven leaders because we don’t really have many famous covens anymore.  We’ve turned that antiestablishment Luciferian tenor inwards on our own establishment.  Most noteworthy big-name witches are noteworthy because they’re still around and evolving after winning fame (Janet Farrar) or noteworthy now less for their body of work than for being bigoted relics (Z. Budapest and her sexism/transphobia, Freya Aswynn and her nationalism/racism).

But even the pre-countercultural 2oth-century witchcraft wasn’t a pure breed, and the roots of our current half-assed pop paganism lie in the programming of our forebearers.  Gardner’s witchcraft was coming out of a conservative, nationalistic English movement with a lot of Christian programming still mixed in there.  For example, the Wiccan Rede — probably written by Valiente, though the sentiment isn’t new — summarized as “An it harm none, do what you will”cobbles together earlier works, notably Crowley’s The Book of the Law: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”  Of course, over time the Thelemic intent in the Wiccan Rede was lost and the harming none part emphasized to the point of immobilizing witches, giving birth to the pseudo-karmic mechanism, which is one part sin and one part The Secret, of the ‘three-fold law of return’.  Peter Grey points out, “The difficulty with modern pagan witchcraft is that it began with compromise. […]  Now Ronald Hutton says not simply harm none, but be harmless.” (page 8).  Regardless of the fact that the three-fold law doesn’t exist (seriously, pay attention to the world for five minutes and it will become entirely apparent), it has jumped its banks and now spread over the whole of modern mainstream Paganisms, enforcing a tidy sanitized witchcraft through the psychological mechanism of repackaged sin — which we are prepared to absorb — and of social control and enforcement.

That doesn’t even address the generational differences between the people who should be our “elders” now and the generation who should be supposedly looking up to them.  Too many leaders in the occult realms are in it because they really want to be Important but can’t hack it outside a fringe group.  Too many are the one-eyed men carefully cultivating groups of the blind.  A few are trying to rebel against the inoffensive, consensual, righteous mainstream Paganisms instead of leading them.  Given that some Pagans are in it not for bloody, messy magic — assuming they believe in it at all; it’s a big tent now — but for an alternative to the church social groups and somewhere pleasant to take their kids at holidays, they would actively eject a young Crowley if he or she showed up in sodomitic Dionysian magical iconoclast garb.  And yeah, some of the effective teachers and mentors with experience got tired of the way they were being treated and bailed.

Like the saying goes, “Every country gets the government it deserves.”  There aren’t as many people going into the wilderness, getting completely out of their head, writing a book positioning themselves as a magic messiah, then coming back to a waiting and information-starved audience — and we blow them off when they do.

So there’s really only two things you can do if you if you’re sick of the way things are now, if you haven’t got a time machine.  One, you can start cultivating leaders, helping support the sort of people you want as the bannermen of modern witchcraft and figuring out how to root out the dysfunctional qualities of consensus and anti-authority impulses — though that is to my mind the less entertaining and instructive choice.

Two, you can go out into the wilderness or on the road, climb up into the sky or dig down into the dirt, get completely out of your head, learn something and teach yourself.  Go meet Baphomet and then kill them.  You don’t actually need a person with a pedigree or a book to teach you — half that shit’s already obsolete anyway — if you’re willing to teach yourself.  Sure, a guide might be useful and you’re going to fuck up, but you were going to fuck up with a teacher or a book anyway.  It’s inevitable; all vital, living magics are essentially unsafe.  So go get your hands dirty.  Go be the bold, terrifying magician, the filthy, powerful witch, the mad poetic prophet that you wish was out there.

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