In my previous post, I discussed why I thought identity was an essential principle of magic and explored what magic as an ontological practice might look like. In this post, I want to unpack identity further so that we can learn what makes up identity and how we can work with it as a magical principle. Some of what I discuss below can also be found in my book Magical Identity.
Your Family is one of the foundational elements of your identity. Your mother and father, and siblings (if you have any) provide you the initial experience of the world, as well as modeling behaviors about how to interact with the world. They pass down both their functional and dysfunctional behaviors, both in terms of how they interact with you and around you. It's fair to say that your identity is shaped by them for your entire life. I'd argue that your family is one of the more influential elements of identity and one that needs to be carefully explored in order to change a lot of your own behaviors. Your family also models financial and health skills to you. Even if they never explicitly discuss finances or health, they nonetheless provide you with standards that impact how you handle both throughout your life.
I join the chorus of voices reporting on the general wonderfulness of the 9th Annual Claremont Pagan Studies Conference.1 I found the overall quality of presentations exceptionally high, as they were the last time I attended two years ago.
I arrived Friday night after a long solo drive from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles, through rain and the hairy Grapevine Canyon through the Tehachapi Mountains, stressed and with intense pain between my shoulders. Cranky, in other words. Soon Lauren cheered me up.
Saturday morning's first session consisted of four speakers. Joseph Nichter, an Iraq war veteran, spoke of using Tarot in healing PTSD. I loved his ideas about what he calls "peripheral exploration," wherein the querent draws a single card, places it on a larger sheet of paper, and draws a scene that embeds the image in the card in a larger picture.
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?
On the last episode of the radio show I co-host with my partner, the popular topic of labels within Paganism came up and we spent a few minutes talking about what we thought of it all. Although neither of us seemed to care much about using singular labels for our path, it did prompt us to think about labels in terms of percentages. What started as a funny way to talk about self-identification turned into some pretty deep introspection for me.
The thing is, human beings are very complex. Although we might resonate with one philosophy or practice, I don't know of very many people who follow just that one thing and only that one thing. This fact can bring about a good sense of personal satisfaction, knowing that we don't have to strive to fit into the boxes set before us. But it also challenges us to look deeper at what we believe and why we believe it. Even if we feel we fit within one system entirely, there are still aspects of culture and upbringing that shape us into very unique individuals.
This is part two of a two-part blog that tries to move beyond the binary distinction of life and death. Please read the first part if you have not as you will get more out of this post if you do. To break out of the dichotomy of life and death we need to introduce identity as another measure of the attributes of existence. In order to explore how identity helps us to expand our understanding of life and death, let's start with the very large and then move down into the very small.