Courtney Weber is a Priestess, writer, Tarot Advisor, performer and activist originally from Portland, OR living in New York City.She is the High Priestess of Novices of the Old Ways, a Progressive Wiccan and Pagan Coven and community. Her writings on Witchcraft have been published in numerous publications. She host public Circles in the city, teaches locally and nationally, and is available for Tarot consultation. Her first book "Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess" will be released by Weiser Books in February, 2015.
The last few blogs I've posted have been all rants and ravings of mine about the trend in Pagan spirituality to turn rituals into platforms for critique or guests pulling aside ritual leaders moments after the Circle is closed to offer negative, unsolicited "advice." The danger in rushing to critique is that we lose focus of the ultimate goal of rituals: to create change in the world via Magick and/or building safe space for souls to grow, heal, and become reborn, or some other facet. They're not simply an opportunity to show to others our own knowledge. When we do this, our rituals lose their effectiveness. This is also a practice in the whole of the soul. We are entitled to our opinions, but others are not obligated to listen to them--even if we are right.
Yet sometimes, criticism is necessary.
No one is going to get any stronger at what they if they are only flattered and complimented. A good teacher doesn't only praise. A good teacher looks for ways the student might improve and a good student listens to those suggestions. Ritualists are no different and constructive criticism is necessary to building more effective rites.
But who gives the critique? And when is it appropriate?
A chemical spill in West Virginia contaminated the water source used by over 300,000 people. On February 8, 2014, a bunch of Witches gathered in Brooklyn at Catland Books to honor the Imbolc Sabbat. The NYC Witches had this message for West Virginia:
The "Who"s and "What"s and stuff. The Sabbat was held by the NY/CT/NJ facet of Novices of the Old Ways, a national Progressive Pagan and Wiccan community. The ritual was led by Votary-Priestess Elizabeth LaBarca. The group raised $150 for Manna Meal, a non-denominational group in Charleston, WV that provides two hot meals a day to anyone in need. Donations to help the disaster relief can also be made via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: WV Disaster. Those donations will go to the local Unitarian Church, aiding in the efforts.
HOLY CRAP! WHAT'S GOING ON THERE???? Yes. Our Human-Kin (and animal kin!) in West Virginia are going through a very bad time right now. For information on the current disaster situation, please see Rachel Maddow Interview with Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette.
How is a video-message going to help? One of the worst side-effects of a disaster situation is feeling alone or forgotten. As the media moves on, naturally so does attention to the region. Not so long ago, we in NY/NJ/CT were facing a disaster situation of our own. The national news moved on as the election started, but we were still going through The Sh*ts. It's rough on the psyche and soul. In many ways, the situation is WV is worse. So many people came to help the Sandy relief efforts. Unfortunately, we can't get in cars with garbage bags, sledge hammers, and shovels and clean up the mess done by the chemical leak. We, being remote civilians, are not able to clean the water of our WV Humankin, ourselves. But we can send a message that will hopefully lift some spirits.
We also could use the opportunity to let others know where to send money to help.
What do we do when bad things happen??? We have options! Crying helps, initially. It lets the pain and anger out so we can set it aside--or better yet, let it fuel us--to help. Raising and sending energy helps, too. But this is going to hurt to write/read: The raising and sending of energy to a large-scale, rambling problem does good, but very often, it's doing more good for those who cast it than those meant to receive it.We feel we've done something by remembering those suffering in our intentions. But a small group raising energy for a local problem has the effect of a watering can on a dry area of the backyard--directed and effective. That same group raising energy for a major problem is going to have the effect of that same watering can on a forest fire: Reading--not much. Now, get together with 10,000 other watering cans and you may indeed have something to aid the problem. But unless you're planning on coordinating or collaborating with 10,000 other groups, don't let your efforts stop at the Circle.
I want to help, but I don't want to send money. Okay--please listen. SEND. MONEY. Don't send canned goods, used clothing, or even bottled water in this case. This brilliant article demonstrates the problems well-intentioned donations can cause in disaster areas. Needs change daily and often what is most in need cannot be supplied by a common consumer, such as antibiotics or water purification tablets.I can directly attest to changing needs. During Occupy Wall Street, bright-eyed and eager supporters would rush up to me with bags of rain-slickers, or peace-charms, or shoe-laces. And while I thanked them for their kindness, the weather that day might be cold and dry and the slickers were of no help. There would be nowhere to store the peace-charms or shoe-laces, as all the donation areas were clogged with other things given in love, but without much use. I was left with lots of well-intentioned goods and spent a lot of important time trying to find places to put them. Had these people handed me the cash they used to buy the supplies, I could have run out and gotten what we needed that night--sweatshirts, socks, sanitary napkins, gas for the generators. It was a similar situation a after Sandy, where the needs changed daily. One day, paper-towels were the valued commodity. The day after, face-masks. By the weekend, people would have sold souls for duct tape. By donating cash directly to a region, you are able to help the people aid their most dire needs, immediately.If you aren't sure where to donate your funds and aren't a fan of large organizations, look up Churches or food pantries local to the region. They will most certainly be busy. Also, regional chapters of the Red Cross or Red Crescent will be more directly involved with aid than national or international chapters. Your $5 will be a very valuable watering can, indeed.
West Virginia--you are not forgotten. I want to bundle up the whole state and serve you all tea in my living room, where you can pet my cats. They're very healing. Unfortunately, that's rather impossible. So please accept my and my community's offering of love. We're not alone in the love we send, either.
Now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you about the time someone criticized my student and I nearly lost my friggin’ mind.
I see my Coven the way most people see swans. Graceful and lovely on the surface; pedaling like mad beneath the surface to keep all things going well. Guests may see them as the calm and friendly people who call the Quarters, take the suggested $10 donations, raise the energy, and don’t let anyone open the wine until Fellowship. What they don’t see are the hours driving to NYC (for those who live in CT or Westchester), or the local members shuffling their shoulder bags full of ritual gear onto the subway, setting the space, performing the rite, cleaning up, and then shuffling everything back onto the subway, but usually with additional baggage in tow: canned food, toys, or clothing for various drives. The life of the Urban Witch often demands long journeys on foot, up and down long flights of stairs while jostling staffs, swords, candles, and goods among drunken strangers on and off of subways. It’s work. It’s a task of the Spirit and one I believe we are all glad to give. But what guests also don’t see is how many hours are spent in Circle outside of Sabbat, working on strengthening their Magickal and Energetic prowess as well as working through and with their Personal Shadows as part of becoming better Practitioners.
About six months ago, I wrote about hearing a guest pick apart the ritual we’d just performed like it was an indi-flick they had to dissect for a film class they only took because they wanted to sleep with the instructor. Part of my irritation came from this guest so carelessly picking apart what my Coven had selflessly given. But I put me in check reminding myself that a.) my Coveners are all adults and can handle themselves and b.) I am not actually a female bear and I do not need to rip into the guts of every perceived threat against my “cubs,” especially one that is not actually a threat, but more of a rude misstep of the mouth. I let it go that time and blogged. It was all in divine order as many people said they identified with it. Yay! Thank you, Criticism Fairy! You taught us all a lesson.
Oh, it's the High Holy Season of Witcheries again!!!!
Whether this weekend sparks off your Beltaine or Samhain celebrations...one thing is for sure--Witches are dancing around the globe. It is truly the most wonderful time of the year....until six months from now when Beltaine/Samhain comes around again. Isn't it wonderful that our faiths have so many delicious holidays to choose from??? GO US!!!
Now, along those lines, here are a few pointers regarding Ritual Etiquette. People not being mindful of etiquette--either as leaders or participants--can lead communities to whither and fail. We're not talking white gloves at tea--just basic respect. Etiquette is important. Rituals are community affairs and while we do put a lot of good emphasis on the Sacred Self, we must remember how our actions impact other people. Planning/performing and even attending a ritual can be a stressful affair. Let's make things a little easier on one another, shall we?
Well, that's not true. I totally will. I just need to keep in mind that I'm a Witch and the moment I decide I want to know more about something, I need to plan that it's not going to show up in a pretty new book put out by my favorite authors. It will come in the package of angry persons, moments ripe for impatience, hurtful words, and seemingly futile attempts to heal through listening and sharing. IT WILL MANIFEST, PEOPLE. AND IT WILL USUALLY MANIFEST VIA PEOPLE.
People are the ultimate compassion-testers and the closer you are to them, the more they will test and tempt you to throw away all compassion. Along with several handfuls of your hair. I don't know why that is and I'm not asking why right now (TAKE NOTE, UNIVERSE! I AM OFFICIALLY NOT ASKING "WHY?"!) Basically, it's easier to have compassion for the homeless person sleeping on the subway than the co-worker making snarky remarks about company policies. It's much easier to have compassion for people making mistakes a world away than people making mistakes right next to you. If it were, Boyfriend would have compassion for me when I overload the dishwasher. ("And leave food out on the counter. And leave the lights on when you leave for work. And...." he compassionately added.)
Anyway...the Lesson in Compassion Fairy arrived at my apartment door recently, along with Lessons From Bad Nasty Entitlement Fairy. Both of those Fairies make tough guests. I love them for existing. I hate them when I'm dealing with them--much like Bikram Yoga and roach traps.
Let my worship be within the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. Therefore, let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.
I love the Charge. Who doesn’t love the Charge? Don’t you just want to roll around naked on it? I do. Its words read like goose down on the soul. Acts of Love and Pleasure are rituals of the Goddess??? Such an awesome faith. Beauty? Strength? Honor? Humility? GIMME ALL OF THE ABOVE WITH AN EXTRA SIDE OF EARTH WORSHIP! A few lines from the Charge re-set me when I’m tired and inspire me when feeling pretty uninspired. When I recite it, I feel my own soul’s desires streaming through the beloved words. Dear Goddess, I’m thinking, please let me exemplify those tenets of my faith like all those enlightened Witches I see in Facebook memes: The peaceful, smiling ones in the sunlit or moonlit groves of trees, sun or moonlight streaming onto their radiant/natural face and badass corseted, bell-sleeved dresses. Like You said, I’m sure I could find it within me...if I seek super hard…
Except for that part with the “C” word in it. For a nano of a second, my stream of Divine communion is most always interrupted. What does the Charge mean when it mentions “compassion”?
It’s such a peaceful word—the stuff that memes were made of. For a year, I’ve been scribbling about Compassion in my journal during my subway commute. It’s one aspect of Witchcraft’s spiritual practice that I find most ambiguous. It doesn’t seem as though there is a general consensus on the word’s identity.