The idea of the New Craft had been percolating for a few years, but I wasn't thinking about it too actively. But the Millennium was coming up, and I was feeling vaguely disappointed -- simply for symbolic reasons, I had hoped to have things a bit nailed down before then.
Millennium Eve arrived, and we went to bed around 2am on January 1, 2001. And about an hour later, I woke up, suddenly having the image I wanted in my mind. I dashed downstairs and began typing furiously. The following is a condensation of the long rambling file that resulted.
The key realization was that we'd been trying to solve the wrong problem. I don't think I can put it better than I did in that moment of revelation:
For years, I've been puzzling over the notion of The New Craft. What is the right body to replace the now-moribund and soon-to-be-defunct Masonry? I've been hampered throughout by taking the problem too literally, trapped in the mindset that Masonry propagates. The correct answer is to back off to first principles, and create an organization that fills the correct purpose, even if the structure is quite different.
Hence, The Mysteries. Equal parts Masonry, Dionysian ritual, Catholicism, Wicca, and -- not least -- Techno-Magic. And maybe a little Willy Wonka, just to maintain perspective.
The purpose: to improve the spirit of Man, through ritual, teaching, and learning. The mission: to explore the important Mysteries, particularly The Great Mystery of the Human Spirit. The dogma: none, save openness of mind and will to learn. The method: to have fun while delving into these Mysteries.
Okay, it's a little breathless, the effect of trying to write in the heat of revelation. But it does summarize what I had in mind rather nicely. Let's tease out some of the important bits.
The fundamental tension at the heart of the Mysteries -- indeed, the tension that defines it -- is between Truth and Illusion. Truth is the goal; Illusion is the means.
The idea here isn't to present dogma, or to say, "this is The Truth". Rather, it's to create a framework within which many different truths can be described, presented and experienced. Life is, in large part, the quest for our own answers. The choice of which truths we accept shapes us and how we interact with the world. The Mysteries are intended to act as a forum for that quest: a mode of presenting options and exploring their consequences, through immersive (often first-person) narratives.
Truths can appear to contradict each other. Balance is one of the greatest underlying Truths, and stands between such contradictions. The wise man learns from these contradictions, and formulates his own Balance.
Illusion is an essential common tool for producing a transcendent experience. Illusion can come in many forms, including music, image, tactile experience -- it may affect any or all of the senses. But it has the universal purpose of producing an effect in the perceiver that goes beyond mere sensation. All mysteries through the ages have used illusion of some sort, many of them (such as current Masonry) rather badly. With some determination and modern technology, we should be able to push things along quite a bit.
Everyone, at all times, is learning. If you aren't learning, you're effectively dead. Hence, while the founders of the Mysteries will need to bootstrap things by teaching, this does not imply that even they are failing to learn. They should begin learning other Mysteries as soon as they begin to be formulated. Contrariwise, everyone has something to teach. The most appropriate mark of a "master" in the Mysteries is that one formulates a new Mystery. This may or may not be explicit.
We should not be afraid to look silly. (This is where Willy Wonka comes into it.) Almost anything meaningful looks silly when examined coldly in the light of day -- even basic concepts like love, truth and honor. It takes a measure of bravery to simply not worry about looking foolish, and that bravery is crucial, because it speaks to courage of one's conviction. If you let yourself feel silly, you wind up with modern Masonic ritual: abbreviated, embarrassed and bloodless. But that same ritual can be powerful and compelling if done with passion and serious purpose.
The Metaphor -- that problem that vexed me for so long -- isn't really all that important. Having a core metaphor is one way to explore truth, but is by no means the only one. What matters more in practice is the image, and I find myself drawn to something between the TechnoMage and the Druid. The name of the Mysteries alludes both to the means and the attitude, which serves us well. Doing something like dressing in robes can look pretty daft, but it fulfills an important psychological purpose, helping people see beyond the day-to-day. For that matter, we might even want to use masks occasionally: the psychological effects there are long attested. And, frankly, once past the silliness factor, it can make folks feel involved and cool. No one ever calls a TechnoMage silly.
Ritual should be fun. It should never be a chore, and it should never be boring. At its best, it should be both compelling and a bit scary; at the least, it should be interesting. Never, ever lose sight of this. If it isn't fun, then it isn't really speaking to you, and if it isn't speaking to you, then you aren't learning from it. (Moreover, really good ritual is still fun after you've done it dozens of times. That's tougher -- it requires that it be genuinely moving.)
The Mysteries are open-ended -- part of the point is that we should constantly be adding new Truths to explore, and new ways to explore them. There is little overall structure imposed upon this; indeed, I think that different groups might wind up using very different rituals. But there are two initiatory rituals upfront:
- The Outer Mystery of Truth and Balance -- which describes what the organization is about; and
- The Inner Mystery of Illusion and Reality -- which describes how it works.
There's more, of course -- the above only represents a fraction of the opinions and ideas I've developed, and I'm a long ways from having this fully designed. But it's hopefully enough to give the flavor of what I'm thinking, and I'd rather get that out, rather than droning on for pages.
Where is all this going? I'm not entirely sure yet. Having been handed a revelation, it would be simply impolite to ignore it; I'm just superstitious enough to believe that I need to make this happen. For the moment, I'm continuing to think about this, and flesh out the basic principles. I'm trying to spell out the core vision -- to write down the major principles that I consider the true definition of the organization.
I don't intend to make all the decisions, though. I'm hoping to attract a group of people to help me make it real -- to help spell out the details, write the rituals and enact them, define what this thing looks like as a social entity, and not least, to simply be a part of it. If this thing is going to succeed, it's only going to be because a whole bunch of folks get involved with it; all I can do is get the ball rolling. So if you think it sounds like it might be cool, let me know; I'm very curious about whether this sparks the imagination, and is something that folks might find fun and useful...