Understanding Innocence and Experience

I’m going to step away from the Path Forging entries for a moment to talk about innocence, what it means, and what constitutes a state of innocence in a spiritual sense of the word. The description of someone as an “innocent” can be very provocative and for me personally, engenders feelings of fierce protectiveness that stems from an as of yet unknown source. It’s a charged term, laden with meaning no matter what your path may be. It implies one who is ignorant of the darker side of spiritual matters and indeed of life itself.

There is an expectation that children will be to, varying degrees, spiritually innocent and without a concept of the darker shadows of their spiritual selves. As it should be. However, there comes a time for most of us when spiritual innocence no longer applies as a descriptor. There comes a time in our lives when we are exposed to and recognize the darker side of our spiritual existence. This exposure may come as a gradual, gentle understanding that all is not love, peace, and kindness… or it may come in a violent tumult in which one is forced to deal with the ugliest aspects of spiritual development without warning or assistance. How we cope with this loss of innocence affects our paths in the future and can shape not only our spiritual selves, but how we deal with our mundane lives on a daily basis.

What constitutes spiritual innocence in an adult? At what point does innocence turn into willful ignorance? Should an adult indeed even possess a state of spiritual innocence? These questions have come up recently and I’ve been chewing over them, trying to get a better grasp on my own feelings. As someone on a solitary, self-forged pagan path, my own state of spiritual innocence is so far removed from who I am now that it is only the vaguest of memories. Personally, I’m not mourning for it. Spiritual innocence, in my case, was a weakness, an Achilles’ Heel that prevented me from understanding my own worth and value.

Understanding our own innocence or lack of thereof is a relatively simple thing, but how do we gauge the innocence of others? Two friends recently had an interesting discussion that brought up the question of spiritual innocence in the case of someone who was seeking someone to cast a spell that was decidedly dark, dark grey. One person argued that the seeker was an innocent who was not familiar with concepts like dark magic, karma, the three-fold law, etc. While it could be argued that the seeker is ignorant of the practice and ethics of magic, I have trouble thinking in terms of this person as an innocent. Being born and raised in Western culture and now an adult in a position of responsibility, I’m fairly certain that the seeker has been introduced to concepts like the golden rule, “you get what you give”, and “what comes around goes around.” The language and terms are not the same, but the underlying concept is the same. In this case, I’d call it willful ignorance, not innocence.

Even when we can determine the state of spiritual innocence and experience in others, the question is what do we do with that information? Is spiritual innocence something to be cherished and preserved for as long as possible? Or is it something to be quickly banished in favor of a fuller understanding of all aspects of spiritual existence? As usual, I seem to have more questions than answers when applying the idea to my own path. Such is the search for understanding…

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