There are two things that I am thinking about right now that are trying to come together, so I am going to try to write my way to that.
First thing: one of the challenges of talking about spiritualist-driven practice entails attending to the concrete reality that underpins it, namely the way in which the diversity in our personal constitution has a direct impact on the way in which we can most effectively interact with the world of spirit. The point of identifying a person’s spiritual court, for example, derives from the sense that it varies from person to person and that the variation demands accompanying variations in practice.
Second thing: that historically, most forms of marginal spiritual practice has been magpie. I was thinking about this in light of my last post, in which I mentioned the way in which a single grimoiric ritual broke free of its grimoiric context and proceeded to circulate through numerous distinct occult practices, varying to accommodate the practices. And, too, in light of the way it makes sense to talk about the unity of the grimoires in a statistical sense, in terms of overlapping patterns of names and rites that are broadly shared by many grimoires alongside a set of rites and names that are particular to this or that grimoire.
It’s appealing to think of these as the internal and external dimensions of the same phenomenon, but that’s not quite right; it is too simplistic. The variations proper to each develop according to different principles. Maybe it’s worth talking a little more about each on their own terms.
The personalized practice develops out of the negotiation with a shared framework of images adopted and developed into individualized forms. What tends to define the unity of a specific spiritualist tradition is an agreement as to what images its members agree to employ.
That agreement is not entirely intentional, members don’t come together and just agree on a set. Rather, they have spiritual experiences that seem to be symbolized by some element of a specific tradition’s body of images and approach members of the tradition on those terms. If they are going to become involved more deeply with that group, they will need to find more and more of their spiritual experience substantiated by that image set.
The human tendency to imitate each other facilitates this process. So long as the system doesn’t do too much active violence to an individual’s spiritual experience, they can generally learn to accommodate themselves to it, conditioning their spiritual experiences (and their spirits) to speak through the system of images that constitute a tradition.
I should be careful here, because the “do too much active violence” phrasing reflects somewhat my own difficulties in finding such a community. Because, for many, while the accommodation may feel a little restrictive at first, it will open for them into a richer and more complex world of spiritual opportunities. The images they adopt aren’t just symbols, they hold together a community and refer those within the community to a range of spiritual practices developed by those who respond well to those symbols.
To be a bit more concrete, a lot of spiritualist practices distinguish lines of spirits, and each of these lines of spirits has associations with certain kinds of spiritual work. One line may be especially associated with healing, another with spiritual insight, another with prosperity. Each of those lines subsequently become the anchors for learning specific practices of healing, developing spiritual insight, and securing prosperity.
The degree to which a tradition fosters opportunities rather than obstacles will tend to shape a person’s engagement. Negotiation and conflict, tension and accommodation, are the norm. An individual will gravitate more or less to specific aspects of a tradition, maybe focusing on the practical work or the images, or some specific subset of both.
It’s quite a hodge-podge of possibilities, one of which includes having a mostly private practice that has been shaped by specific interactions with multiple spiritual traditions. If the current ‘spiritual but not religious’ statistics are any indication, this isn’t even all that uncommon. The “all religions share a common truth” is mostly a lie, but the frequency with which it is quoted points toward a truth, namely that there is a personal spiritual truth that can be partially developed by most all religions.
This provides some insight into how the magpie effect takes hold. Those lines don’t just secure established practices, they also provide points of ingress for new practices. If you do one kind of healing, then you might support another. The lines become something like little schools, examining new ideas and addressing their place (or absence of a place) in the broader tradition.
Things like grimoires? Well, they are probably going to be looked at as resources for practical techniques, not cosmological forms, which the tradition already has. On occasion, it might spur clarificaiton and elaboration of the tradition’s forms. These points of ingress are not identical with the process that makes the grimoires accessible to traditions that might incorporate them.
The distribution of the texts are market-driven. Most people coming to them don’t care about spiritual development but are looking for novel experiences or practical solutions to specific problems. And there are oral corollaries to the grimoires. Many of the European cunning folk were just walking versions of grimoires. Their knowledge was a kind of commodity sustained by market forces.
There is a point along which the two trends interact with each other, but they tend to be fraught. The rite carried off to add to someone’s magical repertoire tends to lose its aura of mystery, while the bit of magic turned rite tends to acquire an aura of mystery.
Which gets us back to the intimacy between witches and the market. It isn’t just malefica that defines witchcraft, but its relationship to heresy. In fact, if witch trials are any indication, it is the heresy more than the malefica that concerned people. The witch takes something out of context, de-idealizes it. Focusing on efficacy, it can be a royal road to skepticism and disbelief.
While heresy is keenly developed in religions like Catholicism, the sense underlying it is near-to universal. While the spiritualist strain is less blatantly heretical, it engages the ‘grimoiric’ material sympathetically, personal development supporting and supported by the practical attitude of the market.
Okay, I can start to see where I am headed.
The two things that began this post? They each point toward an aspect of what I have come to group under the term ‘witchcraft.’ The two phenomena are related and I think they can be talked about more clearly under the rubric of the Yeatsian faculties. Okay. I am going to draw a line here and pick that up in a proper, less notebook-style post soon.