This is a response to a comment thread over at Augoeidus, and to Mr Stenwick specifically. Unfortunately I’m unable to post my full comment on his blog, because of blogger which I hate. His original post was in response to something Frater Barrabas wrote earlier, but I don’t think that’s even really relevant, because at some point the conversation drifted off (mainly due to me) into a conversation about non-practitioners in magical religions.
Mr Stenwick took the position that he doesn’t have a problem with this, although he does admit to arguing with them if they take the position that a person can be more spiritual by not practicing magic. This was my counter-argument about the damage done by non-practitioners in a magical based religion. Normally I wouldn’t post something like this, but I’m bored and want to continue this discussion. Feel free to chime in if you have anything to add. I promise I’ll come up with something practical to post by the end of the week. Been too long since I’ve had a practical article go up.
Normally I don’t care what religion a person chooses or why, but when non-practitioners practice a religion based in magic, it creates special problems. If these non-practitioners wanted to remain at the lowest levels of the religion, to grant authority to practitioners, that would probably turn out to be a good thing for Paganism as a whole. It would create a larger non-practicing parish which could be used to support things, like purchasing or renting buildings for rituals.
The problem is some of these people don’t want to remain at the bottom. Eventually they want to be in positions of authority within the Pagan religion. After years of being a member they want to be respected for their knowledge and dedication to the religion. They want to be in positions of leadership and eventually start their own groups. They can’t be blamed for this, it’s part of human nature and makes sense, and in a non-magical religion they would have a lot of opportunity to do this.
These people then find themselves in positions of authority and leadership, and because they are non-practicing they are reliant on dogma and appeals to expert authority figures for knowledge. The problem is magical religions, like Paganism, regardless of what their true goal is, are founded on the idea of personal enlightenment gained through practical experience. You can’t have any real understanding of magic or religion, or spirituality as it is defined within Paganism, if you are non-practicing.
And this is also going to cause a rift between people who are practicing and leadership that is not practicing. You do ritual and spellwork. You cast evocations. You’re part of the OTO, and if the person leading your group constantly told you everything you know about ritual and spellwork is wrong because Crowley wrote otherwise, while at the same time admitting to never having done any kind of ritual magic in their entire life, I would guess that like most people in that situation you would reassess your membership in the group. If someone came onto your blog and insisted that you were doing evocations wrong based on something they read while admitting that they’ve never even attempted one, I wonder how long you would entertain the argument before you just started ignoring them. After all that person, without practical experience, couldn’t even begin to comprehend and understand enough about evocations to discuss the subject with you at that level.
Meanwhile these practitioners are a threat to non-practicing leadership and authority figures. They come into groups and usually end up refusing to acknowledge and respect the authority of the group authority figures and leaders, and at the same time know more about everything than the group leadership, and can actually do things magically. They can very quickly find themselves in a position where they can overtake or dismantle the group on a whim, and usually the leadership, if they’re any good at holding the group together, will realize this.
The leadership cannot fight them in terms of knowledge or ability, so they attack them the only way they can. This leads to arguments that magic is dangerous, magic shouldn’t be used, and that spirituality isn’t about magic, and magic actually runs counter to spirituality. The practitioner, especially one who shares his knowledge, becomes dangerous or unspiritual. It is the non-practicing leadership, not the magician, who is the true spiritual master.
Finally there is a lot of harm done to the community by these people. This sort of leadership breeds more of its kind. People in these groups never become practitioners if they stay with them. After all there isn’t anyone there to teach or train them how to actually do magic. If someone like that does show up, they are usually chased out and vilified. If a person tries to learn on their own, they are often told not to, scolded, and possibly vilified themselves. It’s an effort which is causing the demagification of Paganism, and threatens to do the same to other paths.
And a lot of people who are looking for actual magic end up leaving the community or giving up all together because of groups like these. They looked for magic, and all they found were groups full of non-practitioners who couldn’t do magic.