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Scavenge & Synthesize

Scavenge & Synthesize

©2012 Matthew Venus

Recently I was talking to someone I respect as a mentor and teacher, and he wondered why Witches of later generations used Eastern terminology with their Craft. They were talking about magickal gestures and hand positions as mudras, a term from Hindu traditions. I do the same thing. My own background mixes Witchcraft and Wicca with modern occultism, Theosophy, Qabalah, kundalini yoga, shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism. So I gave his question a lot of thought.

My initial answer is that we are looking for verification. Many of us in modern Witchcraft broke away from our birth religions, often with great difficult. We face fear, anger, peer pressure and ostracism from our families and friends. We usually leave our birth religion because we feel there is something false about it, either in the theology or the dogma. It doesn't ring true. It's not organic. While all religions are going to have some inorganic aspect, in the sense that it was human made, some are more synthetic, more unnatural than others. Most of go towards Paganism and Witchcraft because there is a feeling of being more authentic, more natural.

Yet there is a part of us that distrusts. We must find out for ourselves. We need to experience directly. My generation of Witches and those that have come after me don't do so well in hierarchical coven structures. We constantly ask why. And if the answer is “because” or “that's the way we do it” we usually leave the group or tradition pretty quickly.

In our own research, we need independent verification. If someone tells us a teaching is “true” we need to verify it in more than one place. For the longest time, my own rule of thumb was if I found an idea, technique or symbol in more than one culture, in more than one time period, then such a teaching could be a strand of truth. It always amazed me how often the same idea could be found in many places. When there was a connection between cultures, it showed that something continued to work, surviving one culture into the other. When the traditions were independent, it shows me something common to the human experience. It was with those strands of truth from across time and space I wanted to weave my own tapestry of tradition and practice.

Those who seek out this type of information, this verification, tend to identify with being occultists, seekers of the unknown and unseen, rather than purely religionists in our pursuit of magick. As an occultist, I was fascinated even prior to my understanding that I was becoming an occultist, or before I ever considered Witchcraft as a serious spiritual practice, with the art and science of alchemy. Here was a body of lore with parallel ideas and concepts all over the world, east and west.

Crows and Magpies

©2012 Matthew Venus

I was reminded of a saying by another friends and wise elder, Maxine Sanders. She said in a lecture I attended, “The Craft is a scavenger religion believing that if it works, use it.” I identified with it immediately and realized that in many ways that is what I've been doing all along. Yet it's not enough.

When we are scavengers, we can either be magpies or crows. While it's most likely an urban myth with no real basis in wildlife studies, magpies are known to gather shiny objects. When we scavenge, particularly in the early stages of our Craft development, particularly when we don't have a mentor or teacher, we tend to collect the pretty stuff. We gather all the shiny baubles of magick and Witchcraft, often the things that best confirm our own good thoughts about ourselves and the universe. We don't tend to gather anything that is heavy or seemingly ugly. Soon we realize we have a collection of shiny, beautiful junk. Not all of it works together. There is no clear purpose of the tools. They don't fit well into the “toolbox” of our practice.

When we are crows, we take the carrion. Technically crows will eat almost anything that is edible, yet they have a reputation for scavenging carrion. The crow goddesses of Celtic traditions, such as the various forms of the Morrighan, are seen upon the battlefields feasting up on the fallen warriors. Symbolically, the crow scavenger goes for not only the shiny, but those parts that would scare us: the dead, the rotting flesh, and the insects. In alchemy, crows are associated with Saturn and the black stage of the work, the dark period that must be transformed. The self taught often shy away from the darkness in favor of the shiny, yet it is in the darkness where we find our greatest strength.

When we have only the baubles, the best we can do is create a mosaic, where each part is still separate and distinct, but we find a pattern bringing all the parts together into a cohesive whole. This is an effective strategy, but doesn't always go deep. You have to work each individual part. It reminds me of my early Reiki training. Traditional Usui style Reiki healers and teachers won't prohibit you from complementary techniques such as massage or crystals, but will suggest you “do reiki” first and then you do whatever else. Don't mix them.

Yet even the most ardent proponent of not mixing systems, styles, cultures and deities would have to see the historic blending found in ancient and modern occultist, and realize such systems are also true and effective. Be it the Greek Magickal Papyri of Alexandria, the Order of the Golden Dawn or the worship of the British goddess Epona by the Roman Soldiers stationed in Britain.

In the crow method, the rotting flesh is brought to your own tree, drawn from the ancient trees of tradition, but nourished with the gathered pieces of flesh and blood. Some are bright and living. Some are dead and darkness, yet all will feed your tree. Rather than remain separate and distinct, they can be drawn into the metaphoric tree of your tradition, feeding it, making it strong and making it whole. Rather than separate parts, they have been synthesized together. By feeding your tree but drawing form the tree of the great Tradition with a capitol T, the Tradition of Occultists both east and west, you have a connection, a link so the greater body of the Tradition, and add to the growing grove of our path.


©2012 Matthew Venus

I used to describe myself as an eclectic Witch. I was not bound to any one tradition. I drew from multiple sources and felt most comfortable with those who drew from multiple sources, as long as they did so in an educated way. You should know what you are drawing from, and understand when certain things, even in the same cultural context, will not mix. Dorothy Morrison recently reminded a group of students I was in that its probably best not to call upon Athena and Ariadne at the same time. But now I refer to myself as a syncretic Witch.

Syncretism is reconciliation and merger of various philosophies, beliefs or mythologies into a whole. Often these different beliefs are seemingly conflicted. One of the most famous esoteric examples of this is the merger of native African traditions with Catholicism to create the syncretic religion of Voodou. Many would see them as entirely contradictory, but the practitioners and community have created something rich, deep and whole that works for them. A strict Catholic, or the Pope, would disagree, but the Pope doesn't have to practice Voodou.

We have a rich tradition of Syncretism in both Pagan and Judeo-Christian traditions. We are simply continuing that tradition. Many of the mystery school traditions would have aspects of syncretism as they absorb the mythologies of the exoteric world with older traditions from foreign lands. Even Catholicism is a syncretic mix of Judaism, the teachings of Christ, Gnosticism, Mithraism, Egyptian iconography and aspects of the Greek and Egyptian mystery schools.

My first true understanding in synthesizing my disparate parts of theology, occultism and metaphysics was from the vision I received that eventually became the teachings of the Three Rays of Witchcraft. It syncretized by own experiences in Witchcraft, Wicca, shamanism, Qabalah, Reiki, Theosophy and holistic health. While it occurred spontaneously, it was after deep intention and prayer to find some sort of cohesion in my practice and beliefs. I've given great thought to how to ritualize the process for others who want to be more like crows.

A Call to Synthesize

©2012 Matthew Venus

Take symbols of the various traditions and schools of thought you work deeply with. On a small sheet of paper, write a symbol or word that embodies that paradigm for you. For example Witchcraft would be a pentacle. Qabalistic lore could be symbolized by the Tree of Life glyph. Druidism can use the symbol of Awen, a Celtic knot or even a drawing of an oak tree. Buddhism is symbolized by the Eight Spoked Wheel of Dharma. At a magickally significant time for you, such as the Full Moon or a solar alignment, take the symbols of these traditions and burn them one by one in a cauldron. Let the ashes cool and mix the ashes in a small bowl with some olive oil. Anoint your brow with the ash and oil mix. Let it stay on your forehead, your third eye, for at least the evening. It's best to do this at night and go to sleep with the mark, washing it off before work the next day if necessary. Pay attention to your dreams, meditations, conversations and daily deep thoughts, to see how you are guided to deepen your awareness of these traditions and how they can be syncretized together. The result may not be immediate or clear, but you have set your intention to the universe and then the time is right, the pieces will not only fit into place, but melt and merge together, forming as strange new alloy. Or keeping with our organic imagery, they will be composted together, their boundaries blurring and rotting, and feed the tree of Tradition, and thereby your own soul.

Through this we are able to receive the best from living in the Age of the Great Blessing and the Great Curse. I affectionately tell my students, covenmates, readers and just about anyone who will listen that we live in the Age of the Great Blessing and the Great Curse. Did you know this? The Great Blessing is that never before have we had access too all the mythology, theology, rituals, magick and art of the religious traditions across the world and throughout time. It's quite amazing. Even before the advent of the internet, the local library was a cornucopia of information on par with the famous libraries of Alexandria. Sometimes we need to stop and realize how amazing that is. Yet we also live in the time of the Great Curse. What is the Great Curse you ask? Never before have we had access too all the mythology, theology, rituals, magick and art of the religious traditions across the world and throughout time. We have to ask. We have to research. We have to look at multiple points of view. We are born in a multicultural, multiracial, theologically diverse world where we can't make assumptions on our visions, experiences and spiritual allies. How do we navigate these great blessings and curses? Simple. Scavenge what is useful and synthesize. Look to make a cohesive whole that addresses the entire spiritual experience, not just the parts that flatter your ego. Then you will be well on your way, flying on the path between like a good crow.

Blog Photos Credit: "Photo courtesy of Matthew Venus All rights reserved."

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Christopher Penczak is the co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, a system, tradition and religious nonprofit organization focused on magickal education and building community. He is an award winning author of over twenty books, including The Inner Temple of Witchcraft, The Three Rays of Witchcraft and Ascension Magick and a co-owner of Copper Cauldron Publishing, a company dedicated to producing inspirational products of magick and art for the evolution of consciousness for individuals and the world. Based in New England, he travels internationally to teach magick and healing.


  • Karen Hall
    Karen Hall Thursday, 19 July 2012

    Thank you, Christopher, for an exceptionally clear and concise explanation of this common experience. This tendency to amalgamate aspects from various traditions is something that many people experience, and you're quite right about the confusion it can cause. This is particularly true for those who are new to the Pagan path who are often still trying to break free from the fear that so many religions ingrain into their adherents. I will recommend that all my students read this.

    Oh, and you've also inspired me. I frequently refer to myself as an eclectic witch just because it is a term that is commonly understood and conveys a general idea that I draw my beliefs from many sources. As I was reading your blog, I was struck with the inspired thought that, due to my heritage, perhaps I will refer to myself as a gumbo Witch from now on. When making gumbo, you start with the basics then throw all kinds of good things into the pot. If an ingredient doesn't seem like it would meld well with the others and improve the overall dish, you can still appreciate its worth, but without adding it to the gumbo. That's how my path came together (and is still growing and evolving today). Just like gumbo.

  • Christopher Penczak
    Christopher Penczak Thursday, 19 July 2012

    Thanks. I just met some lovely Swamp Witches in North Carolina and was reminded of them with your Gumbo Witch Comment. My husband's name in many circles is Gumbo Boy as his is a rich synthesis of styles, with a neo Voodou thing going on, making the Gumbo reference. I think we'll all be working on new vocabulary and definitions to better define our practice.

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