Yesterday I listened to this interview with Robin Artisson on Witchtalk radio. All in all I found it to be a very good interview. I know a lot of people hate Robin Arisson, but I found him to be well spoken and genuine in this interview. Say what you will about him, but more often than not the man makes me think, and even if I don’t always agree 100% with that he says, that’s more than I can say of a good many other authors. Anyway, this post has nothing to do with Robin Artisson, other than the fact that one thing in particular he said in the interview really stuck with me.
“The unseen world scorns human systems”.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile now actually. The unseen world does not care what you call yourself, what authors you read, what traditions you follow, who your teachers are, or what titles and grades you’ve earned. As a matter of fact everyone’s interaction with the spirit world will be unique to them. All those names and titles you give yourself help other humans to figure out what you do and where you’ve been. As a matter of fact all of these human made traditions have only one thing in common; they are a set of practices which have been cobbled together by humans to help other humans interact with the spirit world, a map if you will.
If I say I am a Revival Druid, then people will reasonably know that I follow one of the core practices of one or more of the modern revival orders. If I say I am a Hedge Witch, then people will know I use more shamanistic practices of going beyond the veil that have been codified by modern traditional witchcraft practitioners. In the end the unseen world doesn’t care one bit, as long as you can interact with them in a reasonably meaningful way (that being said there are spirits that are tradition specific, there’s always an exception to the rule). I have changed what I call myself many times, but how I interact with the world of spirit and it inhabitants has changed very little. They certainly have not treated me any different depending on what I called myself.
However this does not mean that labels are meaningless. Although I understand to a degree, I’ve never held with the “labels are meaningless” crowd because I can see both sides. Labels are incredibly powerful. Anyone who practices magic knows that to label a thing is an act of magic in and of itself, an act often held in high regard by many of the ancient cultures we model ourselves on. Furthermore, what you label yourself will define to yourself the boundaries of your practice. There’s no use being a ship adrift on the water, aimlessly wandering wherever the currents take it. Those labels in a sense are your rudder, directing you on your spiritual journey. The trick is to not let the label wear you, you are in control of that rudder ultimately. Notice I said “boundaries of your practice”. Sometimes you have to be willing to cross those boundaries if growth is ever going to occur. Being a shapeshifter of labels is some times beneficial.
Now as The Veles points out, no one wants to hear a laundry list of labels. Most modern pagans have their hands in many pots as it were. I tend to fall between the cracks where labels are concerned, to my continual displeasure. I have a love of both Druidry and Witchcraft. I use both in my personal practice. I’ve found time and time again that if I label myself just one or the other, the other side rears it’s head and says “what about me!”. That’s why I prefer the word Sorcerer. As a sorcerer I can practice Druidry and Witchcraft, but neither label alone solely defines me. In the moment I’m in more of a witchcraft mode, but that will change. Cunning craft practices probably take up most of my time these days, but as my spiritual needs change this balance will inevitable shift. I know this about myself. Instead of fighting it, I’ve learned to roll with it and not beat myself up about it.
Also, no essay about labels would be complete without talking about aesthetic value. Some labels have aesthetic value that help to empower the individual. I would say Witch is one of them. The word was never used in a positive light until the last 50 years, and the aesthetic value of it is, in my opinion, what has made such a popular word today. Just speaking the word conjures up images set in our psyches. By calling ourselves that word, we align ourselves spiritually with the image that we wish to project or draw into our lives. I think anyone who claims to accept a label with total disregard to aesthetics is fooling themselves. It’s a powerful form of magic in and of itself. I know few people who call themselves Witches simply because it happens to describe what they do, and not because they identify deeply with the power the word conveys at some level of their soul (if you do, please correct me. I’d love to hear from you).