“To know, to dare, to will and to be silent.” These are the four powers of the Sphinx within Hermetics, which were written by Eliphas Levi and found their way into modern Witchcraft and Wicca (as so much Hermetic material has). They are well known but often less understood. We can surmise that “to know” is to be learned and to gain knowledge, “to dare” is to go forth and do with courage, “to will” is to utilize one’s True Will to create change (magic) as well as to withstand the dangers of the Spirits, and “to be silent” is to hold silence and not speak of one’s workings. Each of these “powers” could be an article or even a book, but for this blog I would like to focus on silence.
My own tradition of Witchcraft had a sundering in part because of the fourth Power of the Sphinx. To…Be…Silent. Some of our initiates felt strongly that the Tradition needed to be out there and ministered to the public. They had written books, were teaching publicly (some for free and some for pay) and were discussing inner secrets (though there were disagreements as to what was actually secret between lineages) on e-lists and with non-initiates. Many arguments ensued between those of us who felt that we should have never come out into public view at all and those who felt that we needed to liberate the masses from their shackles.
This argument, gentle readers, is really between the priests (be they of any faith) and the witches who walk multiple paths at once. You see, the priest desires to be of service to the community and to help the profane to enter into a state of grace and healing via his Gods or Tradition. From the priests’ cause arise temples, books, public litany, services and a priest caste dedicated to enlightening the masses. Noble to be sure, but the work of priests has nothing to do with witchcraft, and usually they are opposed.
The witch is something else and desires liberation of self as the focus of her work, as opposed to working only on others or as a guru. The witch walks the “twixt” roads of the Spirits alone. The witch is not popular–hell, the witch is not usually liked, and that is fine because the power of the witch does not arise from the populace, it arises from the Spirits with whom she holds her vows. The witch does not sell her secrets for coin or ego gain, because the milk and breath of the Spirits themselves sustain her and allow her to live the life she so chooses. In other words, the witch may accept coin for services rendered, such as a tarot reading or a love charm for a lonely client or a curse well paid, but to sell her lore, the roads she travels, the names of her Gods, or the council of the Spirits is another matter entirely. She would dare not risk a loss of her Spirit bonds for the bondage of the church of Feri and its denizens or the shackles of false guru-hood, or be bound to the men of clay and their unabating hunger. For the witch cannot feed them; she can only walk among them, hidden in plain sight.
Unfortunately, both sides in this confusing debate shut down, and the tradition known as Feri cracked in two. There were those who felt a Mystery Tradition of Witchcraft cloaked in silence–more hidden from public view, and certainly not sold–was of utmost importance; and there were those who felt the true path was activism and work to heal and help the masses as their primary mission, as well as to share the Tradition with as many as possible in the form of a priesthood. Those of us who split away towards a more silent mystery tradition had our trust broken by the Feri Priests who took our sacred knowledge and published it, sold tickets to witch camps, sold merchandise, classes, and workshops. A whore house of our Lady was made and we wept. In the old days, a witch did not utter that she was so to anyone outside of her circle, and while times may have changed and some of us do indeed expose ourselves to the light, we here in the shadows would never dream of selling our lore, teachings, spells and secrets to the outside world.
Regardless of your opinion as to the split itself, the question still remains about actual silence. To be silent. What are we silent about and why? And why does it matter to be silent as a Witch? Why does silence matter in magic and to the Spirits?
I was taught the lore of the night and of liminal spaces, and that to be silent was of the utmost importance to traversing these roads. I learned that to speak of a spell before its fruition was to kill it, and later I learned that most people, because they are not of our witch-blood, do not understand our ways and indeed deeply fear what we do. This is because we as witches walk the path of the Opposer and of the Ophidian bifurcated mysteries. We are not here to convince anyone of our rights or to change their minds because we have had a deeply profound experience. We are here as witches to work on ourselves through transgression, to free oneself from oneself, and to connect with our Gods and Spirits. The more we keep in silence, the more we can do our work without the interference of the curiosity seeker or the people who wish to destroy us or steal our secrets.
I never share my inner workings or profound experiences with the Spirits. That, of course, is my choice, but I also follow the magicians and witches who came before me in regards to keeping silent. I have no problem with magical folk making a living from their arts, actually. I never did. My trust to keep silent was not unilateral in Feri, and as I saw myself and those who felt as I do lose more and more ground, I began to realize the importance of silence even more.
I used to argue and beg and try to convince my brethren who were teaching the Tradition for money that this was wrong and they were misguided, but after a time I began to realize that my energy was in vain. After a painful few years, I realized what had happened was that Feri had hived off into a Church with dogma and structure and exercises open to all, where priests were charging for entrance–a completely separate thing from the mystery tradition of witchcraft that it began as. To be sure, the priests have their mysteries and their magic, but a mystery tradition of witchcraft has nothing to do with profit or ministering to the masses.
The Sufis speak of such sundering, and I suppose it was only a matter of time that it would happen here as the tradition grew past its original few covens and into hundreds and hundreds of people. The priests of Feri have chosen to steward the masses and to shepherd them toward healing, and that is okay. We all have our parts to play and paths to walk. It is different from those of us who choose to walk the twisted and uncanny path of witchcraft alone. In walking this path, silence is probably one of the most important skills that a Witch and Magician can cultivate. So, I looked more deeply into why silence is important to the witch in regards to her inner traditions and lore, and I want to share what I have discovered about silence with you.
Why Silence is Important
Why would we wish to keep such amazing mysteries hidden? Why, when we have discovered such liberation and magic, would we not wish to share these things with the world, to lift them up and to help them out of their degradation? (Insert pamphlet of every major religion here, and NO thank you!) Here are my answers to those questions as a Traditional Witch.
The importance of silence in terms of keeping lore, or even keeping silent the fact that one was a magician or a Witch, was not lost on the Ancients. Most of the Mystery Cults of yore were passed orally, and to this day we know little of what actually happened in many of them, other than they were ‘there’ along with a few tidbits. A great example of these cults were the Eleusinian mysteries of ancient Greece, which were some type of agricultural and immortality cult and were regarded with respect and importance by the local and uninitiated people. Of course the populace knew that there was a Mystery tradition happening, but the inner lore and secrets were vigorously and violently guarded. There was a four-tiered system that preserved the inner mysteries for a select and learned few, but allowed many more of the masses to be involved and participate on a more surface level. Because of the rigors of entering the inner circle of initiates, those involved were less likely to spill the beans because they had worked so hard to attain their positions. However, it was not just a ‘mystical cool kids club’ that kept them silent. Many of the philosophers of the day such as Pythagoras (who was involved in a mystery mathematical cult), Socrates, Plato, Aristoxenus and Ammonius all knew and wrote about the importance of being silent for magical purposes. There was at the time an older doctrine of silence prior to ‘The Four Powers of the Sphinx’ called “The Mecurial Doctrine of Hermes,” which had five principles and may well have influenced Levi’s work. Below are the translated fragments.
And Mercury saith:………….
They were as follows:
- That sharing holy matters with profane minds pollutes them:
“You may call Ammon; but summon no one else, lest a discourse which treats of the holiest of themes, and breathes the deepest reverence, should be prophaned by the entrance and presence of a throng of listeners…” (Asclepius prologue 1b [Scott])
- That profane minds simply cannot grasp holy doctrine and often will mock those who preach it and are incited by the holy to commit violence or a greater evil because of lack of understanding:
“But avoid converse with the many…. the many will think you to be one who is laughed at… are never friends… and can urge bad men to more wickedness…. beware of talking to them, in order that, being in ignorance they may be less wicked.” (Stobaei Hermetica [Scott])
- Silence allows the divine enlightenment (magic or spell work or inner guidance) to occur:
“And now, my son, speak not, but keep a solemn silence; so that the mercy will come down on us from God.” (Corpus Hermeticum 13.8a [Scott])
- That it is futile to express the inexpressible:
“For there is, my son, a secret doctrine, full of holy wisdom, concerning Him who alone is lord of All and… whom to declare is beyond the power of man.” (Fragments 12 [Scott])
- That silence stops and protects against mistranslation because the words themselves have power:
“Translation will greatly distort the sense of writings, and cause much obscurity. Expressed in our native language, the teaching conveys its meaning clearly; for the very quality of the sounds; and when the Egyptian words are spoken, the force of the things signified words in them…” (Corpus Hermeticum 16.1b-2 [Scott])
Interestingly, these sentiments are also expressed by Jesus when he states to his disciples that they should “understand the mysteries of the Word of God, and that the others (the people) should receive the parables only” (Matthew 13:10-4). And who could forget the famous line “cast not thy pearls unto swine” (Matthew 7:6), or the wonderful phrase from Psalms, “I have hid the words in my heart so I do not sin against thee” (Psalms 119:11).
We have here a later mirroring of the ancient Greek philosophers and magicians in Christian lore as to keep silent the mysteries from the masses and to keep silent the messages from the Gods themselves lest you incite their wrath. Virgil says of the Sibyl, “The Goddess comes, hence, hence, and ye prophane; The prophet cries, and from her grove refrain.” In other words, outside of the presence of the Goddess, keep your mouth shut. The mysteries, whether passed down as lore in a tradition or specifically from the Goddess to you, are meant for you alone at that particular time. Why would you reveal such intimacies to the world? Why risk angering the Spirits you have worked so hard to be in relationship with?
The obfuscation and disguising of lore in plain sight, which was to be opened up only from master to disciple, is found in many traditions from Masonic Lodges to lineages of Traditional Witchcraft. Sufi masters famously teach through story, which while read by the masses makes little or no sense or comes off as humorous, but read or taught ‘with eyes to see’ leads to enlightenment. There have also been many cryptic images from various private sources that hold clues from Traditional Witchcraft societies, Free Masonry and other magical Societies such as the A:.A.:. Some of these familiar and unfamiliar images in Traditional Witchcraft were collected and are now housed in the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle, Cornwall. Each “image” has many meanings and lore behind it and may show spell components, ritual tools and the rituals themselves, all ‘hidden in plain sight” and relating to Traditional Witchcraft. Often the these entries include images known to Traditional Witchcraft such as the pentacle, the pin and nail, stang, crown, and various stellar lettering, but they also include (in code) how to use such items. This “code” would have been passed orally within a covine to ensure that were the images to be seen they would be unintelligible. Below is one such image of a magic circle and spell and a very certain Spirit to be called. Folks learned in ceremonial magic will know one of the Spirits here as his name is below!
|Symbols of Traditional Witchcraft. A ritual in code. The Occult Reliquary, Three Hands Press, 2010.
These images will conjure reactions and feelings differently for each person who sees them, but they are indeed specific to Lodge societies and Witchcraft. To the casual observer or even student, they can be cryptic or oversimplified.
Another reason for silence is that the sharing of a working or your sacred altars or spaces with the masses opens you up to questions you might not be prepared to answer from people who definitely do not understand what you are doing. A simple example of this in my Tradition is that we do not believe in or adhere to the ‘Wiccan Rede’. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to explain myself or deal with angry Wiccans about this issue. Even trying to explain the history of how the Rede came into modern Wicca with its Hermetic and Thelemic and Christian roots incites more anger. These days, unless specifically asked, I tend not to try to convince people because they usually are too closed down to really hear.
One more good reason to be silent is to avoid negativity coming your way. Even if a person is not skilled at hexing, most folks can send negative energy at you, and this is difficult to deal with and causes you to have to engage in more cleansing and protection work instead of just doing your work. Exhausting to be sure! There are magicians and workers out there who are skilled, though, and who may wish to interfere with your work for many different reasons. Best to not let them know what you are up to, because then you can find yourself in a really difficult situation. You may also be working for clients who have had a curse laid on them by another witch, and you would not want the other witch to know you were working for said client because they would definitely interfere.
Then there is the problem of the “State” getting involved, such as the legal authorities, etc. As much as we like to say that we live in a “free” society here in the US and we have “religious freedom,” we are still living in a Christian nation and among Christians who make up the majority of said nation. Many people still have a fear of Witchcraft in their deep collective unconscious, and rhetoric such as “Suffer not a Witch to live” as read in the Bible or “If thou meet a Pagan kill them immediately” as read in the Koran certainly does not help. You could be lucky enough to run into the atheist government employee who does not think you are evil but thinks you are nuts. However, such encounters could still cause you problems. Best to walk among them and leave them at ease so you can get to your work. People have lost jobs and children because of prejudices against Pagans and Witches and Wiccans.
Speaking and telling of your workings also diffuses the power of them, especially during their process. I knew a Hoodoo Rootworker once who told me that the inner lore of his work could only be passed once. That is, he would lose all of his own power to do these magical things if he shared them, and so would only pass his power and tricks to the right student when he was ready to die. Makes you a bit more discerning to choose a student, does it not? Think of silence as being like a pressure building and building and then erupting with force and power. Wait, breathe, be silent, build power, release, have gratitude. Speaking of your workings not only can undermine them from the outside, but from the inside too, because your mind is always battling your True Will. This is the constant battle of the magician and the Witch, that is, to keep their minds flexible so that they can easily access a magical mindset. This is why so many Witchcraft rituals are filled with symbols: it is so we can bypass the mind and let the energy flow. It is also why we do so many exercises of purification and pattern breaking. We know we can be our own worst enemies too and that those little “you can’t” statements of the internal mind are very damaging. The symbols of the Craft are powerful indeed.
Symbols are important messages to our Fetch or Child Self, as it is known in my tradition, and are found in many occult places. Like the above examples in the image of Traditional Witchcraft, so too does that ancient tradition of Alchemy have its many secrets bound in iconography and symbol, both visible and yet hidden in plain sight. Many of the beautiful Renaissance and Medieval depictions of alchemical workings were known only to the initiates of its orders. Solve Et Coagula. The transmutation and complex change. Lead into Gold… physical gold or the transformation of the magician from base to enlightened…? A marriage of magic, science, will and Spirit. Can you imagine if you were to record all of your magical workings in an alchemical or pictorial code known only to your inner coven or circle? Would it not be something beautiful to behold in cryptic iconography and symbolism and a wonderful way to teach your students? Something to inspire the Fetch and the deeper selves….
|Commonly known symbols in Alchemy.
|Often mistakenly thought of as the Christian Devil, Baphomet is a great example of an alchemical process depicted in pictorial code. Each symbol above has a complex meaning… Solve et Coagula…
Of course, it is also important to keep our confidences with the Spirits and the Gods as well. They give their secrets and power to those who honor and work with them, and many of them do not like it when these secrets are shared with those who are not initiated or of your inner circle. The price of Hubris is always punishment from the Gods, and those Gods can come up with nasty teachings tailored just for you. You may have just had the MOST intense life changing experience in ritual with Hecate, and you may see things in a new light and wish to share and let others know ‘the Good News’. Please don’t. These things are especially for you from Her, tailored and suited for you at that time. My blood may run differently and my roads may lead elsewhere, and I am glad you had a great experience, but most likely it is not for me. If you desire to teach your inner mysteries and lore and transmit these things, let it be with one or a few screened students who you are sure are a good fit. Witchcraft and mysticism is not about healing or ‘getting better’. That is the road of religion, and I have no problem with that, it is just not the same thing.
Some people do feel called to share and teach publicly. I too love to teach and I write about many occult and magical topics, but of the inner workings of my tradition I will never speak or sell. There is a lot out there to research and share, but other things must be kept private, especially if you are part of a closed initiatory group or if instructed by a Spirit to do so. Also keep in mind why you would share some things and not others and the repercussions of your sharing. This can be a personal choice but it is also a serious one.
These are some interesting points to think about in regards to silence, and of course you will choose to do as you wish. I long ago abandoned the idea that I could ‘change anyone’s mind’ in regards to my views and experiences of Witchcraft. Take what you will upon the path. As I look, though, to the wisdom of the ancients and those who came before me as magicians and Witches, I see a long tradition of silence and of only sharing with those worthy. Make sure that those who you choose to share your most precious pearls with are indeed worthy of them, and be wary of those who share with anyone what they claim to be the wisdom of the Ages. Walk in magic and beauty, and let the mysteries reveal themselves to you in their own time and your own time. To force them is to beg for disaster.
Agrippa, Henry Cornelius. Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Llewellyn Press. Donald Tyson Edition, 1994.
Davies, M. and Lynch, A. “Keepers of the Flame. Interviews with Elders of Traditional Witchcraft in America.” Olympian, 2001.
Marraccini, A. “Open Secrets: Alchemical-Hermetic Imagery in the Ripley Scrolls.” Charming Intentions: Occultism, Magic and the History of Art-Select Papers-Cambridge. Abraxis Special Issue #1. Fulgar Press, 2013.
Schulke, D. The Occult Reliquary. Three Hands Press; The Museum of Witchcraft, 2010.