Basic. Intermediate. Expert. Beginner. Level One. Baby Pagans. I have heard and read all these terms applied to magick and to practitioners of various Paths. I dislike every single one of them. Seriously.
I do understand their use though. Particularly in structured teaching environments. After all, at one point in my life, I was a collegiate professor. The concept is quite simple. It’s a concept of progression, pure and simple. Within the collegiate setting, the learning structure is setup to provide concepts that are mastered at each class level, and then built upon in the next. To use some of the vernacular that I am trying to discuss, think of it this way. You take a Wicca 101 class to understand the basics of what Wicca is, the simplest aspects of the ritual aspects, some divination techniques (maybe) and perhaps even some spell work. Once you finish with that, proving that you absorbed the information provided, you take the next steps towards more “advanced” techniques and concepts.
The same aspect holds true in…say, computer programming. You learn the basic syntactical rules of whatever language you are learning, along with how simple concepts such as loops, logical flow, and input/output. The next class builds on those concepts, while introducing more complex structures such as modular program flow or object programming. At the end of the progression of courses, if you pass, you will have gathered enough information that you can extrapolate on what you have learned to create your own techniques within the programming language. At least in theory.
Not a difficult concept to understand, eh? So why do I have a beef with all of that? I come from a collegiate background, certainly I can understand why such a systematic approach works well. Well, I do understand the approach. I will even admit that it works for me, to some degree. But I take slight umbrage at the terminology.
Underneath the veneer of these terms, an undercurrent of arrogance can occur. I am better than you because I am taking this ‘Intermediate” class within this Occult School of thought. Or to even utilize some of my own Order’s own perspective – I am better than these people in the Bardic grade because I have progressed to my Druid grade. The idea that one is better than others, simply because one has managed to progress to a certain level – well, that stuff tends to grate on my personal nerves.
Right now, I am in my Ovate grade within OBOD’s system. I have managed to get through my Bardic grade. That does not make me better than any single member of the Bardic grade. All it means, in my eyes, is that I have managed to accumulate the knowledge that I needed to within the Bardic grade. I am no better or less than any member at any level within the Order. To think otherwise, would be creating a classist state for the Order. In other words, I would be expecting to be treated as being better than those in the Bardic grade, simply because I was an Ovate. I certainly would expect to be treated differently as an Ovate than a Bard, simply because I am part of the Ovate grade. There are different expectations of members of each of the grades within OBOD, but no group is any better than the others.
So, I have a personal distaste of the perspective of classism when it comes to what one is or is not capable of within magick and Paganism, based solely on what they have learned or experienced. Sure, the concept of progression in what can be done makes sense. However, labeling it as “Basic”, “Intermediate”, and “Expert” can and does lend itself to an aspect of classism, which then lends itself to simple arrogance.
So, what do I propose that would be better? Or different? Honestly, I am not proposing that anything would be better. That is not a paradigm that I want to operate within. I am not trying to say that one technique is better than any other. What works for one individual does not work for another. For those that follow Major League Baseball, you will understand this example. Batting is a simple technique of getting your hands positioned correctly to be able to connect with a pitched ball. Every hitter develops a timing technique and a batting stance that allows them to (a) see the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand, and (b) shrinks the strike zone to make it harder for the pitcher to throw a strike to them. Not every hitter adopts a stance that has them hunched over the plate, like Pete Rose did. However, whatever stance they adopt, is the one that they are comfortable with.
I see much of this in the same light. For some folks, this classist concept of learning magick works for them. They understand the progression. They are used to the procession of material from their mundane lives (typically within the Education system). It works for them, and that is a good thing. My preference is different. I work with material as I need to. I learn what I need to work with. Sometimes, it can be clumsy, but that awkward approach also helps me to learn.
If I am being completely open and honest, it is not the methodology and the approach that turns me off. Solely, it is the vernacular that creates my disdain. For me, the terminology is what creates a classist perspective, particularly when it has the denotation of one being better or more superior to another, simply because of what knowledge has been accumulated. But to be even more frank, I am not sure what verbiage could be utilized and applied that would not leave similar classist stains behind.
Yeah, perhaps I am howling into the wind, hoping for an echo from the canyon that is up-wind. This is not something I can find a solution for – even within my own personal thinking. Aside from remaining on guard for a potential under-current of classism or arrogance carrying me along, all I can do is hope that others do not succumb to those waters. After all, I can only control what I do, what I think, and what I feel. To do otherwise, in my eyes, would be unethical, as well as inappropriate.