A long time ago on a still-extant list known as Amber & Jet I managed to express myself rather well on the difference between capital M Mysteries, and secrets. A frequently-asked question on A&J was yet another seeker asking why, oh, WHY is all this stuff secret? And every time the question was rasied, there was a range of answers, from a variety of initiates and elders, depending on how recently that question had been raised, degree of busy-ness where the folks who could answer it lived, and the level of patience said initiate–contributors had in their pocket at the time. So I saved my post, and modified it slightly into an essay.
Why All the Mystery?
Secrets are expressible. Mysteries aren’t.
If you ride a bicycle, find an adult who does not know (and has never tried) to ride a bicycle and then try to tell them, in words or pictures, what it feels like to ride a bicycle. How the motion and balance come together. How to lean and when not to. How to stand on the pedals while yanking on the handlebars to get lots of oomph, and why the bike doesn’t fall out from under you when it’s at a 45-degree angle while you do that!
So “what it feels like to ride a bicycle” is a mystery. The bicycle itself isn’t a mystery or a secret. The fact that one rides it isn’t a mystery or a secret.
Now, once you’ve tried to explain the mystery of bicycle-riding, how does one go about sharing this mystery? You can put someone on a bicycle and push them along, and they’ll begin to get the feel. You can add training wheels to help keep ’em from falling over while they learn how not to overcorrect. You can put them on the back seat of a tandem and that might be enough to get them started.
Or, of course, you can demonstrate the starting position and then leave them alone with the bicycle and a chunk of parking lot and hope that they figure out how to stay on top of it without needing a trip to the clinic. Or the emergency room.
And all of that is in the context of a world where everyone in the country knows, at the least, what the purpose of a bicycle is, and what it looks like when humans ride them, and that even small children can do it.
Finally, not everyone can ride a bicycle. Not just the gross limitations of the one-legged man or the paraplegic, but people with inner-ear disturbances, or chronic vertigo, or neurological motor control issues (ranging from the extreme to the subtle, and there are more than most folks think).
Having said all that, I note that the analogy starts to break down when I try to decide just where the much-published secrets end and the mysteries begin. I don’t think one even has a whole bicycle in hand with everything published by Sheba and the Farrars and whoever. Much less a reasonable picture of what one does with a bicycle.
Further, riding a bicycle is no preparation for riding a motorcycle–and can sometimes lead to problems in learning to do so.
If one has contact with one’s deities (to quote Desiderata, “whatever you perceive them to be”), and can achieve that contact by a means that satisfies one’s need for such contact (if any), then one has one’s own personal Mysteries. And those Mysteries are no less valid than any other.
If one feels a need to experience the Mysteries of a BTW tradition, then the people who have the bicycles and know how to ride them are the ones who can make it possible. That’s not to say those Mysteries can or will be experienced by everyone, which is a point that the great myth of American “democracy” sometimes makes contentious. (Created equal, OK. But what have you been doing since conception?)
I don’t think it’s revealing anything oathbound to say that BTW traditions do what they do “because it works”…and that part of what works is how people are selected and trained and initiated and practice.
If what one is looking for is ways to experience Pagan or Wiccan deities directly by one’s own bootstraps, skip right past Grimassi’s attempt to put intangibles into words (Wiccan Mysteries) and go directly to the eclectic but interesting recent work Summoning Forth the Wiccan Goddesses and Gods. It’s not BTW, but it’s got some useful meat.
If what one is looking for is validation, you’re the only one who can provide it.
Initiation is handled by deity, whether it occurs in a solitary ritual or in a group.
Afterword: (Yes, I’m a heretic; I don’t hold self-initiation invalid. I just don’t think it’s self-initiation. The problem for self-initiates is in interacting with other people…when it comes to obtaining a vouch from your initiator. Deities have a way of choosing who they’ll talk to!)