Four decades ago, two men, Herman Slater and Ed Buczynski, started a small occult store in New York City called “The Warlock Shop.” They were at the right place at the right time offering what people wanted. Eventually they outgrew their location and moved, renaming their shop “Magickal Childe.”
They put out a wonderfully strange and complete catalog, in tabloid format, offering everything from the strangest herbs to “Aleister Crowley’s altar” (well, I think it was a night table from the last place he lived and that might have served as an altar). The owners eventually went in separate ways, and Slater kept the store.
It was many years later that I finally met “Horrible Herman,” and I always found him an open and generous gentleman. He actually gave me a copy of the hardbound version of the Simon Necronomicon.
And that was one of the things that Slater and the Magickal Childe were also doing, publishing catalogs, books, and a magazine.
The magazine was named Earth Religion News. It was originally published in the mid-1970s. I don’t know how many issues were published. I have two copies, one a combination of two issues.
The reason I’m taking this walk down memory lane is that Earth Religion News had a motto:
Guard the Mysteries. Reveal them Constantly.
As a young neo-occultist, this motto didn’t make sense to me. The mysteries of Wicca and Witchcraft, and of various magickal orders, were secrets. I understood the first part of the motto. It meant to keep the inner teachings—”The Mysteries”—a secret except to those who were initiated into the group and granted entry into the Mysteries. But it was the second part that was confusing. If you were guarding the Mysteries by keeping them a secret, how could you “reveal them constantly?”
Walk Your Talk
In discussions with friends, I came to the belief that the meaning was that Pagan and ceremonial magick groups had their own sets of ethics that were a reflection of the group’s set of Mysteries. You could reveal the Mysteries constantly by living your beliefs, by doing what people refer to as “walking your talk.” How could outsiders take us seriously if we did not practice our beliefs? Why would the gods and spirits respond to our requests if our actions showed that we did not mean what we said?
As a relatively new entrant to the occult world this made sense. But as I reached out to work with more and more people I discovered that, as with other beliefs and faiths, followers will say one thing but do something different. “Perfect love and perfect trust” often weren’t as perfect—not even close!—as I would have liked.
I know that many people want to work by themselves for just this reason. I know what that’s like. When I was younger I went through a period with an approach to life like this in my personal life. It’s easy to avoid being hurt by not allowing anyone into a position where they can hurt you. My personal motto from that time was taken from a song by Simon and Garfunkle:
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.
It’s mentally and emotionally very safe. It’s also very lonely.
Many people today get around the loneliness of isolation by communicating with lots of people over the internet. While this has some positive value, it’s not as great as you might think. I discuss the value of meeting with people in person in a previous blog post.
Since the time I’m talking about was B.I. (Before Internet), I didn’t have the same sorts of social media available today. Instead, I had to climb out of isolation by realizing that people are people and they will behave as they will. Instead of making assumptions as to how people will behave and becoming disappointed when people don’t behave that way, I came to accept people as they are and appreciate the time we have together. That is, instead of emotionally depending upon the way I want things to be, I focus on the way things actually are. As one of my teachers used to say:
Learn from the past.
Live in the present.
Create your future.
So I came to a realization that since people are people and don’t necessarily walk their talk, my interpretation of the motto of Earth Religion News was either inaccurate, overly simplistic, or meant something else.
There was something about that motto that fascinated me. I looked for other possible meanings and eventually found it…in the movies.
Since the earliest days of movies, filmmakers have been fascinated with the occult. One of the earliest filmmakers, Georges Méliès (see his somewhat fictionalized story in the recent film, Hugo), made films with devils and angels and dragons and other occult or mythical figures. The films all had one thing in common: although they used the trappings of real occultism, they presented a false view of the occult. Badly mumbled evocations and meaningless wand waving don’t do anything…except in the movies.
[The same is true in most novels that involve occultism. One of the reasons I wrote my novel, The Resurrection Murders, was to present a more realistic view of magick and the occult within an exciting story.]
One of the things I’ve taken to saying is that if the occult grimoires worked like they show in the movies, they’d all be impounded and locked up under the Patriot Act!
The words are there, but if they’re not understood, they’ll be useless to the people trying to work with them.
That was the “aha!” moment for me. There’s a myth that mystical concepts were saved by putting them into an artistic form used for gambling, The Tarot, so that even if the inner meanings were lost on most people, those who were “in the know” would get the secret. In this way you could constantly reveal the secrets of the occult while guarding their continued existence. Share them with everyone…only the initiated would understand.
This makes great sense to me. Is there any evidence to support this concept? I think so. Aleister Crowley complained that when he was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn he took extreme vows, acknowledging terrible things would happen to him if he ever revealed their secrets. However, the secrets turned out to be astrological symbols and the Hebrew alphabet.
Superficially, I have to agree with Crowley. Hebrew and the astrological symbols, along with elementary Kabalah, simple meditation techniques, etc., were well known at the time. But what I think he missed was the real secret: that these things were used for magick. You needed the initiated interpretation of those things to understand them (an interpretation Crowley came to understand).
Yes, You Can Teach
With the understanding that not only can the Mysteries be revealed, but that we absolutely should reveal them (I take “reveal them constantly” to be an instruction, not an observation), I find teaching and writing on occult topics should be encouraged. The Mysteries should be revealed. The time for secrets is past. Leaders who say they have secrets they’ll only give to people whom they approve of are not real teachers. They are following the age-old tradition of the power-hungry seeking to be or become the heads of cults. Reveal the Mysteries constantly. Keep the inner meanings of the Mysteries for the initiates.
Years ago, Scott Cunningham taught a particular tradition of Wicca called “American Traditionalist.” He publicly taught everything in that system except for one thing: the name of the Deity worshipped in that system. When he initiated me I vowed not to reveal that name, and I take my vows seriously so I won’t reveal it here. I did a web search on the name, however, and discovered that it’s the name of a RPG (role-playing game), a DJ’s remix of songs, and more. Does that honor the Deity? I don’t think so. Can someone work with the Deity, stealing thunder from the tradition? Again, I don’t think so; not unless they follow the teachings and beliefs of the tradition, making them a de facto member of the group (although not an initiated one). If they don’t follow the practices and beliefs, why would the Deity bother to listen?
There are two exceptions I make to this concept of revealing the Mysteries and, by extension, revealing occult secrets. I’ve been “out” of the occult closet for so long that disguising it is meaningless. I’m fortunate that I can afford to be so open. Others have jobs and relationships that might suffer as a result. Therefore, I strongly support the idea that where a group has private meetings they should be kept secret. In conjunction with that, those who choose not to be identified as a member of an occult group should have that choice respected.
We should guard the Mysteries and reveal them constantly. It is, perhaps, the only way to assure their continued existence. This corresponds to what Carl Llewellyn Weschcke once referred to as the “Democratization of Magick.” He has worked to accomplish this on a large scale as the head of Llewellyn Worldwide. I’ve tried to do this on a small scale with my books and various workshops. And although all people may not be able to walk their talk—indeed, we may not be able to do it all the time—we should also reveal the Mysteries by living our lives in accordance with those beliefs.