Beltane is fast upon us – here in Suffolk, the hawthorn is in bloom already, and I have heard the first cuckoo of summer. The oak leaves are just coming out, and the beech and ash are lagging behind, sluggish after their long sleep. The garden is abloom, and the forest is filled with bluebells, their soft energy shimmering in the sunlight. It is, indeed, Beltane....
There's been a lot of talk since PantheaCon in the blogsphere recently about Wiccanate privilege. I was not at PantheaCon, but to the best of my ability to determine, it is a general sense of being marginalized in the Pagan community that exists among a variety of Pagans who do not follow a path that resembles (at least superficially) Wicca. They feel that most "Pagan" rituals and gatherings are Wiccan-normative, and they would prefer that this assumption is not made in pan-Pagan ritual, conversations and gatherings. There have been some excellent articles on the topic; here's one at the Wild Hunt; here's one at Finnchuill's Mast; here's one by T. Thorn Coyle in regards to a controversial "Wiccanate" prayer she gave at the gathering; here's one at Of Thespiae (a Hellenic Reconstructionist blog); here's a couple by fellow PaganSquare writers Stifyn Emrys and Taylor Ellwood; here's a couple by fellow Patheos writers Yvonne Aburrow, Niki Whiting, Julian Betkowski, John Halstead and Jason Mankey at Raise the Horns; and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, writer of "Queer I Stand" at Patheos, has commented about it extensively around the internet though I couldn't find a specific blog post on the topic in my search (though e was at the conference). If you read all of these, you'll probably get a good handle on the many different sides of the issue and what various people's take on it is: and if you read the comments, it will be more informative still. If you haven't done so yet, do it; then come back here in an hour or three if you still want to hear my opinion. Don't worry, I'll wait . . .
Here's my thoughts as someone who identifies as a Wiccan: I think that those who are advocating for this are right! I think that most people, within and without the Pagan community, do assume that "Wiccanate" paths are the norm. And I do think we need to be more inclusive and accommodating in our language and form. No question about it! Our community is still small enough that I don't think we can afford to alienate each other. Let's try to get along in a climate of mutual respect.
I think it might help to have an idea of where the problem came from. Back in the early 90s, when we were all using bulletin boards and Yahoogroups to open these conversations in a collective way that wasn't in-person at festivals, most of the books out there were indeed about essential solitary "Outer Court" Wicca. Most people came to Paganism through these books. Most of us still do. So I (being one of those sorts) got on a bunch of different Pagan groups to chat and learn about stuff, and identified myself as a "solitary Wiccan". I suppose the reactions I got were fairly indicative of what was typical: some initiated British Traditional Wiccans (who, don't get me wrong, are justifiably proud of their accomplishments because it takes a lot of work to earn those degrees) told me that because Wicca was a special initiatory mystery tradition descending from either the unbroken line of the Craft back to Neolithic days, or Gerald Gardner, I could not be Wiccan because I was not an initiate. I imagine that my reaction was very similar to that of others like me; I found the term "Pagan" or "Neo-pagan" (which both Oberon Zell and Isaac Bonewits have claimed to have coined; I wasn't there so I don't know) and began calling myself an "eclectic Pagan" instead....
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....
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....
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.
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."
On the last episode of the radio show I co-host with my partner, the popular topic of labels within Paganism came up and we spent a few minutes talking about what we thought of it all. Although neither of us seemed to care much about using singular labels for our path, it did prompt us to think about labels in terms of percentages. What started as a funny way to talk about self-identification turned into some pretty deep introspection for me.
The thing is, human beings are very complex. Although we might resonate with one philosophy or practice, I don't know of very many people who follow just that one thing and only that one thing. This fact can bring about a good sense of personal satisfaction, knowing that we don't have to strive to fit into the boxes set before us. But it also challenges us to look deeper at what we believe and why we believe it. Even if we feel we fit within one system entirely, there are still aspects of culture and upbringing that shape us into very unique individuals.
I'll use myself as an example. Growing up Wiccan for most of my life, I've always been pretty comfortable with that term. In the areas I've lived its always been a fairly friendly term socially. I never received that much persecution because of it. It described my belief system as well as my personal practice quite nicely....
Do you remember when you first stepped onto the Pagan path? Perhaps more years ago than you care to recall, perhaps only recently. But no doubt books and websites were raided for information, ideas, ways to practice, paths to investigate. We truly are blessed with a wealth of information these days, after all.
My quest began before the Internet. My recollection is of picking up 'A Witch's Bible' - that lovely, slightly scary-looking black tome, scavenged easily enough from the shelves of Borders bookstore - and seeing the pictures inside. The photographs from the 1970s of Janet Farrar, beautiful and resplendent in ritual, performing the symbolic Great Rite proudly and publicly. And, of course, very very naked.
Then came that word: 'Priestess'. Not just in Wicca, but everywhere I looked, the goal of all Pagans appeared to be the Priesthood. You were still just learning until you had finally achieved the right to that title. This was just around the time when folks were starting to self-initiate, so the controversy was relatively new.