For many older Pagans, the personal roots of our practice lie within the ‘counterculture’ of the 60s and 70s. New spiritual winds were then blowing across the desiccated body of American religion, which for many of us had withered into beliefs rooted in fear and habit. On a mass level questions of right livelihood first began challenging the American Dream of more things and more money - and many of us accepted alternative visions to a greater or lesser degree. Across the country efforts to make real greater equality and respect between the sexes, affirmation of different cultures and ways of life, and enhanced love for the natural world, transforming many lives. Many were drawn to seeking and sometimes encountering the Divine Feminine.
It's just after noon. The weather is warm. There's a slight breeze that causes the leaves high in the canopy to rustle. The redwoods are creaking as they rub against each other. Loud raven clicks and caws punctuate the quiet forest. I'm one of only a few people standing in the camp grounds and we are all silent, breathing deeply, settling our rushed minds and sinking in, just sinking in.
In two hours witches from all of over the world will arrive. Some journeying to these woods for the first time, others coming home as they do each year. There will be hugs and kisses and hearty shouts of "oh! There you are. I'm so glad you came back." After the hub-bub of getting here subsides and the first night's dinner dishes have been put away, it's time for ritual.
I have just returned from a Women and the Landconference held in Point Reyes, California.It was a wonderful series of panels, whose presenters were almost all women authors: poets, essayists, and fiction and non fiction writers. Given my interest in how the feminine and ecology fit together as a unified theme in needed cultural changes that might yet save our nihilistic Western culture, I expected to enjoy it. And I did, far more than I expected.
That said, this column and the next will deal with an error I heard there, and with its solution. I think the error runs through the thinking of many women and men whose hearts are in the right place. And its solution is easy once we recognize it and take the time to digest its implications. It is also very relevant to Pagans.
So far I've been spending my time here setting the stage for introductory spirit work. But what about the spirits themselves? Who and what are these incorporeal beings that we're trying to communicate with in the first place? The answers to those questions, in complete, are much longer and more complex than I can cover in one article. So consider this a very brief and incomplete overview of some of the sorts of beings in the spirit world.
Ancestor Spirits: These are the spirits of humans who have passed away. Some people feel the ancestors still exist in this world with us, unseen but around us all the time. Others believe they inhabit their own afterlife-world, but can be called on for advice or help in times of need. Depending on who you talk to, any family member, friend, or other important person in your life can be considered an ancestor—in fact, since we are all of the same species we all share ancestors. Others are more strict, keeping it specifically to one's own immediate family and direct predecessors. Ancestor spirits are generally seen as protective in nature, though they can be angered if not propitiated properly (and, not surprisingly, what is considered “proper” is not universal).