A Question of Honour?
by Gordon the Toad
"Honour" is a word we seem to avoid. Maybe it feels too conventional, too much a part of mainstream society’s ‘codes of conduct’ for some of us, too redolent of respectability and fitting into boxes, helping boy-scouts across the road. So it is. Or it can be: all of those, any of those, or none at all. In the end it will be up to you.
Every act you do changes you, every word you speak affects you: the working relationship between who you Are and what you Do is "honour". It is a crucial part of your expression of how your magic, your ‘power from within’ works for you. What that expression is, is the main theme of this article, but in the end its form will be up to you. To live in an honourable way" could be summed up as:
Live never to be ashamed if anything you do or say is published around the world - even if what is published is not true!
Try that: ask yourself how you would feel if it was widely known you were a magician, that you danced witch-naked in the woods, that you enjoyed dressing up in flamboyant robes, or whatever. Spread your questions wider: the contents of bookcases and preffered TV viewing are good tests. Would the revelation of your Enid Blyton fixation humiliate you? Why? Perhaps you do not feel responsible for your delights and put it down to social conditioning, your nurture, or maybe its your nature, or its probably because of someone else anyway. Maybe. But as a magician you must see and accept everything you do:
Step back from your conditioning long enough to look at it and decide whether you are going to let it stay.
More seriously, the relationship between your Self and your Power is bound with honour. The way you draw upon and apply your Power determines how the rest of the world (worlds?) sees you; both magically and in everyday life. In the depths of magic a lot of honesty is called for:
in your assessment and understanding of your self and in your relationship with other beings. To say "perfect love and perfect trust" and all those other handy little phrases calls for a shrivelling degree of self-honesty. Keep asking yourself "Why do I do this?" and then "Why did I answer myself like that?"
You must know who you are - you must know your faults. They are uniquely yours! Don’t try to hide them or hide from them: see them, change them, release them, as you will, but you must know who and what they are. Sooner or later they will come creeping from their corners, strengthened by any denials you make, to trip you headlong. See who you are, and that personal integrity, no-matter how humilitating at first, carries its own strength: when you see your "worst" (and is it really that bad, or is it some piece of you that you are still growing out of?) what can others throw at you?
Being open, knowing who you are brings a clarity of vision that makes work with the spirit people much happier: don’t try to deceive yourself in magic and certainly don’t try to deceive the faeries!
Of course, you may belong to a path that works with command rather than consensus but the same holds true. Hide from yourself and at your first weakness something will hook into your suppressed paranoia or guilt or whatever and kick you gibbering around your ensorcelled space with it.
The first lesson of honour? Don’t deceive yourself, or the Otherworld,walking around with this personal honour burgeoning has wider reprecussions - of course. When was it meant to end? You may have a magical persona that you put on to go into your temple, but like your robes it is just a costume. Walking with honour, we address the body beneath the clothing, and down there, what is the difference between who you are inside your circles and outside of it? Where does the magic end?
Why does it end there? Can it end there?
Can your magic finish and exist only in one place and only be active to suit you? Can it no longer be a part of you? I have yet to meet the power that stops at the temple wall. The concentration changes, the flow changes and you may have switched yourself off, but the magic remains. A sacred space merely focusses the energies that are the breath of life around us.
There are no walls but those we raise ourselves: you can wear your outfits, costumes, deceptions and masks but you are only ever yourself.
Maybe you would be a bit concerned with all this honesty spilling Out all over the place as you look around you. But let wisdom and compassion temper your brutal home truths and remember that you are probably wrong. Second lesson of honour? Maybe, humility?
1f I say so, I will try, If1 say I shall, I will do, If i say I promise, I am bound.
Watch your words. Magically, they can define your reality. If you do not mean it, why say it? A sentence is a pattern; a promise is a spell: you are saying ‘This shall be done by me’. When your promise is fulfilled, you will feel the achievement, when it is not, feel the dis-ease ripple in your Power. We tend to use words very lightly, look at that and be aware, magically, of what you are saying. Maybe that’s the third lesson of honour? Do not pledge yourself lightly.
And that does not necessarily mean that you are about to become some pillar of moral convention, all sweetness and light and saying ‘yes’ to everyone. Understand your own worth and respect your own strength. By now you should be learning what you can and cannot yet do: a life walking in honour is part of your relationship with the world. You will have to explore its parameters for yourself.
You may think that your honour is that of the contrary, the heyoka, the Fool - but those ancient roles are not simply escape routes for the inconsistent and permanently evasive. They were important and difficult tasks within communities: they were the reality-breakers. Their honour, their power, lay in showing people a different view, throwing society’s reality back in its face in unlikely shapes. They gave people a chance to see a reflection of their own values and behaviours. There is no escape in a painted clown.
The fourth lesson of honour begins here: service.
Why do you work magic?
Why are you playing this game?
Are you meeting the answers to those questions?
Apply your self-honesty, and ask yourself these things again.
The relationships between magic-workers and the communities they live in (and serve?) are huge and complex. In our very diverse society, there are so many roles that are waiting t be filled that some general examination would sink without trace. So here is an example.
I’m a sort of a shaman. I see a shaman’s role as a bridge - a communicator between individuals and their Selves; or between members of communities; or between a community and its environment. I work with the last: in my magic and my daily life I work on the relationship between people and the land. Whether I am working with the tools of enchantment or with the skills of hand and voice and laughter (are they different?), I act as a shaman. I work to help people see the land, touch it, think about it for themselves. I’m the communicator, I cannot, do not, will not, direct where the results go. I want and hope that people will find their own love, enjoyment, and respect for their land but I cannot impose my will on theirs. No honour in manipulation, and as an ‘indoctrinaire’ rather than a ‘teacher’ I both break my vision and betray my trust. Whether the people I work with know or care that I’m pagan, I don’t know (a lot do). Whether they do or not is irrelevant to me: whoever they are, I must approach them with honour as the community I serve at this moment, and as living beings. They deserve no less and when they meet and work with me they must be able to trust me: and that means I must trust myself. If I spent my life deceiving myself, I would be left with nothing but a facade with no depth or genuine commitment to offer the people I serve.
How those sort of attitudes apply to your own situation only you can know. But it will always come back to: "Why do you work magic?" If anyone said it was going to be easy, they were lying. In its truest form, it is easy because your magic will flow you along the patterns of living, growing universe. Finding and tuning into these patterns is the risky bit.
Finding your honour is the fifth lesson of honour: living your Vision. Vision in this context is an American Indian idea. Plains Indians find usually a single key vision that inspires the rest of their lives and finding that Vision is their most potent rite of passage.
Think of the magic that is not bound by your circle’s edge. Magic is the web that pulses through the Universe and somewhere, somewhen, there is the pattern that shows you how you can move in harmony, with the web as a whole. That is your Vision. Your job as a magician would be to work towards the fullness of your Vision:
all compromises are measured against it, every step taken against it, pushes you backwards, every movement with it, releases you further and further into the wonder of it all. Like the words of your promise, your Vision can bind you: not because it is a trap but because it is the strongest expression of yourself that you are ever likely to meet. That is your power. Living the truth of your Vision is your honour.
Gordon the Toad is an internationally-renown environmental arts worker, and is the author of Talking to the Earth and Sacred Animals (Capall Bann Books).
This article was originally published in Pagan News No.35