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The Importance of Critical Thinking in Magical and Spiritual Traditions

Some sources will outline a list of essential tools including a wand, a knife, sword, staff, pentacle and robes. The list varies from tradition to tradition, book to book and practitioner to practitioner and while these tools can certainly be helpful in focusing the mind and energy in ritual work, none of them are strictly essential.

There is one tool you absolutely must have in order to work safely and effectively within any Magical tradition and sadly in the majority of sources never mention it; Critical Thinking.

Why Do we need a wand, staff, robes or whatever? What is the reason these have been stated as being essential? What purpose does each item fulfil? Does it work for you?

Why Are you being asked to perform a particular practice? Does it feel right? Does it feel relevant? Does it serve to help you grow on your path?

Does the story about X Deity feel right? Should it be taken literally or metaphorically? How does it fit into your viewpoint on life, the universe, reality?

There are many aspects of the Magical, religious and spiritual paths which are sadly taken for granted, particularly in the west. This is often a result of having had nearly two-thousand years of a religious authority which teaches people to simply accept what they are told and not to question; and where the punishment for questioning this authority can be severe or even fatal. This is further enforced when the rewards for blind faith are such as a promised paradise, freedom from servitude etc.

The acceptance of blind faith has NO place in the Magical traditions and should have no place in religion or spirituality; we are here to grow in power and strength, not to become sheep. Blindly following orders has allowed some terrible things to take place in the name of religion or spirituality including financial and even sexual manipulation.

Critically think about every single aspect of the path ahead of you. Don’t accept everything you read or are told; take each aspect away and sit with it for a while, think through it and evaluate it for its merits and flaws.

Critical thinking liberates the mind and prepares it for creating a clear intention when practicing your work.

Some example questions:

  • Do I need an Athame?
    • What value does a black handled dagger bring to your path? Is it something that you would have naturally chosen or is it something that you were told that you needed by a book or mentor? If you are a pacifist, does having a weapon work with your energy?
  • Do I need to work with this deity?
    • Does this deity feel right for you? Can you feel the energy of this spirit and is it comfortable for you? Does the work come with any commitment that you feel uncomfortable with?
  • My high-priest insists on us working skyclad, do I really have to?
    • Absolutely not. Your body, your choice. The main question is why do they really insist on it, rather than encouraging people to practice how they feel comfortable?

Witta – THAT book

An absolutely brilliant example of how bullshit can go mainstream is a book called Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition by the author Edain McCoy. This book, published by Llewellyn, tells the reader that Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft was common in Ireland, that these ancient people venerated potatoes and other such nonsense. Unfortunately for me, this was one of the first books I ever read on the subject of Wicca, in my teens, in the mid-90s and for about a month, I fell for it, hook, line and sinker! Thank the Gods that I made friends with some people who got me to re-read it and THINK about it!

Worst Case Scenarios

Religious and spiritual communities are no stranger to some terrible things happening when blind faith is allowed or even encouraged. At one end of the spectrum it may be that someone is encouraged to take part in a practice they are not comfortable with, such as imbibing alcohol or practicing ‘skyclad’ (naked, a practice encouraged by Gerald Gardner, but that is increasingly rare now). At the other end of the spectrum are things like fascism, suicide pacts and ritualise rape.

The truth is that spiritual communities attract the outcasts, very often people join Pagan groups because they are seeking both healing and acceptance that they cannot find in ‘conventional’ communities. As such Pagan groups also attract predators, narcissits and abusers who can find a wealth of new, unsuspecting victims. I avoid large Pagan organisations due to many negative experiences with people, usually men, working their way into positions of authority either locally or regionally and then using that power as a way to decide who is acceptable and who they want to bar. Often, outspoken, free-thinkers are the ones branded as negative influences, frauds or dangerous, when in fact these people may be far safer than the tyrants acting as gatekeepers.

Sadly in some very rare cases, predatory, manipulative people make their way to the top of a group from where their abuse cannot be challenged. They surround themselves with sycophants who are happy in their willful ignorance, so long as their master favours them. The group themselves may pretend to be unaware of their leader’s activity, or in some cases, be complicit in it.

The Far-Right Problem

There is sadly an increase in far-right nutcases within the wider Pagan community, and it is by no means limited to the Northern Traditions (Heathenry, Asatru, Vanatru etc). Rather early on in Wyldwood Radio we streamed podcasts from American groups that asked us to help them reach a European audience. One Druid group, the Black Mountain Druid Order, streamed through us for almost a year, after which their podcast tone changed from promoting Druidry, into full on fascism, calling for Druids to stand against the “genocide of the native European”. They were of course removed and banned. I have no idea if the group even still exists or if “Chuck” is still their leader. Fascism, racism, sexual discrimination, terfs, ableism, ageism and so on, have no place in a healthy community.

Sexual Manipuation

I have personal experience with one Druid group where the leader attempted to aggresively persuade me that I needed to have sex with him and his girlfriend in order to prove that I was worthy of initiation. I refused and was outcast for it, my name muddied in the community. I have also seen this where the leader of a Moot (who also expressed far-right sympathies) tried to convince a partner (now an ex) to sleep with him, when she and I spoke up about it, I was again outcast and my name muddied, one member even went so far as to say that he wanted to watch me die.

Predators and Sycophants

I have also been part of a reiki circle where I was befriended by a particular member. Initially they were very friendly, they liked to give gifts that seemed a little extreme, after some time they told me how they liked taking photographs of children and had moved to be near a school for this reason. I kicked them out and banned them from my home and reported them to the leader of the reiki circle. Rather than banning this person from the group, they kicked me out and protected him. I then received a thirty-four page letter typed in block capitals from this person cursing me in every possible way.

The Tools of Tyrants

The ultimate tool in the arsenal of these evil people is rejection. It simply enough for them to cease communication with their victims or people who may challenge them; they must make sure they are outcast by the whole community. Rejection and loneliness are two of the things that humans find the hardest to deal with and all too often people will accept abuse rather than suffer rejection.

Not only will such a tyrant turn their back on you, make sure that the rest of their group does, but due to their position will often extend this outward into the wider Pagan community. If you speak out against someone like this, don’t be surprised if you start losing ‘friends’ left, right and centre.

It is far better, and safer to be a lone wolf, than a sheep.

Critical thinking is the first and most important tool in avoiding these situations, it is the enemy of blind faith and willful ignorance.

Critical thinking is your sword and your shield.