Monday, July 17, 2006

Secrets and Mysteries

I first posted this on Making Light, when we were discussing the difference between a secret and a mystery. I decided it would stand on its own. Let me know what you think.

If you tell someone a secret, they know it. If you tell someone a mystery, they only know OF it. They can then COME to know it only by approaching it and trying to touch it. And the rest of their lives may be spent trying to really know it.

My friend Judy Harrow says that the Mysteries (she means of Wicca) have been out in paperback since the 1960s. I think she's primarily referring to Stranger in a Strange Land, where the central mystery is "Thou art God."

I have an interesting history with that Mystery (oo, a Mystery History).

When I first heard it, I thought its meaning was obvious, and that it was obviously false. After all, if I had been God, Bruce James would have been consumed by hellfire right there in the hallway of Kinawa Middle School. (All I have to say is, if I'd had pyrokinesis in Junior High, I would have made Carrie look like a piker. Good thing, because Bruce James grew up into a perfectly decent human being.)

When I learned a little more (a Secret, in fact, though it's pretty well known these days) I thought its meaning was obvious, and that it was obviously true, a tautology, in fact, since 'thou' means the divine self of a person...and that is what I believe Crowley meant when he said (or channelled) "Do as Thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."

As I touched the Mystery a little more, I came to the conclusion that the meaning of that little three-word sentence was not at all obvious, and that the best I could figure out was that it probably wasn't true, since I was beginning to directly sense the Presence...something much bigger than myself, and therefore (I thought) not ME.

Now, after decades, I've come to the conclusion that the meaning of 'Thou art God' is not at all obvious, but it's definitely true, and as with all true Mysteries I can't explain why. It's something I only fully understand while touching the Mystery, and when I'm doing that I can't verbalize much of anything about it. I prophesy, but I can't theologize!

(Isn't that a nice neat mathematical progression? It's a literary device for mapping the progress of my understanding, not the actual territory of that growth.)

One more example. If I tell you that the Secret Names of the God and Goddess in my tradition are Fred and Ethel, you then know those names (and in some traditions I would be issued a Writ of Banishment and cast out, with the candles and everything). If instead I tell you what I really think, which is that when the Goddess decided to speak Her Name, the universe began in fire and force, and we can hear the echo of that beginning to this day, but when She finishes pronouncing Her Name, the Universe will be over—I've told you a Mystery. On one level it's obvious what I'm referring to, but the deeper truth will be hidden from you until you touch it for yourself.

An unlit candle across the room from a burning one is bathed in the light; yet it cannot burn for itself until they touch.


Blogger FSJL said...

What about riddles and enigmas?

10:51 AM  
Blogger Xopher said...

Riddles can reveal a mystery, if they're deep enough.'s hard to know.

11:06 AM  
Anonymous abi said...

At the risk of turning this into a Making Light mirror, here's what I posted in response. I only broached the subject at all because I recognised the voice of the genuine experience in your posting. In among the banter and the ripostes*, it shone as a genuine piece of soul.

- o0o -

I tend to say that a Secret is a Fact, and a Mystery is a Process.

The mysteries that I have approached (most of them are around sacraments, because of who and what I am) have been important not for the endpoint, but for the journey there.

The classic example in the circles I have run with is St Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle. It's a book, and therefore can be read. Were there a secret buried in the last chapter, a reader could read the book, find the secret, and know the fact. But the book is about a mystery, and the process of reading it can be the process of approaching the mystery. Many people (including me) don't finish the book, because they don't finish the journey.

One other thing: knowing a fact may or may not change you. Journeying toward a mystery certainly will.

- o0o -

The fact that my summary is briefer than yours is a sign that I know less about these things, of course. The slogan "those who know don't tell, and those who tell don't know" could have been invented for mysteries, since the closer you come to them the harder they are to articulate.

* not that there's anything wrong with banter and ripostes. Or even puns.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Ceri said...

Hey! I wandered over here from Making Light. This is a great explanation of the concept of Mystery.

"Thou art God" as it's used in Stranger in a Strange Land is explained as a kind of control of your own destiny -- every time you make a decision, you are changing the course of history, if only in a very minor way. You are reshaping the world. Therefore, you are a God, as you have the power of change. That's not the only meaning, or the right one -- it's another facet of it.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Thena in Maine said...

I wandered over from MakingLight, too. Eventually.

The way we explained it to neophytes in our circle (when I was active, a few years back) when they were itching to get The Real Super Good Seekrit Stuff (tm), was thus:

There are two categories of material we use that are oathbound, that is, only available to initiates, Secrets and Mysteries. Secrets, that's the stuff that may not be explained; the initiate is under oath not to discuss the material with someone who has not taken the same oath. Mysteries, on the other hand, were the stuff that can not be explained; the experiential process, things which only make sense in light of the initiatory experience.

I suppose one could easily expand that differential understanding to other contexts than the specific Wiccan-initiatory one.

7:53 PM  

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