by Christopher Penczak, Edited by Tina Whittle
One of the great mysteries as I learned magick is the union of opposites and the resolution of paradox. This alchemy must occur within the practitioner of magick, and they become a living talisman for the world. The philosopher’s stone of the alchemist could be a stone, a powder, an elixir, but it was really the alchemist, as the effect of their inner work emanated out into the world and the world reverberated back into them. Witches, magicians, Druids, and sorcerers do the same, but our symbols for the process are less concrete than the philosopher’s stone.
What is paradox? Usually it’s a statement, or two points of seeming fact, that are contradictory. They cannot both be true at the same time. Together they are senseless or unacceptable to our logical mind due to their contradiction. Yet when explored, they have a deep truth that can make total sense to the one who has explored the paradox. Those who have not can easily dismiss it as nonsense, missing the mystery.
In Witchcraft we have these paradoxical mysteries all the time. Heading into the Age of Aquarius we have new twists to explore in these traditional mysteries. Orthodox religions mostly abhor the mysteries because they are difficult. This exploration weakens dependence upon orthodoxy. Mystics in those same religions embrace them, but they are not actively encouraged. One of the keys to the future of Witchcraft, Paganism, and the magickal traditions will be to embrace paradox over and over again as we grow community, to avoid the dogmas that reject the mysteries. One of the keys of the Craft is that we are a mystery religion at heart.
One of the primary paradoxes is the concept that we are all separate, yet we are all one. This is a basic core metaphysical principle, be it the Hermetic concept of being one within the Divine Mind or the non-dual reality of the Buddhist. Everything is everything else, on every level. We are all part of the same system, the same body in different scales, yet we don’t have a conscious awareness of this. Our reality is often separation, pain, confusion, and disconnection. So how can this oneness be true and not wishful thinking? Well, we do have peak experiences that reveal this oneness, but they usually don’t last. We become hopeful that experience might be the true reality and then seek to repeat things that generate that sense of oneness. The truth is we are all alone and we are all one simultaneously. Both are true. Neither is absolute.
An Aquarian Age paradox, a mystery we are still unfolding, is the deep urge to be our unique selves. We are all individuals with individual identities and the need to express it. We are called in this time to be unorthodox and radical. Yet we are facing a strong social consciousness drive. We must take care of community, society, and the world, though we all define community/society/world differently and we all define care differently. We struggle with the idea that everyone must be their unique self, and our way is not the way. We struggle with who or what is included in our vision of community. The answer is that only by embodying our unique self can we contribute what we have to contribute to the greater good of society. And that goes for everyone else. We all must have that freedom and support. The old astrological ruler of Aquarius is Saturn, boundaries and rules. The new one is Uranus, rebellion and exploration. Both apply to the Age of Aquarius, but how can they? It’s paradoxical.
This gets us into the alchemy of society at large and the alchemy of the magickal communities specifically. We are moving in a time of paradox as opposition is a stage of paradox. Two things need to seemingly oppose first before resolving in a Gnostic understanding of the mystery. We live in constant social, political, and religious opposition.
By no means do I think both sides as they are today in the United States, and really the world, are equally valid. I am a queer polyamorous Witch and a liberal democratic socialist at heart. I believe everyone can be themselves, and we have a duty to come together to make a better world for everyone. I want the least amount of harm, even in our transitions, and the most amount of good, balancing the whole and the individual. But that doesn’t come with an easy label, as we all have our individual nuances.
Yet the roots of our oppositions, in both society and magick, are rooted in much the same issues for the Aquarian Age—the past and future. Obvious to some and hidden from others, this is always the struggle. And both are illusionary.
One seeks to turn back to an idyllic time of the past where everything was “good” and made sense. This is a level of Romanticism for a past that wasn’t that romantic when it was happening.
One seeks a bright future where all our problems will be cleanly and clearly solved, and we shall have paradise. Has that ever happened? No. The future is always the future. Our current miracles today, the ones that those in the past would consider solutions, have resulted in new and different problems, and the technological savvy has not been matched by the collective wisdom to resolve them.
Which side are you on? Which side are “your” people? You might be surprised. Many will read this and assume those wanting to go back to a past are regressive, the conservative forces of the far right. Yet much of Witchcraft is inspired by a pre-Industrial Revolution, pre-Enlightenment romance of village life, or a vision of a Stone Age paradise. Industry and the emphasis of reason alone have led to an artificial way of life filled with artificial things and the machinery of capitalism to sell those things to you. Those seeking the ideals of the past are seeking the mysticism and magick of the world before reason became the dominant lens. Exploring the set and the culture of the old and indigenous ways and returning to such things is often a transgression against mainstream society and values. The deep roots of the faux Viking and the Eco-villager are close to each other, and often results in similar behaviors justified by their own sense of righteousness.
The futurists can be the cold science, “let’s abandon earth and colonize Mars!” techie or the sci-fi futurists dreaming of a cross between Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets and an Ursula K. Le Guin novel. Often discussions of the future are reframed in the choice of utopian Star Trek versus various future dystopias like the ones in Bladerunner, Mad Max, or The Terminator.
Remember while the aliens of Star Trek didn’t “save” us, in that narrative we have a World War Three and a eugenics war before achieving a warp engine that attracts Mr. Spock’s people, the Vulcans, setting in motion what would become the Star Trek universe recognized on television. Many New Age paradigms promise the savior—in most cases an interstellar or inter-dimensional visitor—but do not think about what happens if such future aid never comes. This has been a big part of the Christian paradigms that await the Rapture and have been the worst aspects of the New Age paradigms.
Whether you think science and industry will save us or a universal space brotherhood, you are also missing the paradox. Those longing for the past are both right and wrong. There is a problem with the dominance of logic, artificially, industry, and a loss of a magickal worldview. We allowed a lot of unwanted consequences to ripple out. Yet there is a problem with too little logic, the struggle for sustenance, hardships of travel, and the lack of information. Otherwise we wouldn’t have started the struggle to move from hunters and gatherers to living in villages and so on.
So we have a struggle with the past and future romance. They are one polarity that needs union, because neither of these visions hold the whole truth. We need both Saturn and Uranus.
We also have the polarity between those romanticizing the past and the future as the way we should go and grow. Here is the polarity of the past with the blood and soil ideology opposed by the matriarchal eco-utopia vision. In the polarity of the future, we have the space multiculturalism of Star Trek and the robot-ruled future and cybernetic implants of the tech giants.
While my sympathies are found with the eco-villagers and the federation of Star Trek, it is both fascinating and heartbreaking to observe those at the ends of polarities, of oppositions, take on the qualities, often both bad and good, of their oppositions over time, yet this is a part of the resolution and union of opposites. Finding yourself in “other” and “other” in yourself is the mystery of paradox. The key is to see it and find resolution before you do harm. And in the prevention of harm from the other side, to do so in a way that doesn’t make you embody the very thing you are fighting, which is often the case in our tactics if not our ethos. By our ethos, we feel justified, but that justification is the start of every well-intentioned horror. I often think of the Philip K. Dick quote:
“To fight the Empire is to be infected by its derangement. This is a paradox; whoever defeats a segment of the Empire becomes the Empire; it proliferates like a virus, imposing its form on its enemies. Thereby it becomes its enemies.”
I see that attitude in a lot of our current “anti” stances from the perspective of magickal consciousness. Dismantle things, yes! Build new and better things, of course we should. But when we are firmly rooted in the identity of anti-anything, it’s like the opposing poles. Rather than a union of opposites, when we are unconscious about it, we are like matter and antimatter coming together to create a mutually destructive explosion, not a philosopher’s stone. When you fight against something, you equate with it and put it on equal footing to yourself, your magick, your ideas. When operating as an agent of change, our strength is stepping either way outside of the scene or deeply inside of it. From there we can deconstruct and repurpose what we dismantle towards worthwhile endeavors. We can reweave. Otherwise we tend to strengthen and elevate the very things we seek to diminish. Sometimes we are motivated by ego. We want to win, and we want others to lose when they oppose us rather than think about the end result and how everyone factors into it. The people who disagree will not simply go away, and so far, opposition hasn’t changed anyone’s minds easily, so how do we redirect? How do we dismantle and build simultaneously, so the benefit can become obvious to enough people?
I also think of the Taoist proverb of the farmer whose experiences are characterized as good luck or bad luck by his neighbors, but at each he says, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” Lost a horse. Gained it back with two more. Horse breaks son’s leg. Son is passed over for military draft due to injury. Often actions and events that seem horrible might be the necessary domino for something else to happen. Something bad leads to something good and vice versa. This is not to urge us to do nothing as citizens or magicians, but to instead be clearly aligned with our True Will and feel our actions and motivations are clear, not unclear by being purely reactionary. Every action can lead to good and bad luck—who knows?—but we must be participating consciously, not unconsciously, in the process.
When we as magicians, as Witches, summon a furious magickal intent towards something, how do we know that perhaps the bad luck harm happening now doesn’t catalyze greater good? Ideally we do a divination to see if we should act. Or we deeply meditate and reflect, asking “What is my part in this?” But today, most act first, even magically, before considering any of this and the forces we set into motion are real, but sometimes we don’t approach that with the full knowledge of the reality or a clear intention of our desired final result.
If Witches are healers, we need to realize a lot of the ups and downs are potential results of the greater healing work of society, the healing crisis we have learned to recognize in individuals. The same process happens in groups and society. You don’t ignore it. You still address the crisis and do all you can to offer aid, but you have a different context when you realize the next great surprise, shock, and harm is part of a greater context, even when it’s your own crisis. It can unfold like the bad luck/good luck of the farmer, given a different time frame. Again, you do all that you can to minimize harm and help those in need, but healing takes on a different context than opposition. Sometimes opposition is necessary to stop something. Some wounds need a tourniquet, but a tourniquet is not the answer to all wounds.
While this looms large on every level of our lives, as Witches, I think the real trick is finding a vision of our Magick, our traditions, and our community rooted in the Magick of the past, but embracing a new future. We can’t abandon our shared and individual pasts, or we become unrooted from our reality. That happens in a lot of New Age paradigms. But we can’t seek to simply recreate the past or go back to a time that never was. We see that in the romanticism of the past, from strict reconstructionist polytheists on one side to the supremacist Neo-Nazis on the other. I love ancient motherland myths and secret histories, but only as a springboard to what is possible, an inspiration of magical possibility and meaning, not a reversal of what is. If we lose either side, we unbalance what comes next.
In the work of the Witch as I’ve learned it, the Great Rite is the ritual to resolve paradoxes and find reunion. Many people dislike it for its seeming overt heteronormative symbolism, but I guess even as gay man, I was never bothered by it because it was always taught to be as a cosmic union, not a purely physical-sexual one. I learned it first “in token” and solitary, so I had simultaneously both the role of High Priestess and High Priest when it was divided. That spoke to my queer soul. And when in a group, I was encouraged to explore with polarities outside of the gender norms, so I never felt something was being forced upon me, but I was celebrating an ancient mystery and had the opportunity to participate in something that had an ancient essence to its magick.
The union of the blade and chalice or the wand and the chalice (or the stone in the cup or the sword in the stone for that matter) is one of creation, and cosmos. It is the union of primal forces to create the world according to our magickal will in the microcosm of the sacred space, and then project that intention to become a part of the greater macrocosm of creation. We make the change internally through ritual to experience the change in the world. As a part of that magick, we are required to resolve the seeming contradictions, the illogical oppositions that can be held in our consciousness, but become a divine truth and wisdom when we can see them not as nonsense, but as the true nature of reality. And through that understanding of reality, we truly participate in the world on all levels.
As the sword is to the grail,
The blade is to the chalice.
As the heavens are to the Earth,
The stars are to the night.
As the serpent is to the cave
and the waters are to the well,
As the hammer is to the anvil
And the key is to the lock,
Truth is to love.
Let us drink in the power and blessings of the gods conjoined,
And let all paradox be resolved,
For there is no part of me that is not of the gods.
So mote it be.