I was baptized Methodist and confirmed Episcopalian. I discovered paganism when The Spiral Dance was published and waffled back and forth between Christian and pagan for the better part of twenty years, until I began practicing a form of Hermetic magic that pointed me to Buddhism, and I took refuge.
I am an Anglican, a Druid, a witch, a priestess, an Advanced Adept of the New Hermetics, an upasika of the Dharma.
I am not an Anglican, or a Druid, or a witch, or a magician, or a Buddhist.
“This also is Thou; neither is this Thou,” said Charles Williams, who was himself an Anglican, a magician, and a writer. All beings are images and sacraments of God, yet God is beyond being and not-being and escapes, transcends, defies all definition or description. This is as true of individual, contingent beings, perhaps, as it is of the Absolute.
Two weeks ago, on Good Friday evening, as it happened, I had the good fortune to hear Thorn Coyle
give a talk. Thorn published her second book in March, Kissing the Limitless: Deep Magic and the Great Work of Transforming Yourself and the World
, and did a promotional tour, bringing copies of both her books, of her CD Songs for the Waning Year
, in collaboration with Sharon Knight, and her Devotional Dance
DVD. I’ve been following Thorn on Livejournal
for several years; one of my online friends apprenticed with her, and I was eager to hear her speak.
Thorn stood up in front of a hot, crowded room, a tall slim fortysomething wearing big stompy boots and fetching red spectacles, and led us in a chant from her CD, calling on the Elements. We sang a simple ground while she tapped out the rhythm on a frame drum and sang the melody over us. Most of us in the audience were between forty-five and sixty-five, though there were a few folks in their twenties whose appearance was coded “Edgy and queer Feri apprentice”; the singing was considerably more robust than what I normally hear at my husband’s church.
Thorn is not as glamorous in person as she appears in photo shoots, but still photographs cannot convey the aura of someone who is really present, right where she’s standing, who occupies her body completely and knows where her energy is and how to move it. She spoke simply, freely, spontaneously, after reading an excerpt from the new book, then fielded questions, then rounded things off with the elemental chant to close before signing books for another hour or so. What she said was nothing I hadn’t heard before, read before, perhaps written myself, in my journal. But she said it from that state of presence, with energy and eloquence, and it is still resonating for me, like the last chord lingering in the vault after the anthem is sung.
What has stayed with me most were her words on integration. On including and accepting all of our parts rather than transcending something–ignoring it, renouncing it, even cutting it off–because it seems not to be working for us.
“If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out,” says Jesus, in the Authorised Version. “If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut it off.” No, says Thorn: Include. Accept. Know Thyself. Love Thyself.
I found myself, in the week following her talk (which was also the week following Easter Day, when I had time to think), realizing how consistently I practice transcendence, how I renounce things that aren’t working for me and dramatically push them away. On the most practical level, this means that there are books I have owned three or four copies of, buying them and renouncing them. On a deeper level, I don’t know what parts of me are hiding out so deep I can’t find them, afraid to speak up or show their faces lest they be cut off and shoved away.
I am able to do this, at least: To renounce renunciation. To give up cutting things out or cutting them off and pushing them away. To renounce labels and definitions and also to renounce discarding labels and definitions. Yes, I am still an Anglican. I will always carry that sensibility, the idea that Truth is more reliably found in music, poetry, and story than in dogmas, prescriptions, and propositions. Yes, I am a Druid, a Revival Druid, for whom Arthurian legend and Welsh poetry echo with Truth even where their facts are wrong. I am an Advanced Adept of the New Hermetics; I earned that title with nine months of daily work and a workshop in Florida that was my first time travelling alone. My default setting for witchcraft and paganism is still Reclaiming and Feri rather than British Traditional Wicca or Reconstructionist movements. And yes, I am a Buddhist; the Dharma is the great canopy under which everything fits, the mandala where everything has a place.
You can call me any of those things, or call me nothing. You can call me eclectic or syncretic or both. Maybe the best thing to call me is a Mahayanist: I have come to believe that the Mahayana perspective of the bodhisattva, the one who seeks freedom and enlightenment in order to help others do the same, is the truest perspective on the spiritual life. I’ve also come to believe that magic is the Vajrayana of the West, the accelerated method of attaining buddhahood in this lifetime so as to benefit all beings.
Some days I don’t feel like a daily spiritual practice is worth it. Right now I have set myself the goal of learning the traditional pentagram and hexagram rituals that come out of the Golden Dawn tradition, starting with one month of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. It’s a struggle to pull myself together after dinner, put on the robe and the Rose Cross lamen, and buzz out those Hebrew Names. What am I doing this for? What good does it do me, or anyone? At least the morning exercise practice has made me feel noticeably, significantly better.
But I do it, because I’ve decided to take myself seriously as an Adept, someone who has taken that bodhisattva vow to save all others, one for all and all for one, someone who has training and experience and dedication and intention and a clear vision of what’s necessary. I see that motivation of wisdom and compassion, what Buddhism calls bodhicitta, spreading amongst neopagans and magical practitioners, and I am happy. In a few hundred years we will have a truly American Buddhism, and it will be pagan as much as Christian as much as Buddhist, just as the Dharma became Tibetan and Chinese and Japanese.
The Work is there to be done. Some of us will do it as teachers and public figures, and some of us, like me, will do it as solitaries, even hermits (hermits in the Tarot sense). Some of us will do it with religious labels, and some without; some of us will do it as Pagans, some as Christians, some as Buddhists, some as humanists, some as witches. There is enough Work for all of us; there is a proper Work for each of us. I show up for my day job, read and write, and try to do my share. You can, too.