Witch at Large: Ruminations from a Grey Perspective
Seeing Paganism in terms of being a movement, explorations of our history, societal context, comparisons to other religious movements, and general Pagan culture.
Lines & Lineages, Responsibility & Teaching
Last year a young man approached me at a sabbat and told me he was "of my line." Huh? I didn't know I had a line. Then he told me he'd recently been initiated and one of his initiators was an initiate of one of my initiates. My initiate had been a student of mine (and of others) for some years before any oaths were sworn.
This incident brings up lots of questions, especially since it arises from a tradition (Reclaiming) that requires no initiation in order for people to participate as fully and completely, prominently and authoritatively (teaching, public priest/essing, et al.) as they choose. An obvious concern in this scenario is accountability -- to students, to community, to tradition. Another is whether, or how, one can assume a shared knowledge and capability. Those are questions for another rumination; for now, let's stick with lines and lineage.
What do we mean by lineage? Why is it important to us? Or to those of us who may think it is important? Or to anyone?
Does a lineage give us credibility?
On the practical side, does a lineage imply a certain level of competency? Does it imply that all of a particular line share common teachings?
Does it imply all share common ritual forms and/or common sacred technologies?
On the ethical side, does claiming a particular lineage imply any kind of responsibility or one's forebears? Or accountability for one's conduct, either "upline" or to a tradition in general or to the Craft?
On the spirito-magical side, does a lineage assume a shared theology?
Do those of a shared line also share a cosmology? Do they share common lore?
Does it carry with it the assumption of a shared deity or set of deities?
Does it assume a particular ethnic or historical identity?
On the human side, do "downline" initiates owe any allegiance or accountability to those of their "upline"? Does being "downline" from an individual imply the approval, backing or championship of that forebear?
Do those of a particular line have anything in common at all?
I know that other religious traditions, Pagan or otherwise, have considered many of these questions. They have articulated for themselves just what is expected of those who claim identity with, or membership in, the particular tradition. They often have a credo of some kind as well. For instance, Wiccans have the Ordains and the Rede. To be fair, Reclaiming does have one statement, its Principles of Unity.1 For people in those situations, this contemplation is moot.
However, we Pagans are a new religious movement ("NRM")2 We are still very much in the process of defining ourselves. So I think there are other Pagans besides myself who consider this topic worth exploring.
Then there is the matter of one's assumptions about what a lineage means versus the reality of what it may mean. I have some ideals. I doubt they're universally shared, or even widely shared. Maybe some have never even considered these questions even if they have undergone some kind of initiation process and sworn an oath.
In future blogs I'd like to explore some of the questions proffered here. In the meantime, I invite comments.
1. This document has recently (2012) been changed; however, not everyone is comfortable using the newer version. Although I have provided a link to the newer one because that's the one for which there is a link, I am speaking only of the original 1997 iteration.
2. In the field of religious studies, a new religious movement (NRM) is one that fewer than 200 years old. Examples are LDS (Mormonism), Brahma Kumaris, Branch Davidian, Religious Science, and Scientology. Although contemporary Pagan religions draw upon one or several ancient heritages, none can be proven to have come down in a unbroken line from antiquity. Thus, Paganism falls in the category of NRM. That does not imply any lack of authority and authenticity, only age.
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