I watched a video on secret Mormon temple rituals today (which I honestly doubt are really all that secret. Seriously, someone finally decides to bring a hidden camera to the temple and hidden cameras have been out for how long?) and I started thinking about secrecy and its role in modern Paganisms.
I expect most of us are familiar with Greek and Roman mystery cults and societies (which weren’t all that secret but were definitely more selective in membership), particularly the one at Eleusis, which was open to everyone as long as they a) spoke Greek and b) had not committed a crime. To this day, it’s difficult to say much about mystery cults because they were, well, mysterious, but that doesn’t stop Paganism 101 books from saying all kinds of BS about them (much like some of them BS everything else).
There is a tendency (among white Westerners, at least) to want to know things. It’s this explorer’s mentality that wants to pull back temple veils, attend every last sweat lodge and sun dance, and in general act like they’re entitled to every bit of sacred knowledge EVAR! Secrecy is viewed as suspect by it’s very nature. If I can’t see what you’re doing at every given moment, I’m going to assume that you’re having an orgy behind closed doors, and it is ALWAYS an orgy, ALWAYS (unless it’s a blood sacrifice of some sort).
Another negative aspect of secrecy (from a certain point of view) is elitism. You have the super sekrit knowledge that no one else has, therefore you are speshul, and often the only ones who have the direct line to the deities you worship, because the other group doesn’t have the sekrit knowledge. This isn’t new either, and it’s not exclusive to Pagan religions. Christian “gnostic” groups believed (with variations), that they had special knowledge (gnosis, ‘natch) and that everyone else was “asleep” to the true nature of reality (what happens to non-gnostics after death varies by school). To be fair, I’ve mostly experienced elitism from new Pagans (primarily Wiccans) who hear about this “oathbound” thing but don’t really know what the Hel they’re talking about and are caught up in the thrill of being part of something super sekrit. I suspect these are the kind of people that make established Witches want to headdesk until the newbie is out of the room.
I’m not going to lie. I like being part of a tradition where there aren’t that many secrets and definitely not hidden rituals (barring more personal rites), because, as I said, secrecy really makes some people uneasy (although, I think once most people get past the skyclad rituals in almost any form of Wicca, British Traditional or otherwise, they’re good to go). It’s nice to be able to point to a book and say. “Here you go, no hidden rituals,” granted, reading about a ritual is nothing like performing a ritual, but it’s nice to have that kind of openness right off the bad. After all, we have our own special form of elitism do deal with, don’t we? (The kind of elitism that says “You must have a minimum of two PhDs and be fluent in three dead languages or your opinion doesn’t matter,” kind of elitism.) Also, I am very bad at keeping secrets, although I am getting better at it.
Oh, and I don’t think I need to mention that if a deity tells you to keep some spirit-taught thing a secret, that’s not elitism, that’s self-preservation. 🙂