The following are my thoughts on a two-part question that came up yesterday in one of the FB Pagan flavored groups.
‘Rite of Access? Should all knowledge be free and accessible to everyone? Or are there valid reasons or certain kinds of information that shouldn’t be “open source” (as it were)?”
To be honest I had a quick response when I saw the question and then my wifi connection fell out. When I got back online I decided to grab a copy/pasta of the OP and throw it in my docs until I could give it some proper thought and at least get a blog out of it. Yeah, selfish self serving way to go about it, I know. But you never really know what’s going to inspire a blog, or some deeper thought on an issue.
When I opened the doc this morning to start hammering out my thoughts, the spelling jumped out at me. Now I’m wondering if it was a typo, a trick question, or if it’s just a happy coincidence that has occurred. Of course I know one of my mentors would point out that there is no such thing, so perhaps it’s part of the question, or should be.
Personally I believe that if the question is actually ‘Right’ of Access, I already want to point out an issue. The way that its phrased is an indication or proof that there is a problem with the way people already think about the matter. Rights? Brings to mind the Bill of Rights, which essentially is a list of privileges that have been given to people, simply for being born into this particular country. So then privileges. Do you automatically get a privilege or do you have to earn it? If not, then perhaps its more of an issue of entitlement?
When the topic or issue is knowledge or, religious secrets if you will, then no one automatically has a ‘right’ to anything. Just because you exist, you’re alive doesn’t mean you’re entitled to the teachings, the information, or the secrets.
Keep in mind that I’m plannining on approaching and dealing with this topic from my point of view, its my opinion on the matter. It is not factual, I’m not claiming it as fact, its just the way I feel and therefore I will not be citing sources. I’m sure you’ll be able to find some academic resources on the topic if you are so inclined.
Long ago, when the earth was new, lmao, ok seriously not that far back, but before the invention of all these modern conveniences we’re all so used to. Before the internet, before the printing press, even before the industrial revolution, in the time that I’ll simply refer to as ‘The Way Back’, the sacred knowledge, the secret histories and myths of the people was not shared openly. It belonged to the few.
The secret keepers, or the wisdom keepers might have been thought of as elite, or they may have just been functioning in a certain position or job in their respective tribe. You hear them referred to as the seers, the tribal healers, priests and priestesses, the crone who lived apart from the village, off past the clearing.
Some societies placed the keepers of their respective mysteries on pedestals, they were revered and honored. Some saw them as people to fear and chose to keep them at the edge of the lands. Whether they were feared or revered, these individuals still played their roles and parts for the betterment of their group, for their peoples. Before I wander too far off topic my point is, a select few held the knowledge and not all of it was simply given to them on a silver platter.
Knowledge and wisdom is gained by a combination of trial and error, from experience in practicing something for a period of time. It came from lore and teachings that were passed down, when people were lucky enough to have an elder that could pass things down, and sometimes things were lost. When the knowledge was shared it wasn’t shared with everyone, it was only shared with a few. Those who showed promise or special ability. I’m fairly sure that those who had exceptional memory and nimble fingers were chosen.
Yes, I realize I’m focusing on some of the more backwoods civilizations. So, what about the peoples who were in early cities, those who had more structured religious ideas and belief systems? They had houses of worship, temples, gatherings for the public, etc. Well, the priests and priestesses were the ones that were doing the primary work, they were the keepers of the deeper secrets. I’m not arguing that people didn’t know which deity they were worshipping or which offerings would be most suited, but the mysteries were still only held by a select few. Those who were clergy, etc had the bulk of the information. And they didn’t just say, ok I’m going to be a priestess now, they were trained. They were taught, and I’m sure that there were levels much like novice, intermediate, etc.
Now shall we meander into a more modern setting? Take the modern neo pagan movement, laws outlawing witchcraft being abolished, interest spreading. Occult themed books going into print with a wide distribution potential, etc. I realize there were occult books throughout history, but never before this have they been as readily available to such a wide audience. Then you have the birth of Wicca. This is when I feel like shit really started to hit the fan.
Gardner decided to take a trip over to the pagan buffet and he took a few side trips down cultural appropriation avenue. Regardless of how I feel about where the ideology came from or how it all came together, its still a valid path that many choose to take. But, I want to state that Wicca was created so that it would be an initiatory tradition, with levels of knowledge or degrees for it’s initiates. I’d equate this with the idea of security clearance levels that our wonderful governments utilize. Not everyone has clearance to see things that require top-level security. Another thing about Wicca, I don’t believe that there were supposed to be so many priests and priestesses. To me its like that old saying, too many chiefs and not enough indians.
Before anyone starts pulling out the pitchforks and torches, I want to remind you all of what I said at the beginning. This is my opinion of things, it is not a factual account.
So, moving along. Now you have this widespread audience with far more people interested in the occult than ever before. Wicca is the new fad, the best creation since white bread. (You know, sliced and pre-packaged, its awesome!) Prospective members are lining up by the dozens because they want to be involved. Ok, cool. Perfectly acceptable. Do you.
Of course, this is where things are going to start getting really dicey. The core group who thought up this whole idea with Gardner start to have some issues with the way that he’s doing things. Maybe it’s because he’s wearing white after labor day, maybe it’s because he decided to wear shorts and mandles with black socks, who knows. In any case, they decide that they’re unhappy and so people start bickering, you end up with a lot of he said she said and popularity contests and then…. BOOM! The core group divides into a number of slightly different, but still Wiccan Traditions. OK, cool. Nothing like having a few different options to choose from, Christianity did it and its still around. All of these traditions still require initiation.
But then something happens, and you have to go find one of the memes that says, ‘This is why we can’t have nice things.’ Someone who can’t keep their mouth shut and should have it stapled closed for them decides to run their mouth. They get gossipy. This is why the rules of Fight Club should have been applied to Wicca early in its developement. We all know what the first rule is right? So when these assbags started sharing top-secret information, they should have been boiled in oil. Hell, burn ‘em at the stake. Then at least reference to The Burning Times will be seen more as a warning to oathbreakers than a fluffy cry against perceived persecution.
Like I said, the shit hit the fan.
I imagine at this point, people who have the butthurt feels get the super fantastic idea that since info has already been leaked, it would make a great book. Enter Llewellyn. Opportunistic Bastards. Heh, really, I can’t hate. They saw an opportunity and a market, and they pounced.
So now more people have some of the knowledge and some of the ideas, not all of them, but some. I would refer to this as the cliffsnotes version. If you truly want anything deeper, then you’re going to have to go and beg one of these Wiccan Traditions to take you in and start teaching you. Remember, this will require initiation. Also remember that these groups can turn you away if they don’t wish to accept you into the fold. If you don’t meet their criteria or standards, tough titty, maybe one of the other trads will accept you.
Oh, the butthurt is starting to run a whole fuck of a lot deeper now. Now the real insanity of the whole situation begins. Someone decides to write some books and take the cliffsnotes version that’s already been leaked to the general public, mixed up with some bits and pieces of flowery prose and tell people it’s ok! We know that mean ‘ol mystery tradition turned you away, but there’s still something you can do, you can Self Initiate! Yay!!!
The idea makes me a bit queasy, I’m not sure how you feel about it.
Anyway, self initiation is sort of like fast food or a microwave dinner. Yeah, its readily available, it requires little to no effort on the part of the solitary. Never mind the fact that the word initiation is defined as something having to do with a group. So now you have the instant gratification of the self-initiated. It doesn’t really end there though does it? It’s not enough that you’ve been able to self initiate, now you need a title, maybe you have a desire to be a priestess. (Not really sure how that would matter when one is practicing solo but fuck it.)
So more and more people decide that they need titles, and you know what, I was able to self initiate, so I can also give myself a title. Its ok. Again, here we go taking things that we haven’t earned or worked for. When you think about it, entitlement is pretty fucking fun. The hard road doesn’t stand a chance when there’s an easy one right there. Also, you decide to run on down the easy road you can pick up a bucket of fried chicken on the way and feel like you’ve accomplished something.
Lets see… Self initiation as well as self-proclaimed titles are pretty much the norm and the standard. Everyone’s entitled to the information and the wisdom. Eclectics and solitaires are rejoicing in the streets while at the same time expecting the deeper mysteries of the traditional groups to be laid down at their feet. Hey, they better do it with gratitude too, I did them a favor when I decided to take interest in their exclusive little club!
Everyone failed to realize that fast food and microwave dinners aren’t very nutritious, might cause some stomach issues, or leave you feeling empty inside and still hungry, maybe not full on starving, but admit it, you’re feeling a little peckish right? See, even though you’ve got access to the outer court information, and you’ve read some books and you’ve even self-initiated and have proclaimed yourself to be the High Priestess of Jello Pudding, you’re still working in a solitary setting. Or, its a case of the blind leading the blind and the more charismatic self initiator is leading another like here, in circles. Eventually that hunger, that feeling of it not being enough leads to wanting more.
We want MOAR!
You know what else, I’m starting to think that my tv dinner was pretty bland. Solitary Wicca is sort of like vanilla ice-cream. It’s boring, it’s bland, it doesn’t even have as much flavor as it’s cousin French Vanilla, its just completely unsatisfying. Whatever shall we do? What can spice things up? Oh! I know, let’s try something more Exotic!
I’m going to start getting really offensive at this juncture in time. If you wish to get off the bus, please do at this time. Our next stops will be at the Pagan Buffet, Cultural Appropriation Avenue and Whitewashing Way.
So now that people have decided that they need a little bit of exotic flavoring, lets watch and follow the process from start to finish.
Oh you know what, lets steal this concept from that brown person right there! Oh Oh, and I really do like how that coffee-colored dude does that! Did you see that yellow girl? Isn’t her scarf divine? Oh, and what about their goddess? So Pretty! SQUEE!!
I guess its time to throw all of these stolen ingredients into a blender and see what we come up with. Oh! This is fucking awesome! Best smoothie I’ve had all day!
Oh! I think I’ll have what you’re having, but I don’t really care for all that chocolate and caramel, its going to be too sugary, can we get a low-fat version? SURE! No problem!
See where entitlement gets ya?
Oh, another thing. Are you offended yet? I would be. I’m not all that delicate when I’m illustrating a point and while I could have pointed out some real world situations and examples, I’m choosing not to. If you don’t know what concepts have been stolen and from whom then it’s really up to you to figure them out.
Ok guys, those of you who chose to get off the bus a little while ago, feel free to get back on. We’re leaving the more venomous portions of my point and thought process and I believe we’ll be dealing with things in a more sterile manner for the time being.
Sharing of the knowledge and the wisdom?
When a child starts reading, we tend to start them off with age appropriate materials right? Usually the books contain smaller words, smaller ideas, bare minimum. See Spot Run. That sort of thing. Lots of pictures with a minimal amount of words on each page. The child is able to look at the picture and understand things better than they will when dealing with just the written portion.
When a child gets a little bit older, we give them books that still have some pictures, but the vast majority of the sentences are going to be longer than 3 words.
When our children become young adults, we start to introduce the topics that are a little harder to understand. Sure, they’ve graduated from illustrated stories to books without the pictures and multiple chapters, but the subject matter still hasn’t been too advanced. Now we’re starting to throw Shakespeare and other classics at them.
Granted I know that most adolescents aren’t going to grasp everything about the literature. Of course we don’t really expect them to yet. We want them to get a basic, very basic understanding of the material and tell us what happened to get from A to B.
The reason why we expect so little when we start our kids on the more advanced material? Its simple. This is material that we’ll be utilizing for years and years to come. Each time we’ll approach it with a different purpose in mind because we’re going deeper and deeper into the material. Before we were focused on the surface, now we’re looking deeper, past the exterior, into the depths.
Not to downplay the significance of Shakespeare, cause he’s fucking awesome, but while his works are classic, they aren’t outlining my spiritual practice, they don’t play a part in my religious identity. I think at the very least, the time and effort that goes into learning about and understanding classical literature should be on par with the time and effort each individual puts into their study of religious materials. This applies to readily available materials as well as the content that may require a higher level of security clearance. Crawl before you walk.
So those are my thoughts about having ‘rights’ to the knowledge or the secrets. Also, I’d like to clarify that if the knowledge/practices or secrets belong to a closed group, that you definitely have no right to them, and you don’t have leave to appropriate and steal them. I’m still not going to go into detail on the appropriation issue, I’ve done it before, I’m not going to take the time to run through it again, if you don’t know, do the research.
Don’t take what isn’t yours. Don’t take the easy road, and don’t act like you’re entitled to things, earn what you’re after.
Oh, and if I’ve been going blindly in the wrong direction and the OP was actually supposed to be Rites of Access and not ‘Rights’ I’ll add that there are many cultures that do focus on those rites. Maybe not so much as a rite or access but as a rite of passage. As the child or individual gets to either key ages or key events, different responsibilities as well as privileges are given to them. It is essentially a part of growing up and a way for either society, our parents, or our tribes to gauge how ready we are to advance onto the next level, and that may include them imparting secret wisdom to us when we show we’re ready for it.