And harm none

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Out of the Broomcloset photo by Leon Calafiore
Out of the Broomcloset photo by Leon Calafiore

Out of the Broomcloset

Nothing much has really changed in the human condition for thousands of years; the basic realities certainly haven’t though the trappings around us have. Life has always been a balancing act. Memories, both individual and collective, cannot but help shape our interactions with the world as we move through time. Spring has returned and we emerge into unsettled times. No surprise there, every generation of our ancestors did as well; they hid or went forth more boldly, they did things we might think noble, but also reprehensible things. This is why it’s always important to examine history and accept that yes, each of our families, our ancestors, engaged in all of these things. It’s best if we face this knowledge, and rather than gloss it over, make a vow to do better.

Speaking for myself, as I get older, nostalgia for some other time holds less and less interest. Not that the past isn’t engaging, merely that we tend to elevate the glittering parts, ignoring the ignominious. Much as we might think we’d enjoy living in the past, it’s a safe bet that if we ended up back in time among our own blood relations then we would not be welcomed with open arms. Except, perhaps to be handed over to the authorities or die from an infection.

What does this all have to do with magical practices, with revived pagan groups, you might be wondering?

The simple fact is that in many circles nostalgia trumps continued examination of history. Quite a bit of unexamined baggage comes along for the ride, since it’s already neatly bundled up, seemingly no need to unwrap it. Much of it comes from mostly earnest attempts to revive “lost” traditions from available evidence and parallels. But, like the geneticists in Jurassic Kingdom, this was padded out with other materials. This is true of most spiritual traditions; for example the structure of the Roman Catholic Mass cannot be derived by simply reading the texts comprising the New Testament.

In other cases, while they might have served some useful purpose, there are sometimes toxic things riding along. Starting in the 19th century, surviving Germanic lore (with heavy borrowing from better preserved Scandinavian sources) combined with bad “science”. (Racial theory) eventually equaled genocide, in the name of spiritual ancestors. Asatru/heathenry these days struggles with white supremacy groups because of this.

Some Ceremonial magicians practicing these days obscure or deny the vital contributions from Jewish thought or other “Eastern” influences.

Some Wiccan circles, conversely, have rather too much “Eastern” added in, thanks to Theosophy and Thelma getting into the mix and getting in the way of performing actual magic.

These are just a few examples of nostalgia or wrong-headed devotion to the past to things that, looking back, might be comprehensible, but some are unforgivable, especially to carry on now as they did then.

So, as we move into a new season, might I suggest it’s a marvelous time to examine what you do by the phrase, from Wicca (and Aleister Crowley), “and harm none, do what thou wilt,” and think on what you might cast off, to avoid causing harm.