Sunday, August 5, 2018
Full Circle or Downward Spiral
It’s always around this time of year that I feel the most nostalgic. It was just after Lammas that things began ramping up for me, leading up to my initiation in the fall: doing rituals, attending my first trad gathering, the excitement and anticipation of the Samhain season itself. And so I remember all of this, and both nostalgia and melancholy come in equal measure as I remember the young woman I was, and all that came after. Those ended up being very challenging times as I floundered about navigating the intersection of multiple new roles that I was entirely unprepared to take on—times when I came to understand that the bit about “suffering to learn” was nothing less than the literal truth.
In those days, my partner and I sometimes joked about being the Mulder and Scully of the Wicca, but there was more than a little rueful truth about that as well. Despite having grown up as a consistently bullied kid, I was still terribly innocent of the types of intrigues that people in groups could get up to, and even my devoted X-Files viewing didn’t quite prepare me, though it did at least give me some small comfort—after all, bearing the brunt of an admittedly ugly witch war still wasn’t quite as bad as being infected with alien viruses and forced into hiding from the entire corrupt US government. Just like Mulder and Scully, we exiled ourselves in the aftermath of a negative situation, and went on to live our lives and do our things with varying degrees of success. (When I sit here now and think about it, the parallels are so close as to be disturbing. We never broke up, though, in spite of some peoples’ efforts, perhaps because we didn’t have Chris Carter scripting us. Thank the gods.) Still, the nostalgia never quite left me, though at times it lay dormant as other things took the fore.
Our mutual practice evolved, but never strayed so very far from the root stock, even though at times our focus shifted elsewhere and led us down different paths of inquiry and exploration. I’ll admit now that even skeptical as I tend to be, I have come to believe in the power of initiatory experiences, and of the bonds we form by our rituals and our oaths. I can find no other rational explanation for the persistence and the tenacity of my attachment to a system of working that ought, given the scope of these past negatives, to fill me with revulsion. (The thought of certain people absolutely does; the system, no longer. Despite my early antipathy to dualistic thinking, I’ve also come to the realization that there really are positive and negative aspects to nearly everything, and that walking the line between them is my natural state. I’ve also realized that people can do bad things for seemingly good reasons—and that some people are simply utter shitlords.)
This may be another function of getting older, but despite years of raging at sundry machines, I’ve had time to rethink some of my earlier positions and arrive at a more nuanced view of them. Seeing recent outpourings in the blogosphere that remind me of where I was so long ago have certainly been at least a partial catalyst. Some of it I can see now as the end result of where I started, and while some of the shifts that I see are absolutely to the good, others seem to me to go too far. (I’m being deliberately vague because this essay is already in danger of turning into a dissertation.) Some of these seismic changes are going to be a threat to some of the older ways of doing things—a good and a bad thing, to my mind. Good, because in this era of #metoo and consent culture, the more egregious abuses will become harder to pull off; bad, because some ways of doing things will be unfairly and unnecessarily given negative labels when they are merely one way of working among many, suitable to some but not to others. A part of my nostalgia is now for some of those older ways of being and doing, things that still hold value, things perhaps in danger of being tossed out for lack of understanding, or for being seen only for their potential negatives and not their potential positives. (I’ve been there, after all, so I recognize it when I see it.)
I have come to believe that it is entirely possible to adhere to the letter and the spirit of the law while still remaining ethical and respectful. I’m starting to believe there may be others who agree. The public writings of newer-generation BTWs are awakening new hope in me, that this form of Craft may ever survive, and thrive, in a modern culture that expects things like respect and tolerance and consent. I’ve come to believe that it’s possible to honor the past while living in the present, and without fighting the future. But I’m older now, and I’ve had a lot of time to think.
I’m pretty sure I could have handled things better in the past, had I possessed deeper levels of understanding and wisdom and maturity. All of those things come only with time and experience, and back then I had neither. Perspective may be the greatest gift of age, and it’s a damned shame that it takes so long to acquire it. I still don’t know that I’ll ever again want to train and initiate people, into any of the systems I have that right and ability in—I’ve lost quite a lot thereby in the past, and I’m gun-shy now—but I won’t rule out the extreme possibilities. The fact that I’m here writing all of this would have been a near-impossibility at one time, maybe not even that long ago. Change truly is the only constant in life.
Mulder and Scully ended up back in the FBI after a long period of exile, a return that brought its challenges and rewards. I can easily imagine both of them, during those years away from their work, thinking and reviewing, considering their paths. I can so easily see Mulder turning his badge over in his hands, wondering if it was all worth it; can see Scully taking an afternoon at the gun range, keeping up her skills just in case (she always was the better shot). I can imagine the fear and hope and hurt and anticipation they would have felt over those years. I’m feeling some of those things now. I have no idea how any of this is going to play out, but I am feeling like making a tentative foray out beyond my comfortable place might not even be the worst thing I could do.
At least, I want to believe.