Monday, January 4, 2016

Steven Bragg

Steven Bragg, founder of the New Orleans Chapel of the Santisima Muerte. Photo by Allan Spiers, 2015.

On Being Multi-Traditional

At times I’m asked why I’ve gone through so many initiations and how do I handle so many different spiritual paths? Sometimes I’m accused of being a “Jack of all trades, master of none” and a title collector. The Biblical concept of not being able to serve two masters also comes up. So, today I’d like to take a moment and explain, from my point of view, why I believe it’s important for some people to go through the initiations and trainings of more than one spiritual path. Hopefully this will serve a good purpose in bringing about a better understanding for folks on both sides of the issue.

A foundational belief I hold is that all people are born with many spiritual beings around them, connected to them. There are the person’s blood ancestors, spirit guides, higher beings and their potentials, and then finally that person’s dominating spiritual force. But that’s just at birth. If a person becomes spiritually active then he or she may pick up more spirits the further down the spiritual road this person walks. However, if a person never becomes spiritually active, these forces tend to remain in the background, silently attempting to guide the person, sometimes coming through in dreams or as intuition.

If a person does become spiritually active, and they’re exposed to the right set of circumstances and influences, it may come to light that these different spirits require the person to go through different things in order to bring about healing or elevation or whatever to these spirits, or that they need to be “fed” or empowered in a certain way. Perhaps the person’s long-ago ancestors wish their descendant to be spiritually active in a certain way, but the ancient rites have been lost, so they lead the person to another path in order to be “made” in the way they want them to be and to pick up things similar to the older ways that these ancestors recognize. Sometimes a person has an ancestral debt to pay off, such as with slavery in the South, and the “sins of the fathers” must be dealt with in order to bring about healing for those spirits who were enslaved during life. There are many potential reasons for this to happen, depending on the spiritual make up of the person. Which brings me to my next point.

Today more than ever, and especially here in the U.S., many people are mixtures of different bloodlines, ancestries, cultures, and so on. It stands to reason that a person with varying ancestral backgrounds may, not always but may, need to undergo certain rites in order to lift up those ancestors in ways that they recognize and accept. Some spiritual practices can be universal, but not all them are, and at times it depends on the preferences of the person’s spirits which is the correct way for them. If someone feels pulled to different things, there may be a reason for that. I’d advise reaching out to priests/esses of these different paths, researching before jumping into anything, and taking one’s time. It’s not a race, nor is it a competition. It’s for you, your spirits, and your journey in this life.

I’ll use myself as an example for all the things above. When I first started on my personal spiritual journey I was solitary, eclectic Wiccan. I read lots of Llewelyn books. However, I got to a point where it simply wasn’t cutting it. I wasn’t connected to the spiritual world like I felt I should be. Sure, there was some connection, but I knew there was more to it and I knew I needed to seek it out. Why? I had no idea at the time, I just knew I had to. So, before I even had a real concept of working with my ancestors, I prayed to them to lead me to where I needed to go. Shortly after that, I was invited to my first Haitian Vodou ceremony. Of course it was the most impressive thing I’d ever experienced, and every fiber of my being said, “This is it!” Long story short, I ended up on a plane to Haiti to undergo the kanzo (initiation.) Only later did I come to realize the reasons why. It wasn’t because I was supposed to eventually become an Houngan and lead a house. It was because I was in part paying off an ancestral debt incurred by my Southern slave-owning ancestors, also in part so my own spirit could be re-molded in a way only Vodou could do. Once this was done, I found myself in a situation where I could properly (for me, that is) undergo the rites of British Traditional Wicca for many of my blood ancestors. Later I found out that 75% of my blood comes from the U.K., so it was important that I pick up something that was born on British soil.

After all this was when I was ready for the dominating spiritual force in my life to reveal herself. Enter La Santisima Muerte. After I received my training with her she came to me in a dream and showed me how she’d been around me my whole life. 

Have I picked up a great deal in the last two decades? Yes. Am I a master of all of them? No. But then, I don’t believe I need to be a so-called master of everything I’ve picked up, because I wasn’t meant to. I’ve gone through all this for my own spirits, my own ancestors…not to fulfill the expectations of others. But just because I’m not a master at all of them doesn’t mean I’m not damn good at them. I remember when I was in band in junior and high school. I played a different instrument every year, started out with brasswinds and ended up with woodwinds. However, every year I was always the first chair player of whatever section I was in, and I had music scholarships for the three years I played in college. So, maybe I’m not a master in all my spiritual traditions, but I’m still better than a lot of people in these same traditions. In all my journeys I’ve met very few masters. I’ve met a lot of people who think they’re masters, but really they can’t see beyond their own glass ceilings.

Part of my role in this life is to be a guide for other people, opening doors and roads, connecting people to the different paths in order for them to further themselves in their own spiritual journeys. This is reflected in the strong connections I have to the crossroads spirits in most of my traditions. If I didn’t have all these traditions I wouldn’t be able to fulfill this aspect of what I was meant to do.

As for not being able to “serve two masters” or “serve at two altars,” first of all that originates from a monotheistic, Abrahamic source. I’m not Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, so that doesn’t apply to me. However, going beyond that and addressing the deeper meaning, I’ll say this. None of these spirits that I serve are the Divine Creative Force of the universe. They are spiritual beings, and they are not my masters. I work with these beings; I do not worship them. I give them thanks and appreciation and love, but I don’t see myself as their slave. I do have to juggle my time, resources, and energy, however, because I’ve gone throug the work of establishing relationships with all of them, they understand what it is I have to do in this life, and they know they share me with other beings. I only know of one jealous god.

One of the advantages I’ve found in being multi-traditional is when someone comes to me with an issue, I can usually pinpoint the nature of the problem more quickly and accurately than others, and I can either take care of the problem myself or refer the person to a reputable priest/worker, instead of sending them on a wild goose chase and them possibly spending lots of time, effort, and money finding someone who isn’t a fraud or out to milk them of as much money as they can.

So, I’ll close this with saying, everyone has their own reasons for what they do. It’s not my place to sit in judgment of why people may be doing this, that, or the other. That certainly doesn’t accomplish anything positive or helpful in any way. Some people may be collecting titles, and if so that’s their business. I really don’t care. The proof of all this lies in the pudding, and the vast majority of the time the best pudding is made behind closed doors, not out in the public for all to see. The nature of the occult is that it is occult, secret. Readings are done in private; workings are done in private. Public ceremonies are for the community and can provide some things, but the strongest witchcraft and workings are done in private, not really because it has to be super secret, but because this is when you’re affecting change in a person’s life. That is no one else’s business and doesn’t need to be proclaimed far and wide.

Not everyone can or should be multi-traditional, as not everyone can handle it. But for those of us who do, most of us anyway, we do it for our own spirits, our own life journeys, and for the people we help along the way.

Steven Bragg