There is much talk in initiatory Wicca of things being “oathbound”. However, a piece of knowledge cannot be oathbound. Oaths and vows are binding on those who swear them, not on the things they swear to protect or keep secret. A person is oathbound, not an item of knowledge.
The oaths sworn can vary slightly from one lineage to another, but they pretty much all focus on not revealing certain things to those who have not sworn the same oath and undergone the same initiation.
The purpose of oaths
The reason that oaths and secrecy are important is threefold:
- To protect the Craft from arseholes: fraudsters, abusers, and other nasty types;
- To hedge the true Mysteries (that which cannot be spoken) around with secrets (that which must not be spoken).
- To protect the unprepared from accessing experiences that they are not ready for.
Being a witch is cool; people want in without doing the work or preparing themselves properly or learning in advance, or having to go with any tedious prior definitions of what a Wiccan is. (A similar situation exists vis à vis the Indigenous spiritualities and life ways of North America.) It sometimes happens that someone has a lapse of judgement and initiates an arsehole; but the goal is still to protect the Craft from such people.
The purpose of the oath is to protect the wanna-blessed-be types who don’t want to put in any work from real magic, and the Mysteries from the wanna-blessed-bes; and innocent bystanders from the havoc wrought by inept use of magic.
The purpose of the oath is not to protect some writings which may or may not give access to the Mysteries. Only a proper initiation and a profound encounter with the numinous can do that. Reading a Book of Shadows probably wouldn’t do it.
So,whilst I’d prefer that Wiccan rituals were not published online, I do think that we are unduly focused on protecting the text, to the detriment of passing on and sharing knowledge with other witches and Wiccans.
We need to protect the Mysteries from the profane, but for the most part, we don’t need to protect them from each other. And let’s not conflate the text of a Book of Shadows with the experience of the Mysteries, which is ineffable and non-verbal.
The witch’s pyramid
When performing magic, many witches follow the magical dictum known as the witch’s pyramid: “To know, to dare, to will, to keep silent”. This has relevance to the concept of being bound by oath. We know things that others do not; we dare to use that knowledge; we work magic to bring about our will; but we must keep silent about the workings of the spell, otherwise its power will be dissipated (as every child knows, when you make a wish whilst blowing out the candles on your birthday cake, you have to keep the wish secret, or it doesn’t work). The reason we must keep silent about the secrets that hedge the Mysteries is that you must approach the Mysteries in the right way, or you can get hurt; and it can dissipate the effect if the Mysteries are discussed.
Here endeth the rant. Happy Lammas.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like my new book, Dark Mirror: the Inner Work of Witchcraft.