That word: I do not think it means what you think it means…

Carl Gustav Jung (1875 - 1961)

Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961)

When I was learning Paganism I read a lot of 101 Books that had lists of different Gods and Goddesses and what they were “for.” The information from the author(s) had just finished outlining what spells are and how to cast them properly (in a manner of speaking – we’ll get to spells in another blog). In order to help boost your spell power, you were advised to connect to a certain Deity. The list provided by the author(s) was supposed to be a means for a starting point for you to begin learning about Them and what They can do for you. A classic example in some 101 books was Aphrodite. If you wanted to perform a successful love spell, call on Aphrodite. Use symbols appropriate to Her on your altar, and then with the visualization and meditation techniques you learned from the book, you will be able to successfully invoke Her power and BOOM! Love spell success.

At the time, I saw nothing wrong with this. I assumed it was correct because, after all, it was in a book. The author(s) had to know what they were talking about. Some may call it naivety, but when you are new and searching for information, where are you supposed to glean information from? I was a new Pagan, trying to learn what I could and attempting to understand how these Deities worked in this new found faith of mine. Backstory time:

I had just left Christianity not too long before I began journeying into Paganism. I was an ordained minister in a Pentecostal Church. I grew up Pentecostal in my teens, and I was a radical Born-Again Christian. I believed in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit with all the fiber of my being. I interpreted the Bible as literal Truth. Why not? I had experiences to back up my beliefs. I had prayers answered, mystical visions, and witnessed spontaneous healing. I felt tangible energy weaving its way around the church. I was a Christian, through and through.

I won’t get into the specifics right now of how I left and found my way to Paganism, but suffice it to say that in my 20s I began exploring this religion. So where does one begin? Books obviously. Now, here is where the dilemma came in: I didn’t want to be brainwashed again. I didn’t want to fall victim to a fundamentalist mentality of literally believing that other Myths might be just as real as what I read in the Bible. My analytic brain could not wrap its head around how the stories in the Bible could be true (or so I thought), and how the Greek Myths or the Irish Myths were also true. I felt I had duped myself into believing the Bible was real, so I was not about to do that to myself again. I had been hurt from my falling out with Christianity, and I had reason to feel that way. So in Paganism I was very cautious about how I approached the Gods.

The way that many authors have described the Gods in lots of 101 Books is that the Gods are mental constructs. That is, that the Gods are something we as humans have invented to help us understand the world around us. One of the reasons Paganism seemed to fit for me at the time was because many 101 books purported to blend religion with science – and nicely at that. So being scientifically-minded, the explanation goes, the Gods are only as “real” as we believe Them to be. The books would then throw in names like Carl Jung to explain the Gods as “archetypes,” that is, expressions of basic human experiences according to them. By connecting with the Gods in ritual, we are connecting with the basic fundamentals of our own experiences and interpreting them in a story-telling fashion. It’s not that Aphrodite is a Being who exists outside of my own mind, continues the archetype explanation. It is that Aphrodite is that part of my subconscious which longs for sex, desire and beauty. So when I connect with Aphrodite in ritual, I am connecting with an aspect of myself embodied by Her.

It all seemed to make sense. It was comfortable, and this way of connecting with the Pagan Gods made room for me to feel as if I still had a sense of control. I still had a feeling that I was in charge, because the notion that Gods exist outside of myself actually frightened me. No lie. I felt more comfortable with the notion of aliens in flying saucers as the answer to if we were alone in the Cosmos than Gods. Ironically, technologically advanced beings that might be in conspiracy with our government was more plausible than suprahuman Beings. Go figure. (Interestingly, I find this same cognitive dissonance in the Greater Pagan Community to an extant).

For many years I went along with the Archetype Theory of the Gods. I only did rituals with the group I was with at the time; I hardly ever practiced anything solitary. I discussed my experiences with my fellow Pagans and admitted that the Archetype Theory resonated more with me. Not too surprisingly, so did other Pagans. We all wanted to be more scientific and had bad experiences with literalist Christians. We wanted our religion to make sense. As an aside, many of the Pagans who also leaned towards this bent were anti-religious. Anyway, the Archetype Theory helped me to understand what the late Mythologist Joseph Campbell discussed as the “MonoMyth” that is, the basic pattern of human experience that can be found throughout the world (2008, The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, 3rd Ed.). One famous MonoMyth is the “Hero’s Journey” beautifully represented in the the persons of Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Herakles, Moses, Wesir (Osiris), Heru (Horus),  Jesus and Buddha. It also gave me an appreciation for the well of creativity that helped artists and writers continue to present basic themes in newer ways. For example, let’s use Aphrodite again. According to the Archetype Theory of the Gods, Aphrodite is the embodiment of female sex, love and beauty. Thus, goes the explanation, any empowered woman in a story that is the vixen, the slut, the model, is a face of Aphrodite in that story. (For the record, I realize I am using terms that may offend some, but it’s necessary for me to be realistic and use terms that we are familiar with to get the point across). To my analytic brain, this explanation also helped me to understand why there were many similarities between Aphrodite and other Goddesses such as Astarte, Hathor, and the Morrighan. It neatly weaved different Deities from different Pantheons and made a well-known mantra ring true: “All the Goddesses are one Goddess, and all the Gods are one God.”

Here’s the problem: all of my philosophical thoughts and neat oratories were smashed to near-obliteration when I had an encounter with the Gods. I do mean encounter. I am talking about an experience that churned me inside-out, split wide my brain, and rerouted my neural circuits. I’m talking about something so “Other” it cannot be condensed into words, because none exist. I had become zapped and melted, then reshaped and saved. Like the heart of Dionysus protected by Zeus after the former was torn apart and boiled, my flesh tingled with the shadowy presence of a thousand volts that had forever transformed everything I ever knew about the world. I thought I was safe; I thought I was comfortable; I thought I had everything neatly figured out. Whatever I didn’t figure out, I told myself I would come to know in the afterlife. But apparently Someone Else had a different plan, and I am grateful for it.

Now, as an Occultist I am trained to always record my personal experiences to look back on later and assess. Not every experience has to be considered valid; I learned that the difficult way as a Christian when I fell into deception because I thought EVERY vision, EVERY experience, EVERY voice was true. It wasn’t. I learned in Occultism to separate what was relevant from what was not. It might take a day, a week, a month, or several years for me to discover if it was relevant, but I would discover it in time nonetheless. So I followed suit, and I wanted to discover if my changes were valid and hence, real.

I began to follow-up on my research from years before on Archetypes. What was missing? Here’s the thing: I had never actually read the works of Carl Jung. I had read about him from others. Or, to make matters worse, I had read about him from what others read about him from others. It was second, third, and fourth-hand retellings. Authors were quoting one another without giving each other credit, and basically every book I was reading began to sound the same. This was evident when even Pagans who adhered to the Archetype Theory could not define what exactly was meant by “archetype.” They gave examples of what they meant. One of the famous examples out there in the Pagan Community is the One Source Example. It goes something like this:

“There is One Source from which all the Gods of every culture come from. Different cultures have their own unique ways of interacting with this One Divine Source, and these are the Masks that we call the Gods. So Venus=Aphrodite=Ishtar.” This is pretty much the basic theme, and it seems to make sense at first. But, was this was Jung meant by Archetypes?

I decided to read Jung for myself, and what I was reading was a far cry from what I had been told.

Let’s start with the basics: Carl Jung did indeed write about Archetypes. He was inspired by the works of Plato (which I ended up reading) and a couple of other sources to develop his own theories and approach to what he was researching, which were basic primordial images that humans shared across cultures and time. But what is even more important is that Jung never completed his theories; he changed them over time, formulating them continuously in an attempt to really come up with his version of a Unified Theory of the Unconscious (my interpretation). I also discovered that there were some mistakes about what others defined as archetypes versus what Jung described as an Archetype. According to Jung in his works such as The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, mythological motifs such as the Trickster, the Wise Old Man, the Mother, the Sacred Prostitute, and the Hero were not archetypes in and of themselves, but they were creations that pointed to archetypal events that we all as humans share: birth, death, sex, and rites of passage. Basically, the archetype itself is an innate possibility that we all share that leads to inborn tendencies which shape our human behavior. It is not a thing in and of itself; it is merely a symbol pointing the way for us to understand each other. This definition is a far cry from Gods. Gods were worshiped and experienced. Although Gods might share traits with human behavior, They are distinct in scope, influence and power from beyond ourselves. They are not the empty shells that Jung was defining as Archetypes.

What modern Pagan authors had incorrectly done was assign the term “Archetype” to the motifs, and had gone one step further by stating that the Gods were examples and therefore mental constructs.

So basically, where the hell do the Gods fit in? Are They real or are They fictions?

This is where many Pagans become uncomfortable, because they confuse the word “archetype.” What Pagans were throwing around was a confusion between the word “Archetype” and “stereotype.” The word stereotype comes from two Greek words which mean “solid impression.” It has come to mean an image that is being perpetuated about individuals or customs which are perception errors; those impressions may or may not be rooted in reality. It is an incorrect assumption in other words. The stereotype is that Aphrodite is just a Goddess of Love and Beauty, and ergo She must be the same as Venus, as Ishtar, as Inanna. Hekate is only a Triple Goddess of Magic(k), and so She must be the same as Cerridwen. Upon doing further research and actual Work, I came to realize my blunder. A very serious blunder.

If you don’t want to believe that the Gods are actual Beings which exist, that’s an individual choice. But what is plain ignorance – whether willful or not – is the assumption that because Gods have similar symbols or spheres of influence that They must be the same. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s use ourselves as an example. In actuality, we are all archetypes. Every single human being at some point embodies a certain image or aspect (another much misunderstood word) that is characteristic of innate human behavior such as Grumpy Old Person, Joker, Bitch, Mother, Father, Daughter, Son, Wise Woman, Healer, etc. Although each of us are different with different cultures, different parents, different personalities, different characteristics, and different beliefs, we all share basic patterns that speak to us because at some point we will experience some or all of the behaviors which make us human: we are born, we live, we lose, we cry, we laugh, we have sex, we hurt, we joke, we manipulate, we are good, we are bad, etc. Our stories, our Myths, are just one way we have developed to use analogy in order to make sense of our experiences. It’s how movies and stories from one region will always find an audience in another. But that doesn’t take away our individuality and uniqueness. The Archetypes are simply an alphabet of symbolism that allows us to speak a common language to one another. It’s how fundamental stories  such as the Hero’s Journey transcend cultures and time. Because there is resonance there.

But just because I share the same basic experience as someone living in China doesn’t mean they and I are the same person. We may share traits, but we are different. We are individuals.

The Gods are Individuals as well. They exist. That doesn’t take away the fact that They function as Archetypes, but not “archetypes” in the misunderstood sense of mental constructs. Rather, “Archetypes” in the sense that They have relevance for us as humans and are able to communicate with us and through us. Archetypes in the sense that we are able to communicate with Them and develop a relationship that is real and purposeful. When I work with the Goddess Rhea, for example, I am able to understand Her Work as a Mother Goddess because I see Her Face in the faces of every mother. More importantly, I see Her in the women who have had a role as “mothers” in my own life: my birth mother and my High Priestess. But She is also more than that. As a Goddess She is able to encompass more than even what these women have to teach me. Yet She is able to communicate and I am able to understand Her better because of these women. It’s about validity, not subjectivity. This doesn’t make Rhea any less of a Goddess, nor does it relegate Her to the status of an invented mental construct. But it does make Her even more real. Unfortunately, however, polytheists such as myself have been attacked with the word “fundamentalist.” I’ll get into that in my next blog, and the dissonance between polytheists and other Pagans. In the meantime, hopefully I’ve laid out some food for thought.

But the next time I hear a Pagan talk about archetypes, I’m going to chime in. Because I do not think that word means what they think it means.

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
Luis A. Valadez

Let the utterances commence!

Copyright 2012: Photo Courtesy of the Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture, and Sports

Copyright 2012: Photo Courtesy of the Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture, and Sports

I want to formally welcome you to the Cave of the Oracle! For those of you who know me, no introduction is needed. Still, hopefully new readers will join you all and will want to get to know me better, so I’ll talk a bit about why I chose the name for this blog.

My name in the Pagan Community is Oracle, and it has been since 2004 when that Name revealed itself to me, for lack of a better term. Some people might not know what I mean by a “Pagan Name” or a “Craft Name.” In Pagan parlance, a Craft Name (also known as a Magical Name) is a word or words that encompass one’s identity in our faith. A Name is usually picked and chosen after great deliberate care and research; or it should be. The Name may link a person to a specific sacred animal or plant (e.g. Raven Digitalis, Running Deer), a patron Deity (e.g. Selene, Artemisia), or may be unique in that even the person who has the Name may not fully realize what it means yet. Some Names are selected, although there is a subtle feeling that it’s more of a “connection.” For myself, my Name was given and revealed. It doesn’t make it better or worse, it just is.

At the time, I had just dedicated to Paganism and to whatever-was-out-there, and I was meditating and thinking about what was “me.” I didn’t really have any strong Pagan connections to anything, or as far as what I understood Paganism to be about in the first place. Lots of 101 books encouraged Nature, the outdoors, and being one with it. Well, not only do I live in Florida where stepping on the ground barefoot invites vicious attacks from all sorts of things, but I am a bookworm who rarely gets out of the house, and it was even worse then. I had no reason to be out-of-doors, especially in the Summer when the A/C was more holy than the burning Sun. My dissonance being evident at that time nonetheless, I had discovered a faith that was relevant to me and I wanted to feel as if I were a part of it. So I continued meditating on what exactly my Name would be. I had heard of other rather cool sounding Names that many had like Moon Willow, Skydancer, Azure Sea, Ocean Star, and more. Some were in another language like Irish Gaelic or Egyptian because the Names were unique to that Pagan path. Yet I had nothing. I wasn’t even sure what my “path” was to be honest. For those reading and not in the know, a Pagan path is a specific paradigm wherein one learns about the Pagan pantheons, magico-religious affiliations, or any other Pagan-related subjects unique to that way of interacting with the world around you. A “path” may be a specific Tradition or School of Thought, or it may be a mishmash of one’s learning along the way.

Anyway, back to my Name, since this is what it is about. (I am fairly long-winded, and cannot resist giving backstories or roundabout explanations in order to make sure that anyone I am speaking to is on the same page with me; call it communication OCD). After a month of wondering, I basically just forgot about it. Then while lying in bed the words literally flashed in my mind and floated across my eyes. It was an internal echo: “Oracle, Oracle, Oracle…” I wasn’t sure if anyone else had that Name, and frankly I didn’t care. It was mine, and no one could take that away from me. Immediately I announced it, did a mini-ritual to affirm for myself that Name, and have carried it since. The funny thing about Names, especially given ones, is that you can guess why you have it all you want but it will not be for many years until its true significance is revealed to you. A Name is more than a moniker to make you feel different and cool (some unfortunately use them like the code names featured in X-Men). It has unique Occult significance in that you are unveiling your Soul Purpose, as I call it. Many Gods and Goddesses had “secret Names” that were known only to Them or to Their priesthood, to be used in special times or unusual circumstances. Names have Power; the Power of association, identification, and bestowing recognition and life to something. This is evident especially in the Bible when Adam names all of the animals, or in Egyptian Mythology when Ra reveals His True Name to Aset (Isis) after being tricked. If you would like to have a better grasp of Naming, one of the most interesting stories to showcase this is Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Series.

“Oracle” in and of itself meant little to me at the time. It wasn’t until many years down the road I came to the realization that the Hellenic Divinities were calling out to me, and loudly at that. My Work with Them is precisely what began unveiling the significance of my Name. My first encounter with a Hellenic Deity was when I was 8 years old with the Titan Goddess Hekate. I had watched the film Jason and the Argonauts, and Medea’s dance and interaction with Hekate were enough to leave an impression of Her to me at that tender age. It was not until 20 years later that I formally dedicated myself and began my Work with Her. That was when She led me to the rest of the Hellenic Pantheon; as a consequence my research revealed a lot more about the place of “Oracles” in the ancient Hellenic world.

I came to realize that an Oracle was a person who acted as an agent of the Gods, a mouthpiece and spokesperson. People would come from everywhere to have an opportunity to have insight into their own fate; they wanted to hear the Voice of the Gods. While the most famous Oracle known is the Oracle at Delphi, there were numerous other places that were sacred to various Gods and spirits which each had their own Oracles. Oracles were both men and women, but their most common theme was their connection to the Underworld. Some of the earliest Oracles had shrines and seats in caves that were sacred to the chthonic Deities (i.e. Hades, Persephone, Dionysus, Apollon, Gaea, etc.). Often utterances from the Gods were given while the Sacred Vessel was in a trance-possession, a state known as enthousiasmos. But as important as the function of the Oracles were in the antiquity, I learned much more about the persons who were anointed to become the Sacred Vessel of the Gods.

Whomever was chosen as the Sacred Vessel, they were said to be wedded to the Deity for whom they spoke. Hints and clues are given about the Oracle at Delphi that she (the Pythia) was the Bride of Apollon (1985, Greek Religion by Walter Burkert). They spoke in riddles and veiled terms, the Greek language allowing for several meanings for one word. They were often misunderstood, the real meaning behind their sayings only clear perhaps after the prophesied event. The Oracles were the properties of the Gods, being loyal to Them. This is important to understand, because it is never an easy thing not to belong to yourself. Now, while information in the written record may be difficult to glean as to what qualified someone to be an Oracle, I can only take examples from my own life and the trials and tests I have endured to hopefully give a glimpse of what being an Oracle means. One of the main differences I have learned the hard way is grasping the difference between a psychic and an Oracle. The notion that an Oracle is a Seer and not a psychic can be an uncomfortable dilemma for many, even though we use the terms “Seer” and “psychic” interchangeably.The Greek word for “Seer” is manteis (prophet, seer). An Oracle was a Seer, a born prophet (2008, Ancient Greek Divination by Sarah Iles Johnston) . The gift could come at the time of birth or later into adulthood; but the premise is that an Oracle was touched by the Gods Themselves to be Their Vessel. Some of the metaphors include having bees drip honey onto your lips (bees and honey were sacred to the Nymphai) or having one’s ears licked by serpents/dragons. Oftentimes one was gifted because of charis, or Divine Favor (such as Cassandra). These traits separate psychics from Oracles/Seers. Conversely the ability could be taken away if displeasure were brought to the Gods.

Psychics basically train (or are naturally skilled) to use various techniques and become sensitive enough to tap into another’s energies in order to give them information. But Oracles, whether a skilled psychic or not, can only see and reveal what the Gods want them to reveal. They cannot simply pick up on another’s energy or life story and ramble, as there can be consequences. Just because I see something doesn’t mean I am at liberty to discuss it with you. I have to wait until the Gods tell me, because sometimes knowing your immediate future is not the insight you need. Sometimes people experience hardships and need to go through them, discovering insight for themselves. As I studied more in-depth, I came to realize that even the Gods Themselves punished prophets for speaking too early or revealing too much. As an example, the Thracian king and manteis Phineas was blinded because he gave away too much information (and too clearly at that). I know I cannot always give clear and concise answers; I am a humble guide who must allow you to use your brain and natural talents to come to your own epiphany. I may know about your past, your present, and your future, but that doesn’t mean I can just tell you anything. It’s a fine line and a difficult road to walk. One of the ways in which this lesson came across was when I tried making a little extra money by doing readings on I had a profile and you could call in and pay. Sadly, the people wanting a reading and the information I needed to give them were two separate things. It was frustrating for everyone.

I clearly recall one example when a woman called to ask me if she was going to have any children. I waited to hear something, and I told her, “Yes you will have a son. But while you are hearing that, you also need to hear this…” I began to talk to her about some issues in her past, what she did when she was 21 at the bar one night, and her encounter with a man that carried pain and bitterness for the past several years. After her sobbing and astonishment, she asked “Wait, you said I would have a son? But I want a daughter.” I told her, “I’m sorry but it will be a son.” She then started getting testy and saying that she really wanted a daughter; why can’t God give her what she wants? I had no reply. She pressed me, “Can you tell God I want a daughter?” I told her “I’m sure God already knows.” She wouldn’t let it go, and already the conversation about her bitterness that she needed to heal from was quickly forgotten. All her attention turned towards the fact that she desperately wanted a daughter. By this time, I shrugged and said, “I guess. Okay. It’s not up to me, but I hope you understand what we needed to speak about.” The call ended and I still didn’t make enough. Another time a man wanted to find out if his business would take off the ground, and I told him that rather than his business, he needed to stop planning an affair with his business partner. His wife was pregnant and he would regret the pain that was coming. All I heard was “click.” No wonder I stopped being called, now that I think about it…But it’s okay, because I cancelled my account on there anyway. I just can’t give people what they want I suppose.

Back to the topic: the one who is an Oracle will not live an easy life. There are many, many problems which come, including the “Cassandra Syndrome.” Basically giving someone the counsel they ask for (or not), and then not being listened to. No one doesn’t like being listened to, especially when they have been asked. Rejection is not easy to bear, but one must bear it nonetheless. This is the first lesson of any budding Oracle/Seer: that your gift will make you an outcast, different, and oftentimes lonely. Because you belong to the Gods, you are on Their agenda, not yours. It may also take many years before you come to realize the full potential of your Gift.

And that, I have learned, is part and parcel of this job.

So, basically, welcome to my Cave, my sanctum. Now, everything that I wrote above may be perceived by some as sounding pretentious, but rest assured I am anything but that. None of that means I am infallible – Gods no! I am a human being with faults and errors, and I have opinions to share. They are subject to critical analysis and debate, which I hope to spur through this blog. If anything, I am hoping to let out these musings which oftentimes will sound as if I’m bonkers. I’m a Dionysian child, so I’m okay with that. I’m okay with the fact that I have been known to break boundaries, challenge assumptions, and perhaps can see some things that others may miss. I’m okay with the fact that I court controversy with my stances on things. I’m also okay if we disagree. Bringing intellectual discussion to the tables is what I’m all about anyway, and these words will reach whomever it is meant to reach. I have a passion for my faith, and I want to see it grow in the right direction. I want to see us understand one another and what we have in common. There are also many issues which should be dealt with in civility, and hopefully in future blogs that can happen as well. If you want to have an opportunity to see about some of the things I have previously written about, look for my articles at The Witches’ Voice. Just search for my name, Oracle. One of the main reasons I am also writing a blog is because unfortunately they are always backed up, and I want to have a different avenue to be able to express things my way at my time. I am grateful for them even starting me in the first place, and giving me the confidence to assure myself that I can write and have something worth saying.

So, anyway, welcome again. Make yourself comfortable, and be prepared for the madness to commence!

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
Luis A. Valadez