by Tori McElroy
Based on conversation and study with Joseph Wilson.
1734-- a modern Mystery of the Old Faith, a symbolic, poetic description of the Supreme Goddess as presented by Roy Bowers to his student-by-correspondance, Joe Wilson, and the name of a tradition based upon Her Mysteries as explored in that correspondance. The short-lived but poetic exchange between the two men significantly affected Joe's approach to the Faith, and in turn, subtly shaped the Craft and Pagan movements at large. Eventually, the concepts, methods and philosophies inspired through their letters became the core of what of what might be called a tradition-within-traditions, ordinarily identified by nothing more formal than the numerals "1734" themselves.
The essence of "1734" is less a codified ritual form than it is a means to approach the Mysteries of the Faith. Roy presented these methods to Joe through a series of poetic questions, glyphs and riddles, accompanied by bits of philosophies and aids to trance-states offered as clues. The solution to each mystery forms a rung on the ladder of the Old Faith, yet the answers themselves are meaningless without the journey of discovery up the ladder itself.
The resulting transformation of self is a true magical initiation: an introduction to the Spirits of Inspiration, the Mysteries of Craft and Creation, which in turn reveal the path of Divine Truth.
This alchemical process of the soul is the true foundation of the 1734 tradition. It cannot be contained in the written word, or even in the oft-neglected oral tradition, but lives only in the fires of each individual spirit as it is forged in the shape of the cauldron. The letters and diagrams that have passed from Joe Wilson down through the "tradition" reveal less than a third of the entire forging process that took place in his correspondance with Roy Bowers.
These letters were never intended as a general training manual in Craft, or even as independant instruction, but written as part of a private, intimate exchange between a mentor and an advanced student already practicing a related tradition of the Old Faith under the tutelage of another mentor. To truly comprehend the information contained in that material, it must be considered in context of their relationship, and the backgrounds of each of the participants. This has been a source of confusion throughout the growth of the tradition.
"So many of the people I've tried to work with couldn't grasp that the letters were written to me, were personal to me, and not written in language the whole world could, or even should, understand. More than that, Roy's teachings to me are in memory, not in writing. The Old Faith is not codified in handwritten documents, or books, or bibles. Once the mysteries are written down like that, they become done by rote. The life leaves them until a new mystic rebirths the discoveries that are always but never hidden.
"That is the mistake some have made with this system. They've wanted, and even demanded, that things be done by rote, and so have lost the soul that belongs with it. They want, they *need* a "Book of Shadows" to use as a bible, because they have no trust in their own souls. I've always told others there were certain things they had to work out for themselves, and that there is more than enough room, and enough mysticism, to allow for individual interpretation. Not everyone has understood that. Others make the opposite mistake, failing to understand that which is not open to interpretation. " (conversations with Joe Wilson, June '98)
In fact, the Mysteries of 1734 demand that kind of personal interpretation and expression of core concepts; it is the nature of the path itself. The written materials serve only as a touchstone to the common language within the tradition, and it is the ability to understand and express thought in that language that marks the true initiate of 1734. That ability comes only through the revelations of personal transformation. It is not gained by participation in a ceremonial ritual, or academic study; it cannot be faked. It is an initiation granted by the Mysteries themselves, not by a human lineage.
"The way I was taught, none of this should be treated as a lineage or formalized tradition, but if it is going to be treated that way, I wish people would get it right! The branches of an oak tree cannot pick and choose which root they will draw sustanance from, and they can't sever their connection to the trunk and claim to still be an oak tree. Even when that connection is severed through a quirk of fate, the branch still owes the nature of its own existence to that tree, and nothing it can do or think will change that fact of life.
"There are many groups and individuals claiming to practice 1734. Some
are probably close to what I would have done, or what Roy might have done.
Some are so far from it that I feel ill just thinking about it. But all
of them have their roots in the exchange between Roy and I. Without understanding
that, they understand nothing about 1734. " (conversations with Joe Wilson,
This article was originally written as the first in a series dispelling the myths and misinterpretations surrounding the 1734 traditions. Part two may yet manifest, but I wouldnt venture to guess if it will be in one month or 10 years. Tori McElroy, March 4, 2000