The sun rises ever earlier, the days becoming longer. Soon the balance will tip, when the night gives way to the lengthening days. The spring equinox falls on March 20th this year, and after a very wet winter I am very much looking forward to it....
There's been a good deal of conversation online about the term "Wiccanate privilege" the past few days, and I think it illustrates the importance of choosing our words carefully when communicating important issues - especially those that others might find sensitive or take personally.
I have to admit the phrase rubbed me the wrong way to some degree. Whenever this happens, I ask myself why, and my attempt to answer that question usually starts with establishing definitions. When I looked up "Wiccanate" in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, it told me, "The word you're looking for isn't in the dictionary" and advised me to try another spelling (the top three suggestions were "wagonette," "white and" and, disconcertingly, "witch hunt"). It came as no surprise when the word failed to show up, as it seemed like one of those terms coined for the sake of convenience or because nothing else quite seemed to fit.
Next, I looked around online and found references to it. Among the most helpful definitions was one I found at a blog called Finnchuill's Mast, which described it as "referring to practices either specifically Wiccan, or of traditions like Feri and Reclaiming that share many reasonably similar practices like circle casting and working with four elements." My first reaction is that the term could be seen as artificial and offensive (I know of at least one person who described it as such). What if someone were to label your tradition "Paganesque" or "Reconstructionistic"? You might not take too kindly to that. Shorthand and jargon can be convenient, but it also can come off as flippant, dismissive and/or exclusionary - the last because only certain people will know what it means....
It would now be pertinent to address how a conceptual duality and a gendered duality could function simultaneously without one enveloping or overpowering the other. Regardless of how high an individual holds an intellectual concept, the individual is still bound to gender. How then can a conceptual duality that stresses balance of all things remain exclusively masculine in it’s metaphors? The short answer would be that the conceptual duality goes “beyond” gender, that the metaphors can potentially be applied to gendered concepts, but ultimately refer to concepts understood as antecedent to gendered concepts. While this answer is ambitious, as a reply to a question posed by a society that holds gender to be reverent and relevant, it falls flat and lacks the humanizing element so often craved in religious discourse. To maintain a conceptual duality that preserves gendered integrity, much like gender, a few different options are available.
Firstly, an individuals personal identification of gender and the appeals of other genders shape our perspective on deity. Though some might scoff at the idea of prescribing not only a gender but also a sexuality to deity, if one understands the world around them through the medium of a body and interprets their experiences with one's identity, elements of hetero and homonormativity will ultimately play a role in how one understands and connects with deity. Further, one might argue that a sexual duality is superfluous when considering deity, but for the audience of Neo Paganism (and more specifically the Wiccan demographic), the roles of pleasure and reproduction are interwoven into the broader metaphor of nature and the world....
I’m going to take a short break from my series of posts on Odin’s heiti to ramble on about a few topics that are a little more personal, both because I haven’t done so for a while and because I haven’t been able to find any heiti for Him that begin with C. (Chieftain and Creator, maybe, but the actual names that incorporate those concepts don’t begin with C in Old Norse, because Old Norse does not contain the letter C. Maybe that post will come to me next week.)
As regular readers may have noticed, I haven’t been doing as much posting as usual, and that’s been for a few reasons. One is that this is turning out to be a year heavy on study, training and contemplation for me, and a lot of the latter is difficult to get into words at times. January was not a good month for me, energy-wise, and I haven’t posted a new oracular seidhr schedule yet because I spent much of the first month of the year recovering from Yule. (Schedule is coming soon, I promise!) The month began well enough, with the usual hopes and plans for the new year, and ended with the revelation that our dog, Corbie J., is indeed in the beginning stages of congestive heart failure. So. He is on maintenance meds for that, and it looks like we may have caught it early enough to be able to extend his life, hopefully for a few years.
But still, there is a weight there before that had not been there previously, a shadow on my heart. The promise of future loss. We have to pretend that shadow isn’t there to avoid upsetting the dog, since that would obviously not be good under the circumstances, but you have probably noticed—and will continue to—me scrambling to get yarn spun and ritual cords made, and to work on other long-delayed projects for my store such as art batts for spinning, bags of loose hand dyed locks and add-ins for carding, cords for knot spells, witches’ ladders, jarred beeswax candles, oils and incenses, prayer beads, perhaps video tutorials, anything and everything I can do towards continuing my process of pursuing disability and leaving my office job while at the same time being able to help pay for our household needs and afford the dog’s expensive medicines and my own. (Not to mention our one cat, Berzerker, who is on expensive meds of his own, for severe allergies that cause him to break out with pustules if his steroids are stopped.) My first thought, when new unavoidable expenses such as this come up (besides the meds, Corbie will need more frequent doctor visits, and the one from last week was over $300 with all the tests) is always “I’ll go back to working full time.” But Jo actually gets angry when I propose this, because we both know I can’t; I am on 25 hours per week now, and sometimes too sick to get to work even with those reduced hours, so we both know that it’s only with extreme effort and will that I keep on working the hours I’ve got now....
(Artwork by Hannie Sarris).
"Keep this book in your own hand of write. Let brothers and Sisters copy what they will, but never let this book out of your hands, and never keep the writings of another, for if it be found in their hand of write, they may well be taken and tortured. Each should guard his own writings and destroy them whenever danger threatens. Learn as much as you may by heart, and when the danger is past, rewrite your book."...
“...And you will earn the right of return,
and all the moons you can swallow”
~Tea With Witches, Kate Chadbourne
Right before I left for Sirius Rising, I came across one of Star Foster’s blogs about her experience with her own initiation, Considering Consent: Initiation, Baptism, and Other Religious Milestones. This blog left me with a lot to chew over, since my own initiation was nothing like Star’s experience and I was preparing to assist in elevating two of my students.
In the blog Star says, “I told my initiator afterwards that had I had an understanding of what the ritual would entail, I would never have requested an initiation. I would have remained a ‘friend of the house.’ To be perfectly honest, had I been given a paper copy of the ritual to peruse ahead of time, my response would have likely been ‘Oh HELL NO!’”
A required reading in my tradition is “What Witches Do” by Stewart Farrar. The very first chapter of the book is about initiation and describes a man going through it. I didn’t read it before I took initiation exactly because I didn’t want to know what would happen during an initiation. I have read the book since and am glad that I made the choice not to do so beforehand. For me, going through initiation was partly about proving to myself that even without knowing exactly what was going to happen, I was ready enough to handle it without any forewarning. That I could blindly take what was done and have the knowledge to handle anything thrown at me. While initiation is an undertaking that you’re given by others, my initiation was a test I had also set for myself.
I’m new to Wicca/I have been studying Wicca for a few years. What books do you recommend?
I am asked this question a lot! These are books I have liked myself and/or recommended to students. If you're a beginner--or even if you're not--don't feel like I'm telling you to read all of them. This is a starting point for further exploration. Pick what interests you, and leave the rest.
Per the suggestions in the comments, I will put together a top ten for absolute beginners. The books below are for everyone, not just newcomers.
There might be editions other than those listed here, and some of these might be out of print, but if you use your Google fu, you should be able to find used copies somewhere....
I had an interesting email discussion with my editor today (part of the ongoing editing process of the newest book Lauren DeVoe and I have been writing for Llewellyn, which will be available in the spring). The conversation was:
Llewellyn Editor: ...public knowledge of the roots of Wicca has shifted dramatically, and your book will garner much more respect if you don’t refer to Wicca as an ancient religion that has been practiced for centuries. Wicca is a modern religion, birthed by Gardner, definitely based on some indigenous English folk practices, but much more so on the ceremonial magic of the Masons, the Golden Dawn, the OTO, etc.
Me: I completely agree with this history. I always say, in my blogs, missives, etc., that Gardner took the little bit of traditional Witchcraft he might have known, and housed it within a framework of Ceremonial Magic that came to him from the Masons, the Golden Dawn and Crowley. I'm happy to make sure the MS states this. I think the kernel of magic housed within Wicca probably goes back to the Saxon settlers of England, but it has definitely been changed, reworked, and has evolved at the hands of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century author/magicians. ...Yes I've been doing this for decades, but I completely believe that in its current form Wicca is only traceable to 1951.
[End of email conversation, and revelation of top secret Llewellyn editorial process]...
I sat in a tent, carrying on a conversation at a small Pagan event. In the distance women were gathering for a women's ritual. At one point I heard a woman challenging the attendees as they entered the circle.
"Do you enter the circle in perfect love and perfect trust?" The challenging woman had a soft voice, and sounded very unconvinced as she asked this over and over....
Decades ago, I sat in a college classroom, listening to my beloved mentor, Professor Shaw, lecturing about Shakespeare. We were talking about Julius Ceasar I believe, and quoting some well known line, when from the back of the room, a young woman asked "why did Shakespeare write in so many cliches?" I giggled a little: Professor Shaw, hardly missing a beat, simply said "they weren't cliches when he wrote them," and moved right along with Ceasar. Now just bear with me, and keep this little tale in mind for a while.
Last week my lovely GF Lauren wrote me an email. She had seen something on a Facebook group (Pagan News Now) and wondered if I knew anything about it. It was a document which the poster claimed was the Wiccan Rede. Here is what Lauren sent me:
Two days ago, Bronwen Katzke posted over on Mama Afrika about spiders, and how they began appearing in her life repeatedly. She, like me, saw this as a sign. I thought her post was interesting, mainly because for the first 20 or so years of being on my path, Spider was my totem. I posted this in the comments section and promptly forgot about it.
The next day I had a strange urge, the urge to record my ex-step-father’s recent death in the family scrapbook. This is strange because he was a terrible, violent man who abused our mother as well as us kids (me and his two biological children). When he died in prison, I honestly felt nothing. I had put him out of my mind and moved on long ago. But because he was my siblings’ father, and my nieces’ and nephew’s grandfather, I felt it was only right to include him in our family register.
So I dug the thick, bulging scrapbook out of the pile of books and papers where it lay next to my craft desk. I opened it and took out the page with the family register, then set the scrapbook down on the other side of the desk. After carefully lettering his name and birth and death dates, I picked the scrapbook back up to replace the register.
When I went to open the cover, there, on the spine, sat the largest brown recluse spider I have ever seen. Brown recluses are venomous, and though their bite isn’t directly fatal, it causes a painful necrosis of the surrounding tissue that will spread. If not treated, it will turn into sepsis and can cause death. They like to live in human habitations, near water sources, and they are aggressive. Because of this, they are the only spider that I will kill on sight.
In my path, which I describe as Zen Wicca, I believe that the Creative Force of the Universe is omnipresent, and while it’s not anthropomorphic, it does have a kind of consciousness that is too vast for our human minds to grasp; we can only sense it in a very limited way. Though we are very tiny compared to the vastness that is the Universe, we are a part of It, and It moves through us and around us. It can speak to us, if we know how to listen. It speaks in the language of coincidence, which we might call “signs” or “omens.” So as one who tries to align myself with the Universe, I listen when It speaks to me. And that large, poisonous spider on my scrapbook was a sign.
The challenge is to understand what the Universe is saying. I think it means that, like the poisonous spider, some people are dangerous, and it’s best to get them out of our lives as soon as possible. Perhaps the Universe is telling me that I only thought he was out of my life; like the spider, he (or really, his influence) was hidden, ready to strike when I wasn’t paying attention. But now, because of my experience with him, I know how to identify poisonous beings, and I’m not afraid to dispatch them immediately.
I grabbed a scrap of fabric out of the trash and crushed it, then washed the stain off my desk.
When I met Reverend Jessica LaReau in an Intro to Wicca class taught by Reverend Peter Hertzberg of Northern Lakes Temple, I was struck by her kindness and generosity. In a comfortable room above Mimosa Bookstore in downtown Madison, the class worked from a text containing basic information found in witchcraft. As a newcomer, I hadn't received the book. Without prompting, Reverend Jessica, also of Northern Lakes Temple, offered her book to me. Later, the text "A Dedicant's Guide to 1st Degree Priesthood" would become a resource for any tree magick I decided to try. A few weeks later, the class hit on the topic of familiars. Being an Aries, I immediately decided that if others had familiars – and seemed rather content about having them – then I might as well have one, too. Not exactly an expert on the subject, I aimed question after question at Reverend Peter, who seemed to grow tight-lipped after a while. I liked Peter tremendously, and if there was an opportunity to banter with him, I'd pounce on it tout de suite. This afternoon, though, Peter seemed to dig in his heels, much as a spectacled mountain goat that would not be coaxed or pushed from his terrain. Patiently, Reverend Jessica explained that maybe my familiar would or had come with a specific purpose such as protection. Any preconceived notions I formed – and perhaps those notions would be shaped by Peter's answers – would possibly interfere with the reason behind the familiar's arrival....
Here in my part of the South, public rituals are few and far between, so I'm happy to participate in any of them. Regardless of what one might think about the effectiveness of an open public ritual, there is something to be said for the energy of being in a large circle of people who believe in the Goddess and the sacredness of the Earth. It is fortifying, especially when it so often seems like we Pagans are lone islands in a sea of Christianity.
However, public rituals can be challenging. You are working with, potentially, a lot of people of different experience levels and beliefs. As a priest or priestess, your challenge is to get all these people’s energy and focus together in a harmonious way. It takes equal parts stagecraft and intuition to pull it off successfully.
In my belief system, worship (including ritual) is participatory; standing around listening to one person call the quarters, invoke the God and Goddess, lead the Work, and dismiss the circle feels no different from attending a play. If I didn't participate in anything, I leave feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. As Amber K states in her invaluable book, "Covencraft," ritual "should be creative, transformative, awakening, and energizing."
It takes the work of several people to pull off properly. This is not usually a problem in my private circles, where everyone has enough knowledge and experience to jump in and lead any part of a ritual. But public rituals, as I said, include people who may have no idea what any of this is about. So my advice is to include as many experienced priests and priestesses in both the planning and the execution, so “newbies” can see the collective nature of our worship (plus it’s less work for one person).
First, however, the intention for the ritual must be clear. It seems as if this should go without saying, but many of the public rituals I’ve participated in did not have an explicit purpose. It is impossible to bring everyone’s focus together if no-one knows what they are supposed to be focusing on. Are you blessing and dedicating a sacred space? Celebrating a rite of passage? Honoring the cycles of the earth? Be clear in your intention, and state that intention at the beginning of the ritual.
Like any group effort, a ritual needs a leader, or at least a manager. That is the role of the High Priest or Priestess. Like a stage director, s/he holds and focuses the group’s attention and energy. S/he explains (briefly) each part of the ritual for the benefit of any newbies. S/he determines, using intuition, when the group is ready to move from one section to the next, neither rushing nor holding back the group’s energy.
Having someone else call the quarters isn’t a necessity, but I think it adds to the energy of the circle and gives more people the chance to participate. If possible, try to get volunteers ahead of time, and if they are experienced enough to invoke without a script, so much the better. Whoever calls the quarters and/or casts the circle, they must have enough knowledge and experience to create a strong boundary; public spaces are by definition more open and unprotected than private ones.
This brings me to guardians. If your ritual is held in a public space, it can be hard to ensure the physical boundaries of the circle are respected. People wander in late. Curious onlookers want to poke their noses in. The guardian or guardians stand outside the circle to protect its boundary, politely but firmly turning those away who would disrupt it. These can be the same people who called the quarters, or not. Because their attention is focused on the exterior of the circle, they can’t really participate in the ritual beyond this role.
So you’ve cast the circle and it’s time for everyone to drum and chant to raise energy (remember to state for what purpose this energy is being raised!). This part, in my experience, is usually the most awkward and least successful part of public rituals. However, I don’t think it’s hopeless, as long as someone exercises practical leadership.
First, let’s talk about drumming. For a drum circle to coalesce, there must be a steady, simple bass line that everyone can follow or link to. Other, more talented drummers can improvise around it, but most people just want to follow the leader. The Priestess (or whoever will lead the drumming part) needs to have the deepest, loudest drum, and must commit to playing a simple, steady rhythm. Complicated solos will confuse the less rhythmically inclined (and are more appropriate for higher-toned drums anyway). The Priestess/drum leader can then gradually build the rhythm faster and faster, building energy in a natural, cohesive way.
Chanting is another ritual component that challenges both organizers and participants. Most circles don’t have hymnals (or “hernals”). For public rituals, my advice is to pick one or two very simple chants, such as “Earth my body, water my blood/Air my breath and fire my spirit” or “She changes everything She touches and/Everything She touches, changes…” Chants or songs with multiple verses leave too many people feeling lost and unsure, which is the exact thing you do not want in ritual. In addition, it can be helpful if you have a few “plants” in the circle, people who know the chant and are willing to sing it loudly and confidently. This helps shyer participants muster up the courage to join in.
Last, obviously, don’t forget to ground and center! Large group energy is by its nature bigger and harder to handle. Don’t let anyone go home scattered or spacey.
A rehearsal or practice run before the actual ritual can be invaluable for ironing out any kinks. It’s best if you can do it in the actual space where the ritual will be held, so you can see where people will be, how loud to speak, how fast or slow the flow of people might get, etc.
The goals of public ritual are twofold: first, the stated intention of the ritual itself, and second, to bring people together for a meaningful, positive experience. I think with these simple techniques, both goals can be achieved.
One of the things that my partner and I discuss a great deal is how it seems old school Wicca (not solitary, Cunningham Eclectic Wicca) is dying out; we argue about whether or not old school Wiccan traditions deserve to survive after all of the strange drama that many within the path have produced in the last thirty years. He argues that if the old traditions die out, we will lose a great deal of knowledge. I generally argue that while I agree with that sentiment, abuse shouldn’t be rewarded.
Whenever he starts talking about Wicca with strangers, people roll their eyes at him and start muttering about fundamentalism and the need to change with the times. British traditional Wicca is a hard path, not meant for everybody, and what people who don’t pursue a traditional initiation don’t always understand is that the training that comes along with it is to facilitate some very specific mysteries that you just don’t find in Eclectic Paganism. This doesn’t mean that traditional Wicca is better or worse than Eclectic Paganism, but it has specific training for a reason, and those of us who go through it have a very specific point of view about what we are doing and how we do it. It is hard work. Once you have done the hard work, being asked to get over yourself and be flexible with ways of thinking that are against everything you’ve gone through is pretty antithetical to all of the experiences that a traditional initiation brings. It’s especially difficult when you have worked hard for years to gain the knowledge you have and you are confronted from someone who has (maybe) read a few books who tells you that you are the one that doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
This post started as a discussion of whether some Pagan traditions are more “privileged” than others. It rapidly became deeper than this.
When I first became a Pagan and began thinking about the deeper implications of my spiritual path, my first major insight was that since Spirit is everywhere, every spiritual tradition, including those made up from whole cloth, have the potential of carrying someone closer to harmony with the Sacred. For example, even if Gerald Gardner simply made up Gardnerian Wicca (which I do NOT believe), that the Gods come in our workings is all the proof I need that it is a valid path – at least for me.
Several major insights grew from this realization....
Joseph Bloch has made an interesting case that Pagan religion cannot always be labeled a “nature religion” because historically most weren’t. Instead they were concerned primarily with human affairs. I argue here that he is wrong, and do so in three steps. The first two explore crucial concepts he ignores. The third looks at errors of fact. Grasping how he is mistaken deepens our understanding of what Paganism is and how we relate to the world today.
The issues he does not examine are what we mean by “religion” and how Paganism reflects the times in which it exists....
Help! Recently I went into a new age store looking for some supplies for my Wiccan altar, and a woman at the store told me Wicca was dangerous and I should stop practicing it right away. I’m new to Wicca, and this woman really freaked me out and got me worried that I could harm myself or my family. Is Wicca really dangerous?
Wicca is a life-affirming, celebratory path. Its focus is on understanding our place in the natural world and living better lives by being more in harmony with nature. In my opinion, it’s a path that can help seekers with self-empowerment and self-improvement. Most of the negative ideas about Wicca are born out of fear and lack of understanding, rather than knowledge.
For example, I have heard non-Wiccans say that Wicca is dangerous because it has no moral code. I find this particularly frustrating for two reasons. First, it implies that humans can’t be ethical without a god or a book to tell them how to be good people, which is ridiculous and insulting. Second, we DO have a code, the Wiccan Rede....
"A 500-page reform proposal would upgrade the 1918 Code, revised in 1958. Adulterers and practitioners of black magic would get up to five years in prison. ... Currently, the Code lacks provisions against witchcraft or black magic but under its revised version, those found guilty of using black magic would face up to five years in jail or up to 300 million rupiah (US$ 30,000) in fines. Out of respect for tribal traditions and customs, "white", i.e. good magic would remain legal."
Oestara, the spring equinox, is fast approaching, and for those who practice the old traditions, it's time to paint eggs!
Painted eggs? you ask. Isn't that what our Christian neighbors do for Easter? Well sure. Where do you think they got it?
The custom of painting eggs is an ancient Pagan tradition that occurrs throughout Europe. Russia and Ukraine are famous for their traditions of painted eggs. Eastern Europe most likely had a tradition like that of England (which we'll speak of in a moment, have some patience). Here are some typically elaborate Ukrainian eggs:...