A Victorian man in his library study room sits comfortably in his robe intermittently puffing on his pipe. Surrounded by an impressive amount of knowledge contained in the books around him, he waxes philosophy as he debates his colleagues from the comfort of his armchair amongst the sound of classical music and ice clinking around in glasses of bourbon. The philosophy never makes its way past the the walls of the room and the comfort of the armchair.
Armchair Occultism or Armchair Paganism is a term used for those who read and study extensively about their own beliefs and systems but don’t really practice any of the knowledge they gather. In Qabala this would relate to the hidden sephira Da’ath, the sphere of knowledge and the abyss. It’s so easy to get lost and stuck in Da’ath. For intelligent occultists Da’ath is like a seductive siren trying to lure us off course to drown.
While Da’ath has its purpose, gifts and benefits it remains the sphere of knowledge and not wisdom. Wisdom is the application of knowledge through experience. Da’ath is said to be the closest to understanding the numinous without directly experiencing it. In buddhism they have a wise saying that the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon. I see Da’ath as that finger pointing to the moon.
The greatest mysteries in witchcraft are hidden because they cannot be adequately taught, only experienced. And each person’s relation to those mysteries is an individual experience that transcends adequate words. A teacher of mine gave a great analogy of the mysteries being like sex. When you’re a virgin you can hear about what sex is like, you can read about it and you can talk about it. But it isn’t until you have the experience of sex that you can fully grasp it, and each person’s experience is going to be different.
As we know, talking about sex isn’t the same as the experience of sex. But those who have had the experience of sex can discuss it and have a frame of reference of what is being discussed by their own personal experiences. Even this analogy falls short when it comes to experiencing the mysteries because once again, the mysteries are beyond pure knowledge. The mysteries are not Da’ath itself.
Part of me is definitely an armchair occultist. I love knowledge and am a self-admitted bibliophile. However, there are many great books such as those by Andrew Chumbley that I’ve read for pure intellectual curiosity and fascination but have never applied the practices, techniques or rituals, because I just don’t feel drawn to. But that doesn’t mean that I’m purely an armchair occultist, I have my own personal craft and regular practice. The pursuit of knowledge has its place and function, just as Da’ath does.
So, how do we get out of the armchair? One of the problems with armchair occultism is that we start steering into deeper and complex concepts and elaborate practices. When I was a child I cut my teeth on the writings of Silver Ravenwolf and Scott Cunningham. These two authors were pioneers in making witchcraft accessible, personal and practical.
Scott believed that Wicca was a spirituality that went beyond the mystery religion of formal British Traditional Wicca and offered practices to gain a personal relationship with those ideas. Silver offered more great ideas and techniques to personalize your practice and put heavy emphasis on the importance of daily devotionals. She helped to break down the mechanics of what goes into magick and provided insight on personalizing it to make it your own.
Sometimes it’s important to revisit the “basics”. If you have no practice at all yet scoff at the “Wicca 101” books, perhaps it’s time to revisit them. Having a foundational basic practice is infinitely more powerful than having advanced armchair mental masturbation. When your house is so cluttered that you cannot move or live comfortably within it, it’s time to simplify your life and strip things down to the bare essentials. You will realize, if you revisit the basics with an open mind that there’s much practical wisdom and solutions to this problem. They are basic for a reason. Complexity has absolutely no power if you cannot find power in simplicity first. You cannot expect to be a talented chef if you can’t even pour yourself a bowl of cereal.
A lot of us are busy people who don’t feel we have the time to practice our magick. This can be a lie that we tell ourselves based on our perception of what magick is. Magick is all around us, if we can find time to see it around us and apply it to seemingly mundane aspects of our lives, then we can gain a better relationship with it. This puts us in a position of living out practical magick and the magick begins to live through us and touches everything we touch.
Sometimes we really are too busy for more complex practices, so that shouldn’t mean we dismiss practice or magick altogether, but rather find what can be applied to our situations and our time. Just like the rituals of discipline or lifting weights, sometimes if we are out of the gym too long, we need to go back to the lighter weights and build from there. That doesn’t mean anything about your level of experience, it means you’re working with what is appropriate for you at the time.
Sometimes you don’t have time for a full workout, so you might look into eating healthier or choosing to take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you were to ONLY lift massive weights regardless of what you’re going through or where you are, there’s a high chance that you’ll either hurt yourself or just put it off until you can do it. Making small changes and working back up from there is more beneficial than throwing in the towel. Magick isn’t a contest with others, it’s a lifestyle.
In the Sacred Fires Tradition we have to conduct personal audits on ourselves and then discuss them with our teacher. We audit ourselves to see if we’re in right relationship with our magick, our personal practice and the tradition itself. We then come up with plans to figure out how we can come into right relationship with these things. Taking the time to meditate and honestly audit our relationship to our magickal practices is a valuable practice that shouldn’t be overlooked.
In the end, regardless of our traditions or the books or ideas that we love, the path of the witch will always be one that we walk alone. We experience the mysteries on an individual level. How we practice our personal craft is a private matter. We may have helping fingers pointing us to the moon, but it is up to us to get out of the comfort of our armchairs and figure out how we can experience the moon.
Knowledge of the numinous means nothing if we are not experiencing the numinous at all within our lives. As I’ve said before, witchcraft is not about blind belief, it’s about experiencing those beliefs and knowing them to be true. Witchcraft is about taking knowledge and applying it. This cultivates wisdom. Our craft is the Craft of the Wise, not the Craft of Reading About Ideas.