Metaphorically speaking the unseen parts of us and our life combine to form an inner spiritual landscape. Symbolically it is like an ancient forest filled with wonders, secrets, the hidden, legions of participants, the cycle of life and death, joy, pleasure, fear, terror, and much more. The analogy of traveling through this symbolic forest is a useful one for describing the spiritual journey and the process that we as Witches undergo in our Craft. At times the traveler may become lost, lose faith, or even give up when the spiritual sun of the forest descends below the horizon and the night takes hold.
Like any forest we have never traveled through, it is useful to know something of the area and its inhabitants prior to undergoing the journey. From the point of view of religion, this is what the function of myth does. It is through mythology that we know not just that there will be trials and tribulations but can garnish an idea of the shared human experience of these.
I know that in this blog I often speak of Witchcraft in generic terms but there is a folly in it. The Craft I speak of is Western Contemporary Pagan centric heavily influenced by British Traditional Wicca and derived Traditions. As such, the Craft I often present is not representative of Witchcraft that falls outside of this umbrella. For example, the folk craft of Iberian Witchcraft does not in the least bit resemble these forms of Witchcraft. This is important to be aware of when not only reading this blog but when thinking in terms of mythology in regards to the Craft.
There are many Witchcrafts—Witches all. As a result there are many Witchcraft mythologies. To further complicate the whole matter, not only is each form of Western Contemporary Pagan Witchcraft different but furthermore so is each Tradition, each Lineage, and each Coven. What this means is that Witchcraft mythology is Tribal. It is locally experienced, expressed, and understood. This complex myriad of expression that is the human experience manifesting itself in the various forms of Witchcraft is a thing of beauty to behold.
By learning the names of the Gods and Goddesses, allied spirits, ancestors, and other players and the stories of the myths of your tribe you can align yourself with the shared experience of the practice that you engage in. You can enter your inner landscape informed.
There are some shared human experiences that are more universal and so many themes and motifs can be found throughout not only the various mythologies of Witchcraft but throughout the world. Your various Tribal mythologies overlap the universal. They leave the specific realm of your group and touch upon the primal root knowledge of what it is to be human.
Where the Tribal myths inform us of the inhabitants of the forest, it is the universal that informs us of the general landscape. Sure the details of whether the center of the forest is a mountain, a tree, or other form of the axis mundi, is missing, but it does tell us that there is a center. We know that night and day come and go. The seasons change. Hunger exists. The primal emotions, such as fear and joy, are all present.
Knowledge of where and how your Tribal myths intersect the Universal will empower you. It won’t make the onset of spiritual winter any easier but it will tell you how to prepare for the season and not only survive but thrive through the trials it brings.
Anyone that is part of group engages in the tribal. By simply being human, regardless of the group, you engage in the universal. The difference in Traditional Craft verses Eclectic Craft is not because of this. The difference is a minor one. It’s not about being told what to believe. Really it isn’t. From a practical standpoint is so that the group practice does not have to be reinvented every time we get together and we can instead focus elsewhere.
The difference mythically is that a Tradition has already done the work in regards to the mysteries they focus upon to see exactly where their tribal myths intersect the universal. There is a map. No it doesn’t cover the whole forest. However, in the specific context of the mysteries that the Tradition is centered around, and there are specific mysteries (vaguely) speaking, there is a path in the forest.
So ritual is the symbolic enactment of myth. By following the ritual praxis of a Tradition, the mapped out landmarks are the same and can be purposefully and mindfully approached. Not only is there knowledge of a ravine but we know that when you get there you will encounter a specific entity.
Traditional Craft is a group practice and so the specifics of the map are shared and can be related to. Your map when thus approached has a legend.
The Eclectic journey into the mysteries of the forest does not have a path, map, or legend. It is like picking a random spot to enter the forest and exploring the landscape from that point with only your feet and experiences to guide you. There is nothing wrong with this approach either. It just means that the individual must craft for themselves a consistent practice by which to use as the vehicle of exploration.
There are times when it is best to just set off on the journey. It means that you don’t have to wait. The life lessons learned are no less meaningful.
In truth, we are all both in some regards. As a Traditionalist, the parts of the forest and path that are mapped out for me are only in regards to the specific mysteries. Everything else is wandering through the forest. There are times when we all leave the path into a part of the forest not on the map. As Traditional Craft is a group practice only, everything we do as an individual in our personal work is throwing the map to the wind to carry away. At other times, any shared experience can bring us onto a distinct path.
By embracing both the tribal and universal, group and personal, the trappings of each is easier to avoid. Rigidly sticking to a map can make life stale and refusing to set foot in a part of the forest mapped out can deny experiences that could be the difference between living and merely surviving.
The reason that the Craft focuses upon orthopraxy is because there is room for the individual to interpret their inner experiences. The praxis tells us that there is a central axis in the forest, and the tribal may tell us its symbol, but the nature of that axis is the mystery for us to find out. The nature of the landscape is for the individual.
When the nature of the individual experience is not defined by the individual, the myth ceases to point towards a reference. At this time thinking becomes concrete. At the New Moon it is traditional to kiss the hand twice to the moon. Kind of like blowing kisses. One of the lessons here is that we should not confuse the hand for the moon. That is to say that the symbol should not be confused for the reference. In this particular example, we kiss the hand but the adoration is turned to that which the moon veils. This is why we focus upon the ritual of kissing the hand and leave the nature of the connotation up to the individual Witch.
Regardless of whether in this moment we are on a known path or lost in a labyrinth, the experiences of the forest are shared as the human experience. The only way to know what exactly lay in the forest is to set out. Go. Do. Explore. Live the myth of life, experience the forest, and come to know that which is hidden behind the symbol.
“Lost in a thicket bare-foot upon a thorned path.”