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Author Topic: "Apostolic Succession" in Initiatory Witchcraft  (Read 1542 times)

Demophon

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"Apostolic Succession" in Initiatory Witchcraft
« on: June 25, 2015, 09:31:41 am »
I think it is Gavin Bone who originally made this analogy, or at least, he is the one who often discusses it. Basically, he is linking the initiatory system in lineaged systems of pagan witchcraft to the Catholic/Orthodox Christian understanding of their apostolic priesthood. At ordination, the clergy is consecrated by a bishop in a line of descent that allegedly goes back to the Apostles. The three degree system of traditional Wicca might even vaguely and indirectly be parallel to the three orders of deacons, priests, and bishops.

Bone argues that this concept is foreign to historical paganism, though a lot of emphasis is put on this in modern initiatory witchcraft traditions, such as Wicca, Feri, etc. It is believed that some sort of supernatural current is passed on through the initiation from the high priest(ess) to the initiate, much like the consecration that is believed to originate with the Apostles in Christian traditions that consider themselves to be part of the Holy Catholic Church. This sunk in for me when talking to an Anglican friend of mine who used to be (Roman) Catholic, and he mentioned how he struggles with Anglican sacraments because, while the Anglican Church does claim to have maintained Apostolic succession, they also have Protestant influence and stopped believing that anything supernatural was passed on when clergy was consecrated, so Anglican sacraments might not be valid because the supernatural element disappeared with that belief. It's quite a "magical" way of looking at things.

I'm not an expert on ancient priesthood, but Gavin Bone may be right that there is no pagan precedent for this kind of lineaged descent. There may have been initiation ceremonies that welcomed people into a household (like a marriage or acknowledgement of a newborn baby), or into temple service as a priest after some training, but the idea of a lineaged consecration descending from someone special in the past is kind of odd and out of place from a pagan perspective, despite the pretentiousness these "oathbound" traditions seem to have. They can be good training systems, but I don't think validity comes from who has laid their hands on you at initiation, no matter what your tradition may be.

Darkhawk

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Re: "Apostolic Succession" in Initiatory Witchcraft
« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2015, 11:24:12 am »
Quote from: Demophon;176456
I'm not an expert on ancient priesthood, but Gavin Bone may be right that there is no pagan precedent for this kind of lineaged descent. There may have been initiation ceremonies that welcomed people into a household (like a marriage or acknowledgement of a newborn baby), or into temple service as a priest after some training, but the idea of a lineaged consecration descending from someone special in the past is kind of odd and out of place from a pagan perspective, despite the pretentiousness these "oathbound" traditions seem to have. They can be good training systems, but I don't think validity comes from who has laid their hands on you at initiation, no matter what your tradition may be.

 
Relevant succession practices for modern religious witchcraft come from the mystes, not the priesthoods.  If you look at what we know of the Eleusinian Mysteries, for example, there is a three-rank system:

- the initiates, those who have just become mystes and achieved a basic familiarity with the secret rites by experience
- those who have done the ritual at least twice
- those who have achieved the inner mysteries

In the case of ancient mystery cults, the "lineage" is not from a specific individual, but as part of the shared group experience, which is passed on generationally by reinforcement of shared ritual experience.  I would argue that this is also the case with properly conducted religious witchcraft; it's simply that we know who was responsible for constructing/discovering/creating the original shared experience set now, and thus it is a useful shorthand for "has likely had the right set of experiences to become a mystes in this line" to refer to initiatory lineage.

This is also why it is possible to mislead with initiatory lineage; since many initiates have pursued multiple mysteries, or developed their own Stuff, having the mystes initiation from someone who is lineaged in a particular tradition does not necessarily mean receiving the ritual experience core to that tradition.  But because we do not have shared cultural institutions like Eleusis, but instead depend on individuals passing on the rites, the shorthand of use of names can mislead.

Validity in a mystery tradition absolutely depends on experiencing the mysteries.  If those are not mysteries that are relevant to another individual's practice, they have no reason to give a shit, of course, but the ritual experience is the ritual experience, and the way of getting the ritual experience is going to someone who knows how to conduct the actual ritual.
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

Demophon

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Re: "Apostolic Succession" in Initiatory Witchcraft
« Reply #2 on: June 27, 2015, 10:07:26 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;176459
Relevant succession practices for modern religious witchcraft come from the mystes, not the priesthoods.  If you look at what we know of the Eleusinian Mysteries, for example, there is a three-rank system:

- the initiates, those who have just become mystes and achieved a basic familiarity with the secret rites by experience
- those who have done the ritual at least twice
- those who have achieved the inner mysteries

In the case of ancient mystery cults, the "lineage" is not from a specific individual, but as part of the shared group experience, which is passed on generationally by reinforcement of shared ritual experience.  I would argue that this is also the case with properly conducted religious witchcraft; it's simply that we know who was responsible for constructing/discovering/creating the original shared experience set now, and thus it is a useful shorthand for "has likely had the right set of experiences to become a mystes in this line" to refer to initiatory lineage.

This is also why it is possible to mislead with initiatory lineage; since many initiates have pursued multiple mysteries, or developed their own Stuff, having the mystes initiation from someone who is lineaged in a particular tradition does not necessarily mean receiving the ritual experience core to that tradition.  But because we do not have shared cultural institutions like Eleusis, but instead depend on individuals passing on the rites, the shorthand of use of names can mislead.

Validity in a mystery tradition absolutely depends on experiencing the mysteries.  If those are not mysteries that are relevant to another individual's practice, they have no reason to give a shit, of course, but the ritual experience is the ritual experience, and the way of getting the ritual experience is going to someone who knows how to conduct the actual ritual.

 
Hmm good points. Thanks.

Gilbride

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Re: "Apostolic Succession" in Initiatory Witchcraft
« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2015, 08:33:21 am »
Quote from: Demophon;176456
I think it is Gavin Bone who originally made this analogy, or at least, he is the one who often discusses it. Basically, he is linking the initiatory system in lineaged systems of pagan witchcraft to the Catholic/Orthodox Christian understanding of their apostolic priesthood.


IMO, it was probably more directly inspired by Shaiva/Shakta Tantric practices. A lot of stuff in initiatory Wicca bears a strong resemblance to Tantra. Of course, that is also a mystery initiation practice based on ritual, so all previous comments apply.

Sophia C

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Re: "Apostolic Succession" in Initiatory Witchcraft
« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2015, 05:00:21 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;176459
In the case of ancient mystery cults, the "lineage" is not from a specific individual, but as part of the shared group experience, which is passed on generationally by reinforcement of shared ritual experience.  I would argue that this is also the case with properly conducted religious witchcraft; it's simply that we know who was responsible for constructing/discovering/creating the original shared experience set now, and thus it is a useful shorthand for "has likely had the right set of experiences to become a mystes in this line" to refer to initiatory lineage.

This is also why it is possible to mislead with initiatory lineage; since many initiates have pursued multiple mysteries, or developed their own Stuff, having the mystes initiation from someone who is lineaged in a particular tradition does not necessarily mean receiving the ritual experience core to that tradition.  But because we do not have shared cultural institutions like Eleusis, but instead depend on individuals passing on the rites, the shorthand of use of names can mislead.

 
And yet, some people do treat it like an apostolic succession. My Gardnerian friend tells a story of his coven-mate going over to the US and being confused by Wiccans using a number with their name. He eventually worked out that it was being used to signal 'degrees of initiation removed from Gardner'. He was also amused when he used '3' in the same way, and wasn't believed, until the group members looked him up and were suddenly very impressed with him.
"We're all stories, in the end. Make it a good one, eh?"
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Redfaery

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Re: "Apostolic Succession" in Initiatory Witchcraft
« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2015, 05:08:43 am »
Quote from: Naomi J;176599
And yet, some people do treat it like an apostolic succession. My Gardnerian friend tells a story of his coven-mate going over to the US and being confused by Wiccans using a number with their name. He eventually worked out that it was being used to signal 'degrees of initiation removed from Gardner'. He was also amused when he used '3' in the same way, and wasn't believed, until the group members looked him up and were suddenly very impressed with him.


This should not have amused me as much as it did.
KARMA: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

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