Common Ground: The Kinship of Metaphysicians

A syncretic approach to esoteric teachings - the golden threads that connect Pagans, Yogis, Rosicrucians and Masons.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs

I am responding to two excellent pieces in the recent Witches & Pagans #31 – Anne Newkirk Nivens' Evocation and Jessica Marie Baumgartner's Give & Take. They make great bookends for a very important subject.

Not all readers will agree with my conclusions – and this is why most of us will always be solitaries. After all, the hallmarks of Neopaganism are creativity and individuality – not to mention a terrible allergy to being told what to believe!

I respect those who disagree with me, but are polite enough not to insult me over it. As Voltaire wrote, “I do not approve all your opinions, but I will fight to the death for your right to express them.” I think the reason we have so many trolls on the Internet today, is because not enough people are familiar with that concept.

What am I supposed to do when a complete stranger feels the need to preach to me – in person or in print – as to why my well-considered impression of the universe is full of shit? I want to put as much distance between ourselves as possible.

So you may justifiably ask why I publish my essays at all. If I'm so delicate, why must I continuously bare my neck and stick it out in this manner?

I guess the reason is that a writer has to write, and a teacher has to teach – even if it is only to teach himself. After a lifetime of reading books on metaphysics, mysticism, spirituality, religion, history, anthropology, literature, poetry and philosophy – and after taking many courses and viewing countless videos, and spending more than half a century analyzing them all and determining how I feel about them, I find that my best instruction now comes from going back and reading what I have written, myself. I need to be reminded of the conclusions I reached at various stages of my life, and why I reached them.

I am gratified when my thoughts meet with sympathetic minds; it helps me to feel a bit less alone. But I will not be offended if they don't. We are individuals, with our own experiences and mental associations.

Which is why, I believe, most of us have to be solitaries.

I am now 68 years old, and have been involved with religious institutions since I was 16 and with metaphysical ones since I was 26 – and I have something to add to the points made in Witches & Pagans: Jessica's point that she gets more support from people of goodwill who follow religions different than hers, than she gets from many in her own community; and Anne's searingly logical point that our internecine strife will look like the sheerest stupidity, when global warming catches up with us and we find ourselves struggling to obtain the basic necessities for survival.

Can we all get along?” Rodney King famously asked, after he'd been tasered twice and beaten to a pulp. Most of us have wondered the same thing.

Like Jessica, I wondered for a long time why some people feel the need to persecute others, especially those with whom they supposedly share similar spiritual sentiments. I found it easier to understand why extreme Christians and Muslims attack us: in a creepy but real way, they want to save us!

Inquisitors believed it was a kindness to make a witch suffer the pain of burning at the stake, that her soul might thereby be granted expiation and be spared the eternal fires of Hell. I know the very mention of The Burning Times drives people crazy– but many of those priests believed they were being compassionate!

It was harder for me to understand why Pagans lash out against other members of our same basic faith community. We cannot claim the excuse of attempting to save each other from perdition or the Devil – so I reasoned - since we're not supposed to believe in either one! So what do we gain by being so intolerant of each other?

I realize now that many of my confreres actually DO believe in a sort of Purgatorial state – such as the Viking Hell of bitter cold and isolation, or future incarnations of pain and want. And I suppose a possible gain would be to teach everyone that our own personal revelation about Deity is the ONLY RIGHT one, and why anyone who embraces an alternate school of thought is deluded.

But – and this is my own personal conclusion after so many years of internal debate - if we're all headed to the Summerland anyway, WHO CARES? Why can't we let our neighbor believe whatever she wants, and be content to keep our own convictions to ourselves? Whoever heard of an Evangelical Pagan? They obviously exist, but I am not one of them.

Which is why people like me will always be solitary practitioners.

I think a much better answer to the question of internecine attack lies in the deceptively short but enormously fraught word which Anne uses in her piece: EGO. Too many human beings want to feel special.

I know whereof I speak – because for most of my life I was an active practitioner of Being Special. So this is as much a self-confession, as an analysis of an anthropological phenomenon.

It was probably due to my upbringing. When I was in high school, my family enjoyed a privileged position in New York society. My Dad had accumulated a huge library of 16 millimeter films and two projectors, and my friends would come to our twelve room apartment across from Central Park West to watch black-and-white movies, any time they wanted. No one else could do that in 1964.

Today almost all Americans can watch whatever they want in full color, on TV screens that are even bigger than our movie screen was. There is no longer anything special about it. Of course I understand – now – that material possessions don't make a person important; but I can't deny that my childhood impressed me with a certain assumption of entitlement.

Of course my campaign to preserve my own specialness was doomed to failure; but I relived it in multiple ways, at different stages of my life.

I used to be an excellent archer. I used a recurve bow. For a while I attached a sight to it; but that made it so easy to drop arrows into the gold from hundreds of feet away, that I soon dispensed with it. Not many people were interested in archery, back then. In addition to my blissfully meditative hours on the target range, that fact made me feel important.

Today, of course, everybody in the world knows how to shoot, and bow technology has progressed to a space-age level. I am no longer unique or special because I used to be a good archer.

At age 16 I decided I wanted to be an Actor. This was a profession at which I trained and worked for a long time, and took very, very seriously, with an almost religious awe. But it's 2016 now. “You're an actor? Who isn't? My Reality show debuts on Spike next week.”

And then there was the teaching thing – the longest and most recently ended. I was a very good and gifted Yoga teacher, as my main raison d'etre was to help people who were in pain. I learned from Indian gurus and their direct disciples. I also accumulated enormous hands-on experience in Naturopathy, Chiropractic and Physical Therapy. For quite a few years I had a lovely following of people who took my classes at every opportunity. I wasn't a doctor or a witch, but you could have legitimately made the claim that I was a Cunning Man. I had a wealth of information and experience, and could help you in very many ways.

But we all got older, and our daily priorities changed. And meantime studios began churning out Yoga teachers, in the same way that theatre schools had been churning out Actors. I'm no longer special, and my lifetime of experience stands for nothing if I am asked to provide a certificate which didn't even exist when I was learning my craft.

I do not regret the years I spent as a teacher. I know that I helped many a grateful person, and there are very few things that I would change.

But there was something very nice about being a popular and respected figure in my community. Now I'm just a peculiar character with a wonky eye, who takes care of his disabled wife. Strong young women open doors for us.

I recently discovered an old letter from my high school Latin teacher, written to me in 1963. Among other things, he wrote:

There, too, is but little doubt that you will contribute a something to this world of ours – but don't be very surprised (though you may be hurt) that this world may be reluctant to accept contributions such as yours.”

He was right! I wish he'd been around to consult with, thirty years later.

At that time I was commissioned by a former Yoga student to write the text of a new book for which he had taken hundreds of asana photographs – a book which he insisted would be better than any other on the market, because it would be “completely mine” - that is, written from my very own point of view. But he didn't follow through on his promise. Instead, he was shocked to learn that my personal point of view, garnered by hard experience over many years, was that no matter what title was given to a man, or what abstruse Eastern country he hailed from, or what ancient texts in “sacred script” purported to give him authority, every human being tries to hide his shortcomings; and for that reason, along with my sincerely respectful recounting of Yogic history, teachings and techniques, I also insisted that as intelligent Westerners we were entitled to maintain a healthy sense of humor on the subject, and a bit of skepticism toward outrageous claims.

In other words, if you are courageous enough to look beneath the surface of things, you will see that the Emperor has no clothes – he's just as capable of making mistakes as you or I!

But my former student (who had far less experience in the subject than I) would have none of that free-spirited attitude! He fired me, and gave the commission to another teacher who wound up publishing the same boilerplate P.R. on Yoga that had been fed to every other Westerner for the past two decades.

And now I see that I have often hinted that the Emperor has no clothes, and have suggested that a bit of humor might be a good lens through which to view the world. But too many fearful people looking for something to believe in, are unwilling to receive that message. I think of the film, “Hyde Park on Hudson” with Bill Murray as F.D.R. In a private scene with the King of England, Franklin Roosevelt says that the public sees in both of them whatever they NEED to see. “Can you imagine the disappointment,” he asks George, “if they should ever see us as we really are?”

I agree with that assessment. After all, I was raised in a similar social milieu and I saw it for myself. And because I agree with it, I will always be a solitary practitioner.

I learned a wonderful life-lesson by observing certain Yogi Gurus. They would never criticize an absent teacher's statements, nor would they ever act judgmentally toward people introduced to them in social situations; they just kept their own counsel and their sense of humor, and treated everyone they met with extreme courtesy.

UNLESS, that is, you came to one of them as a committed student and ASKED for his or her guidance in your life. THEN you were immersed in the full tidal wave of that teacher's philosophy, practice and wisdom – and in all of his quirks, faults and prejudices, too.

And that, I think, is the example I need to remember. If I'm reading a stranger's blog with which I violently disagree – whether on Facebook or Pagan Square – before responding to it, I should remind myself, “Has this person ASKED for my opinion? Is he even addressing me, considering that he doesn't know me from Adam? Then maybe I should leave him alone and get on with my own affairs. Surely I can come up with more important things to concern me.”

I'm finally content to allow others their own sort of joy - employing whatever forms or philosophies they prefer - without having to feel the need to intrude my own two cents into their lives. What they do is no skin off my nose, and it needn't affect my own enjoyment of my own chosen practice.

I thank all Gods, Goddesses, Guardians and Guides for the kind souls which Jessica Baumgartner celebrates in her article: the Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Atheists, Buddhists, Taoists and Satanists – yes, and all the heart-centered Pagans and Heathens, too – who focus on our similarities instead of on the differences that can divide us. 

Since most of those folks are going against the stricter prejudices of their respective faiths - THEY must be solitary practitioners, too!

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A student of esoteric traditions since the age of 16, Ted Czukor (Theo the Green) taught Yoga for 37 years until retiring in 2013. For 26 years he was adjunct faculty for the Maricopa, AZ Community Colleges, teaching Gentle Yoga and Meditation & Wellness. Raised in the Methodist Church but drawn to Rosicrucianism, Hinduism and Buddhist philosophy, he is a devotee of the Goddess in all Her forms. Ted has been a Shakespearean actor, a Masonic ritualist and an Interfaith wedding officiant. He is the author of several books, none of which made any money and two of which are available as .pdf files. He lives with his wife Ravyn-Morgayne in Sun City, Arizona. Their shared dream is to someday relocate to Glastonbury, England.


  • Cindi Dean Wafstet
    Cindi Dean Wafstet Friday, 19 February 2016

    Other than being a teacher of yoga, I feel like I could have written these same words. I close to your age (65) and have also studying and done many of the same things as you and wondered many of the same things.

    Thank you for putting my thoughts into words. I'm blown away.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Friday, 19 February 2016

    Bless you, Cindi. It feels nice to be understood.

  • tehomet
    tehomet Saturday, 05 March 2016

    Sweet wisdom.

    Thank you for posting.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Saturday, 05 March 2016

    Thank you for liking, tehomet.

  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis Wednesday, 16 March 2016

    Great stuff! I must share a link to it.

    I love your line "I respect those who disagree with me, but are polite enough not to insult me over it." Beautifully phrased.

    And I know exactly what you mean about your "well-considered impression of the universe" being met with attack. I have often thought that when my writing is met by a difference of opinion that's not angry, ego based, mindlessly thrown together, or dehumanizing of me, but instead is grounded in the same degree of effortful, thoughtful analysis that went into the piece i wrote, it could create a delightful debate.

    Keep writing, the world needs you.

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