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Language, Linguistics, Magick

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on September 15, 2010 | Comments (1)

One of my favorite websites for many years has been The Witches’ Voice. It’s a great site for magickal people of all sorts. A recent blog post by Rose Hollow interested me. It’s entitled, “So, You Want to Write a Pathworking? Take a Lesson From Jane.” In it she writes:

Pathworking is a great tool to help you along your spiritual path. It can be defined in any number of ways, but for this purpose, pathworking will be defined as: A way to understand our own divinity, incorporate it into your live, and grow in your journey. Usually, a pathworking is given to a student by a teacher and begins with some form of astral work, a meditation, daydream, etc., and these have a profound effect on the student’s life. Each pathworking has positive effects to gain and negative effects to overcome.

As you read the post, you’ll see that there is an underlying or meta-definition of pathworking: doing something that assists you on your spiritual path. This can be any of the things that Rose Hollow suggested, or something else. There’s just one problem with this: it’s not pathworking! At least it’s not the traditional use of the term “pathworking.” Here is something adapted from a sidebar in the new edition of Modern Magick:

Okay, I admit it. I’m angry. For over 15 years I was teaching classes on pathworking. I taught people how to do it and what they would experience. I led them on traditional pathworkings up and around the Tree of Life. And Lo, it was good.

For those of you who are heavily involved in buying (and, I hope, reading) occult books, you may have noticed that over the past decade or so, several books have been published dealing with pathworking. All of them include examples of working what they call “paths.” They seem to make pathworking into a mythologized journey through any archetypal images in the imagination. I had experienced this type of visualized journey in numerous classes for many years, but it is only recently that it has begun to be called pathworking instead of “guided visualization.” I guess that phrase isn’t “sexy” enough.

Well, for a while, I got on a metaphoric soapbox, crying out that they were doing guided visualized journeys, not pathworking. Hey, you writers and teachers! Pathworking is a specific practice. It’s not what you’re teaching! I tried. I wrote articles. I gave workshops. But my message was met with blank stares and total apathy. Nobody cared that a word with a specific meaning was having its meaning destroyed.

Sometimes, as a result of popularization, words end up developing their own meanings. In fact the new meanings may actually be contradictory to their original meanings. “That’s baaad” means “That’s good.”

Well, I discovered that trying to change people’s minds about this is like trying to hold back the ocean tides with a bucket that’s filled with holes. It’s just not going to happen. I decided to stop wasting my time fighting what is.

Therefore, if I use the term “pathworking” by itself, I’m talking about a guided visualized journey. When I’m discussing or teaching the ancient system of taking an astral journey up and around the Tree of Life, what used to be called “pathworking,” I’ll use the expression “Kabalistic Pathworking.”

So the meaning of the word has changed dramatically, from something very specific to something very generic. I can’t fault or disagree with Rose Hollow because she very clearly identifies her neo-definition of the term “pathworking.” Unlike French, English is a language that is constantly evolving and in flux.

Communication

The key, however, is “are you communicating?” According to communication theory, it is the responsibility of the communicator to make sure his or her meaning is clear. It is not the responsibility of the perceiver to guess what the communicator means. For example, If I say, “Be here at 5 for dinner” and mean 5:00 p.m. tonight, you might think I mean that time tomorrow. You have no way of knowing what I was thinking. The problem in communication was mine, the communicator, for not being clear.

In a previous blog post I described the importance of this. I described how politicians make use of unclear communication to influence people.

In magick, the precise use of communication is imperative. You need to make your magickal goals precise. When communicating with non-physical entities you need to be precise. Patrick Dunn, in his remarkable books, Postmodern Magic and Magic, Power, Language, Symbol, clearly shows the importance of using language in magick. The precise use of language has been an important part of magick since the beginning of time. Magicians use “Words of Power” and sigils made from the letters of words for magickal purposes. David Allen Hulse has written two brilliant volumes on the history of linguistics and magick, The Eastern Mysteries and The Western Mysteries.

I was triggered to write about this in that previous post because of a blog post by Morgan Drake Eckstein. He seemed to be upset because people didn’t like his use of the term “cult” when describing Golden Dawn groups. By Mr. Eckstein’s specific meaning for the term “cult,” he is, indeed, exactly right. As I wrote, “By the specific definition of a cult as being a ‘sect,’ I would say each of these groups is a cult.”

But the point in my post was, “What are you trying to communicate?” Most people do not use a very limited and dictionary accurate definition of the term “cult.” As I wrote in my post, “most people use the term ‘cult’ as meaning a group of people doing negative things and who may be suffering from some form of ‘mind control.’” If you just use the term “cult” without explaining exactly what you mean, most people will get the wrong impression of what you’re trying to communicate.

Therefore, using such terms results in a lack of good communication unless you specifically describe what you mean by the term. And if you’re going to do that, why bother using the term at all? Why not just describe what you mean?

So Mr. Eckstein, in my opinion, is absolutely correct in calling various Golden Dawn groups “cults”—when you use a very narrow and limited definition of the term. And if you want to communicate your meaning accurately, you would also need to define how you’re using the term.

Unfortunately, Mr. Eckstein didn’t seem to like this. In a more recent blog post he writes, “I believe that the word ‘cult’ was the correct technical term.” I had agreed with him, but only if you make clear what you mean by the use of the term which has so many different meanings to different people, effectively making the term (without definition) meaningless. He goes on to say, “It is obvious that me and Kraig are going to continue to disagree on this issue.”

The thing is, we don’t really disagree. He has a specific meaning for the term. I’m suggesting that by sharing the specific meaning rather than using a term that means different things to different people, communication of meaning is clearer. I’m inclined to believe that making his meaning clear was Mr. Eckstein’s purpose all along. Is the word really that important, or is the communication represented by one’s definition of the term the real point?

Count me in favor of good communication every time!

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