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Author Topic: The Matter of Mysteries  (Read 6459 times)

Darkhawk

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The Matter of Mysteries
« on: November 01, 2011, 02:27:10 pm »
This is one of those subjects that comes up a lot and is hard to talk about because Mysteries are hard to talk about and a lot of people are unclear on what they are, why they're important, and so on.

From a religious witchcraft standpoint, most formalised Craft traditions have Mysteries, and this is the core of the practice; generally speaking, what training is done in the tradition prior to initiatory work is intended to prepare people to receive those Mysteries without damage, establish a basic language for those Mysteries, or otherwise lay groundwork.  When there are multiple degree systems in those traditions, the additional degrees seem to come with additional Mysteries.

From a reconstructionist standpoint, Mysteries are controversial.  THere is evidence for their practice in many ancient cultures, often as distinct sects on the edges of mainstream religious practice.  However, because Mysteries were either secret (oathbound) or difficult to discuss, the tangible evidence for how they were conducted is pretty thin on the ground and the procedures for bringing people to the Mystery have been largely lost.  We have hints, but not full stuff, and when we have full stuff (way way back on Delphi there was a thread Loreley started about a major ritual that might have been a full description of how to go about a Mystery initiation) we don't necessarily know if we have all the components.  (If something required a full town's participation we're not too likely to recover that.)

Anyway.  So: What are Mysteries?

Mysteries in this context are experiential spiritual events, the sorts of things which cannot be fully explained in advance but only truly understood when on the far side of them.  (One cannot actually give meaningful consent to a Mystery, because of their unknowability; however, one can know what sorts of things Mysteries do and agree that the risks are worth the potential payout.)

I think the modern pagan structuring of entire religions around Mysteries is slightly aberrant in history, and actually explains why broader stuff like neo-Wicca was completely sociologically predictable.  Most historical Mystery paths I'm aware of were side things, there for people who had particular needs or particular callings, possibly highly respected within their community of origin (and possibly not) but, basically, not universals.  Mystery dedicants were drawn from a larger pool of people who shared aspects of mindset and symbol usage but not necessarily a draw to go that deep in that direction, or a willingness to make the investments or sacrifices required to take that road.

Because the historical Mysteries are lost, there are a lot of recon-leaning people who are disinclined to acknowledge or respect Mystery work in reconstructionist circles.  It can't be just-as-the-ancients-did-it, because the ancients' knowledge regarding such things is basically lost to history, therefore it is Not Recon.  (I've long been of the opinion that if the gods want Mystery schools in the modern day They will lead people to do the work to found them, and until and unless that happens I do not worry about it.)

But here's an essential thing about Mysteries: they are pretty much optional.  The general population of people doesn't have any need of them; people get on just fine without them.  As a general state of being, the Mysteries are not actually important knowledge.

At the same time, a given Mystery can be absolutely essential to the peace of mind, personal path, goals, or development of a specific person.  They may have issues that a particular Mystery school can resolve or work with; they may have calling to a particular mystical apprehension of a god that a Mystery school can present; they may otherwise have resonance with the Work presented around a particular Mystery.

This dichotomy makes Mysteries additionally hard to talk about these things.  Because the Mystery is both unimportant and essential, depending on which angle one looks at it from, it's hard to define a clear path explaining its value.  I fear that culturally we are too accustomed to universalist religion to readily understand that some threads of spiritual practice or discipline may only be valuable to those people who specifically need them.

Craft circles have in my experience navigated around these questions somewhat erratically.  There are people who get angrily labelled meanie poo-poo heads for maintaining the appropriate shrouds around their Mysteries, because "knowledge wants to be free", you know.  (If the knowledge has not leapt into your head yet, clearly it doesn't want to be as free as all that.)  I've seen a lot of discussions of Mysteries and derivative subjects that have basically orbited around accessibility - about the obligation in some people's minds for those who can present the Mysteries to do so to anyone who wants to know.  (Oh, the Feri threads on the last board, sigh.)  And in response a lot of people have come down on "This is hard, you won't do it unless you need it, and if you need it you will do what you have to do to get it."

Which is only true as far as it goes, because it is trying to justify the fact that Mysteries are not universals in hostile terms (often in response to "outsider" hostility).  It does nothing to explain why people pursue these things, which means that it often gets a response of "Well, if it's so hard and unrewarding, why are you doing it?"

Which often gets a baffled response from the practitioner, who has never claimed that it was unrewarding.  Only that those rewards are contingent on being the sort of person the Mystery is for.

You see?  It's hard.  It's not for everyone, but for the people it's for it's vital.  And "vital" is the right word, because it roots in words for "life".
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Finn

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2011, 04:25:42 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;28535
It's hard.  It's not for everyone, but for the people it's for it's vital.  And "vital" is the right word, because it roots in words for "life".

 
As clear and knowledgable as ever, Kiya. Thank you for this.
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Jenett

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2011, 05:03:34 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;28535

You see?  It's hard.  It's not for everyone, but for the people it's for it's vital.  And "vital" is the right word, because it roots in words for "life".

 
This is awesome. (All of it, not just the bit I quoted).

I am reminded of trying to explain this to someone in person, and I think what I finally settled on was "Not everyone wants to be a librarian when they grow up. Or a teacher. Or an astronaut. They want to go be other things. So the stuff that makes me want to go devote my life to being a librarian, probably isn't the thing that you want to devote your life to to be a teacher, and probably isn't [example person's] thing they want to do either. And that's not only okay, that's a really healthy thing for everyone involved."
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Juniperberry

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2011, 05:15:35 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;28535


Because the historical Mysteries are lost, there are a lot of recon-leaning people who are disinclined to acknowledge or respect Mystery work in reconstructionist circles. It can't be just-as-the-ancients-did-it, because the ancients' knowledge regarding such things is basically lost to history, therefore it is Not Recon.  (I've long been of the opinion that if the gods want Mystery schools in the modern day They will lead people to do the work to found them, and until and unless that happens I do not worry about it.)


AFAIK, Mystery cults were specific to the Greco-Roman culture, as a extracurricular secret ...club?society?... outside of the state/home worship. So they wouldn't be present in other systems.

Other reconstructed religions also aren't Revealed religions but Natural religions, so calling a deeply moving experience a "Mystery" in modern context would be dishonest. Hlewegastir and I were very slightly speaking about this in a thread recently (and it's a  topic in other places). It doesn't have to be just as the ancients did it, but interpretations have to follow the same sort of POV as those who originally practiced them (ie. revealed vs natural).


That's why heathenry isn't a Mystery religion...it doesn't operate on the revelations of a God to mankind but rather on experiencing the gods through the process of living.  There are spiritually significant moments in recon's lives that are personal and don't have any source evidence, but recons just don't talk about it with everyone-- and it isn't secret revealed knowledge or wisdom (Mystery). It's just part and parcel of having a relationship with deity/ancestor/wight.

Just wanted to throw that out there.
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Aster Breo

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2011, 07:25:31 pm »
Great topic, Darhawk.  And a great essay to get us started.  Thanks!

Quote from: Juniperberry;28558
AFAIK, Mystery cults were specific to the Greco-Roman culture, as a extracurricular secret ...club?society?... outside of the state/home worship. So they wouldn't be present in other systems.

 
I don't think this is necessarily true.  There might well have been Mystery cults (or paths or groups or whatever) in many ancient cultures but evidence of them either didn't survive through the ages or hasn't been found (and/or properly interpreted) yet.  I think it's well within the realm of the possible that the ancient Celts, just to name one example, could well have had something that could be called a Mystery cult.  It's quite probable that the Druids kept certain Mysteries that have now been lost.

That aside (and the rest of this post is not directly related to JuniperBerry's comments), what I struggle most with, as a primarily solitary practitioner working closely with an online spiritual partner, is simply recognizing what a Mystery is.  I mean, I've had some pretty incredible experiences related to Brighid.  But were they Mysteries?  I *think* so, but I really have no way to judge that objectively.  Someone else might have the same experience and be totally blown away, while another someone else might just shrug and ask what the big deal is.

How do we define "Mystery"?  Can a solitary practitioner really experience a true Mystery at home in her bedroom?  Or does it require a progressive experience guided by people who have gone through the same thing?

Is "Mystery" the same for all of us?  Or is my "Mystery" your "mundane"?  ;)

~ Aster
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Darkhawk

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2011, 07:45:08 pm »
Quote from: Aster Breo;28660

How do we define "Mystery"?  Can a solitary practitioner really experience a true Mystery at home in her bedroom?  Or does it require a progressive experience guided by people who have gone through the same thing?

 
There's a distinction to be found here between the Mystery and an organised group focused around a specific Mystery.  I tend to think that people stumble across Mysteries all the damn time, but that's not always organised, focused, or shared.

But people are social, too, and sometimes they codify these things and make them self-perpetuating.
as the water grinds the stone
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spoOk

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2011, 09:33:03 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;28663
There's a distinction to be found here between the Mystery and an organised group focused around a specific Mystery.  I tend to think that people stumble across Mysteries all the damn time, but that's not always organised, focused, or shared.

But people are social, too, and sometimes they codify these things and make them self-perpetuating.

 

thanks for that post!
considering I've been recently working with,exploring and getting o know hekate,I keep coming up against these mystery religion comments without much explanation as to what I'm missing,by not going there. but I figure that if it really mattered,I would feel more compelled to do group work,and currently I'm quite happy flying solo as it were.
so I just won't fret it any more.
Ize bel zafen.
Ize bel daleen.

Jenett

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2011, 09:38:49 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;28663
There's a distinction to be found here between the Mystery and an organised group focused around a specific Mystery.  I tend to think that people stumble across Mysteries all the damn time, but that's not always organised, focused, or shared.

But people are social, too, and sometimes they codify these things and make them self-perpetuating.


This.

I will also note - just to complicate things - I think there *are* Mysteries related to close, intimate magical group work, in their own right. (Just like there are Mysteries about being in a romantic or sexual relationship).

But I admit to being a "The world is full of Mystery, each person gets some choice (and some chance) in which ones they pursue." sort of person.
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Finn

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2011, 10:55:55 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;28678
But I admit to being a "The world is full of Mystery, each person gets some choice (and some chance) in which ones they pursue." sort of person.

 
*nod*

And that is probably my answer to Aster's question:

Quote
Is "Mystery" the same for all of us? Or is my "Mystery" your "mundane"?


I don't think "my Mystery is your mundane" -- it's rather "my Mystery isn't your Mystery to pursue."
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Darkhawk

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2011, 11:03:58 pm »
Quote from: Finn;28681
I don't think "my Mystery is your mundane" -- it's rather "my Mystery isn't your Mystery to pursue."

 
I am suddenly reminded of my basic explanation of non-proselytisation, which is basically "If you want a relationship with my husband, you better ask him yourself, I'm not going to set you up.  Same goes for gods."

Same goes for Mysteries, too, though the social dynamics of that can be notably different.  But I think that's a big chunk of the core thing that throws a lot of people who are interested in Mystery-oriented groups - the whole "Whatever, man, it's not my job to set you up on a date" thing. ;)
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yewberry

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2011, 01:57:44 am »
Quote from: Aster Breo;28660
How do we define "Mystery"?  Can a solitary practitioner really experience a true Mystery at home in her bedroom?  Or does it require a progressive experience guided by people who have gone through the same thing?


How do we define "we"?  ;)

I don't have tons to add, but I'm loving the discussion on both sides of the issue (especially given that I feel I've experienced Mystery from both sides).

Brina

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2011, 12:39:14 pm »
Quote from: Aster Breo;28660
Great topic, Darhawk.  And a great essay to get us started.  Thanks!


 
I don't think this is necessarily true.  There might well have been Mystery cults (or paths or groups or whatever) in many ancient cultures but evidence of them either didn't survive through the ages or hasn't been found (and/or properly interpreted) yet.  I think it's well within the realm of the possible that the ancient Celts, just to name one example, could well have had something that could be called a Mystery cult.  It's quite probable that the Druids kept certain Mysteries that have now been lost.




Well, I'm not sure that we can make the assumption that because one culture practices mystery cults then others must have. That being said, I did come across a theory awhile ago ( from a reputable source) that the Valkyrie and the Alfar were cults and not 'super'natural. I never read it, tho, so that's all I can tell you.

There was also a cult of warriors in Germany that practiced sodomy as an initiation ritual. This reminds me of the Mystery Cult of Mirthas- another military cult. We don't have any info on what the latter cult practiced, though, and the cults of Germany were most likely about vocation and not about keeping sacred knowledge hidden/ secret.

What we do know of the Mystery Cults is that they were adopted by Christianity and that the Christian Mysteries involve sacred knowledge given through divine revelation.  Knowledge that cannot be comprehended naturally by humans. God is outside the Universe and Reality as its Creator, he performs miracles outside the laws of nature. We cannot comprehend it on our own because we aren't with God- the true nature of god and reality is *mysterious*, secret, incomprehensible.

I would guess that Christian Mysticism influenced occult groups (Key of Solomon- Tetragrammaton [sp?]  and these in turn influenced Gardner. From a modern witchcraft perspective it makes sense to need Mysteries to gain 'unnatural' knowledge with which to manipulate reality, IMO, but it doesn't necessarily fall in line with traditional religious perspective.

Which goes back to divine revelation. Speaking strictly as a heathen recon, the gods weren't outside of reality-- they were reality. Any 'mystery' would only be a deeper, natural comprehension of the gods and the *natural* world. Which takes the mystery out of mystery a bit. It also wouldn't be secret wisdom, just wisdom. Whereas Mysteries reveal the true nature of gods and reality (revealed religions), natural religions see the world as being the true nature of the gods, life as being the true nature of reality. That's the big difference and why some recon paths aren't Mystery Religions.

Mystery in the context that's being used here seems to be more about a powerful spiritual experience, though, and not about the Mysteries revealed about incomprehensible deity and reality. ?
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I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," [Bill] Gates wrote. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don\'t understand why some people are not concerned."

Darkhawk

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2011, 01:26:05 pm »
Quote from: Juniperberry;28721
Any 'mystery' would only be a deeper, natural comprehension of the gods and the *natural* world. Which takes the mystery out of mystery a bit.


Why on earth would you think something like that?  I mean, given that that's exactly what Mysteries are, saying that that means that they aren't Mysteries is ... kind of weird.
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Aster Breo

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2011, 02:12:07 pm »
Quote from: Juniperberry;28721
Well, I'm not sure that we can make the assumption that because one culture practices mystery cults then others must have.


Why would we make the assumption that because one culture practiced mystery cults, others did not?

Quote from: Juniperberry;28721

Which goes back to divine revelation. Speaking strictly as a heathen recon, the gods weren't outside of reality-- they were reality. Any 'mystery' would only be a deeper, natural comprehension of the gods and the *natural* world. Which takes the mystery out of mystery a bit. It also wouldn't be secret wisdom, just wisdom. Whereas Mysteries reveal the true nature of gods and reality (revealed religions), natural religions see the world as being the true nature of the gods, life as being the true nature of reality. That's the big difference and why some recon paths aren't Mystery Religions.

Mystery in the context that's being used here seems to be more about a powerful spiritual experience, though, and not about the Mysteries revealed about incomprehensible deity and reality. ?

 
It sort of sounds to me like we're using different definitions of "Mystery."  Maybe it would hep if we could work out a definition for the purposes of this conversation.
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Darkhawk

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Re: The Matter of Mysteries
« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2011, 02:29:47 pm »
Quote from: Aster Breo;28725
It sort of sounds to me like we're using different definitions of "Mystery."  Maybe it would hep if we could work out a definition for the purposes of this conversation.

 
I would use the one I always use for specifically religious contexts: an experientially apprehended spiritual experience.
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