I’ve been thinking about The Great Work lately. It’s such a grandiose thing to say: I’m sitting here mulling over The Great Work. You should try saying it sometime with just a note of irritation in your voice and a steely, arched eyebrow. Preferably at Starbucks as you’re waiting in line.
Apparently I’m not the only one. It’s not an unusual bit of magic for me to pop onto social media, check my RSS readers and rummage through my e-mail only to find someone else’s thoughts running in a similar vein. Today I found two other people whose offerings to their fans informed and added deeper nuance to my thoughts on The Great Work.
Donald Michael Kraig has written a fantastic post over on Llewellyn’s website. I’ll admit I often glance at his blog quickly without actually reading it, but his post today caught my eye. I’m glad it did. Here’s the gist of the post:
Why do they want the fiction? Because the magick they’ve attempted hasn’t worked. Perhaps, they think, with a real magic wand—the “advanced techniques”—their magick will be a success.
I’m sorry. It won’t.
The books that are out there now, such as the ones above, can give you everything needed to be a successful magician. But in order to succeed at magick you must do one thing:
Do the work.
Brilliant. And this doesn’t merely apply to magick. Want an ancestral practice? Do the work. Want a relationship with a deity? Do the devotional work. Want a coven/festival/book club? Do the work. Want to be able to meditate deeply? Do the work. Please go read DMK’s post. It’s really fantastic.
Doing the work is one thing. But how we do it, and what we do, is just as important. Whether we are working on magick, devotional practice, community building, or trying to write the great Pagan fantasy novel, we have to have a higher purpose. Here at Patheos we sometimes have meetings involving people of very different faiths, and some without religion, and sometimes when we’re planning something our CEO will ask us all to consider our higher purpose in what we’re trying to do. Maybe that is reason, the Rede, the Great Commission or performing a life filled with mitzvah. We are each of us asked to be authentic in what we do, because that is the only way we will thrive.
It is easy to lose sight of your higher purpose. It is easy to adopt another’s higher purpose, and years later realize you’ve wasted so much time by not being true to yourself. It’s easy to find a convenient higher purpose to serve, for social reasons or financial reasons, and spend a decade in empty practice. It’s easy to try to trim and reform your higher purpose to conform to what you believe is expected of you
I’ve been writing about my crisis of faith even as I muddle through it. Essentially, I lost my higher purpose. I didn’t know where to find it. I floundered and tried to push forward regardless. Last week I was sick. Not only did I have a fever, aches, and nausea, but I was mentally and spiritually disheartened. So I spent a good bit of time going through some old things of mine. Old notebooks. Old sketchbooks. Sure, I found plenty of cringe-worthy stuff, but I also found things so surprisingly good that I stared in admiration as if someone else had created them. Indeed, someone else had. I wasn’t that woman anymore. I wasn’t even what that woman had grown up to be. I was someone else.
People can change though. I was suddenly surprised at the thought. If I don’t like who I am now, I can change that. I can catch up that woman from 3 or 4 or 6 years ago into myself once more and begin her evolution anew. It was a significant part of a small series of spiritual awakenings that occurred over the past few days, like little clusters of fireworks going off in my soul. Today I feel liberated and full of possibility.
And to capitalize on that feeling, I found this magnificent speech by Neil Gaiman. You should listen to the whole thing:
So yeah, you need to Do The Work, but you also need to stay constantly in touch with your higher purpose. Don’t worry about everyone else. Don’t worry about criticism you receive. Don’t worry about marketability. Don’t worry about approval. Hold true to your vision and do the work that accompanies it.
Maybe that work is creating a planetary hour app for Android phones. Maybe that work is painting. Maybe that work is creating a local Spiral Scouts troop. Maybe that work is creating a commentary of the Delphic Maxims. Maybe that work is creating a safe, comfortable, and sacred home for your family.
Concentrate on your vision and do good work. Take advice from Kraig and Gaiman. Be awesome. Not someone else’s awesome. Be awesome to you. Because there are people out there who will fall in love with your awesome. The world loves awesome.
And as I understand it, that in essence is The Great Work.