Will, The Great Work, World Religions, and Other Things

Will, The Great Work, World Religions, and Other Things May 23, 2012

Wyrd bið ful aræd. (Fate is inexorable.)

This is one of my favorite phrases from Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon saga, and it’s grim certainty somehow fits his protagonist, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, like a glove. It seems to dovetail nicely in with Lord Summerisle’s quote from The Wicker Tree: “Can fate be altered? This is a question that every religion has tried to answer, and the answer is almost certainly No.”

I’ve been thinking about a lot of big questions lately, and haven’t come to any satisfactory answers. Things are still percolating in the grey matter. But I want to share my thought processes in hopes that it inspires someone to consider the same topics on their blog, and perhaps in the writing process I’ll gain some insight.

So the first thing I’ve been thinking about is fate and destiny, and how that contrasts with the concept of Will. Do you accept your fate? Do you stay true to your Will at all costs? Do you straddle the fence between the two?

Will is a fascinating concept. Do you choose your Will? Or is it revealed to you? For a long time I thought Will was a sort of Divine revelation, attained by adepts after careful study, and reading books like Crowley’s Diary of a Drug Fiend only served to reinforce that. In Wicca and Witchcraft the teachings on the concept of Will varies. For a few it is paramount, but I suspect for most it is simply an aspect of the Rede and not nearly so esoteric. My observation that when it comes to values Love is cherished over Will, unless you need an excuse to behave badly! That’s an inversion of Crowley’s “Love is the Law, Love under Will.” In Thelema, to my knowledge, Will is universally paramount.

I’ve been thinking about Thelema a good bit lately. Partially because I have some interesting Thelemites I’ve been interacting with over social media. Also because as I move away from Wicca I need to tie up all my loose ends there and place that in proper perspective to what I’m doing now, and Thelema is proving a useful tool for processing those thoughts. Thelema has a ritual practice that is somewhat similar to Wicca, and a devotional aspect that is somewhat similar to my current path, yet it’s theology is radically different from both. It provides a good contrast and mirror for this part of my life.

So this morning I am considering the idea that Will isn’t revealed but chosen. Hardly a revolutionary thought, but it’s truly something I’ve never properly considered. Is Will simply saying “This is who I want to be” and then moving unwaveringly towards that goal? It’s such a “Dr. Phil” answer that the mystical, shamanic side of me that interprets omens and seeks revelation practically rejects it on sight. It doesn’t seem very spiritual, and thus not worthy. The fact that I have this gut reaction to the idea of choosing my Will rather than having it bestowed upon me in some arcane vision interests me.

I’m also using Thelema as a tool to explore my relationship to “high magic,” theurgy and elaborate ritual. My Hellenic path seems to meld well with the simple, folksy “low magic” I practice, but the obvious connection to Hellenism and theurgy is NeoPlatonism. Which is fascinating, but the more I read the more I realize it’s simply not for me. Thelemic ritual seems to be less focused on transcendence, and so I find myself pondering that lately.

I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with Aidan Kelly lately and he made a comment that I find interesting. He said that Gardner intended Wicca to be a world religion, on par with the major players. Regardless of whether this is true or not, it’s an interesting concept. What does that really mean, world religion? Which of our traditions fit that mold? Are Hellenic polytheism, Santeria or Thelema world religions? Are they robust, multi-generational, sustaining and complex traditions? Thelema, like Wicca, has an initiatory tradition, which works against this idea, and Hellenic polytheism and Santeria could so very easily be dismissed as folk practices by future anthropologists. I find this world religion concept difficult to grasp, but I am increasingly aware that Paganism is a world of religions.

In the early colonies of the US, political experimentation was prolific. Every form and possible combination of political structures had been tried by the colonists, and our Constitution  is the fruit of that experimentation. Even the Constitution itself was seen merely as one more experiment on a grand scale, possibly to be revised if it proved ineffective. It seems that Paganism has become a movement rife with religious experimentation. Name a religious practice, and some Pagan has likely tried it. So, much like those early colonists, I find myself looking to the experimentation of other Pagan religions as I find myself settling into my own spiritual groove. It’s not enough to say we are all different, we need to understand why we are different and why we do X instead of Y. I am finding it far more satisfying to explore and articulate why I am not Asatru than why I am not Muslim. The world of religion that matters to me, and that I gauge myself by, is the world of Pagan religions. It’s an interesting perspective.

A surprising outcome of developing this perspective is that I’m gaining an understanding and appreciation of Christian mythos apart from the behemoth known as Christianity. I’m slowly comprehending a thoughtful, “pagan” way of engaging with this mythos and pantheon that doesn’t feel like a reaction to Christianity or a styling used for shock value. It’s useful in the continuing process of conversion, which I honestly don’t think ever ends. A conversion is a journey, rather than a milestone or destination.

And finally, I’m thinking a lot about the concept of The Great Work and how it relates to Will, fate, destiny, Hellenismos, mos maiorum, Ma’at and a boatload of other things.

Today’s post is a rambling hodge-podge, and likely proof that I’m not orthodox anything. So obviously anything I write is not to be taken as “proper” practice by any of the traditions I wax verbose over.

And since none of this connects together very well, I’m going to add a random video. Enjoy!

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