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14. What role does mystery play in your tradition?
Well, first of all, what IS Mystery?
A lot of people equate Mystery with Secrecy, but I think it’s important to distinguish between them. Both are often oath bound, in order to either keep some kind of control, or to avoid spoilers for initiates who will have a stronger experience if they face the unknown than if they face the sort-of-known.
I tend to say that a Mystery is that which can only be understood – truly known – via direct experience. Lon says the difference between a Secret and a Mystery is that, “A Secret must not be told, whereas a Mystery can not be told.”
If I told you a Secret, you’d then know it, and maybe you would share it with other people or not for whatever reason. The reason for not telling a Secret is to avoid the Secret being known by someone who ought not know it. Once a Secret is out, there’s no putting it back in the box.
If I tried to tell you a Mystery, you would still not know it, until you had the requisite experience to understand it directly yourself. We might use the exact same words whether we understood it or not, but the words themselves take on a different meaning when we understand than they had previously been able to carry. The reason for not telling a Mystery is because it’s no use. At best we’re confusing, at worst we sound crazy. There’s no way for a Mystery to be out. Those who understand via direct experience will anyway, and those who don’t just won’t.
Some Mysteries are right out there for anyone to try to understand. The nature of privilege is a Mystery, as is the life experience of lacking any specific kind. Spoon Theory is an attempt to explain the Mystery that is living with an invisible, debilitating, chronic illness.
Some Mysteries are things that seem to require a particular kind of mind and education in addition to particular experience in order to understand – experienced computer programmers can tell you horror stories about coders who don’t really grok pointers. I swear logarithms are a mathematical Mystery, and I’m quite sure anything involving picturing more than 3 spatial dimensions is a Mystery.
Some Mysteries are nearly universal. Adulthood is a mystery for the adolescent. I don’t know about you, but I thought I understood being an adult when I was a teenager, such that all the adults around me who kept saying I’d understand when I was older seemed quite full of themselves. But now that I AM an adult, I can look back and say that no, really, I didn’t understand what I now understand, and I know now why they were saying that. I also know no amount of explaining it would have made any difference to me then, which is why, like most adults, I don’t try very hard to explain it to the adolescents I know now. Acknowledging that particular Mystery is why so many cultures have Coming Of Age rituals.
Ultimately, anything you don’t understand until it “clicks”, anything you can only learn through experience, anything that can’t be explained no matter how perfectly the words seem to encapsulate what you mean, but most importantly, anything where once you have the experience that creates the understanding, your perspective is forever changed thereafter – that’s a Mystery. We just don’t look at it that way for things to which we don’t attribute religious significance.
Which brings me to the original question, what role does Mystery play in my practice?
Well, I’m a mystic, so Mystery pretty much IS my practice. I find that the mystical experience is pretty well nothing BUT layer upon layer of Mysteries to be found, confounded, misunderstood, experienced, understood, and moved beyond to the next layer. It’s turtles all the way down around here.
I can talk until I’m blue in the face about Who the Vanir Are and What the Vanir Do, but until you experience Them yourself, until you establish that relationship, there’s going to be things that make sense to me that just won’t to you. This is less true when talking to a fellow polytheist who at least has that layer of Mystery under their belt, of course, and yet less true when talking to a fellow trance medium.
On a more formal level, though, I’m also putting together some specific Mystery rituals for a few different purposes, largely at the instigation and instruction of the Vanir. Some are for specific things some folks just need. Some are for dedicants to undergo. Some are for godfolk (i.e. clergy) to undergo. Some will be targeted to specific questions that the Lore raises that it seems can’t just be retold, they have to be understood on some deeper personal level. (e.g. “Who is Odr?”)
The rituals I already run are almost always designed to be opportunities for the Powers to reach people as directly as possible, which is the most essential Mystery for any theistic practice that I can come up with, really.
Some of the things I have encountered over the years that seem to be Mysteries on some level:
- Reality vs. Perception vs. Interpretation vs. Communication
- Various kinds of altered consciousness (including Seidh magic)
- Contact with any given Power, the nature of any given Power (Gods, Spirits, Runes)
- The natures of Love, Beauty, and Identity
- The nature of Self (not quite the same thing as Identity, it turns out…)
- The nature of Belonging (still not at all sure I actually understand this one…)
- The value of Fertility, human and otherwise
- Sacred Sexuality
- Who is Odr?
- Anything to do with Death
- Who is Gullveig?
- Freyja’s Tears
- Gerd’s Garden
- Freyr’s Sacrifice[s]
- Odin’s Sacrifice
- Frigga’s Silence
- The relationship between the value of Self and Exchange
- Galdr (specifically, having the sound patterns and the sensations of doing it right click)
- Wyrd and Orlog
- What is a God?
See what I mean?
Plenty of these I imagine get a response from most folks of “What? How is that a Mystery?” and all I can say is “I’d explain it if I could!” Trust me, I’ve tried.
Now I will grant you that if you don’t use the definition of Mystery I do, you might not experience these things AS Mysteries in the sense that you mean it. I can’t help you there. These are all things that I have had the experience of not understanding something important about them until I had a direct experience of Inspiration on the topic thereof, and had a moment of it really clicking what that significance was, such that my understanding was forever changed thereafter.
Some of them, like the real value of Death, are harder to hold onto than others because it’s such a change from how we usually think about it. Others are nearly impossible to articulate.
Life is like that. We’re actually surrounded by Mystery all the freakin’ time, I believe. We just take the mysteries we’re on the far side of for granted unless we had to work really hard to get there, and it’s considered unusual to get there at all.
Which is sad, because I believe a lot of what being a mystic is about is valuing all those ordinary mysteries just as much as the ones that are more obviously extraordinary. Perhaps understanding the value of those mundane mysteries is itself another mystical mystery.
Lon’s answer: Speaking of the Unspeakable