Pagans, occultists and magicians seem increasingly incapable of being silent. The horizon of the occult community seems increasingly dominated by the rapid rise of publications, books and trinkets for sale and the increasingly vociferous voices that seem insistent on telling us how it is. The noise is almost overwhelming, the signal increasingly distorted.
Harpocrates, son of Isis and “the god who holds his tongue, and urges silence, thumb in mouth”, has long been a favourite figure amongst magicians. Usually the connection is with the notion of secrecy, one shared by the masons in the figure of Angerona. It is the association with secrecy that has been the reason the lesson of silence has slipped away from too many within the pagan, occult and magical community.
Secrecy is connected with abuses of power, with manipulation and exclusion and often rightly so. The power of secrecy is partially connected to its capacity to manipulate so this is unsurprising. It has, like many substances, a pharmakon nature – too much is a poison, just enough is efficacious, but how much is just enough? Yet Harpocrates is not simply about secrecy, it is the source for the ‘sign of silence’, of the ‘Tace’ in the motto Video, Aude, Tace – to see, to dare, to be silent. Secrecy and silence are not the same, though closely related. Secrecy, if just enough is taken, can be a means of binding together those who are allowed into a group and hold its secret as the thread of their interiority as well as a tool for prompting direct experience as one searches for the secret. Silence, on the other hand, is a source of self-control and a means for opening the ear onto the world. It is also a consequence of the realisation that all occultists should hold as first principle – words are power. To speak is to act. If one insists on simply speaking all the time then most likely what occurs is a directionless acting.
In our current Western society this notion of silence – of ‘holding your tongue’ – goes against much that informs the implicit imperatives of capitalism. The idea that one should ‘express yourself’ or ‘speak truth to power’ are thought to be liberating and important to hold to, although this is actually a doubtful truth. Occasionally these ideas may apply, occasionally, but in general the rule ‘hold your tongue’ has more sense and should perhaps be the default. Unless absolutely necessary and no other course is possible, holding ones tongue is usually the least damaging course of action – and for one, very simple reason. To act is to assume knowledge and has great risk because it is almost always certain that something in that situation we are acting on is beyond our knowledge. To act is to trust in ourselves that our act is a positive effect on the world and such trust should be assumed only with some humility. To act is to dare.
Silence also has other benefits. In communities that exist online, in social media like facebook, forums and blogs, it is too easy for conversations to become explosive. This is a long recognised factor in internet communication in general and led to the early identification of the fairy figure of the Troll. Once identified it was also recognised that the only effective way of dealing with Trolls is to stop feeding them, hence the numerous DNFTT acronyms that sprung up in early forms of the ‘net. The role of the social media in community life, particularly in small communities of affinity, is highly problematic. It mitigates against the possibility of silence, because anyone anywhere can simply blurt out anything they want. Moreover those words, often spoken in haste, drunkenness or anger, can then remain indelibly etched onto the record, lingering and mouldering. In addition these social media continue on 24/7 whereas the actual community of bodies may only meet once every now and then. The social media, once thought to facilitate, now becomes dominant and the body meetings become distorted through the continuous presence of the online, often unthought, words that never seem to cease being spoken.
It’s not only social media, however, that brings the problem of too much talk, it’s also the ‘literary’ nature of many communities, the absence of the oral imperative. With the amount of books, magazines, journals, musical compositions and media in general people begin to become part of a community only through these disembodied extensions of their selves. Instead of these media becoming aids and providing assistance, as tools, to a more profound and rounded (body included) community, what tends to occur is that the community disappears into the tools, the texts and medias that fly forth in an era of increasing expression. This then produces a curious dynamic, whereby if one doesn’t ‘produce’ these things then one doesn’t exist. The dynamic is to force people to speak, to produce, to ‘express themselves to exist’. Even when they do produce, however, the drive of the form insists that once is not enough, they must do it again, and again, junkie to the new ephemerality of the mass media form.
In all of this, in the online disputes, the flood of new productions, the trivialisation and – let’s be frank – increasing stupidity and tedium of these expressions, all that is occurring is the gradual assimilation of the occult community into the wider capitalist imperative (eat, consume, die). The occult spark itself will dwindle inside these communities, taken up and living on elsewhere, in secrecy and silence. The occult communities will be unlikely to learn those lessons it needs to as long as it maintains its incessant cacophony of expression, its incessant drive to talk rather than listen, its incessant failure to learn the lesson of silence.
Consider for a moment what exactly would be lost if everyone simply shut up for a year. Instead of writing that new article, posting that oh so necessary comment on the latest crucial problem that has flared up online or getting the latest piece of media online and sold out, just shut up and listen. Stop talking, producing, insisting on expressing yourself. Stop and read, stop and wait, stop and just be, for a while, someone who watches and sees, who watches and sees not just what others say but how you react to that, how it makes you feel, what it makes you think, what you might learn. Allow the world to be something your own existence is part of, allow yourself to be visible not to others but to yourself. Then, before opening your mouth again, think about whether there is a positive answer to the question – do I need to say this? Note that this is not the question, do I want to say it but do I need to say it? If that need is only for yourself, only because you feel you would burst without saying it, then your are – and should recognise – inflicting yourself on others. This is not something to be shunned. At times it is perhaps vital to someone’s spirit to do so but it is, nevertheless, an infliction, not a liberation. It is necessary to scream into the void at times, but it is still a scream. We might sometimes need to scream but we must want to stop, to be at a point when the scream is not dragged from us. We must want to be able to be silent, to desire that calm being of a moment of peace and quiet. If that desire is to be fulfilled then we, too, must become part of the silence, not the constant, oppressive, cacophony. The lesson of silence is not, in its heart, one of oppression but one of liberation.