Monday, November 25, 2013

Dark of the Moon

The Dark of the Moon is often a misunderstood concept.  Many books about spell craft, and Wiccans I have heard discussing magic, refer incorrectly to the New Moon as the "Dark Moon". In reality, the Dark moon is really the final day of the 4th Quarter Waning Moon, when the moon is at its final decline before beginning to finally wax into the first day of the 1st Quarter Waxing moon, or New Moon.  This is a highly powerful and liminal space in lunar time.

The New Moon is rightly discussed as a time for beginnings.  Planting a garden, for example a magical one, is an excellent endeavor for a New Moon act of magic.  By contrast, the Dark of the Moon is the day to mark the finality of endings and the dark itself.  Traditionally the best day for hexing and cursing, the Dark Moon has been much maligned.  It is the time of the Death aspect of the Lady, the dark Crone and Washer at the Ford.  The spinner of Fate, the most unknowable aspect of the Lady, should be honored at this time.  The Dark Lord, too, should be honored at the Dark of the Moon for without destruction and endings new beginnings would often not be possible.   

Recognizing the dark parts of ourselves is appropriate at this phase of the moon as well.  Our "shadow", as Jung called it, is that restricting and destroying part of the self which can hold us back.  It fills us with fear and slows our progress toward success with whispers of "not good enough", doubt, and negativity.  The Dark Moon is the perfect time to meet our shadow on its own turf; to work to integrate it into being so that it can fuel, temper and complete the lighter half of the self.  We are a model of the macrocosm.  As such, we are properly composed of light and Dark halves. This is as it should be.  When we accept and embrace our darker aspects, we open ourselves to deep and powerful magic. 

Much if Wicca today has been whitewashed with fluffy self help junk.  The fluff aspires to normalize and make "safe" the practice of Witchcraft, making it palatable to popular culture, but the reality is that witches have never been afraid of taking responsibility for the muck in their own lives.  We make decisions and cast spells.  We know that we will ultimately have to take responsibility for how we alter the weave of the fabric of Fate with our magic.  With that in mind, aught we not see what motivations our darker selves might be hiding in the dark corners of our souls?  I think so...

So this December 1st, I encourage readers (if ther are any) to embrace the Dark Moon in Scorpio and plumb the depths of your own self.  Look for, name, and envision your darker self. Maybe give it a name and spend some time with it.  I promise you that you will not be asked to expose this tender spot, but knowing it intimately will make your powerful because you will understand your own motivations and intent.  No person will ever do this fully, but this is why we call our actions the "practice" of Witchcraft, right.  May we all find happiness in our balanced imperfection. So Mote It Be.

Monday, November 18, 2013

X is for eX-Xians and the Craft


                                          


Though there are more and more families raising Pagan children, there are still precious few folks that grew up in Craft families.  As a result, many of us (myself included) came from Christian families. 

When I first came to the Craft, I was seeking escape from a pontificating, overbearing father god. I had sought relief in other religions including those of the Eastern variety.  Those simply didn't fit my worldview. I was not seeking escape from my body and human existence any more than I was seeking eternity on a fluffy cloud with wings and a harp.  Once I discovered Paganism I learned that there we other concepts and images of deity which were far more in keeping with my internal image of God.  I was home. 

Unfortunately, as happens all too often with converts, the desire to demonize and degrade my previous religious upbringing overtook me for a period of a couple years. I was angry about the church's role in past wars, it's obfuscation of truth thoughout the centuries, its hatred of diversity, its obsession with the collection of wealth blah, blah, blah. I was confrontational, self righteous and quick to make assumptions about the way I assumed that Chrisitian people saw me.  These became self fulfilling prophesies. I would find every opportunity to prove my archetype of the "evil Christian" and, frankly, behaved like the bigot I was railing against clothed in a different spiritual uniform.  I was young and rebelling against the yoke of oppression. Or so I thought...

Eventually I realized that, if I put half as much energy into working on myself as I invested in railing against the religion of my childhood, I would be a good example of a non-Christian rather than holding myself up as superior to all Christianity - a far more powerful message, I have found. 

As I teach other newcomers in the Craft, I sometimes see my early anger and prejudice reflected back at me.  I hear objections to words like "worship", "deity" and "ritual" because of the use of these terms in Judeo Christian religions.  Perhaps it is a natural process, like the stages of grief, that one goes through when it is realized that the religion of one's youth no longer fits the bill.  Just like a kid changing peer groups, the old group is often held up for ridicule by the new group as if to prove where true allegiance lies.  In reality, this catharsis can be helpful and healthy so long as we don't dwell there.  Like sadness, remaining in a state of anger for an extended period of time begins to breed illusion in the mind.  These delusions inhibit forward spiritual, mental and magical growth. After all, "know thyself" is first and foremost in the most basic of spiritual practice, and it is impossible to do so if one is focused on the evils of the ubiquitous "they".    

One thing I have learned after being away from my childhood religion for over 20 years is this: real release and freedom from a repressive, dogmatic religious group comes from giving yourself permission to let go of ALL your connections to that past.  Yup, all of it.  The hurt, the anger, the feelings of being less than and the anger that festers as a result of all those past hurts.  Recognize that the religion itself is not the problem and you free yourself to choose.  Just as there are rotten people grasping for power in churches across the country, there are also rotten people grasping for power and control in covens and groves and, hell, even Cub Scout troops I'd wager.  Railing against Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, is an exercise in futility.  You can make sure that your voice is heard, point out and act on inequality when you find it etc. but to demonize an entire segment of the world's population as ignorant, intolerant and down right evil only serves to expose your own ignorance. Our real freedom comes when we choose to redefine our relationships with deity, our community and ourselves and act on that choice to be a good example of what a Pagan, Witch, or Druid looks like.  


Thursday, September 19, 2013

S is for Spells


        

With this week being about Spells, I thought that I would touch on something that I have noticed as a growing trend for quite some time.  I will limit my focus to Wicca and witchcraft and all the folks who identify with one or both of these terms.  I have heard, not a few times, that there are witches and Wiccans who do not cast spells.  This is absolutely baffling to me!  Why in the world not?  

The answer I often get is, "because it is unethical to cast spells or make magic for personal gain". This is utter horseshit.  Sorry to be so blunt, but I think that in this instance that is the only proper term for such foolishness.  What in the world is unethical about getting what we need and desire?  Is it the assumption that to get what we want we must take from another?  If so, then I challenge you to expand your definitions of the following:  

Magic:  if we accept that magic is creating change in accordance with Will, we should be able to accept that this change can be a manifestation of something which previously did not exist - that it was willed into being.  If this is so, our abundance received through magic is created by us, for us.  With this in mind, it is not necessary to take from others to have what we want.  There are, of course, types of magic which rely on domination and manipulation, but the choice to utilize such tactics is exactly that - a choice.

Fertility Religion - the very term suggests abundance. As deities of fertility, and by extension abundance, our gods wish us well and want us to be happy and prosperous.  They do, however, expect that we will work for what we want as well.  Magic will make the job available, but you, my dearest, will have to go out and get it yourself.  

Witch or Priest/Priestess - this is not the same as lackey of the goddess, slave or pitiful wretch.  We work with our gods in a symbiotic relationship.  We need Them, and They need us.  Magic is one way in which they give to us, and through worship and reverence we empower them in return.  Witches are makers of magic, and to suggest otherwise smacks of Christian guilt and an attitude of unworthiness.  Our gods are realists.  Without enough to eat and a roof over our heads, how will we be able to spare any energy for Them?  This isn't Jehovah or Yahweh we are talking about here, who demands the first of all flocks, who asks people to kill their kids as signs of devotion and sets plagues on people to test loyalty.  No, our gods are not THAT god, however They are as responsible for the dispensation of justice and hard lessons as they are for the lavish gifts of magic.  Do not truffle with them, but remember that Willing and Daring are as much at home in Wicca as in Ceremonial Magic.  Use your head, and accept responsibility for your actions and you will do fine 

They witchcraft ethics of Charmed might be fine for the teenie bopper witches, or the "white light" enthusiasts, but I will stick with the old school attitudes of my elders, thank you.


Friday, September 6, 2013

S is for Self Help

Wicca is not a self help movement.  It became popular in the midst of a New Age "heyday" where guardian angels, spirit guides, channeled masters and even aliens where speaking through mediums telling people, for a price, how to be happier, more successful, how to balance their chakras and raise their energetic vibrations so they could... well I am not sure what they were supposed to do with this, but that's what they were selling at the seminar I attended.

Prior to this, Wicca was here in the US and had been in Europe under the bugaboo name "witchcraft". Many witches began a dialogue which discussed the benefits of taking the name Wicca to represent their practices because it was less threatening and carried less baggage in the midst fight east Satanic Panic I'd the 80s and early 90's.  For an excellent account of this time, I suggest checking out this blog:  http://oakmistgrove.blogspot.com/2013/08/satanic-panic.html

Somewhere along the way, the idea that Wicca could offer much of the same benefits as the New Age.  Wiccans, too, could feel pretty darned good about themselves.  They were "enlightened" and were all aware of the vast knowledge that they had gained through countless lifetimes (all of them remembered), the spell work that they had done (though now we have Wiccans who don't use magic --???), or that their god/dess was more powerful, older and more historically accurate than the other guy's.

I the midst of this, the (IMO) true reason for the practice of the Craft, no matter what the stripe, is to build relationships with the Old Gods and to perform their rites to perfect and preserve them.  In doing so we preserve the gods, and in turn they preserve us.  Along the way, we grow and improve as people as a byproduct, but it is not the purpose; it's a benefit.  Through the practice of spellcraft, we hone our wills so that they will be keener and stronger to help us with the more challenging aspects of life.  By learning to work in groups and find consensus with out brethren, we become better listeners and doers.  These things cannot help but improve our job performance, no matter what the field.  By observing the seasons of the Earth and the universal laws we learn about ourselves as the microcosm.  If we don't like what we find, we can work to change it consciously.  These are all byproducts which the Witch enjoys, but it's not why we do it.  We do it because we are called to the service of the Old Ones.

This week another Pagan blogger of the Druidic persuasion talked about the difference between reverence and worship.  I think his points were well made, in that he was distinguishing pagans from some other more Semitic religious groups by the fact that we have reverence, respect and relationships with our gods and others are the servants and slavish devotees of theirs.  Where I disagree is in the distinction based on the words "reverence" and "worship".  I agree that the relationships are different, but I think that I worship my gods but am not enslaved by them.  As I said, the point was well taken.  There is a older article which speaks to this same topic, and I mention it because it I is germane to this blog and the blog of the aforementioned Druid.

It is: http://www.cyberwitch.com/Wychwood/Temple/priests.htm

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

R is for Righteousness

The more I watch Wicca change over the years, the more I have to chuckle.  What started as a practice which was all about freedom and breaking with restrictive social norms is slowly becoming a practice of new (albeit warped) conservatism.  What do I mean?

Well, here are some "thou shalt nots" which I have come across while speaking to younger Wiccans (mostly eclectic):

Thou shalt not:

-- Suggest that what others are doing is hogwash.  You have no right to question another's right to believe that they are a fuzzy pink unicorn, and if I want to teach Wicca on the Internet and charge $300 per degree, it is my prerogative. 

-- State that sex and drugs were ever a part of witch practices.  To do so is surely an affront to the Goddess, and no those don't fall under acts of love and pleasure, they checked.

-- Define your own communities.  Anyone who claims to be Wiccan must be recognized as such, got it?  I can abduct Mayan gods for my circle if I want to.

This new conservatism is not just marked by what we cannot do, it also is marked by what we must do or be.  If we don't, or we are not, then we are not really Wiccan:

Thou shalt:

-- Be out and loud about your practices.  How can we be the world's next uber religion if we don't shout it from the rooftops? It's all a numbers game, man.

-- Be a vegetarian, but being a vegan is best.  Screw The Lord of the Hunt, he's just the Goddess's boy toy anyway. Oh, and those beeswax candles, you know how many bees dies for those? You should use LED faux candles to avoid petroleum based products too.

-- Politicize the Craft.  If you aren't screaming that the environment, women's rights, religious freedom etc. are in danger, and using Wicca as a platform to do it, you are not doing it right.

-- Be obsessed with organics foods, GMOs, gluten, homesteading, composting or some other similar pursuit you are just not Wiccan enough, or even Pagan enough for that matter.

These are just a few of the expected behaviors of the new regime.  I am not downing the importance of environmentalism, political action, or inclusiveness. I am simply saying that before Wicca came to the US, and before it became a self initiating free for all, it was a practice of Witchcraft.  That is how many traditionalists still practice it.  That is, between our charity work, our jobs, raising our families, and our political activism we focus on the practice of magic and the worship of the Old Gods.  We just choose to approach these other important things as John and Jane Q. Public instead of representatives of Wicca. The Christian Right wants to meddle in our government, and I don't think that lobbying congress as Wiccans is much different.  I like my church and state separate, thank you very much.  I like my food locally grown because I like to help my neighbor, not because I am fighting Monsanto for the Goddess.  I eat meat because its delicious and because it places me in the cycle of life, death and rebirth in a way that has meaning for me as a male in relation to the God.  I have no desire for Wiccan Churches; no desire to unseat the Christians as the largest world religion. I respect and honor Pagan activists like Selena Fox for her tireless work preserving and protecting the rights of those who need help, but I respectfully rebel against the demands of the New Wicca as detailed above.  After all, witchcraft begins with rebellion.   

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Q is for Quarters


                       
   


Wow, Q doesn't leave much to choose from.  So, without launching into a blog which could become a book, I will make just some passing statements about some of the associations I find pertinent to my Craft.  If they strike a chord with you, that's great.  If not, well...  

Several books have been written about the quarters and their associations. If we stick with one set of directional and elemental associations, we will get much further.  As we all know, there are various versions the quartered circle.  The Eastern traditions use additional elements to the four more commonly known in the Western Esoteric traditions.   Some traditions use different colors to represent these elements and may place them in different quarters.  Therefore, for the sake of clarity I will state that I am talking about Air in the East, Fire in the South, Water in the West and Earth in the North.  I will also state that I am in the athame/east/air camp with the wand in the South associated with fire.  My reasons for this are numerous, and I think that placing the athame in the south with fire is plausible due to its association with the Will, but I don't feel that it holds up once we start trying to place the wand in the east with air.  That is, however,  a subject which may become a blog in and of itself so I won't go into it too much here.

So, some interesting quarter associations.... Well, how about this:  east is for joy, south is for lust, west is for terror and north is for sorrow?   Or, east is for ignorance, south is for anger, west is for wisdom and north is for silence?  We might want to place some value judgements on the correspondences  which we feel are "negative" such as anger, ignorance, or terror, but should we?  One of the reasons that we make all these associations is so that we can ritually speak with a nonverbal language through our actions for the purpose of ritual or spell work. In order for this language to be complete, we must include the whole of life's experiences.  The circle and its quarters represent all of creation, and not every thing in our world (or between ours and others) is pleasant or "good."  

Therefore I challenge anyone who might read this to take the most difficult aspects of your personality, or the most unpleasant of your life's experiences and try to place them on the quartered circle.  I think you will learn a great deal about yourself, and maybe even learn what you may have unknowingly learned from these unpleasant experiences.  I know that I have.

Remember: fire consumes air, air feeds fire, water shapes earth, and earth absorbs water.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

P - is for Pagan Meetups

I have started attending more Pagan community events in an attempt to put a face out there for traditional Wicca in an area which, despite its size, has very few trad Wiccans. In the past I have purposely avoided such gatherings for a number of reasons.  First reason being that they are often poorly organized, loud and offer no opportunity to carry on any conversations which might bring about true understanding between Pagans (at least in my area this is the case).  The second reason I had avoided these was because they were often populated by the myriad of crazies and con artists which typified my area's Pagan scene when I was seeking.  Truly, my city seemed to be the landing spot for every sexual predator, every Fraudnerian, and every money seeking charlatan who had been drummed out of every other Pagan scene in the country. A third reason would be that, as a coven leader, I had a lot to do just assisting my HPS in running my own coven, training potential initiates and attending to traditional matters in my own back yard.  Upon attending my first event, I was not shocked to see much of what I had in the past, but as I sought out different meetings around the city, I discovered that there were Meetups which had mostly sane people.  These Pagans carried on conversations where one person talked, and the others listened and then responded with mostly coherent words and concepts! Progress!  I was very relieved that I was able to discover such hopeful news.  

In the group which I have attended, on three occasions now, there seems to be a demand and focus on mutual respect.  This supports the growth of relationships and fosters positive communication and interactions between folks from different walks of Pagan life.  There is, I think, still a pervading sentiment that one still must assert one's right to believe a certain way.  It's as if there is an Uber-PC sentiment which must allow and support all notions because if we don't we cannot hope to have acceptance ourselves.  This is conveyed by prefacing or following each statement with things like "as long as you don't tell me what to believe, then we are all good" or, "as long as you don't tell others they are wrong, then we are all good".  

I agree that people should have the right to believe and practice to their heart's content, but is a call for total permissiveness appropriate?  Are we never wrong? Do we not discover at times that the assumptions we had or the information we were presented with was false?  There are forbidden topics at this Meetup because they are considered argumentative.  These are: chaos magic, blood magic and "anything else that will start a fight".  Ok, good.  We don't want to purposely be a troll and start a fight. I am puzzled by these two specific topics as being the two singled out as examples, but I suppose that there must be a precedent for this. Further, there are many practices in which animal sacrifice is still common and appropriate within the confines of those traditions.  Santeria would be an example.  I use blood meal in my garden as a form of magic and offering to the land spirits.  I dare not tell though, as it would be blood magic.  It might cause a fight. (??)

Communities grow and change with time.  I reentered my local Pagan community with little expectation of progress and found that some had been made.  At least there is dialog happening, even if it is more superficial, and an attempt is being made for real community. There is a lot of work to do, and I hope to make a positive impact as time goes by.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

P is for Proper Person

          

What is a "proper person"? Is it a person who has manners and doesn't burp in public?  Is it someone who is richer, more psychic, more powerful or academically accomplished?  I don't think these have anything to do with the idea of proper personhood in Wicca. 

Just so we are al aware, the term "proper person" does not belong solely to Wicca. As a matter of fact, we see the term used in English, Scottish, Australian and New Zealander law jargon in a number of ways from legislation to maritime regulations.  In these cases, we often see the phrase as "fit and proper" and it can refer to people, states of readiness and repair, and a number of other things.  There is even a test which determines how well one adheres to the accepted definition of the term which is can be administered to applicants to various jobs.  The Masons also use the term Proper Person to indicate someone who is well suited to an office or job.

I believe that Wicca may have adopted the term Proper Person from the Masons as it uses the term in a similar way to indicate a person who is well suited for initiation. There is another layer to a proper person in Wicca, however, which is often felt rather than empirically determined.  Consider for a moment the following definitions of the term proper from the Webster's Dictionary:

b : belonging to one : own 
2 : belonging characteristically to a species or individual : peculiar

These definitions would refer to the word proper in its use as the root of the word property; that which is peculiar to or belongs to, or is owned by someone or something. It is not that the Wica believe that proper people are those who are literally owned by someone or some group, but that they belong to the Craft in general and to a specific tradition or practice in particular.  Gerald Gardner recounted the tale of his meeting his initiators and their belief that he had been a member of the witch cult in another life.  They said that since he belonged to them in the past, that he should return to them and join them once again.  This is a belief that is still widely held in the traditional Wiccan community today. It is an explanation of the feeling of kinship which is sometimes felt upon meeting a potential student.  It speaks to the feeling of having known someone very well in the past even though you have never met them.

Wicca is concerned with the common usage of the word proper.  We do want to be sure we are initiating and training the people who are going to be good for our groups and traditions.  We want to maintain our own status as proper people by keeping our oaths, stewarding our traditions with care, and by working to recognize those who the gods put in our path which are proper to the Wica and assist them (when they ask) to return to the practice. Have a look a the story which appears in the back several editions of Gardner's Meaning of Witchcraft.  You will find evidence of what I have spoken of here.

 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

O is for Oathbound Traditions

       

At first I was reluctant to choose this topic because I didn't know what exactly to say.  Oathbound Tradtitions - well, they are traditions which contain oaths. Ok, now who cares?

When I mention that I am oathbound, I get a variety of responses. Some roll their eyes and assume that I feel that this somehow places me above them.  Others dismiss me entirely as one of those Wiccans who "just don't understand the need for Wicca to grow and change."  After all, if it doesn't, it will die out, right?  Still others make a judgment about the value I place on my freedom, that somehow I am involved with an oppressive hierarchy or guru worship. Poor me, right?  I have actually heard these views expressed in open discussion at meet ups and Pagan festivals. They are not targeting me specifically, but these statements are made with a matter-of-fact demeanor that assumes this to be common knowledge about the nature of oathbound traditions.  My area is not full of traditionalists, so I am a minority, and I listen in relative silence. My area is more heavily populated by those identifying as Heathens and Asatru (I am not familiar enough with these practices and groups to accurately distinguish between the two, so I will not try), non-initiatory witches of various stripes, Neo-Wiccans, and a small but involved Druid population.  There are probably others, but they are either not involved initiatory traditions or they are do not publicly identify as such.

So let's address some of these assumptions and see where we end up, shall we?  Keep in mind that I cannot, and do not, speak for all those within oathbound traditions. 

Does an oathbound individual feel that they are superior or "above" others who are not?  

I don't.  I do see my practice as different, however.  Not in a way that implies better, but in that there are limits and obligations placed on my behavior.  I have seen grimoires and books of shadows, both personal and from groups, which are published online.  I have seen the contents of such printed and handed out at public rituals. Those not bound by oaths are free to do so, as they have never promised not to, and in many cases the work that they publish is their own or taken from published sources.  I am obligated by my oaths to keep private the traditions and lore which was passed to me.  I am obligated to be mindful to ask about the status of the materials passed to me.  Even if that material may come from outside of my own tradition, it is appropriate to ask.  It has to do with respect and with the sanctity of trust which is due to the giver. If I find something published in a book which I know is part of an oathbound tradition, I can simply refer to the published material, making no mention of any oathbound lore which might accompany it, and leave it at that. 

When traditionalists swear an oath, we swear it before our gods and our kin. If we violate that trust we show ourselves unworthy of further trust.  The work of our groups requires trust. Letting our covenmates into some of the most private and vulnerable parts of ourselves, we share a level of intimacy which is necessary for personal and magical growth.  The magic which is generated from these relationships takes the shape of the "Perfect Love and Perfect Trust" which is often spoken of and sometimes misdefined.  Our oaths ase also designed to respect the privacy of our brethren, and we would find it in violation of our oaths to "out" another.  We do not share what goes on within the rites of our traditions with outsiders.  Different initiates of the same tradition may have varying degrees of expected privacy which is determined by the group in which they are involved.  For example, coven A may consider all activities of their group to fall under oath, and coven B may only consider the names of their covenmates, the contents of their BOS and the names of their gods to be oathbound.  Usually there is a baseline which is common to the tradition, and groups and individuals within that tradition add to that baseline by choice and based on need. 

So, do we feel superior yet?  As Pagans, it's my hope that we understand the value of our words and behaviors. When we make a formal vow, it should mean something, right?

Does Wicca "need to change"?

I say no.  Do solitary witches need to join covens? No. Most who assert that Wicca will die out without a change in its demand for initiation, secrecy and custom do so out of a need to fulfill their own agenda.  They often want these changes to suit what they want Wicca to be.  They use words like evolution to illustrate how much better Wicca would be if it were to change.  They fail to note that evolution is the discussion of mutation.  A majority of mutation ends in extinction.  True evolution is a slow movement toward either betterment or extinction which happens naturally and not by choice.   With all this call for Wicca to change, a less popular voice which states that if Wicca should lose its customs that it will cease to be Wicca goes unheard.  If the gods of the Wica want change, they will ask for it.  If the practice is fated to disappear, the Gods will cease to call people to it.  Ultimately, its not up to us.  

Does an oath set up a dynamic for a guru to emerge and create a system that limits freewill?

Actually, my experience is quite the opposite.  I was only half joking when i said we witches are rebels. We are in many ways. Traditions like lineage, initiation and ritualized secrecy create several safeguards for seekers.  An initiatory lineage provides an upline which can vouch for the character of those leading covens and can confirm weather a certain practice is in fact traditional to that line.  This helps the initiate distinguish between an HPS or HP's opinion and traditional practice. They are then able to vote with their feet and leave situations where power over, instead of power with, dynamics are the norm. The upline is also kept in check through a system of autonomy which is afforded to covens which meet various criteria which is determined by the tradition.  Though autonomous, covens are accountable to the tradition in that they may be determined by their brethren to no longer be operating within traditional guidelines and that information can be related to anyone who asks. This is not the way that dangerous cults or gurus operate. In fact, all the safeguards mentioned above allow individuals freedom of choice and information which is often only afforded large religious bodies.  It should also be noted that Wicca is not the only practice which embraces these types of mechanisms.  Wicca probably inherited these practices from the Masons, and they have suffered the same slings and arrows over the years. 

None of us may change the behavior of another, but we can be in control of ourselves.  An oath to keep silent about certain things is an effective way to begin asserting control over our own actions.   Controlling our own actions is the first step in training and strengthening our Will.  This is necessary to the creation of magic.  We live in a world where access to information is at our fingertips 24/7.  May the Gods bless search engines for this!  On the other hand, there is power in silence.  It not only is a reflection of the notion that power shared is power lost, but it also reinforces in the individual the power to choose. This power to choose to keep one's promises in spite of outside pressures or ridicule is an ultimate expression of individual freedom.  I am reminded of Giles Corey who was arrested on charges of Witchcraft in Salem in 1692.  He refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.  To force him to break his silence on the matter, he was subjected pressing, which involved being stripped naked with a board laid on top of him.  Then rocks or boulders were piled upon the board in order to cause extreme pain and force him to enter a plea.  Giles died rather than break his silence, and while there is no proof that he did so to uphold an oath, it speaks to a strength of character that I greatly admire. 

        

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

O is for OMG and "oh no she didn't"

In general, Pagans are an independent lot.  We don't take kindly to rules and restrictions unless they are our rules and restrictions.  Many of us came from religious backgrounds which were full of rules and "approved beliefs and practices" which separated us (sacred) from them (profane).  This happens culturally as well.  Often you will find that when traveling to other countries, that dishes with the same name will be prepared vastly different. An example of this is mole in Mexico. When asked, locals will claim that their version of the mole is the real one, and that the dish of the village on the other side of the valley is "not real mole".  This claiming of true authenticity might be charming when it comes to national cuisine, but when it comes to issues if identity and religious beliefs things get more heated. 

All belief systems and labels of identity are designed to define.  Webster's dictionary says that to define is -"to discover and set forth the meaning of", "to set apart" or "to fix and mark the limits of; demarcate".  In other words, to state what something is and what something is not.  We define a dog to distinguish it from a cat or other four legged mammals.   We define CPR to set it apart from assault.  You might laugh, but both can result in broken ribs.  Imagine having no distinction between the two!  I think categorizing is a natural human activity which touches a number of levels of human experience.  As social animals it is important in the creation of groups (be they nations, tribes, families, religions etc), and the creation of personal identities.  When we define beliefs, we take on labels as badges of those beliefs and make a statement about who we are and who we are not.  This is often problematic because there is a good possibility that others may use that label and believe it to mean something different. 

When attempting to define a large category label like "Pagan" which encompasses a vast number of traditions, practices, and belief systems we set ourselves up for conflict. Of late in the Pagan blogosphere, there have been a number of arguments surrounding theist vs non-theist or secular Pagans.  When the term Pagan is used, which is a very broad term, we must remember that we are describing a wide variety of practices. There is no doubt that the practices of and the beliefs of Heathens, Asatru, Wiccans and Druids will differ, but they are all Pagan traditions.  Even Within one tradition there will be variation.  These variations will require discussion and attention within those communities to determine whether or not such variations are significant enough make them other.  Notice that I did not say "wrong"?  To debate whether one can be an atheist Pagan who sees the gods as metaphors is an exercise in futility. The term Pagan is just too broad.  Even the terms witch and magician do not contain enough specifics on which to base a conversation of this type.  Within a smaller, more well defined community, such as a tradition of Wicca, the number of participants is smaller and there may be hope for a definition.  Maybe.  With the use of sedatives. 

Some shy away from labels in order to avoid conflict. To this I say, "hogwash".  To do away with labels is to say that we are all the same which is categorically untrue.  As a traditional Wiccan I am no more the same as a Hellenic Recon than I am a turtle.  Instead, I submit that we should shy away from running our mouths and remember our manners.  Definitions and labels do not have to imply better/worse, right/wrong dichotomies.  Instead they can be points of learning for all those involved in the conversation and a celebration of the diversity of Paganism.  Let those that claim more specific labels argue for them (gods know there is enough to argue) and understand that Pagans come in all shapes, sizes and stripes. 

And if someone tells you how you should define your Pagan path before you are ready to take on a more specific label, just say, "OMG, oh no you didn't" and walk away.  The surprise factor will surely shock them into silence. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

N is for New Age

So I was looking around the Pagan Blogosphere and came across the Pagan Blog Project.  (wow, my autocorrect can tell when I am typing "blogosphere" but it turns honey into homie)  A very interesting idea.  We seem to be on week 28, so clearly I have missed a few weeks.  No matter. This week's letter is N, so I chose the New Age as my topic.

When I was seeking in the Craft, there was a distinct difference between the New Age and Witchcraft/Wicca.  If I walked into a New Age store sporting a pentagram I would immediately be placed under scrutiny.  The person behind the counter would let me know that they had their eye on me by glaring at me from behind the crystals, following me through the store pretending to dust something, or sometimes outwardly tell me that there was nothing which would suit my tastes in the store.  After all, having a witch in the store might scare the other customers away or might result in theft of an Edger Casey VHS set.  The New Age stores were desperate to keep general society from lumping them with the Pagan community. After all, it was the '80s.  The number of published materials on the Craft was enormous compared what was available at the introduction of Wicca to the US in the 1960's, and what was once an initiatory practice was now a do it yourself and by yourself feminist religion. The Satanic Panic as many of us began to call it was in full swing, and to the public there were satanists lurking in every tube of toothpaste and an occult crime scene waiting to be discovered in every unfortunate road kill. Meanwhile, the New Age was giving angel readings, and spreading "Christ Consciousness" and being as generally non-threatening as they could.  Surely, the two should never come together as they were practically polar opposites, right?

Then with the '90s came an explosion of popularity for Wicca.  Witchcraft became big business. Craft book stores began to spring up everywhere and popular television and media were overflowing with series and movies depicting "Wicca" which had been scrubbed and sanitized beyond all recognition.  If New Age stores wanted a piece of the pie they would have to start carrying Wiccan swag and not be so exclusive in their definition of "customer". The series Charmed gained popularity; how could it not when it was produced by the same guy who brought us 90210 and Melrose Place? Practical Magic was a practically made of sugar syrup, featuring a family of women who were "white witches" who stirred their coffee with a wave of their hand and solved all the problems in their love life with magic.  The the movie The Craft depicted Wicca as something more suited to rebellious high schoolers who wanted to level the social playing field of High School. All of these media versions bore terminology which belonged to Wicca, but used in such a way as to totally lose the original usage and meaning.  

Between the stores which were as numerous as zits on a teen's face, and the distorted image of Wicca on television, a new brand of "Wiccan" was emerging.  This fresh faced bunch believed that it was immoral to perform magic for personal gain because Phoebe on Charmed read it in the Book of Shadows.  They also started creating strong lines between what they called "white and black witchcraft" though this also was beginning earlier. Wicca became a gleaming beacon of white magic which was going to be a major world religion, and in the process began to become so watered down that it was but a ghost of its former self.  The self help focus of the new age began to creep into Wicca as more and more apologists hit the scene.  The smaller number of traditionalist voices were drowned out in the din of "don't tell me what to do" and "Wiccans don't judge, stop trying to be the boss of me!"  Those who could not bear these attitude either distanced themselves from the term Wicca or retreated into their traditional communities to watch (and sometimes mock) from the sidelines and draw even more distinct boundaries between their practice and that of what became as Fluffy Bunny Wicca and perhaps the kinder term Neo-Wicca. 

By the year 2000, I was finally in touch with what would become my traditional community, and I began to get a bit of a history lesson myself.  I learned from the older folks who had seen the Wica develop and change in the US since the '60s, and learned that most of what I had read from various authors was either completely false, or that it was constrained by oath and the guidelines of the publishers. I learned that Wicca had been highjacked in many ways, and that those who made off with it and angrily refused to acknowledge where it came from.  I learned a great deal more than the politics of a name.  I learned that Wicca isn't in the written rituals, it isn't "in our hearts", nor in how much Witchcrap you might buy to decorate your home with.  It is in the fellowship of the coven, the experiences of the individuals as they confront the mysteries and the growth which is the byproduct thereof. 

Today, as a leader of a coven I am continually aware of what I consider to be the misuse of the term Wicca. I have begun taking a greater interest in what is happening in the Pagan community at large, and have begun attending more public meet ups and events. I have heard many interesting things from the mouths of people I have met.  One of which is that Wicca is something separate from Gardnerian and Alexandrian practice.  Yup, you heard me. I have heard my tradition, and those of the Gardnerians etc called separate religions. I have also heard of "Christian Wicca" and Wiccans who don't practice magic.  I have tried to hide my surprise and horror at such notions, though I am sure I am not very good at it.  There have always been and always will be misconceptions about Wicca.  As more and more authors pour Wicca 101 type books into the marketplace, many of them having only read other authors' Wicca 101 books themselves,  telling their readers that Wicca is what you make it these misconceptions and and ignorance of Wicca's history will continue to persist.  I my area, numbers of folks have made the rounds to the large and growing number of Pagan groups in the community.  They report finding that the majority of the leaders in these groups have only a rudimentary knowledge of the Craft, and that many have learned all that they know from books which are readily available at the local book seller.

As stated in my last blog, I am a book lover, so no disrespect to reading, but Wicca is in the practice and oral traditions not found in the pages of a book.  It is passed from person to person, with care and effort, free of charge for the love of the practice and its stewardship.  That human interaction may be the first of the Mysteries which a seeker experiences after the initial pull which draws them to Wicca. Whether first or fourth, it is a precious thing which I treasure to this day.  The time, attention and diligence which I received in my training was truly a gift from the gods. I am very proud and humbled to be charged with passing that gift to others. Some of the folks reporting on their experiences in the Pagan community at large are turning to groups like mine for more traditional Craft training saying that this is their last attempt before washing their hands of the whole thing.  Others continue to redefine Wicca and themselves in their seeking.  Witchcraft is a broad and varied topic, one that doesn't need to be owned.  Each type contains beauty and should be celebrated for what it is.  Wicca is certainly not the only way to practice the Craft, but it is a specific one.  The Wica (the initiates of Wicca), do not hold some exclusive right to the gods, and the gods will call to those that they choose to be their own.  The New Age is also something different which deserves its own autonomy and is distinct from the Craft. I don't claim to be an expert on the New Age but I can see its hand in the shaping of what has become Neo-Wicca. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A few preparatory words...


Before I begin, I just want to make a few things clear.  I am only one voice in a very large and complex conversation and speak only for myself. What I express here is my opinion and people are welcomed to disagree.  When I use the term Wicca, I use it to mean the oath bound, initiatory, mystery tradition which became public through the writings of Gerald B. Gardner and all of the traditions which bear certain markers of practice in common.  These traditions have been referred to as British Traditional Wicca or BTW. My definitions might be a bit too strict for some, and may be perceived by others as "elitist" or worse, but they are my own and are often echoed in the writings of others who share similar traditions. More thoughts on what is or is not Wicca will become evident throughout my blog, no doubt.  In the surprise event that I do have a reader, if one of my posts offends you in some way or you feel the desire to comment please do.  I will deal with comments as kindly and respectfully as they were left. I do not, however, tolerate Internet trolls. 

So, on 3rd July 2013 I begin with a blog post into the dark.  Certainly no one has subscribed to this blog yet, and I have no reason to believe that anyone ever will.  I am no great scholar on the history or origins of witchcraft,  nor am I a degreed authority of any kind.  I am not an author, nor is it likely that I ever will be.  So why would anyone read what I have to say?

I have been a Pagan for 25 years and an initiate of Wicca for the last 10.  I have been a seeker, a solitary witch, a coven member and leader in that time and my opinions are based on the experiences I have had so far and what i have learned from my elders.  I reserve the right to change these opinions at any time.  There are plenty of folks with that have been initiates for 40+ years. I have had the good fortune to meet and interact with many in my time in the Craft. We are very fortunate to have such people in our community to learn from and to offer perspective. In getting to know them we get glimpses into our own history.  We become aware of how our practice has changed and stayed the same.  We learn how the pagan community has diversified in a very short time (relative to other movements or religious communities) and moved toward equal rights under the law.  Perhaps more importantly, these folks show us how to steward our traditions with dignity. 

I am intending to cover many subjects related to Paganism with a particular emphasis on Wicca and its derived non-initiatory practice which I will refer to Neo-Wicca for lack of better terminology. I believe that in terms of practice and outlook, non-initiatory forms of Wicca are often worlds apart from traditional forms and therefore I require the distinction for clarity. There is no disrespect intended in these distinctions, but such are often necessary.  One of several differences is that Neo-Wicca often is completely learned from books and other media.  Traditional Wicca is taught by people to people, free of charge.  Now, I am a bibliophile of the first order, and never would discourage or downplay anything just because it was learned through reading.  I would, however, compare Wicca to other crafts in that to read a book about carpentry is a different thing than being apprenticed by a carpenter. I also recognize that Wicca is not the only type of Witchcraft in the world. As a matter of fact, the tradition of Wicca of which I am an initiate contains lore which does not originate in Wicca at all, though it certainly blends and meshes beautifully.  

That's good for now.  A more specific subject is promised in the next post.