Most people in Modern Paganism have heard of the Witch’s Pyramid, sometimes known as the Magician’s Manifesto. In this, there are four goals for a person to achieve their own power, which are: to know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent. I’m discussing each of these one by one in my podcast series, but I’d like to take a closer look at the adage: to keep silent.
Many say that this maxim was used in order to protect witches from “outing” each other during the witch trials and persecution of the Middle Ages. I’m not sure if this quote dates that far back, in all honesty. However, that’s beside the point of this article. There are some beneficial ways that the motto can be used, and also a lot of detrimental ways.
A good point: it teaches people to shut up and listen. You can’t really listen if you aren’t quiet. It also teaches us that words do have power. We need to use our words responsibly, especially in this age of social media and the abuse of people through the anonymity of the internet. A Witch’s word is said to hold power too – lies and half-truths undermine a Witch’s power (this applies to all people, in my opinion). Words can heal or destroy.
Being silent also helps us to see the bigger picture. When we step outside of our ego and its chattering, we begin to hear the stories of others and see the grander scheme of things. We all have egos, and we need to learn to work with them in order to not be ruled by them. When we are ruled by our egos, we aren’t living intentionally: we are instead living reactionary lives.
Being silent is also helpful in teaching us to be alone. With so many gadgets to hand to distract us from ourselves, we’ve forgotten how to be alone, how to be bored and, yes: how to be lonely. It’s only when you truly deal with loneliness that you can come to understand it and work to improve your situation. Then again, there are the more solitary folk who prefer to be alone, and who find solace in this space for themselves, to work, to heal, to dance and to pray. When we have cut ourselves off from all other distractions, we begin to realise that we are never truly alone. We have nature, the gods, the ancestors, all around us, all the time.
But what are some of the detriments to the saying, “to keep silent”? Well, silence has been used to abuse people for a long, long time. When we silence someone, we are exerting our power over them. Taking away a person or a group’s voice can be the most harmful thing you can do socially, politically, environmentally and ethically. Sometimes this even crosses over into the Pagan sphere, where unsavoury and unethical groups or persons use the adage “to keep silent” to use and abuse others. It can also be used to keep power from an individual or group, to not share knowledge in order to control them. It can be used as a front, a guise, a glamour for when someone doesn’t know an answer, and simply quotes this maxim to maintain an air of mystery and power. These kinds of “teachers” are really just in it for their egos. The best teacher will willingly admit to not knowing something, often learns from the student, and is willing to say so openly and honestly.
This sense of secrecy helps a group or person to establish power and mystique. It entices people to come closer, to learn more. The old Victorian orders and groups wove this veil of secrecy around their groups, not only to protect their members but also to make themselves feel more important. This has carried through in various forms throughout the decades, and has led to the history of Modern Witchcraft being a bit of a fuddled mess. If people were open about themselves, where their traditions came from, and who did what, we might have a more cohesive and coherent history to turn to. Even in the last 70 years we are still trying to unravel pieces of the puzzle, from Gardner and his associates and beyond. They can’t tell us – they’ve all passed on to the Summerland, taking their secrets with them. We can’t verify a lot of claims made by people and groups, which in this age of fact-checking has become paramount.
Many people, myself included, have found this utterly frustrating. So many traditions have created false histories in order to claim validity. In this way, they feel their tradition has the stamp of authenticity, because it goes back to so and so, etc. The irony of lies and half-truths to authentic a tradition is, I’m sure, not lost on many. I personally am not one to equate a religious or spiritual path’s age with validity, and there are many others out there who feel the same. If a spiritual path works for someone, and it was created yesterday, it’s just as valid as a 2,000 year-old tradition that spans the globe. But when secrecy is used to obscure fact because of false claims or untruths in a specific tradition, it can devalue it in the eyes of some. It’s never fun when you find out that your tradition had charlatans and forgers, ego maniacs and more thrown into the historical mix.
History will always have a veil of obscurity over it, hidden truths and perspectives written down by “the winners”. But with the adage of “to keep silent”, this can simply perpetuate the wilful abuse of the truth and facts.
Perhaps we need to learn when to speak up, when to speak the truth, our truths, and when to keep silent. When it is appropriate to do so, in order for power to be shared by all. The person with the most power is the person who is most willing to share it. And they usually don’t shout about it either.