There have been a raft of interesting articles & posts of late regarding non-truth (in a concrete sense) in magical circles and stories. As this writing is not directly related to any of them, I am not linking to any particular article, but Sarah Lawless and Mat Auryn have relevant posts on their blogs if you care to dig in, links to their blogs at bottom.
I come from a personal take on magic and sorcery that finds a lot of resonance among several varieties of a thing which in general could be called 'myth'. Are myths not, in a way lies? Perhaps in some senses, but as I think that sorcery is at times the Art of the Telling True Lies (more specifically, telling non-truths in such a way as they become true after the fact), things are not so cut and dried.
Now there is a difference, I believe, between this mythologizing towards-an-end and lying about lineage, traditions, and the like. If you claim to be initiated into a religion or tradition that you were not actually initiated into, this is a serious problem, IMO. Can I stop you from doing so? No. Is it my problem? Not given who I am, as I have no interest in joining any groups or traditions. The primary issue I see that can be seriously damaging is when someone sets up their 'license' to pass on something that they claim they were given when they were not (lineage in a tradition) and use that as a way of using people to their own ends. This is basic shitty manipulation and con, and should be avoided. In specific, if you are interested in a 'tradition' and the only way to get into it is via sexual means, you need to a) know that up front and b) be 100% down with that. Sexual initiation is a common ploy used by 'spiritual' gurus from time immemorial (as far as I can tell) to stroke their egos. You don't need anyone to fuck the magic into you, bro, is what I am saying. It's already in there. Now if that's your bag, and what you are looking for - go for it! Have fun. Sex and magic can be a great combo. But keep it clear and upfront and make very sure you aren't caving into pressure tactics or using them when it's your turn, as that's gross.
I do think it's shitty to say 'I was initiated as a witch by my great-grandmother' unless indeed, your grammy took you out in the yard one day and actually initiated you as such, using those words. I consider myself largely spirit-led, and have experienced a good number of what I could call 'spirit initiations'. They happened. But they don't give me any special rights.
So it seems to me that we have at least a few varieties or forms here, and only a few are really not-so-good: lying to people in order to gain power over them is +very different+ that building a personal mythology that helps you gain power over yourself and your world. Lying about being initiated into a tradition is +very different+ than being inspired by it.
There are also those who will say that you +cannot+ (as in, it's actually impossible) to have a working relationship with spirits/entities/deities outside of your initiated lineage/genetic background stream/ethnicity. Well, they seem to pretty much be wrong. I'm not saying it's always a good idea to go along with it +for the person doing it+ but it happens (and it has happened to me!). So it is actually possible. And it happens more than the gatekeepers of the various traditions seem to find comforting, by a very, very long shot. Still, if you weren't initiated into a living, breathing tradition, I don't think it's a good idea +at all+ to claim that it is so, even if you work within that current.
Magic and religion are not either/or kinds of games. Much more in the and/but realm, from all that I have experienced.
I'm a big fan of this thing that gets slurred as Unverified Personal Gnosis. UPG, again, is only an issue when it's sold as The Whole Fucking Truth. But really, personal gnosis is the name of the game of sorcery. You do work that makes sense to you, to manifest the world you desire, and the only criteria is: did it work +for you+? This includes the things you tell yourself about it: do you tell yourself you have witch blood? Are you of the Children of the Nephilim? Do you have sex with Loki? That's awesome, +if it works for you+! But it doesn't give you are special rights in regards to other people, unless, and this is the kicker - you are playing with others that choose to play within that mythology. If they are, then party on!
These tales are, I think, the roots of all religion, the roots of all magic, the bed that myths are bred in. We tell the stories, the true lies, that provide us with the background story to do what we need to do. To survive, sometimes. To thrive, we can hope.
Fundamentalism is the weird-ass construct that myths are literally (rather than spiritually or magically) true in a concrete sense. And I don't care if it's in the Abrahamic religions, witchcraft, pantheism, or a comic book, I think it's a deep, pervasive flaw in the human wiring that leads so many there so often. It's worth rooting out where you have this in yourself. I'm not an activist, so I don't really seek to root it out in others, though I vote to mitigate some of the damage that these folks can do in the public sphere.
I'm a big fan of this bestselling book of magic called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. In it, KonMarie suggests a method for keeping things in your life (well, your closet and dresser, really) orderly, happy, and functional. It's simple. You pick the thing up, whatever it is, a dress, a pair of socks, (or in this case, a belief about yourself or the world), and ask yourself 'does this spark joy' (I tend to translate this to 'does this serve me?’)? If yes, you keep it and treat it very well. If no you toss it. This is basic sorcery.
If sorcery, as I have said, can be the art Telling True Lies, the root starting place (have you ever heard that thing about how the easiest place to change something is at the beginning, rather than the end? This is what I am talking about here) is in the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, our lives, and our world. This can and does get bashed as 'new-age thinking'. Whatever. Call it a dog if you like, if it will help lead you to where you wish to go!
These stories are crucial. They are the foundation of what we believe may be possible for ourselves. They are the root of our identities. Our sense of self controls our sense of what is possible. If we try to build our world on the belief that we are worthless, broken, and never-to-thrive, well, that sucks, is horribly limiting, and I'm not down! So we craft a story, a lie perhaps, a myth of who we would like to be. What would that person be like? What would they be able to do and achieve? To perceive? Now we get to work. We start doing work to break the hold of the 'I am a worthless, broken being' myth and replace it with another, that allows - almost demands - that we ourselves and our situation are different, more to our liking. Full of possibilities instead of roadblocks. If that story is that your mother was a washing machine and your father was a mountain (thank Cory Doctorow for that image, and then go read his book Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, it's very good) then so be it. That's magic. Expecting others to believe it as true however, and treat you in some special way when you share it, well, that is either delusion or deception. Or both.
Sarah Lawless blogs here.
Mat Auryn blogs here.
I have written more on this subject here.
Aidan Wachter, November 2018