Queer of Swords: Redaction for XXXX and XXXXXXX

When I hear that something has been redacted, my immediate response is to think of Freedom of Information Act requests, with names and faces blacked out to protect the probably not entirely blameless. My innate curiosity always wants to know what’s under the black marks.

Paganism as currently practiced has many roots, new and old. Some of these roots aren’t as old as we would prefer to believe, but they are still old enough that most are at least a generation or two behind us in the time line. If I pass my unverifiable personal gnosis on to a follower I have created new dogma. If that follower preaches this dogma to a new generation, and then the process repeats down further generations, dogma can figuratively — or indeed literally — become law. Such laws are very difficult to dislodge, even if they are damaging and not well-founded in the first place.

The mystical experiences that are the source of these little slices of gnosis that make up our religions are something that most of us don’t really want to examine in any detail, if truth be told. If I have a mystical experience, be that receiving communication from a deity, mediumship, whatever, that experience may be entirely believable for myself. For you, there are really only three possibilities: I made it up in order to manipulate you, I fooled myself into thinking it happened when it really didn’t, or it was real. Putting it another way, if I am possessed by a deity and you are talking to that deity through me, who or what are you talking to? Are you talking to me, are you talking to the deity, or some combination of the two? I could be yanking your chain, got a mystical wrong number and called up the wrong entity, or the deity concerned could be less than reliable and manipulating both of us for its own reasons. You can’t be sure, and neither can I, so perhaps it’s safest to assume that the entity doing the speaking is some combination of me and the spirit and treat the information received accordingly.

A large proportion of us grew up in traditions that made it pretty clear that one does not question the Word of God if one knows what’s good for oneself. But if our messages from deity are all corrupted by the limitations of the communications channel, what does that say when all of this dogma is collected together to form the basis of our religions? The whole trusting-in-the-word-of-God thing becomes a whole lot more difficult when you accept that the information has been garbled — there is an awful lot of static on the cosmic telephone. Nevertheless, there still seems to be some usefulness in listening, or so many of us wouldn’t bother trying.

So anyway. Back to redaction. If we accept that our holy books and their oral equivalents are really more akin to badly edited wikis with unreliable original contributors, it starts to make sense to think about actually doing some editing. All the big religions have been doing this for thousands of years, so why not us? And why not actually try to do some good with it?

By way of an example, I’ve been working with a couple of others on putting together a redaction of the original Golden Dawn material that makes it workable by small groups and sorts out some issues related to gender that make it more applicable to queer and particularly trans and gender-non-conforming practitioners. The original Golden Dawn material, in so far as we still have access to it, is an astonishing body of work. Though its roots are murky and probably made up out of whole cloth some time in the late 19th Century, there is no doubting its effectiveness if you actually work it. Some of the redaction necessary is purely practical — if you choose to start from the Cypher Manuscripts, the material is so terse that it is little more than a mnemonic for the core of a series of rituals, without any substantive content. If you start from Israel Regardie’s work, there is a lot more to go on, but even then, there are a lot of complicated stage directions and temple layouts that need to be picked apart and put back together again in order to make sense of everything.

At the time of the founding of the Golden Dawn, 1888 London society had a rather different concept of gender and sexuality than we do today. I’ve no doubt that people got up to pretty much exactly what we still get up to, of course, but the important difference is that they understood differently, had different words and different attitudes that result in bits of the material not really working for us the way it would have for them. Some of it is scratchy, uncomfortable, even self-contradictory. Rituals call up a series of Egyptian deities then start referring to one true God. Much of this can be dealt with fairly straightforwardly without really changing the meaning of the text just by fiddling with word choice. Other changes need to go a little deeper.

It’s a long tradition for Golden Dawn practitioners to call each other Frater or Soror, the latin for brother and sister respectively. I’ll admit that I actually never really minded being called Soror, but this was an issue for a few people I’ve talked to who are more in the middle or the outside of the gender spectrum than I am. I asked a Latin scholar friend for help — she came up with the suggestion to use the word Collega (colleague). So we made the change, and it’s serving us well. It doesn’t change the meaning of any of the rituals, doesn’t change our practice in any meaningful way, but successfully avoids abetting the little gendered micro aggressions that wear down the sensibilities of people whose gender doesn’t sit well within the binary.

The thing to take away from this is that redaction is necessary in order for religions to live and grow as the society that they reside within evolves and changes. And never trust a spirit that says it wants to have a go at driving the car.


Queer of Swords is published on alternate Thursdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

About Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson is a queer, trans, 3rd Degree witch and was a co-founder of the Circle of Cerridwen and of the Witches’ Order of the Golden Dawn. She is also a rocket scientist who works at NASA, a musician, filmmaker, ham radio operator and the wife of a vicar.

  • Alyxander M Folmer

    Mrs. Thomson,
    I do believe you just became one of my favorite authors here at Patheos.
    Well done.


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