pp-46, relating experience


I recently received an email from one of the podkin, asking if it was appropriate to discuss their experiences on their program. It seems that some people are a bit gun-shy when it come to discussing events that happen during ritual. Part of this, no doubt, is because there is a growing tendency to call people out who make extraordinary claims. In trying to maintain our own credibility, sometimes, we do cast doubt on the credibility of some of us who speak about our own experiences.


There is a tendency in some toward “seeing the emperor’s new clothes” in the pagan world. We hear of incredible experiences, and we whish to have these for ourselves. Trying to be a part of the crowd, we’ll wish to have similar experiences, and we’ll exaggerate our own, or make them up of whole cloth. We might imagine what a thing is like, and express our imaginings as fact. We might experience something in ritual, and because it is seemingly ordinary, use exaggeration or hyperbole in the telling of it to gain acceptance as more adept in the arts.


But apart from hype and hyperbole, as practitioners of a religious system, to NOT experience profound events in our lives, should be an indication that something is missing.


Should we call “Bull-hockey” when we hear it? Sure! If someone claims to be able to start fires with their thoughts, if they can cause crystals to explode with their minds, if their words can extinguish flames … it’s perfectly valid to ask for a demonstration of such things before accepting them as true. I wouldn’t immediately call people making such claims a liar, but I would certainly afford them the opportunity to demonstrate their claimed ability, and I wouldn’t be forwarding their claims to other people until I saw them for myself.


The basis of faith is evidence. By repeated evidence of small things, changes in our lives, health after disease, restored relationships … by experiencing these things we can have faith in larger things. A child, given what she or he needs or desires, will come to expect that her parents will be just as forthcoming in larger things that are needed.


Magick is all around us, and it goes by many names – psychic ability, miracles, faith healing, reiki, Shamballa, a sixth-sense, instinct, synchronicity … what have you. Religious experience takes on many forms as well – from being struck blind on the road to Damascus to feelings of the numinous in the woods at night; they are all real if they touch us as being so. When magick and religious experience bear fruit, that fruit is the basis of our faith.


I think it’s important to relate our stories to each other. They are a part of us, they are inherently valuable. It’s these stories that make up Bardic tradition, or for that matter, the tradition of any faith. (ake the miracles out of the Bible, and we’re left with a much smaller book.) But it’s important to tell these stories accurately, without amplification, exaggeration or undue embellishment, especially in a public forum. It’s no fun to be called on our bull, but worse, it’s irresponsible to lead newcomers to believe in things that will never be. We who have learned some things have a responsibility to those who are yearning to learn. Unfounded promises are good for nobody.


As a person who has healing hands, I’m not going to make claims that I can cure all disease or raise the dead. Lots of Christian faith-healers have got stuck in that trap, and many people have been hurt.


I have seen things happen though. I’ve seen people with swellings diminished almost instantly, pain has been abated, and some people who weren’t expected to get better have. These things have happened a number of times. Can I say that some secret power I possess was the cause of this? I’m not ready to do that. I’d be more comfortable saying that some exchange between me and another person helped them to help themselves.


Were the experiences dramatic? Absolutely! They were remarkable for each of us. But to take the experiences of people feeling better, and going from there to renting conference centers as a faith healer is a completely different tack. Science knows that the human body has incredible powers to heal itself. It would be wrong and irresponsible of me to make the claim that I can heal anyone.


I can also say that I’ve seen other, even directly measurable effects of meditation. Just by thought, I can change my blood pressure and pulse. Some might call this a form of magick. I know that if a doctor measured my blood pressure and found it high, he would prescribe medications. Subsequently, if he found that pressure lower, he would presume the medicines helped. His faith is in medicine, mine in my mind. Neither is unfounded.


And then, there is the magick of spells. I recall once, having lost some very important paperwork while on a bus. I didn’t notice the materials missing until I had returned to my office. I went back and retraced my steps, I called the bus company. The bus company had completely cleaned the bus I was on, and nothing was found. So, I took responsibility, and called the organization whose paperwork I had lost, and we made plans to recreate it, even though it would have taken days to do so. But then, after doing the responsible things that are required, I cast a spell that what was lost would be found.


About a day after casting the spell, I got a call from the bus company. The materials that had gone missing were found on that same bus, after having been cleaned twice with nothing found.


Is this an example of magick working? Certainly. I suppose that investigators could say that perhaps someone had simply picked up my papers, and returned them at a later date, or maybe they were stuck behind a seat, or any number of other possibilities. All of that may be true, but it’s also true that I took responsibility for my actions, I did what was necessary, and when I took the later step of casting a spell, things worked out.


Would those papers have been found had the spell not been cast? Does that make any more sense than asking if we would have radio today if Marconi hadn’t invented it? The question is moot. There is no way to answer it. I did it, and it worked. That’s all I need to know … that’s the basis of faith.


I’ve had positive results with healing hands, by whatever name you happen to use for them. You can call it Reiki, Shamballa, energy work, light work … it doesn’t matter. I’ve had positive results from spells. I think it’s wrong NOT to talk of these things. They give hope to others, and hope is essential in the world we live in today. Yes, I’v seen auras too. I’ve known things about people that would be very unlikely to be simply guessed. This doesn’t happen always, or at will, but it does happen enough that I don’t doubt that others have these abilities as well, or even more on-demand than myself.


The simple truth is that we live in a world in which not everything that has been experienced comes with an explanation.


The skeptic says “I’ll only believe what has been proved”. The credulous will believe anything they are told. A wise practitioner of the magical arts needs to be between these worlds, and the wise teacher needs to be aware that many students will be credulous, and lead them into reality.


We can’t simply refuse to accept everything that is not yet fully understood – we simply don’t have the means or capacity to know or understand everything. We need to take some things on faith. While we’ve come to rely on science, we must recognize that even science has its shortcomings.


Not very long ago, it was a fact that our genes determined our traits, from hair color to what diseases we might be susceptible to. Our height, weight, body-type, all of this was controlled by our genes. But recently, this was cast into doubt. It was seen that some genetic diseases would behave quite differently in different groups of people. How could one gene expression cause two radically different outcomes?


In investigating this, scientists began to realize that while a great deal of information is encoded in our genes, they are not the SOLE source of information contained in our cells. Science discovered a new area called “epigenetics”, or information transmitted “outside the genes”. Traits can be passed from parent to child, by mechanisms that don’t involve the genes. In fact, it’s possible for experiences we have as children to affect our grand-children.


The simple truth is that whether the subject is science, religion, philosophy or magic, the moment we believe that we have the answers, the moment we suspect that we’ve learned all there is to learn, that is the moment we mark our descent from wisdom to hubris.


Our experiences, shared with each other, honestly and openly, are gateways to further understanding and exploration. They help us to see how grand, beautiful, mysterious and wonderful our universe really is. But the experiences and the sharing aren’t without responsibility to the gods, to ourselves, to the truth. We have the privilege and the responsibility to share our experience honestly, without undue embellishment, and without hyperbole.


The universe has solid accounting practices. Each time we try to make ourselves appear to be more than we are, each false credit that we use to build up our own esteem has a corresponding debit somewhere else, in some account of our lives. Like any shoddy accounting practice, manipulated accounts tend to be noticed at some point. When we’ve built up our experiences from pure ether, when we manufacture events to appear wise, powerful or experienced, those who do have wisdom and experience will take note. The credits in fame and esteem will have come at the expense of credibility, and our brief stop in fame will have been but a waypoint to the journey of humiliation or infamy.


None of this is to say that we have to speak of everything we experience. There is good reason for secrecy. Secrecy builds power, it is almost an energy source in its own right. Every time we wish to speak about a spell we are working on, and remain silent, we are taking the energy we would have used in the speaking, and adding it to our work.


There are things that simply shouldn’t be spoken. Who we see at ritual, or who is a member of a coven … these things probably shouldn’t be made public. The truth is that some of us would be in danger of losing jobs or homes, or perhaps risk the anger or hatred of family members, simply for being pagan. These are things that can, and do happen, even today, even in places that claim religious freedom and tolerance.


But we still need to share experience. Experience is what makes any faith valuable to those who see it. Experience is what draws people to any spiritual path. Even Jesus said “By their fruits shall ye know them”.  Our fruits, indeed the fruits of any spiritual path, are the experiences we share.


© 2009, Deirdre A. Hebert