Liberation and Tradition

Posted on July 21, 2011
Filed Under Magic | 4 Comments

The value of any transcendent tradition should be found within its liberating qualities. A tradition, of any sort, has no other ultimate value. The use of tradition for tradition’s sake is a perversion, a tool of suppression.

From The UnderWorld Initiation (affiliate link) by R.J. Stewart

I’ve just started reading this book, but I found this paragraph to be tantalizing because of what it says that a magical tradition should do, i.e. provide some form of liberation or freedom through the magical work a person does. That theme is present in a variety of different occult subgenres. Chaos magic advocates for it, as does Thelema, but the danger within any subgenre is the blind adherence to tradition because that’s the way it’s been done and that’s how we should do it.

The idea of examining a tradition or practice of any kind for its liberating qualities is something I agree with, because ideally any magical working you do will be meaningful in a personal way that improves your life by freeing you of limitations either imposed on you by other people or self-imposed due to your own circumstances. When a tradition fails, it is because it actually imposes limitations in the form of dogma and non-questioning. It’s easy to fall into those traps, particularly if you are in a group setting and want to “belong” to the group, but when such belonging becomes the priority, the liberation the tradition might offers falls to the wayside in favor of trying to fit into what you think others want.

One of the reasons I’ve pushed for experimentation with magic is to get out of such group think dynamics. Its good to work with people, when you do so with a spirit of inquiry and acceptance that the experience one person has doesn’t need to apply to everyone else, to be valid and useful for that person. Experimentation encourages the idea that magic is best experienced in an environment where a person can try an idea out without getting shut down. When people try to shut you down, it is usually because they feel threatened by your desire to liberate your preconceptions by challenging them through experience. They may feel that by challenging your own preconceptions, you challenge their own, but this is projection on their part, done as a way of preserving a cherished image they want to cling to, without recognizing that the value of experience is that it allows us to shatter what we hold onto, in order to discover how much it may have held us back.

Comments

4 comments
adamcblodgett
adamcblodgett like.author.displayName 1 Like

What a lovely quote and thoughtful interpretation. What you're talking about resonates with me greatly as I'm teaching myself what magic means and finding the balance and boundary between magic and ritual. Your comments strike at the heart of what it means to be a part of a living tradition, whether it's an established and accepted religion, or a fringe occult tradition. The ability to be flexible within a tradition and to accept the taboo or non-canon idea is key to a traditions ability to remain vibrant. Dead ritual or 'tradition for tradition’s sake' as Stewart puts it, will die out certainly, but more importantly is starving the people who are clinging to it out of a sense of safety and familiarity while it does so.

Magicexperiment
Magicexperiment moderator

@adamcblodgett You make a good point about finding the balance between ritual and magic. It can be easy to confuse the two, and I think when such confusion occurs, that's when tradition is done for tradition's sake. Magic challenges us to move beyond ritual to what will help us encounter what it is we really need to learn. Thanks for commenting!

adamcblodgett
adamcblodgett like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Magicexperiment Your comment totally reminds me of something that Ivo Dominguez Jr. said at Pantheacon a few years ago. He lined up the spectrum between fusty ritual magicians the far end of ritual and undisciplined spirituals who might be described as 'I've got a drum...' on the other. Magic without discipline (ie ritual) can be just as wasteful and distracting as ritual without magic. I think about things like concerts, raves and mosh pits where people are generating all this magical energy and may not know what to do with it. Finding that balance and the interplay between the two, both for ourselves and for our tradition is key to using those tools and traditions as a platform for our work, health and further discovery.

Magicexperiment
Magicexperiment moderator

@adamcblodgett There definitely needs to be a balance between magic and ritual. Each can support the other, if used correctly. And as you point out it does help for so much more than the work itself.