Sunday, October 10, 2010

Title vs Ability

Over on the Evocational Magic list they are having a discussion about ATR's (African Traditional Religions) and specifically the tendency for initiates to complain loudly about DIY'ers working with the Orisha, Loa, etc. I wanted to write about it here because it is an important issue in todays eclectic world. The same issues exist in almost every system to one degree or another. Certainly the issue comes up in Tantra a lot, as well as in the magic of various Orders. Why, I had one friend who still kind if insists that anyone who uses the term Witch should be a Gardnerian or they have no right to the term!

When these issues pop up in public forums things can get ugly fast. On the one hand you have overzealous trad-fascists insisting that you need to be an initiate to work with the spirits, methods, or rites in any way shape or form. On the other hand you have people approaching without any traditional initiation calling themselves Santero's, Houngan's, Tantrikas, after reading a couple books and doing a few workings of their own invention. This can be rather upsetting to those who spend years earning those titles and going through the traditional initiations.

After years of navigating this issue I have come to understand it in terms of Title and Ability. The problems usually spring up when someone is equating one with the other.

For example. I work regularly with certain Loa. I do so based on my readings, instructions from initiated friends, and finally instructions from the Loa themselves. It was in fact Papa Legba who steered me away from pursuing initiation as a Houngan. He steered me directly into the arms of the Buddha - go figure. Still I serve him, Ezili, Dambhalla, Simbi Makaya, and others. At this point my methods for doing so are different than you would see in a traditional house, but they are terms that I cam to with the Loa directly. There is no problem because my relationship is based on my ability. If I was to suddenly decide that I should call myself a Houngan Asogwe and set up shop as such without ever receiving that initiation in a traditional way THAT would be a big problem because I would be claiming a title. Get it? At very least I  need to make it very clear that I am claiming the title based on my own spiritual contacts and not through traditional means.

When I meet people who describe themselves as Tantrikas, yet they have no Guru or Abhisheka, I have to object. There is no Tantra without a Guru or Abhisheka. Even Siddhas that are supposedly born fully enlightened like Padmasambhava and Dattareya seek out human Guru's to call teachers so that they can show others how important the Guru is. Now, that does not mean that these folks cannot study the texts and get tips from contacts that they can incorporate into their practice. In fact I would strongly encourage people like Thelemites to study modern translations of Tantric texts for a deeper look at Sex Magic than what E&MOU gives. Your use of the tech is based on ability so there is no problem, your claim to the title however is bogus.

Think of it in terms of a medical doctor. You can study medical texts at home and even apprentice under someone personally to learn all you want to know. You may practice medicine BETTER than 99% of actual doctors, but you cannot call yourself an MD because you did not go through the proper steps. The work is based on ability, the Title is based on certain protocols being followed. They are not the same.

Now, there are very different considerations of how they overlap. There are certain pieces of tech that will only be available to those with the initiation. They may even be dependent upon the initiation itself. Certainly this is the view in Tantra, and in Christian Apostolic tradition. In fact, one Priest I know insists that to work most of the Grimoires were mostly designed to be worked by those who have Holy Orders, in much the same way that Tantras are made to be worked by those with empowerment.

If you are doing your own thing, than you have to be happy with that to some extent and not confuse your own findings and experiments with the tradition that you are borrowing from. When someone tells me that they "do Phurba practice" and than use it to cast circle like an Athame, it takes a good effort not to laugh in their face.

While you shouldn't mistake your own work for the tradition, you also should not discount it. I know a two different cases of REALLY powerful people, one a healer and one a more general Sorcerer, who lost their abilities when they traded in their own work for that of the tradition. What you are doing based on your own work may be BETTER than what you would get in the tradition. Some traditions get stale over time. Some teachers within traditions suck. I know more than a couple Lamas who are legitimate in terms of being recognized Tulkus and such, but who know less about the Dharma than many students do, and who practice even less.

In some cases, though not as many as initiates like to pretend, there are spirits, practices, and energies that CAN be dangerous when worked outside of the tradition. Again, it is all about ability vs title. Your title may enable you to work with those forces safely right off the bat, but that doesn't mean that no one can learn to work with them outside of the tradition. They just need to be warry of the danger.

Basically, what I want to say boils down to two things. If you are an initiate, be a little more respectful of those working outside the tradition, if they can do the work than that may be all that matters. If you are not an initiate, be respectful of those that are by not laying claim to a title that you do not have. If people can follow these two guidelines, than there is no problem


Christopher said...

This is still a tremendous issue in the neo-pagan community. I only recently got re-involved in the online pagan community and thought I stepped back into 1995.

The Gardnerians and Alexandrians are still claiming that they are the True Wiccans(tm) and that eclectic practitioners are "Neo-Wiccans" even though eclectic Wiccan practice is about 30yrs old, nearly as old as the Gardnerian tradition itself.

There are still Witches claiming to be non-Wiccan Witches whose practice is from some "fam trad" that just looks like Wicca even though it isn't and so on and so on. These types, who are really just closeted eclectic Wiccans themselves call self-proclaimed Wiccans "fluffy" in that they aren't of the "old" ways. It's tiring really.

Everyone wants their tradition to be the real tradition. I thought that I saw the end of this stuff once I stopped reading blogs specifically related to the Golden Dawn and its ridiculous schisms.

I am against anyone claiming to be Gardnerian (or any tradition) who hasn't been initiated into that specific tradition. However, if someone chooses to use the techniques of a tradition or traditions in order to build their own practice I say "more power to them." The fact is that new traditions are born via the visionaries and not of those who are still doing things the way they have always been done.

In my opinion traditions are most useful in that they teach the fundamentals. Once someone receives the inner promptings to change things up, it is foolishness to ignore it. Of course, like anything else this can be taken too far into the realm of the nonsensical so a degree of discernment is important. That discernment only comes with practice and experience.

Lavanah said...

Beautiful. Just on point and beautiful. Whatever the "tradition" the self-claiming of titles is a human ego issue. You can claim (and demonstrate) skill, you cannot claim title. Titles are (earned, one hopes) and bestowed.

nutty professor said...

This for me is the money quote:
"The work is based on ability, the Title is based on certain protocols being followed. They are not the same." can you get rid of that loud and distracting image?

Miss Sugar said...

I agree with this! Which is why I only do "layperson" worship in the Hindu/Yoruba pantheons.

Pallas Renatus said...

Oh lord, that image suits this article perfectly.

Jay said...

I think this is so important. Mostly though, I think folks claiming titles as not taking their magic or religion seriously.

For example, I would never say I'm a Catholic priest. That's because I take the religion seriously. I believe that their training means something. I believe their ordination means something. To claim that I'm A Catholic priest is a lie.

To claim I'm, Gard High Priest or intiate of Lukumi would just be lying as well, because those things are serious religions with training and meaning.

Further, if I take the orishas seriously and think they really do communicate and have impact in the world, perhaps I should actually find out what they've telling people for so long and ask the keepers of that lore how to honor them appropriate.

To me, claiming false titles at best tells me you're dishonest. At worst, it suggests that this is all an elaborate role playing game to you.

robjo said...

What does your friend think about folks who were calling themselves witches before Gardener?

Anyways I have a few simple magical rules, axioms really, that help me figure metaphysical things out when I get stuck. They're almost always right and by applying them to the situation they can shed light on it. There's only a few, but one solves this entire situation.

Adepts can do whatever the hell they want.

This solves the entire issue and makes any other point mute. If a trad fascist or anyone else wants to disagree with me, it doesn't matter because in the end I'm still just going to do what I want.

@Christopher: I've seen fam trads prove a lineage at least as far back as 1890, with some claiming they could prove all the way back to late 18th century (although I never saw any of this proof).

Some of these practitioners were socializing with Ceremonial Magicians (a persecutor to Wicca) from the early 20th century onward and then again with Wiccans pretty much from the very start of Wicca, so many of these traditions have become muddied and are now filled with Ceremonial Magic and even Wiccan practices.

@Jay: I've legitimately acquired over 70 titles and degrees without working for them, most over an 18 month period. There's a few hundred more that I claim to have that have never been bestowed upon me, I've just decided that they're mine too.

I really don't think a person should be taking all of this magic and religion crap seriously.

Oh, and as Mr Vonnegut said, "Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be."