Language is a major part of what and who we are, so much so that pointing it out seems a bit too obvious almost as if one were pointing at the sun and proclaiming, “Warm.” We generally think in the language we were born to and it ingrains itself into us. Language itself is a bit more than a mere tool of communication, the nuances of the individual languages itself tells us things not otherwise intended. A quick example of this can be gained from the way Spanish assigns gender to everything and so native Spanish speakers think in terms of gender. Again this is a very obvious example to anyone that has studied Spanish, perhaps during high school. There is here a seed of understanding the current of Tradition and applying this deliberately with intent.
At the core of its meaning a tradition is something that exists between people. This is true of the various Traditions within Neo-Paganism as well, whether they be BTW1, TIW2, TW3, BD4, AD5, or another6. One of the main ingredients to the glue that holds the fabric of these Traditions together is shared language, commonly agreed upon symbols. These symbols exist between people of distinct groups and as such about them there have grown nuances, based on how the symbol is used and fits within the whole of the group’s praxis and mythos, that otherwise would not exist for the same symbol used for differing groups. It is when you put all of these various symbols together into a working spiritual system that you get a complex and often under-appreciated metaphorical language.
An important and principal aspect of joining and becoming a functional member of a Tradition or group is to learn its language and symbols. This does not mean that one is to replace their own symbols from their personal work, but if they are to be able to work on common ground with the group they must at least learn to speak the same language. There are many reasons that people come together to work in a group but central to their success beyond casual socialization is their ability to agree upon how when together the group will do things, what symbols they will use, and how it all comes together into a coherent method. It is from this commonality that both the group’s language and tradition is born.
Contrary to the belief of some, one does not have to be a member of a group to develop a system of symbols that will in time effectively function as a metaphorical spiritual language. In fact most people who are spiritually dedicated and practicing have a personal esoteric language of symbols and their use. The key to this is both consistency and practice. If an individual in their personal work has decided to work with the four classical elements and in doing so has assigned these elements to particular directional associations it is important that the individual does not change these associations every couple of days. This is not to say that overtime we are to resist, in strict adherence to the past, our own natural evolution of spiritual understanding that may cause one to determine new associations but it is important to understand that making such a change would in turn effect everything based upon the original system and with such a change the nuances change as well. It is also just as important that not only are we consistent with the use and meaning or our various symbols but that we use them often enough that we know them and understand them beyond the surface.
In the end it is not the symbols themselves or their language of use that is important but the whispered truth behind these. As so elegantly put by Deng Min-Dao, “Even esoteric languages have been invented, and they mystify the outsider. Holy words always appear that way to the uninitiated. After one learns to read them, their message becomes assimilated. We no longer worry about the images, for we have found the truth that the words were indicating.”7 There are both individual truths and truths that transcend the individual that can be gained from a language of symbols. In a manner of speaking our individual truths are those we trip over while exploring our inner spiritual landscape and those we learn from the group we tripped over as we explore the path pointed out to us. No matter the source of a truth we must discover it for ourselves; the trick is having developed a bridge of communication, a language.
1. British Traditional Wicca 2. Traditional Initiatory Witchcraft 3. Traditional Witchcraft 4. British Druidry 5. American Druidism 6. The author’s main experiences are from different Traditions/Orders of Witchcraft and Druidry but the concept of shared symbols and language is not confined to these. 7. 365 Tao Daily Mediations by Deng Ming-Dao