Sometimes when I've talked with fellow Pagans and Occultists about the word Tradition, what I'm struck by is a sense that the goal of being part of a spiritual tradition is to somehow keep the tradition from ever changing. The practitioners involved want to keep the tradition static, to make it be the same as it was when they first learned it or when it was first created. I've always found this a bit worrying because when something becomes static it doesn't adapt and eventually it does out. Sometimes, why a given spiritual tradition stays viable is because that tradition changed or adapted to the times. The other day I was reading The Talking Tree by William G. Gray and he made the following observation about Tradition:
Tradition should be a living spirit, persisting among people from one generation to another and consequently leading them constantly from past learning to future illumination. This means that Tradition ought to be in a continual state of evolution and improvement. It is essentially the spiritual growth of human souls both individually and collectively. It stands for regenerative replacement and never for degenerative decay.
What I get from this statement is that tradition is never meant to be static. Tradition is meant to evolve and change and adapt to the times and people that are involved in it. This isn't to say that the past shouldn't be honored or acknowledged or explored...far from it! The past always informs the development of the future. We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us. A spiritual tradition should never divorce itself from its past and yet it should also embrace the future and experimentation that is relevant to the tradition. By doing so, the tradition doesn't become static but instead is sustained by the active inquiry and work that its practitioners perform. More importantly those practitioners do that work from a place of active engagement, instead of rote performance for the sake of doing it the way its always been done.
Tradition renews us spiritually, but we renew it spiritually as well. A tradition is not defined by the person who created it or the people chosen by that person to continue it. The tradition is defined by every practitioner of it and as such each practitioner's journey with the tradition is sacred and meaningful. There may be certain people who become spokespeople for a tradition, but those people should never presume that their word is final or discourage the spiritual journey of another practitioner in the tradition. With that said, part of what makes a tradition viable is that people do examine the work that's occurring and ask if it really does fit the tradition or really is an evolution of it. If magical work occurs that moves away from the core values and principles of a tradition, that work may not fit that tradition (although it could become its own tradition). As such its important to have some idea of what constitutes change in a tradition that still makes the change part of tradition.
For example, if you're working with specific deities in a tradition, its one thing if how you work with them evolves. That could be considered part of the tradition. It's altogether different if you start arbitrarily adding in other deities or getting rid of specific deities. In such a case, the question: "Is this part of our tradition?" is a valid question to ask, because you may be changing the tradition itself. Likewise if you experimenting with a technique that is part of the tradition that can be an evolution of that technique. If, on the other hand, you randomly introduce a technique from another belief system, it may need to be examined carefully, especially if contextually it doesn't make sense. Yet it should be noted a technique could be introduced and become contextually relevant if it is applied within the parameters of a tradition.
As Gray notes traditions should be a living spirit. To make a tradition a living spirit, the evolution of it should be welcomed and embraced as an opportunity for the people involved to grow in their spirituality and in the work they do. If change can be embraced and at the same time applied with a standard that is relevant to the core values of the tradition, then the tradition will stay relevant.
Magical Experiments podcast: In this episode I interviewed Ivo Dominguez Jr about his work, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and the Neo-Alexandrian Library.