What I Don’t Believe: Secret Chiefs (2/3)
I don’t believe in secret chiefs. I do believe, of course, that there are people wiser than I am, better at magic, and so on, just as there are those who are better looking, cook better, dance better, and so on. So this rejection of the concept of “hidden masters” or “secret chiefs” isn’t a matter of ego.
For those not in the know, a secret chief is the “true” and invisible ruler of a magical order, who delivers his or her messages on to the more visible rulers by means of telepathy or other methods.
I do believe that spirits can teach us, even perhaps spirits who have once been human (although, really, what do you imagine makes them cleverer once they’re dead than they were when alive, other than mere perspective?).
But the results of the secret chiefs — the lodge wars, the posturing, the insisting that I have the true ear of the secret chiefs, no, no, I do, no, I do. Bleh. Bugger it all. Anyone that imagines that this sort of nonsense is the height of magical work is doing it all wrong. They’re the sort of folks who take on grand names, mutter mysteriously or glower at people at festivals, and turn every topic to that of the occult. Dull people, in other words.
Again, as well, we find a bit of racism mixed in with occultism. After all, so many of the secret chiefs come from Tibet, or India, or are Native American — which seems like a really good thing, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s respectful of other cultures to honor their wisdom. But that’s the problem: it’s not honoring their wisdom, because these “Tibetan” or whathaveyou secret chiefs are having the dubious wisdom of their humble acolytes put in their mouths. When my secret and mysterious Native American spirit guide tells me some great teaching of his long lost people, what I’m probably really doing is projecting my own, quite western, quite white, probably quite imperialist views of what wisdom is onto this figurehead of “savage wisdom.” It’s insulting, both to the western mystery traditions themselves which don’t need to be exoticized to be valuable, but more importantly it’s insulting to the people whose cultures we’ve reduced to “sources of secret wisdom,” rather than recognizing their complexity and richness as a culture.
Fortunately, this trend in occultism is dying out. One rarely sees people claiming special knowledge from channeled hidden masters anymore, and the Native American spirit guide is, thank goodness, a thing of the past — in no small part, perhaps, thanks to those Native Americans who stopped putting up with the patronizing nonsense and spoke out against it.
And it’s doubly fortunate, because when we push our authority off onto secret chiefs, distant authority figures, and made up projections of our own prejudices, then we surrender our own authority. And that’s not something a magician does lightly. If the head of a magical order says, “I made up these rituals based on some stuff I read, and some of my own practices and experiences, as well as a few intuitions and insights I had,” I’d have more respect for that than claims of secret chiefs and mysterious ciphers.