* Updated and revised. Originally published 6/23/13*
To know, to dare, to will and to be silent. The four powers of the Sphinx within Hermetics, which were written by Eliphas Levi, and found their way into modern Witchcraft and Wicca (as so much Hermetic material has), are well known but often less understood. We can surmise that "to know" is to be learned and to gain knowledge, "to dare" is to go forth and do with courage, "to will" is to utilize one's True Will to create change (magic), and "to be silent" is to not speak of one's workings. Each of these "powers" could be an article or even a book but for this blog I would like to focus on silence.
My own tradition of Witchcraft had a sundering in part because of the 4th Power of the Sphynx and to be clear the interpretation of what it means... To...Be...Silent. Some of our initiates felt strongly that the Tradition needed to be out there and ministered to the public. They had written books, were teaching publicly (some for free and some for pay) and were discussing inner secrets (though there were disagreements as to what was actually secret between lineages) on e-lists and with non-initiates. Many arguments ensued between those of us who felt that we should have never come out into public view and those who felt that we needed to liberate the masses from their shackles or perhaps find a way to make an alternative living. Indeed American Traditional Witchcraft seems to be having an identity crisis. Long gone are the days of sparsely populated witches meeting each-other in rejoiced recognition and sharing lore scribbled on steno paper or whispered amongst the redwoods. After a few decades of oath-breakers and people desiring to become famous and secrets published and entire traditions emerging into the light (aren't we supposed to dance in the dark and the hidden shadows of the moon?) we have a fractured "community" and what I see as a division between the "temple priests" and the "sorcerers". Today we have to be so careful with our sacred and secret knowledge. With the mere push of a button our writings, sacred iconography and even our words can be disseminated to the entire planet instantly. One reactionary moment and a witch is revealed by an angry tweet or text or post and livelihoods, personal safety and children are at risk. While the burning times may be over we still live in a society that fears and reviles us for the most part. We have to tread lightly with our lore, our truths and our secrets.
In my tradition's struggle with what it meant "to be silent" many sides shut down and the tradition cracked into those who felt a Mystery Tradition cloaked in silence with one Initiation more hidden from public view was of utmost importance and those who felt a strong desire for activism and work to heal and help the masses as their primary mission as well as to share the Tradition. Were we who remained silent participating in the oppression or withholding of power with people not of our lines? Were those who revealed too much only doing it for ego gratification and to line their pocket books? Regardless of your opinion the question still remained about actual act of silence. To be silent. So what are we silent about and why? And why does it matter to be silent as a Witch? I consider myself a sorcerer and my primary focus is my own magical work and not that of being a minister or priest. So I delved into sorcerous reasons for "keeping silent" about my magical work and initiatory lore passed. I wanted to know more deeply why it is important to be silent.....
I was taught the lore of the night and liminal spaces and that to be silent was of the utmost importance. And while some of my brethren felt that silence may lead to abuses of power or victimization of those less powerful, I do not think that one abandons silence in magic and tradition because someone 'might' be abused. Nor do I think that ones work in the world warrants abandoning all silence in a magical and sacred context. Questions arise of what should be silent? When to break silence and how to keep silent.
I prefer to keep my secrets and work silently. I rarely share my inner workings, profound experiences with the Spirits I work with, or my recipes especially during a working. I have no problem with magical folk making a living from their arts actually. I never did. I myself have made a living selling oils and incense and reading tarot cards. To me there is a complete difference between earning for readings and selling goods and even teaching historical or surface (say meditation) type classes and publishing or semi teaching from *an initiatory tradition* that you and others are bound to and teaching it to the masses.
Silence is probably one of the most important skills that a Sorcerer, Witch and Magician can cultivate.
Why is silence important to the Witch or Magician? Why would we wish to keep such amazing mysteries hidden? Why, when we have discovered such liberation and magic, would we not wish to share these things with the world, to lift them up and to help them out of their degradation? (Insert pamphlet of every major religion here, and NO thank you!). The profane always are desirous of the sacred and unless initiated and trained they take the sacred and mire it, sell it, shit on it. Here are my answers to those questions as a Traditional Witch.
Most initatory traditions of Witchcraft teach that the mysteries learned must be protected from the profane. Andrew Chumbley tells us to "Beware the men of clay! Beware! Some will try to destroy you, others will try to steal your knowledge and pretend to be witchblood." The warning is clear and not just in our modern age. The importance of silence in terms of keeping lore or even the fact that one was a magician or a Witch was not lost on the Ancients. Most of the Mystery Cults of yore were passed orally and to this day we know little of what actually happened in many of them, other than they were 'there' along with a few tid bits. A great example of this were the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, which were some type of agricultural and immortality cult and were regarded with respect and importance. Of course the populace knew that there was a Mystery tradition happening but the inner lore and secrets were vigorously guarded. There was a 4 tiered system which preserved the inner mysteries for a select and learned few but allowed many more of the masses to be involved and participate on a more surface level. Because of the rigors of entering the inner circle of initiates those involved were less likely to spill the beans because they had worked so hard to attain their positions. However, it was not just a 'mystical cool kids club' that kept them silent, many of the philosophers of the day such as Pythagoras (invloved in a mystery mathematical cult), Socrates, Plato, Aristoxenus and Ammonius all knew and wrote about the importance of being silent for magical purposes. There was at the time an older doctrine of silence prior to 'The Four Powers of the Sphinx' called "The Mecurial Doctrine of Hermes" which had five principles and may well have influenced Levi's work. Below are the translated fragments.
And Mercury saith:.............
They were as follows:
1. That sharing holy matters with profane minds pollutes them:
"You may call Ammon; but summon no one else, lest a discourse which treats of the holiest of themes, and breathes the deepest reverence, should be prophaned by the entrance and presence of a throng of listeners"...(Asclepius prologue 1b[Scott].
2. That profane minds simply cannot grasp holy doctrine and often will mock those who preach it and are incited by the holy to commit violence or a greater evil because of lack of understanding:
"But avoid converse with the many....the many will think you to be one who is laughed at...are never friends...and can urge bad men to more wickedness....beware of talking to them, in order that, being in ignorance they may be less wicked.." (Stobaei Hermetica) [Scott]
3. Silence allows the divine enlightenment (magic or spell work or inner guidance) to occur:
"And now, my son, speak not, but keep a solemn silence; so that the mercy will come down on us from God". (Corpus Hermeticum 13.8a [Scott]
4. That it is futile to express the inexpressible:
"For there is, my son, a secret doctrine, full of holy wisdom, concerning Him who alone is lord of All and...whom to declare is beyond the power of man". (Fragments 12) [Scott]
5. That silence stops and protects against mistranslation because the words themselves have power:
"Translation will greatly distort the sense of writings, and cause much obscurity. Expressed in our native language, the teaching conveys its meaning clearly; for the very quality of the sounds; and when the Egyptian words are spoken, the force of the things signified words in them", (Corpus Hermeticum 16.1b-2) [Scott]
Interestingly these sentiments are also expressed by Jesus when he states to his disciples that they should "understand the mysteries of the Word of God, and that the others (the people) should receive the parables only."(Matthew 13:10-4) And who could forget the famous line "cast not thy pearls unto swine", (Matthew 7:6) or the wonderful phrase from Psalms, "I have hid the words in my heart so I do not sin against thee". (Psalms 119:11)
We have here a later mirroring of the ancient Greek philosophers and magicians in Christian lore as to keep silent the mysteries from the masses and to keep silent the messages from the Gods themselves lest you incite their wrath. Virgil says of the Sibyl, "The Goddess comes, hence, hence, and ye prophane; The prophet cries, and from her grove refrain." In other words outside of the presence of the Goddess keep your mouth shut. The mysteries whether passed down as lore in a tradition or specifically from the Goddess to you are meant for you alone at that particular time. Why would you reveal such intimacies to the world? Why risk angering the Spirits you have worked so hard to be in relationship with?
The obfuscation of lore in plain sight to be opened up from master to disciple whether Witch or Mason or other mystic is found in many traditions. Famously Sufi masters teach through story that while read by the masses makes little or no sense at times or comes off as humorous, but read or taught 'with eyes to see' leads to enlightenment. There were many cryptic images from various private sources in the early 20th century from sources all over Europe, and which depict cryptic images that hold clues from Traditional Witchcraft societies, Free Masonry and other magical Societies such as the A:.A.: as well as others. Some of the familiar and unfamiliar images in Traditional Witchcraft were collected and are now housed in Boscastle, Cornwall. Each "image" has many meanings and lore behind it and may show spell components, ritual tools and the rituals themselves, all 'hidden in plain sight" and relating to Traditional Witchcraft. Often the these entries include images known to Traditional Witchcraft such as the pentacle, the pin and nail, stang, crown, and various stellar lettering but they also include (in code) how to use such items. Below is one such image of a magic circle and spell and a very certain Spirit to be called. Folks learned in ceremonial magic will know one of the Spirits here as his name is below!
|Symbols of Traditional Witchcraft. A ritual in code. "The Occult Reliquary" Three Hands Press, 2010.|
These images will conjure reactions and feelings for each person who sees them differently. Many of the symbols are known to Traditional Witches but are taught orally or shown to the student. To the casual observer or even student they can be cryptic or over simplified.
Another reason for silence is that all the sharing of a working, or your sacred altars or spaces with the masses opens you up to a lot of questions you might not be prepared to answer from people who definitely do not understand. A simple example of this in my Tradition is that we do not believe in or adhere to the 'Wiccan Rede'. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to explain myself or deal with angry Wiccans about this issue. Even trying to explain the history of how the Rede came into modern Wicca with its Hermetic and Thelemic and Christian roots incites more anger. So I now simply nod my head and say, 'that's nice' when someone starts talking about the Rede. Another example is when I told a client who was dealing with a court case about the Hoodoo spell of using a beef tongue and filling it with various items and sewing it shut to 'shut up' the opposition in the court. My client freaked out and refused to work with me it scared her that much. Ooops! I am so used to some of this stuff these days that I often forget just how terrified the public still is of magic. If you work in Hoodoo you know that this is a common and well known working, but to outsiders and those unfamiliar it is gross and scary. Best to help the client but not tell them everything you are doing. Again silence.
Even if a person is not skilled at hexing most folks can send negative energy at you and this is difficult to deal with and causes you to have to engage in more cleansing and protection work instead of just doing your work. Exhausting! There are magicians and workers out there who are skilled though and who may wish to interfere with your work for many different reasons. Best to not let them know what you are up to. Or if you working for clients who have had tricks layed upon them by other Rootworkers or Witches you would not want the other worker to know you were working for said client or what you were up to because they will definitely interfere, so keep it off of social media or lists. And definitely do not try to publicly humiliate the other worker. It just never works out and causes drama and loss of clients.
Then there is the problem of the "State" getting involved. As much as we like to say that we live in a "free" society here in the US and we have "religious freedom" we are still living in a Christian nation who make up the majority. And that majority watches movies and television that spooks the hell out of them about Satan and other "evils" out there. Some people even believe that there is a Satanic conspiracy of Reptilian Aliens who have taken over the government. They also have in their deep collective unconscious a fear of Witchcraft and rhetoric such as "Suffer not a Witch to live" as read in the Bible or "If thou meet a Pagan kill them immediately" as read in the Koran certainly does not help. You could be lucky enough to run into the atheist government employee who does not think you are evil but thinks you are nuts. Still it will cause problems. The State is not your friend gentle readers and if you would like to access all the benefits of living in the Empire (fighting is is just silly because it has paramilitary police, drones and unlimited cash) it would behoove you to blend in, there is that hidden in plain sight adage again. Why make a spectacle of yourself with black lipstick and giant pentacle necklaces and then complain when people judge you negatively? It will make it harder for you to get that job believe me. And while you could use all of your energy in activism to try to convince these people that you have rights or that you are special wouldn't you rather just be doing your Self work and magic? That is left hand path Witchcraft by the way. But if activisim and convincing people of your personal path is important to you I do not judge. I say good luck and be careful! People have lost jobs and children because of prejudices against Pagans and Witches and Wiccans and while there are many public Pagans out there fighting the good fight for rights I say it is easier to be more hidden. And while you technically do have religious rights you can easily get dragged into a court battle which can cost you tens of thousands of dollars to exert those rights. I have seen it before. So thank you Uncle Sam for the nice job and nice neighbors and this lovely organic Co-op down the street, and all the good people of this land...I am just as "normal" as you are. Nothing to see here...moving on...
Speaking and telling of your workings also diffuses the power of them, especially during their process. I knew a Hoodoo Rootworker once who told me that the inner lore of his work could only be passed once. That is, he would lose all of his own power to do these magical things, if he shared them and so would only pass his power and tricks when he was ready to die to the right student. Is this true? Do you think? How do you know? Would you risk losing your power for cash, grass or ass? Makes you a bit more discerning to choose a student does it not? Think of silence as being like a pressure building and building and then erupting with force and power. Wait, breathe, be silent, build power, release, have gratitude. Speaking of your workings not only can undermine them from the outside but from the inside too because your mind is always battling your True Will. This is the constant battle of the magician and the Witch and it is with the programming of your childhood and of society and it will get in the way every time. This is why so many Witchcraft rituals are filled with symbols, it is so we can bypass the mind and let the energy flow. It is also why we do so many exercises of purification and also pattern breaking. We know we can be our own worst enemies too. The symbols of the Craft are powerful indeed.
Symbols are important messages to our Fetch or Child Self, as it is known in my tradition, and are found in many occult places. Like the above examples in the image of Traditional Witchcraft so too does that ancient tradition of Alchemy have its many secrets bound in iconography and symbol. Both visible and yet hidden in plain sight. Many of the beautiful Renaissance and Medieval depictions of alchemical workings were known only to the initiates of its orders. Solve Et Coagula. The transmutation and complex change. Lead into Gold...physical gold or the transformation of the magician from base to enlightened...? A marriage of magic, science, will and Spirit. Can you imagine if you were to record all of your magical workings in an alchemical or pictorial code known only to your inner coven or circle? Would it not be something beautiful to behold in cryptic iconography and symbolism and a wonderful way to teach your students? Something to inspire the Fetch and the deeper selves....
|Commonly known symbols in Alchemy.|
|Often mistakenly thought of as the Christian Devil, Baphonet is a great example of an alchemical process depicted in pictorial code. Each symbol above has a complex meaning...Solve et Coagula.....|
Some people do feel called to share and teach publicly. I too love to teach and I write about many occult and magical topics. There is a lot out there to research and share, but other things must be kept private, especially if you are part of a closed initiatory group or if instructed by a Spirit to do so. Also keep in mind why you would share some things and not others and the repercussions of your sharing. This can be a personal choice but it is also a serious one. Some groups of Traditional Witches do publish, but they publish only after they are finished working with certain techniques or lore or they write in such a way and keep the prices of their books so high that only the truly studious and serious student of the Arte have access or interest. The general public is often shied away by the complexity of subject matter and the price tag of the book. However, to me, no book is too expensive. I mean how much did you pay for the Chemistry textbook back in your college days? Or all five of them? Yeah..so is your occult education worth it or not? Thought so.
These are some interesting points to think about in regards to silence. And of course you will choose to do as you wish. Take what you will upon the path. I am silent about my inner workings in regards to my Tradition of Witchcraft but I am more public in that I offer magical services and items and a magic class here or there. For some even this treads a thin line, and others think of it not at all. I look though, to the wisdom of the ancients and those who came before me as magicians and Witches. I believe that every human being whether Witch or worker of Magic or mundane deserves to live a fulfilled and spiritual life. This will take many, many forms and while I may be of service and help to some, in certain ways the road is ultimately traveled alone by each of us. I choose to keep my silence about my Tradition and the exact way that I practice it, my love affairs with the Gods, my inner workings and lore. Other things may be more open and some things may just be hidden in plain ole' sight. Walk in magic and beauty and let the mysteries reveal themselves to you in their own time and your own time. To force them is to beg for disaster.
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Chumbley, Andrew. " The Azoetia: A Grimoire of the Sabbatic Craft." Xoanon Publishing, 2014.
Davies, M, Lynch, A. "Keepers of the Flame. Interviews with Elders of Traditional Witchcraft in America." Olympian, 2001.
Marraccini, A. "Open Secrets: Alchemical-Hermetic Imagery in the Ripley Scrolls." Charming Intentions: Occultism, Magic and the History of Art-Select Papers-Cambridge. Abraxis Special Issue #1. Fulgar Press, 2013.
Schulke, D. "The Occult Reliquary." Three Hands Press & The Museum of Witchcraft, 2010.