I’m pleased to say that my tenure in Grading Hades has elapsed for the moment, and I now have a few weeks (well, two-and-a-bit, really) until such a situation begins to arise once again.
A few days ago, I read a post from a few months back by Sarah Anne Lawless, which talks about a number of matters, touching on some of the remarks of Peter Grey in Apocalyptic Witchcraft (which I reviewed a while back), with the upshot being that the younger generation of modern pagans (though Lawless was referring to witchcraft traditions in particular–though I suspect the “problems” outlined are shared amongst a wider group as well) has far different expectations, appeals, and desires from what they’d like to get out of traditional paths–if, indeed, traditional paths have anything at all to offer them. There is a great deal in the post that bears further thought. Here’s a few paragraphs from toward the beginning.
The biggest issue of the previously mentioned elder was that they were trying to form a coven based solely on controlled external rituals, not wanting anything to do with internal process or personal gnosis. They did not approve of the path of the mystic and all the internal processing the younger folk were up to in ritual and were very vocal about it. I see this attitude more often than not in elders from the 60s and 70s. The younger generation was not interested. They wanted a spiritual path that would challenge them on a psychological as well as spiritual level, heal them, and help them face their fears and demons. They didn’t want to sing the same songs and perform the same actions at every ritual and have that be the extent of their group activity. It’s fun, but it’s not enough any more. The new generation wants to go deeper and they want it from a group just as much as their individual practice. In other words, they don’t want a square dance, they want an ecstatic dance.
The big name initiatory traditions are no longer the be all end all of witchcraft. Younger generations of witches are putting less and less importance on lineage and formal initiation choosing personal gnosis, mysticism, direct ecstatic experience, and spirit initiation over the customs of previous generations. Many of them would rather follow a personalized spiritual practice than follow the dogma of a set tradition. Many of them do not agree with the hierarchical structure of witchcraft covens and the many interpersonal problems it can create. Many consider strict traditions to be as divisory to witchcraft and Paganism as the different sects of the Church are to Christianity (i.e. witch wars). Others don’t like the polytheistic restriction or the inexplicable focus of only the ancient Celtic and Greek cultures within traditions. They want more options, more flexibility, and a more involved, hands-on style to their craft.
I have heard all of these from many mouths, but when it really comes down to it, most are devoted to their families, schooling, and careers and are not in a position to give their time to training in a formal coven. Their spirituality becomes an important part of their life, but not its sole or even the major focus. They have to opt out of the formal traditions of the older generations because those traditions don’t fit into their lives. I have known so many who left formal training in witchcraft traditions because they couldn’t devote the time needed and had given up trying to juggle the training with their family and job. The world has changed since they heyday of our elders and, because of our current seemingly endless access to information thanks to the internet and globally connected libraries, individuals no longer need to rely on private covens for training, lore, and resources. The personalized path and/or an informal group become some of the most viable options.
It has been my intention–not only with past events but also future ones at PantheaCon (since that is one of the best opportunities to network in-person with people from a wide range of home areas)–to attempt to reach out to a younger audience with the Ekklesía Antínoou, because of the youth (in “human lifespan” terms, not in historical terms) of Antinous, Polydeukion, and several other divine beings upon whom we focus and to whom we are devoted. So, hearing what the “trends” are, so to speak, within this particular demographic is important to me, personally, and I hope to make what we do amenable to that age group (and I’m thinking that “youth” pretty much means “anyone under 30,” which is exactly the meaning it would have in Roman legal terms!).
So, to put this in as user-friendly terms as possible, an itemized list of how I think the Ekklesía Antínoou either does, or should, or will operate in terms of some of these interests now follows, as excerpted from the outlines of Lawless’ words above and their expression of what younger people would like in their spiritual practices.
1. “They wanted a spiritual path that would challenge them on a psychological as well as spiritual level, heal them, and help them face their fears and demons.”
I think it is important to remember that religion is not a substitute for, nor should it be confused with, psychology; religious and spiritual activities can have an impact on our psychological functioning and development, but that’s not the reason that we do it. However, religion and spirituality should most definitely challenge one personally, not just in terms of it being “hard” to do, but actually providing a corrective and even a directive in how one lives one’s life. Too many people look to their spirituality for solace and refuge, which a good spiritual practice can (and should!) provide, but that’s also not all that it is for. (This is one of the reasons why I think the “coming out spirituality” of so many modern supposedly queer and/or LGBTQIA-positive or friendly groups these days falls short, because they do nothing other than say “It’s okay to be who you are,” and then offer nothing on how to develop further personally nor in one’s devotions.) Even phrasing things in these terms is a challenge to a person who reads them and thinks of religion as being of psychological utility and as a solace from the difficulties of the world. I think the Ekklesía Antínoou can offer that challenge, if it is approached seriously and engaged with fully.
2. “They didn’t want to sing the same songs and perform the same actions at every ritual and have that be the extent of their group activity.”
Some activities of that sort are “spiritual technologies,” which are repeated and are used because they are effective in some manner in bringing about a particular effect for the humans and their divine correspondents. That having been said, the critique is well-noted: there can (and should!) be more than just those types of communal ritual. It’s not always possible at PantheaCon to do that “more” dimension, nor even in other settings, but it is always possible to do “more,” and I would personally like to do “more” where it comes to ritual with my co-religionists. Unfortunately, practicality often trumps this desire, and “a short ritual is a good ritual” is preferred for those with jobs and other places they could be a lot of the time. It’s an ongoing balance that needs to be maintained and of which I am aware, but it may be possible to “schedule” time to do “more” as people express interest and can make commitments to being present for that “more” when it can occur.
3. “The new generation wants to go deeper and they want it from a group just as much as their individual practice.”
I agree, and would like the same thing. Who would like to join me in that?
4. “Younger generations of witches are putting less and less importance on lineage and formal initiation choosing personal gnosis, mysticism, direct ecstatic experience, and spirit initiation over the customs of previous generations.”
This is how modern Antinoan devotion came about (especially in my own case): I was looking for just this sort of tradition, one became known to me, I ended up finding out that it was not a “tradition” so much as an idea of one person, and then I went on to help build the tradition through my own experiences, studies, and evolving practices. I’m still doing that, and am still very much open to (and in fact am dependent upon) those types of “not-easily-policed” experiences of direct divine contact, and I would like to foster such experiences in others and see what they end up producing, which is why several of the mystery initiatives I have in mind have not “happened” yet, because some of the experiences have not come through the individuals concerned yet.
5. “Many of them would rather follow a personalized spiritual practice than follow the dogma of a set tradition.”
Which dogma is that? The Ekklesía Antínoou, as far as it is concerned, has not “dogma” to speak of, apart from perhaps the importance of Antinous–those who don’t find him important (for whatever reason, and however “important” is understood) don’t get involved with our group, and that’s fine, because no one says that anyone or everyone has to be involved with it or find Antinous important.
6. “Many of them do not agree with the hierarchical structure of witchcraft covens and the many interpersonal problems it can create.”
As far as groups go, we’re relatively lacking in hierarchy; however, there is a phrase from George Cecil Ives’ Order of Chaeronea that I quite like in relation to matters of this sort: “All are equal as regards authority; not all are equal as regards effort.” Just showing up and expecting to be taken seriously is not recommended; showing up and demonstrating that you are a person of experience and who has done a great deal of work naturally produces respect, and those who are faking it are seen through easily in the process. Showing up with the intention of doing more, and then actually doing it, is also something that is highly desired. This isn’t a religious group in which those who come and want to work are ignored or marginalized, by any means!
7. “Many consider strict traditions to be as divisory to witchcraft and Paganism as the different sects of the Church are to Christianity (i.e. witch wars).”
Yes, there was a major schism in modern Antinoan devotion in 2007, fomented by myself when I found that I could no longer be in fellowship with certain individuals who preached and practiced certain things I find distasteful, not-at-all spiritual, and actively offensive. There are still people who are members of “both groups” after all of these years, and as long as the thoughts and politics of the one group are left to it and not mixed with ours, there isn’t much of a problem. (And there hasn’t been much of a problem after more than six years of such!)
8. “Others don’t like the polytheistic restriction or the inexplicable focus of only the ancient Celtic and Greek cultures within traditions.”
Syncretism is a HUGE part of the historical cultus of Antinous; it would not exist without contributions from Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultural-religious concepts all within its peculiar mix. That it would be limited in regards to these three, or in fact to any other possibility that may come up either, seems counter-intuitive. And, we are just as polytheistic (if not more so) than many of those culturally-exclusive groups.
9. “They want more options, more flexibility, and a more involved, hands-on style to their craft.”
If the above comments have not conveyed this adequately, then let me state it for the record here: those who take part in the Ekklesía Antínoou have to “build it as they fly it,” which is the most flexible–but also the most demanding and personal-responsibility-requiring–methodology there is for pursuing a particular spiritual path.
10. “The world has changed since they heyday of our elders and, because of our current seemingly endless access to information thanks to the internet and globally connected libraries, individuals no longer need to rely on private covens for training, lore, and resources. The personalized path and/or an informal group become some of the most viable options.”
The comments preceding this in Lawless’ discussion emphasize the lack of time that many people have; but also, the possibility for a lack of real and deep commitment lurks behind them as well. People find the time and make the time for the things that are most important to them. Realistically, if that means that one only has ten minutes a day for something, that’s better than nothing; and yet, if all one can afford is ten minutes a day thinking about, reading, or doing a particular activity, then one can’t expect much more out of it than what one is putting in.
That having been said, joining a less-formal group is no less of a commitment. There are and have been many over the years who have joined the Ekklesía Antínoou group, and who are rarely if ever heard from again after they join; whether they get anything out of still being members all of these years later is an open question that has no answer until a given individual comes forward and tells us about it. But, those who join and who keep in contact, study what they can, practice as they are able, and so forth also exist, and we’re thankful for all that any individual is able and willing to do–though mere will isn’t enough.
If all one can manage is attending a singular public ritual a year, that’s fine; but, don’t then mistake that for a deep, all-embracing commitment to this particular path. If that singular public ritual a year is also accompanied by a strong daily practice and a solo observation of many of the most important holy days of our calendar, then that’s an entirely different creature, and cannot be reasonably compared to the former situation.
There may be some difficult issues of self-definition to confront as one evaluates what one is able to give, and how willing one is to give what one is able–but, that is part of the challenge, and this is not a path that coddles those who have an “everyone gets the same trophy for showing up” approach to matters. Yes, it’s good that you show up, but there are not any trophies to be given: only more tasks to be done, and which will preferably be done well by those who are bold enough to undertake them.
Make no mistake: I won’t lie about what we do or who we are just in order to attract more adherents. But, I also think that because our movement not only emerges from a god who is (in human terms) young, and was first formed by myself and my associates in 2002 when we were in our mid- and late-twenties (thus, ourselves still technically “young”!), that many of the desires expressed above by Lawless’ post were, and still are, just as alive and important in our hearts as they are in those of many who might be seeking a particular path.