There is a story (well, there are many, many stories, as we shall see) that all roads lead to the same place. I believe that this is not exactly true, unless, of course, by that we mean all roads lead to the grave. But perhaps, if the grave is just another beginning, or a single step along a road (as I am being taught), then would it not be better to say ‘all roads pass through some of the same places’?
Much of the work of sorcery has to do with definitions. We live inside of a specific set of definitions, of limits and borders, of culturally determined meaning. Sorcery is at the heart about choosing our own definitions, our own borders. Finding our own limits, and deciding if we wish to move within them, or beyond them. Do we wish to keep ourselves inside the accepted and easily understood cultural boundaries, or do we choose to travel elsewhere? If we choose to move beyond them, how far shall we travel?
Understand me: I am not (ever) speaking against tradition, or (as some have claimed) against folklore based practices. These are valid approaches and paths. What I am speaking to is the concept that any cohesive story-stream, by its nature and function, can and does ‘color’ if not outright define our internal landscape. This internal landscape is called upon when interacting in the spirit worlds, and constrains the nature of the interactions we have there. This is, I believe, intentional.
This intentional shading and shaping of Otherworld, Innerworld, and spirit interactions is one of the root functions of magical or religious traditions. It produces a coherent data stream, coherent contacts, and a coherent symbol system for interpretation of the events that occur within itself. This is all good, at least in potential, and certainly helps in generating what is essentially a coherent, shared tribal culture.
Where this can break down, in my experience, is when some are called to work, live, and operate outside of those tribal cultures.
I need to digress here into some of my thoughts about animism.
In an animistic view of things, everything one can come into contact with can and may have a spirit indwelling in it or be a spirit. So we may have forest spirits, the Spirit of the Forest, spirits who dwell in a forest, as well as tree spirits, pond spirits, stone spirits, and the myriad spirits of the dead that also inhabit the forest.
It is important to understand that there are points where this process breaks down. It is helpful (to me at least!) to view this ecology of spirits like the ecology we live in the physical world. I am a human. I know many other humans. I live with my wife, a flock of chickens, a flock of ducks, dogs, a cat, etc. I also live with a vast number of ravens, and rabbits, and human neighbors, their dogs, cats, horses, goats - on an on. All of us animals here have homes. My chickens live in a Juniper tree, my ducks have a pond that it seems they consider home. My dogs and goats have a part of the property. We each can be said to dwell in these locales, these homes of ours. So in a sense, I and my wife and the dog and the cat who live in this house are the spirits (at least some of the spirits) that indwell in this house. Some do balk at this conception of we-as-spirits, but that is nothing I can help them with, as it seems beyond obvious to me!
Extend this metaphor (and in sorcery metaphor is to a degree a map of the evolving real) outward, being as inclusive as possible. In time we might come to an awareness of the spirits of insects, or fungi, and perhaps even what we think of as biological processes, like decay itself. All of this occurs before we set foot into the Otherworlds where the biological root of spirit is not at all a given.
Here is where much of religious and folk belief and stories (based on a set of cultural and religious definitions, history, and theory) can, if taken as 'fact', narrow the field of experience unduly, in my opinion.
If I have a fairly coherent set of definitions and stories about this world and the Otherworld, let us say, Norse Pagan, then I will tend to ‘see’ and experience according to this map, this vision set. I have gods of several families, and trolls and giants. I have elves bright and dark. All of these things are mythically and magically ’true’. They are not a complete set, however, which I expect is not actually possible to know, nor even desirable.
We can turn to other belief and symbol systems and streams to try and fill in the gaps. Perhaps this leads us to spider gods, or to spirits of other dimensions. This search again, if we go looking to codify our experiences, to define them based on knowledge given to us from other human stories, can place limits on our potential visioning.
For some years, I have been trying to not lock anyone down that encounter. I do not like living in boxes, and thus do not choose to define myself as Witch, Magician, or even Sorcerer. I do work with the Sorcerer concept, as it seems the most wide open, and for me has an implicit spirit work basis, but I do not define myself as such.
To operate with spirit outside of cultural definitions (and these definitions might be acquired from any religion, from Goetia, or things such as the Faery Faith) is a somewhat hazy thing. I think it is hazy in a good way, as I like passing through borders more than sitting inside of them. I doubt that it is ‘the best way’ or that it suits everyone. Kind of how I like vinegar more than most people, it’s just idiosyncratic, it isn’t ‘right’ or ‘better’ than anything else, in a general sense.
This haziness allows something organic to occur. What occurs is the spirits ‘presenting’ as they choose. Generally, they seem to ‘present’ in a way that makes sense to me biologically. I am still filtering, just not boxing them up and saying, ’Oh! You are a dryad!’.
What I have found for myself is that when I approach things this way, the spirits and their world tend to remain in a state of flux. Things change, and not always in subtle ways. The spirit that first showed as perhaps a human woman fitting a ‘priestess’ role or image likely generated by (or perhaps for, I am open minded!) my mind may in time present as a more toad-like being, or as a more of a hive, a collective. These things may happen within the ‘human priestess’ or be an outright change of state. Which then might change again, and again at some other moment.
I do not truly believe anymore in a human-centered spirit world, any more than I believe in a human-centered Earth. I think both of these boxes are extremely confining, limiting, and lead to stagnation and even a kind of illness.
So if I accept that the spirit world is not a human-centered place, but instead a place human spirit beings are connected to (just like our physical world) then things become quite peculiar, and the waters get very deep, very fast.
Above I spoke of moving from the ecosystem of my house and surrounding landscape and animals, into what I described as spirits of biological systems.
What happens to us as human spirit beings when and if we can become aware of and interact with the Otherworld equivalent of the spirits of the biological systems mentioned earlier? What then may occur, when and if we can move into relation with the ‘natural’ processes that occur in the Otherworld? Not as a 'special' being that this is all happening ‘for’, but as a part of the process itself? What comes through my experiences when they are not happening for me, but instead happening with my presence, perhaps with my assistance? When my role is not of central importance, but as a working or witnessing part of a much greater whole? Where I am no longer a human spirit being, but simply a spirit in a vast ecology of spirits? What then am I?
Aidan Wachter, Blood Moon & Lunar Eclipse July 2018