Closed Spiritual Practices – The Great Debate

closed practices
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In recent years, the subject of closed spiritual practices has been hotly debated among occultists, witches, spiritual leaders and various religious practitioners. So much that there is no longer a middle ground, and anyone who dares cross into the dead zone in between, may be subjected to unwanted and vicious attacks. In what might be compared to political debates, a high percentage of conversations rapidly descend into two camps, with both groups believing they hold the high ground. There are those who believe that no practice is closed. Their opinions are harsh and vitriolic, calling those in favor of closed practices, spiritual gatekeepers, elitists, or somehow trying to advance the ‘pureblood’ theory. In the other camp, there are those who feel that unwanted or unsolicited encroachment into sacred practices, is exploitive and and act of unconscionable cultural appropriation.

Much of the current dialogue is tied to the generation gap, but not completely. Older practitioners of the spiritual arts, having invested decades into practicing and honing their crafts, are most often part of the second camp. Mastering their practices long before the internet age, when it took real work to find a mentor, research the structure, and perfecting the application of such. They’ve developed a lifestyle with the old ways firmly in the center, have stayed in their respective lanes, and adopted a mutual respect for other practices. Many younger people, in their haste to achieve their personal version of success, do not feel the same way. Often, using the rationalization that everything is available on-line, a high percentage believe they are entitled to adopt, interweave, and adapt ancient practices, whenever and in any way that suits them. In their eyes, nothing is sacred, and they use a myriad of excuses to justify their decisions. There are also young people with old souls, who seem to align themselves more with the older crowd, respecting the rights of certain groups to keep their traditions closed.

In many ways, this behavior is not surprising. Every generation rebels in some way as compared to the previous one. We can see that happening to a high degree with modern religion. In the last two decades, the rigidity and top-down leadership of most contemporary religions have driven legions of people, young and old alike, back to the ways of their ancestors or to something else. Paganism, or variants of paganism, often called neo-paganism, is growing rapidly across Europe and North America. We are seeing a legitimate attempt to revive long lost practices of pre-Christian polytheistic cultures of ancient Europe and the Middle East. This is happening despite the limited amount of historical information. The actual rituals and rites of many of these traditions are unknown, as they were not written down, but that doesn’t seem to be a hinderance. Much of what is being practiced today is not authentic, but instead, inspired by those cultures and their traditions. Now firmly established, it is flourishing with no signs of fading back into history.

Another major consideration that cannot be overlooked is the growing group of so-called influencers, on social media. Legions of mostly young people are using spirituality and spiritual practices to gain internet fame and cash in on the movement. The top social media sites are inundated with self-appointed witches, spiritualists, tarot card readers, and a host of other metaphysical disciplines. There are a few with legitimate credentials, but most have not devoted any significant time to studying, practicing, and actually living the life of what discipline they claim to be a leader or influencer of. Many of them claim mastery over multiple disciplines, and the competition for likes and views is fierce. Truth being obvious to see, they are not working hard to spread pagan beliefs. They are in it for the money, the fame, or the attention that it gives them. It’s amazing how few years have passed from the time when spiritual practitioners were considered evil and dangerous, to now, when it’s almost a commercialized business model. Many see this influx of inexperienced practitioners as a watering down of all disciplines, and completely disrespectful, causing a divide in the greater spiritual community.

What is a Closed Practice and Should We Respect Them?

Without accurate supporting information, defining things in the spiritual community sometimes gets tricky. This can be seen clearly when trying to accurately define a closed practice. A common definition is, “any practice that is considered hereditary (meaning your need to be born into it), or one that requires you to be initiated into it by a reputable master practitioner or leader of such tradition.” Another is, ‘any tradition with established and authentic spiritual roots, supported by generations of practitioners who have either documented or orally passed on their tradition through apprentice-like systems, while continually honing and practicing said tradition.” Combining the two, we’re left with the understanding that some but not all closed practices are inaccessible. It means that people can’t randomly decide to say they belong to them, or self-initiate into them. Some provide a process for individuals to join, providing they invest the time and work plus go through an initiation process. Others are closed with no way to join, other than by birth or as part of a specific ethnic heritage.

closed practices

Understanding the Background Behind Closed Practices

Certain closed practices are specifically tied to race/ethnicity, or race/religion combinations. These include the Romani, Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), Zoroastrianism (state religion of ancient Persia), Mennonites, Druids, the Amish, and others. Other than Roma, most of these provide a pathway for membership, but it is a pathway that requires a total commitment. Take modern day Druidry, as an example. In the late 18th Century, like-minded men who felt a strong relationship with the natural world, came together to revive the ancient practices. With no real documented directives of how the ancient Celtic religious leaders did anything, they took scattered information from Roman and Greek literature and recreated what they felt were the traditions of their ancestors. Once they established sects such as the Ancient Order of Druids and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, they also created a pathway for new members to join. These sects have rules, rituals, and a system of beliefs, which require initiation rites. It’s closed, but not completely. 

Other traditions are considered closed due to very specific cultural reasons. Some of these are Candomblé, Brujería, Hoodoo, Shamanism, Umbanda, Haitian Vodou, and Santería. These practices are completely closed to the outside world. To get a better understanding of why, we can look at an example. Santería is an Afro-Cuban religion that arose in the 19th century, founded and developed by enslaved Africans brought to Cuba, who shared in a common cultural upheaval. It combines Caribbean tradition, Yoruba spirituality, and elements of Catholicism, plus other localized additions. Their priests combine magical practices with trances, possession, divination, rituals, and animal sacrifice to connect with ancestral spiritual beings, called orishas. Outsiders would have no understanding of the history and traditions of this religion, how they developed, or what desired outcomes from the practice would even look like. Unless an individual was a part of this heritage, attempting to enter or practice it, would be completely useless.

Other spiritual practices such as saining, smudging, and sweat lodges are considered closed. Saining is the Scottish folk magic act of purification, with some similarities to smudging, but very different. Saining is a closed practice to those who haven’t grown up in the tradition and locality. Native American sweat lodges and other indigenous practices are also closed to non-tribal members. If you are invited to attend one, you many take part in it in every way, embracing the experience and benefits. You cannot, however, build your own lodge or host your own sweat. Whether smudging is open or closed is debated frequently.

Smudging is a Native American cleansing practice. Using white sage smoke, and other naturally found sacred plants such as sweetgrass, cedar, and others, in conjunction with words and actions, tribal members cleanse and purify people and places. The practice of cleansing with white sage has been appropriated by dozens of spiritual practices and has become commonplace among people of all belief systems. What these groups do, is no where near the same thing as actual Native American ceremonies, which leads to muddied waters when discussing it. Additionally, Native Americans freely share their ceremonies. Even though white sage is considered endangered due to overharvesting, the debate on whether smudging is a closed practice, or not, will continue.

closed practices

Contemporary Witchcraft – Open or Closed?

Witchcraft, with deeper roots than any spiritual practice on earth, has its fair share of debates on whether it’s a closed practice or not. Historically, witches were hierarchical or hereditary, loosely meaning it was only found in certain bloodlines. Those bloodlines would carry on the traditions of their ancestors and pass them on to future generations. Being a witch was a lifestyle, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year. There were, of course, others who were initiated into the craft, but only if they could demonstrate their worthiness, dedication, and skills. Despite many hundreds of thousands of people being accused of witchcraft throughout history, the number of actual witches was relatively small.

This all changed with the creation of Wicca. In 1954, Gerald Gardner, the founder of the movement, amalgamated the practices of multiple pre-Christian religions, occult practices, folklore, and the work of Doreen Valiente. The result was a cherry-picked, catch-all system whose followers would be known as Wiccans, or witches. Gardner and those who were influential in the early days of Wicca, claimed they were reviving ancient witchcraft practices that had somehow survived in secret for thousands of years. This claim was never substantiated and doesn’t hold up under historical scrutiny. Yet, with the archaic anti-witchcraft laws in England having been just revoked in 1951, Gardner’s timing seemed perfect, and the movement gathered followers rapidly. The end result was a creation of a new structured practice, with levels, rituals, and a clear leadership hierarchy. As Wicca grew, practitioners were even allowed to self-initiate, creating a generation of solitary practitioners. Wicca is now, the largest pagan-identifying group in the world.

The rise of Wicca was not fully embraced by everyone. Some viewed it as a ‘watering down’ of the craft leading many of the hereditary witches and members of their covens, to embrace the term, ‘traditional witches.’ This was primarily done to preserve their connections to their lengthy bloodlines, and put some separation between them and the ‘new’ Gardnerian witches. Yet, the backstop of Wicca has been one of the primary supports for the recent and rapid growth of so-called baby witches and on-line personalities claiming to be witches. There is a division in the witch community, with those who have devoted years of study and practice, still holding on dearly to their secrets. Also, it should be noted that Wicca is considered a religion. Contemporary witchcraft is a practice, and not tied to any deities, despite what outsiders believe. Neither have any connection with Christianity or the Christian Devil.

closed practices

Secret Societies

Occultism is a mixture of esoteric supernatural beliefs and practices which incorporate abstract applications of science and religious doctrine into magical practices to influence changes in the physical world. Its roots can be traced to Hellenistic (323 BC to 30 BC) magic and alchemy. It was quickly influenced by early Jewish mysticism and quietly gathered strength and knowledge for the next thousand years. Over time, occultists and their followers began creating secret societies. The Order of the Black Hand, Freemasons, Illuminati, Luciferians, Rosicrucianism, and Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis, are some of the notable groups. These organizations were known, but their actions and internal practices were closely guarded secrets. So secret, that even members, were not privy to everything until they reached a certain rank and level of trust within the groups.

Freemasonry is the largest of these closed practices, with estimates of up to six million members worldwide. They, like many of the other spiritual practices of 18th Century Europe, were based on ancient religious systems, codes of honor, and heavy to ritual in practice. Yet, unlike most of the pagan practices we’ve already touched on, many secret societies are connected in some way to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but are not followers of it. They are freethinkers, and all have specific agendas, are heavily devoted to advancing scientific and spiritual beliefs, and many have some associative connection to magic/alchemy. Most offer a pathway to membership.

Arguments Against Closed Practices

As a point of interest, I’ve reads many threads on closed practices. This short list contains the common arguments against closed practices.

“If a practice is closed, then we shouldn’t even know it exists.”
“In another lifetime, I was a member of such and such group, so it’s OK that I practice it”
“My angels, spirit guides, demons, or something else gave me permission to practice it”
“I was called to do this, by some higher power”
“There are dozens of books and the internet has all the information available, so it can’t be closed”
“Throughout history, everything was mixed together, so we’re all part of the world family, without any restrictions”
“Everyone of them is syncretic, so why does it matter”

Conclusion

In preparing this article, my goal was to present information from many different sources. Some parts are critical, and may seem abrasively harsh, but that often comes with facing the reality of things. It was in no way, an attempt to steer anyone’s thinking, or drive another wedge into the pagan and spiritual community. As always, more knowledge is a critical component to a deeper understanding of the world we live in. Even though that world is continuously changing and evolving, Paganism has always been the final frontier for individualism. There is no ‘right way’ only ‘your way.’ It is more accepting, more open, and offers everyone a seat at the table, regardless of their position, situation, or beliefs. If you disagree with any or all of this article, then let me be the first to say that I admire you for having your own opinions. If you’ve learned something, or feel the need to share additional information on something, please feel free to comment. As long as we continue to have healthy dialogue on topics, especially the difficult ones, then we can all feel a sense of accomplishment and spiritual growth. Keep raising your vibrations. Blessed be.

Additional Reading

Kabbalah – An Ancient Spiritual Practice That Influenced Everything

Scrying

The Devil’s Bible – A Religious Text With A Wicked Reputation

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