Out of the Frying Pan…

When it comes to passion, we’ve got it. Common sense, not so much.


As most readers of this magazine are undoubtedly aware, we Pagans had a wee bit of media attention earlier this spring. A “Fox and Friends” segment in February characterized Wiccans as “compulsive Dungeons and Dragons players or middle-aged, twice-divorced older rural women working as midwives.” The reaction in the Pagan community was nothing short of explosive: within days, more than 40,000 of us signed petitions at change.org and causes.com demanding an apology. In less than a week, a chastened Fox pundit offered his “sincere [ahem] regrets.”

Another triumph for truth, justice, and the American way? Well, maybe. As soon as the brouhaha blew up I was struck by how much attention was being paid to Fox & Friends’ trollish shenanigans and how little to the good news that formed the actual foundation of the story. The decision by the University of Missouri to include Wiccan holidays in their inter-faith campus calendar is a concrete example of the increasingly respectful treatment that Pagan faiths are receiving these days, the fruit of decades of anti-defamation work by groups like the Lady Liberty League. But in spite of this genuinely excellent news, there was hardly a mention of this angle of the story in the coverage by Pagan pundits. With the notable exception of the Covenant of the Goddess — which made a thank-you to the University part of their press release — the buzz consisted almost entirely of righteous indignation.

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An “Airhead” Comes to the Goddess

Witches & Pagans #25 - The Magick of Air An “Airhead” Comes to the Goddess
From the breath in our lungs to the towers of academe, Air affects us all.

The element of Air has a wide range of associations in modern neo-Pagan usage: it is the element of new beginnings, of flying/ feathered creatures, and of the mind. In my personal West-Coast eclectic practice, Air is also associated with the direction of the East. Above all, to me, Air represents the qualities of all things ordered and classified by the intellect. Its emblematic tool is the athame — the ceremonial black-handled, double-bladed, unsharpened ritual dagger of Wiccan regalia — which represents the “sharpness” of the well-disciplined mind.

As a native “Airhead” (my sun and Mars are both in Libra, with my moon in Gemini) religion has long been an intellectual obsession. Even as a child, my tendency to argue and joust over points of theology got me into trouble. (In fact, my first skirmish with fundamentalism happened in third grade, when I got my whole family bounced out of a church for arguing theology with my Sunday School teacher .)

This fascination with religion led me on a merry chase from middle-of-the-road Protestantism through C.S. Lewis-influenced Anglicism to the progressive wing of the United Methodist church. That was where the Goddess found me, deep in the bowels of the Graduate Theological Union library on “Holy Hill” in Berkeley in the fall of 1985.

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Paganism and the Planet

Elizabeth Barrette
Impressions by Elizabeth Barrette, PanGaia editor.

Paganism and the Planet
by Elizabeth Barrette

 

Click for full description.I am myself and what is around me, and if I do not save it, it will not save me.
   — Jose Ortegay Gasset

We are a part of the Earth, and the Earth is part of us. We are not cogs in some cosmic clock; we are cells in a body, our lives bound up inextricably with that of the whole biosphere. We can survive outside it to about the extent that our blood cells can survive outside our bodies: briefly.

Right now the chief difference between Paganism and most other religions is that we remember this, while a majority of other religions have forgotten it. Some people really like that cogin-clock metaphor. They like the idea that the world is mechanical: regular, reliable, meticulous. They like the idea that no individual person, animal, plant, or species is unique and irreplaceable. If it wears out or dies out, no problem; you can just throw it out and get a new one. Except the world doesn’t actually work that way.

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Dreams and Visions

Elizabeth Barrette
Impressions by Elizabeth Barrette, PanGaia editor.

Dreams and Visions
by Elizabeth Barrette

 

Click for full description.

   Two gates the silent house
of Sleep adorn:
   Of polished ivory this,
that of transparent horn:

   True visions through transparent
horn arise;

   Through polished ivory pass
deluding lies.

       — Virgil, in Aeneid, VI (Dryden trans.)

Dreams and visions are mysteries of the soul. We may strive to understand them, but our understanding will always be limited. They exist in a different layer of reality than the one our minds ordinarily inhabit. We can cross that threshold into the realm of dreams and visions — indeed, most of us do it nightly — but what happens there follows a logic all its own, often beyond the ability of our waking minds to make sense of. Only through practice and study can we learn how to tap the power of dreams and visions.

Different cultures deal with these things in varying ways. Many tribal cultures have sophisticated knowledge of dreamlore. There are shamans who can interpret dreams, explain what techniques to use in search of a vision depending on the person and context, or mix entheogens with an eye to what colors the individual plants will bring out in a vision.1 Some cultures have “maps” of places and images frequently encountered in the spirit world.

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Language and the Craft

Elizabeth Barrette
Impressions by Elizabeth Barrette, PanGaia editor.

Language and the Craft
by Elizabeth Barrette

 

Click for full description.“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
         
– Mark Twain

It is language that makes us human. Language allows us to communicate with each other and preserve ideas. The beginning and end of all things is the Word. Most especially, the Word controls and shapes power.

The creative force of words appears in many different religions. Origin myths often attribute the world’s existence to the divine Word. According to Egyptian mythology, Ptah created the world with speech, the word taking form in his heart and then emerging from his mouth to do its work.

According to Christian mythology, the Word of God guided creation, a motif repeated in C.S. Lewis’ novel The Magician’s Nephew when Aslan sings Narnia into manifestation. According to Miwok mythology, Silver Fox and Coyote danced and sang, and beneath them Earth took shape.

Language can shape not only the world, but the worldview. Each language has a unique way of describing things, events, and ideas — which influences how native speakers observe them. When a language dies out for lack of speakers, we lose a precious piece of diversity.

When you learn a new language, however, you expand your options for perception and expression. This also brings you closer to the language’s home culture, a key reason why some Pagans choose to learn the historic language of their religion. Irish, Welsh, and Gaelic enjoy increasing popularity in part because of Druidic and Avalonian practitioners.

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The Art of the Craft

Elizabeth Barrette
Impressions by Elizabeth Barrette, PanGaia editor.

The Art of the Craft
by Elizabeth Barrette

 

Click for full description.“It is in the gift for employing all the vicissitudes of life to one’s own advantage and to that of one’s craft that a large part of genius consists.” – Georg C. Lichtenberg

Everything that you create arises from some hidden place within you and emerges into the world through your actions. You put a little bit of your spirit into each thing that you make. You take the tools and supplies around you, and shape them into things of worth and beauty. Your experiences become part of your creations. That’s craft — and sometimes, that’s genius.

As Pagans, we believe that the world is alive. All things contain spirit. The stones, the metals, the woods, the fibers, the pigments, everything we work with — we understand that these things do not wholly belong to us. We did not cause them to exist. Yet when we take them into our hands and give them a new form, we create works of art.

We begin with raw materials and turn them into something unique, based on our own inner vision. Those creations belong to us, made as much with our time and our imagination as with the goods themselves. They are expressions of ourselves, and therefore sacred.

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